light, ultra and super...

If you’ve been around Outdoor Gear content anywhere in the internet 

you have sure noticed the terminology of Lightweight, Ultralight and Super Ultralight.

While all of the “light” categories simply indicate carrying 

less weight on your back, these categories are well defined in the industry.


What are the differences? And who really cares?


Let’s start with a basic concept: Your Base Weight. 

Base Weight is the total weight of your backpack with all gear in it, 

minus the weight of consumables (mainly food and water).


What’s the point?

Simple (or not so much) physics: The less weight you carry on your back, 

the less energy you’ll have to work out in order to walk the same distance.

This leads to more milage coverage and less time taken to rest.


Who cares?

Some serious hikers are all about milage coverage 

in less time (especially when taking days/weeks long trails). 

However, even if you’re just an amateur once-in-a-while backpacker, 

you would definitely feel the difference of the weight on your back over time.


To begin with, most gear out there is considered to be made 

for conventional backpacking. This category is defined as for Base Weight above 30 pounds.

If your BW (Base Weight) is much higher than that, 

your hike turns more into a military training task, as American soldiers 

carry anywhere between 40-100 pounds in day to day training. 

Lightweight backpacking tops 30 pounds. 

This is the equivalent of 20 dozens eggs.

 Or the amount of cheese the average American eats in a year. 

Or 680 pieces of Sushi… 

OK Obviously I’m hungry.

Using lightweight gear can well keep you within 

these limits if you’re careful which “luxuries” to leave at home.

The Ultralight category comes next with a maximum 

of 20 pounds on your back. Although this is an equivalent of 

16 Basket Balls, It doesn’t really leave much freedom 

to bring your favorite gimmicks from home. 

Just to give you a perspective, a lot of the common sleeping bags 

in the market weigh around 5lb. Heavier (but still common) 

tents average 7+ pounds, not to mention many common backpacks seen on 

American trails that weigh around 5 lbs themselves alone...

Needless to say, this kind of gear is irrelevant when 

you want to put on your back a sum of 20 lbs at most.


Ultralight gear has been emerging in the recent decade as more 

common and more accessible to seasonal backpackers. 

Its prices have dropped significantly too due to the development of new material technologies.

If you raised an eyebrow reading “technologies”, 

then you should know that this is exactly what it is. 

Hi-Tech processes and materials are involved when it comes 

to manufacturing Ultralight gear, and not all manufacturers are up to the challenge.

Wait, there is more. Super Ultralight backpacking is when your BW tops 10 pounds. 

Ridiculous? Yes, considering that it’s like hiking with your Cat on your back, 

and nothing more. Again, this includes your backpack and all the gear in it, 

not counting food and water!

You will be surprised how much gear you can actually load if you know what to choose. 

Here is the summarizing table:

C (conventional)                                 > 30 lb

LW (Lightweight)                                < 30 lb

UL (Ultralight)                                     < 20 lb

SUL/Minimalist  (Super Ultralight)      < 10 lb

But seriously, who cares?

The thing about your Base Weight is this:

The development of lighter gear is bringing to the market better gear overall. 

The quest for lighter gear works like an engine to create not only lighter but stronger, 

more weather tolerant, multi-use materials and techniques. Which is good for everybody.

So the next time you see the words Something-Light-Something remember this: Less IS more indeed.

Light or not, enjoy your outdoors.

Wasseem Zaher