Innovation of the Ultralight Community
The UL hiker community can be a strange place at times. Some people can go too far but it’s this constant need to test new things, try out new ideas that has led to some of the most interesting and beneficial innovations in ultralight hiking.
Sure, for every good idea there can be some questionable decisions. I’ve definitely made mistakes e.g. the time I tried to make camp shoes out a some Z-lite sol panels.
This list though is for those times the ultralight community got it right. The times they looked at everyday normal products and saw something more, something ultralight!
Tyvek was originally used for weather protecting houses. The material was designed to keep moisture out.
Eventually some UL hikers saw it for what it truly was. A great groundsheet or footprint for a tent!
The material is super light, durable and strong. Whether for a tarp setup or for added ground protection for tents a good groundsheet is a requirement. It’s also perfect for cowboy camping.
A Tyvek groundsheet is great ultralight alternative to traditional groundsheets and in many cases can be cheaper, last longer and even perform better.
The Six Moon Designs Tyvek Footprint is a great option for those interested in trying one out.
No. 7 Freezer Bags
Many ultralight hikers opt to not bring a bowl with them and instead just use freezer bags. Freezer bags are unique in the sense that you can put boiling water in them without any problems. You can’t do this with normal ziplock bags.
This has allowed some UL hikers to just cook directly inside a freezer bag. This comes with the added benefit of no clean-up involved either. Just dump all your ingredients into a bag, add boiling water, let it cook and then eat directly from the bag.
No.6 Vitamin I
Ibuprofen, or as many hikers refer to it as: Vitamin I.
Hiking 20+ miles day after day can take its toll on the human body.
None of us want to admit it but we’re not using Vit I as actually intended. Many hikers, especially thru-hikers, pop ibuprofen like there are taking a multi-vitamin but damn does it help with the aches and pains.
No.5 Ballet Dancer Pants
The most ambitious crossover: The Hiker community and the Ballet community.
You’d never think there would be any overlap between them but these ripstop ballet dancer pants are all the rage in the ultralight hiking community.
Why? They’re cheap, lightweight (of course) and serve as great wind pants.
Many cottage gear companies offer UL windpants but they are pretty expensive.
The reviews on the Amazon product page are hilarious, half ballet dancer, half UL hiker trash. A glorious crossover.
No.4 Fast Food Condiments
Ah the feeling of getting back into town and gorging on some fast food is truly a feeling many hikers relish with joy.
A lot ultralight hikers take advantage of these fast food stops to stock up on their condiments.
Instead of bring one big bottle of ketchup or whatever you prefer, you can instead bring an assortment of condiments from your favorite fast food joints.
They’re individually wrapped, light weight and essentially free. They also give you the option of adding more variety into your food bag. Sick of ketchup? Then pick BBQ or Sweet & Sour.
No.3 An Empty Talenti Jar
Cold-soaking, for those who don’t know, is the act of rehydrating your meals with cold water instead of boiling water.
Many UL hikers do this because it allows them to keep their stove, gas canister and pot at home.
Instead they can just bring a spoon and a jar to cold soak their food in.
An empty Talenti jar has become a go-to favorite of the ultralight community. It’s the perfect size, got a good secure water-tight screw top lid and comes with the added bonus of an icecream pre-hike treat!
No.2 Dyneema Composite Fabric (DCF)
For most hikers DCF (Dyneema Composite Fabric) is that magical, super-expensive material we want all our gear to made out of.
However, DCF or Cuben Fiber as it was originally know, was actually developed for racing sail boats. Having superlight sails allowed the boats to go much faster.
The hiking community co-opted this material because it was perfect for our needs too. Light, durable and waterproof.
Nowadays you’ll find tents, packs and rain gear all made out of it. Alas, it’s still expensive.
No.1 The Humble Smart Water Bottle
A stalwart of the ultralight community: The Smart Water Bottle. The Nalgene or similar models were the favored bottles for many outdoorsman, they were strudy, reliable but also heavy.
A 1 Liter Nalgene weighs 6.2oz (175g) whereas a 1 Liter Smart Water bottle is 1.3oz (37.5g). So that’s a weight saving of 4.9oz (139g) without any loss of functionality.
If you’re mountaineering or at very high altitudes the reliability of the a Nalgene may be warranted. Most UL hikers though don’t need this so the Smart water bottle is now king.
Any ultralight hiker will tell you the best pieces of gear are multi-purpose. The sports cap on the Smart bottle is perfect for backflushing a Sawyer Water Filter. This enables hikers to keep the big ugly cleaning syringe at home and just use their Smart water bottle to clear any blockages in their water filters.
The Smart Water Bottle is now nearly ubiquitous amongst thru-hikers making this the number one ultralight hack of them all.
The ultralight community is always testing and trying new ideas to lighten their backpacks. Who knows what intrepid UL hiker to come up with next. What material will we steal from building sites or the sail boats to help us walk up mountains.
It’s often said that ultralight is more of a mindset than anything else. I totally agree with this. The mindset of simplicity on the trail is fueled by random experimentation and curiosity off the trail.
So if you think you got a weird UL hack, go explore it but make sure and share it too!