Ultralight Backpacking - Clothing & Footwear

Posted by Bryan on 2020 May 4th

Ultralight Backpacking - Clothing & Footwear

This is merely one section of many on Ultralight Backpacking. Refer to this post for other categories.


This area is highly personal so you will have to experiment to find out what works for you in all aspects. There are several things to consider with clothing.

  • Climate and weather for your trip. Shoulder seasons are the hardest because you can get just about any weather.
  • What level of dirt, sweat and stink are you willing to put up with? More dirt and stink = less clothes = less weight.
  • Compressibility, A thick warm fleece does not cram down small so leave it at home. Pick a synthetic puffy jacket. Down puffies are warm but if you are wearing them while hiking, you will perspire, and moisture will move out through them and condense on the down making it lose its insulating qualities. Salt and oils from your sweat will also coat the feathers making them less lofty. With synthetic puffy jackets, Moisture will not condense as much on the fibers and they will still be able to insulate. Down jackets are better suited to hanging about at camp. Both jackets however will still benefit from a washing a few times a year.
  • Choose clothes that dry quickly. No Cotton
  • Bring mittens to keep the hands warm. Cold hands can't work zippers or buckles and can lead to a dangerous situation where you can't set up a tent or put a warmer jacket on. If you need dexterity, take your mittens off and put them back on when you are done.

Try to bring as little as possible while still bringing enough for any weather. That's a hard one, right? What I mean by bring as little as possible is for instance, bring one pair of shorts instead of 3. 1 quick dry shirt instead of 4. You don't need a pair for every day. The point is to reduce to the minimum you are willing to get by with. Just like a kid, you will be grinning, stinky and dirty after a few days of adventure. So, you don't need to bring more than 2 of any pieces. This saves weight and space. You should also have a few pieces that are dedicated to being dry all the time and keep them in a separate dry sack. Long underwear layers, socks and a puffy jacket would be examples. During especially wet trips, I have had to put back on my wet clothes in the morning and carefully stuff my dry ones away until the next night. The first few minutes are yucky and cold, but once you start moving and warm up, your body heat will help dry them out.


Most people would wear high top hiking boots that offer great ankle support and I recommend that. However, Many UL hikers choose to wear trail running shoes because they are lighter. Folks that choose the trail runners often have a lifetime history of running, walking long distances every day or have been a hiker and backpacker for most of their life. This often gives them stronger ankles with no need for the added weight of hiking boots with more support. If you are just starting out or even if you have only done a few backpacking trips already, I still would recommend wearing boots. This again, is a deeply personal decision, so consider it carefully and err on the cautious side. After all your feet are THE most important part of any backpacking trip whether it be UL or fully loaded.

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