An Ultralight Hiking Experiment

South Coast Track

I've always liked the idea of going super ridiculously ultralight on an adventure. I like the simplicity of the wilderness, and bringing lots of stuff on an adventure seems to add unnecessary clutter.

A couple of years ago, I sailed across the Southern Ocean from Tasmania to Chile with some mates. Somewhere in the roaring forties, I woke up at 4am for my usual change of shift. It was a particularly rough morning, with large, steep waves coming from weird angles and making it difficult to keep the boat pointed in the right direction (we were hand steering after all).

Ben, who was just coming off watch, had his safety harness on with two webbing straps attached. This allowed him to clip onto the deck and avoid being swept off the boat. As he went to go below deck, he somehow got tangled in his safety harness. As he clung to the boat with one hand and tried to untangle himself with the other before the next wave rolled through, he looked up grinning and said "it appears I've got one safety device caught in another safety device".

That one comment, for some reason, has stuck with with me ever since. It seems like a good way to explain how, in trying to make your life easier, or safer, or whatever, having lots of 'things' can sometimes have the reverse effect, defeating their own purpose.

A couple of months ago, I decided to head to the south of Tasmania and walk the South Coast Track. After a few fruitless attempts at convincing my mates to come along, I decided it'll be a great chance to dive into the world of solo hiking. I've not been on an overnight trip by myself before, and this was going to be between 6-14 days (depending on weather).

I also decided that this would be a great excuse to experiment with ultralight travel. Some of my outdoor gear was more than 10 years old, well used, and looking a little worse for wear. So I decided to upgrade my sleeping bag, mattress, tent (to a tarp) and some clothing.

When packing my bag, I would ask myself "do I really need this", for each item I picked up. If the answer was no, then I wouldn't bring it. There's a difference of course, between what helps makes your life more comfortable, and what helps makes your life safer. I found that by looking at my gear through this filter, I ended up ditching more than half of my original gear list.

This meant that my bag, fully loaded with 10 days worth of food and equipment, only weighed 10 kilograms and easily fit into my 55L pack (it acually fit into my 30L pack as well, but it was not as comfortable to carry).

With all of this extra space and lack of weight, it was very tempting to go back through the rejected gear list and see what other goodies I could now bring. I opted to try out my new inflatable pillow (I'd previously just used my pack as a pillow) and some bed socks. These weighed less than 100 grams combined, and would add a lot of comfort to my trip. They were my guilty pleasures.

Here's what I found

I literally skipped along the trail (seriously, it would have been very embarassing if anybody saw). Hiking in a very remote part of Tasmania, on a track that is notoriously difficult, with a pack that weighed no more than an average day hikers, was a very awesome feeling. It took me 5 days to finish, when I had planned for up to 10 days.

There was also a sense of 'damn you' from a few fellow hikers, who looked like human yaks with all the gear they were lugging around. But hey, if I was carrying 30kg on my back and struggling up a hill, then some punk comes skipping past with a day pack, I'd be disgruntled as well.

My other discovery was tarp camping. It's an incredibly liberating experience to ditch the tent and use a tarp instead. A square tarp can be set up in an almost limitless number of configurations and weighs much, much less than a tent. The only downside is the bugs, but I suspect a lightweight bug net would solve that problem. I'd be interested to see how they go in the snow, or a storm, or a blizzard. If you've had experience using tarps in harsh environments or weather, please let me know in the comments below. I'd be interested to hear what you think.

All in all, I would highly recommend next time you're packing your bag for a trip, assess every piece of gear with the "good to have or need to have" filter. I promise, you'll have a far richer experience because of it.

South Coast Track

South Coast Track

South Coast Track

My final gear list

1 x Boxer shorts 1 x Thermal top 1 x Thermal bottom
1 x Hiking pants 1 x Hiking shirt 1 x Running shorts
1 x Shell jacket 1 x Down jacket 1 x Bed socks
1 x Merino buff 1 x Watch 1 x Hiking boots
1 x Gaiters 1 x Sunglasses 1 x Micro towel
1 x Hiking poles 1 x Bug head net 1 x House key
1 x Driving license and credit card 1 x Phone 1 x Toothbrush
1 x Small toothpaste 1 x Lip balm 1 x Roll toilet paper
1 x First aid kit 6 x Days food full-rations 4 x Days food half-rations
1 x Hand sanitiser 2 x 2L water bladders 1 x Stove
1 x Gas Canister 1 x Flint striker 1 x Spoon
1 x Pot/cup 1 x Large snap lock rubbish bag 1 x Handheld GPS
1 x PLB 1 x Compass 1 x Map
1 x Sleeping pad 1 x Inflatable pillow 1 x Sleeping bag
1 x Bivy bag 1 x Tarp 6 x Tent pegs small
6 x Tent pegs large 1 x Head lamp

Disclaimer: Some, not all, of the links above are affiliate links. They will generate a small amount of revenue to support The Adventure Playbook blog if you make a purchase using them. I will never promote something I don't genuinely believe is good.