Ultralight Backpacking Checklist

Here is how I build out an ultralight backpack for a simple one-night visit to the backcountry.

Are you a traveler and not necessarily a backpacker? Do you ever want to get out into the backcountry for a single day and night, but don't have the equipment, planning, life-long backpacking skills or expertise in cooking yourself a hot meal? Is the backcountry prohibitive because you carry something heavy - a camera and tripod, a birding scope, or a Gopro drone?

As a large-format travel photographer, the problem of a large camera on top of a full load of backpacking gear has plagued me my entire life. But in recent years, with the help of my backpacking brothers and tips from Backpacker Magazine, I've been able to put together a pack that is simple and light enough - just under 15 pounds before food and water weight during the warmest summer months - that I have the backpack space for a full set of camera gear and tripod.

Below is all my gear for an overnight trip before I add a camera or a birding scope. My tips follow the photo.

Ultralight Backpacking Checklist

Packing Light for an Overnight Trip

Here are some things I've learned about putting together an ultralight traveler/photographer backpack over the years.

  • The key to an ultralight pack is the backpack itself, the tent, the sleeping bag and the sleeping pad. These are the items where you really shave the weight.
  • Hot meals are an important part of a true backpacking experience, but a quick purpose-oriented solo trip into the backcountry becomes much simpler if you eliminate the cooking stove, pots and pans.
  • Use iodine pills in place of a water filter to shave off weight.
  • Collect tiny, but solid containers for essentials. Keeping a quiver of small, inventive containers shaves weight on small items.
  • Starbucks Via packets are a great way to make yourself coffee in the morning. Without a stove, you'll need a small water bottle, and that coffee will be cold.
  • An ultralight, stove-free pack can easily double as a traveler's pack. My pack below, minus the knife and lighter, can act as an MLC carry-on as as a single piece of luggage for world travel.


Ultralight Pack and Shelter List

REI Flash Sleeping Bag 1 lbs. 10 oz.
REI Quarter Dome Tent 2 lbs. 10 oz.
REI AirRail 1.5 Self-Inflating Sleeping Pad 1 lb. 6.3 oz.

Ultralight Clothes and Walking List

Ultralight Food and Water, Kitchen and Essentials List

Knife 2.7 oz.
Mini Bic Lighter .5 oz.
1 Oz. Visine 2 oz.
.5 Oz. Neosporin 2 oz.
Tiny Capsule for 10 Advil 2 oz.
Travel Toothbrush 2 oz.
Toothpaste 1.5 oz.
Mirror 1 oz.
Gilette Razor and Blade 3 oz.
Kleenex 1 oz.
Spare Contacts + Rubber band .5 oz.
Opti-free Contact Solution 2 oz.
Contact Case + Rubber Band 1 oz.

Explore more in Travel Organization

How to pack a packraft, paddle and large tripod aboard an airplane to photograph in amphibious environments.

What should we do when we run into problems with our Airbnb host? My crazy story about one Airbnb rental gone bad

An interview with marine biology student and artist Alison Atchia. The first in a series of interviews with artists who asked for permission to use art from Notes from the Road.

In this travel gear article, I look at Canon's new line-up of lenses and ask, which are the best lenses for different types of photographers?

In this travel gear article, I explain how to travel with just 10 pounds of carry-on luggage.

Consider traveling with graphic novels for travelers. Here are my favorites.

How do you pack for a single night in the backcountry?

Thoughts on how to pack a cooler for short and regualar road trips.

One of the best practices of the regular traveler is keeping a tidy gear shelf.

Want some tips on creating your ideal travel sketchbook? Here are some of my setups I've used to create my Mokeskine travel journals over the years.

I notice that hikers and traveling walkers don't always put much preparation into their daypack lunch. My advice on changing that.

I found this Gouache travel set for twenty-one dollars. It has 24 pans, a tube of white, a built-in mixing pallete, and it folds together nicely into one solid brick.

What's inside your pack? We love to impart packing advice, but sometimes its better to just show what we pack.

This is better than travel souvenirs. Collect natural history and sightings while traveling.

Avoid airline food in coach or first class! Here are some tips on packing your own meals for airplane travel.

Thoughts on how to build the perfect toddler backpack.

Nib pens make a great alternative kit for your travel sketchbook. Here are some reasons why.

Photography backpacks tend to be heavy and clunky. I've learned there is a better way to pack heavy gear.

This little device is essential for traveling with your watercolors.

One of my favorite ways to get around the city is on a longboard. But how do you take it with you overseas?

A tip on keeping your watercolors organized while traveling.