ultralight backpacking

These hikers go longer, climb higher and delve deeper — carrying as little as possible.

These hikers go longer, climb higher and delve deeper — carrying as little as possible.

We’re witnessing an awesome surge in the number of Americans who have taken up hiking. State and national parks are booming with outdoor newbies and veteran excursionists. In places like Seattle, the number of hikers has doubled in the last decade. And, like with any specific personal interest or activity, hiking inspires all kinds of variations, including endurance hikers, trail runners, culinary foragers, hikers with dogs, solo hikers, group outings, overnight campers, and those who venture into the wild solely for photography, hunting or fishing.

No doubt, they were well represented on June 1 — National Trails Day®.

Because the most nimble, durable and packable hiking equipment is made out of synthetic materials, it’s easy to see how petroleum is helping fuel the newest trend. It’s called ultralight backpacking, and it sees passionate hikers venturing out to do the absolute most — hardest trails, highest peaks, harshest climates — with the absolute least amount of equipment.

There’s quite a bit of jargon in the world of hiking, but one of the most important phrases is “base weight,” which references the weight of a backpack plus all the gear carried inside or clipped to the outside. Ultralight backpackers reduce as much of that weight as is safely possible. The bare necessities.

By cutting overall poundage, you not only ease the pressure on your back, but you'll be able to increase the number of miles you can hike. For those on long-distance hikes, a single ounce measured out over a couple of hundred miles can actually have a significant impact on your stamina.