5 of the Craziest Things Ultralighters Do To Save Weight

Whether its spending extra cash on a spork that weighs 0.5 ounces lighter than my previous one, or meticulously measuring how much hand sanitizer I’ll need so that I don’t bring any extra, I’m constantly looking for new, creative ways to slash weight from my pack. Though a large amount of weight savings does come from simply purchasing lightweight gear, I still focus my attention on saving weight with even the smallest items I carry… and sometimes it gets a bit ridiculous. Here are 5 of the craziest things ultralighters do to save weight:

1. Cutting the Handle off of a Toothbrush


(photo courtesy of Lotsafreshair)

One of the easiest ways to identify if someone is an ultralight hiker is to simply look at their toothbrush. If they have as much of an obsession with saving weight as I do, the toothbrush will have something resembling a hack-job straight out of Saw, as well as the absence of a lower handle. That’s a fancy way to say that the hiker literally cut the handle off of their toothbrush to save weight.

Now, I’m not suggesting that there is anything wrong with the practice of toothbrush trimming. In fact, after I trimmed mine, I discovered another benefit of doing so; my toothbrush now fits better inside of my medical/personal kit, which makes it easier to keep track of. However, this rational didn’t stop the strange looks I got when I was spotted cutting away at a toothbrush with a hacksaw in my basement. Just try to explain that one to a non-backpacker.

Sure, not every ultralight backpacker goes to the extreme of saving a quarter-ounce of weight by trimming their toothbrush. However, I can almost guarantee that if you encounter a hiker who has done so, they most likely practice at least a few of the other things mentioned in this list as well.

2. Cooking Meals on a Catfood Can


(photo courtesy of Martin Dinse)

When most people walk through the pet isle at the grocery store, they keep their eyes out for treats and toys that they can bring back home, much to the delight of their pets. However, the last time I walked by an isle of cat food cans, the hunger and nutrition of my two cats was practically the last thing on my mind; I was looking for the perfect backpacking stove. All you need is a hole puncher, a cat food can, and some denatured alcohol, and you’ve got yourself a cheap, effective, ultralight stove. Most canister stoves sell for prices between $40 and $70, so why pay that price when the Fancy Feast can you were about to throw out can do the trick just as well?

But let’s be realistic; the monetary savings does have a significant impact on one’s decision to cook their meals on a cat food can, but the savings in weight are usually on the forefront of an ultralight backpacker’s mind. The average cat food can stove weighs less than half an ounce (i.e nothing), and when used correctly, can boil water just the same as any canister stove. However, using a cat food can stove is not as simple as lighting a match, and waiting patiently for your mac and cheese to cook. Ultralight backpackers usually undergo a learning curve, having to master the details of backcountry cooking with an alcohol stove. Things such as measuring how much fuel to put in the stove, making an effective windscreen, and grasping the topic of freezer bag cooking are just a few of the necessary components of cooking a delicious meal on a cat food can. The complexities that come with using an alcohol stove (compared to using a canister stove) only further proves the determination to save weight possessed by ultralight backpackers.

3. Adding Olive Oil to Everything

It's Olive Oil!

240 calories per ounce

Cooking some couscous at the end of a long day? Throw in some olive oil. How about some Knorr Pasta Sides? A shot of olive oil won’t hurt. Instant mashed potatoes, Ramen noodles, or rice? Why not add some… I think you get the point.

One of the most effective ways that ultralighters can cut down on their pack weight, is by taking foods that weigh less. So how does one eat plentifully in the backcountry, but still maintain a light pack? The key is to take foods with a high amount of calories per ounce. Olive oil holds the title as one of the most calorie dense food items available, and thus has a special place in the hearts of ultralight backpackers.

Many common backcountry dinners call for butter or margarine in the original recipe, and this is usually ignored by hikers in order to keep the cooking process quick and simple (hikers are a fairly hungry bunch, after all). However, hikers can replace the need to add butter or margarine by instead adding olive oil. This will make the meal even more filling, since it will add a big boost of extra calories. And this isn’t just limited to cooked meals either; I’ve heard of hikers adding olive oil to their wraps during lunch! Sometimes, hiker hunger has no limits.

4. Cutting Unnecessary Straps off a Pack


I see room for a bit more snipping…

Looking for a way to shed about an ounce and a half of weight, all while causing irreversible damage to your gear, invalidating your warranty? Try cutting unnecessary straps off of your pack!

In all seriousness, for some ultralighters, being perfectly consistent with the minimal weight philosophy requires the removal of all unnecessary weight, even if this means taking a pair of scissors to an expensive backpack. Those who do this are always careful about it, and I’ve never heard of someone taking it too far (to the point where they ruin their pack), but I’m still hesitant to do so myself.

Many ultralight packs do come with reversible options to cut weight, such as the ULA CDT. The CDT comes with a water bladder pouch, an internal stash pocket, water bottle holsters, and hand-loops, all of which can be removed from the pack in order to save weight. This gives the backpacker the option to retain a few extra comforts, or to strip their pack down and make it as light as possible.

5. Skipping Out on the Toilet Paper


Though I certainly have dabbled with a few of the options in this list, I can safely say that I’ve never entertained the thought of not bringing toilet paper into the backcountry. However, I know of hikers who have.

An entire roll of toilet paper usually weighs about half of a pound (yes, I have weighed toilet paper before), so in theory, leaving it at home would actually provide for some substantial weight savings. However, unless you’ve contracted giardia, or spent way too much time at the all-you-can-eat buffet in town yesterday, bringing an entire roll of toilet paper is probably a bit excessive. Thus, the minimal amount of weight added to one’s pack by bringing toilet paper is most definitely worth the comfort and cleanliness advantages it provides. Just be sure to follow leave-no-trace when you’ve finished your business.

Ultralight backpacking is more than just packing light; ultralight backpacking encompasses an entire wilderness philosophy of doing more with less. Its main goal is to allow hikers to spend less time burdened by the weight of a heavy pack, and more time enjoying the beauty and solitude that the natural world has to offer. Due to this philosophy, sometimes hikers like myself take things to the extreme to remain consistent, and this can be rather funny upon first examination. However, even though we all have different philosophies concerning our gear, we must remember that the age old rule of Hike Your Own Hike always reigns supreme, regardless of whether your toothbrush still has a handle or not.

What are some other funny things you’ve seen people resort to in an effort to save weight? What have you done to shed a few ounces, that caught you slack from your hiking friends? 

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Comments 11

  • John Brady : Jan 18th

    Actually in lieu of toilet paper a simple light dish cloth would due. Dampen it, use it, rinse it, done. People have done this for centuries. Much more effective and cleaner than toilet paper and more environmentally friendly.

    • Kyle O'Grady : Jan 19th

      Never thought I’d be starting such a bizarre conversation haha…. thanks for your input John!

  • Robert Sutherland : Jan 19th



    • Kyle O'Grady : Jan 19th

      Thanks Robert! Happy hiking.

  • Mike : Jan 22nd

    You forgot cutting the labels off your clothes….. :- )

  • Adam : Jan 22nd

    You’ll enjoy this point of view.


  • kickatree : Jan 31st

    Water? anybody use clean water and rinse using one hand only? It gets you cleaner…Then wash hands after…

  • Randy : Feb 2nd

    I do all of these, too, except the first one. I don’t use a toothbrush.

    I use an Oraljel Finger Brush instead. It’s made for children, but works great for adults. You put it on the end of a finger and scrub your teeth with it.

    It weighs two grams.

    I use either one drop of diluted Dr. B’s soap or a pinch of baking soda on it. Since I use a baking soda based mixture at home for toothpaste, scented with peppermint oil, I am used to that. On the trail, straight baking soda is fine (and has other uses.) The Oraljel finger brush bristles are quite soft, I find I actually can scrub a bit harder, longer and more thoroughly than with a toothbrush. And it is soft and easy to clean; you can even toss it in your water on the boil to sterilize it if you need.

    Oh, did I mention it weighs two grams?


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