Ultralight backpacking6 mn de lecture

Or the art of the MUL, as the french initiated say, which simply means the Marche Ultra légère, in other words : the ultralight backpacking. 

The MUL is the opposite of the MULET ride, packed like a donkey.

PS : In french Mulet means… Mullet.  

Example in Ireland in 1985: three kilotons of useless junk. Dismaying.

In detail

At the bottom of this page you will find different articles classified by category of material or needs: clothing, portage and bivouac, food and hydration, hygiene and pharmacy, accessories…

However, I advise you to read the following more general preambles.

Why should you walk lightly?

For comfort, first of all: ten hours of daily walking carrying even fifteen kilos is exhausting. Of course, the hiker likes to suffer, that’s how you can tell, but there are limits.

For freedom then: a bag that is too heavy will make the prospect of a diversion insurmountable, and you will miss such an off-trail lake, such a magnificent viewpoint, such an unexpected village with a grocery shop or a bar-restaurant, etc.

For the body, above all: the joints in particular. Since nature has not endowed us with the capacities of ants, it is generally agreed that beyond 20% of additional weight added to one’s own body weight, one’s entire biomechanics overheat. I personally consider that at 15%, we are already there. I therefore make a point of ensuring that my bag never weighs more than 10% of my body weight (65 kilos). My little bag is therefore no heavier than 7 kilos, including water – but without food if I’m totally autonomous.

Finally, for safety: as soon as there is relief, the imbalance linked to the weight of a bag that is too heavy can have unfortunate consequences. One false step on a steep scree and zou : helicopter.

Hiking light: is it risky?

No. No more than hiking alone. You just have to avoid doing anything at all. Lightening up at all costs without taking into account the destination and the way in which you are going to approach the journey can even be catastrophic. A winter trek with a bivouac is not the same as a summer trek with overnight stays in hotels or huts. Going over steep, snowy passes in trainers without an ice axe and a good knowledge of how to use it to stop a fall can be scary, but the banks of the Loire in spring in a down jacket and crampons are nonsense. You get the idea.

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Lighten up, yes: but how?

Behind the acronym MUL lies a culture of essentials, which consists of getting rid of any superfluous load by carefully examining the content of one’s luggage, in strict relation to the adventure undertaken and the degree of comfort one wishes to keep – or not. And of course, NEVER at the expense of your own safety.

This is also a good way to get rid of the fear of missing out for good. 

A fun mental exercise. Which starts with listing your equipment – paper, pen or digital binder, anything goes – and then goes on to weighing each item. It’s usually at this stage of the weighing process that those around you exchange strange looks in awkward silence. When, for example, you proudly announce at a family dinner that your nail clippers weigh only 13 grams.

Theoretically, the weight reduction process ends with the questioning and removal of everything that is not strictly necessary.

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Then you pack up your stuff and your choices and confront them with the reality on the ground.

In the course of the experience

You will replace items, eliminate some, reintroduce others that you have missed, and try to lighten your weight until you reach a lower weight limit, one that is specific to you and below which you know you will find it difficult to go. 

To convince you, and because contrary to the diets touted here and there, the results of the MUL approach are quick and visible, I suggest :

An evolving example

In July 2017, I walked three quarters of the Tour des Ecrins sleeping in a tent. My bag weighed 9 kilos including two litres of water.

It was not bad but still too heavy. Since then, I’ve saved weight by not taking any stove or cooking utensils, which I didn’t use, or only very little. I also removed my 2-litre water bag and I only kept two 1-litre water bottles that I only fill one at a time. I also changed my tent and sleeping bag, revised my clothes and replaced my camera with a smartphone that I also use as a GPS.

When I did this loop again in July 2020, this time in its entirety, my bag weighed 5.6 kilos, apart from water and a few rations.

Other examples

In April 2018, I set out to walk from Fontainebleau to Nantes by foot. My bag weighed 4 kilos for a fortnight, including a book. I slept in hotels or hotel rooms.

In February 2019, when I crossed the Jura on snowshoes for ten days, my bag weighed 5 kilos – and rose to 7 when I had to attach the snowshoes.

Again, I slept in huts or hotels. So I didn’t need any bivouac equipment, except for a meat bag.

Websites and two brands

There are many sites with various advice. I don’t know which ones are in English, but I’m sure that if you do a search with the keywords “ultralight packpacking”, you’ll find them.

There are also a lot of websites specialised in outdoor sports that promote so-called “ultra-light” products. It’s commercially clever, sometimes innovative, always colourful and attractive – on purpose – but not everything is good to take. A full catalogue of ultra-light gear later, and you’re back to being a mullet.

Two brands seem interesting to me to point out.

NB: as usual, I have no financial interest in mentioning them.

Sea to Summit is an Australian brand, whose products are mostly made in China, and which offers interesting items. My three-season sleeping bag comes from them, as well as some small accessories: a mini backpack, a folding bowl and a clothesline.

Zpaks is a high-end American brand, offering really innovative gear for a niche market. It’s expensive, especially if you count the customs fees, but their products and their friendliness are great.

To conclude

The best thing, as always, is to think about your gear and adapt it to your destinations, constraints and personal priorities. Unless you are on a self-sufficient expedition in the wilderness, wet and cold, your bag will never again weigh 25 kilos.

To share my experiences in this field, I refer you below to the various articles published on this subject and classified by category.

If you liked this article, don’t hesitate to leave me a comment and/or share it: thanks!

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