Ultralight Clothing & Rain Gear - Episode 9


Ultralight Clothing & Rain Gear

Your clothing weight will vary slightly depending on the backpacking trip you’re preparing for. The current trail conditions, season of travel, weather forecast, and elevation profile are important factors for choosing the right clothing for your trip. A well thought out clothing system will keep you covered under almost any conditions and can be extremely light.

Clothing choices are often overlooked and over packed, but clothing can be an area to save a lot of weight and space. When I first started lightweight backpacking I didn’t worry too much about my clothing choices. When I decided to take a closer look, I was easily able to cut three pounds by leaving home unnecessary extras and replacing heavy clothing choices.

Lightweight clothing is all about fabrics and layers. For fabrics you want to lean towards light quick drying synthetics. Synthetic fabrics will perform really well under most backpacking conditions, especially when wet. You’ll also want to pack with layers in mind, so you can put clothing on for warmth or peel it off to cool down. In general, you won't want to bring two items that serve the same purpose. One warm coat, one long-sleeve shirt, one short sleeve shirt, etc.


4 Common Mistakes

  1. Unnecessary extras
    • Pack in layers and try not to double up on any clothing types. Synthetics will wash and dry quickly on the trail. Chances are, you could get by comfortably with less.  
  2. Heavy pants and accessories
    • They’re uncomfortable, bulky, and they'll take a long time to dry. Don’t be the guy backpacking in blue jeans and a leather belt.
  3. Heavy jackets
    • You won’t need an arctic parka or a mountaineering rain shell for most backpacking trips. Lightweight jackets protect you from the elements, breathe better, and will be far lighter.
  4. Cotton
    • Cotton doesn’t perform well when wet, it won't dry quickly, and it won’t hold heat in.


Lightweight Clothing Packing List

  • Rain jacket
    • Bring lightweight rain protection, even if the weather looks good.
    • If the weather looks cold and wet, you should consider bringing rain pants as well.
  • Hat and mittens
    • You’ll almost always want to bring a wool or fleece hat and mittens/gloves. Most mornings and evenings will be chilly on the trail.
  • Hiking pants
    • Most nylon hiking pants are comfortable and some have zip-off legs so they can be worn as pants or shorts.
  • Hiking shorts
    • If you prefer hiking in shorts, go with a pair of lightweight running shorts. Many of them come with liners built in, which will save bringing an extra pair of underwear.
  • Hiking shirt
    • For your hiking shirt, you can choose a long-sleeve or short-sleeve synthetic tee.
    • Long sleeves will protect you from the sun and bugs a bit better.
    • You can bring both, but if you’re trying to go ultralight, you might just bring one hiking shirt.
  • Underwear
    • You’ll want to bring 2-3 pairs of synthetic underwear max, even for long treks.
  • Long john bottom and top
    • These items are comfortable to sleep in and will give you some extra warmth at night.
    • These are optional on warm trips.
  • Sun Hat
    • If you’re in a really sunny area, you might want a brim that goes all the way around your hat to protect your ears and neck.
  • Bandana
    • Bandana’s are useful in lots of different situations and they’re really light too.
  • Socks
    • A couple of pairs of lightweight synthetic socks with minimal padding will keep your feet comfortable all day long.
  • Gaiters 
    • Gaiters will help keep grit and rocks from the trail out of your shoes so you don’t have to untie them several times a day to get the pebbles out.
  • Shoes 
    • You’ll want some trail runners for hiking (see episode 8) and you might consider lightweight camp shoes as well.
    • Camp shoes should be considered optional. Most ultralight backpackers leave them at home.


Lightweight Jackets

Your rain jacket and warm jacket will often be some of the heaviest clothing items you bring on the trail. One common mistake is bringing jackets that are unnecessarily thick and heavy.

For example, you won’t need a mountaineering thickness on your raincoat for most backpacking trips. All you really need is a thin, light, waterproof shell to keep you dry. 

There are affordable options out there for full rain suits that will only weigh around 10 ounces or less. Have a look at our gear guide to find our favorite picks.

For your warm jacket, a down coat can be an excellent investment. They have fantastic warmth to weight ratios, they can weigh as little as 6 ounces, and if you treat them well, they’ll last for years.

Choosing lightweight jackets can be a great weight saver. When I switched from my traditional raincoat and jacket over to an ultralight rain jacket and down coat, I was able to save over a pound and a half.


Wrap Up

When you add up all of your clothing, it might seem like a small amount of gear compared to what you’re used to. The truth is, you don’t need a ton of clothing to stay clean, comfortable, and stylish in the backcountry, even on long trips.

Clothing is obviously a very personal choice, so choose fabrics that are light, comfortable, and that you look good in. At the end of the day, you’ll be happy you did.

Hopefully that gives you some great ideas on how to stay comfortable and save weight with your backpacking clothing choices.

Hike light, hike smart, and have fun.