How Heavy Is Your Go-Bag? Applying Ultralight Backpacking To Survival Preparation

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October 4, 2023 / Comments (3)

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Ounces equal pounds, and pounds equal pain. This is a principle taught to Marines in basic training as they get ready for their first hikes. Once they get past mandatory gear lists in the training environment, Marines quickly learn the ultralight backpacking essentials.

This is how service members can carry everything they may need for 8 to 15 months in an austere environment. Sticking to that minimalist mindset allows for quicker pack up and set up time while lessening the load on the body.

Applying Ultralight Backpacking To Survival Preparation

Ultralight Backpacking Tips for Beginners

In the backpacking world, this has grown into an entire subculture of ultralight or minimalist camping. I want to apply that further and see some ultralight backpacking guidelines or ideas applied in survivalist circles.

Undoubtedly, your ‘go-bag’ or any pre-staged survivalist gear is the result of months of planning and research. While you may have the best water filtration system, collapsible shelter, or other gear in that bag, chances are that nearly any go bag weighing over 45 pounds could stand to lose 10 to 20 pounds.

Some figures state that 25 to 33% of your body weight should be a manageable amount of pack weight but even that can cause unnecessary fatigue and wear on your joints. Carrying 33% of your body weight for long distances also takes dedicated training that most don’t have time for.

The reality is that even with a go-bag, you are likely to be physically unprepared for a survival situation. Carrying a lightweight pack will cut down on the fatigue caused by heavy packs. Keeping these ideas in mind, we will explore some ultralight backpacking gear options to help you save those ounces and ultimately save you some pain!


As we are all aware, food is one of the top priorities in any survival situation. Food can be one of the heaviest items in your pack as well. In survival situations, you can carry or catch your own food, basically. If you carry food, it should only be as a backup anyway, and for the lightweight survivalist, space food is the go-to.

Dehydrating food removes all of the moisture and therefore a substantial amount of weight. Most dehydration processes cut weight by half or even two-thirds. Contingent on water sources, you could reasonably expect to carry 4+ days' supply of dehydrated food.

Survival Foods That You Can Get on Your Next Grocery Trip

The other option is to catch your food. This is entirely dependent on the skill level of the survivalist and where you are encouraged to play to your strengths.

However, if you’re comfortable with one method you should not rest there. For example, if you’re competent at setting traps, find a dual purpose for the snare twine and learn improvised fishing.

Food Preparation

Finally, food preparation. With the number of different ways to heat or prepare food, we are going to stay focused on the ideal lightweight survival option.

The MSR Windburner is a modular stove system weighing in at 15 ounces. Those 15 ounces though can serve many purposes, including being able to boil up to 19 liters (5 gallons) of water with just one fuel pod.

emergency food 1

The integrated pot can be used to prepare whatever food you catch or carry as well. It converts easily into storage mode and won’t take any more space than a medium-sized thermos.

The MSR Windburner packs a serious multipurpose and lightweight punch.


Water is probably the single most important priority in any survival situation. While it can be tempting to travel with as much water as you can, that too can add up to some painful weight to be carrying around.

Water Bottle Fire Starter

Simple solution: Carry a portable water filter. Depending on the situation, an adept survivalist is likely to be traveling from one water source to the next.

It’s important to keep some water on your person while traveling, but keeping a filter will sustain you longer and is a good alternative if there’s no time to boil water.


A shelter can be the second to third priority in any variety of survival situations. However, when assessing weight, shelter can become one of the biggest burdens to our load-out.

While tents are the most familiar to assemble and sleep in, they are sometimes the heaviest shelter option.

How to Camp with Hammocks |

Consider the modern backpacking hammock. Much simpler than any tent, you just need two trees to stay warm, dry, and completely off the ground.

With a compression sack, you can get this 1 to 2-pound piece of gear compressed into a very small package. For the survivalist looking to save weight and streamline the shelter setup process, a hammock is a great alternative to traditional tents.

A cuben fiber rainfly and hiking poles can be repurposed into a quick personal awning.

Medical Kit

With the plethora of medical kits available, it’s easy to get drawn into sometimes unnecessary features, serving the assumption that one medical bag should serve multiple people.

The reality is that the medical kit everyone carries should be completely self-serving. Especially in survival situations, you may just need whatever it takes to keep going, hence some OTC medication.

First Aid Survival

Anything besides the medications and sanitizing aids can be improvised, like tourniquets, splints, slings, and bandages. Sticking to the absolute essentials can shrink your medical kit to the size (and weight) of an Altoids tin.

Especially in a hiking first aid kit, it’s important to keep everything labeled.


Shaving weight off your pack will not only lighten the load on your back but your feet also. If you apply this seriously and bring your pack weight down to below 30 pounds, it is worth considering changing your footwear too.

Maintain Your Hiking Boots

A lot of hiking footwear is designed to support the heavy weight that the hiker is expected to be carrying.

If you’re cruising with a 25-pound pack though, chances are that those boots are going to end up causing blisters because they aren’t being fully employed. Consider switching to lightweight trail shoes like Merrell's or other similar brands.

Core Concept

At its core, applying the ultralight backpacking mindset to survival preparation is a great way to take inventory of what you should reasonably expect to carry. Lay out whatever gear you have now and assess each piece with these questions.

  1. How many purposes does this gear have? Dual or multiple purposes per piece of gear is going to be more valuable than a single-use item.
  2. Is this gear unnecessarily heavy, and if so is there a better way to get the same task done with a lighter or simpler piece of gear?

All too often, we can get drawn into the features of interesting (but heavy) gear and end up never using it. Avoid that waste by asking these critical questions.

Thanks to Stephen Escallier, ultralight enthusiast, for sharing his insight and gear with us.

Watch this video from Stephen Escallier for a guide to packing an ultralight cooking kit:

In conclusion, taking all of your gear through this weight-saving inventory is a good exercise, whether you plan on changing your load-out immediately or over the next few months. Make your ultralight backpacking gear list with these backpacking tips and tricks in mind!

What do you think of applying ultralight backpacking to your survival preparation? What did you not realize was adding weight to your go-bag? Share with us in the comments section!

Up Next: SURVIVAL TIPS: 6 Things You’re Not Doing That Will Bite You In The Ass

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Editor’s Note: This post was originally published on April 10, 2017, and has been updated for quality and relevancy.


3 Responses to :
How Heavy Is Your Go-Bag? Applying Ultralight Backpacking To Survival Preparation

  1. Joe Proffitt says:

    Think we all have packs that csn go on a diet. Military has tents weighing 4lbs and zipped shelter under 3lbs. So incoroating some military into your backs csn give some bonus features.

  2. Quakka Suits says:

    Good luck stopping a deadly bleed with that first aid kit. The tin alone weighs more than guaze. Best light weight method is the big three sleeping, shelter and pack.

  3. Carlos Lugo says:

    Great information, will utilize these tips and reconstruct my Go Bag. Thanks!

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