Essential gear for lightweight wild camping adventures
Packing a rucksack with camping kit, heading out into the British countryside for a few days and sleeping under the stars is a great way to escape the stresses of day-to-day life and reconnect with nature.
But what equipment should you take on your wild backpack camping adventures?
Lightweight camping includes anything that doesn't involve you travelling by car. So whether you are backpacking on foot, cycle camping or travelling by canoe or kayak, the important thing is that you strip out the non-essentials and only pack what you will definitely need.
As you will be carrying everything on your back, you should choose products that are light and compact but are reliable enough to keep you warm and dry when you set up camp at night.
By its very nature, lightweight camping means getting back to basics. So leave the kitchen unit, camp bed, wardrobe and tent carpet behind and focus on the essentials.
All you really need to set up camp for an overnight stay is a small tent, a sleeping bag or quilt, a self-inflating mat, cooking gear, food and a water bottle.
But camping is supposed to be enjoyable and to enjoy yourself camping you need to be comfortable.
So unless you are planning an ultralight camping trip, you can take advantage of the other gear that's out there to make your adventures more comfortable. As long as you can handle the weight, then go for it.
What gear do I need for lightweight camping?
Rucksacks and backpacks
The first place to start is your rucksack or backpack. A 55-litre pack should be enough for everything you will need for a couple of nights’ camping.
Comfort is important so pick the right back system. Mesh backing is designed to keep your back cool and less sweaty. Metal frameworks provide best support and ventilation, generally, but can add bulk.
Remember, the more complex the system, the more it’s likely to add weight. Padded hip belts come into their own as the weight adds up and helps to keep the load stable on your back.
Consider accessibility to the main storage area, as well as the number of additional pockets and their potential uses.
Expanding side pockets are useful for stashing a water bottle, snacks, a hat and gloves and other small items such as a first aid kit.
A lid pocket is perfect for storing sandwiches or waterproofs and means you don't have to go rummaging for them inside the main compartment.
Most hill walkers use walking poles and many backpacks are fitted with quick release retainers that can hold a pair of poles securely. Side compression straps allow flexibility and stability in carrying capacity and can be adjusted quickly and simply.
Padded shoulder straps spread and soften the weight of the load and a grab handle makes carrying the daysack easier when it's not on your back; the chest strap aids stability and stops straps slipping on waterproof jacket fabric.
A waterproof drysack used as a liner means the contents won't get wet in heavy rain if your choice has no rain cover. Built-in features range from sewn-in key clips to hydration system compatible designs that allow you to drink on the move
Think about what the weather is likely to be. A raincover might just be a good idea here in the UK. It’s usually a good idea to keep any essential kit in waterproof bags inside your rucksack
Click here to see 9 of the best rucksacks and daysacks for lightweight camping
A tent is the most important piece of equipment you'll need for lightweight and wild camping so it's important that you take time to think about what you suits you best.
Whether you’re pitching at a campsite or camping wild on a hilltop, your tent needs to protect you from the elements and that means it has to be sturdy and waterproof as well as being light, compact and easy to pitch.
# Lightweight tent styles
There are three basic styles of lightweight tent. Dome tents have two flexible poles which cross over the top of the tent to form a dome shape.
Tunnel tents for backpacking usually have two poles – one at the front and one at the back – which are arched to create a tunnel shape. Easy and quick to pitch, these provide good space and headroom.
Geodesic and semi-geodesic tents are the most technically advanced and feature multiple poles that cross each other to create an extremely stable structure for the most demanding conditions.
Regardless of the style, most lightweight tents feature an breathable inner sleeping area with a waterproof flysheet over the top. The inners are usually made out of breathable cotton with mesh panels, and have fully waterproof groundsheets.
Some tents have the inner tent pre-attached to the outer and can be pitched as one. Others are put up inner first, although this can mean the inside of your tent will get wet if you are pitching in the rain – a common problem in the UK!
Free-standing tents are able to remain upright without the use of guylines, but some tents require you to peg out the guys in order to keep the tent standing.
A vestibule area at the door, either at the front or side depending on the design, lets you store your muddy walking boots and wet clothing undercover, without having to bring them into the main section of the tent.
# What is the best size of tent for lightweight camping?
If you are solo camping, to keep weight down you could take a one-man tent. But although they score high on the weight front, a single-berth tent leaves you with very little space for storing gear and can feel very claustrophobic.
For more comfort, we'd suggest a two-man tent instead, even if it adds a few extra grammes to your load.
Depending on the materials used, a two-man tent can weigh in at between 1.5kg and 3kg. For the most part, the lighter the tent the more expensive it will be.
Larger tents are obviously heavier but if there is a few of you travelling together and sharing a tent, then you can split the pck and spread the load between the group.
Have a look at our selection of six of the best tents for lightweight camping and backpacking adventures
Sleeping bags and sleeping mats
# Sleeping bags
Sleeping bags come in two shapes – rectangular and mummy-style. For lightweight camping, mummy-shaped bags are by far the most common.
Hooded mummy bags are more efficient at keeping the body warmer, principally because of their shape.
Following the natural shape of the body, a mummy bag is wider at the top to accommodate the shoulders, tapering towards the feet and into a box-shaped foot section. But if you have not used one before, a mummy bag can feel claustrophobic, so try before you buy.
Sleeping bags either come filled with natural down or synthetic material. Backpackers usually prefer a quality goose down bag over synthetic fill, as the weight-to-warmth ratio is superior.
Down bags will usually come with a durable water repellent outer fabric (DWR) bu this will not keep it completely waterproof – and a down bag is difficult to dry compared to its synthetic counterpart so it's important to keep it as dry as possible.
Down is also the more expensive option but, on the plus side, a down bag packs down small, puffs up big, and is wonderfully snug.
To find out more about sleeping bags, visit our complete guide to sleeping bags for camping
# Sleeping mats
A lightweight self-inflating mattress will provide protection from the hard ground and form an insulating barrier between you and the cold.
Therm-a-Rest has a wide range of mats – including three-quarter-length models which cut down the carry weight considerably but still provide plenty of comfort.
For extra sleeping comfort you could take a small inflatable pillow or simply create a head rest by putting your clothes into a stuff bag.
For cooking you’ll require a small lightweight gas stove and a pan.
Lightweight camping stoves basically screw directly into the gas canister. They can be quite unstable on rugged ground but are ideal for lightweight camping as they take up very little space in your rucksack and are extremely light.
Cooking ‘systems’ such as Jetboil and MSR’s Reactor, where the pot is integrated with the cooker, have become popular in recent years although, of course, Trangia led the way decades ago.
Another option is the Biolite stove, which lets you use twigs and other natural fuel sources and at the same time, generates enough energy to recharge your mobile phone.
When it comes to eating, packets of pre-prepared dry and wet camping food, such as Firepot, Wayfayrer and Summit To Eat are very good. In years gone by, camping meals like these tasted pretty awful, but these days they can be extremely tasty and come in a huge range of varities.
These pre-prepared meals can be tasty but are expensive, so for a cheaper alternative, make your own chilli at home, take it with you and heat it up at your tent.
Another good tip is to have a bowl of porridge in the morning as it can give you fuel for the whole day.
Clothing for lightweight camping
As you will be carrying your kit on your bag, you will want to keep clothing limited to the essentials. Clothing is all about layering, starting with base layers or thermals for sleeping.
For a couple of nights away, you should be able to get away with just taking spare underwear and socks and not a complete change of outfit.
Clearly waterproof trousers and a jacket are very important, as are good quality walking socks. But don’t forget a hat and gloves, especially in colder months – you are going to be out of the tent a lot of the time.
Packing your rucksack
You’ll find any number of people prepared to give you advice on the best way to pack your rucksack, but really there’s no good or bad way to go about it.
Some will tell you that you should always put heavy items at the bottom and lighter things at the top, but the best approach is trial and error and find out what works best for you.
Do put important things like torches, toiletries, snacks and coffee sachets somewhere you can access easily, such as a top pocket.
Want more excellent information and advice about lightweight camping and backpacking?
Our complete guide to wild backpack camping adventures is full of great advice.
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