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Reviews > Books > Field Guides > Lighten Up > Owner Review by Derek Hansen

Lighten Up!

A Complete Handbook for Light and Ultralight Backpacking

by Don Ladigin; illustrated by Mike Clelland

Owner Review by Derek Hansen

DATE: July 22, 2008

Image - Book Cover
Inset photo courtesy


NameDerek Hansen
Height5’ 10” (1.78 m)
Weight165 lb (75 kg)
Email Address derek·dot·hansen·at·mac·dot·com
City, State, CountryAlexandria, Virginia, USA


I began serious backpacking in 2005 after becoming a Scoutmaster for a local Boy Scout troop in Virginia. Now, I overnight camp at least once a month with two or three week-long high adventure treks every year. I am venturing into lightweight backpacking and keep my pack weight around 18 lb (8.2 kg). I use a hammock year-round, trees or no trees.


Publisher: The Globe Pequot Press, Inc.
Year Published: 2005
Edition: First edition, fourth publishing
Weight Listed: 8 oz (227 g)
Weight Measured: 6.8 oz (193 g)
MSRP: US$12.95
Dimensions: 6 x 9 in (15.24 x 22.86 cm)
ISBN: 978-0-7627-3734-5
Pages: 112
Binding: Paperback


Lighten Up! by Don Ladigin, illustrated by Mike Clelland, covers introductory topics on lightweight backpacking and includes comic-style illustrations throughout. The illustrations are well documented with captions and commentary. The book covers six main principles of lightweight backpacking and includes chapters on reducing pack weight, dressing efficiently, the major consumables, and tips on the trail, along with other miscellaneous topics.

There are two appendices on a lightweight hiking gear list and recommending reading. The book also includes an index.


My wife, bless her, purchased Lighten Up! for me on our anniversary in 2007. I had been devouring several other books on backpacking from our local library before then, and I think I hinted I wanted this book because it was the heavyweight on the subject. Okay, honestly, a book that weighs a mere 6.8 oz (193 g) can hardly be called “heavyweight”; I wanted it because of the illustrations (although, I guess a book on lightweight backpacking should be small, right? Zen!). I already owned Allen & Mike’s Really Cool Backpackin’ Book and found the illustrations by Mike Clelland brilliant. In a single illustration, Clelland crams a bunch of information from the text and makes a topic, piece of gear, or technique simple and understandable.

I’ve taken Lighten Up! on a few Boy Scout campouts, but my Assistant Scoutmasters and Scouts haven’t yet caught the vision of lightweight, so the book hasn’t been as exciting to them as others I’ve brought along, although the illustrations keep them amused. I usually keep this book at home where my kids read it and flip through it constantly (it’s our version of a coffee table book).


Lighten Up! was a fairly quick read, and yet I keep going back to refresh my memory, check myself against some tips, and remind myself how much fun it all is. The book is neatly organized and comes with, as I’ve said before, wonderful illustrations.

As much as I’ve read and flipped through the book, I’ll admit that it is lightweight on the topic of lightweight backpacking in some areas. Some of the information provides so little insight that it borders on common sense. One quick example is on page 76 under the title “Hand Washing”:

Hikers should wash their hands thoroughly with soap and water after defecation or urination, and before touching food.

That’s it. That sentence wraps up the entire topic and headline. To-the-point and straightforward, yes; but lacking a little in substance (or even personality), especially for a book. This kind of statement is perfect for a quick reference card, perhaps not for “a complete handbook for light and ultralight backpacking” as the book’s subtitle suggests.

While I wouldn’t go so far as to claim this book is a “complete handbook” on lightweight backpacking, it does offer some good tips and techniques that I’ve put into practice. In the first chapter, the author lays out six principles of lightweight backpacking, some of which I was already attempting (like knowing the actual weight of each item), and others that are constantly being refined (like finding and using multipurpose items).

One of the first things I’ve done, almost religiously now, is weigh my gear. I purchased a bulky food scale at first, but with its analog dial I was always rounding and guessing at weight. I later moved to a very accurate digital postal scale and got everything down to a science. As suggested in the book, I now keep an electronic spreadsheet where I record, sort, and total all my gear weight as I prepare for a trek. It is a great way to “know before you go.”

Image - The Big 3

Besides reducing the amount of sheer junk in my pack and resorting to multi-use items, I was struck by “the Big 3” topic in Part 2 of the book. I had heard of this concept before, where if you want to reduce weight, focus on the three heaviest items: your pack, your shelter, and your sleep system. I took a close look at my first system: a 5 lb (2.3 kg) pack; a 5 lb (2.3 kg) 2-man tent; and a 5 lb (2.3 kg) 20 F (-7 C) synthetic bag. Ug! The author gives a lot of great advice on ways to lighten these three items, including the possibility of using a lightweight tarp instead of a bulky tent. After a little research and do-it-yourself ingenuity, I’ve reduced my pack to 18 oz (510 g), my shelter to 20 oz (567 g), and my sleep system to 32 oz (907 g). Not really much to brag about, but I was amazed at the comparison. When I first started backpacking, I saw equipment as a checklist, not really paying attention to the weight. Now the checklist has a weight column attached, and some of my gear won’t make the cut if it breaks the scale.

Image - Bombshelter

Converting from a tent to something less was difficult for me at first. I dropped a lot of pack weight moving first to an all-in-one commercial camping hammock. Although the book doesn’t mention hammocks, I used the tips about tarps because the hammock used a sort of tarp for rain protection. I now use a custom hammock and tarp when I camp and have tweaked my system so I can easily set-up on the ground when I have to. I’ve used the “bombshelter” technique a few times and I now prefer using a tarp over a tent because of how versatile and simple it is to use.

Image - Steam Baking

Another section where the book really adds value is under the topic of stoves on page 60. From white-gas and canister stoves to the ubiquitous alcohol stove, this book does a great job of extolling some of the virtues of ultralight stoves without dismissing any one stove entirely. One application under this section that I’ve fallen in love with is steam baking. Coming from a commercialized mentality, I presumed that in order to bake in the backcountry, I would simply buy a specialized tool or accessory. Ladigin points out (with a great illustration by Clelland) how anyone can have baked goods very easily using gear you already own. Steam baking was so simple and fun that I now try to incorporate it into every trip I can (see page 66 for details!).


The back cover of Lighten Up! contains a note that “this book weighs 8 oz [227 g]”. I took this statement as truth until I actually weighed the book and was pleasantly surprised it weighed less! The note is a statement to the fundamentals the author is extolling in his book about being more conscious about what you pack, why and how you use it, and how much everything weighs. In some places, the book is a little too light and has left me wanting more. Lighten Up! is a great introduction into lightweight backpacking and fun to read.


  1. Lots of brilliant illustrations; fun and entertaining.
  2. Quick and to-the-point text, not overly heavy.
  3. Great advice on how to start packing light.


  1. Some topics are covered very lightly.
  2. Does not cover hammocks.

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