What’s in your pack? Backpacking gear list #2: The ultralight backpacker

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Our customers often ask if we have a suggested gear list for backpacking trips. This week, we’ll be providing not one but three different backpacking lists to use as a reference: one for traditional backpackers, one for beginners, and one for ultralight backpackers! Today we delve into the world of an ultralight backpacker.

 

Ultralight backpacking means quite a few different things to quite a few different people. Some take it to extremes, striking out into the wilderness without a tent or rain gear. Increasingly, though, we come across folks who are simply looking to travel greater distances in a day than is possible with a heavy pack, or who are looking to reduce the strain on their hips and knees by shaving pounds from their normal backpacking gear.

There is no “real” standard, but for this article we shall define ultralight backpacking as resulting in a total pack weight of less than 20 pounds. In contrast to traditional backpackers, ultralight backpackers choose gear based primarily on weight, sometimes sacrificing comfort or durability to do so; where a traditional backpacker might carry more equipment in the name of a comfortable camp, ultralight backpacking means valuing a lighter pack weight (which equates to more comfort while hiking) “luxury” items.

For the sake of this ultralight gear list, we will assume that our example backpacker is heading out for a weekend trip with a friend, in the southeastern United States, at elevations no higher than 5,000 feet, between late April and early June. Our backpacking trip is not likely to involve night-time temperatures below 40 degrees. While our typical backpacker might cover 18-25 miles in a weekend, our ultralight backpacker will be traveling 30 or 40 miles in the same time period, covering more ground in the same amount of time by moving faster with a lighter load.

Ignoring clothing, here is an ultralight backpacking gear list that focuses on the actual pack’s contents. We’ll start with the “major” items, and a small paragraph about each. Most of these are best-sellers and award-winners, and all are available from Rock/Creek:

 

  • Osprey Exos 46 backpackOsprey Exos 46 backpack
    The Osprey Exos 46 makes the fundamental argument that, when going ultralight, you’ll waste more energy by fighting with a frameless pack than you’d save in weight. Their solution, then, is to create an ultralight pack with a “real” frame for stability and load transfer, without skipping out on features. The Exos 46 weighs just 2 lb 5 oz, but it’s sturdy enough to carry plenty… not that you’d want to!
  • Big Agnes Fly Creek UL2 tentBig Agnes Fly Creek UL2

    Big Agnes has perfected the art of the ultralight tent over the past few years, and the Big Agnes Fly Creek UL2 is borderline ridiculous (in a good way). On-the-trail at 2 lb 2 oz, with another 5 oz for the optional footprint, this weatherproof 2-person tent reinvents the concept of the 3-season backpacking tent. Forget about tarp shelters and hammocks; pick one up, suspend your disbelief and head out into the woods!

  • Marmot Hydrogen 30° sleeping bagMarmot Hydrogen sleeping bag

    If you’re going ultralight, you basically need a high-end down sleeping bag. The Marmot Hydrogen 30° sleeping bag, which uses 850-fill down, weighs a mere 1 lb 9 oz and packs so small you might lose it in the bottom of your pack. Backpacker Magazine called the Marmot Hydrogen “evidence that luxury and light weight can go hand in hand.” You can’t move fast on the trail without a good night’s sleep!

  • Therm-A-Rest Prolite sleeping pad (small)Therm-a-rest Prolite

    Astute readers will notice that we’ve already featured the Thermarest Prolite in the “traditional backpacking” category — what gives? Well, ultralight backpackers can make use of the same product, but will save 5 oz by taking along the small version instead of the regular. At 11 oz for the 47″ version, put your empty pack under your feet for insulation and you won’t know the difference.

  • SteriPEN ProtectorSteriPEN Protector

    For a long time, ultralight backpackers had to choose between the unpleasant taste (and slow filtering time) of iodine tablets and the weight of a pump filter. SteriPEN has changed this game tremendously with products like the 4.5 oz SteriPEN Protector. Using an ultraviolet light to sterilize the bacteria, viruses and protozoa that cause water-borne illnesses, it’s fast, light and effective.

  • Snow Peak LiteMax stove & Snow Peak Titanium Mini Solo cooksetSnow Peak Mini Solo Titanium

    Ultralight backpacking and titanium go together like peanut butter and jelly. How about a canister stove that weighs less than 2 oz and a cookset — pot, mug and lid — weighing just 5.5 oz? Together, that’s half the weight of most backpacking stove and cookset combinations, and doesn’t leave much reason to build an alcohol stove out of a beanie-weenie can (or whatever is popular this week).

  • Marmot Mica rain jacketMarmot Mica rain jacket

    In contrast with the Super Mica we featured yesterday, the Marmot Mica skips a few features, but it rings in at an incredibly-light 7 ounces. That’s half the weight of most waterproof/breathable rain jackets, despite being every bit as waterproof and more breathable than most! This is the lightest breathable rain jacket out there. There is a women’s version available as well, the Marmot Crystalline.

 

Compared to the “typical” backpacking gear list we shared yesterday, you’ve already saved over 6 pounds with the items above. To complete your kit for a weekend of moving fast and light, you’ll also need the following:

This list will change a bit depending on individual preference, of course, and one of the ways ultralight backpackers save weight is by skipping some items entirely (or bringing one item that serves two functions). For example, you might leave the stuff sacks at home to save a few ounces at the expense of pack organization, or sleep in your insulated jacket instead of bringing a base layer. Just like on the trail, your mileage may vary.

Your pack list should vary based on the elevation, weather forecast, time of year and the distance you intend to hike each day. There are an unlimited number of ways to tweak your backpacking gear, this ultralight gear list should serve as a good starting point for making those decisions.

The backpack, tent & footprint, sleeping bag, sleeping pad, water filter, stove and rain jacket above will start you out around 9 pounds, and that figure will drop once you split the tent, cooking equipment and filter with your hiking companion. Filling out the rest of your pack — remember, most people will need to eat around a pound of food per day on the trail — will bring this weight up into the teens, likely more than 15 pounds but definitely less than 20.

 

Yesterday we looked at a more traditional backpacking gear list, and tomorrow we’ll publish a third list for beginners who are looking to get into backpacking.

3 Comments

  1. Pretty good list, overall. You may have a hard time hitting a 10-pound base weight with those items, but it is a good primer for those interested in going lighter.

  2. @Rob: Agreed, I think this list will put most users at 12-13 pounds for base weight (depending on the smaller items and what extras they choose to carry). Those looking for <10 pounds are going to be getting into the world of totally-frameless (and smaller) packs, with a tarp or bivy for shelter, etc.

    I have seen several lists online for a "true" ultralight style with <10 pounds in mind, but little for the middle ground between, say, a 10-pound base weight and a 15-pound base weight. Hopefully, this kind of list will inspire some folks to bring down their pack weights from a more traditional approach, while others will catch the bug and start chasing that 10-pound threshold!

  3. Brad Rogers said:

    April 13, 2011 at 9:16 pm

    Not really an ultralight list, but more of a transitioning lightweight backpacking list. Of course it is hard to go ultralight with gear from traditional backpacking companies.

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