Ultralight Backpacking

I taught a class earlier this week on ultralight backpacking (or "fastpacking" as the jargon goes), which was designed to help participants identify ways to easily and effectively reduce their pack weight. I focused on five specific items of gear which together tend to account for the majority of weight:
I then collected examples of each item for two different weight classes:
I selected my favorite items for each category, products I regularly recommend. For standards of comparison, I selected men's medium sized. For tents, I compared the average packaged weights (which is a truer representation of reality than the average minimum weight) on two-person tents rather than solo shelters.

Here's how it all broke down:


Pack: A typical extended backpacking pack with ~4,000-5,000 cubic inches of capacity (enough for a week-long hike) weighs in at around 6 pounds. I like the Gregory Palisade 80 (6 pounds, 3 ounces; $329) or the more affordable Kelty Red Cloud 5600 (5 pounds, 10 ounces; $200).

Tent: A lot of 2-person tents weigh in at somewhere between 5 and 6 pounds, like the REI Half Dome HC2 (5 pounds, 11 ounces; $169). Most of us have probably been persuaded to carry the footprint as well (6 ounces; $26).

Sleeping Bag:
A basic, realtively inexpensive 20- to 30-degree synthetic fill sleeping bag is around 3-3.5 pounds, a la REI's Polar Pod +25 (3 pounds, 12 ounces; $89).

Sleeping Pad
: A comfortable full-length (6 feet) sleeping pad that's 1.5 inches thick comes in at around 2 pounds, like the Therm-a-Rest Trail Lite (2 pounds; $60).

: Perhaps the all-time classic stove is the white-gas burning MSR Whisperlite (14.5 ounces plus 4 ounces for 11-ounce fuel bottle; $80).

TOTAL STANDARD WEIGHT & COST: 18 pounds, 9.5 ounces; $624
(Add 8.5 ounces and $129 for the Gregory Palisade)

Pack: When you're going light, all of your gear is going to be correspondingly smaller. This means you need less space in your pack, somewhere around 2,500-3,500 cubic inches. My current favorite ultralight pack is the Osprey Exos 58 (2 pounds, 7 ounces; $219).

Hard-core fastpackers will go with nothing more than an ultralight tarp and/or bivy sack, or use some type of floorless, ultralight shelter. This can get weight down to under two pounds, but entails some sacrifices, especially regarding bug, wind, and rain exposure. Stay bug- and rain-proof instead in the Big Agnes Seedhouse 2 SL (3 pounds, 6 ounces; $320). Forget the footprint and save the weight.

Sleeping Bag: An ultralight sleeping bag with high-quality 800-fill goose down for insulation will pack down to the size of a Nalgene water bottle. I drool over the Mountain Hardwear Phantom +32 (1 pound, 6 ounces; $290).

Sleeping Pad:
Instead of a 6-foot pad, a 4-foot (3/4-length) pad will save weight and still allow you to sleep comfortably with knees-to-shoulders coverage (the tradeoff: the tail of your sleeping bag is unprotected from damp, dirt, and cold). I'm partial to the Therm-A-Rest Z-Lite (10 ounces; $30).

Stove: Canister stoves are much lighter than their white gas brethren. There are some micro-stoves that are less than 4 ounces, including the Snow Peak LightMax (2 ounces; $55).

TOTAL ULTRALIGHT WEIGHT & COST: 7 pounds, 15 ounces; $914.

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