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

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 38 backpack

    The Osprey Exos makes the fundamental argument that, when going ultralight, a frameless pack hurts more than it helps. The Exos 38 has a real frame for stability and load transfer, and doesn’t skimp on important features, but weighs just 2 lb 5 oz.

  • Marmot Amp 2P tent

    You can certainly save more weight with a tent design that relies on trekking poles — or a bivy, or hammock, if you’re solo — but we prefer a semi-freestanding design like the Amp 2P that won’t leave you stuck in the cold when your only option is impenetrable ground.

  • Marmot Hydrogen 30° 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 with Down Defender, weighs a mere 1 lb 12 oz and compresses so well you might lose it in the bottom of your pack.

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

    The NeoAir series is great, but we still like the closed-cell Prolite for its durability and self-inflation. You could go with the full-size pad, but the 47″ version is only 12 oz; put your empty pack under your feet for insulation and you won’t know the difference.

  • Sawyer Squeeze water filter

    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. No more: the Squeeze is fast, light and filters water thoroughly.

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

    Snow Peak Mini Solo TitaniumUltralight 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? Not much reason left to build an alcohol stove out of a beanie-weenie can.

  • Outdoor Research Helium II

    Ultralight doesn’t have to mean a lack of protection if the weather turns bad. The Helium II is breathable, durably waterproof and weighs a mere 180 grams (6.4 ounces). No pit zips, but Outdoor Research gives you everything else in this insanely light package.

 

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.