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Lightweight Backpacking – How to Go Light Fast

Granite Gear Crown VC 60 Backpack
Granite Gear Crown VC 60 Backpack

A few years ago, lightweight backpacking used to require a religious conversion or at least a change in your packing “philosophy.” Those days are over. You don’t need to learn new skills, read an eBook, take a mentored backpacking trip, or even watch a video series about ultralight backpacking.

Today, if you want to go light, you just need cold hard cash.

I don’t want to discourage you from learning more skills, but if you don’t have time and just want the increased comfort that comes from cutting your gear weight by 10-15 pounds, just buy it down.

In fact, there are so many manufacturers producing quality lightweight gear that you can buy all of the stuff you need at  REI (see below) and use their guarantee to return it if the gear you buy doesn’t work out. And if you have problems with any of the gear, most of these manufacturers listed below have lifetime guarantees.

If you are a little more adventuresome or want to shave your gear weight down further, you can still buy ultralight gear from the cottage manufacturers like Hyperlight Mountain GearTarptent, ULA, and Six Moon Designs, but they’re not the only fish in the sea anymore. Lightweight backpacking has gone mainstream.

To their credit, REI has even added gear weight as a filter option in their web site search, so it’s easy to see which products are lighter weight than others!

So, if you want to radically reduce the weight of your backpacking gear and not waste a lot of time, quit screwing around, go to REI’s web site, and buy one of the following products from each category. These are all good products.

For extra credit, trade in your old pump-style water filter for a Sawyer Squeeze (3 ounces) and your White Gas Stove for a Jet Boil Zip Stove, which includes a pot. (11.75 ounces)

Now stop obsessing about your gear weight and go hike somewhere! The point is to get out and have adventures, not sit around indoors and surf lightweight backpacking web sites.

The most expensive gear is gear you never use. 

Written 2013. Updated 2016.

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29 comments

  1. Good points, but what about space? Would you say that in general lightweight items also take up less space? There’s only so much you can stuff into a backpack of course.

    • Dave – 95% of backpackingers in the US and UK go on 1 or 2 night trips 95% of the time. There is more than enough space for them to fit all of their food, fuel, and gear in a 60 liter backpack. Lightweight gear is smaller, especially down sleeping bags and quilts, but that means you can still bring extra luxury items in a 60 liter pack if you want to haul them. Most of these packs including the Granite Gear and Osprey packs have abundant external mesh pockets to carry even more stuff if needed too and it’s not to uncommon to see people carrying a tent on the outside of a backpack for that reason.

  2. Great post. Nice to see the GG pack pic. The GG Vapor Trail/Crown VC has been my go-to pack for many years. If one doesn’t carry heavy loads–I never aim to–then there’s also no need for the hipbelt. I leave it at homes and save several ounces. The shoulder straps are well padded and enough for the occasional heavy load coming out of town. Added pluses, it’s much easier to move naturally without a hipbelt and the backpanel breathes better.

    • Both the Granite Gear VC 60 and the Blaze 60 came out rather well. I went out and bought the VC 60 after I returned the reviewers loaner that Granite Gear sent me since I liked it so much. It’s a great example of a lightweight pack made with more mainstream fabrics. Excellent features and fit.

  3. Yes, much of the gear needed for Lightweigh packing can simply be bought. Many advances in lightweight materials and design have done that (Silnylon has dropped from 1.5oz/yd to 1.3oz per yd for example. Cuben is lighter at .56oz/yd and .79oz/yd for heavier weight pack fabric. Superlight Spinnaker can be had at .75oz per yd and can be water proofed for around 1.0/oz/yd.)

    As Dave was saying, though, most have not reduced voluume significantly. Nor, have the manufacturers incorporated modularity or systems design concepts deeply into their offerings. As hikers, we take trips for a night or two several times a year. Once a year may be a longer trip. Why do we need to buy two different packs when simply adding a piece will expand it to fill our needs? Adding a couple of pouches or heavier hip belt to carry the extra food needed for longer trips makes more sense to me. LuxuryLite for example makes a good modular pack, but it is heavy at 2 pounds.

    There are integrated packs out there. Gossamer Gear integrates a pad sleeve into the frame design for their packs. I miss the sock keeper on their newer packs, though. Some include an integrated tent/shelter. But, these are usually poorly done and heavy by today’s standards.

    Voluume seems to be missing with many of the newer items, regardless of light weight. The drop in weight is good. But a drop in stuff size too, would be better,

    While any hiker can hit Light Weight by simply buying it, it still takes skills, in make-your-own-gear, in imagination, and in staying warm, to get to UL or lower weights. It is far more difficult to buy your way into these areas, though even that is possible.

    • Exactly – you do need more skills to be a ultralight backpacker, but if you just want more comfort, you can shave off a dozen pounds with cash. That’s basically my point. Let’s not make this any harder than it has to be.

      • Being a minimalist takes more thinking about – what you can manage with, which items can you use for more than one thing, etc. For perfection, you need money and thought. For “good enough” one will do. Which one is up to you!

  4. love this website there is more useful information for hiking than any other page i been on.

  5. I met a guy once that carried all his gear like a Hobo on a stick. When I asked what kind of gear he carried. He said. “If it not in there I can do without it. Its not like I am going to die without it.”

    I find it funny that all the stuff we supposedly need in the woods has been done without for centuries in the woods. Altimeter watches, GPS’s, shock absorbing hiking poles made from carbon fiber. All these make me laugh so hard. Best advice from me. Loose the beer belly and make your overall pack you carry lighter than all your quilts, pads, and cuben fiber tarps. That cost nothing, but more time in the woods. Which is priceless I might add.

    Skills are not learned in the local REI, or packing your pack in the family room. They are learned after many years of trial and error. Then you get experience.

    • While I agree in part with the last paragraph, I would also offer that it is the responsibility for those with such real world experience to offer hard won knowledge to newer participants when it could affect their health or well-being. Our local backpacking group hosts clinics that go over the pros and cons of different gear options (sticking strictly to the mechanics, not brand identities) as well as a monthly get together where we go over skills and knowledge sets. I prefer participants have a certain baseline skill set BEFORE I take them into the woods.

  6. The big thing the UL expert fanboys fail to come to terms with is the big outdoor gear brands make great lightweight kit now, and everyone else has been finding out this and going light without the big UL label and ego trip.

    This list shows it. In fact the whole “cottage” things is so small now. Many (six moons and Gossamer Gear) outsource production and are way beyond cottage terms. But mostly cottage gear as its called is a shelter and pack and a meths stove. Everything else is made by RAB, Black Diamond and REI when you look at UL kit lists.

    Also like the Marmot Plasma. My bag of choice since the Challenge. One top end bit of gear that impressed me on my last big walk.

  7. That’s a really cool list, I hadn’t been aware that it had become “so easy”. It’s been a long while since I had to shop for the basics – I’m still using a REI Venturi 40 backpack, REI Sub Kilo +15 bag, Exped Synmat and Sublite Sil Tarptent. Nicely enough, they seem to survive year after year. I just returned from a week on the PCT. Because of the added bear can, the Venturi40 was a super tight fit, but it worked, and all the gear again survived to play another day!

  8. Great post Philip,

    I fully agree with your sentiments. The evolution of lightweight backpacking is getting more mainstream every day and big stores like REI are starting to cary much lighter gear. That’s a huge plus for those of us that are focused on packing light. I still support the “cottage stores” most of the time though because I generally find their gear to better fit my needs. They’ve been building specialized lightweight gear for so long that they’re very good at it. I also often find that I save money and cary less weight by going with a smaller retailer. Still, REI is definitely carrying lighter gear these days and that adds a lot of convenient options for backpackers. I think it’s all part of the evolution of backpackingThanks for the great list!

    Dave

  9. But if I’m not surfing UL backpacking sites/blogs, what else will I do while I’m at work all day?

  10. $320 Fly Creek UL1
    $200 Granite Gear VC60
    $490 Marmot Plasma +30
    $140 Neo-Air Xlite
    $120 JetBoil Sol
    $ 40 Sawyer Squeeze

    $1310 Total

    Gee, that was easy and I didn’t even have to think .
    John Muir and Henry David Thoreau are having a teeth gnashing contest in heaven right now.

    • Like I said: The most expensive gear is gear you never use.

      If you never use it, it’s expensive. But if you use it all the time, it pays for itself in about 5-7 motel nights.

      Of course, you picked the most expensive items to make your point. That’s not necessary and most people need only replace one or two pieces of their existing gear to get a ‘lot’ more comfortable (lower weight).

      • Actually I didn’t search for the most expensive items, I chose more on a whim. For instance the Fly Creek Platinum could have added another $130. I chose the large size bag and pad cause that’s what I need. I think a lot of these suggestions are right on, I love my GG Blaze 60 and my Neo-Air Xlite is like my bestie, my eyes roll up in my head every time I lay down on it. This article just made me stop and contemplate the time, research, and squirrelling away of $ it’s taken to develop my kit on a student budget. I’m guessing that most, if not all of us would prefer to spend time on the trail as opposed to time on the computer looking at trail and gear related web sites and developing arcane spread sheets, but school, jobs, family, etc. compel us to keep it real, yo. Also, I can think of way less rewarding ways to spend time than geeking out on UL obsessions. We all have our own goals and satisfactions that fall under the umbrella of tramping in the woods. Some questions can be resolved with a bag of cash, which is fine if you have it, but I’m not certain it’s the most elegant answer.

        P.S. About the only mornings that I don’t start the day with a cup of coffee and SectionHiker are the ones that start with instant mocha and packing my kit.

      • Sorry to jump on you. Money is not the most elegant answer, but many of the others like MYOG take a lot of time which is also in short supply for some people. I guess my point with the whole post is that going lightweight doesn’t have to be complicated. It’s basically here today and if you want it, it’s achievable with off-the-shelf products. Our wilderness forefathers should be rolling in their graves, if only because we charge people $20/car to enter Yosemite when it was once free and free of paved roads.

        Glad to have you hooked, BTW. I spend most of my mornings on SectionHiker too, except when I’m tramping through the woods.

      • I spend my morning on SectionHiker and then get depressed because I have to work instead of hike…

    • A little bit if that evil Internet obsessing will help. Go for a tarp tent and EE quilt and you’re under a grand :-)

  11. It is impossible to buy enough gear to equal what I carry from my $75 Wilderness First Aid course. And that weighs nothing.

  12. It has been a interesting seeing the transition of the large companies moving into lightweight. Big Agnes, Granite Gear, Marmot, Patagonia-(on clothes) has really stepped up their game. As more people move that direction REI will put a lot of time and money in that direction. No void is left in nature or economics.

  13. This is pretty informative, but if you really want to go lightweight, forget the REI’s of the world, and check out the cottage manufacturers! For less money and even more weight savings, you could buy a Duo 2 person tent from Lightheartgear, a 20 degree down quilt from Enlightened Equipment, along with a Neoair pad, and a smaller backpack. You will only be carrying 6# for your main items, and it will set you back less than $800. You will have more money in your pocket, room for a friend to sleep in your tent, and be warm and comfortable down below freezing temps!!

  14. I live in NZ, how practical are these UL tents especially single fly, in rain and wind? We get a lot of rain and wind! We also have an excellent hut system so I usually do walks that involve huts, but I’m starting to move into using a tent and am reluctant to do a bivy or single fly like you guys picture as the rain can move in fast, and sideways.

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