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Ultralight Backpacking Gear Makeovers: Three Examples

Ultralight Backpacking Gear List Examples

Ultralight backpacking gear lets you hike farther, faster, and with less of a physical impact so you can enjoy yourself more. While you can spend an arm and a leg to switch to ultralight backpacking gear, the cost of doing is probably less than you realize. As an example, I’ve assembled three mini gear lists below, with gear that I recommend, that illustrate a range of different price points. While you can go still lighter weight than these, the gear below doesn’t require a loss in comfort compared the more conventional backpacks, tents, and sleep system (bag/quilt and pad) that you may already be using.

The Big Three

When it comes to gear list weight reduction for ultralight backpacking, the biggest gains come from lightening the big three: your backpack, shelter, and sleep system, including a sleeping pad and whatever insulation you prefer, i.e. a sleeping bag or quilt. You’ll be well on your way to an ultralight gear list if all you do is swap out your heavier kit for lighter weight versions of the same items. After that you can gradually replace your stove, headlamp, extra clothes, trekking etc with lighter weight alternatives for incremental savings but they’ll be much less significant that the weight you can eliminate by replacing your big three.

None of the items I’ve listed below require any new skills or a loss in comfort. For example, I’ve only listed tents that come with floors and bug netting and not floorless pyramids, flat tarps or other more extreme UL shelters like poncho tarps. If you switch from a sleeping bag to a quilt, you don’t have to worry about a sleeping pad attachment system because the tent walls will block any drafts. Finally, all of the backpacks below have internal frames and should be easy to switch to if you already use an internal frame pack.

Why isn’t hammock gear listed below? If you haven’t used hammocks before they do require a significant amount of new skill development and the learning curve can be expensive. People who hammock are also generally more interested in comfort and less obsessed with gear weight. They still care about it, but not to the degree that conventional ground sleepers do.

Inexpensive Ultralight Makeover ($) – 6.2 lbs for $665

Make / ModelWeight (oz)Price
Granite Gear Crown 2 60L Backpack37$200
Six Moon Designs Lunar Solo Tent26$200
UGQ Bandit Fast Track Quilt 800 fp, 30 degrees, 72" x 55"18.8$200
MassDrop x Klymit V Ultralight Sleeping Pad 72"17.7$65
Total99.5$665

Moderate-Priced Ultralight Makeover ($$) – 5.2 lbs for $999

Make / ModelWeight (oz)Price
Gossmer Gear Mariposa 60 Backpack30.5$270
Gossamer Gear "The One" Tent22.4$299
UGQ Bandit Fast Track Quilt 850 fp, 30 degrees, 72" x 55"18.2$250
Thermarest NeoAir Xlite Sleeping Pad 72"12$170
Total83.1$999

Expensive Ultralight Makeover ($$$) – 4.0 lbs for $1319

Make / ModelWeight (oz)Price
Zpacks Arc Blast 55 Backpack21$325
Zpacks Plexamid14.8$549
UGQ Bandit Quilt 950 fp, 30 degrees, 72" x 55"15.63$275
Thermarest NeoAir Xlite Sleeping Pad 72"12$170
Total63.43$1,319

Ultralight Backpacking Gear Costs

While can spend a huge amount of money to swap out your existing backpacking gear for lighter weight alternatives, you don’t have to. Granted, the $665 dollar (6.2 lbs) Inexpensive Ultralight Makeover above isn’t chump change, but it’s a lot more affordable than the $1319 dollar (4.0 lbs) Expensive Ultralight Makeover list. You’ll have to decide whether it’s worth spending $654 dollars to reduce the weight of your gear list an additional 2.2 lbs. Just remember, a liter of water weighs 2 lbs…you could just carry one less liter of water for free.

Besides weight, there’s no huge functional difference between the items on all three of these lists. While it is fun to get the lightest weight gear, there are quickly diminishing returns for your money. There’s very little incremental value in buying the most expensive, lightest weight, backpacking gear, because the less expensive stuff listed above, will work just a well.

But everyone has different goals and resources. Just remember, the most expensive gear is gear you never use.

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16 comments

  1. The Gossamer Gear “The One” had been on sale for $229, but is back to its normal $299 price now. Otherwise great information and good perspective to share – I always am looking at that $ per weight saved metric when considering a new gear option.

    • Hadn’t even realized it was on sale or I would have bought one. Fantastic tent, even at that price.
      Updated the costs to reflect the change.

    • As for looking at cost per dollar, I look at a number of other variables such as comfort and weather-worthniness too.
      For example, I just bought a Stratospire 1 for backpacking in Scotland because it has huge vestibule spaces so I can cook easily inside in foul weather and it’s a very strong shelter in high winds. There are lighter weight UL tents, but none in the same class for that specific style of adventure.
      All I’m saying is that there is more than weight when picking UL shelters.

  2. There could also be a lower price tier called the mostly Aliexpress direct from China tier. The designs are inspired by US cottage industry makers – notably Zpacks, but with less expensive materials (silnylon instead of DCF, etc). There are generally positive opinions of some of these things online already. I’ll be using the backpack and tent this year and am looking forward to seeing how they hold up.

    3F UL / Flames Creed XPAC Backpack – 830g / 29.3oz – $112 with shipping
    3F UL Lanshan 1 Tent – 845g / 29.8oz – $82.79 with shipping
    Aegismax M3 Long Length 23deg down mummy – 550g / 19.4oz – $126 with shipping
    Thermarest Z-Rest Sol Regular length (you can go cheaper on a pad, but to what durability cost, just go with REI here) – 14oz – $45

    Total 92.5oz – $365.79

    • To each his own. These companies have built their products by stealing the designs of the cottage manufacturers and making them with inexpensive materials and low cost labor. I can’t condone that, but hike your own hike.

      • I agree that there are inequalities in the methods of design and production between the US and China – in some cases lower costs come with other costs. It is good to see your lists mostly sourcing from the innovative companies who still make things in house at various price points.

      • I think you get something when you buy direct from a cottage company that you don’t get from a knock-off house or a retailer, and that is an ongoing relationship with a vendor and the user community that surrounds it. I’m still on a first name basis with the founder of every cottage company I’ve ever bought gear from and not just because I’m a media personality. The same is true of most of the people I know who buy gear from the cottages.

      • Same experience as described by PW in his comment below. Katabatic, Zimmerbuilt, Yama, and Trail Designs, in my case. In each instance, I emailed with the owners of the companies directly, to make sure I got exactly what I wanted. To my mind, a PRECISE FIT between a user, their goals, and their gear is an inherent part of UL hiking. There is also value in having assurance as to the expected durability of the gear. Rolling the dice on a slap dash knock off just might work out in the end, but it will also create long-term inefficiency and waste that is at odds with how most UL hikers want to operate in general.

        Additionally, while the up front costs of the Aliexpress items are lower, if you hike a lot, costs should be determined on a per-use basis. Hard to be definitive, but Aliexpress is certainly saving you less by that measure.

  3. You list the Gossamer Gear Mariposa at $225. But that does not include a hip belt which is an additional $45. Only the Small is 30 ounces. The large with a belt is 33.3 ounces.

  4. Nice article Philip. What would you recommend along these lines for Scouts going to Philmont? My Boy Scout Troop and Venturing Crew are lucky enough to get a 12 day trek for 2020 and all of the Scouts/Venturers will need to get gear for this adventure. The cost for the trek and the trip out there is already going to be a financial stretch for most of them, so I would like to come up with some gear recommendations for them that would be even lower in cost than your first list in the article. I am mostly interested in the backpack and sleep system costs since we will probably be using the Philmont tents to keep the costs down.

    I have seen the Granit Gear Crown VC 60 Backpack is priced around $100 now and your review of it from a few years ago makes it seem like it might be a good option for Scouts. What do you think? I have no idea for cheap and lightweight sleep system choices without going the route of the Chinese options mentioned above.

    Any suggestions you have for even lower cost options would be greatly appreciated.

    • The Granite Gear Crown VC 60 is an excellent option as is the Granite Gear Blaze AC 60 ,which is also due for a model upgrade this year, so the old ones are in outlet.
      The same holds for the Gregory Zulu’s. You might also want to look at the My Trail Company Packs (formerly Golite) because they’re even less expensive.

      https://mytrailco.com/collections/packs
      https://www.sierratradingpost.com/granite-gear-crown-vc60-backpack-internal-frame~p~358rh/?filterString=s~granite-gear%2F
      https://www.sierratradingpost.com/s~gregory-zulu/

      As for sleep insulation, you’ll have to shop around, but Hammock Gear has pretty good prices on pre-made top quilts.
      https://www.hammockgear.com/economy-burrow/

    • If you don’t care about color, Steep and Cheap has the vc60 for $80. Unbeatable at that price.

    • My own experience as a Scoutmaster is that you need to be careful about boys using adult-sized packs. At Scouting ages, boys come in a wide range of sizes; I had several discussions with parents about buying their 4-foot-something son an adult sized pack that “he’ll grow into.” Yes, he will – provided he isn’t so miserable in the 3 or 4 years it takes for that to happen that he decides he’ll never backpack again. On the other hand, I had Scouts who were taller and more muscular than I ever was, who needed adult-sized packs. (By the way, don’t rule out “female” packs for Scouts – they are often designed for slighter builds, and can fit some skinny teenagers just fine.)

      The pack has to fit; the lowest cost is not a valid criterion in choosing a pack for a Scout. As long as it does, the Crown VC (and many other Granite Gear packs) are excellent choices. Deuter and Osprey also make “kid-size” packs that may also work (at one time, Kelty did, too.)

      For sleep systems, you might look at the Thermarest line – they make some 650-fill down quilts and bags that aren’t overly heavy or hatefully expensive (for what they are.) The build quality is very good; I’ve used them for about 5 years now, and never been disappointed. I also used the synthetic line of similar quilts and bags, and found them to work well, too – they’re just really heavy. But, if you can shave weight other places, you could spend it on a heavier bag. (I’m now using the 800-fill Vesper 32 quilt, and am very pleased with it.)

  5. Another excellently reasoned article that prompts me to make two observations:

    1) As a die hard hammock camper, you’re spot on with your observation that most of us factor in comfort on an equal if not slightly higher level than weight. There’s a similar stratifying that goes on within the hammock camper community, with some striving for the lightest setup that lets them hang safely and comfortably. But ultimately, it’s about the comfort and quality of sleeping in the woods. At 56 years old, I’m mostly satisfied to call myself weight conscious and comfort driven when it comes to gear. If I weren’t comfortable, I wouldn’t be hiking.

    2) Your notes in the comments about ripping off cottage vendors needs to be said more often and louder. We don’t buy from them because they’re small or because it’s trendy and cool. We buy from them because they are one of us; they innovate and experiment because they love the outdoors and we reap the benefits. Not every single item I’ve ever bought has been from small local shops, but every small shop I’ve ever dealt with has been a great experience.

  6. Good comparisons with the exception of the zpacks ruck with it being an external frame. I do agree that the gear from China should be left right there.

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