A few years ago, ultralight 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 or take a mentored backpacking trip if you already have some backpacking experience. Today, if you want to go light, toss out your old gear and just start from scratch. As long as you do a few low-risk shakedown trips before taking a more committing route, there’s little downside to jumping in with both feet.
The Big Three
When it comes to weight reduction, the biggest weight reductions 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 ultralight nirvana if all you do is swap out your heavier kit for lighter weight versions of the same items.
Here are three suggested makeovers for these items to give you a feel the weight reductions that are possible at different price points. None of these items require much in terms of additional skill development.
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 packs 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 ($) – 96.2 oz for $623
- Granite Gear Crown2 60L Backpack – 37 oz ($200)
- Hammock Gear Burrow Econ 30 Top Quilt – 19.5 oz ($138)
- Six Moon Designs Lunar Solo Tent – 24 oz ($225)
- Massdrop x Klymit V Ultralight 60″ – 15.7 oz ($60)
Moderate-Priced Ultralight Makeover ($$) – 73 oz for $1017
- Superior Wilderness Designs Long Haul 50 Backpack – 25 oz ($275)
- Gossamer Gear The One Tent – 21 oz ($299)
- Enlightened Equipment Revelation 30 – 17.25 oz ($270)
- NEMO Tensor 20 Small – 10.1 oz ($100)
Expensive Ultralight Makeover ($$$) – 64 oz for $1435
- Zpacks Arc Blast 55 Backpack – 21 oz ($325)
- Zpacks Altaplex Tent – 17.5 oz ($585)
- Katabatic Gear Palisade 30 (900 fp) – 17.5 oz ($395)
- Therm-a-Rest XLite Short – 8 oz $(130)
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 $623 dollar (96.2 oz) Inexpensive Ultralight Makeover above isn’t chump change, but it’s a lot more affordable than the $1435 dollar (64 oz) Expensive Ultralight Makeover list. You’ll have to decide whether it’s worth spending $812 dollars to reduce the weight of your gear list an additional 32.2 oz (2 lb 0.2 oz). Just remember, a liter of water weighs 32 oz.
Furthermore, 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.
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.
Updated 2018.Editor's note: Help support this site by making your next gear purchase through one of the links above. Click a link, buy what you need, and the seller will contribute a portion of the purchase price to support SectionHiker's unsponsored gear reviews, articles, and hiking guides.
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