by Mike St. Pierre
Going lightweight is not just a goal for thru hikes and backpacking trips; it’s how I live my life. I believe that refining your lightweight backpacking gear list is worthwhile because it translate to going further, faster and suffering less in general while you’re out. In short, less gear (and lighter gear) equals more adventure.
Over the past decade or so, I’ve obsessed about the details and re-invented my approach time and time again. Along the way, I learned the standard ultralight methodologies–specifically how to lighten my load by addressing the “Big Three”: my pack, shelter and sleeping systems.
In the process, I’ve also stumbled upon one very important truth: it’s not just about agonizing over grams and ounces, it’s about choosing simplicity at every stage of the process. That’s why I’ve settled on building my gear lists for trips based on a single, basic three-season list. Using this lightweight backpacking gear list as a starting point, I can subtract items if I want to go ultralight in a given instance, or add items for multi-sport trips
3-Season Check List
- Sleeping System (sleeping pad, sleeping bag, camp pillow)
- Shelter (tarp, pyramid tent, insert)
- Backpack (pack, stuff sacks)
- The Rest (stove, cook set, utensils, water filter, rain gear, clothes, food, trekking poles, electronics, misc)
Therm-a-Rest NeoAir XLite Sleeping Pad 12 oz. to 16 oz., depending on a regular size or long.
Feathered Friends Hummingbird Nano 20 Sleeping Bag Reg. 1 lb. 12 oz. or Long 1 lb. 13 oz.: Note that this might be a little warm for summer outings. I carry a 1 lb. 45-degree bag for most summer trips and use the Nano 20 for the colder seasons (but we’ll save the winter ultralight gear recommendations for another blog post). Another great bag is the Western Mountaineering Ultralite Reg. 1 lb. 13 oz.
Hyperlite Mountain Gear Stuff Sack Pillow: During the day it doubles as a stuff sack for my ultralight puffy (check out Mountain Hardwear’s Ghost Whisperer). At night I flip it inside out and the soft fleece liner gives me a great spot to rest my head. These pillows come in two sizes.
The Echo II Ultralight Shelter System or a Flat Tarp: Your shelter need not weigh any more than 2 lbs. The Echo II comes equipped with a detachable mesh tent insert for complete water and bug protection and gets your there at just 1.84 lbs. (with guy lines). We also recommend the UltaMid, which comes in both two-person (16.6 oz.) and 4-person (20.8 oz.) sizes and has full mesh inserts with or without a Dyneema® Composite Fabric (aka Cuben Fiber) floor. Or, if you want to go super ultralight and test your ability to adapt to the changing conditions, bring a simple flat tarp.
The redundancy of the pack “system” is incredibly important. Yes, our packs use waterproof Dyneema® Composite Fabrics (formerly Cuben Fiber). However, they aren’t 100% waterproof. No pack is 100% waterproof. But pack covers are just a pain (they snag, fly off, rip easily). So for our pack system, we use a highly water resistant pack, and then for redundancy, also use stuff sacks (preferably made with waterproof Cuben Fiber). Redundancy is the best way to keep your ultralight gear totally dry. Learn more about how to use Stuff Sacks.
Hyperlite Mountain Gear Windrider Pack: If you were to go with all the gear I’m recommending, you should be able to fit your entire kit into a 2400 cu in. (40L) pack, or certainly our 3400 cu in. (55L) pack.
To complete the system, I’ll bring a set of our DCF8 Stuff Sacks — two Jumbo, one for a sleeping bag and one for food; a Large to be used as a clothes bag; an additional large and one small for other odds and ends.
Read more about how I use stuff sacks in my blog post, Stuff Sacks for Thru Hikes & Backpack Trips.
Then There’s The Rest…
The “heavies” will be most of your load, but some careful planning is also important for the rest of your ultralight gear. Here are the key components I typically have in my kit:
Optimus Crux Stove or the Jet Boil Flash Lite Cooking System: When I carry a stove, I bring one of these ultra-lightweight stoves. The Crux weighs just 3.3 oz. and is capable of boiling water in three minutes. The amount of uses that a simple stove has on the trail makes it an invaluable item in any hiker’s pack. On the other hand, the Flash Lite is the most efficient, and you don’t need to bring an additional pot along. Finally, alcohol stoves are the lightest option, but they are not the most efficient. The cool thing is you can store your fuel in a plastic water bottle and can find fuel in any gas station or convenience store in the United States.
MSR Titan Titanium Kettle or Vargo’s T-Lite Mug 900: A kettle or pot is very important to bring on a hiking trip if you want to cook or heat water for tea/coffee. Plus, it’s an all in one bowl, water boiler and cooking pot. It’s usually the only cookware item I bring with me. This model weighs a mere 4.2 oz. and holds up to 28 oz.
Vargo Titanium Long-Handle Spoon: Long ones work better if you are going to eat dehydrated meals directly out of the package.
GravityWorks H2O Filter: Comes with dirty and clean water bladders. 4 liters of potable water in 2.5 minutes, and it weighs 10.6 oz. I also always bring tablets as well.
Rain Gear (jacket at least): I look for one that is about 6-8 oz. in weight. I prefer using waterproof, breathable shells.
Clothes: I will usually only bring two shirts (one to wear and one to sleep in). One pair of shorts, three pairs of socks, and a thin insulating jacket. If you get cold, you can always wear your rain gear.
Shoes: I prefer to hike in trail runners such as the Inov-8 Roclite 295. They are much lighter and dry much faster than any kind of boot. I don’t bother taking off my shoes when I come to a stream crossing. I don’t recommend getting GORE-TEX® for footwear as they tend to take a long time to dry once water has gotten inside them.
Trekking Poles: Telescoping trekking poles are also a good idea. I always carry two as they are the supports for my tent, but I usually only hike with one and stash the other on my pack. Read more about trekking poles in my Stripped Down blog post on Trekking Poles.
Remember, you should never sacrifice safety for lighter pack weight. And keep in mind that the above is my basic set up. You’ll definitely need to add a little weight (4-5 oz.) for small personal and safety items such as a lightweight compass, utility knife, toothbrush, etc. Also, if you’re going into specialized conditions (winter, alpine, etc.) or will be out for an extended expedition, you will definitely want to carefully consider what additional equipment you might need and build that into planning your gear list.