These Two Great Lightweight Backpacking Gear Lists, 5 Pound or 9 Pound, will save you a lot of pack-weight but still keep a smile on your face. You will most likely be warmer, more comfortable, and sleep better than most campers carrying 2 to 3 times the weight in conventional/heavier backpacking gear.

The Two Great Lightweight Backpacking Gear Lists

These two great lightweight backpacking gear lists are suitable for most backpackers on most 3-season trips (spring, summer, and fall) in the lower 48 states of the US as well as most trekking (backpacking) trips world-wide. They will do you proud for:

  • Appalachian Trail and other backpacking areas on the East Coast
  • The Sierras, Rockies and other mountains of the Western US
  • Cascade Mountains and Pacific Northwest
  • The Canyons and Deserts of the Southwest
  • Trekking Trips Worldwide (e.g. Patagonia, Europe, New Zealand, etc.)

Pick the Gear List that Suits You

5 pound Practical Light Backpacking Gear List 9 Pound – Full Comfort – Lightweight Gear List
3 day wt 11 to 13 lb* total pack weight for 3 days
(*total wt includes gear, food, fuel & water)
15 to 20+ lb* total pack weight for 3 days
(*total wt includes gear, food, stove fuel & water)
Purpose To travel as light as possible but be warm, dry & safe. Focused on efficiency. Whatever you like to do: enjoying great views, photography, swimming, fishing, getting extra camp time, or hiking long miles, this will give you more time to do it. Capable of 100+ miles w/o resupply Travel light while retaining all the convenience and comfort of “traditional” backpacking gear. e.g. a freestanding tent vs. a tarp and a canister vs. alcohol stove. Gear is familiar and easy to use. Good for trekking almost anywhere worldwide.
Gear Sources Uses some exciting, lighter & innovative gear from cottage manufacturers like Hyperlite Mountain Gear, ULA Packs, Mountain Laurel Designs, and Hammock Gear: (may need to wait a few weeks for some gear) Uses more conventional gear (sometimes heavier) from mainstream commercial vendors like REI. Gear usually available off-the-shelf.
Pack Under 1 pound: Frameless, with a good hip-belt & durable fabric. (Options for a frame pack for longer trips w/heavier loads.) 2 pounds or under: Solid internal frame. Larger volume. Can carry a bear canister. From REI: Osprey Exos 48 Pack
Shelter Around ½ lb/person: usually a tarp  or a shared pyramid shelter Around 1 to 2 lb/person: freestanding tent (an ultralight one), or a TarpTent
Other Less “other stuff.” Minimal light A few more comfort & convenience items
Two Great Lightweight Backpacking Gear Lists

My pack for 8 days:  With a light pack you can cover a lot of trail miles in complete comfort—wanting for nothing. Pictured the HyperLight Mountain Gear Southwest 2400  pack on the GR 20 in Corsica.

Modify These Gear Lists to Your Personal and Trip Needs

By all means, fine-tune these lists to your particular trip needs and/or backpacking style. Just select from the optional or alternate gear items (already included in these lists). In addition, you may wish to use some gear from the 5 Pound List and other gear from the 9 Pound List. Mixing and matching between lists is fine.

The two modifications I often make to the 5 Pound Practical Light Backpacking Gear List are:

  1. Substitute a two-pound pack like the HyperLight Mountain Gear Southwest 2400 or 3400 pack ULA Ohm 2.0 or Circuit pack (or from REI:Osprey Exos 48) if reg’s require a bear canister, and/or if I am carrying a lot of food and/or climbing gear that pushes my my total pack weight above 20 pounds. Note: in areas where an Ursack is allowed I would go back to using a 1 lb frameless pack.
  2. Skip the tarp and use a MLD Pyramid or HMG Pyramid Shelter if I know (from a recent Wx forecast) that I will likely be camping exposed, above treeline in really cold/wet weather.

Hammock vs. Ground Sleeping (e.g. Tent)

Of particular note is that both lists have options for hammock or ground-sleeping (e.g. tent). In areas with plentiful trees like the East Coast of the US I feel that hammock camping has many advantages, see: Hammock Camping Part I: Advantages & disadvantages versus ground systems. When in the Sierras or other areas with few trees, the opposite is true and I usually cowboy camp on the ground in a 7 ounce bivy sack, only putting up a tarp when it is actually raining (or sharing a pyramid shelter).

Two Great Lightweight Backpacking Gear Lists

With a lighter pack you can get into some incredible areas like this that few people with heavy packs are likely to visit. (Off-trail in the High Sierra)

This “Techniques for Ultralight Backpacking” is the companion post to my 5 Pound Practical Ultralight Backpacking Gear List. It explains the underlying philosophy and criteria that integrates all the gear into a safe and effective ultralight kit. And most important, it gives you few tips on how best to use it.

Overview of Technique for Ultralight Backpacking

I originally created the 5 Pound Practical Ultralight Backpacking Gear List list for my 3-day, 102 mile section hike on the Appalachian Trail in Shenandoah National Park. See: “My Trip Report.” I was surprisingly warm, dry and comfortable on the trip in challenging late winter conditions. After my hike, I looked over the trip’s gear with a worldwide trekking perspective and saw that it was extremely similar to gear I have taken trekking for most of the US and worldwide. I concluded that this ultralight backpacking gear list was likely the lightest, most efficient & practical gear list for backpacking treks in the US and worldwide.

The5 Pound Practical Ultralight Backpacking Gear List works for 3-season treks (spring, summer, fall) in these locations and likely many more:

  • Appalachian Trail and other backpacking areas in the East
  • The Sierras, Rockies and other mountains of the Western US
  • Cascade Mountains and Pacific Northwest
  • The Canyons and Deserts of the Southwest
  • Trekking Trips Worldwide (e.g. Patagonia, Europe, New Zealand, etc.)

IN EUROPE, lead photo above: Using a ultralight pack with gear almost identical to what I used on the AT this spring, Alison walks a high alpine ridge in Corsica, France. The GR20 in Corsica is considered the hardest long distance trek in Europe and is legendary for its violent  weather.

Definition of Practical Ultralight Backpacking

Practical Ultralight Backpacking is the gear, food and technique that will maximize distance traveled in the most efficient manner (less time wasted, less wear and tear on the backpacker). Practical Light has an emphasis on efficiency in all aspects: when hiking, making camp, getting a good night’s sleep, leaving camp in the morning, proper nutrition and hydration, and staying warm, dry and in good spirits. Warning: As a side benefit, the light pack may increase your enjoyment of backpacking.


Guiding Principles for Practical Ultralight Backpacking

  • My first priority is to enjoy myself and appreciate the terrain I’m walking through. Hiking at my own comfortable/efficient pace and watching the ever changing landscape unfold is my favorite way to fully appreciate the beauty of the backcountry.
  • Being cold, wet, or hungry or getting a crappy night’s sleep sucks. I want no part of it.
Techniques for Ultralight Backpacking

ON THE APPALACHIAN TRAL, the embodiment of practical light backpacking: My pack weighs only 10 Pounds (gear, food, water & fuel). With it I hiked a 102 mile section of the Appalachian Trail in Shenandoah National Park in 3 days. Covering that distance would not have been possible if my light gear weren’t also extremely efficient and practical. I was surprisingly warm, dry and comfortable in late winter conditions—snow, 40 mph horizontal sleet, cold rain, and hard freezes at night.

Philosophy and Techniques for Practical Ultralight Backpacking

Important Efficiency and Time Saving Considerations. Obviously a very light pack is still a significant contributor towards Practical Ultralight Backpacking, but it’s far from the only one. Other factors I consider important for keeping it fun, minimizing wear and tear on my body, and minimizing time wasted include:

  1. Food: I need to carry enough and the right food to sustain me from dawn to dusk hiking. I need appetizing, nutritious, and high caloric food. See Backpacking Food Page.
  2. Water: I minimize water carried (while still staying well-hydrated!). The key is to drink when thirsty and filter/drink at the source when possible. See Best Hydration – Drink When Thirsty
  3. A good night’s sleep: My shelter (tent/tarp/hammock) and sleep system (sleeping bag/quilt and ground-pad) should give me a great night’s sleep to recover from a long day day of hiking, and allow me to wake cheerfully ready to hike another day.
  4. Don’t waste time fiddling with gear: Messing around with “high-futz, high fiddle factor gear” wastes time, and reduces my daily time for fun things. For example, a light shelter with a complicated spiderweb of 9-12 guylines is not practical. The time it takes to stake out all those guylines (even worse in rocky ground) is not worth the few oz of weight savings vs. a shelter with 4-6 stakes or better yet, cowboy camping under the stars in a bivy sack.
  5. Quick access to gear while walking:  Maps, food, water, camera, sunglasses, hats, gloves, etc. should all be available without breaking stride. Here, pockets are your best timesaving friend; the more the better. I use up to 12 walking-accessible pockets: 6 cargo pants pockets plus 2 side, 2 hipbelt, and 2 shoulder strap pockets of my pack. Rooting around in the main bag of your pack in the middle of the day to find some elusive item is frustrating and a huge time waster.
  6. Maximize available campsites: My gear should allow me to camp wherever I want at the end of my optimal hiking day—whenever I decide that I am done. I do not want my light gear to limit my options and force me to camp at inconvenient locations.

If I compromise any of the above to lighten my pack, my gear is no longer practical. That is, I will be less efficient, waste time and hike fewer miles per day if I cut more weight.

Techniques for Ultralight Backpacking

IN THE SIERRAS, modification to use a framed pack for a heavier load: I am using a HMG Pack with a frame to carry both a bear canister (required) and my climbing gear. This is too much of a load for a frameless pack. All other gear items are essentially the same as the “5 Pound Practical Ultralight Backpacking Gear List.” (Don and I climbed Mt Conness in the background.)

How your sleep system (hammock, tent, bivy sack, etc.) determines where you can camp

Hammock camping example: Let’s say you are hiking the Appalachian Trail. It’s mid-to-late-afternoon and you are plum tuckered—done hiking for the day but… you are midway between shelters/good campsites. There certainly isn’t any good camp-able area where you are. The ground is rocky, sloping, full of trees, and tree roots. There doesn’t seem to be any decent place to pitch a tent. Your options are:

  1. Continue another few hours to the next good campsite. Not an appealing option if you are already tired.
  2. Decide to do the best to camp where you are. It may take a bit of searching to find a remotely passible place for your tent. Even then it likely to take some time and effort to pitch it in a less than optimal “campsite.” [Believe me. It happens! I’ve seen more than my share of tents pitched in the middle of the AT by desperate hikers than ran out of time and/or energy. The actual trail was the only flat ground they could find.]
  3. Or if you had a hammock you could easily pitch it between two trees and enjoy the rest of your day.

As you can see your choice of a sleep system has an impact on where you can camp. Of particular note are choices for hammock camping vs. ground camping (i.e. a tent) and how your choice determines whether you have many or limited campsite options. In areas with plentiful trees like the Appalachian Trail, most ground is rocky, sloping and unsuitable for camping. There are limited camps with flat ground and they are usually far apart. Here hammock camping allows you more campsite options. All you need is two trees to hang from—that’s just about everywhere! The ground below you is irrelevant. Note: Hammock camping has many other advantages. See Hammock Camping Part I: Advantages & disadvantages versus ground systems.

Ground camping (bivy) example: When in the Sierras, other western mountains above treeline, or in other areas without trees like the desert, the opposite is true. Sleeping on the ground gives you more campsite options. For example, in the Sierras I usually cowboy camp on the ground in a 7 oz bivy sack—this has the smallest footprint and does not require stakes, giving me the most options for campsites—I can even tuck in between boulders or small shrubs to get out of the wind. I only put up a tarp when it rains. Otherwise, I am enjoying the stars at night. Tents with a larger footprint and more stakes reduce campsite options and take more time to setup and take down, although this is rarely a showstopper in the western mountains.

For distance oriented hikers: Let’s say that you are hiking near the end of the day and you can 1) reach the next campsite an hour before dusk or 2) you can reach the campsite after that by hiking an hour in the dark. In other words, you have two choices, 1) stop short for the day and loose an hour of daylight hiking time or 2) hike an hour in the dark to the next one. Hiking in the dark under headlamp, while possible is not efficient. Your pace slows trying to find good footing, your risk of injury goes up, and it is exceptionally easy to loose the trail at night, and very hard to relocate it. What would be optimal, and most efficient would be to camp right before dusk midway between the two camps. What camping gear you choose plays a role on whether you have the flexibility to camp right at dusk when it’s most convenient for you.

Techniques for Ultralight Backpacking

HAMMOCKS GIVE YOU MORE CAMPSITE OPTIONS IN THE EAST: Alison and I are happily sleeping side by side in hammocks above sloping ground with plenty of roots—ground unsuitable for tent camping. It went down in to the 20’s that night but we slept blissfully warm and comfortable. Great star gazing too!

I realize that some readers will be unconvinced by my enthusiasm for hammock or tarp camping even in areas with lots of good trees, or cowboy camping in a bivy sack. Therefore in the gear list, I also provide more conventional alternatives like TarpTents and Pyramid Shelters. If you are looking for full tent options, See: 9 Pound – Full Comfort – Lightweight Backpacking Gear List.

Techniques for Ultralight Backpacking

IN THE CANYONS AND DESERT SOUTHWEST: a light pack is essential to moving safely across slickrock. I am using a HMG Southwest 2400 Pack to handle the extra weight of a rope, a minimal set of climbing gear, and extra water for the desert environment.

Modifications to the 5 Pound Practical Ultralight Backpacking Gear List

Readers may wish to modify this list to their particular trip needs and/or backpacking style. As such, I have provided a number of optionals or alternate gear items in the list. Here are my two most common variations:

  • I will skip the tarp and use a MLD Pyramid or HMG Pyramid Shelter if I know (from a recent Wx forecast) that I will likely be camping exposed, above treeline in really cold/wet weather. Usually I am sharing the pyramid shelter with my wife or a climbing partner so the overall shelter weight per person remains around ½ pound—so no increase in weight.
Techniques for Ultralight Backpacking

IN EUROPE, modification to use a shared pyramid shelter: That stone wall is there for a reason. The GR20 in Corsica is legendary for its violent afternoon thunderstorms. Just a few weeks before our trip, a number of hikers died and many more were injured in a powerful storm. Alison and I chose to share a pyramid shelter. At only 10 oz, (280 g) per person and requiring 5 stakes, it is in keeping with the principals of practical light backpacking.

“Everything in its place and a place for everything.”Pockets keep gear organized where I can quickly find things, saving a bunch of time. Scrabbling into the main compartment of my backpack in search of some elusive item is never fun and wastes a lot time.

Techniques for Ultralight Backpacking

That’s the total weight of everything in my backpack—gear, food, water, and stove fuel. I used that 10 pound backpack to hike 100 miles (plus a few more) of the Appalachian Trail through Shenandoah National Park in 3 days. No fair weather hiking, it was more late winter than early spring conditions—rain, sleet, light snow and hard freezes at night. I think I am very close to dialing in a Light Pack that is also supremely efficient at covering long trail miles*.

But more important, I thoroughly enjoyed myself. I was warm, happy and comfortably cruising along one of the most spectacular ridge lines on the east. The kooky weather made for great entertainment and some spectacular views. (Scan through the photos below for a few of them.)

* Anyone can adopt the techniques I used to reduce wasted time and become a more efficient hiker. Even if long trail miles is not your goal, this gives you more time to enjoy the great views, take photographs, fish, or get some extra swimming in a lake rather than fiddling with your gear.


And just to be clear: My 34 miles/day average on the AT through Shenandoah National Park is far from super speedy. The fabulous Heather (Anish) Anderson averaged 42 miles per day on her record setting, unsupported AT through-hike last year. And my guess is that each year, more than a few hardy through-hikers cover the Park in 3 days as well. Nonetheless, I’m happy with my hike given the unusually cool and wet weather and short daylight hours of early April.

This a three part series:

  1. My 2007 attempt to section hike the 102 miles of the AT Trail through Shenandoah National Park in three days (I came up short)
  2. My March 2016 plans: Practical Light Gear List Appalachian Trail to use better gear and techniques
  3. And this April 2016 report of my successful completion of the 102 miles of the AT in SNP in three days.
10 Pound Backpack to Hike 100 Miles

Lots of kooky weather created some spectacular views. That’s the Shenandoah Valley almost 3,000 feet below me.

Why it Worked this Time – 10 Pound Backpack to Hike 100 Miles

In previous posts, I’ve discussed coming up short in my 2007 attempt to section hike the 102 miles and 22,000 feet of elevation gain of the Appalachian Trail through Shenandoah National Park in 3 days. So what were the keys to succeed this time even though the weather was more challenging:

  • Focus on efficiency—no wasting time: Running out of daylight was the major reason why I came up short in 2007. Minutes matter. Less wasted time equals more time to hike in the limited daylight of early spring. Just a few minutes wasted per hour adds up to 10 miles over 3 days.
  • Gear: I chose practical but light gear, with a focus on zero fiddle-factor (= no time wasting).
    For a full discussion of this as well as the gear list see: Practical Light Gear List Appalachian Trail
  • In this post I discuss two major gear choices, my 11 oz backpack and my 2.8 lb sleep system, and how they contributed to the efficiency (lack of time wasting) of my hike.
  • Adjustments for crap weather: As they say, “when we make plans Nature laughs.” Here’s the last minute gear adjustments I made for unusually wet and cold trip weather: Major Adjustments for Cold Weather
  • Shakedown trip: Two weekends prior, Alison and I did a 3 day Early Spring Backpacking Trip in cold and wet conditions with the gear I intended to use on the hike. On that trip we put in a hard and fast 22 mile day. In addition, in previous winters I tested my very cold weather hammock gear at 12°F (-11°C) so I had a tried and true light winter hammock quilt system ready to go.
  • Food: I used my usual 3-day-trip strategy—bring a small amount of very high calorie and nutritious food. I ate a huge breakfast before I started hiking on day 1, and a huge dinner when I came out on day 3. To save time, I ate much of my food while walking. See: Best Backpacking Food – simple and nutritious – veggie and omnivore friendly
  • Water: I drank when thirsty following current advice from experts in the field of sports hydration. The AT with its frequent springs and streams lends itself to a drink at source and not carry water strategy. I was not thirsty between water sources. But more important, I spent less time collecting/purifying water and making fewer side trips to springs (= more time to hike). I felt healthy and fine and woke each day ready to hike another 34 miles. See: Drink When Thirsty – Myths and Facts about Hydration.
  • Training: Listed next to last, but certainly among the most important contributors to trip success. It was critical to be in good hiking shape from the get-go; I didn’t have the luxury of hiking 850 trail miles to season-up, like North Bound through-hikers that started at Springer Mountain, GA.  I followed my own 2 day a week training schedule, Quick and Efficient Training for Backpacking. I couldn’t, in training, match my longest expected day (36 miles with 15,000 feet of elevation change). I did my best with a a few fast and hilly 20+ mile hikes pre trip.
  • Fun: And last but certainly most important is enjoying the trip. Yes, I had fun. Sometimes more “fun” than I wanted, but for the most part I thoroughly enjoyed myself. The Blue Ridge put on a spectacular show with weather fronts rolling through. With more time, I would have happily picked up food in Waynesboro and kept on heading south.

Rain sometimes brings dramatic views. A late evening squall passes over me, heading east towards Washington DC. It’s nowhere near as warm as it looks. Much of the squall was horizontal sleet.

Efficiency – No Time Wasting

Running out of daylight was the major reason why I came up short in 2007. While you can hike in the dark under headlamp it is neither as fast nor as efficient as hiking in daylight. Rather, you have to slow down to miss rocks and other irregularities in the trail. In addition, it is much harder to follow the trail after dark. It is also easy to loose the trail—and re-finding the trail is a huge loss of time. That’s why all the speed records on the AT are done in the middle of the summer with the most daylight.

Minutes matter. This overarching goal trumps everything else. Less wasted time equals more time to hike in the limited daylight of early spring. Just a few minutes wasted per hour can add up to 10 miles over 3 days. So I did whatever I could do with gear choices and technique to be hiking as much as possible during each hour, and spending the least amount of time stopped or fiddling with things.

Note: time wasting has far more universal impacts than just trying to make trail miles. For instance, if you’ve just spent a lot of money and your precious vacation time to take a big trip, wouldn’t you rather spend your time enjoying the great views, taking photographs, fishing, or getting some extra swimming in a lake rather than fiddling with your gear? I will cover this topic, “Backpacking Time Wasters and Time Savers” in an upcoming post.

10 Pound Backpack to Hike 100 Miles

Gear – 10 Pound Backpack to Hike 100 Miles

This is not a fringe gear list. I want to be safe. I hate being wet, cold and uncomfortable. I want a good night’s sleep. This gear list does all of that. In fact I’d wager that I am warmer, more comfortable, have more living area, and sleep better than most campers. For a complete discussion on gear selection and a Complete Gear List see my previous post: Practical Light Gear List Appalachian Trail.

Each minute of daylight hiking time is precious and once squandered cannot be recovered. As such I chose practical but light gear, with a focus on zero fiddle-factor (time wasting). If gear was lighter but took away from my hiking time (or sleeping time) it was out. I’ll use my backpack and sleep system selection rationale as examples.


  • The Mountain Laurel Designs Burn Backpack’s Cuben Fiber construction is plenty durable. I don’t have to waste time trying to handle it gently, or to not scrape it against brush or rocks. (vs. the single rear pocket, no hipbelt, 3.8 ounce spinnaker fabric pack I used in 2007)
  • The Burn’s numerous pockets save time as I rarely need to take the pack off to get what I need. Most often, I can do this while continuing to walk. From the two side pockets and two shoulder strap pockets, I can instantly access my most-used-gear and all of my day’s food. Rainwear is in the rear pocket and accessible in less than 10 seconds. Most days I don’t need to go into the main pack-bag during the day—which is good since that’s a lot of time wasted.
  • The Cuben Fiber main pack-bag with a roll top closure is virtually waterproof. Combine that with stowing my quilts and down jacket in Cuben Fiber stuff sacks and I don’t need to do anything different when it rains, just keep hiking. So my backpack is always packed the same, regardless of weather. No messing around taking on and off pack covers (imperfect rain protection anyway) or fussing with pack liners, both of which are a pain and waste time.
  • It has a simple and light hipbelt capable of supporting at least 15 to 20 pounds.
10 Pound Backpack to Hike 100 Miles

Fortunately, in previous winter trips I had tested my very cold weather hammock gear down to 12°F (-11°C). So I had a solid and very light winter hammock quilt system ready to go. One I had complete confidence would give me a great night’s sleep.

Sleeping System

  • Getting a good night’s sleep was essential to putting in back to back long days on the trail. My body needed rest to recover and get up and do it all over again the next day. Any impediment to getting my recovery was “time wasted.” This was arguably more important than wasted hiking time.
  • I need a light sleep system that I know will give me great sleep every night! One that I will relax and start to doze off minutes after I lie down and know that I will sleep soundly for the rest of the night.
  • For me on the AT this is clearly an 8 oz hammock paired with warm down quilts and a cuben fiber tarp. Read more here: Hammock camping article. Hammock Camping Part I: Advantages & disadvantages versus ground systems
  • Another advantage of a hammock on the AT, hammock camping equates to more miles hiked at the end of the day vs. sleeping on the ground.
  • Why? Sleeping in a hammock dramatically increases suitable campsites on the AT. With a hammock all I need to camp is two trees—the ground below is largely irrelevant. That means I can hike until dusk without the risk of being in un-campable terrain. (Since much of the AT is sloped and rocky it’s not suitable for ground camping.)
  • So if I were ground sleeping I would likely need to stop hiking sooner than dusk to camp. I.e. I need to stop at the last shelter or campground that I could comfortably make before dark. Thus I might miss an hour or more of available daylight to hike.
Blue rRdge at dawn. The name is self-explanatory.

Blue Ridge at dawn

Adjustments for Challenging Weather – when we make plans Nature laughs

I was hoping for pleasant spring conditions—sunny and in the 60s during the day with crisp sleeping temps in the 40s at night. Unfortunately, this was the weather I got. It would be even colder than this at higher elevations along the Blue Ridge in the park with temperatures likely dropping into the low 20s and rain becoming wind-blown sleet. Life is like that sometimes.

Wx report-600

My major changes were:

  1. do the hike in 3 vs. 4 days
  2. take warmer, +20F hammock quilts but with trimmer dimensions to save weight
  3. take a bit warmer clothes; a down jacket vs. down vest, and to add a light fleece shirt that I wore the whole  hike.

Click here to see Major Changes for Winter Wx full page, as a Google Sheet


Click on table image above to see it full page with working links.

Mostly rain and mist all day along the ridge

Mostly rain and mist all day along the ridge

Original (non winter modified) Practical Light Gear List

For a complete discussion on gear selection and a Complete Gear List see my previous post: Practical Light Gear List Appalachian Trail.

Original (non winter modified)5 Pound Practical Light Gear List
Click here see it full page, as a Google Sheet

5-lb-practical lighweight

. Click on gear list table image to see full gear list sheet

Another stunning sunrise on the Blue Ridge

Another stunning sunrise on the Blue Ridge.

Water – Drink to Thirst


Drink to Thirst: Collecting water from springs right by the trail saves time. Drinking at the source with a Sawyer Filter means that I don’t have to carry water. I found I could easily hike to the next trailside water source without becoming thirsty.

Shakedown Trip – test out gear and legs

Shakedown trip: Two weekends before Alison and I did a 3 day trip in cold and wet spring conditions with the gear I intended to use on the hike. We got 35 degree rain, and hard freezes at night. My gear performed well and I made only a few adjustment prior to the Shenandoah. We also did one hard and fast 22 mile day to see test fitness, leg strength and endurance.

Backpacking Spring Training

Gear testing on a shakedown trip: Warm and snug in our hammocks sheltered in grove of pines. It was 35 degrees spitting rain when we went to bed and dropped to 25 degrees by the next morning. My hammock setup is on the left: Dutchware Netless Hammock with Dutchware suspension/hardware, Hammock Gear (HG) top & bottom quilts, and HG Cuben Hex Tarp.

Parting Shot – 10 Pound Backpack to Hike 100 Miles

And yes, there was some sunshine on this trip.

And yes, there was sunshine on this trip.

Best Cheap 25 cent Backpacking GearThe Best Cheap 25 cent Backpacking Gear is a Pint Ziploc Freezer Bag. These bags are a perfect size and have a ton of uses. I’ve used them to protect my iPhone and other expensive equipment packrafting in Alaska, rafting down the Grand Canyon in winter, and trekking in Patagonia and the rain forests of New Zealand. Surprisingly, they are virtually unknown and you won’t find them on grocery store shelves. But you can purchase Pint Ziploc Freezer Bag here

Pint Ziploc Freezer Bags are nearly as effective as ALOKSAKs, but far less expensive. At $0.25 each, it’s easy to carry a few spares and replace between trips as necessary.  The thick plastic and double zip work well to keep water and dust out while preventing minor scratches. Unless you plan on having your gear submerged for long periods*, they are lighter, and easier to get gear in and out of, and less expensive than fancy waterproof bags or cases that weigh and cost far more. (*Note: If you really need submersible protection; i.e. your phone will be completely under water for some time, then you will need to get a fully submersible rated bag for your phone.)

Best Cheap 25 cent Backpacking Gear

Just a few of the many uses for a $0.25 Pint Freezer Ziplock bag. Clockwise from upper right: 1) store meals, cook in bag & eat from the bag, 2) keeping TP dry in an outside pocket of your pack [normal sandwich baggies are too fragile and leak], 3) protecting expensive cameras/electronics from dust and rain like this $800 Sony RX100 Camera, 4) and my favorite use, protecting my iPhone. Photo shows the proper way to fold the bag for the iPhone for best visablity and touchscreen use.

Many uses for the Best Cheap 25 cent Backpacking Gear

Here are some my uses for $0.25 Pint Ziploc Freezer Bags but there are a ton more. Tell me your uses in the comments!

  • Protect my iPhone: see more detail on how I do this below
  • Keep the fiddle factor down: Putting like-gear in Pint Ziploc Freezer Bags organizes “gear-chaos.” Quickly finding gear saves time and sanity. E.g. all my first aid kit fits in one baggie. My cables and electronics, spare batteries go in another. My camera stuff, spare SD cards, batteries, bubble level go in another.
  • Snacks: One day of snack food goes in one baggie (Pint or Quart size, depending) and is put in the side pocket of my pack for quick access.
  • Meals: A Pint Ziploc Freezer Bag is perfect for individual meals. Just re-hydrate in the bag and eat out of the bag. When done, zip it shut and your KP is done. (I use Quart size when Alison and I share meals.)
  • Perfect for storing cheese and dried meats like salami, or a potentially leaking bottle of olive oil.
  •  Protect other electronics and optics, including small cameras, binoculars etc. My Sony RX100 Camera is a bit on the delicate side. I put it in a Pint Ziploc Freezer Bag if it is wet or very dusty (e.g. a windy day in the deserts of S. Utah). I usually leave the bag unzipped and folded over unless conditions are bad.
  • My standard travel electronics kit (when trekking worldwide) and even on extended trips in the US—spare charging battery, cables, wall-chargers, outlet adapters all fit neatly in one baggie.
  • Map & documents case. I generally don’t use heavy and bulky waterproof mapsets. I normally print my own custom maps and a time and mileage tables on non-waterproof paper. When arranged properly in a Pint Ziploc Freezer Bag or even a quart size, I can keep these in my right hip pants pocket for rapid reference—even in the rain.
  • Waterproof TP and hand sanitizer bag. Allows you to keep this easily accessible in an external pocket, even in wet conditions.

How I use the Pint Freezer Ziplock bag to protect my iPhone

I carry my iPhone in my left hip pants pocket about 95% of the time. Here’s how I keep it protected but quickly usable. First, I use a simple and Light Protective Case with a Screen Protector. Then I put my iPhone in a Pint Freezer Ziplock bag with the phone display on the clear/non-printed side and then fold the extra over so that the display is easily readable and fully touch functional (except fingerprint recognition of the home button). I put the phone in my pocket with the phone display facing against my leg so that it is protected from getting damaged if I bump into something. [Note: make sure that you fold extra bag away from the face of the phone. This prevents the bag from getting hazed by the ziplock closure rubbing against the display side of the bag.] In normal use, I usually don’t zip the bag shut since I am just interested in is protecting the phone from perspiration from my leg and dust. Folding the bag over does just fine for this. The additional benefit of folding and not sealing the bag is that I can quickly extract my phone from the bag to take a photo. Only in heavy rain or when I think I might get a brief dunking, like crossing a stream will I actually zip the bag shut.


Some of the elements for my light travel electronics kit:  A substantial 6400 mAh external charging battery and a lightening cable and a micro USB cable. If traveling, I would add a wall charger (pictured) and a combo Power Adapter Travel Wall Charger (not pictured). All are well packaged and organized in a durable Pint Ziplock Freezer bag.

Field use kit: The iPhone 6 in a light but protective case sitting on top of a Pint Ziploc Freezer Bag used to protect the phone from dust, scratches and water (effective, lighter and less expensive than elaborate waterproof cases!). Right: a substantial 6400 mAh external charging battery and a lightening cable.


Freezer Ziplock used both for in bag cooking (re-hydration) and to eat from. Zero clean-up after the meal. Zip the bag shut, put it with your trash and you are done. This is especially useful at dry camps or when it’s really cold when washing pots at below freezing is not fun.

This is an excellent Method to Manage Hammock Tarp Doors. It’s fast and simple to use. It keeps the tarp doors neatly and securely out of the way in dry weather or when you are getting in and out of the hammock. But it quickly secures the tarp doors if needed—like when a rain storm quickly moves in. This is a great do-it-yourself DIY project—instructions are below.

I learned about this Method to Manage Hammock Tarp Doors from David Meck of Hammeck at a fall hammock hang along the Appalachian Trail in PA. After the hammock hang, David kindly sent me some photos of his setup. (BTW my wife, Alison currently uses an Envy-S Hammeck.)

If this post interests you you might also like these two gear lists that feature hammock camping:
Practical Light Gear List Appalachian Trail (5-6 lb) and 8 Pound – Appalachian Trail Gear List and this three part intro to hammock camping: Hammock Camping Part I: Advantages & disadvantages versus ground systems

This is a Great DIY Project 



  • You need to appropriately alternate male and female clips ends. Clips need to correctly mate in both open-and-stowed position (Picture 1), & in the closed position (Picture 3 & Picture 5) .
  • Use about 3 ft. of shock cord attached to each clip. This is a starting point as tarps are different.

Instructions – Method to Manage Hammock Tarp Doors

The instructions on how to setup this “Method to Manage Hammock Tarp Doors” are in the photo captions below. The tarp pictured is a Hammock Gear Standard Cuben Fiber Tarp with doors

Method to Manage Hammock Tarp Doors

Photo 1: This shows the attachment points for the door cordage and hardware. On the top, each door corner’s D-ring has about 3 feet of shock cord tied to it with a clip at the other end. The two door clips fasten to each other in the middle, “Detail,” to secure the doors in the open-and-stowed position. The bottom two arrows indicate where clips are attached to lower D-rings (these are used to secure the doors in the closed position). [Photo D. Meck]


Photo 2: Detail of Photo 1 showing the Safety Side Release Buckle clips securing the doors in the open-and-stowed position. Note that you need to make sure you have the right female-male connections to work in both open-and-stowed position (Picture 1), & in the closed position (Picture 3 & Picture 5). [Photo D. Meck]


This shows the left door closed and attached to the mating clip on the opposite side of the tarp (yellow arrow on lower right). On the lower left arrow you can see the hanging clip for the opposite (right) door that is currently in the open-and-stowed position. In the upper right you can see the two right-hand-side doors clipped in the open-and-stowed position. [Photo D. Meck]


Photo 4: Detail of Photo 3 showing the shock cord and clip from the left (left arrow) door secured to the clip in the lower right. [Photo D. Meck]


Photo 5: Shows both doors closed and secured to clips on the opposite tarp side (yellow arrows). [Photo D. Meck]


A sudden opening in the clouds illuminates a lone tree and a small outcrop overlooking Loch Marie in Wester Ross. The summit of Slioch (left) is still shrouded in mist at midday. [Handheld with Olympus E-520 and stock 14-42mm f/3.5-5.6 Zuiko ED Zoom lens.] This photo looks great enlarged to 14x19.

A sudden opening in the clouds illuminates a lone tree and a small outcrop overlooking Loch Marie in Wester Ross. The summit of Slioch (left) is still shrouded in mist at midday. [Handheld with 16 oz, mirrorless digital SLR camera (like this) with its stock zoom lens. ] This photo looks great enlarged to 14×19.

Purpose: This article addresses the selection of a lightweight backpacking camera and photo gear. In particular, you will understand the tradeoffs of camera size and weight vs. image quality.


The 16 ounce Sony a6000 with the right $200 prime lens (Sigma 30mm f2.8 DN), can produce image quality challenging the Canon 5D. Pictured is my full Sony a6000 backpacking kit: Sony a6000 Mirrorless Camera w (kit 16-50mm lens or alternate lens), Peak Designs CapturePRO (mounts to backpack shoulder strap), Peak Designs Micro Plate (mounts to camera bottom), Pedco Ultrapod II (small tripod), Sony NP-FW50 Battery (spare), Newer® Fish Bone quick release for tripod head.

Camera Item Oz Comments
Camera SLR
crop format
Sony a6000 w kit 16-50mm lens*
new model: Sony a6300
16.0 Among lightest 24mp APS-C cameras. With the right lens, image quality approaching Canon 5D
Lens alt/add’l Sony SEL35F18 35mm f/1.8 Prime Fixed Lens w hood (6.2) Fast, superb resolution, normal lens w image stabilization. Use dawn & dusk. Possibly w/o tripod!
Lens alt/add’l Sigma 19mm f2.8 DN, w hood (6.1) For landscape. Light, inexpensive, sharper at 19mm than the a6000 16-50mm kit lens
Lens alt/add’l Sigma 30mm f2.8 DN, w hood (5.7) Only $199! Superb resolution. Lightweight.
Battery spare Sony NP-FW50 Battery (1.5) Alt less $: Wasabi Power Battery (2-Pack) & Charger
Mount Peak Designs CapturePRO 110g 3.8 Take more photos! Fast access to camera!
Attaches to backpack shoulder strap
Mount Peak Designs Micro Plate 25g 0.8 Needed to clear a6000’s hinged LCD screen
Tripod SLR Pedco ultra-pod II 114g, 4.0 oz For small mirrorless SLR cameras
Tripod mount Newer® Fish Bone quick release for tripod head 51g, 1.8 oz For quick attachment of camera with Peak Designs Micro Plate (alt = Desmond DLVC-50)
Protection Gallon Freezer ZipLoc To protect camera gear from rain
TOTAL 20.6 ounces


A recent photo shot in Dolly Sods Wildness with the 16 oz Sony a6000 mirrorless digital SLR camera and its stock zoom lens (listed in table above).

Lightweight Backpacking Camera Selection 101 – Why Sensor Size Matters

If you don’t want to go into all the gory details at this point you can just jump to a discussion of the Lightweight backpacking cameras I use.

Lightweight Backpacking Camera

My three lightweight backpacking cameras L to R: Canon PowerShot S100 (current model s120), Sony a6000 w kit 16-50mm lens (new model: Sony a6300), Sony RX100iii (current model RX100iv). With each increase in size, weight and cost you get higher quality images, but at expense pocket-ability and rapid access to the camera for a quick shot. (photo taken with my iPhone 6+)

While some point and shoot lightweight backpacking cameras may produce quite serviceable photos, don’t expect professional quality images from a camera with a sensor* the size of your little fingernail and a lens the size of a snap pea. It would be great if a 5 oz Point and Shoot (P/S) compact camera produced images close to the quality of images from a 3 ½ pound digital SLR (DSLR) camera and lens combination like a Canon 5D and 24-105mm f/4L IS lens. But camera sensor and lens size has significant impact on image quality. In summary: better image quality requires a larger sensor, which in turn requires a larger camera body and a larger lens, and ultimately a heavier camera.

Since we can’t bypass laws of physics (sensor* and lens size), each backcountry photographer will need to find a satisfactory compromise between camera size/weight and image quality.

* Sensor is the device in a digital camera that electronically captures the image. It performs the same function as film in old style film cameras.

5 Most Important Features for a Backpacking CameraAlso see 5 Most Important Features for a Backpacking Camera

Alert! as a backpacker you are not well served by mainstream camera reviews like DPReview. That is, the 5 Most Important Features for a Backpacking Camera are quite different than those for a general use camera in mainstream reviews. Hear are the major differences.

Major factors to consider for image/photo quality

  • Larger sensors produce better image quality: (see Table of Sensor Sizes and Pixel Densities below)
    A P/S camera has a sensor 5% the size of the full-frame sensor of a camera like the Canon 5D. If each camera has the same number of pixels, then the pixels on the P/S camera will need to be 5% the size of the full-frame camera’s pixels in order to fit on the smaller sensor. So each P/S pixel can only gather 5% of the light of a full-frame sensor pixel—sometimes only a few photons per pixel (yes literally down to the photon level!). Without going into gritty detail, the close pixel spacing and limited light gathering ability of smaller sensors leads to less resolution/sharpness (for the same pixel count), less dynamic range (especially problems with clipped highlights, i.e. entirely white areas without detail), less color saturation, more noise, decreased ISO performance, and ultimately lower image quality.
  • Lens size matters: A larger sensor requires a larger lens to cover the larger sensor area. In addition, there is a limit to how precisely one can shape a small lens (e.g. a P/S camera lens). Due to the immense popularity P/S cameras and digital video recorders, there have been astonishing advancements in the optical quality of small molded plastic lenses. Nonetheless, the best optical quality is still from precisely ground glass lenses. These are the lenses used for for mid-size-semi-pro-sensors (approx. 30-40% of 35mm coverage) to full frame sensors (100% of 35mm coverage). Larger lenses do cost a lot more. A top quality lens might cost between $800 to several thousand dollars. But there are bargains to be had with some gems in the $200 to $500 range (e.g.Sigma’s Art Series prime lenses). And even some quite good zoom kit lenses.
  • Intended print size or use of images: If you intend to use the camera to produce 800 pixel snaps for your webpage, a good P/S camera should to the trick (although you will still a reduction in dynamic range, and color accuracy). But if you intend to frame large prints, you will be disappointed with the results from a P/S camera. To get sharp 16×20 or larger prints, with good color and tonality you’ll need at least a mid-size-semi-pro-sensor camera (approx. 30-40% of 35mm coverage) with a high quality lens—something like the Sony a6000.

Finally, there are no takeovers for backpacking photography. A small sensor P/S camera is extremely unlikely to produce a high quality enlargement no matter how fabulous the shot. Photoshopping is unlikely to make significant improvements. Think hard before you commit to a smaller sensor camera.

Killer Point and Shoot Cameras for backpacking

The Sony is a DP Review Editors Pick and in a class to itself for image quality for a light and compact camera. But it is quite expensive.

The Sony is  in a class to itself for image quality for a light & compact camera.

Some great, almost pocketable, 11 ounce “point and shoot” cameras produce superb images. The major disadvantage is high cost.


Mirrorless crop format cameras are probably your best option for serious photography

You best option for serious backpacking photography is probably one of the inexpensive mirrorless crop format camera (APS, APC, μ4/3) like current Sony a6000. The best of these cameras approach full-format SLR picture quality in a light, compact camera with interchangeable lenses. By doing away with a SLR mirror and viewfinder, but retaining the larger sensor and lenses of an SLR, you significantly reduce weight and bulk but retain picture quality. The 16 ounce Sony a6000 with the right $200 prime lens (Sigma 30mm f2.8 DN), can produce image quality challenging the Canon 5D.


Canon 5D challenger: The 16 ounce Sony a6000 (new model: Sony a6300) with the right $200 prime lens (Sigma 30mm f2.8 DN), can produce image quality challenging the Canon 5D. Above is the full Sony a6000 backpacking kit use: Peak Designs CapturePRO (mounts to backpack shoulder strap), Peak Designs Micro Plate (mounts to camera bottom), Pedco Ultrapod II (small tripod), Sony NP-FW50 Battery, and Newer Fish Bone quick release for tripod head.

And I admit, even I am tempted from time to time to carry a Canon 5D into the backcountry for its superb resolution and image quality! Note: The full-format mirrorless Sony a7 is starting to make inroads into the serious professional photo market. Even here photographers are finally getting tired of the weight and bulk DSLRs.

Lightweight backpacking camera

Sunrise Escalante River, Olympus E-30 and stock 14-42mm f/3.5-5.6 Zuiko ED Zoom lens. This photo looks great enlarged to 14×19. I just got done looking at the pictures my friend took with a compact P/S camera vs. the pictures I took a few weeks earlier in the same area with an Olympus DSLR with a 4/3 sensor (about nine times larger sensor). The P/S pictures are ”muddier“ and not nearly as sharp. The colors are muted and there is less tonal range. There are lots of pictures with detailess dark shadows or white (not blue) sky, sometimes both in the same shot. True, my friend still has a nice (and serviceable) photo record of her trip but most of these photos are not technically worthy of an 8×10 enlargement. Some of the shots, if they were taken with a better camera would make excellent enlargements worthy of framing. Bottom line—larger camera, larger sensor, better picture.

Cameras and Their Sensor Sizes

The following is a list of some cameras and their sensor sizes.
As a rough estimate, the lower the pixel density (mp/cm2) the higher the image quality of the camera.

Lightweight backpacking camera

Note: the example cameras in this are a bit dated, but the message is still good. Altho, now over 5 years later sensor technology has improved to the point where a current crop sensor camera like the Sony a6000 out-performs a 5-year-old, full-format DSLR.

Pixel density counts, but there may still be significant image quality differences between cameras with sensors of similar pixel densities (although probably not enough to jump camera classes). These differences in image quality are usually due to improved sensor technology and improved camera image processing. E.g.:

  • Even though it has a higher pixel density, the new Olympus E-620 has almost 1.0 EV more highlight range than the older E-520. But it still doesn’t have the RAW headroom (dynamic range) or high ISO performance of the best, mid-sized sensor APC/APC cameras (e.g. Nikon D300 or Canon Rebel XSi), let alone a full 35mm sized sensor camera (e.g Canon 5D mk2 or Nikon D700).
  • The Canon PowerShot G10 performs considerably better against compact cameras than its extremely high 34 mp/cm2 pixel density might indicate. But its 10x higher pixel density cannot match the image quality of the mid-sized APC/APS and 4/3 sensor cameras like the Canon Rebel XSi or Olympus E-620.
  • The improved technology of the Canon 5D Mk II (sensor and image processing) has better image quality (but not by a lot) over the older and lower pixel density 5D. And at 21 vs. 12.7 mega pixel the Mk II has more resolution. But the 2.4 mp/cm2 Canon 5D Mk II does not have near the RAW headroom (dynamic range) of the 1.5 mp/cm2 Nikon D700.

Available Lenses: Their Quality and Their Weight

Larger sensors require larger lenses. Larger lenses are heavier, and significantly more expensive to make. In particular it is quite difficult to make an inexpensive, high quality full frame (35mm) lens for cameras like the Canon 5D. This is where the smaller, high quality midsized sensor lenses like the Olympus Zuiko μ4/3 format lenses really shine. For the Sony a6000 there are some incredible deals with Sigma’s Art Series prime lenses. So make sure you check out the availability of high quality lightweight lenses before committing to a particular camera line. Sometimes, the lenses are significantly more important for weight and image quality than the camera body. And it is likely that you will own and use the lenses far longer than a given camera body.

Quick ways to reduce backpack weight

Moving fast and light along the spectacular ridge line of the GR20 in Corsica. A minimal pack (and good pre-trip training) enabled Alison and I to do a 16 day trip in under 8 days. Pictured – the award winning Hyperlite Mountain Gear 2400 Southwest Pack

Quick ways to reduce backpack weight. A few may surprise you…

  1. Look at The Big Three: Backpack, Tent/shelter, and Sleep System (sleeping bag, sleeping pad, and ground cloth). You stand to lose a bunch of weight from these: as much as 10 to 12 pounds.
    1. Take a Backpack that weighs less than two pounds. See our: Best Backpacks for Backpacking and Hiking
    2. Take a Tent that weighs less than two pounds. See our: Best Backpacking Tents | Lightweight & Ultralight
    3. Take a Sleeping bag that that weighs less than 1.5 pounds. See our: Buyers Guide to Lightweight Backpacking Quilts & Sleeping Bags
    4. Look at our 9 Pound Full Comfort Lightweight Backpacking Gear List for more ideas for gear to save weight.
      Nine pounds of backpacking gear is all a hiker needs to be safe and warm. Or simply put, this list has better backpacking gear. For over a decade it’s been tested, refined, and updated to reflect only the best and most current backpacking gear now available in 2019. So, if you want to reduce pack weight without reducing comfort, look no further! The hiking gear in this guide is suitable for all 3-season conditions on trips around the world, from Alaska, to Patagonia, to Utah.
  2. Look on The Backpacking Food Page to save a ton of weight at zero cost
  3. Get a weather report (the NOAA hourly weather graph is among the most informative and accurate)—then pack for those conditions! Since 90% of backpackers take 90% their trips for 3 days or or less, this weather report should be quite accurate for the short time you are out. This will let you pack a tent, clothing, and sleeping bag appropriate for actual conditions. It will also deter you from taking inappropriate, “what-if-the-worst-happens!” gear, e.g. 6 pound tent, and a +10F sleeping bag for a balmy weather trip on the Appalachian Trail.
  4. Don’t take extra clothing. e.g. don’t take any more clothing than you can wear at one time.
  5. Take less: Be disciplined and leave a few items at home that you haven’t used in the last three trips. Put stuff like sunscreen and trail soap in smaller containers.
  6. Extra Credit: Browse The Gear Lists Page for other ideas and examples to save weight. This will give you a good examples of what type of gear is available and what is a reasonable weight for that type of gear, e.g. around 6-8 ounces for a rain jacket, or around 1.0 ounce for a pocket knife. Think hard if your gear is 2 to 3x heavier than the examples on these lists.
  7. Read my The Best Hydration — Drink When Thirsty. Use a Sawyer Squeeze Water Filter to drink at the source (lake, stream, etc.). Then only carry a sensible amount to get to your next known water source. I.e. it makes no sense to carry 3 liters of water, almost 7 pounds, when your next water source is only two hours away.
  8. Remember to have fun! That will at least, lighten your spirit and mood.

How Do I Start?

  • Ground yourself in reality: Get all your stuff together and weigh it. If you’re like most conventional hikers, your equipment will weigh around 30 pounds, possibly higher.
  • Get individual weights for your heavier items like tents and backpacks. For stuff in the range of a few pounds or less you’ll want to buy an inexpensive digital scale that weighs up to 10 pounds.
  • See what you can leave at home. Anything you don’t bring is free weight reduction. Think hard about this one. Do you really need it?
  • Put together a spreadsheet (or at least a list) with all your equipment weights. This is an indispensable analysis tool.
  • Try to figure out where you’ll get the most “bang for the buck.” e.g. figure out how much a new item costs and divide that by the amount of weight it will save you over your old equipment. Target the items that give you the most weight loss for the fewest dollars.
  • Buy on Sale: Don’t try to purchase all your new equipment right away. Many items regularly go on sale or are closed out. Watch carefully over the course of a year and you could save 30 to 70 percent on your equipment.

These Recommended Lightweight Backpacks are your first choice if you want one light pack to work for all your trips. These packs will carry gear and food for trips up to 7 days or more—yet at around 2 pounds they are not too heavy to use for a long weekend on the Appalachian Trail. They have an internal frame to support heavier loads and will accommodate a bunch of gear and/or a bear canister.

lead photo: The Hyperlite Mountain Gear 2400 Southwest Pack on the rugged terrain of the GR20 in Corsica. This pack is a favorite and a Backpacker Magazine award winner for “Best UltraLight Pack.”

Do-it-all Packs for most trips up to a week (or longer)


Hyperlite Mountain Gear Packs: HMG makes very light, functional and extremely durable packs. The 3400 Southwest Pack will work for most trips, even those requiring a bear canister. The 2400 Southwest Pack is a personal favorite and a Backpacker Magazine award winner for “Best UltraLight Pack.” For longer trips it’s great for those with a more compact kit. Its slim profile gives great balance for scrambling. HMG packs have stiff frames, capable of supporting heavy loads. HMG packs are Cuben Fiber which is light, waterproof and extremely durable. Seam taping and a roll-top closure make these packs virtually waterproof! 

left: HMG Southwest 2400. Light, rugged & versatile. Can be dragged across rock. Nearly waterproof.


ULA Equipment Packs: ULA packs are a great value. They have much of the performance of HMG packs but cost less.  The Circuit Pack will work for most trips, even those requiring a bear canister. The Ohm 2.0 Pack is great for those with a more compact kit and/or shorter trips (although I carried gear and food for 7 days on the Southern Sierra High Route including a bear canister). Its slim profile gives great balance for scrambling. ULA packs are Robic fabric which is light and reasonably durable but inexpensive, keeping pack prices down.

right: The Ohm 2.0 Pack: Slogging up the Mountaineer’s Route on Mt. Whitney carrying a bear canister and 7 days worth of food in a ULA Ohm 2.0 pack. Its slim profile gives great balance for scrambling and its durable construction is up to the abuse of climbing Sierra granite. In this case it allowed us to climb over the summit of Whitney mid-trip on the Southern Sierra High Route.


Z-packs Arc Packs: If you hike mostly on trails, this might be the pack for you. What sets it apart is the load carrying capacity of its external frame. Z-packs does a modern, lightweight carbon fiber reinvention of the external frame backpacks of the 70’s and 80’s. Make no mistake, nothing transfers load to your hips like an external frame pack. Their Flexed Arc carbon fiber frame creates an air gap against your back, reducing that sweaty back feeling. The external frame has some considerations for off trail use. It doesn’t move with your torso as much as an internal frame pack when scrambling on rough terrain. And if you need to haul or lower your pack the external frame is exposed. It could catch on things and/or be damaged [but guessing that the majority of readers don’t haul their packs on rock]. The are Arc Haul uses more economical Dyneema fabric. The Arc Blast uses, lighter but expensive Cuben Fiber.

left: Z-packs Arc Pack: What sets it apart is the load carrying capacity of its external carbon fiber frame.

Osprey Exos 58 Pack: The main advantage of the Exos 58 is off the shelf availability form major retailers like REI (the rest of the packs on this page are not). At 2.7 pounds the Exos 58 is almost a pound heavier than other packs on this page but has features like a breathable, tensioned-mesh back panel frame and a top lid with a pocket that some trail hikers may appreciate.
Gossamer Gear Mariposa 60 Pack: A great trail pack with a lot of volume! While not quite as durable for scrambling/bushwhacking as the HMG and ULA packs, the Mariposa is under two pounds and has a bunch of features and creature comforts, like a top lid with a pocket that many trail hikers will appreciate.

Recommended Lightweight Backpacks for shorter trips (e.g. a long-weekend)

recommended lightweight backpacks

A light and compact pack is a huge advantage when navigating over difficult terrain. Alison descending after the crux of the GR20 with her 1 pound MLD Exodus Backpack

These packs are a great choice for a “long-weekend trip*,” typically 3 days and 2 nights. Their main advantage is that they weigh 10-18 oz, or 1/3 to 1/2 the weight of the Do-it-all Packs. In general, these packs are suited to carrying loads of 10 to 18 pounds. As such, many do not have a frame and/or may have less capacity than the Do-it-all Packs. But some backpackers with a trim gear kit may be able to use these packs for longer tips. *Note: 90% of backpackers take 90% their trips for 3 days or or less.


Mountain Laurel Designs Exodus In Dyneema Fabric

Mountain Laurel Designs Packs: The MLD Exodus Pack is a darling of the AT and a Backpacker Magazine award winner for “Best UltraLight Pack.” At just over a pound, it has the same volume of the Do-it-all Packs but saves weight by not having a frame. With light but durable Dyneema X fabric, it’s surprisingly strong, light and resistant to abuse. The 0.8 pound Burn Pack at 38 liters is a smaller and lighter version of the Exodus and is suitable for backpackers with a trimmer gear kit and/or lighter load.

mld burn

MLD Burn Pack in Cuben Fiber

Note: Mountain Laurel Designs is now offering their Burn, Prophet, and Exodus packs in Cuben Fiber. the Cuben Fiber is inherently near-waterproof. When you combine this with a Cuben stuff sacks for your down sleeping bag and jacket, you can pretty much not worry about rain. That means less time dealing with putting on a pack rain cover (they don’t work anyway) or dealing with putting everything in a waterproof pack liner.

  • Hyperlite Mountain Gear 2400 WindRider Pack: The 1.7 pound 2400 WindRider Pack is another winner of Backpacker Magazine’s “Best UltraLight Pack.” This pack is a hybrid between theDo-it-all Packs and Short trip packs. It has a bomber frame to support heavy loads but for many backpackers its 40 liter volume is more appropriate for shorter trips. It’s virtually waterproof and will handle a ton of abuse.
  • ULA Equipment CDT Pack: At 1.5 pounds and frameless, the CDT is ULA’s lightest and most basic pack. Like the MLD Exodus, its volume (54 liters) is similar to the Do-it-all packs, only the lack of a frame relegates it to shorter trips for many (but not all) backpackers.

  • Zpacks: At around 1.5 pounds the Arc Haul and the Arc Blast from Z-packs, would be a good choice for trail hiking. Especially those with sensitive shoulders that want to transfer the maximum weight to the hip belt.
  • Gossamer Gear Packs: Heather ‘Anish’ Anderson used the The Gorilla 40 Ultralight Pack to set the speed record for the Appalachian Trail. At 1.6 pounds, the Gorilla is a hybrid between the Do-it-all Packs and Short trip packs. It has a frame to support heaver loads but its 40 liter volume is more appropriate for shorter trips. The 1.1 pound Kumo Superlight and 0.6  Murmur Hyperlight are frameless 36 liter packs suitable for backpackers with a trimmer gear kit and/or lighter load. Unique to the Gossamer Gear Packs is an external and easily removable foam back-pad. This adds a bit of structure to the frameless packs and can be used as a sit pad for breaks and in camp, and/or to put under your feet at night if you use a shorter sleeping pad.
  • Osprey Exos 38 Pack: The main advantage of the Exos 38 is off the shelf availability from major retailers like REI (the rest of the packs on this page are not). At 2.2 pounds the Exos 38 is over twice the weight of most packs on this page but has features like a breathable, tensioned-mesh back panel frame and a top lid with a pocket that some trail hikers may appreciate.

Recommended Tents, Tarps and other Shelters
Possibly the best all-around, lightweight shelter is a pyramid shelter. I have used Pyramid Shelters on trips to Alaska, Patagonia, the Sierras, major European treks and around the world. (Picture of Alison in a Mountain Laurel Designs DuoMid XL on the G20 in Corsica. Considered to be the toughest long distance trek in Europe, the GR20 is legendary for its violent weather.)

Recommended Tents, Tarps and other Shelters

Why would I not take a conventional tent?

Pyramid SheltersTarps and Shaped Tarps are lighter and better ventilated than most Conventional Tents, yet give excellent wind and rain protection. For instance a pyramid shelter with a palatial 65+ ft2 floor area and 5+ feet of headroom can weigh between 1.5 to a only pound depending on fabric (43ft2/lb to 65 ft2/lb). A well-known 2-person backpacking tent is almost 5 pounds for 47 ft2 floor area and 3+ feet of headroom (9.6 ft2/lb). So the pyramid shelter has between 4.5 to 6.8 times more room per pound than a conventional backpacking tent—put differently it is a larger storm-worthy shelter that weighs 4 pounds less!

See Shelter Weights and Stats for a detailed comparison table of Tents, Tarps and other Shelters.

Quick Answers for Tent and Shelter Selection

1) I just want to get the best all-around shelter and be done: Look at the Pyramid Shelters Page


Pyramid shelters are light and keep you dry!

Consider pyramids from Mountain Laurel Designs, Hyperlite Mountain Gear or My Trail Co. Pyramid shelters give you huge floor area and great storm protection for the minimum weight. Many of the pyramid shelters have an optional insert which has full mosquito netting and a bathtub floor, effectively making them a tent when needed. But giving you the option of leaving the insert at home, saving both weight and pack volume.


2) I want a conventional Tent from a major retailer like REI: Look at the Tents and Tarptents Page 

Consider lightweight tents like the REI Quarter Dome 1 Tent, or the Big Agnes Fly Creek UL 1 Tent. (If you want to save a bit more weight, look at the Tarptents, altho these will not be from REI.)

3) I feel adventurous & want to go really light: Look at the Tarps and Shaped TarpsPyramid Shelters Page

Recommended Tents, Tarps and other Shelters

The 7.8 ounce MLD Cuben Fiber Grace Duo Tarp was our choice for the Wind River High Route: Don and I weathered a strong thunder and hailstorm at the back of Cirque of the Towers. Exposed at over 10,000 feet in a mountain meadow, it kept us and all our down gear dry.

Consider one of the pyramids without an insert and/or in Cuben Fiber. Or consider Tarps (like the Hyperlite Mountain Gear Tarps, or Mountain Laurel Designs Tarps) and Shaped Tarps if you backpack in places with occasional rain (Summer in the Sierras or the desert of Southern Utah) and/or camp in more sheltered areas (below treeline, behind large rocks, etc.). Tarps and Shaped Tarps far more floor area but a bit less headroom than a pyramid. They are significantly lighter than pyramids. e.g. a 2-personMountain Laurel Designs Cuben Fiber Grace Duo Tarp  is 8 oz vs the 16 oz for the DuoMid XL. (Note: that some skilled and adventurous backpackers use Tarps above treeline in the high mountains and other exposed areas that get appreciable wind and precipitation. Some even winter camp under a tarp!)


Shelter Types and Stats

These shelters are listed by weight (high to low). In general they are also listed in increasing floor area (ft2) per pound (lb) of shelter weight (ft2/lb) . That is a conventional 4 pound tent provides only 5 square feet of floor area per pound of shelter weight, while a Cuben Fiber tarp provides an astonishing 100 to 130 square feet per pound of shelter weight—over 20x floor area per pound.

Lb Ft2/lb  Type of Shelter  Example Pros and Cons
Tents and Tarptents
4  5.0 Conventional
retail tent
REI Passage 1 Pro: low price, readily available, full floor and bug protection, freestanding Con: heavy, low ft2/lb area & headroom
2.6  8.2 Lightweight
retail tent
REI Quarter Dome 1  Pro: moderate price, readily available, full floor and bug protection, semi-freestanding Con: heavy, low ft2/lb area & low headroom
2.1 14.3  Tarptent  TarpTent Squall 2 Pro: OK price, full floor and bug protection Con: not available at major retailers, not freestanding FYI: requires trekking poles
Pyramid Shelters
1.7  18.2 Pyramid shelter
silnylon w innernet
Mountain Laurel Designs SoloMid Pro: full rain & wind protection, large floor area, 4+ ft high, full floor and bug protection, modular – take innnet only when needed Con: moderately expensive with innernet, not available at major retailers, not freestanding FYI: requires trekking poles
 1.1 29 Pyramid shelter
silnyl w/o innernet
Mountain Laurel Designs SoloMid Pro: moderate price, great ft2/lb ratio, full rain & wind protection, large floor area, 4+ ft high Con: no floor or bug netting, not available at major retailers, not freestanding FYI: requires trekking poles
.7  46 Pyramid shelter
Cuben w/o innernet
 Mountain Laurel Designs SoloMid  Pro: Exceptional ft2/lb ratio, full rain & wind protection, large floor area, 4+ ft high Con: High price, no floor or bug netting, not available at major retailers, not freestanding FYI: requires trekking poles
 1.1  57.3 Pyramid shelter
(Cuben Fiber)
Hyperlite Mountain Gear Ultamid 2 Pro: Exceptional ft2/lb area, full rain & wind protection, large floor area, 5+ ft high Con: Expensive, no floor or bug netting*, not available at major retailers, not freestanding FYI: requires trekking poles, *can get optional floor/bug net insert
Tarps and Shaped Tarps
 1.9  38 Flat tarp with innernet & beak
(Cuben Fiber)
Hyperlite Mountain Gear Echo II UL Shelter System Pro: better rain & wind protection than plain flat tarp, large floor area, full floor and bug protection, modular – take “insert” or beak only when needed Con: Very expensive, not available at major retailers
 1.2 40 Shaped tarp
Silnylon fabric
(Cuben 0.7 lb and 72 ft2/lb)
Mountain Laurel Designs TrailStar Pro: Great ft2/lb area, moderate price, good rain & wind protection, huge 50+ ft2 floor space Con: (vs. a pyramid; less headroom, somewhat less rain & wind protection), no floor or bug netting*, not available at major retailers FYI: *there is an innernet for the TrailStar
 0.8  80 Flat tarp
Silnylon fabric
Mountain Laurel Designs Grace Duo Pro: High ft2/lb area, moderate price, decent rain & wind protection, huge floor space Con: (vs. a pyramid; less headroom, somewhat less rain and wind protection), no floor or bug netting*, not available at major retailers FYI *can get optional innernet, 7.8 oz in Cuben
0.6  115 Flat tarp
Cuben Fiber
Hyperlite Mountain Gear Echo II Tarp Pro: Exceptional ft2/lb area, decent rain & wind protection Con: Very expensive, (vs. a pyramid; less headroom, somewhat less rain and wind protection), no floor or bug netting*, not available at major retailers FYI *can get optional floor/bug net insert
 .5  130 Flat tarp
Cuben Fiber
Mountain Laurel Designs Cuben Fiber Grace Duo Tarp Pro: Exceptional ft2/lb area, decent rain & wind protection, huge floor space Con: Very expensive, (vs. a pyramid; less headroom, somewhat less rain and wind protection), no floor or bug netting*, not available at major retailers FYI *can get optional innernet,


A two-pound TarpTent on the Alaskan tundra

A two-pound TarpTent on the Alaskan tundra

  1. Look at The tents and shelters listed in my 9 pound gear list. It has recommended Tents and TarpTents in the “Sleeping Gear and Tent/Shelter” section.
  2. And then take a look at the recommended Tents and Tarp Tents below.


Here are a few suggestions for Tents and TarpTents


Mountain Hardware Direkt 2 Tent – $550 at REI

This is one of the lightest freestanding four-season tents on the market. While it’s made for fast and light alpine climbing, it could be just as good for fast and light… anything. At least anything where you need to stay out in crazy conditions safely! This tent can be staked out to handle huge winds, and is more comfortable, lighter, and stronger than the previous best-in-class alpine tent: Black Diamond’s FirstLight.


REI Quarter Dome 2 Tent – $300 at REI

Okay, not everyone needs a siege-proof alpine four-season beast of a tent. REI’s long-time favorite Quarter Dome Tent is a great option for those looking for a reasonably priced lightweight free-standing backpacking tent. If ultralight tarps seem too daunting, this will still help you cut weight, weighing just over 3 lbs, but the Quarter Dome remains comfortable with ample head room, and plenty of space for two backpackers. The increased room/livability from extremely vertical walls is what sets tent apart from most of its peers.


Big Agnes Copper Spur HV UL 2 Tent – $450 at REI

If you want to cut a little weight, but keep lots of space, Big Agnes has you covered with the high volume version of their Copper Spur UL 2 freestanding tent. It comes in at 2 lb. 12 oz on the trail, and can be pitched even lighter using just the fly. This is one of the most spacious 2-person tents out there, which is great if you are going to be stuck in your tent playing cards for a while in bad weather, or just prefer highly livable tents.


Tarptent Notch 1-Person Shelter – $285

Tarptent has been around for ages with a great reputation in the lightweight backpacking community. As the name suggests it combines the best aspects of a tent and tarp. That is, low weight combined with a fully waterproof floor and mosquito protection. The Notch is a great 1-person shelter, that sets up with two trekking poles, and includes a full inner bug netting and a bathtub floor. The Notch will keep you and your stuff dry in a rain storm, and there is ample headroom to sit up and wait out the foul weather from dry comfort inside! The shelter weighs in at 27 oz, which is a fair bit lighter than even the lightest free-standing tents!


Tarptent MoTrail 2-Person Shelter – $259

This is a light shelter with plenty of room for two to sit up side by side and eat dinner looking at the view. This Tarptent MoTrail is more like a traditional tarp setup with a ridgeline held by two trekking poles in the long direction of the tarp. The tarp has a mesh inner, and a Silnylon outer with a Silnylon tub floor to keep you dry even in a total downpour. Inside is space for two people to sleep comfortably without a trekking pole between them. At 36 oz, it’s just over 1lb/person, and it’s less expensive than the 1-person shelters like the Tarptent Notch or MLD Solomid!

The following Pyramids are fully storm worthy shelters

All can be ordered with an Inner Nest if you need a floor and bug netting


Mountain Laurel Designs Duomid XL – $365

This is the pyramid shelter against which all others are measured. These have been used by thru hikers on the longest treks, deep in the wilderness of Alaska, on glaciers and high peaks, and even occasionally as car-camping tents! The design is flexible, durable, functional, livable, and light at 21 oz for the SilNylon version. It can withstand serious storms, and open up on nice nights. It is spacious and comfortable for two backpackers and their gear. Of course, for the gram counters, this tarp also comes in the much lighter cuben fiber (Dyneema composite fabric) version, weighing in at 16 oz even, and costing about $700 depending on the color of fabric used. Note Asym design: one of the few ‘Mids that allows a couple to sleep side-by side without a center pole between them.


Mountain Laurel Designs SOLOMID XL 4.5′ X 9.2′ – $265

This is the upgraded version of the shelter Andrew Skurka took on his epic Alaska-Yukon Expedition. It’s a 1-person version of the Duomid with all the same great features, but it’s lighter and less expensive! It fits 1-person with ample room for gear. This SilNylon version comes in at just over a pound (17 oz). The Cuben fiber (Dyneema composite fabric) is a svelte 12 oz, but costs $465. For such a versatile, lightweight shelter, it’s a bargain! Note: new 2017 Asym, single pole design with 70% of the user space behind the one center pole and the front 30% functions as a vestibule. This offset design allows entry and exit in rainy conditions to help keep the sleep side of the shelter dry like the DuoMid XL design.