Most hikers first head out on the trail with the borrowed, metal-frame backpack their dad used back in the 1980s and some old Timberland work boots strapped to their feet. But after grueling weeks and some mild scoliosis, a few decide to go lighter. Cutting weight from 50 to 25 pounds means upgrading the sleeping bag and tent and dumping half their paycheck at REI in the process. After doubling their daily distances, they’ve suddenly developed an obsession: pack anorexia. Every ounce is evaluated, every piece of redundant gear eliminated. “Caloric density” and “base pack weight” get thrown into normal conversations. Suddenly packs weigh less than an elementary schooler’s Jansport.
These obsessives with less than 10 pounds strapped to their backs are considered “ultralight” hikers, a term as ubiquitous and unregulated in the hiking retail market as “organic” and “grass fed” are in the food industry. But trust us: the following gear truly is ultralight, and it’s perfect for those committed to the church of the minimalist trail pounder.
The Pack: A couple weekend test hikes with this pack in Escalante National Monument and the Tetons proved its mettle. At 65 liters, it’s large enough for a weeklong excursion, and the hybrid top and sideloading panel mean you don’t have to rummage through everything to find your last granola bar. The beefy suspension adds a little weight (the pack totals 3 pounds, 14 ounces), but saves aching hips and shoulders. (If you’re looking to half the weight and cost of this pack, the GoLite Jam 50L Pack is a fantastic option.)
Sawyer Squeeze Water Filter Plus
The Hydration: Sawyer’s claim of filtering one million gallons through the Squeeze before it quits at first seemed dubious. But ours is still going strong after more than a year of use throughout the western U.S. and Central and South America, with no replacement issues. The best part? It weighs less than a quarter of a pound, and the flexible water bottle compresses down to save space the more you drink.
Aku Fast Alpina GTX
The Kicks: Gone are the days when backpacking meant heavy boots. The all new Fast Alpina hiking shoes feature Aku’s IMS3 exoskeleton, giving the support and cushion of a much heavier boot. These shoes actually saved my life after I was stranded overnight in Capitol Reef National Park with broken foot bones from a canyoneering mishap; they were stiff enough to help build a duct tape splint, and I walked 12 miles out of the desert on a broken foot and sprained ankle.
Arc’teryx Zeta LT Hybrid Jacket
The Protection: You can cut the handles off of your toothbrush and the straps off your pack to save weight, but if you skimp on a rain jacket at high elevations, you could be making the morning news in a bad way. The Zeta LT Hybrid is super light at 13.4 ounces and easily packable while still sporting GoreTex construction for protection from the elements. Its zippered armpits vent heat, velcro cuffs trap heat and its stowaway hood can be deployed whenever rain clouds show up overhead.
Black Diamond Ergo Cork Trekking Pole
The Poles: When you’re making steep descents, the old adage that every pound off your feet is five off your back rings especially true. Our favorite trekking poles shift a little weight off the feet and knees and provide extra peace of mind in rocky situations with dual carbide and rubber end caps.
The Shelter: And speaking of hiking poles: Tarptent shelters use your hiking poles as a support system. No additional poles mean no redundant weight to carry. Their Contrail shelter sleeps one (two if you like to spoon), weighs in at 27.5 ounces and offers top and bottom protection from bugs, the elements and extremely weak bears. [Note: Still too heavy? Combine the rain-proof GoLite Poncho Tarp (which expands to cover an area of over 8.5 feet by 4.5 feet) with a Mountain Laurel Superlight Bivy for a minimalist shelter weighing a total of 13 ounces.]
Sea to Summit Spark III
The Sleeping Bag: A 25-degree bag weighing in at one pound and six ounces? Impossible. Yet Sea to Summit’s new Spark line does it using only 850+ loft down. It compresses itself to roughly the size of a Nalgene bottle, meaning you won’t have to endure another cold October night in a summer sleeping bag.
Therm-a-Rest NeoAir XLite Sleeping Pad
The Pad: Ultralight doesn’t have to mean ultra uncomfortable. The NeoAir is an inflatable, full-length sleeping pad that weighs only 12 ounces, and it’ll still put 2.5 inches between you and that rock you managed to miss as you pitched your tent. If 12 ounces is too much for you, the torso-length Gossamer Gear Nightlight Sleeping Pad weighs under 5 ounces and doesn’t require any inflation. Of course, your legs will have to go without the added comfort.
Snow Peak LiteMax Stove
IsoButane/Propane: If you’re cooking with a canister, the two-ounce Snow Peak LiteMax Stove is the lightest, most dependable option. But for those making extended trips in areas that lack access to replacement canisters, and for those who don’t want to ditch their added space and weight, there are two more options. Wood: Hikers in heavily wooded areas should consider the Bushbuddy Ultra, a 5.1-ounce wood-burning stove that allows you to collect fuel at your campsite and easily packs into your cooking pot to save space.
Alcohol: Hikers lacking dependable wood sources, or who have had one too many cold and hungry nights among damp wood, should consider a 0.3-ounce Fancy Feast Stove, popularized by ultra-hiking demigod Andrew Skurka. The stove efficiently burns denatured alcohol, which is essentially available wherever there are people, meaning you can buy more as you need it. Just don’t forget to pack a wind screen. [Note: As always, be wary of any open flame regulations in the area you plan to hike.]
Optimus Folding Ti Long Spoon
Utensil: Sure, the spork is a camping staple, but wouldn’t you prefer to stir your beans and rice without burning off your fingers? The 0.7-ounce Optimus Long Spoon is a lightweight addition to your chef’s kit with an adjustable, folding titanium handle for safe stirring.