A thru-hike — yes, “thru,” not “through” — is the ultimate test of any piece of gear. Hikers who undertake these treks total their miles in the thousands, and push backpacks, sleeping bags, tents and more to their upper limits. A thru-hike can last from a week up to six months and meander through a variety of climates.
What’s more, thru-hikers are a notoriously picky bunch. They’re always on the lookout for gear that’s lighter (or ways to modify what they’ve already got in their packs). Thankfully, manufacturers today seem more than happy to oblige — brands big and small are churning out innovative ultralight options that are tough enough to stand up to a long-distance trek yet also pack enough features for the less-adventurous hiker. We don’t all have the time, or leg power, to hit the trail for months on end, after all.
Accordingly, hikers and campers have thru-hikers to thank for the current state of outdoor gear. We don’t all count ounces, but we feel them on our backs just the same. That’s why this list of equipment isn’t just for the thru-hikers — each item is perfect for a weekend getaway in the woods too.
Mountainsmith Andesite Trekking Poles
Mountainsmith made this pair of lightweight trekking poles from lightweight carbon fiber for big miles that won’t weigh you down. At only 11.2 ounces, they’re barely noticeable in your hands and come with adjustable wrist straps and comfy molded EVA foam handles. They extend up to 55 inches with two telescoping sections and adjust with a double cam twist lock for fast fine-tuning. Use them to set up a tarp shelter or tackle gnarly climbs — the Andesite can handle it all.
Altra Tushar Boot
The Tushar is everything you’ve come to love about Altra trail runners but in a sturdy hiking boot. Like those shoes, it has Altra’s signature features: a wide toe box for maximum, all-day comfort and natural, zero-drop cushioning that keeps the heel and toes on the same plane (versus a traditional risen heel). The hiker also has a breathable waterproof coating coupled with a rugged rubber outsole for taking on a variety of mountainous terrain, plus tabs for adding gaiters. Compared to traditional hiking boots, the Tushar is relatively light — less than 20 ounces for the pair.
Rab Mythic Ultra Sleeping Bag
Rab packs a lot into one wildly packable sleeping bag, the Mythic Ultra. The company manages to increase the bag’s warmth by 32 percent without tacking on extra weight. That’s due to a liner fabric coated with titanium fibers, called Thermo Ionic Lining Technology (TILT). The complicated process of making it involves a vacuum and ions, but the takeaway is simpler: more warmth for less weight. Two models offer temperature ratings of 32 and 18 degrees in a classic mummy design.
Nemo Equipment Flyer Self-Inflating Sleeping Pad
Incorporating the durability of a foam pad with the comfort of an air pad, Nemo’s Flyer is the best of both worlds. A novel design involves hollowed-out foam that retains its thickness once inflated. On the outside, the pad has a lightweight 20D fabric. The Flyer weighs in at nearly 2 pounds — it’s not ultralight, but worth its weight thanks to its ease of use and comfort. With an R-value of 3.3, it’s a solid three-season option that’ll stand up to a long hike or more casual camping trip. It also comes with a repair kit, stuff sack and a handy lifetime warranty.
Hyperlite Mountain Gear REpack
Hyperlite Mountain Gear, a leader in the ultralight category, is making rehydrating food in the backcountry a cinch with the REpack. REpack is as big as a quart freezer bag and made of Dyneema Composite, a super-strong, ultralight fabric. REpack is a cooking tool: repackage dehydrated foods into plastic bags and, when you’re ready to eat, plop them in REpack along with some hot water. It’s also part of a mindset that warrants less weight and fewer bulky items. (You do still need a way to boil water, though.) When not in use, the REpack doubles as a pouch for miscellaneous gear items, like utensils.
Montbell Plasma 1000 Down Jacket
The Plasma weighs next to nothing — 4.8 ounces — yet is incredibly capable of keeping you warm on even the coldest days, thanks to 1000 Fill Power EX Down. Packing into a pocket stuff sack that hardly takes up space in a backpack, it’s our choice for the best ultralight down jacket. The jacket also supplies some weather protection via a ripstop nylon shell that’s treated with a water-repellant finish.
Big Agnes Scout 1 Platinum
A shelter can be the heaviest item in a pack, but the Scout 1 Platinum gives your other gear a run for its money. As a single-wall tent that sets up with trekking poles instead of the usual collapsible aluminum ones, the Scout totals just over a pound. It retains a roomy interior, though, with vertical walls and a head-entry door. It also has a full-body mesh vent system to improve air circulation and cut down on moisture buildup, and a silicone-treated exterior with a waterproof polyurethane coating, plus taped seams to ensure you stay dry in downpours.
BioLite HeadLamp 200
The HeadLamp 200 nullifies the need to carry batteries in the backcountry as it’s USB-rechargeable. That also ensures its featherlight (you may be noticing a trend here), as it weighs less than two ounces. But that doesn’t mean it sacrifices brightness. Its max 200 lumens output delivers a vivid glow and more than 40 hours of power on the low setting. Other light modes include white, red and strobe. Since the housing is incorporated into the band, it won’t bounce around as much as a traditional headlamp, and it’s quite comfortable.
Gossamer Gear G4-20 Ultralight 42 Backpack
Gossamer Gear, a leader in ultralight backpacks, is relaunching the G4, one of its original bags, as the G4-20. The frameless pack is a bit of a throwback, and designers used the old model as inspiration to make a 21st-century edition that incorporates new materials to increase functionality. Features include waterproof zippers, an extendable roll-top closure, a fixed hipbelt and exterior pouches for stowing layers and gear. The pack comes in three sizes and two colors. And in keeping with true ultralight form, it only weighs 25 ounces.
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