I started backpacking in high school with an external frame pack, a 4-pound sleeping bag thrown on top of a heavy foam pad, a tent that would drip condensation on my face nearly every night, and a wardrobe that oftentimes included a cotton shirt tucked into my denim jeans. The Eagle badge on my Boy Scout uniform is living proof that you don’t have to be perfectly equipped with the latest and most expensive ultralight gear in order to “be prepared” and enjoy your trip! But flash forward three decades and my aging body certainly appreciates the innovations that modern chemistry has done for my current backpacking gear.
My Base Weight is currently at 17.3 pounds, excluding consumables like food and water, but including:
- Bags: 54.9 oz
- Shelter: 56.4 oz
- Sleeping: 51.1 oz
- Cooking & Hydration: 19.85 oz
- Clothes Carried in Pack: 49.1 oz
- Other Essential Gear: 46. 1 oz
This puts me in the “lightweight” backpacking category (20 pounds or less base weight). I really don’t have any desire to go truly “ultralight” (10 pounds or less base weight). I’ve tried all the traditional UL products like hammocks, quilts, trekking pole tents, and closed-cell foam pads, but I don’t really like them. While I am always looking to shed a few ounces here and there whenever I upgrade gear, I am willing to carry a few extra pounds to enjoy some comforts out on the trail while also being prepared with a few extra safety items.
Speaking of comfort, I’ve also listed a few Optional Items that I will sometimes bring with me for a bit more luxury.
Bags (54.9 oz)
An internal frame, ventilated back panel, padded shoulder straps with load lifters, a comfortable and contoured hip belt, a “packmod” design for reconfiguring based on trip length, and REI’s lifetime warranty…all for just 2.1 – 2.7 lbs (depending on how things are configured for each trip). Ample compression straps easily convert into a small daypack for out and back excursions from camp.
Cost: $199 (occasionally on sale for $149)
Weight: 38.4 oz
(size medium with shoulder strap pocket and brain removed)
Waterproof protection for your pack that compresses into a tiny stuff sack and quickly deploys when needed, including a wrap-around cinch with secure hip belt and harness attachment. For trips where my pack won’t be submerged in water, I prefer this over an internal dry bag since it’s only 0.8 oz heavier than a trash compactor bag. Multiple sizes are available depending on your pack size.
Weight: 3.2 oz (size large)
A lightweight and compressible solution for preventing bears from getting to your food. Multiple sizes are available.
Weight: 8.3 oz (Major XL 15-liter version)
100% odor/water/air/sand/snow/dust/humidity-proof bag that makes a Ursack less detectible to bears and rodents. Also serves as a great trash bag and holds other odor releasing items such as toiletries.
Cost: $6.75 per bag (usually sold in sets of 2)
Weight: 1.5 oz
Stuff Sacks / Dry Bags
I prefer to organize the gear within my backpack using lightweight sacks. I use the Granite Gear Air Zipditty 4 Pouch Set to hold my toiletries, water treatment kit, dishes and dishwashing equipment, and electronics while holding my clothing, poop kit, and other items in Alemon mesh stuff sacks.
Cost: $33 (zippered pouch set) + $10 (mesh sacks)
Weight: 3.5 oz
Shelter (56.4 oz)
Even for solo trips, I consider the extra room of the two-person model to be worth the added few ounces, especially when the dog joins me. I also prefer the fully free-standing design over something like a Tiger Wall.
Weight: 50 oz
Big Agnes Copper Spur UL2 Footprint
Extends the life of an ultralight tent’s floor. Can also be used to pitch a lightweight, fast fly shelter (without tent body). Overly expensive and heavy, but I use this over Tyvex or regular plastic sheeting due to the convenient fit and included straps for staking down with the tent.
Weight: 5 oz
I always bring at least 2 extra tent stakes for securing guy lines at a longer length and more horizontal angle during wind storms.
Weight: 0.8 oz
TEAR-AID Fabric Repair Kit – Type A
Big Agnes recommends these “Type A” patches for repairing their tents, so I throw the kit into the stake bag of each tent.
Weight: 0.6 oz
Sleeping (51.1 oz / 3.19375 lb)
Sea to Summit Spark III Down Sleeping Bag
Rated to 18 F and weighs just 26 ounces! Besides the warmth-to-weight ratio, I also like the hybrid design with horizontal baffles towards the feet and vertical on my chest. A semi-transparent shell makes it easy to see where the down is clumping up or missing to readjust for a comfortable night’s sleep. A full-length zipper opens from both directions for venting during warmer nights.
Weight: 26.3 oz (long version)
Sea 2 Sumit Ether Light XT Insulated Sleeping Mat
This is the most comfortable backpacking pad that I have ever slept on thanks to R3.2 insulation and Air Sprung Cell ™ technology that feels amazingly similar to my innerspring mattress back at home. The 4″ height is great for side sleeping and also provides more flexibility when having to set up the tent on rocky ground. At this point, I can’t be talked into sacrificing sleeping comfort to shave 6 ounces by swapping to something like the Thermarest XLite.
Weight: 22 oz (large size)
Sea 2 Summit Aeros Premium Pillow
Sea 2 Summit’s Pillow Lock™ system keeps this inflatable pillow from slipping off the pad while I’m sleeping and then the polyester knit exterior provides a soft and non-slip surface for my head.
Weight: 2.8 oz
Cooking & Hydration (19.85 oz)
A new Jetboil in 2021 brings the fuel efficiency and fast boil features that Jetboil has long been known for at almost half the weight as their typical products.
Weight: 7.5 oz
(with mini lighter, no fuel stabilizer)
Toaks Titanium Long Handle Spoon
I eat pre-packaged freeze-dried meals for lunch and dinner, so I appreciate how the long handle reaches into the bag to both stir the mix and scrape out those last little bites of food.
Weight: 0.65 oz
Sea 2 Summit Collapsible X-Mug
Holds 2 cups of liquid up to 300F with flexible BPA-free silicone sides that collapse into a small disc for packing. I’m not a coffee guy, but this is perfect for enjoying some hot apple cider (below).
Weight: 2.3 oz
Treats 1 liter of water in just 90 seconds and is compatible with everything from wide-mouth Nalgenes to disposable water bottles. LED display shows the remaining treatment time, battery life, and more. See mini review for more details.
Weight: 4.7 oz
SteriPEN Water Bottle Pre-Filter
Completely optional, but removes particles like bugs and dirt from water before UV treatment.
Weight: 1.5 oz
HydraPak Seeker Water Storage (3 Liter)
Durable but ultra-light and collapsible. Includes a capacity gauge for measuring intake or total contents and two side lash points for pouring, hanging, or attaching to a pack. Weather-resistant and won’t crack when frozen.
Weight: 3.2 oz
Clothes Carried in Pack (49.1 oz)
Outdoor Research Helium II Jacket
This is an amazing jacket that costs far less than most other waterproof shells in the same weight range. The second edition, released in 2020, doubled the fabric’s abrasian resistance while also making it 5 times less likely to tear.
Weight: 6.4 oz
Mountain Hardwear Ghost Whisperer/2 Down Jacket
800-fill RDS-certified down insulation with recycled materials on the face and trim. This jacket is warm but extremely lightweight and very packable.
Weight: 7.8 oz
North Face TKA Glacier 1/4 Zip Pullover Fleece
This fleece is quite popular with ultralight backpackers because of a stellar warmth to weight ratio and quality construction.
Weight: 7.5 oz
Turtle Fur Chelonia 150 Beanie
Unless I’m wearing it, this beanie is always stuffed inside the pocket of my down jacket. I sleep with it on my head to maintain body temperature during cooler nights and also use it when early-morning or late afternoon temps dip.
Weight: 1.1 oz
Mountain Hardwear Power Stretch Gloves
I’ve been using this model of gloves for 20 years because the form-fitting fleece is both warm and breathable. Like the beanie, I store these in my down coat pocket.
Weight: 1.6 oz
Icebreaker Merino Wool 200 Leggings
These form-fitting leggings fit well under my hiking pants without causing any friction while moving. They also wear well inside of my sleeping bag during cooler nights. I find Icebreaker wool to be the highest quality around.
Weight: 6.5 oz (size large)
Icebreaker Merino Wool 200 Long Sleeve Shirt
For cooler temps, I take this instead of a cotton t-shirt (below). With warmer temps, I leave it behind in favor of only a t-shirt. Sometimes I bring both.
Weight: 8 oz (size large)
Lightweight Cotton T-Shirt
I always throw one of the thinner cotton t-shirts from my closet into my backpack. This provides an extra layer of warmth if needed, allows me to change from a long-sleeve hiking shirt if it gets too warm, and offers a super comfy shirt to sleep in if colder temperatures don’t warrant long sleeve wool.
Cost: FREE (already in closet)
Weight: 4 oz (size medium)
Icebreaker Merino Wool 175 Boxers
I wear one pair while hiking and switch into an alternate but identical pair for sleeping. Icebreaker’s Merino Wool does a great job of wicking moisture without developing an odor.
Weight: 2.5 oz
Darn Tough Boot Cut Full Cushion Wool Socks
Darn Tough is my #1 choice for hiking socks thanks to super construction, comfortable wool, and a lifetime warranty. Since my feet sleep a bit cold, I change into this full cushion model at night to give me daytime hiking socks a breather.
Weight: 3.7 oz (size XL)
Other Essential Gear (46.1 oz)
This lightweight and compact device gives me a lifeline to the International Emergency Response Coordination Center (IERCC) if needed while also providing weather updates and a mechanism to update family or friends about trip progress.
Cost: $350 (plus $11.95 and up per month)
Weight: 3.9 oz
I have added a few items to the Adventure Medical Kit 5 bag, including a small amount of duct tape, a compass, matches, iodine water treatment tablets, backup batteries for my headlamp, and an emergency blanket.
Cost: $19 (first aid kit) + other items mentioned
Weight: 10.9 oz
I keep a toothbrush, toothpaste, floss, and chapstick inside of small pouch for easy access that can also be thrown in the bear bag each night or whenever I’m not at the campsite.
Cost: FREE (household items)
Weight: 2.5 oz
I like to keep all electronics in the same small pouch, including my Black Diamond Spotlite 160 headlamp, Anker 10k mAh power bank, lightning/micro USB/and Garmin watch charging cable, and Apple headphones. I also throw a set of earplugs and a small pillbox with my allergy medication + Ibuprofen inside this same bag.
Cost: $27 (headlamp), $23 (power bank), $30 (cables), $20 (headphones)
Weight: 11.6 oz
I carry the Deuce Ultralight Trowel, a couple ziplock bags full of toilet paper, and an empty ziplock bag for trash inside of a mesh sack that is clipped onto my backpack for easy access.
Cost: $22.50 (trowel) + $3 (mesh sack) + $0 (TP from home)
Weight: 4.3 oz
(1 oz trowel; 3 * 1 oz TP bags, 0.3 oz empty ziplock)
Cost: $3 per bottle
Weight: 3.7 oz
Very important whenever going anywhere with ticks, mosquitos, etc.
Cost: $3.60 per bottle
Weight: 1.5 oz
Very important for cleaning hands when biodegradable soap and/or water aren’t nearby. A lot of novice backpackers assume that they got sick from improper water treatment when it’s often from improper hand cleaning before eating/touching their mouth.
Weight: 3.4 oz
Rarely used, but invaluable when needed.
Weight: 1.6 oz
Absorbs three times its weight in water, then dries quickly, especially when hung from the included loop. Fits inside of an included bag and clips to my backpack for easy storage.
Weight: 2.7 oz
Consumables (weight varies by trip)
I prefer the convenience and safety (during fire bans) of a Jetboil system, which means I need an isobutane + propane blend of fuel. MSR canisters can be found at most camping stores and feature convenient markings on the side to determine the remaining fuel by dunking the canister in water, either at home before a trip or while on the trail.
Cost: $4.95 per 100g canister
Weight: 7.5 oz (110g canister full of fuel)
I use a Nalgene ultralite wide-mouth water bottle since it holds a liter of water, is easy to treat with the SteriPEN, and is almost half the weight of a standard Nalgene bottle.
Weight: 3.5 oz (empty bottle)
I have some food allergies that can complicate backpacking meals. That caveat aside, I’ve tried a variety of food methods over the years and find it best to keep things simple by leveraging pre-packaged, freeze-dried meals for breakfast and dinner with high-calorie bars or individual bags of nuts and dried fruit for lunch. Mountain House and Clif Bars are the typical backpacker’s favorite. The Clif Bar company even offers some dairy-free and gluten-free options like their traditional Luna Bars and Granola bags (disclaimer: you should verify all allergen info/ingredients before consuming).
Big Agnes Copper Spur HV UL3
The majority of my backpacking trips are with my young son and Australian Shepherd. While we’ve all used the 2-man Tiger Wall tent, the 3-person Copper Spur is much more comfortable thanks to the larger square footage (5 to 5-1/2 foot width and 7-foot length floor space) and dual vestibules. It’s also easier to set up thanks to the freestanding design.
I have tried the Tiger Wall UL3 to save a bit of weight and packing volume, but I really missed the extra floor space and storage nets when camping with a child and dog.
Weight: 70 oz (including footprint)
Cost: $499 (occasionally on sale for $400 or less) + $80 footprint
For shorter trips with limited water crossings, I just bring one set of breathable (non-waterproof) hiking shoes and let them dry out at night or between creek crossings (while still walking, with wool socks). But for longer trips where I want to give my hiking shoes more of a break at camp or cooler temperatures with deeper creek crossings, these Alibress ultralight beach shoes are great.
Weight: 10 oz
I take this chair with me on nearly every trip and find the comfort to be well worth the extra weight. I tried the more popular Helinox Chair Zero, but found it to be less stable than the REI model.
Weight: 16 oz
Hot Apple Cider (LUXURY ITEM)
For me, nothing warms up a cold morning breakfast or post-sunset camp like hot apple cider. These packets are lightweight, easy to pack, and quick to turn ordinary water into a sweet tasting delight.
Cost: $0.20 per pouch
Fly Fishing Gear
I have managed to build out an entire fly fishing setup that only weighs 12 ounces, including a Redington rod and reel, foam fly box with bare minimum selection of flies, some tippet and leaders, fly float, a select few single shot weights, pliers, and clipper. And while most fly rod cases weight a pound or more, you can find a fluorescent tube protector at your local hardware store for a couple of bucks that only weighs 2 ounces and will store your fly rod just fine so long as you’re careful. Look for a future blog post on this entire setup.
Weight: 12 oz
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