Back in May, resident ultralight backpacking expert Mike Summers told us about the best lightweight gear to take with us on a summer trip. Now, he’s come back to offer more advice following a long-distance hike where he put plenty of new equipment to the test. Here’s what he had to say:
A recent jaunt along the Superior Hiking Trail in Minnesota sent me crawling up rock chutes and navigating through boot-sucking mud and roots. With rugged terrain and only two switchbacks during its 270-mile length, the trail, although well maintained, was definitely tough to hike. Averaging a 3mph pace was near impossible over some stretches of trail, but having an 8-lb base weight helped me to cover the distance in just 10 days.
While dealing with the rugged slopes of Minnesota’s Sawtooth Range, I relied on my gear to make my day as efficient and convenient as possible. The following gear played a role in my efforts at efficiency and simple living on the trail.
Download my which includes my resupply itinerary, gear list, meal plan, and weather conditions here.
Check out more about the Superior Hiking Trail at shta.org.
For more ultralight backpacking gear, check out The Perfect Kit: Ultralight Backpacking (Part I)
Altra Lone Peak 3.0
The Altra Lone Peak 3.0 (22.35 oz, $120.00) shoes feature a unique Footshape toe box, relieving common pains associated with trail running and hiking by allowing toes to spread out in their natural form. The redesigned tread provides grip in mud, over rocks and roots, and even on slick rocks. In addition to adding greater durability, a tightly woven mesh keeps mud and dirt out while still allowing shoes to dry out on the move. Cool features like a built-in gaiter trap and metal loop near the toes keeps gaiters firmly attached with out modifications.
Dirty Girl Gaiters
Clean feet are happy feet and Dirty Girl Gaiters (1.35 oz, $23.00) make this a reality. No longer will there be a need to stop and empty the dirt and rocks out of your shoes; these gaiters keep everything out. In turn, socks remain cleaner to help prevent abrasions that can lead to blisters. Throw in the plethora of designs they have available and you’ve got a winning combination that will bring about compliments from hikers while keeping your feet happy on the trail.
Mountain Hardwear Ghost Whisperer Hooded Down Jacket
The Mountain Hardwear Ghost Whisperer Hooded Down Jacket (7.80 oz, $350.00) is a multi-functional garment that goes unnoticed when unused. Tight baffles keep the water-resistant Q.shield 800-fill down where it’s needed. While hiking the jacket remains breathable; more often than not it is used as a quick layer to throw on during breaks due to its incredible warmth. It’s massive loft makes it a perfect pillow or extra layer to wear while sleeping too, there-by extending your sleep system’s range.
Montbell Torrent Flier Jacket
A reliable piece of rain gear is a must on prolonged trips when the weather can turn foul. Montbell’s Torrent Flier Jacket (8.60 oz, $225.00) weights half as much as other rain gear but still has all the features: an adjustable hood that fits over a helmet and cinches down around your face, full pit zips, a waterproof main zipper, and an adjustable waist cord. My favorite feature however is the elastic wrist cuffs, with enough tension to keep out rain but not too much to cut off circulation to the hands.
Plastic bags just don’t cut it when it comes to protecting the most important items from the elements i.e. a first aid kit or electronic devices. The 6” x 6” Loksak aLoksak (0.25 oz, $8.99 2-pack) removes any worry from your mind by protecting those items with an effective double seal and durable plastic exterior. It is waterproof to 200 ft. (60m) and seals in odors to boot. No longer will you have to take chances with potentially life-saving gear when exploring the harshest of climates.
Similar to the aLoksak, the OpSak (1.50 oz, $12.99 2-pack) is a much larger durable plastic bag designed for food storage. It seals in smells exceptionally and keeps critter and bears ignorant of your food’s existence. The 12” x 20” OpSak can hold about 4-5 days of food and is best used as part of mega-hiker Cam “Swami” Honan’s “Low Odor Strategy”. It proved to be highly effective along the Superior Hiking Trail where critters would stir me awake but never touch the OpSak laying next to me!
Thermarest Prolite X-Small Sleeping Pad
When looking to shave ounces but still retain a comfortable sleep system, I have given up on unforgiving closed-cell pads. The self-inflating Thermarest Prolite XS (9.10 oz, $59.95) protects hips from potentially rough ground underneath (even for side sleepers) and gives a consistent quality to your sleep no matter where you set up camp at the end of the day. Its half-length size makes it more packable and nearly half the weight of the full-length version. Use your backpack underneath your feet to complete the ultralight sleeping pad system.
Mountain Laurel Designs Spirit 38 Quilt
Mountain Laurel Designs’ Spirit 38 Quilt (15.70 oz, $230.00) is a versatile sleeping cover that is as effective as conventional sleeping bags with less than half the weight. Leave it fully open on warm 65-degree nights, or cinch it up and battle the temperature as it drops below 40 degrees. This quilt comes with a sleeping pad attachment so you can toss and turn in your sleep without the worry of drafts. The all-black quilt opens fully for fast drying times and can be customized with a Poncho Headslot Opening to make it functional as an extra layer in camp.
Icebreaker Oasis Balaclava
Used in conjunction with a lightweight quilt, The Icebreaker Oasis Balaclava (1.50 oz, $34.95) provides insulation for your head as the temp drops at a fraction of the weight of a traditional sleeping bag’s hood. It’s tight weave of Merino Wool gives it versatility, allowing it to be used on the top of mountains where winds roar past your face or on the bottom of valleys where the cool air of the night settles in. It takes up hardly any room in your pack and makes a significant difference in warmth when worn.
Dr. Bronner’s Peppermint Pure-Castile Liquid Soap
Toothpaste has many downsides in the outdoors: the tubes are heavy, smelly, and most are not biodegradable. Dr. Bronner’s (2 oz, $3.19) super-concentrated soap requires only 3 drops for a teeth-cleaning lather, and is multi-use: it can be used for cleaning your clothes, body, hair, and pretty much anything else without the use synthetic preservatives, detergents, or foaming agents.
Mountain Lite Gear Mini Dropper Bottles
The Mountain Lite Gear Mini Dropper Bottles (0.10 oz, $2.99 3-pack) allow you to shave ounces by transferring necessities to smaller containers. Decant soap, bug spray, water purification drops, contact solutions, first aid liquids, and whatever else you just need a small amount of. Decant Dr. Bronner’s Soap into a 6-ml Mini Dropper Bottle, and you are looking at about 2 months worth of teeth cleaner.
Mountain Hardwear Power Stretch Stimulus Gloves
Whether you are taking a quick picture, updating a blog, or looking at online maps, the Mountain Hardwear Powerstretch Stimulus Gloves (1.55 oz, $40.00) let you keep your gloves on while navigating electronic touch screens. Their design gives the hands surprising dexterity while allowing enough space to let warm blood circulate freely through the fingers. Their functionality when worn aids in capturing the perfect moment on the trail without sacrificing a single second.
Mountain Laurel Designs Rain Mitts
When the weather turns foul, the Mountain Laurel Designs Rain Mitts (1.65 oz, $45.00) are a comfortable, effective, and lightweight alternative to modern glove systems. These mitts will go unnoticed in your pack until the weather has you crying for them. Their unique design eliminates seams that would otherwise get in the way when using trekking poles. Seam seal them yourself at home to make them exceptionally effective, keep consumer costs down, and give you a lasting feeling of self-reliance.
Clearly, multi-functional items will give you an advantage when looking to reduce your pack weight, allowing you to eliminate entire items from your gear list. Having modular backpacking components will let you mix and match for trips of different duration, climes, and season as well. It’s all about finding ways to stay comfortable and safe out on the trail, while using items that don’t add bulk or weight to your pack.