Backpacking is perhaps the best way to explore wild places; long days and moonlit nights spent experiencing the freedom found within their reaches. But there’s nothing free and peaceful about the heavy burden a massive backpack (think Cheryl Strayed’s Monster pack) can have on one’s body and mind. Carrying a lighter pack can be liberating, allowing you to more fully immerse yourself in nature and enjoy the experience in a different way.
During a yo-yo (back-to-back thru-hike) of the River to River trail in Southern Illinois, I brought along some key items that performed excellently despite their miniscule weight. Throughout the trip, my base weight hovered between 10-15 lbs, which let me focus on all the best (and worst) parts of being on the trail.
Just to be clear: “base weight” refers to the contents of your pack minus consumables (food, water, fuel). Lightweight items can help to reduce base weights to 20 lbs or less and ultralight products work great with base weights of 15 lbs or less.
So without further ado, here is the gear that I took with me on the trail.
Mountain Laurel Designs Exodus – ultralight
A fully frameless, no-frills pack, the Mountain Laurel Designs Exodus (16.05 oz, $195.00) has everything a backpacker needs and literally nothing more. Carefully designed with long-distance backpacking in mind, the outside pockets are seated higher to reduce abrasion and boast dyneema patches in high-wear areas. The extension collar system allows overall capacity to fluctuate from 30 liters to nearly 60 liters. A comfortable hip belt stabilizes the load, but does not support weight, keeping hot, sweaty areas on the body to a minimum. The Mountain Laurel Designs Pack Pockets (1.25 oz, $19.00) clip to the hip belt for easy access to frequently used items.
Platypus SoftBottle– ultralight
The 1-liter Platypus SoftBottle (0.85 oz, $8.95) has all of the functionality of hard-sided bottles with only 1/6 of the weight. When not in use, it folds down surprisingly small to be packed away for later. It is easy to drink from while hiking and can be easily stowed into side pockets for on-the-go access.
Granite Gear Crown V.C. 60 – lightweight
The Granite Gear Crown V.C. 60 (36.90 oz, $199.95) performs like most internal-framed packs, but uses lighter materials to make a durable and reliable lightweight backpack. A removable frame effectively shifts weight to the hips, making its recommended maximum load of 35-lbs rather comfortable. The hip belt features many cargo loops for attaching commonly used necessities and stretch fabric on the outside pockets makes retrieving items on the go a breeze.
Black Diamond Alpine Carbon Cork – lightweight
The multi-purpose Black Diamond Alpine Carbon Cork trekking poles (16.60 oz, $159.95) are indispensable on long hikes. Manufactured from 100% carbon fiber, these poles absorb impacts from the ground while remaining light and durable. The cork grips remain comfortable and slime-free even after years of use. Dual FlickLock adjusters are easy to use and allow poles to be packed down to a smaller size when not in use. Plus, they have countless extra uses on the trail including increased stability during river crossings, saving knees on steep descents, powering up hills, drying gear in the sun, testing questionable surfaces, the list goes on…
Mountain Laurel Designs Cuben Fiber Solomid – ultralight
The Mountain Laurel Designs Cuben Fiber Solomid (9.85 oz, $445.00) is an incredibly light single-person shelter with full coverage in a variety of conditions. Combining the simplicity of a tarp with the protection of a tent, its pyramid shape sheds wind nicely from all directions and keeps the heaviest deluges at bay. It uses trekking poles in lieu of traditional tent poles, helping to reduce pack weight even further. Add an InnerNet (10 oz, $165.00) for a fully modular double-walled shelter that will keep bugs out and weight savings in.
Montbell Versalite Pants – ultralight
The Montbell Versalite Pants (3.80 oz, $85.00) are perfect for long trips when the forecast is uncertain. Fully seam taped Super Hydro Breeze fabric protects legs from heavy rains without sacrificing breathability. They pack down small when not in use, and go virtually unnoticed until the moment they are needed.
Thermarest NeoAir Xlite – lightweight
I’ve tried cutting corners to lighten up my sleeping pad, but a good night’s rest is more important to me when backpacking day after day. The Thermarest NeoAir Xlite (12 oz, $159.95) offers a full 2.5 inches of comfort and packs down to the size of a water bottle. A reliable valve keeps hips off the ground all night, night after night; perfect for side sleepers and those who toss and turn. A 3.2 R-value can handle temps into the low teens, making this pad the all-around foundation of backcountry sleep systems.
Evernew Ti .9L Non-stick Pot – ultralight
The Evernew Titanium .9L Non-stick Pot (4.45 oz, $69.95) has been a cornerstone in my gear list for years. The ceramic non-stick coating is extremely durable and has held up to years of scraping and stirring with a metal utensil. Its charm is its effectiveness; even the nastiest of one-pot meals can be cleaned with only water and light abrasion. Designed with a pour spout for straining pastas, I find myself using this at home after I’ve come back from my trips. Durable, effective, and ultralight.
Trail Designs Ti-Tri Sidewinder – ultralight
The Trail Designs Sidewinder Ti-Tri (2.65 oz, $79.95) beautifully combines a miniscule weight with functionality. Machined from titanium, the windscreen acts as a reliable and sturdy pot stand and is custom fit to a wide variety of pots. The system is designed to fit inside the pot, making for a compact yet efficient stove system. The Inferno option (2.10 oz, $50.00) provides excellent wood burning capabilities and the sense of tranquility that comes with cooking over a fire.
Sea to Summit Alpha Light Spoon – ultralight
The Sea to Summit Alpha Light Spoon (0.40 oz, $8.95) is a convenient, durable utensil used each and every day on the trail. Its long handle prevents burns from the flames of a wood-burning stove and keeps messes off hands when dealing with pouch meals. It is great for stirring a thick and sticky meal, or for melting snow with a gloved hand.
As you can see, it’s not just about being ultra-lightweight. This gear shaves ounces but retains functionality, which is ultimately what you want out of your backcountry equipment.