Ultralight is not always better.
All gear lies somewhere on a spectrum of weight. At one end is car camping gear that’s built hardy and durable but weighs a ton. At the other end are the paper-thin jackets and tiny toothbrushes of the ultralight and fast-packing world. They have their pros and cons. Big and durable is heavy but can last longer. Thin and light is easier to carry but won’t last through bushwhacking or being abused by kids.
Ultralight is also accompanied by a price. As weight decreases, the cost increases.
What’s the perfect combination of durable but lightweight? How much do you want to carry and how much do you want to pay?
Here’s some of the best ultralight gear on the market today. Your wallet might tear up a little with this list but just think about how good your legs and back will feel carrying 20 pounds on your back instead of 50.
Six Moon Designs Minimalist Backpack
Ultralight gear tends to be smaller so chuck that 80-liter monster. Weighing in at 34 ounces for a 54-liter pack, the Six Moon Designs Minimalist can easily carry everything you need. The main body is 37 liters with another 10 liters in the collar and 7 liters in the outside pockets. As your gear gets smaller and smaller, the pack can shrink as you go. Need food for two more days? Just unroll the collar.
Six Moon Designs offers the Minimalist with two shoulder strap options. First is the standard shoulder straps and the second is a vest-like harness. Much like a running hydration pack, the vest spreads out the weight of the pack over a larger surface area on your shoulders and chest (and it gets you an additional six pockets). Another two pockets on the belt help hold everything you need for fueling and navigating.
- Weight: 34 ounces
Big Agnes Fly Creek HV Platinum Tent
Shelters can be a contentious item in ultralight circles. Do you even need one? Why not just sleep under the stars? For those that prefer to stay dry and not chew on bugs all night, Big Agnes’ tents are some of the lightest tents in the world. The Fly Creek HV Platinum is only 1 pound, 10 ounces and sleeps two people. The single DAC Featherlight NFL pole includes a hub in the middle to make setup easy. Throw on the fly and clip each corner to the color-coded clips. The vestibule to the end door opens on the side to store gear while you roam. You can even leave the mesh at home and just pitch with the fly, poles, and footprint so you have less to carry.
- Weight: 1 pound, 10 ounces
Therm-a-Rest Vesper Down Quilt 32
Sleeping bags are some of the biggest things in our packs. Synthetic insulation is getting lighter and lighter but it still can’t compare to down insulation for weight and compressibility. How do we make down sleeping bags even lighter? Cut them in half.
Therm-a-Rest Vesper Quilts don’t need the bottom half of a traditional sleeping bag — the sleeping pad does that for us (more on that in a moment). A neck snap and draft tubes on the side and around the neck keep the breeze out. The bottom end of the quilt still surrounds your feet with a warm foot box. The 900-fill Nikwax hydrophobic down inside dries quickly and stays lofted longer. Box baffles keep the down in place and don’t create cold spots. The whole thing compresses to the size of a water bottle.
- Weight: 15 ounces to 1 pound, 1 ounce
Therm-a-Rest NeoAir UberLite Sleeping Pad
Not content to put a ridiculously light down quilt on a heavy sleeping pad, Therma-a-Rest had to make something to match. Following the success with the brand’s NeoAir line of small and light sleeping pads, the new UberLite mat compresses down to the size of a beer can and weighs even less. The UberLite is a full-size, 20-inch wide, 72-inch long mat with an R-value of 2.0. It’s not going to keep you warm in the winter but there’s nothing like it for warmer weather. It’s 2.5 inches thick, keeping you far away from the rough, cold ground. There’s also a larger option available that is 25 inches wide and 77 inches long.
- Weight: 6 ounces to 12 ounces
Jetboil MightyMo Backpacking Stove
Jetboil typically makes integrated stove systems where the stove and pot lock together for efficient cooking. With the MightMo stove, the brand has stripped away the windscreen and just left the bare essentials: a small, easy-to-light stove. A four-turn regulator lets you boil water fast or simmer like a pro chef. With one push, the igniter fires up the 10,000 BTU burner, bringing a liter of water to a boil in 3 minutes. When you really need that coffee in the morning, every minute counts.
- Weight: 3.3 ounces
Sawyer Micro Squeeze Water Filtration System
Another non-glamorous but necessary weight in your pack will be a water filter of some sort. Bigger filters can weigh multiple pounds and be tough to clean and pump. Sawyer has made a name for themselves with tiny, lightweight water filters. The Micro Squeeze screws onto the end of a squeezable (hence the name) bag for easy filling and filtering. It also fits onto disposable plastic bottles. A syringe is included to backflush the device with clean water after each trip and each filter is good for about 100,000 liters.
- Weight: 2 ounces
Nitecore Nu20 Headlamp
Headlamps and batteries have been steadily decreasing in size since the first versions were just candles tied to your face. With a rechargeable lithium-ion battery, the Nitecore Nu20 headlamp is 1.6 ounces but can still throw a 360-lumen beam 80 meters. The light can last almost 8 hours on the 40-lumen medium mode and 100 hours on the 1-lumen low setting. When it gets low just recharge with a USB battery pack.
- Weight: 1.66 ounces, including battery
Black Diamond Distance Carbon FLZ Trekking Poles
Trekking poles might seem like an optional piece of gear, but when you hit the first big hill of a hike, you’ll wish you had them. The Black Diamond Distance Carbon FLZ has become the industry standard in ultralight poles — watch any 50-mile running race and half the competitors will be traversing the mountains with them. The Z-pole setup deploys quickly like an avalanche probe, locking at the top with the FlickLock giving you 6 inches of adjustment. They come with rubber and carbide tips that just screw into the end.
- Weight: 12.5 ounces
Altra Lone Peak 4 Trail Running Shoes
When you start hiking, everyone tells you to get a good pair of hiking boots. Boots are definitely required on some hikes, but the lighter your gear, the less weight is on your feet. Trail runners, like the Altra Lone Peak 4, have become a popular lightweight footwear option, especially for longer trails. Balanced cushioning across the sole means zero drop from heel to toe for a stable surface for hiking (or running if you really need to get to camp). The wide toe box gives your toes room to spread out and breathe, reducing the chance of blisters or foot pain. TrailClaw lugs under the balls of your feet give extra grip with every step.
- Weight: 1.48 pounds
Mission Workshop Sans Jacket
Jackets spend a lot of time in a ball at the bottom of your backpack but most of the time they’re just a precautionary measure. The 5.6-ounce Mission Workshop Sans is so small and light you might lose it entirely in your pack. The Sans isn’t a typical windshield turned shell with mediocre breathability either. The Japanese-made, three-layer membrane is as breathable and waterproof as anything Gore-Tex. Laser-drilled underarm ventilation holes add a touch more breathability where it matters.
- Weight: 5.6 ounces