Best Ultralight Backpacking Gear of 2021 Leave a comment

How to choose the right ultralight backpacking gear

Investing in ultralight gear doesn’t mean all your old backpacking gear is worthless. To start saving weight, look at the gear you already own and how you pack it, then purchase lighter, newer options as your budget permits.

In general, Pharr Davis likes to keep her base weight (everything except food, water, and fuel) around 15 or 16 pounds. A good rule of thumb is to keep your base weight between 10 and 20 pounds.

Here’s what to keep in mind when determining how to upgrade your gear:

1. Decide which tradeoffs are worth the saved weight. Ultralight hiking is the opposite of luxury. In order to shave ounces, you need to be willing to compromise. For example, single-walled tents, which are lighter than traditional double-walled tents, tend to trap more condensation and leave the interior of your tent walls damp. While double-walled tents with external rain flies are generally more breathable, they’re also heavier.

2. Consider price, breathability, durability, comfort, and intended trail environments. An uber-light pack might weigh a feathery 24 ounces but if the shoulder straps or hip belt are too thin, you may suffer from pack sores once you start carrying a load of any weight.

A minimalist bivvy that weighs only 9 ounces may be a perfect emergency shelter for backpacking in the arid dry desert but it’s not conducive to hanging out should you need to hunker down for a day or two during a storm.

3. Research the pros and cons of lightweight materials. The majority of ultralight backpacking packs and tents are constructed from at least one, or a combination, of the following materials: X-Pac, SilNylon, SilPoly, Robic nylon, or Dyneema. Each material has its own benefits and drawbacks.

SilNylon and SilPoly are relatively affordable given their weight savings, but they tend to degrade faster in UV and are not as durable as equivalent weight nylon. Dyneema, while more durable than SilNylon but less durable than X-Pac, is more expensive than both. 

4. Prioritize your budget. Every backpacker most likely already has some form of a shelter, pack, sleeping bag, and sleeping pad. These four items are not only the most crucial pieces of backpacking gear, they’re also the largest items you’ll carry.

Prioritize upgrading these items one at a time to start seeing immediate weight savings. Pharr Davis also thinks it’s important to lighten your footwear since you’ll literally feel the weight savings in every single step (check out our guide to the best hiking boots for women and for men).

5. Think like a thru-hiker. Pharr Davis said some of the lightest, thru-hiker-approved items — like Smartwater bottles and plastic cutlery in lieu of fancy titanium forks — are not only cheap, they’re also readily available at gas station convenience stores. This is a great way to save money and a few grams on your back.

6. Continue to refine your packing list. Once you’ve decided to invest in lighter gear, don’t then squander your lightened pack load by carrying unnecessary weight. For example, if you’re hiking in the Southeast during the summer, there’s no reason to carry a 15-degree sleeping bag (the warmer it is, the heavier).

If resupplies are available every other day on your trail, carrying four days of food is excessive. The same goes for carrying water when surface water is plentiful.

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