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Ounces mean ouches and pounds mean pains on the hiking trail. That’s why some people are incredibly interested and invested in ultralight backpacking gear.
Ultralight is exactly what it sounds like. Lightweight gear is easy to carry, which in turn can make folks hike much quicker and make the gear much more comfortable to carry. Overall that means more hiking and less weight.
There is no strict definition of what is ultralight, but some people do go to incredible lengths to slim down their gear.
Ultralight backpacking gear is not for everyone. When you have ultralight gear, you sacrifice comfort and often some durability. However, the technology of ultralight gear has greatly improved over the years. With the improved technology of ultralight gear comes a high price tag.
If you go to your local gear store or look at gear online, you will probably notice that the cheaper gear is often heavier and less durable than some of the more expensive brands. Now, this is not always the case, but in the outdoor industry, there is often a correlation between increased price, higher durability, and lightweight gear.
However, regardless of how much you can pay for gear, ultralight gear can only be so durable. That is a sacrifice you may need to make with ultralight gear. Why do we want durable gear too? Backpacking and hiking can put our gear through lots of situations that would cause rips and tears. While it is ultimately up to the consumer with how durable the gear is, it is something to keep in mind
In recent years, ultralight backpacking gear has become lighter, AND durable. Certain fabrics are being used to improve this meeting point of low-weight and high durability.
For ultralight backpacking gear, there are four main pieces of gear to focus on. These four pieces of gear are a backpack, tent, sleeping bag, and sleeping pad. These are the heaviest pieces of gear in an overnight bag. By cutting down the weight on all or some of these main items, one can become a true ultralight hiker.
In this article, we will provide a background on the ultralight gear in each of these four categories, and will first focus on backpacks. An ultralight backpack is the most important part of the setup and can be the easiest way to dramatically drop overall weight.
Best ultralight backpacks
To reduce weight while backpacking, first takes a look at the heaviest products on your back and in your pack.
Most obviously, an ultralight backpack will drastically reduce the overall weight of the setup.
Think about the size of your gear and how much space you need. It is completely possible to pack for multiple nights in a 35-55 liter backpacking set up. The smaller the pack, the easier it is to have a lightweight pack.
An ultralight pack will also have minimal padding on the back of the pack. This means one would not want to load up their pack very heavy. This may make the backpack slightly uncomfortable, as the bulk of padding will be reduced.
Many of the best ultralight backpacks are made of Dyneema, due to its strength and low weight. Other synthetic fibers such as cuben fiber are a popular, yet expensive option.
Another way ultralight backpacks can drastically reduce weight is by not having a frame. While this drastically reduces weight, it makes it hard to load up with a heavy pack.
See below for some of our top ultralight backpacks. If there is one piece of equipment to invest in and make a backpacking or hiking setup drastically lighter, the backpack should be the main focus!
Weight: 2lbs 3 oz
Size: 40 liters
This is one of the best ultralight backpacks on the market from one of the best ultralight brands on the market. Hyperlite is known for their sleek designs, lightweight packs, and impressive use of Dyneema. This is by far one of our top choices for ultralight backpacks.
Weight: 2lbs 8 oz
Size: 48 liters
This internal frame back is made of nylon and has a great weight to space ratio. This is a much heavier pack than the Hyperlite listed above, but the comfort of this pack can be worth the weight. Osprey makes some of the best packs in the industry. The comfort of this pack, along with the price makes it a great option for a moderately ultralight backpack.
Weight: 1 lb. 12 oz.
Size: 45 liters
This pack from Osprey is tremendously light. Compared to the last pack from Osprey, this pack has less comfort but is more than 70% lighter. This pack uses silnylon ripstop to maintain its lightweight, yet durable status.
Weight: 1 lb. 4 oz
Size: 55 liters
Zpacks offers some of the best ultralight backpacking gear on the market. They use a unique Dyneema fabric to cut down on weight while still making a very durable pack. This would be a fantastic choice for ultralight long-distance hiking. Weight up to 35lbs is ideal. Some of the great features of this pack include the adjustable and removable waist belt.
Weight: 1lb. 2 oz
Size: 57 liters
Mountain Laurel Design makes one of the absolute lightest packs on the market. The Dyneema cuben fiber makes for an incredibly light frameless pack. Because of the absence of a frame, Mountain Laurel recommends the load to be between 20-25 lbs. This makes for a great option for ultralight through hikes where the weather and conditions provide for lightweight gear.
Best ultralight tents
The next piece of gear to focus on is a tent. A normal backpacking tent can run 3-5lbs easily, but ultralight tents or even tarps are incredibly light. As mentioned above the weight vs durability has gotten better over time, but ultralight tents can still lack the durability needed for extreme weather. Tent material ranges from cuben fiber to lightweight polyester.
Weight: 1 lb 10 ounces
Six Moon Designs is another phenomenal brand that makes an array of ultralight backpacks and tents. This particular tent has won countless awards for the best ultralight backpacking tent. This tent is made from a silicone-coated polyester material to make for a packed tent, and as Six Moon Designs describes it, to reduce fabric stretch. This tent is incredibly easy to set up as it just requires the use of one central pole.
Weight: 1 lb 11 ounces
Big Agnes is a company popular for its backpacking tents and sleeping bags. The Fly Creek UV UL 1 Tent is a well-liked tent due to its simplistic setup, and the fact that it is set up just as a standard tent would be set up. The material for this tent is made of Ripstop nylon.
Weight: 1 lb 12 ounces
If you are looking for a tent that is incredibly packable and versatile, look no further to the Sierra Designs High Route 1 FL. What makes this tent so perfect for ultralight backpacking is that to assemble the tent, one can use two trekking poles. This tent is made of durable nylon ripstop. The tent itself also compresses to the size of a Nalgene water.
Weight: 1 lb 15 oz
This tent from REI is a great option for something similar to the Big Agnes tent above, for a slightly cheaper price. Easy set up involves one jointed pole. The traditional set up is a great one-person palace.
Weight: 15.3 oz
This the lightest tent on our list of ultralight tents. This is sure to lighten up your overnight load. As mentioned above, Zpacks makes creative use of its custom Dyneema material. Utilizing a trekking pole makes for a complete, compact set up.
Best ultralight sleeping pads
Sleeping pads range on the market from incredibly thin, too thick, insulated pads made for winter hiking conditions.
A thinly insulated pad is great for fair season hiking conditions. It is rather hard to justify cutting a significant amount of weight when it is very cold!
When choosing a sleeping pad, it is important to be familiar with the term “R-value”. This refers to the pad’s ability to retain heat, and prevent heat loss into the ground. The higher the R-value, the better the pad will retain heat in cold weather. Be sure to choose a pad with a high R-value (3.5 or above) when hiking in the winter.
Compared to the other categories we’ve previously looked at, there is not too much-advanced technology that goes into these pads, but there plenty of sleeping pads to compliment other parts of an ultralight set up!
Weight: 8.8 ounces
Weighing in at a mere 8.8 ounces, the R-value of this pad makes it great for warm weather. It also packs down to a size that is smaller than a Nalgene. Therm-a-Rest makes fantastic pads and this is by far one of our best choices for a simplistic backcountry set up.
Weight: 16.09 oz (regular)
Sea to Summit is most known for their sleeping pads, sleeping pads, and other storage bags. This pads single layer air-sprung pads make for a very comfortable pad. Sea to summit also offers an integrated pump sack to make it much easier to pump up your pad
Weight: 15 ounces
This is the author’s favorite sleeping pad on the market. For all-season backpacking, this is the best sleeping pad option on the market. The insulation value of this pad is an impressive R-value of 6.9. Most of the other sleeping pads in this lightweight category have a R-value of 3.5 or less, so for cold-weather exploits, this is the pad to use.
Weight: 15 ounces
This pad from NEMO is also marketed as a cold weather sleeping pad. With a R-value of 3.5, it has quite a bit of insulation for those colder nights. NEMO markets this as a max low temperature of 10-20 degrees Fahrenheit. This pad packs down quite well, at just bigger than the size of a water bottle.
Weight: 14 ounces
This is our budget choice for a sleeping pad. Nice and packable, and quite durable, because it is a closed-cell pad. The R-value of this pad is quite low, at just 2.0. If you are looking for something to not worry about damaging, this is your pad!
Best ultralight sleeping bags
Sleeping bags are another essential part of an ultralight set up. The weather has a huge factor in weight and durability for this category. Weight will decrease drastically with a warmer weather sleeping bag. Another factor to consider is synthetic vs down. Down filling tends to be much warmer and lighter. Down material is lighter and easier to pack down.
Weight: 17 ounces
This is one of the lightest bags on our list. Zpacks is a recurring company on our list with some of the lightest gear on the market. For a 20 degree bag, this sleeping bag is a great option for most weather conditions. Zpacks use of their ripstop nylon is the highlight of this sleeping bag.
Weight: 19 ounces
Another down option on our list is from Western Mountaineering. This is a well-known winter hiking and climbing brand that is best known for its cold-weather items. The 850+ fill down coated with nylon ripstop makes for a very comfortable set up. Be sure to remember that a higher fill down sleeping bag will be tougher to pack down into a backpack.
Weight: 15.5 ounces
This 950+ fill down bag from Feathered Friends is a warmer weather bag rated from 25-45 degrees Fahrenheit. This bag is meant to be super ultralight, so UL that Feathered Friends decided to make this bag without a zipper! Feathered Friends is a local brand out of Seattle that is known for its extreme weather gear and apparel.
Weight: 12 ounces
This is the warmest bag on our best ultralight sleeping bag list. This is best for summer hiking and backpacking. The 850 fill down makes for a sleeping bag that is under a pound! The outside of this sleeping bag includes a nylon layer that is not as durable as some of the other options on our list.
We hope that these different options help you create the ultimate ultralight backpacking setup!