I’ve spent years assembling the best ultralight backpacking gear setup for my multi-day hikes into the wilderness, and I’d love to share my 2020 list with you.
Why? Because the gear you bring along backpacking will make or break your trip. I know because I’ve learned this lesson the hard way.
During a naive and ill-prepared attempted trek of the Laugavegur Trail in Iceland, a brutal storm put me and my heavy, ineffective gear to the test. (We failed miserably.) The awful experience reinforced what I’d already known: it was time to overhaul my backpacking gear setup.
Since then, I’ve accumulated the best ultralight backpacking gear I could get my hands on. I’ve counted ounces, scoured over reviews, and slowly put together my dream kit. The base weight of my 2020 ultralight backpacking gear list comes in at a blissful 9.7 pounds.
And the setup I put together has withstood equally brutal weather conditions to those I experienced in Iceland (and it stood up perfectly). Nowadays, I feel light, mobile, and unstoppable on the trail.
So check out the gear I love, read a few reviews, and use the checklists as you get ready for your next trek.
Backpacking is simply better with quality ultralight gear.
ULTRALIGHT BACKPACKING GEAR: TABLE OF CONTENTS
1. Backpack, Shelter & Sleeping System
2. Carried Clothing
3. Cooking System
4. Water Filtration & Storage
6. Miscellaneous Items
7. First Aid Kit & Toiletries
8. Worn/Carried Items
10. Ultralight Backpacking FAQs
11. Benefits of Ultralight Backpacking
12. Tips & Tricks for UL Backpacking
13. Final Thoughts
14. Ultralight Backpacking Resources
Backpack: Osprey Exos 48
Weight: 33.9 oz | 961 grams
This is an extremely comfortable and functional backpack. Its suspended mesh netting allows for generous airflow between my back and the bag. There are significantly lighter options out there (Arc Blast 55L), but the Exos 48 costs less and is more durable.
Tent: Zpacks Triplex
Weight: 26.4 oz | 749 grams
The roomy Triplex is my favorite piece of ultralight backpacking gear I’ve ever owned. This tent is made from super lightweight DCF material and is extremely well-engineered. It’s held up admirably to heavy rain, howling winds, and everything in between.
Sleeping Bag: Katabatic Gear Alsek 22°
Weight: 23.0 oz | 653 grams
My made-to-order Alsek 22° has never failed to keep me warm. Katabatic Gear’s ‘quilt’ design saves weight by using less material than a mummy-style bag. The bag connects to the sleeping pad below while locking in heat and creating more room to stretch out.
Sleeping Pad: Sleepingo
Weight: 14.8 oz | 419 grams
I used to sleep on the cushy and warm Thermarest Neoair Xtherm, but I decided to shave 9 ounces and sprung for the more minimalist Sleepingo pad. This well-made option is a great budget pad for ultralight backpackers, and it’s a piece of gear that will be on my backpacking list for a long time.
Pillow Case/Stuff Sack: Therm-a-Rest Trekker
Weight: 2.0 oz | 57 grams
I’m a finicky stomach sleeper, so having a quality pillow when backpacking is really important. By day, I use this pillow case to hold my clothing and, when bedtime rolls around, I stuff my Plasma 1000 down jacket inside to create a super-comfortable and warm pillow.
Pack Cover: Osprey Ultralight Rain Cover
Weight: 2.8 oz | 79 grams
Unlike many ultralight DCF packs on the market, my Exos 48 isn’t waterproof, making Ospreys rain cover a mandatory carry. This cover has kept my pack bone dry during steady and prolonged downpours time and time again.
Tent Stakes: Zpacks Titanium V
Weight: 3.4 oz | 97 grams (8 stakes + DCF Sack)
These lightweight ‘V’ shaped tent stakes stay anchored in the earth, even when conditions are less than ideal. They grip into the soil and don’t let go. These stakes are quite easy to bend, however, and should be used gently. Never hammer them into the ground.
Total Backpack and Sleeping System Weight: 106.3 oz | 6.64 lb | 3.01 kg
Down Jacket: Montbell Plasma 1000 Alpine Down Parka
Weight: 8.8 oz | 250 grams
In terms of warmth-to-weight, the Plasma 1000 down jacket is second-to-none. By utilizing insanely efficient 1000-fill down as an insulator, Montbell has raised the bar for all premium ultralight down jackets. Gear nerds, rejoice, as it simply doesn’t get better than this.
Windbreaker: Zpacks Ventum Shell
Weight: 2.0 oz | 56 grams
This shell should be on everyone’s ultralight backpacking gear list. For weighing almost nothing, this windbreaker stifles morale-zapping gusts and holds in body heat with ease. The Ventum ripstop nylon material is a bit fragile though, so treat it kindly.
Rain Jacket: Montbell Versalite
Weight: 6.3 oz | 179 grams
I recently switched to the Montbell Versalite from the uber popular and affordable Frogg Toggs ultralight rain jacket. While sporting a much higher price tag, the Versalite fits better, breathes better, and is far more durable.
Long Underwear: Patagonia Capilene Lightweight
Weight: 3.1 oz | 89 grams
I purchased the Capilenes mainly because they were so lightweight, and I’ve been pleasantly surprised with their performance in cold temperatures. They are reasonably warm at night and work well as a base layer for hiking on chilly mornings.
Gloves: SmartWool Touchscreen Liner
Weight: 2.0 oz | 57 grams
The warmth-to-weight ratio on these gloves is great, and although they’re not waterproof, they’re a must have for any cold-weather ultralight backpacking trips. To repel rain, pair them with the Zpacks Vertice Rain Mitts, and revel in the glory of a perfect ultralight backpacking duo.
Total Carried Clothing Weight: 22.3 oz | 1.39 lb | 631 grams
Weight: .88 oz | 25 grams
I carried the Jetboil Flash for years before I decided to lighten my load drastically and switch to the insanely ultralight BRS-3000T. I’m glad I did. By switching, I shaved 9 ounces off my cooking setup weight and didn’t sacrifice any features. What an affordable, effective, and lightweight stove!
Weight: 2.9 oz | 83 grams
Because I moved on from the Jetboil Flash to the BRS-3000T, I needed to pick a camping pot to for all my backpacking food endeavors. The TOAKS 750 ml titanium pot (no lid) fit the bill and has been as useful and durable as advertised.
Spork: TOAKS Titanium
Weight: .32 oz | 9 grams
What’s not to love? This premium TOAKS spork is feather light, sturdy, and easy to locate in your bag (thanks to its bright orange carrying pouch). It goes everywhere with me when I travel, and has saved my ass when not a single fork or spoon were in sight.
Total Cooking System Weight: 4.1 oz | .26 lb | 117 grams
Dirty Water Pouch
Clean Water Pouch
Water Filter: Sawyer Squeeze
Weight: 3.5 oz | 99 grams
The Sawyer Squeeze has cemented itself on countless ultralight backpacking gear lists. Why? Because it’s simple, effective, and very lightweight. Word to the wise: Don’t try to save weight by purchasing the Sawyer MINI. It’s maddeningly slow.
Water Storage: Sawyer 32 oz Pouches
Weight: 1.3 oz | 36 grams
The Sawyer Squeeze water filter kit comes with compatible collapsible water storage, of which I carry two 32-ounce pouches. One pouch is dedicated to storing and filtering dirty water and the holds clean and filtered water. They’re not super durable, but I can live with that.
Total Water Filtration and Storage Weight: 4.8 oz | .30 lbs | 135 grams
Cell Phone: Xiaomi Mi 9 Lite
Weight: 6.3 oz | 181 grams
A quality-made cell phone is a really good piece of gear to bring along on your backpacking trip. My Xiaomi Mi 9 Lite has a fast processor, good battery life, takes great photos, and has 128 GB of storage. My smartphone is my go-to navigation tool over physical maps on multi-day hikes.
Battery Bank: PowerAdd EnergyCell 5000mAh
Weight: 3.6 oz | 101 grams
Since I rely on my cell phone as my primary form of navigation, an external battery bank is essential for my multi-day trips. With careful usage, I’m able to charge my phone one and a half times thanks to the slim and lightweight EngeryCell.
Charging Port: Anker PowerPort Mini
Weight: 1.3 oz | 38 grams
Whenever I hit a town and stop into a restaurant or shop to quickly charge my cell phone and battery bank, the AnkerPowerPort Mini is perfect for the job. It’s equipped with fast charging 12-watt output and can fully charge my gadgets in just a couple of hours.
USB Cables: Cable Creation 6″
Weight: .70 oz | 20 grams
To charge my smartphone and battery bank, I carry two tiny six-inch USB cables (one type C and one micro-USB). Their miniscule length doesn’t allow me to use my phone while it’s charging, but that minor inconvenience is worth the weight savings.
Headphones: Panasonic ErgoFit
Weight: .42 oz | 12 grams
Music, podcasts, movies, etc. are an immense morale boost while hiking or winding down in the tent, so I always backpack with these minimalist headphones. They weight next to nothing, put out above average sound, and are extremely affordable.
Headlamp: Nitecore NU25
Weight: 1.1 oz | 32 grams
The Nitecore NU25 is about as is lightweight and powerful as they come; it sets the standard for ultralight backpacking headlamps. It has wonderful battery life, recharges via USB, and has various brightness settings, as well as S.O.S. signals.
Total Electronics Weight: 13.4 oz | .84 lb | 384 grams
Pen and Paper
Compass/Thermometer: Coghlan’s Four Function
Weight: .81 oz | 23 grams
A compass, thermometer, and whistle for under an ounce? That’s another no-brainer. I haven’t used the whistle or compass yet, but they’ll be there for me if I’m ever in a pinch. I hang this outside my tent so I can check the external temperature every morning.
Micro Scissors: Tacony Super Shears
Weight: .18 oz | 5 grams
I used to carry a mini Swiss army knife, but I never seemed to use any tools but the scissors. So, I swapped my old Victorinox out for this incredibly lightweight and compact pair of micro shears and saved weight in the process. These scissors are sharp, durable, and minimalist.
Paracord: 550lb Type III
Weight: .74 oz | 21 grams
I never used to bring paracord along on my treks, and it didn’t take many to realize that I was missing out. I now use my trusty paracord to hang clothes, repair gear, secure guy-lines, and hang my food safely in trees. It’s strong, weighs barely anything, and has countless purposes.
Mini-Towel: Lightload Microfiber
Weight: .56 oz | 16 grams
I’ll admit that I’ve never used my Lightload Microfiber towel before, but that doesn’t mean that I don’t appreciate its usefulness. I carry mine to serve as an emergency fire-starter, mask, or first-aid device if and when the situation calls for it.
Lighter: Bic Mini
Weight: .39 oz | 11 grams
The Bic Mini is a must-have for any backpacker’s ultralight gear list. Having the means to start a fire can be a life-saver during low-temperature emergency situations. I also use mine as a backup to ignite my stove and to burn off any frayed threads on my precious trekking gear.
Pen & Paper
Weight: .35 oz | 10 grams
I love to take notes during my backpacking adventures, especially at nighttime inside my warm and cozy tent. Note-taking improves my memory and helps me recover important details when I’m writing my trekking guides weeks or even months after my initial experience.
Total Miscellaneous Weight: 3.0 oz | .19 lb | 86 grams
Total First Aid Kit & Toiletries Weight: 1.8 oz | .11 lb | 50 grams
Total Base Weight: 155.6 oz | 9.72 lb | 4.41 kg
Worn and carried items do not count towards total base weight.
Trail Running Shoes: Salomon XA Pro 3D CS WP
Weight: 28.9 oz | 820 grams
My days of hiking in boots are over. Don’t get me wrong, I loved my old pair of Salmon 4D 3 GTXs, but I wore the soles off them and it was time for something new. My new trail runners come in at nearly half the weight, are completely waterproof, and burly enough for any abuse I throw at them.
Shirt: Carhartt Force Extremes
Weight: 7.4 oz | 212 grams
I love this shirt. It’s breathable, UV blocking, moisture-wicking, and stylish enough to wear off the trail. It hides the inevitable dirt, stains, and odor that come along with backpacking very well. It’s lightweight, easy to wash, and dries quickly. What more can you ask for?
Pants: prAna Stretch Zion
Weight: 13.6 oz | 387 grams
I recently moved on from my pair of ExOfficio Nomad pants to the more durable and water-resistant prAna Stretch Zion. So far, I’ve been very impressed with their performance. They have great stretch and range of movement, thoughtful features, and are highly breathable.
GPS Watch: Garmin Instinct
Weight: 1.8 oz oz | 52 grams
Maybe its a bit of an ultralight backpacking luxury, but the Garmin Instinct’s usefulness on the trail makes it a no-brainer on my gear list. This sturdy watch helps navigate, records my heart rate, tracks altitude and distance traveled, syncs with my phone, and much more.
Boxer Briefs: ExOfficio Give ‘n’ Go
Weight: 2.6 oz | 73 grams
The Give ‘n’ Gos are my go-to everyday boxer brief. Work, travel, hiking, you name it — they get the job done. They’re comfy, breathable, and antimicrobial (odor-resistant). Each pair has a good 3+ years of life before they begin to wear out and lose their elasticity.
Socks: Darn Tough Hiker
Weight: 2.4 oz | 69 grams
The Darn Tough Hikers are the perfect backpacking sock. They’re durable, breathable, and comfortable — an unstoppable combination. I never realized how important a good pair of hiking socks was until I geeked out while wearing my first pair of these.
Trekking Poles: Black Diamond Trail Back
Weight: 21.4 oz | 607 grams
Trekking poles, while not technically mandatory are an essential part of my ultralight backpacking gear list. They’re vital in distributing weight away from my creaky knees as I hike up and down steep elevation changes and also act as tent poles to keep my Zpacks Triplex sturdy and upright.
Weight: 2.9 oz | 83 grams
I recently moved on from my Columbia Bora Bora II Booney, to this breathable mesh back trucker hat from Zpacks. It’s far more comfortable and stylish than my old bucket hat, but it can’t be jammed or smushed into the tight confines of my pack. I’m happy with the tradeoff.
Sunglasses: Merry’s Vintage
Weight: .85 oz | 24 grams
I’m far too clumsy and forgetful with sunglasses to hold onto a pair for longer than a year, so I’ve recently switched to the budget-friendly Merry’s. They’re made from durable aluminum, have polarized lenses, and sport a wide range of vision. If I break them or lose them, I won’t lose any sleep.
Eyewear Retainer: Chums 5mm
Weight: .49 oz | 14 grams
It’s amazing how a simple piece of cord can make life so much easier on the trail. I used to fumble around with my sunglasses when I didn’t want to wear them, either placing them awkwardly in my front pocket or on top of my head. Not anymore.
Total Worn Items Weight: 82.3 oz | 5.14 lb | 2.33 kg
I’ve accumulated an array of tiny plastic containers over the years to carry my sunscreen, blister prevention cream, bug repellent, Advil, and multivitamins. I carry the bare minimum of what I think I’ll need on a given trip and stash my toiletries and first aid supplies in two separate Ziploc bags.
Food for a day on the trail (about 3,000 calories) weighs about 24 oz (1.5 pounds | 680 grams), and I always bring an extra day’s rations in case of emergency. Check out my guide on backpacking food and meal planning if you want to see exactly how I pack food for a trip.
On average, I carry about a liter of water (35.25 oz | 1 kg) at a time during my backpacking adventures and filter water as I go. If the trail I’m hiking goes long stretches without any freshwater sources, I’ll carry two or more liters at a time. Water is heavy, so I try not to overload myself if opportunities to purify are abundant.
Consumables do not count towards total base weight.
Total Consumables Weight (Five Days of Food + One Liter of Water): 155.0 oz | 9.69 lb | 4.39 kg
Total Worn Items + Consumables Weight: 237.3 oz | 14.83 lb | 6.73 kg
Total Worn Items + Consumables + Base Weight: 392.9 oz | 24.51 lb | 11.19 kg
That’s it. You’ve now taken a peek at every single item on my ultralight backpacking gear list. I hope this post helps you in one way or another along your multi-day hiking endeavors.
And now, for those of you who aren’t entirely familiar with ultralight backpacking, I’d love to answer a few of your questions.
What is Ultralight Backpacking?
Ultralight backpacking is the minimalist practice of packing as light as possible while remaining safe and comfortable on the trail. The typical base weight limit for an ultralight setup is 10 pounds or less.
The ultralight mindset can be traced back over a hundred years but has only been widely practiced since the 1990s. Since then, technology has brought upon significantly lighter gear that is easier than ever to get your hands on.
What is ‘Base Weight’ and What are Consumables?
Base weight is the total combined weight of your pack minus food, fuel, and consumables. Worn clothing and items that will be carried outside of your backpack (like watches, sunglasses, trekking poles, etc.) don’t count towards your base weight.
Think of your base weight items are the things that you’ll carry for the entirety of your hike (your backpack, tent, sleeping bag, extra clothing, etc.) The weight of these items should be more or less fixed for your entire trip.
Consumables are the items that fluctuate in weight during the duration of your trip (like food, water, stove fuel, Advil, sunscreen, etc.) The weight of your consumable items is not fixed and will vary from day today.
Keeping track of your base weight and consumables separately will give make it easier to calculate how much you can expect to carry on a given trip.
There’s no cut-and-dry list of base weight items vs consumables in the ultralight backpacking community, so don’t fret much about how to classify everything you carry. Base weight is just a number in the end.
Does Backpacking Have a Weight Chart?
There’s no official weight chart for backpacking classifications, so defining them is completely objective. Based on my personal backpacking experiences, here’s my best stab at it:
- Traditional Backpacking: 30+ lb base weight
- Lightweight Backpacking: 20 lb base weight
- Ultralight Backpacking: 10 lb base weight
- Super Ultralight Backpacking: 5 lb base weight
Is Ultralight Backpacking Dangerous?
It can be, but only if you don’t prepare yourself properly.
Lightweight backpacking gear can perform just as well, if not better, than heavier traditional gear, so there’s no added risk if you pack for your trip appropriately. If anything, a proper ultralight setup is safer than a traditional setup because it will put less strain on your body.
Where ultralight backpackers can get in trouble is when they leave behind essential items (first-aid supplies, physical maps, weather-specific gear) for the sake of cutting weight. This practice of being “stupid light” is foolish and can put hikers in danger.
Is Ultralight Backpacking Expensive?
For me, ultralight backpacking has been quite pricy, but it doesn’t have to be for you.
My current ultralight backpacking setup is worth around $2,500 brand new, which is no small price to pay. Cost aside, the quality gear in my pack will perform at a high level and likely won’t need to be replaced until many years in the future. That’s money well spent, in my eyes.
It’s possible to put together an ultralight backpacking for a fraction of what I spent, however. You just need to be willing to get a little creative. How, exactly? Seek out second-hand gear, research budget brands, and be willing to sacrifice a little bit of quality to save some money.
Many backpackers hesitate at going ultralight, believing that packing less will diminish their experience on the trail. Here are some benefits that suggest that quite the opposite is actually true.
Carrying Less Weight Means Fewer Injuries
The heavier your backpack, the more susceptible you become to slips, falls, twists, sprains, and breaks on the trail. Lightening your load will make you more sure-footed and lessen the chance of injuries that can derail your hike in an instant.
You Can Move Faster and More Efficiently with a Lighter Pack
A fine-tuned ultralight backpacking setup will allow you to hike faster and more effectively than if you were to carry a backpack full of heavy, inefficient gear. This faster pace will lead to more daily distance hiked and less energy expended per mile.
Ultralight Backpacking is More Comfortable than Traditional Backpacking
Anyone who has ever carried a heavy, overstuffed backpack knows how agonizing the experience can be. Straps dig into your shoulders, dull pain creeps up your back, and your knees begin to ache with every step.
Too much weight on your back distracts from your hiking experience, plain and simple.
A streamlined ultralight setup will ease the discomfort of traditional backpacking, lessen your aches and pains, and put your mind off of your body and back onto your surroundings.
A Lower Base Weight Means More Space for Consumables
When you make the transition to ultralight, a lot of free space will open up in your backpack. This newfound room will allow you to pack extra food, water, and fuel for the long stretches of trail where you’re unable to resupply for several days at a time.
Over my years of backpacking and converting to an ultralight setup, I’ve learned quite a few valuable lessons along the way. Here are some of the best bits of ultralight backpacking wisdom I can offer you.
Buy a Scale
Every ounce counts in the world of ultralight backpacking, so get your hands on a precision scale and weigh every item that goes into your pack. Analyzing the weight of your existing gear will help guide the way for future changes to your setup.
To get your base weight as low as possible, you’ll need to take a close look at every single piece of gear on your packing list. Compare your current gear meticulously to other items on the market, and always ask yourself, “Can I go lighter?”
But lighter gear doesn’t always mean better gear, however, so be prepared to do thoughtful research and make decisions based on an item’s effectiveness as well as its weight.
Focus on the ‘Big Four’
In most ultralight backpacking gear lists, the heaviest items are as follows:
- Sleeping Bag
- Sleeping Pad
By minimizing the weight on these four specific items, you can trim not only ounces but pounds off of your traditional backpacking setup.
Don’t Bring Duplicates
Packing double of an item when one will do is a no-no in the ultralight backpacking community. Why? Because the UL mantra is about carrying only what you need and nothing else. This means you can leave the extra socks, shirts, pants, underwear, and sandals at home.
Share Gear with Others
Communicate with your hiking partners, share your gear, and distribute the weight between your backpacks whenever possible. Pooling the weight of your tents, stoves, pots, water filters, knives, etc. is a great way to lower your base weight by sacrificing some comfort and convenience.
Research Your Hike Thoroughly Ahead of Time
The trail you hike and the weather you expect to encounter should dictate what gear you pack and what you leave behind. Study your hike’s terrain, check forecasts, determine the distance between water sources, and pack accordingly.
For example, backpacking alone for two days in the world’s driest desert will call for a vastly different gear list than hiking for a week through intense wind and rain in Patagonia.
Let the journey ahead decide what you pack and leave all your other unnecessary gear behind.
Don’t Go Stupid Light, Not Even Once
Ultralight backpacking isn’t a contest, so don’t leave essential items behind just to shave a few ounces off of your base weight. This practice is called being ‘stupid light’ and it’s a recipe for disaster.
Prepare yourself for worst-case scenario weather, bring a complete first aid kit, and pack physical and digital maps when navigating unfamiliar terrain. Cutting corners to trim weight is foolish and can be life-threatening if your hike goes sideways and you’re all alone in the backcountry.
In a word, definitely.
Going ultralight is an exercise in freedom and efficiency.
There’s simply no downside in drastically cutting your pack weight, as long as your new set up keeps you safe, happy, and comfortable on the trail.
Trimming weight and minimizing your packing list means that every item you pack should serve its purpose as efficiently as possible. Space and energy will no longer be needlessly wasted on hauling around a bunch of unnecessary stuff.
Less weight on your back means you’ll hike farther, longer, and more comfortably. There are simply no arguments against responsible ultralight backpacking that make sense, so my advice is to give it a try. Lighten your load, what’s there to lose?
Here are some helpful books, websites, and tools that have been invaluable along my journey as an ultralight backpacker. I hope you find them as useful as I do.
Reddit.com/r/Ultralight is a helpful forum to discuss ultralight backpacking, gear lists, trip reports, and more. Redditors in this super-involved community are quick to answer questions, share wisdom, and offer advice.
LighterPack is a great place for backpackers to keep track of, analyze, and compare their gear lists. Users can assign weights to each piece of gear in their backpacking setup and the website calculates base weight, carried weight, and consumables in a helpful pie chart.
Ultralight Backpackin’ Tips
Though Ultralight Backpackin’ Tips was published in 2011, it’s full of thoughtful information that is still 100% valid today. The author, Mike Clelland, packs over 150 incredibly useful pointers into the book, all drawn from his lifetime of hiking, camping, and exploring the great outdoors.
Andrew Skurka has been an absolute legend in the ultralight backpacking community for years. Want some proof? Check out his 4,700-mile expedition around Alaska, where he hiked, pack rafted, and skied for seven straight months through some of the world’s most remote wilderness.
Ultralight YouTube Channels
YouTube is full of great ultralight backpacking enthusiasts who are eager to share adventures, gear recommendations, and tips with the world. My personal favorites are Darwin onthetrail, John Zahorian, and Jupiter Hikes.
What are some of your favorite pieces of ultralight backpacking gear that didn’t make my list? How heavy is your pack? Do you have any ultralight packing tips or tricks? What is the lightest backpacking gear list you’ve ever seen? Let me know by leaving a comment below!