Prior to this summer, I was using a 70 liter pack on all of my backpacking trips and found that it was waaaaay to easy to throw in everything but the kitchen sink. I’d end up on a quick overnighter and somehow be carrying 40 pounds. Not only does that not feel awesome on your back, but it really ends up slowing you down.
So this year, I decided it was time to shed some weight. I started by downsizing to a 50 liter pack. That way I’d be forced to fit everything I need for a weekend trip in there and nothing more. Then over time, I’ve slowly swapped out some of my heavier items for newer lightweight backpacking gear. And now for the first time ever, throwing on my pack is no longer a struggle, and I finally feel like I have my system pretty dialed.
Here are a few of my favorite pieces of the best lightweight backpacking gear that now make up my kit. And ladies, stay tuned for a post on clothing which is coming atcha in the upcoming weeks.
The Best Lightweight Backpacking Gear
Mountain Hardwear Ozonic 50 L Outdry Backpack
This summer I decided to downgrade to a smaller pack for shorter weekend trips. It forces me to leave non-essentials at home resulting in a lighter load. This 50 liter Ozonic pack by Mountain Hardwear fits super comfy like a glove and has just enough pockets to keep things organized. It’s also completely waterproof, eliminating the need to carry a rain cover when weather looks iffy. The only thing I would change about this pack is that there is no hydration sleeve inside and the side pockets for water bottle storage are a bit hard to reach with the pack on. But those issues are minor and other than that, I really love this bag.
Mountain Hardwear SuperMega UL 2
I’ve been a big fan of Mountain Hardwear’s tents for a while now, and their Skyledge 3P tent, which I took on the John Muir Trail, is incredibly solid. If I’m camping with a friend and we can split up the load, the Skyledge is my go-to. However, at just over 4 pounds, the 3-man is a little much for me to carry on a short weekend trip, especially if I’m sleeping solo. The Mountain Hardwear SuperMega UL 2 is the perfect alternative. Weighing 2 pounds 2 ounces, it’s the lightest tent in their lineup, yet still provides solid weather protection. The only thing to keep in mind is that most ultralight 2-man tents these days are tight on room…so be prepared to do a bit of snuggling.
REI Joule Sleeping Bag
The REI Joule Sleeping bag is rated for a chilly 23 degrees Fahrenheit, yet it only weighs 2.2 pounds, making it one of the lightest bags on the market for its warmth factor. It also packs down very small, and with a compression sack will easily fit into that 50L pack. Made with water resistant down, this bag is made to withstand damp conditions better than traditional down sleeping bags. I find it to be plush, roomy enough, and warm in all the right places. REI also makes a men’s version of this sleeping bag called the REI Igneo Sleeping Bag.
Big Agnes Insulated Double Z Sleeping Pad
At 1 pound, 5 ounces the Big Agnes Insulated Double Z Sleeping Pad isn’t the lightest on the market, but boy is it comfy. Getting a good night of sleep when camping can make or break your experience, so in my book, the few extra ounces are worth it. Plus it packs down almost as small as some of the lighter pads on the market and is still much smaller than my 10 year old Thermarest. With a high insulation factor, this is a pad you can rely on to keep you warm even in the coldest temps. It’s also easy to inflate and deflate with its one-way valve – which is becoming more standard on sleeping pads these days. For more info on the different factors to weigh when shopping for a new sleeping pad, see my post “How to Choose the Best Sleeping Pad for Backpacking where I compare the specs of some of the most popular pads on the market.
Snow Peak GigaPower Auto Stove
I’m a huge fan of the Jetboil Flash for longer excursions, but since you don’t have a lot of temperature control with the Jetboil, you are pretty much limited to eating dehydrated backpacker meals. And on shorter weekend trips, sometimes you want something a little fresher. Maybe you want to saute some veggies or whip up a delicious curry. While not quite as fast as the Jetboil, the Snow Peak Giga Power Auto Stove is still super powerful and provides the ability to simmer and saute making it much more diverse. Where it really shines is that it weighs less than 4 ounces and fits in palm of my hand when folded up.
Sea to Summit X Pot – 2.8 Liter
Switching from the Jetboil to a more traditional stove also meant I had to get a new pot, and this new collapsable cookware line from Sea to Summit keeps things nice and compact. The base of the pot is a durable aluminum, while the walls of the pot are made of a flexible, easy-to-clean silicon that collapse and lay flat when stored. The lid also comes with a built in strainer which is useful for pasta dishes. The 2.8 liter pot weighs 10 ounces and is plenty big to serve up a meal for 2-3 people.
Fozzils Solo Camp Dishes
If you aren’t planning on eating right out of the pot, you need some sort of dish, and the best camp plates and bowls are super light and don’t take up any room in your bag. I’ve been using a foldable plate and bowl set like this one from Fozzils which weighs just 4 ounces for the entire three piece set. I like these kind of dishes because I can easily shove them in the outer pocket of my bag for easy lunch access and the lack of nooks and crannies means it’s a cinch to clean.
Sea to Summit Alpha Light Spoon
Typically, a spoon is really all I need when backpacking. What I like about this ultra-light spoon by Sea to Summit is its long handle that allows you to get down to the very bottom of the pot or package without getting food all over your hands.
GSI Infinity Mug
Hot beverages all around. Whether it’s a warm nightcap or my morning coffee, I always bring a mug backpacking. This 3.5 ounce GSI Infinity Mug is insulated so you don’t have to chug your drink, and it also has a nylon handle so you can clip it to the outside of your pack.
Platypus GravityWorks Water Filter System
The Platypus GravityWorks Water Filter System is absolutely the easiest way to filter your water in the backcountry. This Platypus filter relies on gravity to push water through, eliminating the need to pump water by hand – meaning you can save your energy for the hike. At 9.5 ounces you will barely notice this thing in your bag, and what’s really cool is you can connect the hose directly into your water bottle or any standard hydration reservoir. Check out my post – Filtering Water the Easy Way – for a full video review.
For those who don’t like to carry a hydration bladder in their backpack, these 1-L Platypus SoftBottles are the best and lightest option for carrying water. Each bottle only weighs 1.2 ounces and when they are empty, they roll up so they don’t waste space in your bag. For backpacking trips, especially where it’s dry, I carry three of these for a total of 3 liters.
Potable Aqua Iodine and Taste-Neutralizer Tablets
It’s always a good idea to bring some purification tablets as a backup in case something were to happen to your water filter. These Aqua Iodine tablets come with an additional tablet that you throw in to neutralize the taste so the water doesn’t have a funky flavor. You can also rely on these tablets all together if you don’t want to bring a filter with you. The only thing is that they don’t get the sediment out like a filter would. If that doesn’t bother you, then you can save some space by just bringing these and leaving the filter at home.
These are the backpacking gadgets that I carry. Before purchasing any of these, I did a ton of research to figure out my lightest options given my goal, which is to be able to take high-quality pictures. I realize not everyone needs this much camera gear, and the weight from these types of items can quickly add up. But if you are a photo enthusiast like me, these are my recommendations for backpacking.
MeFoto Backpacker Travel Tripod
I did ALOT of shopping around before I decided on a tripod. Many of them are bulky and heavy, or if they are lighter, they don’t extend tall enough. The MeFoto Backpacker Travel Tripod weighs 2.6 pounds and is a good compromise between these different factors. It’s just over a foot when packed away, and it reaches heights of 4.5 feet tall when fully extended. It also fits in the side pocket of my Mountain Hardwear Ozonic Pack. You can angle your camera in any direction and for nighttime photography, it really does the trick.
Sony Alpha 6000 Mirrorless Camera
The Sony Alpha a6000 camera allows you to snap professional quality photos with a camera that’s just slightly larger than a point and shoot. The Sony Alpha a6000 is the newest in the lineup of Sony’s mirrorless technology, which I have been using for the last couple of years. It’s a perfect camera for travel, whether that be exploring new cities or going deep into the backcountry, and it provides an excellent compromise between size and quality. The 16-50mm zoom lens that comes with the camera kit is a great starter lens for someone looking to grow their skills. Plus with the option to swap out the lens, there is a lot of creative potential with this camera. It also comes with built-in wi-fi so you can upload photos directly from the camera to the web for instant sharing.
Goal Zero Switch 8 Portable Recharger
As long as I charge all of my batteries before heading out for the weekend, I usually don’t need a backup energy source. But if I know I’m going to be taking a lot of photos, sometimes I’ll throw Goal Zero’s Switch 8 Portable Recharger in my pack. You simply charge it at home via your computer’s USB and then if you end up needing it, you just plug your devices in to recharge. If you have one of Goal Zero’s solar panels, you can also use that to juice up this battery pack. I find that carrying this is a small price to pay to avoid stress over battery failures.
Black Diamond ReVolt Headlamp
The Black Diamond ReVolt Headlamp has multiple settings, including ultra bright and red night vision – which comes in handy when you want to have a conversation without blinding your friends. It also has a locking mechanism to prevent it from accidently turning on in your bag. What really distinguishes this headlamp from the rest is that is works on rechargeable batteries that you can recharge using a solar panel or USB outlet. So while it may be slightly more expensive than the average headlamp, you won’t have to carry extra batteries, which will end up saving you money and weight.
For those of you who go on solo outings or are want to snag some great action footage, the GoPro HERO4 Silver is nice addition to your camera kit, especially for water based adventures. The GoPro HERO4 Silver performs decently in low light and has a touch screen so you can easily review photos. GoPro also recently came out with their new Session Camera which is even smaller. I haven’t had the chance to try it yet, but initial reviews are saying that it has better sound quality and longer battery life.
XShot 2.0 Selfie Stick
Ok, I know some of you probably despise the selfie-stick…but…sometimes they do take pretty awesome photos. And if you are hiking alone, it’s much easier than setting up the self-timer on your camera. So for those of you who are interested in putting your GoPro or cell phone on a selfie-stick, this one by XShot is the one I use. It’s super packable, very light, and extends plenty far to get those crazy wide angle shots.