My 2 lb Ultralight Backpacking Clothing System

One of the biggest myths about ultralight backpacking is that lightweight backpackers are always cold, uncomfortable and on the verge of hypothermia.

That doesn’t have to be true…

I have used this clothing system for three-season hiking (spring, summer, fall) in temps ranging from 110 degrees down to 15 degrees Fahrenheit… and it weighs just 2 pounds.

Clothing Packed (included in pack weight)

Hiking Socks: Smartwool PHD Lite Mini Sock 1.5 oz $16
Thermal Top: Terramar Thermasilk Top 3.4 oz $20
Thermal Bottom: Terramar Thermasilk Pant 3.4 oz $20
Torso Insulation: Montbell UL Thermawrap Vest 5 oz $115
Shell Jacket: Marmot Mica Rain Shell 7 oz $130
Shell Pants: Marmot Essence Rain Pants 6 oz $55
Sleeping Socks: Cabellas Polartech Socks 2 oz $12
Beanie: Mountain Hardware Microdome 1.5 oz $18
Gloves: Mountain Hardware Powerstretch 2 oz $20
Rain Gloves: Vinyl 5mil Disposable Exam Gloves 0.1 oz $8
Bug Headnet: Sea to Summit Headnet 1.3 oz $20
Subtotal: 2 lbs, 1 oz
$434

Clothing Worn (excluded from pack weight)

Underwear: Underarmor Boxerjock $20
Shirt: Smartwool Microweight Tshirt $55
Shorts: Northface Running Shorts $30
Spare Socks: Smartwool PHD Lite Mini Sock $16
Shoes: Merrel Moab Ventilator / Goretex XCR $80
Insoles: Montrail Enduro Soles $34
Sunglasses: Sporteyz $18
Hat: Sunday Afternoons Sun Tripper $25
Bandana: Cotton Bandana $5
Wallet Granite Gear Hiker Wallet $7
Watch: Timex Camper Classic $29
Subtotal: $319

And here’s how it works…

Warm Weather Hiking

Warm Weather Backpacking Clothing

Warm Weather Backpacking Clothing

Base Layer / Sleeping Clothes

Base Layer / Sleeping Clothes

Base Layer / Sleeping Clothes

Cool Weather Hiking

Cool Weather Backpacking Clothing

Cool Weather Backpacking Clothing

Warm Rain Hiking

Warm Rain Backpacking Clothing

Warm Rain Backpacking Clothing

Cold Rain / Light Snow Hiking

Cold Rain and Snow Backpacking Clothing

Cold Rain and Snow Backpacking Clothing

There are more configurations that just the ones shown here – but these are the major ones.

Since each piece of clothing is multi-use they can be combined many different ways to create the best combination of warmth or coolness, protection from the elements, breathability and comfort.

… and now you know why they call me Erik the Black ;)

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86 Responses to “My 2 lb Ultralight Backpacking Clothing System”

  1. Werd, thats a pretty excellent run down of your clothes gear! Forget the writing, pics are a 1,000 words and do it much better justice anyway.

    Jealous of PCT trip, but will get some miles on Maine AT this summer…

  2. Colby Gutierrez-Kraybill Reply March 19, 2010 at 4:38 pm

    I like the (mostly) all black :) This is great info, I’ve been wondering a long time about how comfortable it can be going ultra-lightweight. Thanks!

  3. I’ve been wondering if I’m totally insane to plan to hike the JMT this summer wearing primarily a short hiking skirt, with Cap2 johns underneath as needed. You just sealed the deal. Your kit looks a lot like mine…. Thanks!

  4. Now we know why you’re called Erik the Black. No trouble coordinating your outfits, right? And in town, just add a string of pearls and you are dressed to dine anywhere. Great article! Very helpful … Regards, Two Legs

  5. Awesome info, Thank You!

    I am totally stealing the medical gloves idea!

    Greetings from Germany,

    Julia
    -Dreaming about maybe attempting in 2011-

  6. Great pictures and lists. I believe I could stay warm in your cold rain suit. Thanks for the excellent bonuses for the handy atlas.Keep publishing your tips and have fun on the Trail.

  7. great stuff, master hiker/outfitter and computer ace, nice of you to share

  8. Black is all good. It also dries faster.

  9. Sorry to be an overpacking ignoramous, but after wearing your silk stuff to hike in all day in the cold and rain, do you still wear them to sleep in? I play by totally different rules, and one of them is to keep one set clean and dry for sleeping. Tell me why I’m wasting valuable pack space!

    thanks. Also, agreed that the all black kit is nifty.

  10. Black , wouldnt lack of reflectivity in dark clothing be an issue in the dessert? i peddled acoss the US back in 20th century and i was glad a brought along lighter clothing… ed

  11. Thanks for your comments everyone!

    @eileen: I’ve never had a problem with my base layer getting wet. Most of the time I use them only as sleeping clothes. When it is cold I do wear my thermals while hiking, but they are mostly protected by my outer layers.

    Because silk is ultralight and highly breathable it usually doesn’t become soaked with sweat like thicker fabrics (and if it does, dries very quickly).

    I also carry a good down sleeping bag so my sleeping clothes are not essential for warmth at night. I wear them mostly for comfort and to keep my bag from getting greasy and dirty. If they become compromised during the day I can just sleep without them.

    @ed: In the desert I typically wear as little clothing as possible. Most of the time when it’s really hot I will just wear my hiking shorts with no shirt. I don’t like to wear long pants or long shirts even if they are light colored because they trap hot air next to my skin which makes me uncomfortable.

    Luckily I have dark skin so I don’t have to worry about getting sunburnt. I also carry a Golite Chrome dome umbrella in the desert to block the direct sunlight.

  12. I will be thru hiking the PCT in 2011 and now am researching, researching . . . I will be buying your maps, but will wait til next version will be out. When will that be?

    Also, you mention the ULA Conduit but I see the max weight recommended is 25 lbs. I don’t ever want to go over that, but with water and food for several days, I see that as a possibility. Is this a concern with that back pack?

  13. Also, regarding the ULA Conduit, I assume it will hold a bear canister?

    Finally, I just finished reading everything on this web site – nice job.

  14. @John: I will be doing research for the 3rd Edition PCT Atlas this year. It should be available in spring of 2011 or 2012.

    I own a ULA Conduit and a ULA Circuit. For my thru-hike this year I will be carrying the Circuit because it can hold more weight comfortably and I plan to bring a few “luxury items”, but a Conduit will work if you have a base weight of 10 lbs or less.

  15. great ,very helpfull.my list came out a bit heavy, then I seen no extra undy,s on your list ,shame shame

  16. @Jerry: Nope, no spare undies. One pair of Underarmours does the trick for me :D

  17. Love your site. I am a traditional backpacker in the process of a “makeover” toward lightweight backpacking. Question: Is there a reason you favor silk over merino wool in your base layer and T-shirt?

  18. This is amazingly cool. Do you have a list like this of everything you carry and the associated weights?

    • @ Emerson, thanks. When you sign up for my Backpacking Tips eNewsletter (at the top of the blog) you can download three complete gear lists showing all the gear I carry and the associated weights.

  19. ERIC!! Awesome site Bro! I recently had a hip replacement and now I’m ready to get back on the trail. You have done an amazing job putting together all the info. anyone might want, and then some! I’ll be using your site myself and promoting it to everyone!
    Thanks for putting together such a wonderful reference. You ROCK!!
    -Joe-

  20. Why did you go with a synthetic fill vest rather than a down one?

    • @ Emerson: I prefer synthetic over down for clothing because it retains it’s loft and warmth even when wet. I wear my vest a lot while hiking so it can get wet either from rain or perspiration.

  21. Hey Erik

    When I try to register for your backpacking tips newletter, I keep getting \"an error occured\" message

    Walter

    • @Walter: Thanks for the heads up. I tested the newsletter sign-up form this morning and it appears to be working now. It was probably just a temporary problem with my mailing list server. If you try signing up again it should work.

  22. I can\’t figure out how to order your two books, Ultralight backpacking & How to hike the Pacific Crest Trail. Could you please help me. Thanks,

  23. Hi Erik,

    Regarding your Terramar Thermasilk bottoms, do you have their single ply \"Jersey\" silk or the two ply \"Interlock\" silk.
    Thanks for all the great info..

  24. Hi Erik,
    I was wondering how the Marmot Mica rain jacket is holding up. Are there any significant wear areas from the pack shoulder straps or hip belt? How long have you been using it?

    p.s. from my previous post on the silk bottoms, I emailed Campmor customer service and asked them to check the Terramar part number and they do indeed have the single ply version.

    • @Bill: I used the Marmot Mica rain jacket for 500 miles this summer on the Colorado Trail and we got some rain every day except for three, so it got a fair amount of use. So far it has not worn at all and looks brand new. It’s fully waterproof and about at breathable as any rain jacket I’ve used. I also used it as a wind jacket and for protection from mosquitoes in camp. I’m really happy with the Mica so far.

  25. The disposable rubber over-gloves idea is popular among some of my motorcycling friends. Some of your readers might be interested to know these more durable disposable industrial dish washing gloves are available for $3 per pair: http://www.aerostich.com/rain-glove-covers.html
    Looks like a bunch of places sell the same model: Nitri-Solve 727-11

  26. Hey Erik
    Can you post where you buy all your clothing? Maybe you have already and I can’t find it….
    I’m in Canada but maybe we have some of your stores here lol.

  27. Erik,
    Thanks so much for the clothing sites!

  28. If your where to thru-hike the PCT would you start AND finish using the silk base layers? I embrace one gear list for all conditions but wonder if you’d swap them out for something a little warmer in OR & WA?
    Love your website!

    • @Onestep: In colder weather I will sometimes switch out my silk top for a Smartwool Midweight Top. It is quite a bit heavier, but really toasty warm. I usually keep the silk bottoms because my legs stay pretty warm during the day just from moving and at night I get into my sleeping bag as soon as possible. When I hiked the PCT I switched to the wool top in Washington and was glad I did, because we had several days of snow and night time temperatures in the low teens in late September.

  29. Erik,

    Great web site!!! After BPL, this is the most informative backpacking site I’ve found on the web. I have no interest in thru-hiking, but at age 73 I sure appreciate your recommendations and techniques for lowering the pack weight, and especially like your compromise of weight vs. comfort.

  30. Erik, great info, thanks for sharing. The Montbell Stretch Wind Pants don’t seem to be available anywhere. Have you tried the Dynamo Wind Pants. According to the specs on the Montbell site, they only weigh 2.8 ounces. Any other suggestions? Thanks

    • @Denny: I haven’t tried the Dynamo Wind Pants yet, but they look like an excellent alternative. In fact they are probably better than the pants I have because it looks like they have better water resistance. The stretch wind pants I have get soaked through pretty quickly in the rain.

  31. How do you handle the sweat issue?. I sweat like a pig with or without a shirt. I like ultrathin wool for the stinkless factor, but when wet with sweat, I get pretty cool. It doesnt dry well in cool weather unfortunately. Thick wool tends to keep warmth better when wet, but is not suitable for warmer weather. Any thoughts?

    • @Stephen: I wear my microweight wool shirt in warm and cool weather, but in the cool weather I wear something with it (like a long sleeve shirt or my vest or rain jacket). I sweat a lot in hot weather but don’t really sweat that much in cool weather for some reason. When it’s hot out sweat is nice because it moistens the shirt and then if a breeze blows through it feels cool.

  32. Erik, love the info. Questions: Noticed you have two shoe options – one for dry and other for rain. What shoes did you wear during the PCT and Colorado hikes? Also, how do the Moab Ventilators hold up in the rain that one inevitably gets in the Pacific Northwest. I’m hiking the WA PCT this Aug and need new shoes. Suggestions for this part of the trip. Much appreciated.

    • @Flash Berry: I wore the Moab Ventilators on the PCT. They worked great in the dry weather but my feet got soaked in Washington and Oregon. I wore the Moab Goretex XCRs on the Colorado Trail and my feet stayed dryer. For Washington I would recommend the XCRs because they are not very sweaty even in warm weather and the extra water protection is nice in the rain.

  33. As part of your clothing system you list North Flight Series shorts. I believe they have an inner liner. You also list your underwear as Underarmor Boxerjock. Do you cut the lining of of the shorts? Wear them both as is?

  34. Okay, call me dorky, I like my zip-offs, and long-sleeved shirts. If it’s real hot I can shorten up. I have fair skin so usually I need to cover up.

  35. Btw. How much space does the clothing bag take?

  36. @Eric: Back in February you mentioned you wore Moeb ventilators in Oregon and Washington. I use them for day hikes. But the sole doesn’t seem aggressive enough for wet mucky conditions. How did they work for you in these conditions? Also, I just found out about a shoe made by Inov8 called the Talon. What are your reactions?

    • @Mike: I’ve had a similar experience in wet mud and slick rocks. The circular tread design of the Merrels isn’t the greatest for slick surfaces and it does tend to wear down and get slicker as time goes on. But, I just use my poles and plow through. When it comes to shoes I’m sort of like a married man now. I’ve been wearing the Merrels for so long, and they fit me so well, that I don’t even look at any other shoes any more ;)

      I’ve never seen the Inov8 Talons but from the pictures they look like they are probably light and comfy, but may not last for too long (maybe 400-500 miles). Usually the really lightweight meshy trail runners fall apart quicker than the heavier duty shoes which have a little bit of leather to hold em together.

      Still they might be a good choice for day hikes or longer hikes if you don’t mind replacing them more often. The sole does look pretty gnarly (almost like a cleat) so it would probably solve your slippy surface problem.

  37. Erik, ok thanks!

  38. have you ever tried the ExOfficio give-n-go boxer brief? i read some great reviews on them. they weigh only 3oz. each. and what size UnderArmor boxerjock are you using the 6″ or 9″ and whats the weght on them? thanks, clayton

    • @Claytonhaske: Personally I haven’t tried any other boxers than the UnderArmour. When I started using them they worked so well I never tried anything else. I wear the long ones (9″) because they prevent friction and blisters between my thighs. I’m not sure how much they weigh since I do not weigh clothing that I wear every day (only spare clothing that adds to pack weight) but they are nice and light so I imagine they are similar in weight to the Ex Officios you mentioned.

  39. Hey Eric,
    thanks for the great info, this is one of the best articles about how to layering clothes ever.:-) i love the montbell vest but unfortunately it’s nearly impossible to order one in europe and shipping from the states plus customs charges is to expensive. do you have any other vest you can recommend that meets the requirements needed on the pct? i tried the patagonia nano puff vest but i doubt that is is warm enough for northern pct (maybe anyone can help me out on this one, i’m not freezing that easily) and the marmot variant vest (i wasn’t all to happy with this one). Any help is appreciated! Thanks
    Andre
    oh and golite stopped selling their products in europe, so it might be hard for me to get a golite vest as well. :-)

  40. Hey Eric I’m diggin’your blog:)

    I was wondering what you think of Wickers for cold weather?

    I’m considering their stuff for all my base layer needs.

    I’m not super picky about weight and will most likely get one lightweight pair along with a mid or heavy weight for when it gets REALLY cold.

    Outer layer is my Blackhawk Prolite tactical pants btw:)

    • @Joseph: I’m not familiar with the Wickers brand in particular, but a quick browse of their website shows that they are polyester. Personally, I prefer natural fabrics for a base layer (wool or silk) because they feel better on my skin and do not get as stinky as synthetic fabrics. But other hikers I know prefer synthetics. They are less expensive and usually wick pretty well. But they sure do get stinky!

  41. With a rain jacket that is fairly short (only to the waist or hips) and no rain pants, doesn’t the rain running off the jacket just soak your shorts?

    • @Ken: Yes, my legs and shorts usually get wet in the rain. But, keeping them dry is not as important to me as keeping my core dry and warm. The main purpose of my rain jacket is just to keep the insulation layers underneath dry, so that they can keep my chest and internal organs warm. Since my legs are moving they usually don’t too very cold, even when wet. I have tried rain pants before and they are just too hot and sweaty for my liking. I’ve also tried lightweight wind pants (which are more breathable). They work great in a light rain, but in a downpour they get soaked through, and the feeling of wet, heavy nylon rubbing against my legs is even worse than the actual rain itself. I’ve also tried ponchos that hang down over my shorts, but they were floppy and tended to blow around in the wind, snag on stuff and get in the way of my trekking poles. So, what to do with my legs in the rain is one of those problems that I haven’t really found a perfect solution for yet.

  42. When I first started camping as a Boy Scout in cold/freezing weather I would tuck my face into the sleeping bag at night to keep warm. I found out quickly that the condensation made the sleeping bag wet and worthless.
    Later I tried using a ski mask when sleeping only to wake with ice crusted around the mouth and nose holes, still uncomfortable.
    Finally I tried a standard knit cap and pulled it down over the bridge of my big heatsink nose. This leaves nothing over the mouth or under the nose to trap moist exhalation and now I sleep comfortable even in freezing weather.

  43. Question about hiking in heavier brush…how do the Northface shorts work out? Do you have an idea of a lightweight pant alternative that would hold up through the brush. Most pants I look at are 10+ ounces. I have some of the montbell wind pants, but I know they would tear to shreds…any ideas?

    • @Justin: I haven’t done a lot of hiking through heavy brush, but if I did I would wear some of the convertible nylon zipoff pants like the kinds sold by REI and Columbia. I’m not sure how much they weigh but if you wear the shorts part then only the legs have to go in your pack. I’ve worn them before and they are surprisingly tough for how thin the fabric is.

  44. Another dyemention Reply October 27, 2013 at 4:12 pm

    Not saying it doesn’t work for you, but I don’t think most people will be comfortable in 15 degrees wearing a mb thermawrap vest, a silk long sleeve shirt over a tshirt, all under a raincoat while sitting at their campsite. True you can get away wearing a lightweight base layer and a wind shirt while hiking in sub freezing temps but I think most people would freeze wearing just a thermawrap as their only insulation. So my advice to everyone is try this out somewhere safe before trekking off into the wilderness.

    • @ Another dyemention: You will not find me sitting outside in camp when it is 15 degrees out (unless there is a campfire going). I carry two important extra pieces of cold weather gear with me at all times: a sleeping bag and a shelter. If it drops below freezing in the evenings I will be in my sleeping bag, under my shelter, sipping a hot drink, warm and snug as a bug. Clothing is not the only line of defense against the cold. It’s only one part of a larger system.

  45. Hello Erik
    I have been wearing Merrell Moab for 5 years (many pairs of course). I have one question: How many pairs of Moabs did you use during your PCT? thanks

  46. When looking over PCT gear lists I see so many use regular trail runners or running shoes. Most use shoes without waterproofing as it seems to me they just wade thru stream and river crossings rather than change into Crocs or water shoes. Do the Moabs dry reasonably quick? I am looking for a lightweight shoe (compared to my hiking boots) yet I need cushion as I’m 215 lbs. I hope to have a max pack weight after full resupply of 30 to 35 lbs. In your opinion will the Moabs support that kind of weight?

    • @John: The Merrell Moab Ventilators breathe well in the heat and dry relatively quickly when wet, making them a great shoe for the PCT. I walk through creeks with shoes and socks on and keep on trucking, squishing all the way. They dry out after an hour or three if it’s sunny out. Not as quickly as fully synthetic shoes, but still pretty fast. The Moabs last longer than trail runners (which fall apart after 450-500 miles) and are more comfortable, despite being heavier. They will do fine carrying up to 40 lbs (or more).

  47. Hey Erick! I’m planning a year long trip living out of a backpack and am researching ultralight gear. I stumbled across your site and it’s been pure gold so far. Thank you!

    My question is about baselayers and durability. I’ve always worn polyester layers and they’ve lasted for years with everyday use. But they stink. How do you find the durability of your wool and silk baselayers? E.g. How many did you go through on the PCT?

    • @Geoff: I don’t wear my base layer stuff that often (only at night while sleeping and occasionally when it gets cold) so they typically last for 1-2 hiking seasons. They are not as durable as synthetic fabrics. Wool, especially, tends to unravel and come apart when subjected to hard use. The silk is actually more durable than the wool, I have found. It does develop pinholes and wears through in places because it is so thin, but the weave is tighter so the holes tend not to spread as quickly as with wool. The three clothing items I replace the most frequently are: t-shirt (merino wool), socks (either coolmax or wool) and shoes, all of which need to be replaced every 800-1000 miles. But I like the next-to-skin comfort and non-stinkyness of natural fabrics, so it’s worth it to me.

  48. I love the way you have this blog set up and I agree….a pic is worth 1000 words. I carry pretty much the same except I tend to run cold so I take a down sweater instead of a vest when it’s cold. I look forward to reading the rest of your blog as I just discovered it. Well done!

  49. I must say I’m new to ultralight backpacking but I would imagine that the number one question a neophyte would have when looking at your backpacking clothes would be: How do you get by on just one pair of socks and underwear? Are you washing (or just rinsing) them every night?

    And tied at first place would be: How do you wash yourself?

    Thanks!

    • @Keith: I bring two pairs of socks and alternate them every day. Only one pair of underwear, which get worn during the day and aired out at night while I’m sleeping (I wear silk long underwear in my sleeping bag to protect it from dirt and body oils). I wash all of my clothes every 4-6 days when I go into a town to resupply. Long distance backpacking is a dirty activity. There is no way to keep clean by regular civilized standards, so you just learn to embrace being dirty as part of the experience.

  50. Jeff the White (but very tan) Reply July 8, 2014 at 4:45 am

    Excellent stuff, brother. I appreciate you sharing all these things and doing such a great job at it! We all have our systems, but iron sharpens iron and it is great to see you method.
    Thank you, friend.

  51. Australian Alison Reply August 26, 2014 at 4:18 am

    I can’t decide whether to emulate your appealingly short list for a two week trip, or add another set of clothes, so I can be dry, warm and modest when I’ve washed some garments. My merino base layer takes 24 hours to dry in the temps I’ll be in (50-70 F). Feedback?

    • Australian Alison: Redundancy is the enemy of a lightweight pack. Personally, I would not wash clothes during a two week trip if it is going to put your clothing out of commission for 24 hours and require a backup pair. I say embrace the dirt while you are on the trail and then just take a long shower when you get home :)

  52. You have provided a service of great benefit for our urban Scouts who are looking into hiking gear and commentary about it. You all…Erik and others..are walking the walk and not just writing training manuals. In Scouting we have lots of ‘how to..’ manuals, but the ground level is to show, explain, and implement gear and equipment so folks can travel on aircraft, in cars or trains, and arrive at a Trailhead ready to hike!

  53. Erik – a couple of dumb questions for a rookie hiker:

    1. what do you wear when your in town and have to wash clothes?
    2. I see you don’t list any camp shoes. What do you do if your shoes are soaked and full of mud?
    3. I noticed that you made a few changes from when this system was put together. Will you be updating your clothing system list?

    Thanks,
    Mike

    • @Mike:

      1. I wear my rain jacket, shorts and shoes (no socks) at the laundromat while everything else gets washed. Then wash the jacket and shorts in the sink back at the hotel. The rain jacket air dries quickly. To dry the nylon shorts, I wring them out good and roll them up in a terrycloth towel, and they will dry within a few hours.

      2. I try to stay off my feet in camp as much as possible. Most of the time I am sitting around with my shoes off and feet up to let them air out and rest. If I need to walk somewhere I’ll use my hiking shoes like slippers (laces loosened) so I can slip into them and go to the bathroom or whatever. But as soon as I return to camp the shoes come off again. Wet shoes don’t bother me, but if they are caked with mud I will try and clean them up.

      3. I do plan to update this article soon. Not a whole lot has changed with my clothing but I’ve made a few adjustments. I wear a lightweight merino wool base layer top more often now than the silk one. I’ve switched to zip-off convertible pants instead of the running shorts. I don’t carry the rubber glove liners anymore. I’ve switched my rain jacket from the Marmot Mica to an OR Helium II. I don’t carry sleeping socks anymore (just use hiking socks.) And don’t carry the rain pants very often (but that’s because I don’t hike in a lot of rain.)

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