The “Big 3″ Backpacking Gear Items

backpacking gear

Backpackers spend a lot of time, money and effort trimming ounces from their backpacking gear in the quest to lighten their load. But a lot of that effort is wasted if it’s not directed toward the right gear items.

Are You Being Ounce-Wise and Pound-Foolish?

You’ve probably heard the term “penny wise, pound foolish” referring to money. It can also be applied to backpacking gear. It’s easy to get caught up in the minutia of counting ounces and grams and lose sight of the big gear items that are the most important.

Finding the lightest titanium cookware, cutting the margins off of maps and rationing toilet paper might save a few ounces. But if you want to cut big-time weight from your pack the only way to do it is to concentrate on these three backpacking gear items:

  • Backpack
  • Shelter
  • Sleeping System (Sleeping bag & pad)

The “Big 3″ Backpacking Gear Items

These three things are commonly reffered to as “The Big 3″ because they are the biggest, heaviest and most expensive pieces of backpacking gear you will buy. With the exception of the 12 essentials and clothing, nothing else in your pack is more important.

backpacking gear

The "Big 3" Gear Items - Backpack, Shelter, Sleep System

Don’t Let Past Gear Purchases Prevent You From Reaching Your Lightweight Backpacking Goals

The big three items are often the first things we buy when we decide to start backpacking. Unfortunately, because they represent such a large financial investment hikers are often hesitant to part with them in favor of lighter weight alternatives because of the prospect of wasting all that money.

Luckily, it won’t cost as much as you think to make the switch. There is a thriving market for used backpacking gear on websites such as Ebay and Craigslist, as well as backpacking forums like Backpacking Lite and Whiteblaze.

It is possible to sell used gear in good condition for as much as 80% of it’s original retail price online. I’ve bought and sold thousands of dollars of used gear over the years. If you plan on doing any serious backpacking it is worth it to sell your old heavy stuff now and buy new lightweight backpacking gear that better fits your needs.

You may lose a couple of bucks on the trade, but it won’t be that much. And the comfort and enjoyment gained from having a lighter pack will make up for it in the long run.

How Much Should Your “Big 3″ Backpacking Gear Items Weigh?

That depends on your goals and the location and season where you’ll be hiking. For three season backpacking my rule of thumb is no more than 3 pounds each (9 pounds total).

There are so many great lightweight backpacks, shelters and sleeping bags on the market these days that there is no reason to waste waste more than nine pounds on these items.

That’s what I would consider to be the upper limit. Anywhere from 5-8 pounds is even better (and not that hard to do) without sacrificing too much comfort.

Here are some examples…

Sample “Big 3″ Backpacking Gear Lists

#1 – “Lightweight” Big 3 (8 pounds, 5 ounces)

#2 – “Ultralight” Big 3 (5 pounds)*

* This is my “big three” from my Colorado Trail thru-hike this summer.

#3 – “Hyperlight” Big 3 (2 lbs, 4.5 ounces)

These are just a few examples to give you some ideas. Want to share your “big three” gear items? Post in the comments below…

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78 Responses to “The “Big 3″ Backpacking Gear Items”

  1. Dude you are right on the money with the three. I’ve recently got back from living in Kodiak,Alaska for a year and a half and those three things were the lifeline for being out there and costly.

  2. I pretty much always use the following for sleeping:

    Pads: Z-light + NeoAir – 20 oz ($180) — I use a small Z-lite cut in 1/3rd length, just enough to cover shoulders to hip. I find the extra padding under the NeoAir to be pleasant and provides extra protection, plus it makes a nice chair while on-trail. Regular size NeoAir, though I really should downsize to the small.

    For warmth I use one of these two, depending on temps:

    Nunatak Arc Ghost Quilt (Long) [32 degrees] – 16 oz ($399)

    MontBell U.L.Super Spiral Down Hugger #1 Long [15 degrees] – 2 lbs. 7 oz. ($399)

    For a pack I switch between, depending on base weight, which is pretty much based on temperature as well:

    HMG Windrider – 24 oz ($240)
    ZPacks Blast 26 – 8.2 oz ($280)

    For Shelter I switch between:

    HMG Echo 1 – 1.48 lbs (23.7 oz) ($490)

    ZPacks HexaNet Solo Bug Shelter – 9.1 oz ($410)

    As you have said, it is all about the pocketbook verses weight you have to carry – and how far you have to carry it.

    At my lightest I can get my Base3 down to 43.3 ounces (2.70 lbs) – of course this involves a full bug-net tent rather than just a tarp. Pretty much always necessary where I live – sigh.

  3. Dang, Eric, that’s pretty good. Ive been working on a new lighter 3 season kit, and I am still not sure if I can break a 10 pound base weight.

    So far I’ve got:
    Golite 20° 3 season quilt, long…27 oz
    Ridgrest Solite regular………..14 oz

    Golite Jam large………………29 oz

    For my shelter I will probably get:
    MLD Trailstar…………………16 oz
    Bearpaw Minimalist Bug Bivy…….9.5oz

    That would get me a 95.5 oz, 5.97lb total for the “big 3″. Best case scenario, I would be traveling somewhere with no bugs and I could shave some weight.

  4. * Backpack: Gossamer Gear Mariposa Plus – 25 oz ($200)
    * Shelter: Golite Poncho Tarp + TiGoat Ptarmigan Bivy – 14 oz ($170)
    * Sleeping Bag: Montbell UL Super Spiral Down Hugger #3 – 20 oz ($280)
    * Sleeping Pad: Klymit Intertia X Frame – 9 oz ($100)

  5. Good list – I take a slightly different set of gear with me –
    Western Mountaineering Summerlite – 19 oz
    TarpTent (2 person – extra room and still light) – 34 oz
    NeoAir – 14 oz
    So total for my big three – 67 oz or 4 lbs, 3 oz.

    Now, if you want a little more warmth and a back-up Bivy – go with the Hot Sack VBL from Western Mountaineering at only 4.5 oz. Get\’s you 15 degree warmth and still under 4.5 lbs.

  6. I cant wait to see you become an industry leader!
    Your info is easy to read with zero fluff, thank you.

  7. So when are you going to replace that heavy siltwinn tarp of yours with the cubictwinn?

  8. Pack: REI Traverse TriStar 3.6 lb (no idea what I paid for it, Mom bought it 14 years ago)
    Shelter: TarpTent Rainbow 2 lb. ($225)
    Bag: Marmot Pinnacle 2.5 lb. ($300)
    Pad: Basic blue closed-cell foam 10 oz. ($20, I think)

    This gets me just under 9 lb., so there’s still room for improvement.

  9. The tough part of lightweight gear is evaluating it from afar…much of it is available only over the internet.

    My husband and I are a team. Our gear:
    Big Sky 2P tent 3Lbs $400
    Marmot sleeping bags 2lbs ?$230
    3/4 foam pad 9oz $20
    ULA Packs 2lbs 12oz $185

    Tent was a bit pricey, but it has performed perfectly in some nasty conditions, and the company has taken good care of us!

    • @Spitfire: Thanks, I appreciate that. I’m not much for writing prose, but as long as the point makes it across I’ll be happy.

      @Ellen: I agree, not being able to see gear in person before buying it is a challenge. I live in a small town so I buy everything off the internet too. I order a lot of new gear and return it or sell it on Ebay later. Course more than I’d like to admit makes it’s way into my unused “gear closet” too :P

      @Dennis: It’s tempting to switch to the lighter tarp. But one thing I like about silnylon is that it’s real sturdy. I tend to be pretty rough on gear and I like that the sil tarp will take a few years of abuse and keep on ticking.

      Thanks everyone for posting your Big 3. Keep em coming, It’s interesting to see what kind of gear other hikers are using.

  10. Hey Erik!
    My “Big 3″ weigh in as follows:

    Tent- Tarptent Contrail- 24.5oz
    Gossamer Gear GrCloth- 1.5 oz

    Backpack- ULA’s Conduit- 2lb, 1 oz (as weighed- sm pack, sm belt)

    Sleeping System- Marmot’s Arroyo 30F- 1lb 8 oz
    Marmot’s Helium 15F – 2lb 2 oz
    Sleeping Pad- NeoAire- 14 oz

    Totals for that setup is- 6lb 1oz for the 30F setup, and 6lb 11oz for the 15F setup.

    Thanks for letting me contribute!!

  11. I want to say I really enjoy reading your information – Hope to see you on the trail someday!
    Currently I carry:
    •Pack: Gregory’s Z55 3 lbs. 15 oz. ($160.)
    •Tent: Big Agnes Fly Creek UL2 2 lbs. 2 oz. ($349.)
    •Sleeping bag: Western Mountaineering Highlite 1 lb. 8 oz. ($200.)
    •Pad: Therm-a-rest NeoAir Reg. 14 oz. ($150.)
    Total weight: 8 lbs. 4 oz. Not bad for having all the comfort.

  12. I’m still learning, would love some feedback Here’s my list and comments

    BP= REI womens Flash65 = 3#3oz (Fits and I can adjust straps on my narrow shoulders and back (injuries) I tried lower weight but need a great hip belt where I put most of weight

    Tent: Trying Erik the Black’s setup
    8×10 siltarp = 14 oz
    Sea2Summit bug pyramid = 9
    tyvek ground cloth = 7
    but I was cold all 3 nights in it so far. Trying to decide if I should get the Big Agnes Copper Spur ul1 tent = 2# 11oz for more warmth. Thoughts?

    Sleep: Marmot Helium MemBrane = 2# 6oz (Extra 5 oz lets me cowboy camp with down bag or if I use a tarp in rain.
    NeoAir small 9 oz
    1/3 foam pad 5 oz (use for day naps as well)
    So I’m high on weight. Where would you cut?

    • @Mickye: If you are looking to cut weight I think your pack is the best candidate. Since you are cold at night already you probably don’t want to go with a lighter bag and your shelter weight will be going the opposite way if you decide to switch to a tent.

      One backpack a lot of female hikers I know have had good luck with is the Granite Gear Vapor Ki. It weighs 2lbs 5 ounces. Another good pack is the Ultralight Adventure Equipment Circuit. It’s not specifically designed for women, but a lot of girls use it and it has a pretty nice hip belt. It weighs 2lbs 4 ounces.

      I bought a Big Agnes Copper Spur UL1 last year to test it out. It was a very well designed tent, but unfortunately too small for me (I’m 6 feet tall) and a little too heavy (3 lbs) so I ended up returning it. If you are shorter it might work well for you. I was always brushing up against everything. I worried that the materials (especially the mesh) may be a little too flimsy for a long distance hike because they are so thin and light, but Big Agnes makes quality products so I could be wrong about that. I know some hikers who have used the Big Agnes Seedhouse SL1 for mutiple 2,000+ mile treks.

      Another shelter you may want to consider is the Henry Shires Tarptent Rainbow. It’s only slightly over 2 lbs and is very similar to a free standing tent.

      If you are comfortable carrying your current pack there really isn’t anything that says you have to cut weight at all. Even if you get the 3 pound tent and continued using your current pack, your pack weight wouldn’t be terribly egregious. And it’s not really about the numbers anyway, but how it feels when you carry it. A more comfortable camp may be worth a few extra pounds for you.

  13. * Backpack: SMD Swift – 19 oz
    * Shelter: SMD Gatewood Cape + AMK Heatsheets Blanket– 13.5 oz
    * Sleeping Bag: Montbell UL Super Spiral Down Hugger #3 – 20 oz
    * Sleeping Pad: GG Nightlight Torso – 2.5 oz

  14. Hi Erik, here are my ‘Big 3′ as of now:

    Sleeping Bag – North Face Superlight – 3 lb 2 oz.
    Old but still very functional.

    pad – Exped Synmat7 insulated air mattress – 1 lb 8 oz.
    A bit heavy but I sucumb to comfort.

    Tent – Sierra Designs Light Year – 3 lb 4 oz.

    Pack – ULA Catalyst – 2 lb 7 oz.

    Total 10 lb 5 oz.

    Definitely room for improvement.
    I am thinking about trying out your siltwin tarp shelter (but I would need to be able to defend against mosquitos).
    Once I am comfortable with my overall setup I might look into downsizing the pack.
    I could get a new sleeping bag and save a pound there but right now there are too many other things on my spending list.
    If it were really necessary, I could switch from the air matress to a Thermarest pad (which I have in the basement) and shave some ounces there.
    I am anxiously waiting for warmer weather so I can see what works best..

  15. Pack – 2007 Gossamer Gear Mariposa size small = 18 oz
    Shelter – Gossamer Gear one – 21 oz including stakes, lines and polycro ground cloth.
    Montbelle Spiral UL 3 (30 degree down bag) 19 oz.
    Neoair short = 9.5 oz.
    I sometimes us a ULA amp pack (10 oz), Western mountaineering Highlight (16 oz), Neoair short (9.5 oz), Backpackinglight Stealth tarp with stakes, lines and ground cloth (12.5 oz).This is my warm weather, fast and light set up.

    I rarely use a full on tent anymore. I love seeing just how light I can go and still be comfy. I love your site; all the good stuff with none of the BS.

  16. As a smaller female (5′-2″~110 lbs), i have the same problem i think Mickye might be descrbing with regard to finding a good, UL pack. it seems most of the cottage industry guys (SMD, GG, ULA, etc)only make men’s packs and then call them unisex so they can sell them to women as well. That may work for larger women, but for us shorties – not so much! Not to mention the cut, straps, waist size and placement & everything else is not proportioned properperly to give the right fit.

    So my solution – and the lightest female specific 50L pack – is the GoLite Women’s Pinnacle weighs in at just under 2 lbs at 31 ounces. The jam is a bit smaller and about 5 oz. lighter.

    So my Pinnacle pack is the heaviest of my Big 3 items, but it is very comfortable and roomy when I need higher volume gear. it also has a built in compression system to reduce the size of the pack when carrying less volume.

    My tent is GG The One, with ground cloth weighs 16 oz.

    I’m happy with a tent. I get cold easy (My Hawaii blood!), plus the total weight of most tarp systems (tarp, ground cloth, bivy) is more than The One.

    my sleeping bag is the Katabatic gear Palisade 30 degree quilt, size small – 16.4 ounces. it’s new and I haven’t used it yet, so I hope it’s warm. it’s really well made and i like it – it looks sturdy, etc. Plus, the amount of down fill weight is equal to or more than most other high end (ie Montbell, Nunatek, WM, etc) down bags rated as 15 degree bags. So i think it will be comfortable a t temperatures lower than the 30 degree rating.

    My sleep pad is the TR Z-Lite, size small at 10 ounces, which I think is a bit heavy, but I use it in my pack as the back sheet, so whatever i find better would have to serve that purpose as well.

    So my total is ~ 4 lbs 10.4 ounces.

    Like I said, if i could find a lighter female specific pack and lighter pad, I think i could do better, but for now I think this is it.

    oh yeah, forgot my tent stakes, they add about 2 ounces. so total is 4 lb 12.4 oz!

  17. @Susan, I’m in exactly the same boat at 5’2″ and ~110 lbs. I also have a *very* small torso, even for my height.

    I’m new to lightweight backpacking and I dislike buying things like packs online. When I first started backpacking, I ended up with a lightweight pack because it was the only one that fit me. Definitely happy about that purchase now that I know a bit more.

    The pack is a Gregory Arreba (http://gearx.com/gregory-arreba-womens-backpack.html). It’s 2lbs 4oz, so basically the same weight as the Vapor Ki, but it does have a smaller volume. The great advantage of my Arreba is that my local outdoor store stocked it at the time, so I was able to make sure I was comfortable with it before purchasing.

    Erik, I was super excited to read about the Vapor Ki, given the larger volume and the great sizing options for smaller women. From the specs, the short torso might even work for me!

    Susan, I’m sure you can empathize, but it makes me so happy when companies craft sensible, usable products for women. We need more of that in the backpacking world.

  18. i’ve just been to estonia with a ultra-light sleeping-bag and was amazed by the little packing size. nevertheless it was warm and comfortable (but: only for summer-nights) – my recommendation is the “partol” from mivall (for temperatures above 13 degrees)

  19. My vote goes to the Montbell UL Super Spiral Down Hugger #3 too. As a bigger guy (wider shoulders) I can’t really sleep in much else without being very uncomfortable and feeling like I’m in a straight jacket. The Montbell has made backpacking fun for me again.

    • @Outdoors Guy: Thanks for the suggestion. I’ve wanted to try out that Montbell bag for a long time. They look so comfy. The only thing that has stopped me is their “regular” length bag has a max height of 5’10″, instead of the standard 6 feet. I’m 6′ tall and can’t bring myself to carry the extra weight of the “long” bag, when I only need two extra inches. I suppose it’s probably because Montbell is based in Japan and the average height is shorter there.

  20. ETB,

    What model Leki treking poles do you use and why? Weight? How well they are made?

    I was looking at the Hennessey hammocks and have borrowed them from a friend a few times. I think I am going to check out your suggestion of a Gossamer Gear fly. The hammock was comfortable to sleep in but in under 32 degree conditions if you slid off you pad you get a cold spot immediately. Very comfortable to sleep in.

    Thank you for the rain video. One of my biggest concerns with the tarp setup.

    Jeff

    • @Jeff: My Leki poles are a few years old now. I don’t think they make the exact model anymore, but I’m sure they have something similar. Mine are called Leki Makalu Ultralite Titanium. They were pretty expensive when I bought them (close to $150) but well worth the price.

      When I first started long distance backpacking I thought trekking poles were dorky and unnecessary. But I quickly jumped on the bandwagon. They help absorb shock to your knees when going downhill, transfer some of the work of climbing from your legs to your arms, and are a lifesaver if you trip and fall.

      One time while hiking in the Cascades I stepped in a gopher hole and turned my ankle really badly. Luckily, I was able to stick a pole down to break my fall. I fell so hard that the pole bent in half at a 90 degree angle – but it did not break.

      After half an hour of cussing and crying I bent the pole back so that it was straight again, and continued hiking with my grapefruit-sized swollen ankle for another 200 miles. Without trekking poles I would have been stuck out there, unable to walk, for who knows how long. When I got home REI exchanged the bent pole for a brand new pair.

      I always carry poles now and feel naked without them. When I’m not using them they are light enough to attach to my pack, but 80% of the time they are in my hands.

  21. Hi Erik, just wanted to share my gear transition from the last 6 months. Shedding nearly 8 pounds makes a big difference.

    Current Big 3:

    Tent: ZPacks Hexamid Solo Tent – 16.03 oz – includes guylines, stakes, ground cloth, and stuff sack (sets up with 1 hiking pole).

    Sleeping Bag: Katabatic Gear Alsek 22 Deg Down Quilt – 22.1 oz – includes stuff sack.

    Sleeping Pad: ThermaRest Z-Lite short – 9.6 oz

    Pack: ZPacks Dyneema X Gridstop 2600 cu in – 12.5 oz

    Current Big 3 Total: 3.76 lbs

    Old Big 3:

    Tent: REI Quarter Dome T2 – 70 oz

    Sleeping Bag: Marmot Sawtooth 15 Deg Down Bag – 46 oz

    Sleeping Pad: REI Trekker 1.75 short – 26 oz

    Pack: REI Flash 50 – 42 oz

    Old Big 3 Total: 11.5 lbs

    Hiking is now so much more enjoyable and I have compromised little. My base weight is now below 8lbs for 3 season backpacking. I’ve gone out more this summer than the last few years put together. Just goes to show that you should do your own research rather than relying on the REI salesman all the time. Thanks Erik for the inspiring articles!

  22. Hey Erik, I am looking to buy a light backpack and was wondering what you would recommend. My BPW is 11.2 (not including a backpack), and currently I have a heavy 4lb backpack that I would like to replace. I was thinking about the ULA circuit, it is really big however.

    Thanks!,
    Tom

    • @Tom: The ULA Circuit is a great pack. If it is too big for your gear you might consider going down a size to the ULA Conduit (now called the CDT). That’s the pack I used on the Colorado Trail and Tahoe Rim Trail recently. Another good lightweight pack I have used in the past is the Granite Gear Vapor Trail. It’s sort of in-between the Circuit and CDT in size. Unfortunately it does not have the large external mesh pocket like the ULA packs do, which I find to be indispensable now.

  23. Hey great article. I’m curious as to what you think of hammock sleeping systems. In the early stages of contemplating a 2012 thru-hike, and it seems to me that with a hammock and tarp I’d be able to save loads of weight.

    • @Matt: I’ve never actually tried a hammock. I tend to roll around and sleep on my side and stomach a lot, so I don’t think it would work for me. But if you are used to sleeping on your back all night, or you find laying in a normal hammock to be really comfortable it might be a good idea. Just make sure that wherever you will be hiking there will be trees to pitch it from. On the southern part of the Pacific Crest Trail and John Muir Trail there are many places with no trees.

  24. I am not so worried about being a gram counter but make much of my own gear and try to keep the weights down. Here’s my Big 3:
    Marmot Helium bag – 32
    POE Elite AC pad 11
    Homemade Silnylon “The One” clone – 27
    Dynema X-grid MYOG pack – 24

    I used this gear to thru-hike the JMT and it worked great – especially the pack, able to fit Garcia bear canister horizontal.
    Oh yea – BPW was 15# w/canister.
    -Dale

  25. Hi,

    I’m fairly new to this whole backpacking thing, but what I’ve done so far, I’ve really enjoyed. My wife and I are considering doing more of it, but are on somewhat of a budget. What backpack/bag would you recommend for someone one a budget. We’re not looking to spend more than a couple hundred bucks right now.
    Thanks,
    Mike

    • @Mike: The good news is that lightweight backpacks are less expensive than big heavy ones. Most lightweight backpacks are less than $200. Two good beginner packs are the Granite Gear Vapor Trail and the Ultralight Adventure Equipment Circuit.

  26. Hey Erik Love the site and all the work you put into it.

    What are your thoughts on bivys on the pct? I have the OR Adv Bivy (2lbs 7oz) as well as the TiGoat Ptarmigan Bivy (6oz) . Would just the bivy be sufficient for the pct or some sort of tarp/bivy setup work better?

    Cheers!

    • @Trevor: I have to admit that I have never used a bivy before so I can’t comment on how well they work. I can tell that I do not see very many PCT hikers using them. A few concerns about using a bivy is that they seem like it would feel claustrophobic, and there might be a problem with trapping condensation inside and having it drip back down onto your bag. Maybe someone who has more experience with bivy camping can comment.

  27. Erik I noticed your hike included an ARC Ghost. I’m considering getting one to start my spring hiking in (northeast). How did you like it? Thanks again.

    • @Jester: Actually, my sleeping bag is a Marmot Helium. I’ve never used a sleeping quilt before because I roll around a lot when I am sleeping as the lack of a bottom would probably open up at some point during the night and let cold air in. But, if you are comfortable sleeping flat on your back, I have heard that a quilt is nearly as warm as a sleeping bag and much lighter weight.

  28. I have a 14 year old son. He has been a Boy Scout for three years now and loves backpacking. He takes a new osprey pack,his moms 20 year old marmot bag and a neo air treker pad sans tent. He wont let anyone touch his pack because it is so light. He told me I dont do this to carry stuff,I do it to have fun.

    Me I take the kitchen sink.
    Warren

  29. Erik – The $90 price listed above for the Gossamer Gear Murmur (see, “pack” under “hyperlight”, conflicts with the $140 listed on the website that the above link for that item takes you to.

  30. Eric,

    Congrats on having a great blog! I am taking the bar in July, and I am starting to plan a “vision quest” of sorts for 1-2 months in August and September. I may try to thru hike a couple different trails, such as the Long Trail, John Muir, Wonderland, etc, but I have not decided for sure. Anyways, I have never thru hiked, and I started looking to upgrade my backpack to a larger pack only to discover that smaller may be better for a thru hike. Anyways, I’d love some advice on a backpack to suit my gear.

    Other than my pack, my big 3 will consists of the following:

    Sierra Designs Pyro 15–2 lb 6 oz
    Exped Synmat 7–1 lb 15 oz
    Sierra Designs Lightyear 1– 3 lb +

    I will save some weight by carrying an Esbit stove, as well.

    I want something light of course, durable, and inexpensive. I need something good for a novice, and I have been looking at the ULAs and Granite Gears, because they seem to be super popular. But I don’t think REI carries ULAs. Would you suggest ordering both and trying them on to see which fits best?

    All suggestions appreciated..

    • @Josh: Looks like you are off to a good start on your big three.

      I’ve never tried the Sierra Designs sleeping bag, but it looks light enough and a good price. The thing about the really high end sleeping bags is they cost a ton (about $400) so it’s not always worth the extra money just to save a few ounces unless you plan on using it a lot.

      I have an Exped Synmat (the lighter version that is only 16 ounces) and they are very comfy.

      I’ve also used a Sierra Designs Lightyear tent before. It’s a decent inexpensive beginner tent. Mine fell apart after about three months of continuous use, but I tend to be hard on my gear sometimes. If you do the JMT you will definitely want a fully enclosed shelter because the bugs can get really bad in the summer.

      Both the ULA and Granite Gear Packs are great, and like most good lightweight packs need to be ordered online. You can usually find them at Amazon.com or order direct from the manufacturer. I’ve used both packs extensively and there really isn’t much difference. They both work fine for the purpose.

      Both packs should do fine with the heavier tent occasionally. Sometimes I carry my 4 pound two-person tent strapped to the top of my little 17 oz ULA Conduit rucksack and it works fine.

  31. Oh! I forgot…

    I have a girlfriend who likes to backpack with me, and when she comes, I will likely carry a Mountain Hardwear Drifter (about 5 lbs), so I need it to be versatile enough to carry a heavier load if necessary.

    Thanks

  32. I use a Go-Lite Pinnacle pack (27 oz), an Oware bivy (13 oz), a silnylon tarp (16oz) and a Nunatak AT quilt (8oz). The quilt comes up to the armpits, so I wear my jacket and stocking hat and keep quite warm. I don’t mind the “closeness” of the bivy, but those who are susceptible to claustrophobia might not like it. There is occasionally some condensation, but nothing that won’t dry as the day goes on. The bivy helps with water blowing in under the tarp.

  33. I am looking to upgrade my sleep system this year – I have been internet browsing and recently stumbled across http://www.mountainhardwear.com/Mtn-Speed%E2%84%A2-32-(Long)/OU8479_L,default,pd.html
    This Mountain Hardwear bag weighs in at 15.7 oz and is rated to 32 degrees – has anyone had a chance to use or get their hands on one and can relay their thoughts? I am also going to upgrade from the 3/4 RidgeRest foam pad to the NeoAire Xlite – 3 week long trips with the RidgeRest and even though it is only 9 oz I think its worth an extra 4-5 oz for better nights rest.

    • @Rodge: I haven’t tried it, but the Mtn Hardware looks like a nice bag for summer hiking and if you are thin and don’t mind the snug fit. If you’re planning to extend your hikes into the early spring or late fall I would be worried that it might not be warm enough.

      Sometimes with ultralight sleeping bags if it seems too good to be true it is. Some weight can be saved by using a lightweight shell material, high fill power down (800+) and replacing the full zipper with a half zipper. After that the only way to cut more weight is by eliminating down and surface area (usually by making the bag narrower, shorter or cutting out the bottom like a quilt).

      I think manufacturers are sometimes too generous with their temperature ratings. I’ve slept in a couple of mid-30 rated bags that didn’t hold up once the temp dropped below 50 degrees. But that will vary from person to person, depending on whether you are a “warm” or “cold” sleeper.

  34. Backpack: Gregory Z55 63oz.
    Shelter: BD Beta Light w/ Beta Bug 48oz.
    Sleeping bag: WM Summerlite 32 degree 19oz.
    Sleeping pad: 3/4 Ridgerest 9oz.
    Trash compactor bag: 1oz.

    my next upgrade is the back pack. I’m quite smitten by the ULA OHM 2.0, my only concern being back sweat. The Gregory packs, like the Osprey packs are designed to allow airflow between the pack and the hiker. ULA packs look like they ride right up against ones back, and (ok, I’ll admit that I get out for about a week each summer around the 2nd week of August)when I’m powering up a ridge on a sunny day and it’s 85 in the shade I tend to sweat a bit. Seems like a piece of nylon with a closed cell camp mat behind snug up against ones back would get pretty soaked. Any suggestions on the ULA back sweat quandary?

    As for shelter, I have an Oware Drawcord bivy and have used it with a sil tarp, but the insects won. A great rig for the fall when the bThus I opted for the Black Diamond Beta System. Being able to sit

    • @Walks-a-heap: I carry a ULA pack (Conduit) and haven’t noticed any excessive back sweat problems. If I remember correctly the pack does not fit snugly against my entire back. There is a gap where my spine curves in that allows air to blow in and evaporate sweat. Since the back of the pack is nylon it does not absorb and hold onto sweat like a foam back pad does. I think it just stays on top of the nylon for a short time and then evaporates. I would definitely recommend ULA packs. I’ve been using them for years and love mine.

  35. Eric, thanks for all the information and content on your site! It has helped me to begin hiking again after a 20 year hiatus.

    I live in Atlanta and have purchased a Lightheart Solong 6 tent and am looking at the Montbell UL spiral or Western Mountaineering 3 season down bags that i would stuff into a UL dry sack. My old friend says I’m absolutely crazy to buy a down bag and is recommending a Wiggy’s that would be 3#’s more than down and twice the stuffed size, because it will keep you alive/warm if wet.

    Can you give me some pointers on your experience with down?

    • @Re-entry: I have always used down bags and have never had any problem with them getting so wet that the loft degrades significantly, even when camping in snow and wind-blown rain in an open sided tarp. The trick is to keep the bag dry at all times (which is easy to do). When you are not using it keep it inside the waterproof sack and don’t take it out until you get into camp and set up your shelter. The only way your bag can get wet then is if you have a bad shelter that does not protect from precipitation or does not ventilate properly and causes condensation to gather on the inside walls of the shelter and drip onto the bag (or if you are camping somewhere that is so humid that the water in the air just soaks through it, which is rare). Even if the bag does come in contact with some water the shell on most high end down bags is water resistant enough to keep the down from becoming totally soaked. Down is really the only way to go for lightweight three season hiking. Every hiker I know uses a down bag and would not go near a synthetic bag with a ten foot pole… unless there were some crazy extreme weather conditions that would warrant it.

  36. Thank you Erik!

  37. Ive just gotten back into backpacking since being out of it for most of my adult life – Nature calls!! Instead of opting for going straight to rei and buying whatever I found, I did a ton of research and opted for a nice mean between comfortable and ultralight with my full base weight being under 10lbs. My big three are as follows:

    Ohm 2.0 without bladder/extras – 27oz
    quilt – enLIGHTenment 30 overstuff – 21oz
    pad – synmad UL7 – 15 oz
    tent – golite shangri-la w/ ti stakes – 33oz

    Im right at 6 lbs with a heavy tent.. However, I am on a budget, and got it for 90 bucks used.. so my entire big 3(4) was under 600 bucks! Check out enLIGHTenment equipment for ridiculously bargain prices on great quilts. The golite shangri-la is alright for now, but my next purchase will be a shires, most likely. Then again, for summer in Florida with only a silk bag and almost no extra clothes for a weekend – Its like Im carrying nothing.

  38. Been getting my gear weight down on the big 3 just having trouble picking a shelter. would like to go tarp but have bugs in southern indiana. Recomendations anyone?
    Here is the gear so far.

    Pack-Gossamer Gear G4-16oz
    Bag-Western mountaineering Highlite-17oz
    pad-Thermarest NeoAir Xlite- 12oz

  39. dang ya’ll paid way too much for that weight. Mind you 16oz is a pound!

    I paid 75$ at walmart for a 65L internal framed pack by coleman max. yeah its made by someone else but who cares! (its prbly made by offsprey by the way its styled) weighs in at about 2 lbs

    marmot alpine 20F sleeping bag – a display from Dick’s sporting goods. $99 not including discounts of 10% for display, a $10 off coupon and some rewards in there too. totaled it down by $25. bag weights in around 3lbs

    Therm-a-Rest Basecamp $40 for a demo because they did not have one in stock. still holds air for a week before it needs a top off. weighs in around 2.5 lbs but at the end of the day that last thing i want to do is fight with a rock under my bedding. so its worth the weight.

    last but not least an ancient gore-tex bivy that i have used heavily for about 10 years. weights in around a pound and a half. needs replacing after a few campfire burn holes but i can’t findem in goretex anymore that are this tough. gosh a traded some dumb stuff on the trail for it. it was clunky gear and some chocolate if i recall.

    oh and a silk liner for a second sleeping bag which adds 5-10 degrees for chilly summer nights. yep its great for those hot night in the bivy. made it myself from a close out of silk and goodwill garments. grams and slave labor dirt cheap.

    so all in all i got it at around 9lbs. there are some improvements that could be made but highly unlikely at the grand total of less than $200 for the whole kit that sleeps down to 0-10 degrees with options.

    money doesn’t always have to be there to buy the best you just have to be willing to work at it and not “cop out” and buy what cleaver marketing has told you what to buy.

    just get out to the woods and beat your gear as it should be ya know its going to be outdated before long anyway. it will last for a decade even then.

    • @Joni: The value of weight savings depends on how much hiking you plan to do. For a long distance backpacker who needs to hike 20+ miles a day, six days a week, 9 pounds for the big three is too heavy. The number one reason most aspiring thru-hikers are unable to complete their hikes is due to stress injuries (like blisters, plantar fasciitis, bone spurs, back pain, etc.) which can be alleviated by reducing pack weight. On the other hand, if you are only going to hike a few days at a time then the extra weight will not be such a big burden, and you can enjoy backpacking without having to shell out thousands of dollars for gear, as you have suggested.

  40. yank in tennessee Reply March 29, 2013 at 3:06 pm

    My “big 3″ are:

    Pack: Old North Face Extreme 80 knockoff from a yard sale: 2Lb 10oz $10

    Shelter: Byer mosquito Hammock: 14oz $20
    Eno ProFly Tarp: 1Lb6oz $79
    Sleep system: Cold weather: REI Zephyr 20+ : 2Lb 14oz $103
    Warm Weather: Fleece blanket: 8oz $15

    Cold Weather weight: 7Lb 12oz
    Warm Weather weight: 5Lb 6oz

    Total Cost: $227

    By switching to a hammock sleep system i can reduce weight by not having to have poles/footprint/sleep pad etc. There’s nothing like the feeling of weightlessness in a hammock to lull your aching body to sleep after days on end on the trail.

    I’ve concluded that in certain circumstances it’s worth it to spend more, but too often new hikers think they need “the best” most expensive equipment when in reality a lot of it can be gotten on the cheap secondhand, fashioned yourself, or re purposed from something else. Then later on after you’ve experimented you will know specifically where to spend your money

  41. My big three is:

    Osprey Exos 58 : 2 pounds 8 Oz -180 Dollars
    Tent: Lightheart SoLong Standard 2 pounds- 300 Dollars
    EnLightened Equipment 20 degree quilt 23 OZ 200 dollars
    Klymit Static V sleeping pad 18 OZ 60 Dollars

    Overall : 7 pounds -735 Dollars

  42. Eric, I just found your site and love it. I’m new to backpacking and learning a lot here. What do you think of the Eureka Solitaire 1 Man Tent? Thanks, Tim

  43. Hi Eric

    Your site is great! I have a question about your SoLong vs a freestanding tent such as a BA or even a tarptent rainbow. In the sierras, especially on the PCT or JMT, does a trekking pole tent limit your site selection, or do you not really have a problem staking it in the sand or around the rock slabs?

    • @John: I worried about this too when I first started using non freestanding tents and tarps. But it turned out not to be a big issue. I’ve always managed to find stakeable ground when needed. I suppose in an emergency you could tie the guylines down with rocks, but I haven’t had to do this yet.

  44. Big Three:

    Granite Gear A.C. Leopard 58 – 49oz. – 200
    (Minus Lid saves about 9oz.)
    TT Contrail – 24oz. – 199
    GG Polycro groundcloth – 1.5oz – 5
    Kelty Cosmic 20 Down – 44oz. – 60
    Big Agnes Q Core SL – 19oz. – 70

    Total weight 128.5oz = 8.03 lbs.

    Happy with the weight of everything except the bag, but for 60 bucks I’ll deal with the weight. Gotta love REI Gear sales.

  45. Hi Erik,
    Thanks for the tips on your website; it’s really usefull.
    I had a question about how to stack my gear into my bag… I have all the three but it looks like i don’t have a lot of place to put my tent in my bag…and my sleeping pad is on the bottom of my bag and my sleeping bag fits in it.

    • @Marc: Here is a post showing how I usually pack my gear. When I carried a tarp I used to pack it in the outside mesh pocket. But now that I have a slightly more bulky shelter I typically pack it in the bottom of my pack unfurled (not inside the stuff sack) below the sleeping bag. I fold my sleeping pad into a rectangle and place it vertically against the back wall of the pack so that it doubles as a back pad. If you have a foam pad you might want to strap it to the outside instead since they are more bulky.

  46. Hey Erik, I dig you site! I’ll be thru-hiking the PCT this upcoming season and I have 2 of my “big 3″ picked out, but I need a little help on the 3rd: my sleep system.

    Pack: Osprey Exos 46
    Shelter: Big Agnes Seedhouse SL1
    Sleep System: ??

    Since you have thru-hiked the PCT, as well as hiked various portions separately, I would really appreciate any insight on a lightweight and warmth appropriate bag/pad combination. Thank man!

    • @Kyle: The PCT can get pretty cold in some spots so I prefer a 15 degree down sleeping bag. Some PCT hikers prefer to carry something a bit lighter in the 20-30 degree range, but I tend to keep my clothing to a minimum and rely on a heavier bag to make up the difference. In the summer, when it is warm I unzip it and use it like a blanket, controlling temperature by sticking my feet out or rolling it down to expose my torso. The sleeping bag I use on all of my hikes now is the Marmot Helium. It’s rated at 15 degrees, pretty lightweight at around 2 pounds, uses high quality down and is super-comfy. It’s little brother: the 30 degree Marmot Hydrogen is also good, but in my opinion that’s not quite warm enough for the PCT.

      I like inflatable sleeping pads because they are more comfy and less bulky than foam ones. One thing is you will get punctures on the PCT so carry a patch kit. My old Thermarest had so many little pink patches on it that it looked like it had the measles. I have an Exped Synmat 7 now, which I like very much and is a little heavy at 16 oz. Before that I used the Thermarest Prolite 3. I’ve also heard lots of good things about the Thermarest Neo Air, which is a few ounces lighter than the Exped.

  47. -Eric
    Thanks man! I really appreciate the input.

  48. Eric,

    Thank you for all the great information on this site and youtube. I have been working on a setup after being away from backpacking for too long.

    Exos 46 large: 39 oz.
    Supermega Tent: 39 oz.
    Xtherm: 15 oz.
    Phantom 45 16 oz.
    or
    Phantom 32 23 oz.
    or
    Phantom 15 32 oz.

    (I know, three bags to chose from depending on location)

    I have been lucky in my buys. I have managed to get some great prices with reading and waiting.

    I’m looking at the West Coast Trail in Sep. next year and start with some weekend hiking and backpacking to build up.

    I did not see much information on the Supermega tent but it looks great?

    Due to wet area that I’m looking at, I added a brook range sleeping bag cover.

    Also, I would Like to know how you like you like you thermawrap vest. I picked one up today for about $83.00.

    Thank you again,
    Michael

  49. I just got back from an overnight backpacking/hunting trip that included a 3000 foot climb over 2 miles. I have lighter and smaller packs and gear, but it was cold (single digits and windy), I had to haul a rifle and other hunting/field dressing gear, and all the water i would need on my back, so I needed a pack with a lot of space.

    I used my old, bulky, and heavy Jansport Big Bear 80 (~$100, 68 ounces), Kelty Cosmic Synthetic 20 (~$100, 62 ounces), and split the weight of an old Kelty Salida 2 man tent (~$150, 36 ounces split).

    My total big three weight was a whopping 10 pounds 6 ounces. My rifle, bullets, game bags and other game cleaning gear, food, water, and warm clothing for just an overnight camp almost broke my back. I can definitely do better with the tent and sleeping bag (I don’t know why I didn’t bring my Helium 15 degree down bag or my Fly Creek UL2 tent). But the trick for hunting is finding an ultralight pack that will #1 fit a rifle and #2 support the extra weight of said rifle and other hunting gear and potentially 80 pounds of meat.

  50. Just getting started on my PCT buying spree. I am a smaller woman too, 16 in. torso, and the pack I have bought is the ASOLO ULTRALIGHT 55 PACK coming in at 1.98 lbs and only costs $89.99. I think from my brief jaunts in it that it will work out very well.

    I found the EMS WOMEN’S MOUNTAIN LIGHT 0° SLEEPING BAG at 2 lb 10 oz. through the editors pick at backpacking mag. They picked the 15 degree but I’ve been reading journals from PCT hikers and they all go on about cold nights. I want a warm bag. Eastern Mountain Sports gives all sorts of discounts so it can be had at well under $400. Still, I’m waiting for that $$ to show up.

    My sleeping pad is a Therm-a-Rest Trail Scout Mattress and is 1lb. 8oz. Not the lightest but way more economical than the rest I saw. It’s comfy and I love it.

    The Eureka! Spitfire – Tent is on my list of affordable shelter. It’s 2lbs. 12oz. and only costs $110 on Amazon. I’m also considering a siltarp and GG ground cloth. I could use some guidance here.

    So with this set up I am coming in at 9.02 if I go for the tent over the tarp. That would be pretty good I guess. Have I mentioned I hate the packing part of backpacking? I want to go as low as I can go on as little money as possible.

    • @Trisha: The best thing you can do to avoid the cold nights on the PCT is get to Canada by early September. Most of the really cold nights are those last few weeks in the fall in the Pacific Northwest. The majority of the rest of the trail has moderate temperatures with only a few isolated cold nights where a 15-20 degree bag is good enough. I know it’s easier said than done, but if you can keep a slightly more disciplined pace and get to Canada before the bad weather hits, you will have a more enjoyable trip overall.

      Regarding your shelter, since warmth is important to you, I would go for an enclosed shelter instead of the tarp. Tarps are good minimalist shelters if you don’t mind the elements, but they aren’t as warm as a tent because they let a lot more of the “outside” in. A tent will keep more of your body heat trapped around you.

      If you can afford it, I recommend one of the shelters from Six Moon Designs, Lightheart Gear or Tarptent. If you do go with the Eureka, just make sure to baby it, because they are cheaply made and you might have problems with durability on a 2,600 mile hike. I had one before and it exploded after 1,000 miles.

      Good luck :)

  51. Thank you so much for weighing in on this Eric. I happened to get your reply while a friend was here. She just happens to have a Six Moon Designs Lunar Solo she is willing to sell me! As it is used, I can afford it. We went out to the park and pitched it – It’s great! That is a go.

    She also has an awesome sleeping bag which she is quite attached to but may consider selling me, a North Face Maxwell’s Demon (now discontinued) which weighs practically nothing (under 3 lbs anyway) and has the lower temp rating I would feel comfy in. Women’s journals through the Sierras indicate they are sometimes uncomfortably cold with their 20 degree rated bags so I’m still going warmer. I recently spent a VERY uncomfortable night in a bag rated to 30 on a night that it was 30. Had it not been for my down jacket, polar fleece bottoms and my dog I think I’d have died out there. I swore all that night I’d never leave my house again. I don’t ever want another night like that.

    Thanks again for your input. I am devoted to your blog posts. Really informative and useful. Very glad you are here.

  52. Hey Erik. Thanks for a great blog. Clear and factual, a joy to read.

    Has anyone tried the YETI PASSION sleeping bag? At 320g (11oz) it has got to be the lightest bag around…but is it warm?

    • @Agis: According to the YETI website the Passion sleeping bag has 125 grams (4.4 oz) of 850+ fill-power down insulation. High-end summer bags like the Western Mountaineering Summerlite and Marmot Atom have twice as much down (around 10 ounces). My three season bag (Marmot Helium) has 21 ounces of down. The more and higher quality down is inside the warmer a bag will be. The Yeti bag might be OK for sleeping in hostels and shelters, or outside on the warmest of summer nights. But I would not trust it for anything beyond that.

  53. Go Lite Jam 50 1 lb. 14 oz $100.00
    Go Lite adventurer 850 down bag 2 lbs. 14 oz. $149.00
    Thermarest z lite 10 oz. can’t remember the price
    Eureka spitfire 1 with aluminum stakes. 2 lbs 6 oz. $59.00 tent $19.00 stakes

    So far so good!

  54. Erik,

    I’m looking for a good sleeping bag. Seriously considering the REI Igneo 19 degree down bag. For the Long it’s 31 ounces and with the 20% off coupon right now it would be $255. I “tried it on” a couple weeks ago and liked it, but wanted to make sure it’s the right bag before buying.

    Are there other options in the under $300 range that would be better? Sleeping bag is the last item on my “big 3″

    I did end up ordering a Tarptent Rainshadow 2, just waiting for it to arrive.

    Thanks,

    Doug.

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