How can I shave pounds off my backpacking-gear setup?

I've been a backpacker for 30-plus years, and recently I've noticed my knees complaining after steep downhill stretches. I'm considering making a shift to ultralight gear, and I think a lightweight trail-running shoe is a good start. Can you offer some suggestions for someone making this switch? Kurtis Seattle, Washington


On the one hand, I completely agree that paring pounds off your pack is a great thing. And it’s not hard to do—with just a little effort, today’s lightweight gear makes it possible to shave 10 to 15 pounds off a basic load (tent, sleeping bag, stove, etc.). And if you’re diligent, you can peel off even more.

Gregory Z55 backpack

Z55 Backpack

But, I’d suggest you start with the load itself, then work down to lighter footwear. I’m not a proponent of trail-runners-as-hiking-boots in the first place (not enough support or foot protection), and that goes double when you’re carrying a big load. So make your pack lighter before switching out boots.

Where to start? You can make pretty big gains by swapping out your tent, sleeping bag, and pack. Marmot’s new Zonda 2P tent ($289), for instance, sleeps two and weighs just under four pounds, two or three pounds less than two-person tents of even five years ago. MontBell’s U.L.SS Down Hugger 4 sleeping bag ($255) is good to 35 degrees and weighs a feathery one pound, five ounces. Gregory’s Z55 pack ($199) can handle today’s lighter loads for trips of four or five days; it weighs just three pounds, five ounces. So between those three items, you cut the load by probably seven or eight pounds compared with similar stuff from several years back.

Once you’ve done that and trimmed your clothes-load a little (REI’s $199 Taku Jacket weighs about half what rainwear used to), then take a look at your feet. But I’d go with a light boot, not a trail runner. Asolo’s FSN 95 GTX boots ($170) have the feel of a trail runner but the good support of a boot, plus they have a Gore-Tex liner. Or, there’s La Sportiva’s Onix boots ($135), which are more of a mid-height to suit your craving for light footwear. But they can handle trails and moderate loads, so as long as your ankles are in good shape, you’ll be fine!

The 2008 Summer Outside Buyer’s Guide is now on newsstands. Look for it online soon.

Filed To: Overnight packsTentsSleeping Bags
Lead Photo: courtesy, Gregory