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 its not hard to dowith just a little effort, todays lightweight gear makes it possible to shave 10 to 15 pounds off a basic load (tent, sleeping bag, stove, etc.). And if youre diligent, you can peel off even more.
Gregory Z55 backpack
But, Id suggest you start with the load itself, then work down to lighter footwear. Im not a proponent of trail-runners-as-hiking-boots in the first place (not enough support or foot protection), and that goes double when youre 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. Marmots 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. MontBells U.L.SS Down Hugger 4 sleeping bag ($255) is good to 35 degrees and weighs a feathery one pound, five ounces. Gregorys Z55 pack ($199) can handle todays 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 youve done that and trimmed your clothes-load a little (REIs $199 Taku Jacket weighs about half what rainwear used to), then take a look at your feet. But Id go with a light boot, not a trail runner. Asolos 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, theres La Sportivas 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, youll be fine!
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