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Trail Life

The Ultralight Summer Backpacking Kit

We wanted to see just how light we could make our summer backpacking setup—money and comfort be damned

We wanted to see just how light we could make our summer backpacking setup—money and comfort be damned

This one is for the gram counters. If you’re going out for more than a couple of nights and logging major miles on the trail each day, you’ll notice the weight of your gear starts to creep from your back and shoulders to your frontal lobe. It’s inescapable.

So I embarked on an experiment to see how many ounces I could shave off each item in an essential backpacking kit: pack, tent, bag, pad, boots, pants, insulating layer, and headlamp. The list I came up with is an exciting—and expensive—cheat code for any serious backpacker venturing out during the warmer months. 

In the end, I got the full setup to 165.5. ounces, or about 10.3 pounds. The caveat: the items below cost a total of $1,800. Lightweight gear ain't cheap, but it is worth it. Here's what I found. 


Hyperlite Mountain Gear 4400 Porter Pack ($375)

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(Courtesy Hyperlite)

Weight: 37.6 ounces

Even though it’s got a 70-liter volume, you could wear this pack to your next yoga class and not even feel it—it’s that light. The body is Hyperlite’s proprietary waterproof Dyneema fiber—basically a thin-but-super-strong plastic—which was originally designed for packrafting, but makes for a great trail pack, if the rest of your stuff is light, too.

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Honorable Mention: Gregory Paragon 58L Pack ($230)

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(Courtesy Gregory)

Weight: 63 ounces

More of a traditional pack—with frame, ventilation, and other familiar features—the Paragon is engineered for long hikes. This is the better option for most of us: sure, you gain a few ounces over the Hyperlite, but you also gain way more structure, support, and comfort, for $145 less. 

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MSR Carbon Reflex 2 Ultralight Tent ($500)

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(Courtesy MSR)

Weight: 29 ounces

Two doors, two vestibules, a rain fly, a footprint, and enough headspace to sit up straight make this my favorite two-person backpacking tent. It uses sturdy carbon-fiber poles and its vestibules close with velcro instead of zippers to save weight. 

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North Face Hyper Cat Sleeping Bag ($250)

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(Courtesy The North Face)

Weight: 30 ounces (for a size regular)

A single center zipper is about the only observable feature on this bag, which was designed to be as simple as possible. It’s a 20-degree, three-season cocoon that packs down to about nine liters.

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Big Agnes Q-Core SLX Sleeping Pad ($160)

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(Courtesy Big Agnes)

Weight: 16 ounces (20 inches by 72 inches)

The best thing about this pad, besides the fact that it rolls up into the size of a yogurt container, is its quilted top, which you’ll gain a deep appreciation for sometime around night four on the trail. 

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Merrell Moab FST ($140)

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(Courtesy Merrell)

Weight: 30 ounces (for a size 12 men's)

This is everything I want in a hiking boot: waterproof mesh lining that breathes, air-cushioned heel, aggressive lugs, and some flexibility in the sole. Plus, the Noire model looks like something Batman would wear.

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Mountain Hardwear Ghost Whisperer Down Jacket ($320)

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(Courtesy Mountain Hardware)

Weight: 7 ounces (for men's size large)

It’s hard to comprehend how something this feathery-light could be so warm. This nylon puffy is the insulation layer I reach for when the sun goes down after a long day of hiking. And it packs down into the size of a tennis ball.

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Columbia Titan Peak Convertible Pants ($90)

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(Courtesy Columbia)

Weight: 15 ounces (for men's size large)

Columbia is the king of convertible pants, and this is the company’s latest design. It’s streamlined, with quick-zip pockets and reinforced zippers on the legs. Plus, it’s stretchy and waterproof, with UPF 50 sun protection.

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​Petzl e+Lite Emergency Headlamp ($30)

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(Courtesy Petzl)

Weight: 0.9 oz

The latest upgrade to the e+Lite is basically a keychain-sized LED with a piece of retractable dental floss for a head strap. It’s marketed as an emergency supply, but why not just swap it in for your heavier headlamp? It's not going to light up your entire campsite, but it's great for focused activities like cooking and reading.

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