Help! I need light backpacking gear.
What's the best lightweight gear for a weekend backpacking trip?
Outside's long reads email newsletter features our strongest writing, most ambitious reporting, and award-winning storytelling about the outdoors. Sign up today.
Weight—or a lack of weight—could be the most important gear innovation I’ve seen in the past decade. The gear I use today works just as well as it did in the 1990s. The difference is that it weighs a lot less.
MSR Hubba HubbaMSR Hubba Hubba
REI Quarterdome T2REI Quarterdome T2
Theoretically, you could bring dozens of items on a weekend backpacking trip, so I’ll stick to areas where I think you’ll find the biggest weight savings. First up, tents.
It wasn’t that long ago that a 2-person, 3-season tent tipped the scales at 6 or 7 pounds. Today, a two-person tent tent like MSR’s Hubba Hubba ($329) weighs 4 pounds 3 ounces and offers 29 square feet of floor space, 2 doors, and an excellent full-coverage fly. Along the same lines, Sierra Designs Vapor Light 2 ($300) weighs even less, at 3 pounds 5 ounces. The Vapor Light isn’t quite as roomy, but it provides enough space for two people and would make a beautiful solo tent.
I’ve also enjoyed REI’s Quarterdome T2 ($299), which is 3 pounds 14 ounces and comes with more ripstop nylon in the canopy than the tents from MSR or Sierra Designs, making it slightly warmer. And with 30 square feet, it’s bigger than both, too.
Mountain Hardwear LaminaMountain Hardwear Lamina
There’s plenty of weight to shed in sleeping bags, especially when it comes to down-filled bags. Marmot’s Hydrogen ($349), for instance, is rated to 30 degrees and weighs a mere 1 pound 8 ounces. Mont-Bell’s stretchy, comfortable U.L. Super Spiral Down Hugger #3 ($339) has a similar temp rating and weighs in at 1 pounds 6 ounces. And if the lower cost of a synthetic-fill bag appeals to you, take a look at Mountain Hardwear’s UltraLamina 32 ($220). It’s rated to 32 degrees and weighs 2 pounds.
Arc'teryx Beta SL jacketArc’teryx Beta SL jacket
It wasn’t that long ago a good rain jacket weighed between 20-22 ounces. No more. Westcomb’s new Specter LT Hoody ($300) weighshalf that, at 11 ounces. And it’s made from eVent, one of new-generation waterproof-breathable fabrics. Or take a look at Arc’Teryx’s Beta SL ($279), which uses Gore’s tried and tested PacLite. It’s an excellent light rain piece, although it not great for grubbing around on rock climbs.
MSR Reactor StoveMSR Reactor Stove
Weight savings in stoves come from super-efficient designs that reduce the amount of fuel you need to pack. Leading the way is the Jetboil Flash ($100), which consists of a burner and an integrated cookpot. It’s so efficient it can boil 11 liters of water with a single 100-gram butane canister. MSR’s Reactor ($159) boils less water per fuel canister, but its larger pot size is more practical for two or three people.
When the rest of your gear is light, you won’t need to carry a behemoth 6,000-cubic-inch pack to haul 60-pound loads. Instead, for trips between one and five nights, look for a pack like Gregory’s Z65 ($250), which has comfortable suspension and just under 4,000 cubic inches of capacity. Or go superlight with Osprey’s Exos 46 ($179), a 3,000-cubic-inch pack that weighs only 2 pounds 5 ounces.
Scarpa CycloneScarpa Cyclone
And, of course, with a lighter load on your back, you can wear lighter boots. Which is great—shedding an extra ounce on your feet feels like shedding a pound more up top. Oboz’s Yellowstone II boots ($150) are light, offer good support, and keep you on the trail with grippy soles. I’m also fan of Scarpa boots, like the lightweight Cyclone GTX ($150). They’re made with leather and nylon uppers, a Gore-Tex booty, and an excellent Vibram sole. You won’t find a better weekend boot around.