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Ultralight backpack recommendations
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Patricia Deutsch
(pdeutsch) - F
Ultralight backpack recommendations on 04/24/2011 11:17:52 MDT Print View

Preparing for my first ever backpacking trip which will be 10 days total at high altitude. I am a small woman (5'2", 110 lbs) and will be limited to a maximum of 30lbs as that is the supposed rules of the trip.

I have managed to get all my gear down to 18 lbs which includes backpack, tent, groundcloth, sleeping bag and mat, all clothing and misc. items including capacity for 4L of water. (the 18 lbs is without the actual water).

So in addition to the 18lbs or stuff, I will have to add water, max 4 days of food and a share of additional gear shared by all on the trip (pots, stoves, bear bags, etc).

My current pack is an Osprey Ariel 65 Ladies pack. I find the pack very comfortable and it seems to hold 30 pounds quite well. BUT, at 4lb 11oz this pack is a whopping 26% of the overall weight!!

I was considering replacing it with an REI Flash 65 Women's pack or the GoLite Quest Women's pack ...

Any recommendations for a lighter yet comfortable pack that can handle 30-35lbs?

Dale Wambaugh
(dwambaugh) - MLife

Locale: Pacific Northwest
Re: Ultralight backpack recommendations on 04/24/2011 11:54:57 MDT Print View

I would start by posting a list of all your items and weights in the gear list forum and work your base weight down. Do include the region and temperature range you expect. Also, are items like trekking poles and your worn clothing included in the total? We talk about base weight vs skin-out weights here. Base weight = everything in your pack, less consumables.

The water alone is going to add 4kg (nearly 9 pounds). Taking the pack weight off your 18 pound base weight, you have roughly 13.25 pounds and we can improve on that--- budget aside. You should be able to get to a 12 pounds base without getting any freaky light gear and 8 pounds is within reason.

Straight answer to your question: you want a pack with some sort of frame to handle 30-ish pound loads. You might get by with a smaller pack than 65l once you have the weight under control as volume tends to drop with the weight.

Roger Caffin wrote a great series of articles on light frame packs that is just the ticket for you (you might need to be a member to read them):

Finally, do you really need to carry 4 liters at a time?

David Drake
(DavidDrake) - F

Locale: North Idaho
Re: Re: Ultralight backpack recommendations on 04/24/2011 12:21:22 MDT Print View

First, +1 on everything Dale said.

Sounds like you're going with a group--are the trip leaders familiar with lightweight/ultralight backpacking? Reason I ask, sometimes traditional backpackers can be skeptical of lightweight approaches, and on your first backpacking trip it might be hard for you to stick to your guns.

30# is already more than 25% of your body weight, and you'll probably be over 30# with your current setup, even if you replace your pack.

If you can get your starting pack weight (base+food+water+fuel) down to 20-25#, you'll be much more comfortable, and have a much better time. Being a pack mule for 10 days is no fun.

If you don't have time yet to post a full gear list, just knowing the weight and type of your tent, your sleeping bag, and your pad will help with suggestions.

Edited by DavidDrake on 04/24/2011 12:23:18 MDT.

Steven Paris
(saparisor) - M

Locale: Pacific Northwest
Ultralight backpack recommendations on 04/24/2011 12:51:02 MDT Print View

+1 to Dale: "You might get by with a smaller pack than 65l once you have the weight under control as volume tends to drop with the weight."

I think that one of the key benefits to UL gear is that it is so much more compact. A lot of people here will recommend getting a new UL pack last, after you have your other gear picked out because then you can make an informed decision based on weight and volume.

That said, if you needed a pack sooner rather than later, a Granite Gear Vapor Trail Ki (on sale at for $101.97 and they have a short size) is a great transition pack, that can help you quickly lose 2.5 lbs and then you can work down to a frameless pack as you replace gear/if you want.

Patricia Deutsch
(pdeutsch) - F
Re: Ultralight backpack recommendations on 04/24/2011 13:31:14 MDT Print View

thanks for the responses. I'll try to answer the questions ...

My gear list is actually in an Excel spreadsheet that I used to enter weights, calculate totals, do what-ifs on, etc. Here are the main items:
1. tent: Big Agnes Fly Creek UL1 2lb3oz (ground cloth adds 3.9 oz)
2. sleeping bag: marmot ladies down 15 deg bag. I sleep cold and nights can get into the 20s. weighs 2lbs
3. sleeping mat:expend synmat UL7 14.7oz (a decent sleeping pad is one luxury I can not do without!!)

The weather over the 10 days will range from 90s during the day to as cold as 20s at night.

Trek poles and worn clothes are not in the weight.

I do not plan to carry 4L of H2O every day. There are a few days where water will not be available so might have to carry 2 days worth of water at the start of that two days so capacity to carry 4L is necessary. My water capacity is in the form of one standard bottle to drink from + three 1L platypus containers that weigh 0.9oz each.

Honestly, I thought I had done a good job already of minimizing the weight. I started at well over 25 pounds w/o water. EVERYTHING was weighed and I did all I could to chop of ounces. Examples: toothbrush weighs 0.1 oz because I took a head from a sonic brush, broke off the top part, hacked on it to remove the metal rod. Toothpaste 0.35oz: one of the pill containers sold here with tooth powder instead of toothpaste. I'm taking no change of clothes other than something to sleep in, etc., etc. My family thinks I have completely lost it :-) I am not sure what to delete at this point ... other than the pack being almost 5 of that 18 pounds.

Ken Helwig
(kennyhel77) - MLife

Locale: Scotts Valley CA via San Jose, CA
Re: Re: Ultralight backpack recommendations on 04/24/2011 13:54:24 MDT Print View

Patricia, I wish you would have asked for some pointers prior to buying your gear. Not that the stuff you have is bad or anything, but you have some lighter options available. You don't need a ground sheet for your tent for one thing. Just make sure the area that you will be setting up has no rocks or sticks. As for the tent, you could have purchased a tarp and bug net and it would weigh around 18 ounces for the two. I have a Gossamer Gear SpinnTwinn tarp and a Bearpaw Minalmist One for my bug bivy. Granted the price for the two combined is $285 or so. The weight of those two combined is 18 ounces. There are many wonderful packs out there that weigh less than what you have. If you want a pack with a frame, the Granite Gear Vapor Trail weighs in at a little of 2 pounds and has a capacity of 3600 cubic inches. They are also pretty inexpensive too. ULA, MLD, Z Packs and many more make wonderful framless packs. Just my two cents. Hope you have a fantastic trip. Just remember, backpacking is supposed to be fun.

Patricia Deutsch
(pdeutsch) - F
Re: Re: Ultralight backpack recommendations on 04/24/2011 14:00:37 MDT Print View


I had found info on the forums about the "tent-less" shelters (like the ones you mentioned) and had even thought about those "hammock" like sleeping shelters, however, for this trip a tent is required, no bivys, no hammock, no "fast fly" (which the Fly Creek UL1 supports), it must be a tent. Given that, the BA Fly Creek UL1 was the lightest I could find :-(

I'll check out the Granite Gear backpacks that have been mentioned!

John G
(JohnG10) - F

Locale: Mid-Atlantic via Upstate NY
Light Packs on 04/24/2011 14:31:47 MDT Print View

The Flash 50 works well with 30 lb loads. The Osprey Exos and Vapor Trail are just as good. All 3 weigh around 2 1/4 - 2 1/2 lbs in the small size (especially if you leave the lid off). REI carries all 3 as well.

Check out, and for single skin tents that weigh less. You may have to wipe off condensation in the morning with a bandanna in rainy & cool conditions, but that is lighter than the inner tent.

Your base weight seems heavy, but the choice you've listed seem OK. Your clothing choices or weights may be the problem. I recommend listing the pieces, maybe in a separate "clothing" post.

Dale Wambaugh
(dwambaugh) - MLife

Locale: Pacific Northwest
Re: Re: Ultralight backpack recommendations on 04/24/2011 14:38:24 MDT Print View

Any reduction in weight is good, but if you want to get it *light* you need to scrutinize every little thing.

The Big Agnes Fly Creek is good for a full double-wall tent. My only misgiving is the number of stakes required for a full pitch. Of course there are lighter options.

Dropping pack weight is one of the Big 3 and you know what needs to be done, it's just the particular model. Your sleeping bag looks good to me. You *can* go lighter with a pad, but you need to sleep. Try to "buy" those extra sleeping pad ounces somewhere in your list.

Do post a gear list and let the gram weenies tweak it for you. I'd love to see the recommended gear list you have to follow.

Edited by dwambaugh on 04/24/2011 14:40:04 MDT.

Mary D
(hikinggranny) - MLife
Ultralight backpack recommendations on 04/24/2011 14:51:44 MDT Print View

It would help if you posted your complete gear list. You can do this from your excel spreadsheet in your profile here. I'll bet there are some clothing and some cooking items that can be streamlined or eliminated. For example, the general rule in clothing is to take no more clothing than you would wear all at one time in the worst conditions you might encounter for the specific trip. Anything extra should be eliminated, except for one extra pair of socks. Changes of clothing (other than the socks) should be left in the car at the trailhead.

Re the tent: A Tarptent Contrail, which you can often find used, weighs 24.5 oz. including stakes. It's a fully enclosed tent so definitely should meet the requirements. That would save 10 oz. The ground cloth is not necessary (with any tent that has a floor!) so that's another 4 oz. That's too heavy for a ground cloth anyway. If your ground cloth is the "footprint" that store clerks inevitably try to sell you with the tent, return it to the store--those are a rip-off! A piece of plastic painters drop cloth or (more durable) the polycro used in plastic storm window kits works just as well if not better.

As suggested, look for a pack weighing 2 to 2.25 lbs, which would include packs from Granite Gear and from ULA. If at all possible, take your gear to the store with you to make sure it fits in the pack and that (most important!) the pack is comfortable for you.

With just a lighter tent and a lighter pack, plus eliminating the ground sheet, you have just saved close to 4 lbs.! Post the rest of your gear list and I'll bet we can get rid of another two or three!

Edited by hikinggranny on 04/24/2011 14:54:00 MDT.

Ken K
(TheFatBoy) - F

Locale: St. Louis
Philmont? on 04/24/2011 15:14:07 MDT Print View

It sounds like you're doing Philmont. If that's the case, you should also visit the Philmont forum on this website. There's lots of special rules for Philmont, but that forum will help you work within the rules to minimize your gear while maximizing your experience.

eric chan
(bearbreeder) - F
Fit fit fit on 04/24/2011 17:13:42 MDT Print View

Go to yr local retailer and try on every light pack witg the load you are going to carry

Any recommendation i give you on the intrawebs is totally useless if the pack doesnt fit you

Otherwise you could well be trying to return or resell itin a few weeks

Patricia Deutsch
(pdeutsch) - F
Thanks! and answers on 04/25/2011 05:53:37 MDT Print View

I will try to post my gear list on that forum. After seeing some of them, the spreadsheet is not quite up to snuff ... it does not list the actual make/model of things, just the weight.

MaryD ... if hinkinggranny is what it reads, I sure hope I am hiking when I am a granny!

Ken K ... yes it is Philmont so there are certain things required. Have been to the Philmont forums and debated about posting there or here, but figured a light weight pack question for women was more general than just Philmont.

On the gear list, honestly, (call me a wimp) but I don't think I am ready to sleep in the contrail based on photos of it! The gear weenies as they have been called would probably not like my raingear either (Marmot Precip). Really think the best gains can be made in the almost 5lb pack and the 2lb 13oz of "junk" ... cup, bowl, spoon, headlamp, blah blah. No idea how that stuff adds up to that much!

Also, I have shamelessly offloaded the shareable items to my teenage son (that idea was stolen from Doug Prosser's original Philmont article!)

Joe Clement
(skinewmexico) - MLife

Locale: Southwest
Ultralight backpack recommendations on 04/25/2011 08:08:29 MDT Print View

A ULA Circuit or Gossamer Gear Mariposa Plus will do wonders for the weight of your pack. And Dri-ducks instead of the Precip, you'll only get rained on for a while in the afternoon.

David Drake
(DavidDrake) - F

Locale: North Idaho
Re: Ultralight backpack recommendations on 04/25/2011 10:13:50 MDT Print View

Hi Patricia,
Thanks for posting more details. I think you may have plenty to cut (likely just leave behind) apart from the pack. You say your current base weight is 18#, and your tent+bag+pad add up to 5# 2 oz or so. Add in your current pack, and that puts weight for "big three" right around 10#, which means you have 8# of other stuff, NOT including stove, bear bag, etc and consumables (if I understood your post correctly).

If you swap your pack for one 2# or less, your big three is around 7#--my "lightweight" (not ultralight) list has about the same weight for big three, but total base with that list is a bit over 11#, including canister stove and bear hang. I also use a Marmot Precip, and that list includes a small multi-tool, not a gram-weenie razor blade.

For me, getting rid of redundant clothing was a big weight saver. And getting rid of a lot of stuff I was carrying "just in case," while still carrying everything needed to be safe and comfortable.

I won't post my whole list here (and the one under my profile is out of date) but categories look something like this: Kitchen (stove, mug, etc) ~9 oz; "10" Essentials ~11 oz; Hygiene ~1 oz; Hydration ~4 oz; Clothes in pack ~38 oz; Food storage ~5 oz. I also carry a small P&S camera, but that's in my pocket so I don't count it in the base.

Maybe this is helpful. I'm sure you'll have a great time at Philmont.

Edited by DavidDrake on 04/25/2011 10:14:34 MDT.

Dave -
(FamilyGuy) - F

Locale: Up there
Ultralight backpack recommendations on 04/25/2011 10:43:04 MDT Print View

Definitely have a look at the Hyperlite Mountain Gear Windrider. 2010 versions on sale. 26 oz with stays, cuben fibre fully featured pack.

Evan Cabodi
(BlackRock) - F

Locale: Pacific Northwest
What is your target weight reduction? on 04/25/2011 10:50:56 MDT Print View

A lot of good points have been covered but the question I've got is what sort of overall weight reduction are you targeting?

Are you just looking for a lighter pack to drop a pound or two or do you want a bigger reduction of like 4-6 pounds or more to make day to day easier?

With 18lbs as your current base that should be enough to meet the 30lb "rule weight" for the trip with water and food on the max load days already. So it might be better to figure out how light you want to be so you can revamp your system equally across the board. I mean you could go buy all the lightest stuff and be easily under 10lbs. My big-4 weigh 3lbs 5oz on the scale (though I'm including a bivy not a tent which wouldn't be enjoyable for 10 days) and my total base ends up being 6-7lbs depending on how much extra cooking stuff and junk I bring on top of the big-4 ;) Usually after climbing gear, water and food though it bumps up to 18-25 depending on how much gear I'm wearing in the pack vs what's being used for climbing.

I think I'd start by picking a new target weight since there are many different ways to get there. That 3lbs of "junk" might never get much lighter unless you want to "suffer" more. I could easily see a pound or two off the pack with a smaller volume and lighter model. You could also probably drop another pound between losing some of the "junk" and reducing packing material whether it's stuff sacks or other oddball items. You could also go for a 1lb 30* bag and a more focused sleep system of lighter clothing since days will be warm.

I bet you could even reduce the clothing weight and simply loose a pound off your entire sleep system seeing as you are required to take a full tent anyway. All of those combined items there could easily be 4-5 pounds putting your base weight at 13lbs and probably making your top days closer to 25 and most days to just under 20lbs. It just depends what means more really. Does a super comfy pack mean the world to you or does being extra warm at night make all the difference. Maybe it's a combo of both or just a little off the top everywhere.

Elena Lee
(lenchik101) - F - MLife

Locale: Pacific Northwest (USA)
tent??? on 04/25/2011 11:03:24 MDT Print View


i'm almost exactly the same size as you are. here is my 5 cents:

"On the gear list, honestly, (call me a wimp) but I don't think I am ready to sleep in the contrail based on photos of it! "

Ok, having slept in tarptent Rainbow i don't think i'd ever sleep in any other shelter again. For the same exact comfort, you get such a weight reduction. tarptent products are top notch. If you don't like the contrail and the sticks, get a Moment, or a rainbow. Hopefully, you can still return your tent. Think about long term, don't just buy gear for one trip. Your legs would thank you for every ounce you save, and the big 3 are the pieces of gear where the savings are the greatest. Use this opportunity to get the most effective gear from the begging! I've only carried close to 30 pounds once, and there is a night and day difference between carrying 15 and 30. 15 I enjoy, 30 - i'm just waiting until i'm done with the walk.

Also think that you spend most of your time walking and enjoying the outdoors, not sitting in the tent/sleeping bag.

I have an Osprey Talon for a backpack, and love it. Granted, you need to take minimal gear to make it all fit it. Osprey exos is another pack I recommended to my friends (they are similar, but exos is roomier), and they love it. I really like the fit, and the air circulation in the back. And yes, it does have a frame. I also have a frameless backpack (golite), but find it a little less comfortable to carry.

Do not bother with the rain cover. Just use a heavy duty trash bag, put it in the backpack, and then all your gear in it. Tie up on the top with the rubber band. Your gear won't ever get wet that way, I swam floating on my pack in the river and everything was dry inside.

Patricia Deutsch
(pdeutsch) - F
Thanks! on 04/26/2011 06:02:24 MDT Print View

WOW! Overwhelmed with info ...

First, I am not taking any "extra" clothing that I could not wear at the same time except 1 pair undies (but not a bra), socks and separate sleeping cloths (Patagonia capilene 2 thermal bottom 3.9oz + thermal top 4.2oz). Philmont requires (so I am told) separate sleeping clothes. I sleep cold hence the thermals.
The extra clothing is simply layers for cold: thermal bottoms (4.3oz), smartwool midweight shirt (7.6oz), fleece jacket (7oz), hat 2(oz), glove liners (1.5oz)

Pack volume is also an issue ... even if my stuff only weighs 15lbs can't use a 50L pack because you need a lot of volume for food. The food is very bulky (and there seems to be a LOT of excess packaging)

With that said ... Thanks!!! You all have made me scrutinize my stuff to really think: do I need this?? and because of that I think I can lose several pounds not only by changing packs but also be eliminating "stuff".

When I started gathering everything, it was at about 25 pounds. my initial goal was to get under 20lbs (w/o water,food, crew gear). When it hit 18 pounds realized that I was using a 5lb pack to carry 13 pounds of stuff. Now I think it can get to under 16lbs. That's well under 25lbs start and 4 lbs less than my goal.

SO .. THANKS for making me feel inadequate enough to scrutinize my stuff :-)

Ken K
(TheFatBoy) - F

Locale: St. Louis
One more thing... on 04/26/2011 18:26:36 MDT Print View

>> Preparing for my first ever backpacking trip which will be 10 days total at high altitude. I am a small woman (5'2", 110 lbs) and will be limited to a maximum of 30lbs as that is the supposed rules of the trip.

Kudos to you for tackling what is the pinnacle achievement in many Scouting careers. It sounds to me like you're making a lot of good decisions and on paper, your prep work looks like it's paying off.

I'm hoping you didn't quite mean the statement above as it's written. Philmont should definitely NOT be your first ever backpacking trip. That kind of trip can be hard on experienced folks, and a rookie can sometimes be a burden to themselves and others. Even if you can readily handle the physical aspects of the trek, there's so much more that comes into play...

I, too, am preparing for my first Philmont trek. I've been backpacking for a couple decades, racking up years worth of traditional weight hiking gear in the process. I found this forum in an effort to lighten my load. Even having a lot of experience at this, I wouldn't tackle Philmont without a few shakedown hikes, especially if I'd just loaded up with a lot of new gear (as I'm doing this year).

Shakedowns give you a chance to perfect your technique, learn how to function in a crew (totally different mindset than solo trekking), and get to know the limits of yourself and your gear. It also gives you a chance to limit discomfort if it turns out you got gear that isn't quite right for you. Two days into a 12 day trek is not the place to find you can't stand the way your pack fits or that your layering system doesn't cut it for you at 35 degrees. If your troop/crew isn't planning shakedown hikes, consider putting together your own small group and get some experience.

Happy Trails!