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Getting back into backpacking -- going UL after years of carrying 50+ lb packs
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Joseph K
Getting back into backpacking -- going UL after years of carrying 50+ lb packs on 05/22/2013 18:39:08 MDT Print View

Hey guys, first post here...been lurking around for a while and figured it was time to get involved!

I'm getting back into backpacking after several years off. I spent a bunch of summers 8-10 years ago backpacking in the northwest. Mostly trips 3-7 nights with heavy packs (steel pots, old eureka tents, lots of perishable food, etc).

Anyway, I hiked the teton crest trail in September with a couple friends last year and had a few realizations. First, I love backpacking and need to get back on the trail more often. Second, i carried way too much stuff and need to lighten up my pack. Third, sleeping in a tent with other guys snoring like lawnmowers wasn't for me.

So, here I am, looking to lighten up my gear. I'll likely be doing mostly 3-5 night trips out west in the rockies, sierras, tetons, cascades, etc. Probably May-Sept.

I currently have a gregory shasta that weights 6 lbs -- planning to get either a ULA conduit or catalyst. Would love to go with the conduit if I can get confident that I can get my base weight under 15 lbs. Seems like a good way to cut substantial weight.

I also have a 15 year old sierra design down bag that I weighed last night at 40 oz. It's 19 oz fill, so I think it's a 20 degree bag. I'm on the fence about upgrading to a WM bag. I could probably cut a pound or so if I went to a 30 degree bag. I also have an older ultralight thermarest that weighs 28 oz. Thinking that could be a cheaper spot to cut some weight if i went to prolite, neo air, or zlite.

The big choice right now is the tent since I don't have a solo option. I'm looking for something to use solo that I could also use with a girl occasionally or potentially my brother. I could be convinced to just get a solo for now and get a two-person when I need to, but would prefer to just buy one. I thought i had decided on the Copper Spur UL2 and ordered one last week. I'm now doubting it thinking that it might be too heavy as a solo tent. The tents I considered were Copper Spur UL2, Fly Creek UL 2, CS UL1, and Seedhouse UL1. I want something pretty comfortable that will provide good protection in the rain. I'm 5'10, 175.

I'd really appreciate any feedback on the tent, sleeping bag, pad, and pack. I'm not opposed to carrying a few extra oz's here and there, but when I started adding up my gear, I quickly realized that those oz's add up fast! I'd be stoked if I could ultimately get my pack down to 25-30 lbs for 3-5 night trips.


Jared Baker
(simply_light) - MLife

Locale: Midwest, US
Tent Choices on 05/22/2013 19:10:47 MDT Print View

You will find the 2 man tents are only 2 man if you are really "cozy" with your hiking partner. However, they are very nice for solo tents. I personally like the Copper Spur UL2. It is a very solid tent and I preferred the side entry over the front on the Fly Creek (but that was just my preference and I paid for it in ounces).

Now if money is not an object, buy a true solo and a 2 person tent.

Of course, if you are like most on here, you will get addicted and have a dozen tents before it is over.

(JRinGeorgia) - F
bag and tent on 05/22/2013 19:38:00 MDT Print View

You will want to switch out that 2.5 lb bag, if you want under 15 lb base. Look at quilts, good weight-savers, you can cut your sleeping bag weight almost in half.

For a tent I'd suggest you get a solo if that's what you see yourself doing mostly. It's tempting to try to stretch your shelter for a "just in case" situation, but if you mostly solo then I think you will just be looking at the size of what you're packing each time and wish it were half the size. Consider a structure that uses your trekking poles as support, you can get spacious and versatile choices in under 2 lb from Tarptent and Lightheart Gear among others.

On the pack you may be best off to wait until you have your other major items in hand so you can be sure you aren't getting too much or too little pack for your needs.

Justin Mckinney
(sierrajud) - M

Locale: California
going UL on 05/22/2013 19:41:38 MDT Print View

I've been going UL for the past 4 years. Eventually your going to get a single wall tent or tarp ect. I've found that you need a good warm down bag for these type of tents or tarps, as they're not as warm as a double wall tent. I recently got a Marmot Helium bag at on sale for $319. Great bag ! warm and weighs 2 lbs 2.6 oz. So I wouldn't skimp on the warmth of the bag you choose.

Nick Gatel
(ngatel) - MLife

Locale: Southern California
Re: Getting back into backpacking -- going UL after years of carrying 50+ lb packs on 05/22/2013 19:45:57 MDT Print View

Start by going through all your gear and remove everything you don't use, except you first aid kit. Remove anything you classify as "just in case." Remove all spare clothing items. Re-evaluate all comfort items such as chairs, sit pads, and electronics. Evaluate all the remaining gear for multiple use. For example you don't need a spoon, fork, and knife - a spoon alone can handle all your food need.

Now weigh your kit. How much did you remove?

Don't go crazy and buy a bunch of new gear. Research any new gear carefully and buy one item at a time.

Tony Wong
(Valshar) - MLife

Locale: San Francisco Bay Area
Re: Getting back into backpacking -- going UL after years of carrying 50+ lb packs on 05/22/2013 19:48:11 MDT Print View


Welcome to the world of Gear Geeking and all things crazy UL!

Thanks for giving a clear picture of your situation and when/how you will be using your gear.

Quick look up of the Copper Spur UL2, it is 3.1 lbs at REI for the trail weight.

How about a Tarptent to save weight?

Seems like a natural evolution for many people going from a traditional load to a lightweight one...was for me.

Limitation of the tarptent is that it most likely will not be free standing and careful site selection at the end of the day will be a consideration on where you will want to pitch your home for the night.

If you use hiking poles, they will double as tent poles.

The sleeping bag is a big decision in that is it perhaps the single most expensive piece of gear you will buy, but it can last a very long time.

30F with 800 plus down fill is the right choice for a wide range of conditions, unless you are a cold sleeper....then laying up clothing is important or finding a 25F bag/quilt might be the way to go.

Good news is that saving 1 full pound is a huge win for you in going light and part of the BIG 3 that they talk about here: Shelter, Pack, and Sleeping Bag/System.

ULA is a solid pack and a good choice if you expect to regularly carry 25 lbs or more.

Frameless packs are best in the 18-23 lb range from my experience, but I have carrried as much as 30 lbs in a frameless pack (old Jam2), which sucked until I was able to eat my food over a few days to get to 26-27 lbs.

You probably already know this, but get your pack LAST.

Too big of a pack and it might not ride right on your back....too big and you might be tempted to bring a few extras "just in case".

Dial in your kit and then get the pack that fits exactly what you need.

Note: Since you mentioned that you are going to hike the Sierras.....allow for a pack that will hold your gear PLUS a bear canister, which is often required in the Sierras.

Sleeping pad....light is good, heck, I sleep on a 1/8" thinlight pad with a torso pad, but I like to suffer. :)

Neo Air is very popular here....but get a pad that gives you a good night's sleep at a weight that is acceptable to YOU.

If you have a light pack but sleep horribly each night, then what's the point?

Try going to REI and laying down on the perspective pads you are thinking about....get a feel for them.

Hope this helps.

Just what I can think of off the top of my head before I leave the office.


Joseph K
Blown away on 05/22/2013 20:32:04 MDT Print View

Blown away by all the quick responses and willingness to help. Thank you. Really appreciate you all taking the time to get me started.

I just sent up the Copper Spur 2 and was pretty pleased with it. Felt great with just me in it, but could see how it would be a bit snug for 2.

Jared - agree on the side entry. The low height, single entry, and small vestibule are what made me to go with the CS vs. FC. Paying 12 oz. for the luxury. I do love my gear, so I'm sure it won't end with just 1

JR - i'll check out the tarptents. I do use trekking poles, so it could be a decent option. Any model in particular you'd recommend? Would want something enclosed to keep out bugs.

Nick - definitely doing my research. That's why I came here! I went through my typical kit with a scale last night and feel pretty good overall. Definitely still have some luxuries in there and would a few items that need to be addressed. Would like to trade my whisperlight+pot for a jetboil or canister stove and probably need to move on from my MSR miniworks. I'm not trying to get as light as possible for now. Just trying to get a whole lot lighter than I'm used to while staying comfortable. Getting rid of unused gear and superfluous luxuries is definitely the lowest hanging fruit. Now I'm trying to swap some of my heavier essentials. I'm used to lugging a 50-60lb pack, so 30 lb would feel great.

Tony - thanks for the welcome and all the great advice. I'll most likely have a bear can on a lot of trips and realistically think I'll be 25 lbs+. I'm OK paying a few oz's for a framed pack for the comfort and flexibility. I think the circuit would be a good middle ground. Would provide some wiggle room but more constraint than the catalyst for keeping my load down. Circuit would give me over 3.5 lbs of savings over my current pack. New bag + pad would probably save me another 2.5 lbs.

(JRinGeorgia) - F
tarp tents on 05/23/2013 03:39:47 MDT Print View

All of the tarp-tent hybrids I was referring to are double-walled, with an inner mesh that will keep bugs out. Look at the Tarptent Contrail, Lightheart Gear Solo, and SMD Skyscape as a start, those are three very popular trekking-pole-supported models. I have the Lightheart (roomiest of the three), weight just under 30 ounces with stuff sack and that's after seam-sealing and adding a few extra guylines, and to give you an idea of the packed size the whole thing fits in the front pocket of my pack.

Loren B

Locale: London UK, Greenville USA
Re: Getting back into backpacking -- going UL after years of carrying 50+ lb packs on 05/23/2013 04:37:19 MDT Print View

I would say that the copper spur 2 would be a little snug for two. It is certainly doable though especially if you're with a girl. Have you considered the GoLite Imogene UL3. It weighs 3 lbs 1 oz which is the same as the big agnes except that it is big enough for two and palatial for one. The groundsheet is apparently quite thin though so I would supplement it with a polycro groundsheet (1oz and $5) or something similar.

GoLite have 15% off at the moment so the tent would be $256.

Ken Bennett
(ken_bennett) - F

Locale: southeastern usa
Re: Getting back into backpacking -- going UL after years of carrying 50+ lb packs on 05/23/2013 06:23:29 MDT Print View

Assuming you mean the ULA Circuit, not the (discontinued and frameless) Conduit. Either the Circuit or the Catalyst would be an excellent choice. I've been happy with my Circuit for 2 years now. (Oh, and I had a Shasta starting out. Wow. On the up side it could carry 65 pounds. On the downside it could carry 65 pounds.) But depending on what your other gear looks like, a Catalyst might be the safer option and it's not much heavier.

Tent: I like Tarptents and the Six Moons Designs tents. I'd get a solo tent for solo hiking, and a 2-person for hiking with a significant other. My brother can carry his own d@mn tent. If I were buying new right now, I'd get a Tarptent Notch (assuming you use hiking poles and you should.) For a 2-person palace, the SMD Lunar Duo is excellent.

Bag: WM is nice if you have the cash. The Megalite 30F bag is my favorite. You could also look at 20F or 30F quilts from various cottage gear makers. That said, a 40 ounce bag is not exceptionally heavy - the Megalite will save about half a pound. You could kick this decision down the road for a year and not hurt anything.

Pad: lots of good choices out there. I've had the original Prolite 4 (now Prolite Plus) since it came out 8 or 9 years ago - excellent pad, no problems with it. But the Neoair type pads are a lot lighter and look pretty cush.

Good luck!

Loren B

Locale: London UK, Greenville USA
Re: Getting back into backpacking -- going UL after years of carrying 50+ lb packs on 05/23/2013 07:04:28 MDT Print View

oh, another thing I forgot to mention when it comes to packs. If you want to be able to actually try the packs on in a store before buying, then I would suggest trying the Osprey Hornet 46 (1 lb 10oz - you can be get one for $85), or the Osprey Exos 46 (2 lbs 5 oz). Both are great, but the exos can carry more, hence the extra weight. Osprey has a good warranty also.

Nathan Coleman
Bag and Tent on 05/23/2013 08:50:20 MDT Print View

Prioritize your needs vs. the money you're willing to spend.

Some of those SD bags were really nice, and a good down bag properly stored can give 20+ years of service. And, 2.5 lbs for a 20° bag isn't that bad, so that would be lower on my priority list.

For a tent I think you should consider a floorless shelter. They work really well in the western mountains. The most common arguments against them are bugs, snakes, condensation, and water coming under the sides.

Well, bugs can be dealt with, snakes usually aren't at elevation, condensation can be lived with, and water under the sides only happens with poor site selection.

Take a look at the LBO by Seek Outside. It's a basic tarp that with a vestibule will be big enough for a two person fully enclosed shelter, and if you add a nest it is basically a double wall bug proof tent. Weights range from 16 oz for an open sided tarp, 24 oz for a fully enclosed tarp, and 44 oz for a doublewall tent.

I had a ULA Catalyst and really liked it for loads up to 30-35 lbs or so. If you can stay below that it will perform well for you.

Jeffrey McConnell
tarptent on 05/23/2013 08:53:50 MDT Print View

The TT notch and stratospire 1 are both worth checking out as well. Both are solo tents with an inner mesh netting to keep out bugs that is removable. Something else you can do is look through all the community gear lists. I did this when I first happened upon this site and it was helpful.

Corbin Camp

Locale: Southeast
Tarptent on 05/23/2013 09:25:18 MDT Print View

I was kinda in the same boat when I started switching out my gear. For a tent shelter, I wanted something that could be roomy enough for 2 but not complete overkill for 1 and still be under 3 lbs and be under $350. Ideally, I would have gone with a solo and duo shelter, but the bank account said nada. I ended up with a Double Rainbow from Tarptent. The fact it can be freestanding was just a bonus. I've used that feature one time and it worked great. It cost $125 less than something comparable from other non-cuben deals and weighed less. When I've needed a double wall, the add-on liner worked perfect to deal with condensation (adds 4oz).

Link .
(annapurna) - MLife
Re: Getting back into backpacking -- going UL after years of carrying 50+ lb packs on 05/23/2013 09:37:34 MDT Print View

Things to read or watch:

Edited by annapurna on 05/25/2013 09:22:51 MDT.

(PNWhiker) - F

Locale: Pacific NW
Reading on 05/23/2013 09:56:49 MDT Print View

There are two recent and excellent books out:
Trail Tested by Justin Lichter and
The Ultimate Hiker’s Gear Guide by Andrew Skurka

Skurka's book has more information (could be considered a superset if you will). But, it's definitely aimed at very long distance hikers. Even to the point of being slightly condescending to us weekend backpackers (something I didn't particularly like about the book). Lichter's book has much better illustrations.

Skurka also did a gear seminar at Google which is available on YouTube (the full 1 hour version). That's a high learning to time payoff. Just type 'Skurka Google' into YouTube search and you'll find it.

Ben Crocker
(alexdrewreed) - M

Locale: Kentucky
Getting back into backpacking -- going UL after years of carrying 50+ lb packs on 05/23/2013 10:02:14 MDT Print View

I would agree with Nick's advice as a big and important first step. See what you can leave at home. It's free and it's often the easiest way to drop weight, especially for someone trying to transition from traditional backpacking to UL. I'm backpacking with a friend who is doing the same as you, and he dropped 6 pounds last trip by just going through his pack and deciding what he really doesn't need - no new gear. Six pounds is really hard to drop by buying the newest shiniest equipment. Its not sexy but it works really well.

I would also consider not purchasing your new pack until you know what else you are carrying. Then you will have a better idea of how big of a pack you need.

As for looking at new gear, my favorite gear makers are Zpacks, Mountain Laurel Designs, Gossamer Gear(they just treated me very well on a customer service issue), Six Moons Designs, Enlightened Equipment, Thermarest Neoair. I've had good products and/or good customer service from each of them.

Link .
(annapurna) - MLife
Re: Reading on 05/23/2013 10:17:54 MDT Print View

You don't need to google anything about Andrew Skurka you can click on my hyper links above and go right to them ,they are # 7,8 and 9.

Edited by annapurna on 05/23/2013 10:19:34 MDT.

Dale Wambaugh
(dwambaugh) - MLife

Locale: Pacific Northwest
Re: Getting back into backpacking -- going UL after years of carrying 50+ lb packs on 05/23/2013 10:53:33 MDT Print View

The basics of ultralight hiking:

Don't take anything that you won't use (except emergency/survival essentials). Leave the gadgets and "what if" items at home.

Weigh *everything* you take and make a spreadsheet or a list and add it up.

Understand nature, how your body works, the principles of layering and other physics of foot travel so that you don't fear nature. Fear equals weight.

Leave fashion and other "city notions" at home. You don't need clean clothes for each day, pajamas, or more than two pairs of socks. Dirt won't hurt you. You will need to give up some durability: heavy duty is indeed heavy.

Seek out the lightest, highest performance gear you can afford. You will learn to scrutinize gear purchases in terms of weight and performance. Some, like insulation, can be expensive; others, like using recycled water bottles instead of Nagenes are free. That last item can save ovr half a pound with two bottles. Performance can be costly and sometimes the gap is narrow for the extra cost. Reading reviews and research will pay off. you don't have to buy it all at once. Knowing the principles and physics will help find reasonable alternatives until the bargain on the Unobtainium cook pot comes along. Making your own gear is a good option for getting performance gear at lower cost c

Seek out items that have multiple uses. My rain gear is also my shelter and my trekking poles are part of my shelter too. Some packs use a sleeping pad as part of the frame. Bandanas have many uses, and so on.

Decant liquids into smaller bottles with amounts that will cover the hike. You don't need three ounces of DEET for a three day trip.

Buy your ultralight pack last. Light stuff in a heavy pack works better than heavy stuff in a light pack.

Gerald L
(Mtngeronimo) - F

Locale: SoCal
Re: Getting back into backpacking -- going UL after years of carrying 50+ lb packs on 05/23/2013 11:49:37 MDT Print View

Joseph, I started on the lightweight quest just this past year. It began with the search for a lighter kitchen setup after using an esbit stove given to me by a friend. I now have gone from a 55lb+ to 30lb fully loaded pack weight in a very short time.

Nick is right on about first kicking out the non-essentials (although I do occasionally miss my camp chair).

To offer a different perspective on purchase priorities; The biggest initial gain (or loss) began with my pack when I realized I could drop 4lbs just by changing out this essential piece of gear. I purchased a used GoLite Odyssey here on gear swap for $65 and since I am a budget minded returning college student this was a great place to start. The pack is comparatively light and has a large capacity which enables me to carry a bear canister in the Sierra as well as the bulkier items I still own but will eventually replace as my budget allows. For me this had the greatest cost/weight ratio. If I feel like I have too much pack in the future there are always great deals here for lower capacity UL packs.

Happy trails!

Edited by Mtngeronimo on 05/23/2013 11:56:33 MDT.