One of the fastest growing trends in camping and backpacking is going ultralight on the trail. In its simplest terms, this means that hikers and campers carry as little weight as possible, while still remaining safe in the backcountry. Experienced ultralight backpackers count every ounce, bringing only the most essential of items. As a result, their packs often weigh less than 15 pounds, including their tent, sleeping bag, sleeping pad, stove, and supplies.
But ultralight gear doesn’t come cheap and before you spend your hard-earned cash on new equipment, it is important to know which products stand out in this increasingly-crowded segment of the outdoor market. If you’re looking to adopt the ultralight lifestyle or you just want to lighten your load when traveling in the backcountry, these are the items that you’ll want to take with you.
The best ultralight backpack
Hyperlite Mountain Gear has been at the forefront of the ultralight backpacking movement for years, creating dependable, well crafted, and extremely light gear that hikers can depend upon. The company’s 3400 Southwest pack is a great example of this, tipping the scales at a mere 2 pounds, while still offering plenty of storage capacity, multiple external mesh pockets for organizing important equipment, and a foam backpanel that is padded for added comfort. The pack is hydration ready, features a compression system for tightening the load, and is even made from tough Dyneema fabrics, which provide an extremely high level of durability that isn’t often found in lightweight gear.
Osprey Levity 60 ($270)
The best ultralight backpack (runner up)
Osprey’s first foray into the ultralight market is the Levity 60: a pack that manages to weigh less than two pounds without sacrificing much in terms of comfort or options. This bag features a spacious main compartment, a bellowed front pocket for keeping rain gear or other important items close at hand, and easy-access side pockets for water bottles. A fixed-top lid includes cord attachment loops that serve as external gear loops, while the mesh sternum strap comes with an integrated safety whistle. Longterm durability isn’t a concern here either as the Levity 60 is backed by one of the best warranties in the entire outdoor industry. Osprey even make’s a woman’s version in dubbed the Lumina 60 as well, which may be the absolute best women’s specific ultralight pack on the market.
My Trail Co. UL50 ($119)
The best budget ultralight backpack
Ultralight backpacks seldom fall into the “budget” category, with most priced at $250 and above. But a company called My Trail Co. offers a quality pack that weights just 1 pound, 6 ounces, has 50 liters of carrying capacity, and can convert to a 20-liter daypack, all for just $119. The bag comes with dual ice axe holders, three large stretch mesh pockets, and is hydration ready. It is even made from Dyneema fabrics for added durability as well.
ZPacks Duplex ($599)
The best ultralight tent
When it comes to picking a camp shelter, ultralight hikers will use everything from a single-ply lightweight tarp to a traditional tent to help them escape the elements. If you’re looking for something that falls into the latter category, it’s tough to top the Duplex from ZPacks. This tent weighs in at just 19 ounces, and yet still comes with four individual storm doors, a bathtub floor to keep moisture at bay, and built-in mesh pockets for stashing smartphones, a headlamp, or other small items. The Duplex saves weight by doing away with traditional tent poles in favor of trekking poles instead. Despite this design approach however, it remains sturdy, durable, and spacious.
NEMO Hornet Elite ($500)
The best ultralight tent (runner up)
Weighing in at just over 2 pounds, the NEMO Hornet Elite is amongst the lightest freestanding tents on the market. This shelter ships with traditional tent poles that do add a few extra ounces, but also make it a breeze to set up, even for a single person. With two doors and two vestibules, campers have added convenience when getting in and out of the tent, while still having ample protection from the wind and rain. NEMO has even come up with a unique dual stuff sack system for the Hornet Elite that makes it easy for backpackers to divvy up the load, although as light as this tent is, one person can carry it with ease in the backcountry.
Black Diamond Beta Light ($200)
The best budget ultralight tent
Who says ultralight has to be mean ultra-expensive? Black Diamond’s Beta Light is a two-person tarp shelter that weighs just 1 pound, 8 ounces, offers a surprising amount of interior space, and carries a price that won’t make you wince in pain. To save money and ounces, this model eschews tent poles in favor of trekking poles for its setup, and the floor and bug-netting are optional optional add-ons. One of the best features of the Beta Light is just how small it packs down. When placed into its included stuff sack, it is incredibly small, taking of very little room inside a backpack.
The best ultralight sleeping bag
Having the right sleeping bag is crucial to getting a good night’s sleep in the backcountry, particularly if you’re looking to go ultralight on the trail. Rated for temperatures down to 20 degrees Fahrenheit, the Mountain Hardwear Ghost Whisperer provides warmth and comfort in a small, and lightweight package. This mummy-style bag weighs just 1 pound, 11.5 ounces, and yet still features 18 ounces of water-restitant down insulation. It also provides a plenty of interior space, allowing campers to sleep more comfortably, all while compressing down to a surprisingly small footprint, taking up very little room inside a backpack.
Feathered Friends Flicker 20 UL ($409)
The best ultralight sleeping bag (runner up)
The Feathered Friends Flicker 20 UL is actually a bit lighter than the Ghost Whisperer, clocking in at 1 pound, 10 ounces. It is also rated for 20 degree Fahrenheit temperatures, although its ability to convert to a quilt makes it more versatile in warmer conditions. A Pertex outer shell helps to keep the bag dry when inclement weather sets in and a full center-zip makes it easy to get in and out of, or can be fully opened to cover two adults in a pinch. While not quite as warm and cozy as the Ghost Whisperer, this is a good alternative for those looking for added usability. Feathered Friends also offers women’s specific sleeping bags, with the Egret 20 YF earning high marks for comfort, warmth, and its lightweight. At just 1.8 pounds, it is an excellent option for the ultralight hiker.
REI Co-Op Magma 10 ($349)
The best budget ultralight sleeping bag
It’s not always easy to find good values when buying ultralight gear, but REI has delivered with its Magma 10 sleeping bag. This model strikes a great balance between warmth (22 degrees Fahrenheit), weight (1 pound, 14 ounces), and compressibility. The Magma 10 uses hydrophobic down for insulation and features a Pertex outer shell for added moisture protection. It is a comfortable and durable sleeping bag that offers a good weight to warmth ratio, all at a price that beats the competition.
Therm-a-Rest NeoAir XLite ($170)
The best ultralight sleeping pad
The Therm-a-Rest NeoAir XLite is quite possibly the best all around sleeping pad on the market today, whether you’re looking to go ultralight or not. It’s comfortable, warm, durable, and packs down small — all while still managing to weigh just 12 ounces. Versatile enough to be used in pretty much any environment and in three seasons, this pad is the perfect companion for whatever sleeping bag you pair it with, ensuring a good night’s sleep while on the trail.
Big Agnes AXL Air ($140)
The best ultralight sleeping pad (runner up)
If you’re simply looking to go as light as possible on the trail, it’s tough to beat the AXL Air sleeping pad from Big Agnes. This model weighs a mere 9.6 ounces, making it one of the lightest sleeping pads on the market. Despite that however, it is comfortable, rugged, and compresses down to an impressively small size when not in use. This pad isn’t quite as warm as some of the competition, which takes away from its versatility to a degree, but overall it is an excellent option for backcountry outings.
Therm-a-Rest Z Lite Sol ($35)
The best ultralight sleeping pad
Ultralight hikers operating on a budget will want to check out the Therm-a-Rest Z Lite Sol as a potential sleeping pad option. This pad is larger and bulkier than others on the market, but it makes up for it in comfort, durability, and a price tag that simply can’t be beat. Add in the fact that it weighs just 14 ounces and you’ll understand why the Z Lite Sol is a popular choice for fast and light backpackers who don’t have a lot of disposable income to spend on their gear.
JetBoil MiniMo ($135)
The best ultralight stove
There are certainly backpacking stoves that weigh less than than the JetBoil MiniMo, but none offer such a high level of efficiency, convenience, and capacity in a compact, easy to transport package. The MiniMo weighs just 14.6 ounces, including the stove, cook pot, and stabilizer legs, and includes such features as push-button ignition and a precision regulator for controlling temperature. The stove heats up quickly, allows backcountry chefs to both simmer and boil, and won’t burn through your fuel too rapidly. All of these qualities make it an easy recommendation for backpackers, ultralight or not.
MSR WindBurner ($150)
The best ultralight stove (runner up)
At 15.3 ounces, the MSR WindBurner stove is slightly heavier than the JetBoil MiniMo and lacks features like the push-button igniter and the ability to simmer your meals. But, it makes up for those deficiencies by being considerably more fuel efficient than the competition and performing better in adverse weather conditions including high winds and cold temperatures. When not in use, the WindBurner breaks down quickly and easily, with the entire unit – including the fuel canister – storing neatly inside the cooking pot. For backpackers who value efficiency first and foremost, this is the stove to get.
MSR PocketRocket 2 ($45)
The best budget ultralight stove
The MSR PocketRocket 2 checks all the right boxes when it comes to ultralight backpacking stoves. It is incredibly small, weighs just 2.6 ounces, and can boil a liter of water in less than 4 minutes. As if that wasn’t enough, the easy-to-use stove provides fine tuning of its output, granting users the ability to adjust the flame to suit their needs. The PocketRocket’s built-in pot stand is compatible with most camp cookware on the market, bringing a level of versatility that isn’t found in some other stoves. The down side of this model is that it isn’t quite as fuel efficient as some other options and its small size can make it a bit unstable. Still, for the price it is incredibly tough to top.
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