During the summer of 2019, I was deep in the trenches of planning a thruhike of the Pacific Crest Trail in 2020. Fortunately and unfortunately, in the form of a new dream job, plans changed and my thruhike was postponed until another year. Turns out that was a blessing in disguise in more way than one, as many 2020 thruhikers have had to get off trail and postpone their hikes due to COVID-19.
The most prevalent aspect of planning my thruhike was finally upgrading to ultralight (UL) gear. Now, I’m going to be real here – prior to this summer, I was SO anti-UL, it was actually insane. I literally have a draft blog post, originally written in the summer of 2018, where I go into detail about why I am not, and will never be, UL. Good one, past Meg.
I figured that if I were to successfully hike 2,650 miles, I would have to lighten my load. I was rocking all of my original adult backpacking gear and while it served me well, it was time for an upgrade. I eventually ended up with a pretty sweet setup, and as someone who did not end up on the PCT, I wanted to share it with other fellow weekend warriors. Although it shouldn’t have been surprising, once I tested out my new kit on a weekend backpacking trip, it really was shocking how much better it was to carry a lighter load. For anyone looking to upgrade their gear (or buy their first pieces of backpacking gear!), I highly suggest looking into all of the UL options out there.
I’m not going to lie – UL gear is expensive. This all cost me a pretty penny, but ultimately, it was totally worth it for me. If you are worried about the price point of each piece of gear, I would suggest purchasing slowly. It may not seem like a big deal, but two pounds here and there is going to add up FAST. You don’t need to have a full UL setup to feel its effect on the trail.
REI Co-Op Crestrail 65 Women’s Pack
Weight: 4lbs, 9 oz (73 oz total)
The first piece of gear that I traded in for ultralight was my pack. And yes, I’m fully aware that, in normal circumstances, your pack is the last piece of your ultralight setup that you should purchase. It makes sense – ultralight backpacks are smaller and are theoretically created to carry less weight. But, armed with my REI dividend and sheer stubborn willpower, I made the decision to purchase the backpack first. Based on the high snow year, I also knew that I would be upgrading more of my setup before my first backpacking trip, so I didn’t think it was a huge deal!
Hyperlite Mountain Gear 3400 Southwest 55L Ultralight Backpack
Weight: 2lbs (32.11 oz total)
As soon as I started entertaining the idea of getting a new pack, I knew pretty much right away that it was going to be from Hyperlite Mountain Gear. I had been following their company for quite awhile and hadn’t heard single bad thing about their packs. Once I seriously looked into buying a new pack, however, I was very conflicted as to whether purchase a Southwest or Windrider, as well as the 2400 or 3400 volume. Eventually I settled on the Southwest 3400, and I’ve been happy with my decision ever since. The larger size allows me to pack more gear if necessary (let’s say, to finally cross winter backpacking off my bucket list), but doesn’t add too much weight to the pack itself. And I’m SUPER happy with the Dyneema exterior pockets – those things hold so much gear… they are like the Mary Poppins bags of backpacking pockets. For a full review of the HMG Southwest 3400, click here!
REI Half Dome Tent
Weight: 4lbs, 9 oz (73 oz total)
The next piece of gear that I replaced was my tent. I had had my trusty REI Half Dome tent for almost five years before I replaced it, and this thing has gone EVERYWHERE with me. Backpacking, car camping, you name it. This tent is reliable, roomy, and comfortable, but it was just too big and heavy for an ultralight setup. For what it is worth, I still often use this tent for car camping, and would recommend it in a heartbeat. Most often, I’ll bring it on my backpacking trips if I have to camp the night before picking up my backpacking permit and don’t want to have to pack my backpack in the morning (i.e. getting up to Alabama Hills at 10pm and setting this tent up before picking up my permit at 8am in Lone Pine the next morning). But most notably, I’ll still take it on backpacking trips (in my UL pack!) when I know that the weather is going to be atrocious and we might need a more durable tent to make it through the night – here is looking at you, 50+ mph winds on San Gorgonio.
NEMO Hornet 2 Tent
Weight: 2 lbs, 6 oz (38 oz total)
I decided to replace my Half Dome with the NEMO Hornet 2 Tent. The only requirement that I had for a tent was one that was light, but could also comfortably fit two people. Basically, I wanted a tent that made sense for a one- or two-person backpacking trip. Before deciding on this tent, I actually went back and forth between this one and the Big Agnes Tiger Wall. Both had great reviews, were very light, and were around the same price point. I ultimately made my decision when I went to REI and felt each of them in my hands. It was actually kind of funny – since they are both expensive tents, they were locked up and I had to have an REI employee help me unlock them. When I finally decided on the NEMO tent, he told me that a lot of people go back and forth between the two tents that I was looking at, and he asked me what my deciding factor was. When I told him that the NEMO packed down a bit better than the Big Agnes, he told me that he asked so that he could tell future customers what made me decide. Now, I’m fully aware that that statement could have been part of his sales pitch, but if an employee at REI Arcadia ever tells you to choose the NEMO tent over the Big Agnes, you are welcome.
REI Co-op Habanera Sleeping Bag
Weight: 4lbs, 3 oz (67 oz total)
This was the hardest piece of gear for me to replace. I ABSOLUTELY LOVE MY SLEEPING BAG. I tend to run extremely cold while backpacking, and I had finally found a sleeping bag that kept me warm throughout the entire night. It is a 13 degree bag with a survival rating of -57 degrees – there is no doubt that this is intended to be a winter bag, but I took it with me on every summer trip that I went on, and I was warm every single night. Honestly, I debated for a very long time about even replacing it, but I finally gave in when I realized how much room it took up in my new bag. No matter how much I squished my bag into a stuff sack, it just took up too much room. I begrudgingly started researching new bags.
Western Mountaineering Versalite Sleeping Bag
Weight: 2 lbs (32 oz total)
After tons of research, I finally decided on the Western Mountaineering Versalite sleeping bag. Again I say, this was no easy decision. There are so many different types, prices, and weights of bags out there. I had to decide between down or synthetic, quilt or bag, what degree, price point, weight, shape, and more. Eventually, the weight and degree rating outweighed all of the other factors, and I settled on this bag. Since it had such a low temperature rating (10 degrees!), I was a little worried about the size, but it packs down extremely small. I use the stuff sack that the bag came in, but I’ve heard that it’ll pack down even more if you get a compressible stuff sack. I’m not going to lie, it is significantly less puffy than the Habanera, but it is just as warm and half the weight. I’m really happy with my purchase and think that this bag is well worth the price point.
MSR Miniworks EX Water Filter
Weight: 16.9 oz
Funny story – I’ve had my MSR handpump water filter for literally EIGHTEEN (18) years. My family bought it when I joined my middle school’s backpacking club in sixth grade.. and it has been an essential piece of my kit ever since. Yes, this thing pumps water slow AF, but it is also reliable AF. It is truly a shame that it weighs so much because I have no doubt that this thing will last the test of time.
Sawyer Squeeze Water Filter System
Weight: 3 oz
I’m going to be real here – if it weren’t for the INSANE weight difference, I would not have purchased a new water filter. I’m so in love with my MSR filter that it is almost worth the extra weight for me, but I finally gave in and purchased a Sawyer Squeeze. Honestly, I’m not totally sold yet. The only two backpacking trips that I’ve used the squeeze on are the two backpacking trips that I’ve felt super nauseous once getting to camp – but they have also been two pretty intense trips. I will give it to the Squeeze – this filter pumps extremely fast and is very convenient. For a price of only $50, you really can’t go wrong.
GEAR I HAVE YET TO SWITCH
REI Co-op AirRail 1.5 Self-Inflating Sleeping Pad – Women’s
Weight: 1 lb, 9 oz (25 oz total)
Will I replace my sleeping pad? The verdict is still out. While my current one is pretty heavy for a sleeping pad (the Therm-a-Rest NeoAir XLite Sleeping Pad, which is what I probably would replace it with, weighs in at an impressive 12 oz), I probably won’t replace it for awhile. I really like my sleeping pad – it packs down well, is really comfortable, and doesn’t make noise (which I’ve heard is one of the biggest complaints about the NeoAir XLite). I also feel comfortable carrying the extra ounces if it means sturdier material – the material is so thick that I’d be surprised if this pad ever popped.
Overall, I’ve been extremely happy with my new UL setup and would recommend each of the pieces of gear that I’ve purchased. For a complete weight breakdown of my gear, see below:
|REI Crestrail 65||4 lbs, 9 oz|
|REI Half Dome Tent||4 lbs, 9 oz|
|REI Habanera||4 lbs, 3 oz|
|MSR Water Filter||1 lb, .9 oz|
|REI Air Rail Sleeping Pad||1 lb, 9 oz|
|TOTAL:||15 lbs, 14.9 oz|
|HMG Southwest 3400||2 lbs|
|NEMO Hornet 2 Tent||2 lbs, 6 oz|
|WM Versalite||2 lbs|
|Sawyer Squeeze||3 oz|
|REI Air Rail Sleeping Pad||1 lb, 9 oz|
|TOTAL:||8 lbs, 2 oz|
Hell of a difference, eh?