When i first started hiking as a civilian, I stuck with what I knew from the military; a large external frame pack that could comfortably carry everything plus the kitchen sink. The military teaches that two is one and one is none, so you rapidly end up carrying a ton of stuff. It’s basically the same as what civilians hikers call packing your fears; you may never need item x, but you feel that you NEED to bring it, just in case.

Hiking has a couple different levels of “lightness” when it comes to gear. Lightweight is generally defined as below 15lbs of BASE weight, Ultralight below 10, and SuperUltralight below 5. Base weight, is your gear MINUS food and water. With the introduction of lighter fabrics like CubenFiber and light weight wool  or synthetics, gear weights have dropped drastically. But lightweight comes with a cost. For example, Down is lightweight, and fluffy and warm, but costs significantly more than synthetics when it comes to insulation.

My first hiking trip in Texas was the Hiker’s Thanksgiving a few years ago with Sarge, The Hueys and others. My pack was an Osprey Xenith 88. It was huge and I packed that mother FULL!!! My gear consisted of a Dream Hammock Thunderbird, a Warbonnet Superfly, 20 degree quilts from HammockGear, and 40 or so lbs of other stuff. It was a mixture of LW stuff and heavy crap. Cooking was a White Box alcohol stove, a toaks Ti pot, toaks Ti coffee mug and a bottle of everclear for fuel and drinking. Sensible items, light weight, and practical. I also brought along a machete, a Bahco Laplander saw and a small hand axe. I brought enough clothes for 3 or so days instead of for 2 nights. I brought way too much food and I brought along a 100 liter hydration bladder, full in the pack.

After that trip I returned the pack to REI ( membership has it’s privileges)  and got an Atmos, which i returned for an Atmos AG 65 when the AG line was released. Great pack, smaller lighter and well laid out. I also started packing less gear. Less clothes, less food, no water bladder, one wood cutting implement, if any.


My next step in my evolution was to start weighing my gear and keep lists of what gear i took on what trip. I used a few different apps/spreadsheets before settling on Lighterpack. Just my personal preference. When you start weighing your gear and doing gear lists you REALLY begin to see where you are carrying excess weight or can shed a few pounds. The down side is lighter gear is in many cases, much more expensive than it’s heavier counterpart. I love my Carbon fiber tarp stakes that weigh 6 grams a piece, but they cost quite a bit more than WalMart special aluminum stakes. That is a personal choice I made but you might choose to not spend that money, or spend it somewhere else.

My next step in the evolution was a truly light pack. The Osprey Atmos AG weighs 72 oz, or 4.5 lbs. Not anywhere near as heavy as the 6 lb Xenith, but no means a lightweight pack. After looking around and checking out other people’s packs and gear, I decided to have a custom pack built. I decided to get a Zimmerbuilt Hammock pack built in Multicam, with a couple modifications that fit me.

It has a main compartment, a pocket for quilts (i have been able to stuff a set of 0 degree quilts in there with no problem) , one side pocket for my hammock and another for my tarp.Even with the heavier weight of the Multicam Xpac material vs the lighter standard Xpac, the pack still came in at 36oz, just over 2 lbs. It is a VERY comfortable pack, I have carried up to 30lbs in it (testing the pack) and have zero complaints. With my current base weight of 9-12 lbs (pack incuded), i almost can’t even tell I am wearing it.

To satisfy curiosity, last year I bought a Zpacks pack, the Arc Haul Zip in Moss green. It weighs 29 oz , is made of Dyneema and looks promising. I haven’t used it for a real hike, only a short trip to Hurricane Cove that is 0.6 miles from the trail head. It carried nicely but I need to give it more of a workout once i recover from this pesky heart surgery. 

The nice thing about the zpacks packs is the level of customization is insane. They aren’t cheap (expect to pay $300-$400) but if you can’t find a pack from their with the tweaks you want, then wow.

At first blush, people say $300-$400 for a pack? An Osprey pack weighs 2-3x as much, isn’t custom built and they cost $250-$350 off the shelf.


Carrying a lighter pack can make your trip much more comfortable and allow you to push out more miles per day. The downside comes in the cost. Down and high tech super light materials aren’t cheap, but if you shop around you can find good, high quality lightweight gear that will last you.

Just remember the 2 out of 3 rule. Price, quality, weight in this case. You can get good quality, lightweight gear, but it won’t be low in price.