When it comes to building your lightweight backpacking gear kit the key thing to remember is that it is an evolution. Through experiences, education and experimentation we discover what works best for us relevant to the type of backpacking we are doing. Read along as I talk about how I got down to my current 12 pound backpacking setup for 2021.
Lightweight Backpacking – Optimization through Experience
For myself this current lightweight backpacking gear list for 2021 has been many years in the making. I look back at images from my trips with with 40 pound plus loaded up bulky backpacks and wonder how I managed to do the distances I did with that weight on my back. The key thing I did after each of this trips though was made notes of what I never used or what I thought I could do without. The next trip I left that item at home and continued eliminating items, outside of my 10 essentials of course, that weren’t needed.
At a certain point though along the way you can only eliminate so many things without affecting your safety and being prepared for unexpected conditions in often remote locations. Therefore once you have done the easy work of optimizing what you bring then you need to tackle the big bang for your buck items. These items cost the most but instantly make the most massive changes in lightening your backpack.
The major items that you need to focus on to make the largest impact are you backpack, your shelter, your sleeping bag and then lastly your sleeping pad. If you can afford it by all means invest in the lightest highest quality items you can at the start of your backpacking journey. That being said I bought light gear but not the lightest and have been selling and upgrading each year to get to where I am. Scour buy & sell groups as great gear in good condition can always be found at the fraction of the price of new. Focusing in the main 4 backpacking items will take pounds of weight off your back.
My Lightweight Backpacking Gear List for 2021
For 2021 I made several new purchases and sold off a lot of my old gear to get to my very comfortable base weight of 12 pounds. I focused on my backpack, sleeping pad, sleeping bag and a few key clothing items. The backpacking gear I have used the previous 3 years is all covered in my popular Backpacking Gear List for 3-5 Day Trip post. I have done thousands of miles of backpacking in all terrain and conditions so hopefully my experiences and recommendations will assist you on your own backpacking journey.
To start off this list lets jump right into the big items that make up my base lightweight backpacking gear.
The Big Four Backpacking Essential Items
The big four lightweight backpacking essential items as mentioned earlier are backpack, tent, sleeping bag and sleeping pad. I changed out 3 of these items for 2021 and so far have been extremely happy with my decisions. This base portion of my backpacking gear comes to a total of 7 pounds.
The first changeout was sleeping, both my inflatable sleep pad and my down sleeping bag were upgraded. Prior I was using the Exped Synmat UL7 pad and the Rab Ascent 300 down bag. I have done 4 trips this year so far with them and all involved summit camp spots on rock and snow. I pushed the limits of the 3 season specs and so far I am extremely happy and confident in the choices.
Thermarest NeoAir Xlite Sleeping Pad
I dropped 100grams and increased my R-value for warmth by upgrading to the Thermarest NeoAir Xlite women’s pad. I chose the women’s pad as it is r5.4 as compared to 4.2 for mens. I am 5’8″ and 155lbs so this pad works good for me, it is too small for anyone much larger. Weight comes in at 345 grams for this Thermarest inflatable sleep pad. The pad isn’t too noisy at night and thick enough that even sleeping on my side I didn’t feel the ground poking through. The fill valve is great with a one way check valve for inflating as well as a quarter turn quick air dump release for packing it away quickly.
Rab Neutrino 200 Lightweight Sleeping Bag
I really loved my Rab Ascent 300 down sleeping bag and wanted to stick with this high quality UK brand so upgraded to the Rab Neutrino 200 down sleeping bag. Both are a comfort rated at 4c (40F) but the Neutrino shaves off over 300 grams by upgrading to 800 FP goose down from 650 down in the Ascent 300. Total weight of the Rab Neutrino 200 is 579 grams. I did sleep out on a windy night hitting about 2c on a summit this year, I wore my merino long underwear and my fleece hoodie that night. I would say 2c is definitely pushing the limit on comfort, for those who are cold sleepers I would say closer to 8c might be your limit.
LiteAF X35L Ultralight Backpack
One thing I have more of in my collection than shoes and boots is backpacks. To me backpacks are the most personal item in our gear list and also something that really makes or breaks your trip. I want simple, functional, comfortable and of course lightweight. Up to this point I absolutely love my North Face Phantom 38L Alpine Pack, while extremely light it is just shy of 2 pounds and is my mountaineering climbing pack. It is overkill for the non technical backpacking trips that I do more often. (I have also been testing out a Hanchor Marl 45L lightweight pack as seen in this post)
Over the last year I have been doing lighter trips, needing less gear and also doing more fast packing. For that reason I wanted a pack that was designed specifically for this. For specific running style backpacking I picked up a used Ultimate Direction Fastpack40 for the west coast trail 2 day run. This is a pack I have yet to really test yet and look forward to more time with it.
I still want an all around do it all pack and thankfully through help of my friend ToddsInstaLife I discovered brand LiteAF and he got a Curve X35L into my hands. This 35L pack (expandable mess outer back pocket and side pockets add an extra 10L) is everything you need and nothing you don’t. Targeting pack weights below 20 pounds and coming in at an astonishing 470grams this really helps knock down your base weight. The shoulder straps are thick and extremely comfortable, the side pockets are easy to reach, the roll top design keeps things simple and that rear mesh pouch keeps quick access items secure. This pack has really changed my appreciation for minimalist backpacking.
If you want a lightweight pack but want to stick to one of the mainstream brands and keep bait more accessories and features I would suggest the Osprey Exos 38 or the 48L version.
MSR Hubba NX Solo 1 person Freestanding 3 Season Tent
No changes in this department at all, the MSR Hubba NX solo remains my steadfast core shelter item year after year. It packs very small and is lightweight, coming in at only 1193 grams. The reason I stick with the Hubba NX is because it is freestanding. I would venture to say that 80% of my time is spent in the alpine on often very rocky terrain. Due to this I need a freestanding tent that doesn’t require to be staked out for it to maintain its structure. I can’t recommend this tent enough for its function, form, quality and quick setup.
For when the conditions allow like cooler spring nights when there aren’t many bugs and no rain in the forecast I keep my Outdoor Research Helium Bivy at the ready. The lower packed weight of 800 grams and small size makes it nice inside my backpack. A bivy is just so easy and simple, give one a try if you never have.
For those looking at an ultralight tent and that can be used in a peg out design I would suggest checking out the Durston Gear X-Mid 1P. Dan Durston is an extremely experienced Canadian thru-hiker and climber who developed his own tent. This is a trekking pole minimal design stake out tent that comes in at a crazy light 800 grams. I have been seriously eying this tent up to add to my collection for use where a freestanding tent is not required.
MSR Pocket Rocket Stove and Titanium Pot & Mug
While not part of the big four items may cook system is the final 5th key component that makes up the core base of my lightweight backpacking gear list. I keep thinking I am going to upgrade my stove to a newer updated version but this old MSR PocketRocket just keeps on ticking. It is so simple and light I see no reason to change it until it eventually fails. The new version is the MSR Pocket Rocket 2. I keep things extremely simple and extremely light with my stove by using the MSR titanium mug and the MSR Titanium 0.85L Titan Kettle pot. To complete the cooking kit I use a simple titanium Sea to Summit long handle spoon that nicely reaches the bottom of the backpacker meals. This total cook system including the small MEC sil bag that holds as well as a full 4oz fuel canister weighs 658 grams. (don’t miss checking out my Easy 3 Day Backpacking Food List)
Backpacking Essential Items and Electronics
No matter what trip I am heading out on whether it be a rugged mountaineering summit climb or a relaxing alpine meadow thru hike I keep these core essentials with me. To keep my iPhone 12, Garmin Instinct GPS smart watch and my Garmin inReach satellite communicator charged I carry a 10,000mah battery pack and cords in a water proof ziplock. I also carry my Petzl headlamp with spare batteries, small Leatherman Squirt multi-tool and my Fox40 whistle.
For first aid I carry a modified Ultralight / Watertight Medical Kit .7 from Adventure Medical. I tweaked some of the excess items and then added some gear repair items, blister pads and meds into the waterproof bag as well as my personal items. I added duct tape, zip ties, paracord & dental floss for repairs/sewing etc. I added a variety of pill form meds which include acetaminophen, ibuprofen, aspirin, naproxen, Benadryl, caffeine and cold medicine. For water filtration I use aquatics to purify but if I go somewhere that filtration is needed the go to would be a Katadyn BeFree flask. Toothpaste, toothbrush, comb, toilet paper, sanitizing wipe, sunscreen and bug spray round out the final items I put into this storage bag.
Total weight for all these items comes in at just under 2 pounds with my battery pack & inReach being half of that weight.
Packed Clothing and Layers
At the start of this round out I mentioned I changed out a bunch of my core lightweight backpacking gear. So far I talked about my backpack, sleeping pad and my sleeping bag. In my packed clothing list is where you find my next 2 purchased upgrades which so far have become even main stays in my go to everyday clothing. I wanted a lightweight hooded performance fleece and settled on the Rab Nexus. This coat is a warm, functional athletic fit that is so nice that I find myself using it on all my bike rides and walks around town now.
Then layering upon this fleece was a warm weather ultralight rain shell. I really like my Norrona Falkentind goretex shell but wanted something a bit lighter, stretchable and packable. This is where the new Mountain Hardwear Stretch Ozonic Jacket found its way into my backpack. The 2.5 layer breathable waterproof stretch fabric feels so soft that you would never think it was a rain jacket. A very welcome addition to my layering system that will be great for both backpacking and bikepacking. (same goes for my Rab fleece)
For cold nights and year round lightweight layering my Mountain Hardwear Super Stretch Down coat is a mainstay still in the pack. Then for when I get to camp for lounging and sleep as well as in case of an unexpected turn of bad weather I always pack my IceBreaker Oasis 200 long sleeve 1/4 zip and long underwear. I then pack my Dakine fleece acrylic toque, Dakine fleece gloves and my Buff. Rounding out things I will pack a pair of Stance merino hiking socks or merino running socks depending on temperature for my sleep/backup socks.
Worn and Carried Backpacking Gear for 2021
For both comfort and performance I have gradually evolved what I we are for hiking to be more what you would expect from someone trail running. I really like the functional breathable high quality fabrics that are targeted for performance activities. This is the same reason I do all my backpacking in trail runners (where and when conditions allow) as they are light, comfortable and well suited to the terrain. I then add my trucker hat, Garmin Instinct gps watch, Oakley Holbrook sunglasses and of course a good set of poles like my Black Diamond Distance FLZ trekking poles.
- RVCA Yogger 2 run shorts
- SAXX Aerator long sleeve shirt
- SAXX Kinetic underwear
- Stance quarter merino run socks
- Inov8 TrailRoc 285 trail runners
My worn items will of course vary depending on the objective and the conditions. For more rugged bushwhacking and climbing or cold and snow the new Kuhl renegade Rock pants I am testing this year so far have been awesome. Of course if conditions dictate such as steep snow or ice I may wear my Aku Tengu Lite boots or my Salomom S-Lab XA Alpine mountaineering runners as well as gaiters get added to the list.
My 2021 Lightweight Backpacking Gear List on Lighterpack
I really like the functionality of Lighterpack website to track all my gear and keep a record of the weights and it also helps share my lightweight backpacking gear list with you. I hope this blog post has been helpful on what i am now using this year. I really enjoy testing out new gear and always learning ways to optimize my trip and make it more enjoyable. Going lightweight has been both practical and functional for me but the biggest benefit has been how comfortable I am on the trail. When you reduce weight you reduce the stress and work you have do do while hiking so that you can better focus on the beauty of the outdoor place you are truing to experience.
My 2021 list is a work in progress and didn’t happen overnight so don’t feel you need to have it perfect for your own trip the first time. The best advice I can give is don’t over do it. The biggest mistake many people make is to bring way more than they need. This will cost you both weight and space in your backpack. So leave what you can at home but most importantly hike your own hike, what works for me might not work for you. At the end of the day we all share the mutual love of natural wild places.
For more information on how I pack all of this gear be sure to check out my post and video, Simple Way to Pack Your Backpack for Overnight Hikes .
One of my most popular backpacking breakdown posts was my Backpacking Gear List for 3-5 Day Trip which shows some great practical lightweight gear. That post is an info loaded resource to start if you don’t have your backpack and gear yet.
Lastly swing over to check out my post on Easy 3 Day Backpacking Food List to see how I keep myself fuelled on my lightweight backpacking trips.
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