Lightweight Backpacking with Mountain High Outfitters

Kodak after his Appalachian Traill Thru-hike

Photo Courtesy of Ryan "Kodak" Brown /

When preparing for a thru-hike, it’s pertinent to pay attention to how much weight you’ll be carrying on your back. As a rule of thumb, you really don't want to carry more than 25% of your own body weight.  For example, if someone weighed 160 lbs, then 25% of their body weight would be 40 lbs. For that individual, they really wouldn't want to exceed 40 lbs of carry weight. On the flip side though, doesn't carrying less weight sound appealing?

Lightweight backpacking is backpacking with a maximum of 30 lbs of gear. To accomplish this , a hiker is challenged to minimize the weight of their gear by taking out luxury items and/or buying new gear to replace older and heavier gear. The plus side to doing this, is that you may have a more enjoyable hike because of your lighter pack. You'll be able to crush miles when you want or need to and you'll have more energy to enjoy the trail. Everything in your pack adds up and as any hiker will tell you: every ounce counts.

So, before you start cutting the ends off your toothbrush or tearing pages out of your guidebook, let's channel that energy to the heaviest items in your pack: The Big Three.

The Big Three

The Big Three consists of your tent, sleep system, and backpack.  These items are the biggest, heaviest, and most likely the most expensive items you’ll purchase for your hike. This is where you want to start cutting out weight. For a three season hike you want to aim to keep the weight of each section under 3 lbs. All together, the goal is to have your Big Three under 9 lbs total. Once there, you’ll be on your way to a substantially lighter load and it will be easier to achieve your desired carry weight.

Sleep System

Let’s start with the sleep system. The sleep system entails anything used for sleeping, such as your sleeping bag, sleeping pad, sleeping bag liner, and/or pillow. In the examples listed below, if there was enough wiggle room to add a pillow or sleeping bag liner with the weight still under 3 pounds then it was added. A sleeping bag liner can add degrees to your sleeping bag and extend the life of your sleeping bag as well. It is possible to shave the sleeping bag liner and pillow from your sleep system, though, to go even lighter.

When choosing a sleeping bag, you may want to go with a down sleeping bag because they tend to be lighter and more compressible than synthetic. Now-a-days most down bags are treated with a water resistant finish. As far as sleeping pads go, it is completely possible to bring an air pad with you, but most thru-hikers tend to go with a closed-cell foam pad due to it's durability and ability to withstand the long haul.

Tent and Footprint

The next item you want to tackle is your tent. Many companies now offer lightweight versions of their tents to accomodate the steady demand for lightweight gear. Most of these tents have a synthetic bottom and a no-see-um mesh for a breathability that also cuts down on weight. These tents come with a rain fly just in case the weather turns. What these tents don't include, though, is a footprint. Having a footprint is essential in protecting the floor of your tent from water and unseen debris. They weigh only a few ounces, but have the ability to save your tent from damage. 


The last item on your Big Three is your backpack. You want to save this item for last because once the weight and size of your tent and sleep system have been reduced, then you'll really know how much space you need in your pack. A pack that can hold a capacity near 50 liters should do the trick. 


It sounds like you have a lot of calculating ahead of you.
No worries. We provided 3 different gear combinations below.


Combination One

(1) Tent:  Copper Spur UL 1 (2 lbs 8 oz)
Footprint:   Coppur Spur UL 1 Footprint (4.5 oz)
(2) Pillow:   Big Agnes Air Core Pillow:  (4.5 oz)
(3) Sleeping Pad:  Sea to Summit Ultralight Pad (12.5 oz)
(4) Sleeping Bag:  Western Mountaineering Highlite 35 (1 lb)
(5) Sleeping Bag Liner:  Sea to Summit Coolmax Adaptor Liner (8.6 oz)
(6) Backpack:  Gregory Stout 45, Unisex (2 lbs 13 oz)

Overall Total Weight:  8 lbs 3.1 oz



Combination Two

(1) Tent:  Big Agnes Seedhouse 1 SL Superlight (2 lbs 9 oz)
Footprint:  Big Agnes Seedhouse SL 1 Footprint (4 oz)
(2) Pillow:   Sea to Summit Aeros Pillow Premium (2.8 oz)

(3) Sleeping Bag:  Western Mountaineering Megalite 30 (1 lb 8 oz)
(4) Sleeping Pad:  Thermarest NeoAir Xlite (12 oz)
(5) Sleeping Bag Liner:  Sea to Summit Thermolite Reactor Liner (8.1 oz)
(6) Backpack:  Men's Gregory Savant 58 or Women's Osprey Aura 50 (both 3 lbs 4 oz)

Overall Total Weight: 8 lbs 15.9 oz



Combination Three

(1) Tent:  Big Agnes Seedhouse SL 1P (2 lbs 15 oz)
Footprint:  Big Agnes Seedhouse SL1 Footprint (4 oz)
(2) Sleepilng Pad:  Thermarest Ridgerest SOLite (9 oz)

(3) Sleeping Bag:  Marmot Nanowave 35 (2 lbs 2.8 oz)
(4) Sleeping Bag Liner:  Sea to Summit Silk Travel Liner (6 oz)
(5) Backpack:  Osprey Exos 58, Unisex (2 lb 8 oz)

Overall Total Weight:  8 lbs 12.8 oz