Backpacking light on a shoe string

by Christian

There is a big misconception that light backpacking is expensive. And people going after the ultralight mantra are practically deranged, buying expensive but fragile UL products that aren’t worth their price tag.

If this were true, we wouldn’t be having a thriving community of cottage manufacturers that supply the light and thru-hikers. After all, most of these cottages get their business by word of mouth or through the experiences of others posted online on blogs or forums.

This stuff works and if you ask me, running through the mountains with a pack weight that is heavier than need be, is just.. not very smart.

What is it you truly need outdoors? Much less, than you might think.

Other essentials: a compass and maps, rain gear, light trail shoes, perhaps a puffy insulation jacket.

These are the choices I’d recommend to a friend who’d want to go backpacking or somebody who is looking for ways to lighten his load. These are solid pieces of kit and can be bought for about $600.

If you compare this to a more traditional setup with a 3 season shelter,a Therm-A-Rest ProLite Plus sleeping pad, a MSR WhisperLite stove, a Deuter ACT Lite 65+10 backpack and the same sleeping bag, and your total cost will be about $730.

But don’t forget compare the weights:


Certainly there are many different fine shelters to choose from. The same goes for cooking systems and the rest of your gear. But is this not part of the fun? To analyze what you might need for the conditions you typically hike in and adjust your system accordingly?

The point I am trying to make, though, is that it doesn’t need to be terrible expensive, to have a much better experience outdoors with a pack that is so much lighter than what traditional backpackers carry. In fact, as the above example shows, it can be cheaper.

Don’t be afraid to reduce your pack weight. It will improve your outdoor experience ten-fold. And don’t just think about you, but also consider your partner. If he or she is not yet so thrilled about spending the nights outside, a lighter pack will also improve their experience.

  • Korpijaakko

    Good point but I think lightweight kit would be available for much cheaper than $600 (say take a synthetic Golite quilt, simple tarp and cheap blue CCF pad). And on the other hand, I’d say the that the traditional backpacker wouldn’t be taking MLD Spirit quilt…

  • Rob Lewis

    Good post, but the trick is learning to do it the first time around.  I have a pile of “Heavy” gear sitting in a closet in which I wish i could get my money back!  Oh well, Live and learn right.

  • Terry Rich

    It’s great that folks can gear up w/o breaking the bank. Backpacking is not just for the wealthy.

  • Lilricky

     Mountain Laurel Designs wouldn’t be my first choice for quilts, you can get lighter, cheaper, lower rated quilts at

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