the big three ultralight gear

When you first start backpacking usually your main priority is finding gear in your budget range and the weight of your gear ends up being a secondary concern. This makes sense since you're going from having no gear to having to buy everything all at once. However, as you grow as a backpacker and get more comfortable on the trail you'll eventually want to do more challenging hikes and maybe longer backpacking trips. This is usually when you'll want to trade in some of that old gear and lighten up that backpack. But where do you start?

You could start by getting a lightweight stove or a ultralight water filter, but by reducing weight in these items you will only be able to save a few ounces of weight. The best area to start cutting weight is what backpackers refer to as The Big 3.


The Big 3 consists of your sleeping bag, tent, and backpack. They are called this because they are the biggest and heaviest items in your pack. By focusing on The Big 3 you could very easily shave off 5 pounds of weight or more.


ultralight sleeping bag

The first item of The Big 3 to replace would be your sleeping bag. When you get a ultralight sleeping bag that usually means they will pack down smaller which then allows you to eventually get a smaller backpack. One thing to look at in an ultralight sleeping bag is its material. A down sleeping bag has the best warmth to weight ratio compared to synthetic sleeping bags. And has the added benefit to be able to compress down very small. This makes a down sleeping bag a no brainier for any backpacker.

Another thing to consider is what degree sleeping bag you should get. The lower the temperature rating on the bag the heavier it will be. For 3 season backpacking I recommend a 35 degree rated bag. If you live pretty far up north I would even consider a 20 degree bag. 

Last thing to think about is whether to get a quilt sleeping bag. A quilt's design eliminates unnecessary insulation underneath you, thus further reducing the sleeping bags weight. I personally use the Sea to Summit Spark Sp II mummy sleeping bag. In the links below I also have other popular choices among backpackers.


ultralight tent

Now lets talk about your shelter. Double-walled (rain fly and inner tent) pole tents have been around for a while and they are still very useful gear to have in winter conditions. However, when it comes to 3 season backpacking they're better choices out there.

Single walled tarp tents are a great alternative. They combine the inner tent and rain fly into a single layer. By doing this, companies are able to use less material. Also tarp tents don't use tent poles but instead use hiking poles for structural support. With the tarp tent designed in this way its overall weight is significantly reduced.

I recommend the Six Moon Designs Lunar Solo tarp tent. But, let's say you're not fully comfortable transitioning to a tarp tent just yet. There are double-walled tents on the market that do come close in weight to some tarp tents. I have both types of tents linked below.


ultralight backpack

Once you've updated your sleeping bag and tent, now you'll be able to see which backpack is good for you. The one you have now is probably going to be too large. Look for backpack volumes in the range of 48-58 liters.

The other decision you'll need to make, is should you go with a internal frame or frameless backpack. If your total pack weight is above 25 pounds (including water and food) you should go with a internal frame. This kind of pack offers better support when you're carrying heavier weight. However, if you're total weight is under 25 pounds, then a frameless backpack will work better. Since your weight is so low you will find that the extra support from a frame is no longer needed and you can expect your backpacks weight will be much lower then a internal frame pack.

The pack I use is the frameless Mountain Laurel Designs Exodus 58L backpack. Check out the links below for other popular internal and frameless backpacks.


Beginner Backpackers Big 3: Total Weight 9lbs 3oz

Seasoned Backpackers Big 3: Total Weight 3lb 8oz


If the weight of your backpack is taking the fun out of your hiking trips, then it's time to lighten that pack. Make sure to follow the guidelines above and start reducing your weight with The Big 3 and before you know it you'll be on the trail tearing it up with an ultralight backpack. If you have any questions or suggestions please feel free to leave a comment down below. And if you found this article helpful in any way don't forget to hit that heart button below.


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