Everyone benefits from carrying less weight. Whether you’re a mileage-driven thru-hiker, a fast-packing weekender, or a comfort-seeker who just wants to make room for camp luxuries, you’ll enjoy a lighter load. Easier said than done, you say? We’ve devised this 12-step program to help you slash pounds today.
Admit you have a problem
Load your pack (everything but food and water) for a summer weekend. No cheating—include the extras you carry, like a book, wallet, and camera. Now weigh it. More than 15 pounds? You can—and should—lose weight.
Downsize your pack
Conventional wisdom dictates—and we’ve advised before—that you should change your pack last, since you’ll overwhelm an ultralight model if you don’t upgrade your other gear at the same time. But consider this option the cold-turkey method: Buy a lightweight pack and adapt your gear to fit. “Make your pack constrain your other gear choices,” says Erik Asorson, PCT thru-hiker and guidebook author. Switching to a trim 40-liter pack, for instance, forces you to shrink gear across the board and prevents you from hauling “just in case” extras. For the lightest load, choose a frameless pack that weighs less than two pounds and keep your total payload below 25 pounds (our pick: the GoLite Jam Pack, $150, 1 lb. 15 oz., golite.com). Want to balance a light pack with the versatility to carry bigger loads when needed? Opt for a pack with a light-but-rigid suspension, like Granite Gear’s Blaze AC 60 ($200, 2 lbs. 15 oz., granitegear.com).
Ditch your dome
This is the low-hanging fruit of an ultralight makeover. If you’re carrying a traditional freestanding dome, you can cut shelter weight in half or more. The lightest option: a tarp. You can’t beat the space-to-weight ratio, but expect to practice a bit to achieve a sturdy pitch. And of course tarps offer no protection from bugs or pooling water. Our pick: Integral Designs SilWing ($110, 12 oz., 56 sq. ft.). Not a tinkerer? Get domelike protection for tarplike weight with floorless shelters like the GoLite Shangri-La 2 ($225, 1 lb. 10 oz., 45 sq. ft.). Prefer a traditional tent? Save weight with a model that uses trekking poles for support (NEMO Meta 2p: $370, 2 lbs. 15 oz., 36 sq. ft., nemoequipment.com) or a nonfreestanding hoop tent (Mountain Hardwear Lightpath 2: $175, 3 lbs. 15 oz., 30 sq. ft., mountainhardwear.com).
Change your bedding
If you’re going to spend big on one piece of gear, make it your bag. A $30 tarp may offer shelter comparable to a $300 tent, but a cheap bag is likely to be cold or heavy—or both. Aim for a three-season pad/bag combo that weighs three pounds or less. Splurge on a premium down bag to save weight and bulk. Our pick: Marmot’s Plasma 15 ($469, 1 lb. 14 oz., marmot.com). For maximum cushion, get an insulated air mattress, like Pacific Outdoors Peak Elite AC ($80, 14 oz., pacoutdoor.com).