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Backpacker Magazine – January 2014

Readers' Choice 2014: Skills - Ultralight

Trim your pack weight by ditching extras and counting ounces.

Light and cheap: reuse a Gatorade bottle instead of carrying a Nalgene
Light and cheap: reuse a Gatorade bottle instead of carrying a Nalgene


Lesley Fulton
Fullerton, CA

An injury forces a dedicated backpacker to slash pack weight.

Smart gear swaps and planning with ounces in mind

Fulton, 35, first hiked Mt. Whitney at age 15 and completed the John Muir Trail at age 32 with a 60-pound pack. But after a series of neck surgeries and the fusing of several cervical vertebrae (the result of a brain- and spine-damaging sports accident), doctors told her she would not backpack again—unless she slashed her pack weight to 40 pounds. We thought that was too heavy, so we set our sights on getting her load down even lower.

The Makeover
Fulton worked with BACKPACKER Gear Editor Kristin Hostetter to replace most of her gear, which she’d bought a decade ago when items were heavier (and she didn’t have a medical reason to cut weight). Hostetter also taught her to track ounces with a spreadsheet system.

Upgrade Your Gear
Fulton reduced her pack’s base weight (everything you’re carrying, minus food, water, and fuel) from more than 33 pounds to less than 15. Here’s how:

Old Gear

New Gear

Weight Saved

5 lbs. 3 oz.

Big Agnes Fly Creek 1 Platinum, 2 lbs. ($450*;

3 lbs. 3 oz.

Sleeping bag 
4 lbs. 1 oz.

Sierra Designs Cal 13, 
1 lb. 13 oz. 

2 lbs. 4 oz.

Sleeping pad
1 lb. 4 oz.

Therm-a-Rest Women’s Neo AirXLite,
13 oz.

7 oz.

6 lbs. 11 oz.

Granite Gear Crown V.C. 60 Ki,
2 lbs. 2 oz. ($200;

4 lbs. 9 oz.

Stove and cookware
15 oz.

Snow Peak Giga Power stove, 3 oz.
($50; snowpeak
.com) and 
Evernew ECA 252 cookset, 4 oz.($54;

8 oz.

Other (clothing, water bottles, first aid, etc.)
15 lbs. 5 oz.

7 lbs. 14 oz.

7 lbs. 7 oz.

33 lbs. 6 oz.

14 lbs. 15 oz.

18lbs. 7 oz.

Obsess Over the Little Things
Get a digital scale that measures to tenths of ounces. It will help you decide between the 8-ounce rain pants and the 5-ouncers. Do that for 15 items and you’ve saved yourself almost 3 pounds. 

Be ruthless. Ditch the camp shoes (wear lighter boots and you won’t need them). Skip the pillow (use your puffy jacket, stuffed into its own hood to form a ball). And swap your heavy-duty bottle for a 32-ounce Gatorade bottle (saves you 5 ounces).

Repack consumables. Use small bottles of sunscreen, bug dope, and hand sanitizer, or repack them in travel-size containers (such as the GSI Outdoor Soft-Sided bottles; $12;

Slim your first-aid kit. Do you really need the 2-ounce manual, or 12 gauze bandages for a single trip? Ditch heavier nylon zippered cases for a light zip-top bag.

The Trip
Last August, Fulton completed her second thru-hike of the 221-mile JMT in 20 days (highest total pack weight: 38 pounds with 10 days of food). “The lighter load helped me hike faster,” Fulton says. “I got to campsites sooner and was able to enjoy lake swims, relaxing lunches, and side explorations. And I didn’t really miss any of my old ‘comfort gear.’ I had always shied away from ultralight gear because I thought it would mean a sufferfest. I was so wrong.”

Winner Wisdom
Carry less water. “Before every pass, I asked northbound hikers about the water situation up ahead. This meant that I could get away with packing far less.”

Practice. “I took several shakedown hikes before the JMT. After each, I reassessed everything in my pack. I learned I could do without a lot I’d never considered leaving behind: a pillow, a Nalgene, PJs.”

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Star Star
Michael Moore
Feb 28, 2014

Would have saved both weight and money by using a top quilt instead of a sleeping bag. Check out or for quilts. 2 of the best in the business.


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