Problem Kentuckian Matt Kilcoyne had a heavy, bulky, and uncomfortable Army surplus kit with limited versatility for handling longer treks and bad weather.
Solution By replacing five key items, we shaved 10 pounds, 5 ounces from his load, gave him the flexibility to camp in a much wider variety of conditions, and boosted his comfort on trail and in camp. Here are his reviews.
The North Face Flint 2
My hammock camping days might not be over for good, but the Flint is now my go-to shelter. Not only is it lighter than my hammock, it offers better rain, wind, and bug protection, and is way easier to set up (just two crossing poles and some clips). Plus, at 30 square feet with a 41-inch peak height, it offers up lavish living space for one big guy or comfortably sleeps a snuggly couple. Ample mesh means no condensation, and the single door is protected by a 6.3-square-foot vestibule that’s big enough for foul-weather cooking. For an even lighter package (3 lbs. 3 oz.) in bugless conditions, I can leave the tent behind and pitch the fly with the optional footprint ($32). Huge props: The price is awesome. $149; 4 lbs. 11 oz.;
Feathered Friends Kestrel
This 30°F, 850-fill bag is so lofty (it’s four inches high) that I feared it would be too warm for Kentucky summers. But the shell’s Schoeller NanoSphere fabric breathed amazingly well, and the full-length (and snagproof) zipper let me open the bag wide, quilt-style, so it was comfortable even on nights in the mid-50s. Yet it’s toasty down to its rating (and probably beyond), thanks to a contoured hood and unique draft collar that creates a secure seal through the shape of the baffle—no cords or Velcro needed. The 64-inch shoulder girth makes it a good fit for broad guys or claustrophobes. Best of all, it packs down to football-size and weighs only 1 pound, 12 ounces. $349-$364; 2 sizes; featheredfriends.com
Lowe Alpine TFX Appalachian 65:85
This large internal frame weighs almost 2.5 pounds less than my old military pack, yet it carries way more gear, way more comfortably, and I can use it for virtually any type of trip—from day to weeklong. The plastic framesheet and aluminum stays, along with plush shoulder straps and hipbelt, let me haul 54 pounds of gear and food for trail workers along the Sheltowee Trace Trail in Kentucky. Even with that load, stability was great, thanks in part to the precise fit I got from the easy-to-dial-in, adjustable torso length. Bonus: The versatile, pockets-rich packbag has plentiful compression straps that shrink it down to handle big-daytrip loads. $255; 4 lbs. 6 oz.; lowealpine.com
Exped Airmat Basic UL 7.5
With three inches of air supporting my tired bones after long days of trail work, this pad was an extreme comfort update from my thin foam mat. Plus, it packs way smaller (8 x 3 inches). The two-valve system makes inflation and deflation simple and fast, and bags don’t easily slide off the brushed surface. $69-$79; 12 oz.; 2 sizes; exped.com
The Icon Irix II runs on one AA battery, and adjusts smoothly from 5 to 50 lumens. I wore it as a headlamp and unclipped it from its housing to use as a stationary lantern. $30; 3.2 oz.; myiconlight.com