5 Pieces of Ultralight Gear that Can Survive Multiple Thru-Hikes
Lightweight gear has a reputation for fragility, but there are exceptions to the rule.
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“Ultralight” and “durable” are rarely synonymous. If anything, most ultralight hiking gear is known for its impermanence. It could be pinholes in your inflatable sleeping pad, a tear in your 7-denier nylon sleeping bag, or gashes in your nearly transparent tent fly. Anyone who has made a concerted effort to drop their baseweight has likely come across gear that simply didn’t withstand the test of time. That’s why when you find something that ticks all the boxes—it works well, is durable, and doesn’t max out the scale—it’s all the sweeter. Here are our top picks for ultralight gear that lasts.
ULA Circuit Pack
Price: $279; Buy Now
Weight: 2 lbs. 5 oz.
The ULA Circuit has been a perennial thru-hiker favorite for good reason: It’s one of the few lightweight packs that can survive 2,000 trail miles and come out the other side ready for more. Its scant weight comes from a simple design, not by employing fragile materials. In fact, the Circuit’s 400-denier Robic nylon has the same material weight as the fabrics used in load-haulers from Gregory and Mystery Ranch. “The Circuit is the rare ultralight pack that can stand up to daily use for months and doesn’t mind a bit of light bushwhacking,” says PCT thru-hiker Christine Kelly. This year, ULA also released a new version of the Circuit made of Ultra 200, a new, super strong fabric that should make the packs more durable than ever.
Thermarest Z-Lite Sol Pad
Price: $55; Buy Now
Weight: 14 oz.
Plush inflatable pads might be all the rage, but at some point, inevitably, you will get a puncture. Not so the humble Z-Lite. It might not offer the same level of comfort as its air-filled cousins, but one thing the Z-Lite can do is take a lot of abuse. “The Z-Lite is the sleeping pad that can’t be popped, burned, or really damaged at all unless you decide to rip it in half,” says AT thru-hiker Stephen Eren. “It’s the perfect piece of gear—14 ounces of egg crate excellence.” Its accordion design is supremely packable, and allows the pad to double as a makeshift suspension system in ultralight backpacks.
MSR Titan Kettle
Price: $70; Buy Now
Weight: 4 oz.
When it comes to durability, you can’t do much better than titanium. It’s as strong as steel, but far lighter. Aluminum is technically lighter still, but titanium is so much stronger that product designers can get away with using less of it, making titanium the ultimate ultralight metal. It’s expensive, though, which is why a simple cooking pot is the perfect entry point to titanium ownership. At 4.2 ounces with a 0.85 liter capacity, the MSR Titan Kettle is a good candidate for the last pot you’ll ever need—light enough to disappear in a backpack and the perfect size to function as both a pot and mug. Bruce Etter, an AT and PCT thru-hiker has put thousands of miles on his Titan: “This pot is wicked light and practically indestructible—survives thru-hikes with no problems.”
Price: $135; Buy Now
Weight: 1 oz.
Ombraz makes a high-quality pair of sunglasses like many others in the category, with one big difference: it uses a cinch cord instead of traditional arms to keep them on your head. Gone are the delicate hinges and tiny screws that are so easy to snap when you’re on the move. Says Matt Tock, an ultrarunner and trail worker: “The pair I have has lasted years. Before, I’d break a pair of sunglasses every few months. Or weeks.” The cinch cord is comfy, especially when wearing a hat or helmet, and the lenses (including a polarized option) are sharp and offer plenty of scratch-resistance.
Littlbug Junior Stove
Price: $69; Buy Now
Weight: 5 oz.
The stoves from Littlbug don’t look much like other backpacking stoves, but their unique designs are practical and durable. The Junior doubles as a wood-burning stove and a windshield for alcohol burners. It breaks down into four semi-circular pieces, and is designed to be rolled up inside a sleeping pad. “It’s a great little piece of kit,” says Matt Wordell, an ultralight backpacker and bikepacker. “It’s nice to have the backup stove in case you run low on liquid fuel.” Thanks to its stainless steel construction, it can be bent back into shape if you ever happen to step on it.