The Ultralight Challenge: 2.0

Pick the gear I can carry on a trip to determine how low one man can go.

Back in 2002, I hit the trail to tackle a few weighty questions: Can a longtime luxury camper slash pounds and live to tell about it? Does a minimalist approach lead to more miles, more scenery, and easier hiking—without sacrificing good meals, warm sleep, and solid weather protection? Outfitted in gear chosen by readers (you denied me a change of underwear—thanks, guys), I spent a week on California's Lost Coast and—despite truly foul weather—came back a convert.

Now it's time to try again. The quality of ultralight gear has improved dramatically, and weights have dropped by as much as 50 percent. That's a good thing—my legs have 5,000 more miles on them—but this experiment can't be a cakewalk. Not if we're going to answer this episode's burning question: Can a kit that weighs less than two gallons of water really keep me warm, dry, and comfortable? That'll be a challenge on this trip, because I'm upping the ante by heading for the high country. I'll spend five days above 10,000 feet in the Rockies, facing an unpredictable mix of wind, cold, rain, and even snow. If this gear has any weaknesses, this environment will surely expose them.

How low should I go? You decide.