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Ultralight Gear

I am looking at going ultralight (or at least very light) and I've got a few questions. To shave weight if I use a tarp shelter how do I keep myself, my bag, and my gear dry during a rain. Won't run-off ground water soak through your bag in the night? A bivy seems like a good way to solve this problem while maintaining the light weightness but are they too awkward to get a decent sleep in? Will they effectively repel ground water and rain water? What do i do with my sleeping pad if I use a bivy, put it under the bivy or try to shove it inside the bivy? If I use a tarp or bivy how do i keep my gear dry in rain? Also, these ultralight packs ( are they comfy for long trail hikes? I am wondering how to tell if they have metal stays in them or if that even matters for comfort with a load of 30lbs or less? How much pack space do I need to allow for besides my gear for say... 5 days of food. I am expecting to carry at most 2 lbs of food per day so that makes 10bs of food for 5 days on the trail, allowing me 20lbs of gear tops with that backpack (im hoping to carry much less than 20lbs anyways). I know alot of these answers are going to be speculation and averages but please see if you can start pointing me in the right directions. Thanks!

Hi oober,

I can tell you what I used to do, it was a progression of both gear and technique and mental approach. What I ended up doing worked well for me.
This is not to say it will necessarily work for you.

The region where I backpacked ultralight/light was: The Southern Appalachians.
Conditions: WET, lots of rain fall, water vapor, fog/mist. The S. Apps. receive around 80 inches of rain per yr.
We have moderate temps, high humidity during Spring & Summer. During winter it will get down to single digits with strong winds at the higher elevations.
1-3 feet of snow is not uncommon & snap freezes where everything is covered in ice after a day of freezing rain is not uncommon.

The region you are in will have a direct bearing on what works and what does not. If your area is a lot different than mine in terms of temperature, altitude, precipitation, ect. then someone from your own region may well have better advise than I can give you.


Ridgerest closed cell foam pad under bivy
0*F Mummy bag for winter & a 25*F bag for 3 season use
For a campsite I pick an area that looks like it will drain well, offers some shelter from wind, without any large rotten or cracked limbs overhead. It's not always about the gear of course!
I always carried a rain suit, some like ponchos better, but at times around here you can not stop hiking just because it is raining a little or else you will never get anywhere.
Mentally I had to perceive that as my mobile daytime shelter.

It's been a while since I traveled ultralight/light and packs have come a long way in that time, Granite Gear does get good reviews but maybe others can give you more up to date info on packs.

I limited myself to:
Map & compass
Home made wood gas stove (instructions on youtube)
Knife, lighter, flint & steel, flashlight (use tree sap for fire starter, collect it as you need it)
First aid kit
Bowl, cup, spork, & a thin lightweight synthetic towel
Lightweight water filter & 2 nalgene bottles
Biodegradable all purpose soap with duct tape wrapped around the bottle to use as needed
Food & Toilet paper
Plastic bags, nylon cord
Trail shoes in 3 season & light hiking boots in winter
Sunglasses, chapstick (deet in summer)
Rain suit
Mummy bag
Little plastic card with Leave No Trace rules on one side & topographic map symbols on the other side

Base weight 16-18 pounds usually.

You will find many people do it different ways, each one deciding where they can cut weight based on their own preferences and needs.

Many people find it helpful to keep track of how much you really need/don't need a particular item, or what you really could have used but didn't have. This will be a progressive journey for you.
During winter I think it is wise to sacrifice a little and be prepared, just in case, and not quite as worried about what the bathroom scale says. IMO
If it is 2:00 am and you are cold and wet you will not care what the bath scale said.

Hope that helps

You've asked a lot of questions which have varying answers depending on where you are and your whole package of gear. You may want to check out, which is a pay membership site for most of its content, but has a fair amount of free content and forums.

Another site, which I belong to, is, known as The Lightweight Backpacker, which has a lot of forums. I'm not particularly a lightweight guy, but many of the members are long distance and ultra-light backpackers.

I am not big on tarps and bivys, but a lot of people use them. If it's raining, I want to be in a tent. I've spent time cooped up in a small tent and that's about all I can handle.

I use a tent, it was called the Hex, but now called the Shangri-la It is just like a real tent and comes in three parts all bought separately. Theres the fly which is cone or tipi shaped and weighs around 3 lbs. Theres a bathtub floored bottom, no-see-em netting top. And a bathtub floor by its self. The fly and no-see-em netting floor piece uses a single pole in the center or a loop on the top to tie off to a limb or something above the fly. It sleeps three with the loop tied off to a limb, two with the pole. It has two netted vents near the top.
I also use a Golite Pack called the Gust which is not in the catalog anymore but it weighs but 1 lb. Basically a giant stuff sack with shoulder straps and a waist belt. With sleeping pad (I use a Therm-a-rest)inside for stucture it is very good for a long haul.
I also use a Golite down sleeping bag called the Featherlight which weighs 9 oz and stuffs into a soccerball sized stuff sack.

One thing that I left out is that I did carry a tarp which also served as a bag liner. The Cumberland Escarpment area has many caves and outcroppings that hikers use for shelter, I suspect Native Americans did the same thing, I would.

Tom D has posted links to good sites, I am not a member on them but have visited and read some good articles.
Hi Tom

Hi Gary, how's it going? How do you like the Golite Featherlight bag?

Hey, I love it. Packs small and is good for most weather here in summer especially at the higher elevations.

Bivy's are best used in a eVent fabric, over a down bag with a breathable shell, under a UL tarp or wing or the like. Some like to use a bivy in tents, but it seems like a seam-sealed tent and a DWR coating on the sleeping bag would be all one would need in many situations. Find another use for your hankerchief as a condensation wiper.

Many people that go the Bivy/Tarp route find ways to configure things so their empty pack is used as insulation under the legs, in conjunction with a 3/4 length pad. Some people put the pad in the bivy, some under the bivy; this usually depends on the durability of the underneath bivy fabric. This often is accomplished through using one's coiled foam sleeping pad as a frame for the pack. When camp is set up, some spare clothes are kept in the pack to provide some protection from the ground, also keeping you from having to find another place to stash your pack.

I hear Granite Gear packs are generally good. My wife has a Vapor Ki, and she raves about it. I've worn a mens Vapor Trail, and was very pleased with the fit and carry with anything under 25lbs. I'd imagine the Latitude Vapor would be a little more reinforced to allow for a bit of a heavier load. It should be right around the capacity one might look for if one were serious about 4-season ultralight backpacking. Generally, somewhere around 3000 C.I. is good. Of course, these suggestions are assuming you'll have or soon be buying the requisite tiny down bag, bivy, and tarp/tarptent. This volume would hardly be manageable for someone trying to do a weekend with a 5lb. synthetic bag and 10lb double-wall tent.

Have you spent any time in a sleeping bag inside a bivy sac? If I was you I'd throw your system out in the backyard for a couple weeks of cold weather sleeping and see how you do. Bivy sac "imprisonment" is not for everyone, you'll find out soon enough.

Drawbacks to the bivy shelter that I've found are many: The usual constriction(it's bad enough inside a zipped up mummy bag w/o bivy), without an overhead tarp a bivy arrangement will leak water around the face, it's difficult to vent during a rainstorm w/o getting wet, etc. I saw a guy bivy sacking it at zero degrees and while we all went into our tents at nightfall around 5:30pm, he had no choice but to get into his bivy to get warm and stayed there til the next morning, about 14 hours later. Couldn't sit up and read by candle light or easily cook up tea, etc.

Tarps and tarptents are very popular nowadays, and as long as you can keep your gear dry in them, well, go for it. The problems with tarps? During a heavy deluge, water ground splash can jump up along the perimeter edge, thereby shortening your overall living space. And tarps are rough in high winds during blizzards as it is next to impossible to keep out windblown snow when sleeping in a tarp. I used one in the winter and woke up every morning covered in 6-8 inches of blown snow. By the time you get all the guylines arranged and the stakes put in to prepare for a high ground wind and snow attack, well, it'd be easier to just bring a four season tent.

Hi tipi,

You are right, the bivy / tarp setup is far from perfect and not always enjoyable! It is ultra light, but that's about all you can say.

Nowadays I prefer a little more comfort, I use a 3-4 season tent. The extra 5 lbs. just makes you stronger. IMO
I don't cut the handle off my toothbrush anymore either, too easy to swallow it in a hurry! HaHa

I have yet to try out a tarptent, but many thru hikers swear by those and hammocks. I have used a hammock and do like them in milder temps, in cold weather it's just a lot easier for me to use a tent.

I have been a bivy-man since my first trip to Mt.Washington 10 years back.
I cannot kid you any less when I say bodybags, I mean bivysacs are not for the timid. They can be stuffy,constrictive and hard to sleep in sometimes.
That being said, in my opinion, when it comes to ultra-light, the bivy is a most excellent piece of engineering.
I have an original Outdoor Research Standard Bivysac (the gore-tex one)
no poles, but I tie lines to the guy line loops to pull the bivy up off my face.
That gives better air flow and the illusion of a little more space. Plus as I found out the hard way on the beach in N.C., the no-seeum netting DOES keep out all bugs. It however DOES NOT keep out their mouths. I was fed on from outside the netting, so I woke up with a very red nose, cheeks and forehead.
Underneath I use a heavy grade tall trashbag split down each side as my ground cloth. And in bad weather I'll throw my disposable pancho over the entrance to keep out the rain but keep the storm flaps still open for venting.
I also use a RidgeRest short pad,only 4ft.long, but enough for me.
All in all my whole sleep system, sleepingbag included, weighs less than five pounds or so.
Best of all is the fact that my bivy rolls up very small(12"x5"), or I can leave the sleeping bag inside and stuff the whole thing in my stuffsack or backpack.
So if you can handle a bivysac it will save you ALOT of space and weight.

As for ultralight packs don't underestimate them. There are alot of great manufactures who make some very great "day packs" that do alot more.
I have not use any of my other packs since I got my Gregory Banshee.
It is a single bar internal frame "day/fast pack" but, I regularly stretch it out for four or five day trips. It is very comfortable even when grossly overloaded.

I am dedicated ultra light for life.

We have had a similar thread in the norwegian forum Since most of you do not read norwegian I have edited the list, hoping that it is understandable. Total wight is as you see 5263 grams, equals 11 pounds. The rules for this selection is that is should be equipment good enough for the norwegian mountains, + food for one week. No safety shortcuts were allowed. Here is the list:
Backpack: (Mountain Laurel Super Prophet), 255 g, 155 USD
Mat: (Artiach Light Plus) 170g, 280 NOK
Bag: (Millet XP 500), 450g
Tent: (Terra Nova Laser Photon) 760 g, 270 £
Stove (Primus MicronStove) 69 g, 630 NOK
Kettle: (FireLite SUL-900 Titanium Cookpot) 79 g, 70 USD
Fuel (100g gassboks) 198 g, 60 NOK
Utensil (spork), 9 g, 30 NOK
Food (Real Turmat til supper/lunch, grain for breakfast, 0,399 kg pr dag) 1995 g, 650 NOK
Reserve food (SL-9) 230 g (??? NOK)
Waterbottle/bag (Platypus 1 L pose). 30 g, 300 NOK

Light downjacket (Klättermusen Liv) 290 g, 2000 NOK
Underwear(Nett-trouser) 140 g, 320 NOK
Gloves(Arcteryc woolgloves) 30 g, 200 NOK
Cap (Devold ullbalaclava) 40 g, 200 NOK
Extra socks (Bridgedale trekking wool) 80 g, 200 NOK

Knife: (Spyderco Lightweight Knife) 16g, 35 USD
Tape (Scotch) 50 g, 150 NOK
Rope (for extra tentlines, shoolaces /div rep) 30 g, 50 NOK
Matches 10 g, 20 NOK
Map and compass 80 g, 120 NOK + 150 NOK
1. aid 85 g, 11 USD
Packbag (Tatonka) 75 g, 230 NOK
Headlight (Petzl E-Lite) 27 g, 300 NOK
Toilet paper 20 g, Steal some from the roll at home!
Other sanitary items (Toothbrush, toothpaste, soap, detergent) 43 g

Total weight is................5261g / 11 pounds

Quite impressive, is'nt it? I see that the clothes and shoes you wear on you is not in the list. Nor is extra rainclothes, I guess it is based on using a hardshell both jacket and pants of some kind. But never the less.

Hey Otto, thanks for taking the time to do that!

That is ultralight! I'm impressed.
I did notice nothing listed for water treatment, or did I miss something?
The one item my lightweight friends use to give me a hard time about was my water filter, they just carried Iodine tablets and I always filtered plus used tablets. There were many jokes on my water filter.

Does this list assume you will boil water to sterilize?

No there is no water treatment in this package It is intended for use in Norway remember, and so far I've never used any treatment of water in my almost 60 years of walking in the nature. Did never think of it, silly me. But I never got sick either.

But if the Steripen may do the job, it does not add that much weight. Then the list would be complete for a hike anywhere. For going in summer I would add 20g of insect repellent also.

Just checked need for water treatment before going to Germany this autumn. Bottom line is that tracks are so close to villages that if one carries a couple of litres of water it is enough. Easy to refill. Some water in the woods are drinkable, but not the large rivers. Btw, if you put the letter "U" in front of the name of the largest river,(Rhine) then you have an indication of what it consists of!

I read the text in the norwegian thread thoroughly, and I was right about clothes missing. They assumed 2040 grams in shoes, socks, underwear and hardshell outerwear + sunglasses.

Thanks for your reply Otto,

There are a lot of underground springs in the mountains near where I live, some of them are tested regularly and are deemed safe to drink. These springs usually have a small parking area and people who live close by come and fill containers up, the water is cold, clear, and tastes better than the city water.

I have just always been very cautious about my drinking water on backpacking trips, truth be told, some of the streams in the mountains are good to drink from, problem is you don't know which ones aren't.

A couple of the rivers are near industrial areas and big cities, I tend to think they would be more like the Rhine, in those rivers there are signs posted not to eat more than three fish per month!
I say no thanks, I'll take no fish from there!

As far as the gear list you posted, I don't ever remember weighing my sunglasses + the clothes I was going to wear hiking that day, a lot of times I had them on during weighing my pack.
But an additional 2040 grams added to the list you gave is still impressive.

I don't travel lightweight much anymore, only on occasion, but if you need to travel fast on longer distances it is the way to do it!

My night in the FORUM . . . I tossed the DANA Astralplane (7lbs, empty) into the winter gear closet and bought a very nice GRANITE GEAR MERIDIAN, this summer. Sweet little pack and very comfortable with about 40 pounds in it at the start. I was even able to lay the bear canister on its side, top of the pack.

As for a tent, I used for many years a large, "pedestrian" REI half-dome at about five pounds. This summer I tried a very light, but very annoying Mountain Hardware, "skypoint 1" which was basically a bit bigger that a bivy sac and annoying as hell. if you're a big guy, or have to spend any time in your tent, a Bivy and probably some other one-man tents, will make you miserable.

I came home and dumped the MH tent and bought another 2-person, 4.5 pound REI tent. I'll trade the weight for the the comfort. I've never used an open tent/tarp, but I used to just sleep under the stars and that sucked with the bugs and the bad weather. I love having a house to climb into.

I've shaved several pounds as well, by upgrading my old gear. Here's my current setup for summer:

Pack - Granite Gear Nimbus Ozone - 3lbs
Sleeping bag - Mont-Bell S.S. U.L. #5 - 1lb 2oz
Sleeping pad - Z-Lite - 15oz
Tent - MSR Hubba Hubba 2 person - 3lb 14oz
Water Filter - Katadyn Hiker Pro - 11oz
Stove - Jetboil PCS - 1lb 14oz

That's 11lb 8oz with some very lightweight gear (aside from the stove), and I haven't weighed in food, clothing, and other necessities. For me, 11lbs is not a realistic goal. I'm definitely not one to confine myself to a bivy, and leaving the tent body behind is not an option because I like keeping the bugs out.

With a goal of 15lbs, is 4lbs enough to spare when I need to include food, clothing, first aid kit, and some water? Probably not, but maybe I could just deal with the bugs...

September 26, 2020
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