Keepin’ It Light… or Ultralight?

Backpacking gear is one of those things that can take me into the depths of the internet, and I’ll admit that lately I have become a little obsessed. Fortunately, this obsession has recently led to some awesome purchases. I’ve developed a strategy for buying gear, and I’m sharing it with hopes that it will help you buy gear in the future.

Balancing Weight, Comfort, and Price

The ultralight backpacking concept is brilliant, granted you’re OK with your bank account being as ultralight as your base weight. It is for this reason that I have become engrossed in the subject of backpacking gear. Before I make a purchase you better believe I know exactly how many ounces it weighs, how long I can expect it to last (hopefully forever), and what the manufacturer’s warranty includes. 


The most important term to know if you’re considering light or ultralight backpacking is base weight. Your base weight is essentially everything but your clothes, food, water, and fuel.

Gossamer Gear made an awesome blog post about base weight, and you can find it here if you’d like to read more. Essentially, they define the levels of base weight like this:

–Lightweight backpackers carry a base weight of 20 pounds or less.

–Ultralight backpackers carry a base weight of ten pounds or less.

–Superultralight backpackers carry a base weight of five pounds or less.

Check out, a website where you can make a profile and enter all your gear to keep track of your base weight. This helped me see where the bulk of my weight comes from, which made it easy to decide where I might want to invest in lighter gear.

A target base weight that is considered light or ultralight will likely require you to make a few investments. For me, switching out my North Face Terra 55-liter backpack for a much lighter pack was essential. But I still don’t fall into the ultralight category, and I likely won’t anytime soon.


Aside from the cost of ultralight gear, you must also consider what you sacrifice in order to have a lighter base weight. For instance, ultralight tents and inflatable sleeping pads are commonly made with thin nylon fabric that can be easy to tear if you aren’t careful.

I know that I tend to be hard on gear, so I don’t typically buy things made of ultralight nylon. Though this means my pack will be a little heavier, I won’t be worried about popping my sleeping pad in the middle of the woods and sleeping on the hard ground until I can make it to town.

You don’t necessarily have to sacrifice durability for weight, though. Last year I bought a Therm-a-Rest Z Lite Sol sleeping pad, a closed-cell foam pad that only weighs ten ounces for the short version. But after taking this pad out on numerous multiday trips left me with a sore back for a week afterward, I decided it was worth a few ounces to be more comfortable.

I’ve since invested in a Klymit Static V, which I’m looking forward to trying out. This pad weighs more (18ish ounces) than ultralight sleeping pads on the market, but that’s because it’s made of 75 denier nylon. In comparison, many ultralight sleeping pads are made of 20 denier nylon or something similar.


Paying full retail price for an item is something I rarely do. I grew up scouring Goodwill and clearance racks with my grandmother, and I suppose old habits die hard. Thanks, Nana!

Websites like backcountry,, and REI garage and used gear are my best friends. However, my most recent and exciting find for cheap gear is Facebook. Yep, that old website still continues to dominate the internet. I’ve joined countless groups called “Flea Market” pages where you can find used or overstock gear that people are selling. Most of this gear is a result of obsessive people like me who are determined to try out cool new stuff, but end up deciding it isn’t for them. It’s awesome, seriously.

Some Things I’ve Recently Purchased for Crazy Cheap

–Women’s Arc’teryx Zeta LT Jacket from (at about half the original price).

–Kari Traa hooded merino midlayer top from

–Outdoor Research Verismo Hooded Down Jacket, also from

–Klymit Static V sleeping pad from Backpacking Gear Flea Market on Facebook.

–Men’s Mountain Hardwear Metatherm Jacket from Backpacking Gear Flea Market (Isaac snagged this deal).

–Men’s Arc’teryx Beta LT Hybrid Jacket from Amazon (also Isaac’s).

Yay for good deals! I don’t know about you, but I always get a warm, fuzzy feeling when I buy something on sale. However, that’s not to say I don’t buy things for full price sometimes. Below are some things I paid full price for, and they were well worth the price.

A Few of My Favorite Things

–ULA Epic : Y’all, this pack is the bee’s knees. It’s basically a 65-liter Sea to Summit dry bag that clips into a soft frame made by ULA. The Epic was designed for pack-rafting, but Isaac and I both plan on using the pack for our AT thru-hike.

HOKA ONE ONE Speedgoat 2: I bought my first pair of HOKAs this March because of a coworker recommending them after I told her about my annoying foot pain. I’ve had issues with plantar fasciitis for years, and HOKA Cliftons (road running/walking shoes) changed the game for me. I quickly bought a pair of Speedgoats (trail running shoes) to try on the trail. So far I’ve done around 15 miles in a day in them with little to no foot soreness.

*FYI, the image at the top of this post shows me wearing both the ULA Epic pack and my HOKA Speedgoats

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