Lightweight and Comfortable: Striking the Perfect Gear Balance for the Appalachian Trail

After reading the post this morning “4 Reasons Why Ultralight is NOT Worth the Hype” by Appalachian Trials writer Carlie Gentry I had all of the motivation needed to write this post. For the past year I have been working on upgrading the different items in my pack to ultralight gear. As much as I love trying out new gear and experimenting with different ways to cook, sleep, etc., I did start to notice a sacrifice in comfort. It was on my thru hike of the Benton MacKaye Trail that I decided that my best pack style would be to incorporate enough ultralight items in my pack to bump me up into the lightweight pack range, giving me the option to enjoy benefits of ultralight gear while staying comfortable in the backcountry.

What’s in the bag?

These are a few ultralight items that I have started to use with the intentions of having gear that serves multiple purposes and saving weight.

  • Shelter– As the colder months have started to bring in the lower temperatures the bugs that, in the past, have always driven me into a hammock (Eno Doublenest for 2 years and since this spring a Hennessy Ultralight Backpacker) are gone! I have went back to the roots of my camping experiences and instead of hanging, like I have been for a long time now, I am using my Hennessy rainfly as a tarp shelter and sleeping on the ground. Weighing in at only 8 oz. it’s 1/3 of the weight of the entire hammock system I was carrying.
  • Stove/Cookset– I was recently gifted by a friend of mine a Trail Designs alcohol stove with windscreen. It has been great! The can has began to cave in a little bit and will need to be replaced but luckily these stoves are easy to make at home and I did that just other day for the first time. This replaced in my pack an MSR Pocket Rocket and fuel canister. The weight difference may not by that big, but bulk in my bag is down and the price difference on the fuels is much in favor of the alcohol stove.
  • Poncho tarp– So, this one may be pushing it for some folks regarding price but for all of the space has saved in my pack along with it’s multiple uses I couldn’t pass it up. A Sea 2 Summit Ultra-sil Poncho Tarp weighs in at 8.1 oz. Unfortunately, it also weighs in on the wallet at a hefty $80 depending on where you shop. This purchase has been well worth it, though, and has made carrying another small thing or two extra not too much of a hassle. The poncho tarp has replaced a full body rain-suit that was almost double in weight and 3x the size and also a pack cover for rain. It can also be used as your tarp for your shelter (I’ve done this. It’s works great.) or as an awesome rain shelter to wait out bad weather.

Those Comfort Items

The reason that I started looking for ultralight gear choices is to really make room for the things I take that make setting up and hanging out at camp each night as fun and enjoyable as possible.

  • REI Flexlite Chair– You cannot beat this. 10 days in on a 30 day hike my buddy and I had our roommate drive to meet us and bring two of these. To me, being comfortable is one of the biggest parts of the mental game. If I am not enjoying myself then why would I stick around? That’s why I always carry this chair on the back of my pack when I’m on trips. After a 15 mile hike with sore bones and muscles, sitting on the ground for an hour or two before bed is not what I want to do. I want to lean back and stretch my legs.
  • Speaker– I love music and in the evenings during camp setup and the morning during breakdown I love to be able to jam to some tunes. I carry a GoalZero speaker that is water resistant and can handle rugged trail life.
  • Extra lightweight tarp– This is one thing a buddy and I started carrying on the BMT because of the amount of rain we experienced. It was replaced in my pack by the poncho tarp which has saved weight and even works better for our uses. Almost every night on the BMT we strung up an extra tarp as a rain shelter. As hammockers we didn’t have a tent to hang out in during storms and sitting under our hammock flies was more of a hassle to stay dry. We experimented with multiple ways of stringing up a rain shelter and always kept ourselves and our packs dry.

These are just a few of the extra things that I have started to carry on every trip to make camp a little more homelike. Being lightweight and comfortable on the trails is what has me looking forward to getting camp setup each evening.

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Comments 1

  • Dan Bortz : Jun 18th

    You lost me at the chair…those things are well over a pound. Definitely not what I would call lightweight. That speaker isn’t exactly “leave no trace” either….


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