I’m Not Worrying About Being Ultralight and Here’s Why

As prospective, current, and former thru hikers know all too well, there is an ongoing argument for getting the most ultralight gear possible. Apparently, there’s a secret badge of honor given out to those with a sub-10-pound base weight. To be honest, it feels like another box to put yourself in. While I do think it’s important to get lighter-weight gear and make your pack as light as possible, I don’t think it should be the most important factor in gear selection.  

Gear: Important and Personal  

Gear is such an important and personal selection process and should be tailored to what works best for your needs. As a plus size hiker, gear can be a kind of touchy subject. Options that are available for the majority of people, simply aren’t an option for me – whether it’s because the brand doesn’t have inclusive sizing, the product cuts in a certain area, or the gear simply isn’t built to handle extra weight. People of size have been conditioned to believe that we aren’t welcome everywhere, so walking into a store in search for gear can be incredibly intimidating. Stores like REI have really tried to make getting outdoor gear accessible to everyone, but we still have a long way to go.  

Finding What Works

So how does this relate to starting a thru-hike? Finding gear that works AND is comfortable as a plus size person is a continuous game of trial and error, but sometimes, it just comes down to what fits. I really lucked out with my pack – the Osprey Ariel 65 – because the hip belt and shoulder harness are interchangeable. I measured for a small torso but needed a large hip belt and shoulder harness and was able to order the pack with that customization. The down side is that pack weighs about five pounds (four pounds without the brain)! Even though my pack weighs four pounds, I think it’s worth the weight because it’s extremely comfortable and carries so well that I almost forget I’m wearing it! 

Other items like my sleeping pad (Big Agnes Q Core, Reg/Wide – 22 oz) and my tent (Nemo Hornet 2P – 38 oz) are items that work well for me, but weigh a bit more. Having a strong foundation of gear in my “Big 3” items, I think is worth the extra weight. I’d rather carry a little bit more weight and be comfortable than skimp and be miserable. 

I have been able to cut weight in other areas – my sleeping bag (REI Magma 30 Quilt – 17 oz) is so light and packs down to the size of a Nalgene. I sleep warm, so I haven’t been cold in it except the night I forgot to wear socks to bed (whoops!). I’ve also tried to make as many items dual purpose to cut down on duplicates and unnecessary items. You can check out the rest of my gear list – I’ll link it at the bottom. 

One Size Fits Most Isn’t Reality 

At the end of the day, I’m a bigger person so my gear is going to weigh more. There’s more material in my clothes and that takes up more room. I purchased all ultralight gear, I’m not sure it would make too big of a difference simply because I still need bigger things like clothes. I would constantly be worrying about gear failure because I’d be pushing the limits on some things like the pack load.  

Social media has become so prominent in the outdoor community and gear selection is a major part of that. It’s so easy to get lost in the “well that worked for (insert person here), it will work for me too” mentality. I fell into that too! The number of products I tried or looked into because someone on Instagram or YouTube is a bit ridiculous.  

At the end of the day, I’d rather carry a few extra ounces on some gear and feel safe than to wish I had gear that worked better for me. Select gear that works for YOU and the rest will fall into place! Happy trails my friends! 

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Comments 7

  • Jasper : Jan 23rd

    Hey Victoria,

    Thanks for sharing this post, you hit on so many important topics here, and I really value that beyond what I can put in a simple comment. 🙂

    Being a “non-traditional” hiker (uh… not a tall, thin-to-average male-bodied person) is so tricky to begin with, and then adding the current social media ultralight fixation into the mix can create a lot of undue shame and confusion. I agree that places like REI (and some of the cottage companies!) are making that easier, but it’s barely a drop in the proverbial bucket.

    I have some of the same issues you do, though I find myself right on the cusp between standard and plus size (I’ve heard this referred to as mid-size online, but heck if I know) and very short (5’2” a good day) I feel like I’m constantly fighting against the way a lot of gear is cut, and finding that popular things just don’t work for me more often than not. The trail-and-error is absurd at times!

    I hope your gear serves you well, and I look forward to reading more about your experiences! Good luck out there 😀

    • Victoria Amico : Jan 23rd

      Hey Jasper!

      Thanks for your comment! I will agree that the trial and error process can be so frustrating and absurd at times! More often than not though, I always find something that works!

      Keep shaking up the “non-traditional hiker” vibe!

      Happy trails!

  • Julie : Jan 24th

    Looking forward to “following” along on your PCT adventures!

  • Christa Shackleford : Jan 24th

    How times change! I backpacked 60 years ago in the Sierras before there was a PCT. My equipment was an old knapsack from the army surplus store, a $15 Boy Scout tent, a $15 Sears sleeping bag. No electronics, no stove, I cooked in an old coffee can with a wire handle over a fire. In those days coffee cans were not plastic.
    I am a 5 foot woman, the stuff was about half my weight but cost me less than $50.
    I had a wonderful time, walked for days without meeting anyone else. Of all the items you list I did not bring 38 of them.

  • Christian : Jan 28th

    Great article, and I can totally understand your point of view. Even if my baseweight is usually way below those ominous 10 lbs, I’ll never try to persuade anybode towards a baseweight that low. It is your backpack, you have to be comfortable with it and with the stuff you use. There is no such thing a a ‘right way’ to do backpacking that suits everybody. Most important is that you go out there and that you have fun in the outdoors. And if you loose or gain the one or the other ounce of gear weight throughout your hike, then it’s okay, but totally up to you.

    • Nathalie : Apr 2nd

      Hi Victoria!

      What a dream come true! I’m a Belgian woman, also getting ready for my first thru-hike, but going to New-Zealand for that. PCT is on my list, hoping to be lucky enough to thru hike it someday. I’m always interested in stories about PCT. You are so true with the base-weight. It’s hard and you get slept away into thing other people are using. Some things just don’t work for you and for others great. I wish you the best of luck and an amazing adventure and life changing hike!

      Happy hiking!


      • Nathalie : Apr 2nd

        I mean swept away*
        English is not my mother language ?


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