Overhaul Your Big Three
In the market to evolve your backpacking gear, but lost on where to begin? We all know the major brands sold at the large retailers, and there’s a reason they’re so popular: they make great gear! But instead of rushing out for a big-brand pack, tent, or sleep system, take a minute to check out the offerings from smaller companies who don’t have the exposure of the top-name brands. With some research, you will find lightweight, high-quality options, many of which are manufactured in the US. Here, I’ve compiled a list of trail-proven brands and their top selections to get you started.
There is an ever-expanding array of companies producing durable, functional, lightweight packs. Here are a few options, all of which are popular amongst AT hikers.
ZPacks boasts top-notch cuben fiber designs. Their Arc Blast backpack weighs 21 ounces, and can haul loads of up to 35 pounds—a great pack for those looking for plenty of room without the weight. The pack sizes vary, from 45, 52, and 60 liters.
Ultralight Adventure Equipment (ULA) offers their 41 ounce Circuit backpack. This 68-liter workhorse will haul loads of roughly 30 pounds comfortably. The Circuit is a great choice for those with a lightweight setup, but still enjoy their luxury items.
Gossamer Gear also fashions great packs. The Kumo sports 36 liters of capacity at 15.7 ounces; great for anyone with an already ultralight setup. Note that the Kumo is a frameless pack, with a recommended load of 25 pounds or less.
Find the Gossamer Gear Mariposa, ULA CDT, and ZPacks Arc Blast in our Best Packs Roundup
Look beyond freestanding tents. You’ll save weight from the poles without sacrificing space.
Six Moon Designs Lunar Solo tent is an affordable, lightweight (24 ounce) option for those looking for a comfortable shelter with ample room. The bathtub floor and no-see-um netting will keep you dry and happy, and the trekking pole set-up means you don’t have to worry about tent poles.
Hyperlite Mountain Gear offers a selection of cuben fiber tarps, such as the Echo I. If you are going the minimalist route, this might be the shelter for you. More exposure to the elements is a trade-off with weight-saving tarps, but you’ll be carrying a shelter that weighs just 9.4 ounces.
Hennessy Hammocks are a great option as well. With an integrated bug net, and the comfortability a hammock can boast, hammock hangers swear by the Hennessy brand. The Ultralite Backpacker Asym Zip is a two-pound option for those who like to sleep off the ground.
Find the Six Moons Designs Lunar Solo in our Best Tents roundup
Lastly, here are some lightweight, alternative options for staying warm at night.
Enlightened Equipment crafts custom quilts that are both affordable and extremely lightweight. The Revelation allows the user to zip up the footbox on chilly nights, or unzip it for warmer nights. Bonus: their high-quality gear is crafted in Minnesota.
Western Mountaineering is known for their awesome down sleeping bags, such as the SummerLite, rated at 32F for just over one pound.
Ray-Way provides DIY quilt options, which come with precise cutting and sewing instructions. DIY quilts are typically more cost effective, and think how proud you’ll be when you can tell your jealous hiking companions that you stitched it up yourself.
Find the Enlightened Equipment Revelation and Western Mountaineering UL 20 in our Best Sleeping Bags roundup
So next time you gear up for another trip, don’t forget to check out the smaller companies. If you’ve carried alternative gear on your trips, and we haven’t listed it, be sure to mention it in the comments, and happy hiking.
*No gear was donated for the purpose of this article. We just really, really like this gear.
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