In my last post, I explained the motivation for lightening your backpack and introduced the 5 step process that I recommend hikers use to lighten their load. I also introduced the big three: your backpack, sleeping bag and shelter, and asked you to weigh them on a digital scale to ensure lightening your backpack.

Get in the habit of weighing all of your gear ©Philip Werner

If you’ve ever gone on a diet, you know that you have to weigh yourself when you start to see if you make any progress over time. Reducing your pack weight requires the same discipline, and knowing the weight of your gear will help you make rational decisions about the benefits of replacing specific items or eliminating them altogether.

When helping hikers reduce their pack weight, I like to start with the big three because they are usually the heaviest items in your backpack. You can experience a very noticeable difference if you reduce their weight early on. As a baseline, you should shoot to get your sleeping bag, tent/shelter, and backpack under three pounds each.

Sleeping Bags

The best place to start lightening the weight of your big three is with your sleeping bag. In addition to getting one that is lighter, it’s also possible to get one that compresses smaller, translating into the need for a smaller, lighter backpack with less volume.

But first, what makes a sleeping bag heavy? Well, a lower temperature bag is usually heavier than one rated for warmer weather, a mummy bag with a hood is usually heavier than a rectangular bag without one, and bags with full length zippers tend to be heavier than comparably rated bags with half zips. Additionally, down filled bags are lighter than ones filled with synthetic insulation, and compress much smaller.

Western Mountaineering Summerlite 32F, 1 pound 3 ounces

For three season use, I usually recommend that hikers replace their current bag with one that is rated for the nighttime temperatures they will usually encounter when they go backpacking. If you only backpack in summer, you can probably get by with a 40 degree rectangular sleeping bag, instead of 10 or 20 degree mummy.

For example, I use a down-filled 50 degree rectangular sleeping bag made by Montbell in summer that weighs under 1 pound and open it up like a blanket if I’m too warm at night. If I’m cold, I wear some of my extra clothes, including my rain gear and a fleece hat to bed, adding another 10 degrees to my bag’s range. Sleeping in your extra clothes puts to use weight that you’re carrying anyway, and it’s a good way to stretch the comfort zone of a sleeping bag rated for slightly warmer temperatures.

Tents and Alternative Shelters

Unless you camp above treeline in very windy conditions, a double walled (rain fly and inner tent) tent and a footprint are usually overkill for 3 season backpacking. Most of these tents are made for car campers who don’t care what a tent weighs.

While there are a few double-walled tents on the market from MSR and Big Agnes that weigh under 3 pounds, I generally recommend that hikers switch to a single-walled tent called a tarp tent. These tents are made by companies such as Tarptent or Six Moon Designs and weigh between 1 and 2 pounds. They have a bathtub floor just like double-walled tents but they save weight by combining the inner tent and rain fly into a single layer with solid material stack on top of an area made out of noseeum netting. This is much lighter and virtually eliminates internal condensation because it provides superior nighttime ventilation.

Tarptent Contrail Tent, 1 pound 8.5 ounces

You can also use even lighter weight shelters such as hammocks or tarps as shelters, but these require more time to get to use to and are not appropriate in locations without trees or very windy areas. Personally, I use a floorless tarp weighing anywhere from 6 ounces up to 14 ounces when I go backpacking, but it took me a few years to get really comfortable being so unprotected at night and I don’t recommend that you switch to one if you’re currently using a double walled tent.


Once you’ve reduced the weight and size of your sleeping bag and tent/shelter, you’ll quickly discover that you don’t need as a large a backpack as the one you currently own. Instead you can get a smaller capacity one, with a lighter weight frame and less hip belt and shoulder padding.

Osprey Exos 58, 2 pounds 8 ounces


If you’ve switch to a more compressible sleeping bag and lighter weight tent/shelter, you can usually get by with a backpack with 3,000 – 3,600 cubic inches (50-57 liters) if you can resupply your food every 4 or 5 days. There are plenty of excellent backpacks in this range that weigh between 1 and 3 pounds including the Granite Gear Blaze A.C. 60, the Osprey Exos 58 and the Gossamer Gear Mariposa Plus. All of these packs can easily carry a 35 pound load, which is the equivalent of 25 pounds of gear, 4 days of food and 2 quarts of water.


If the thought of carrying your backpack fills you with so much dread that you find yourself backpacking less, it’s time to do something about it, and reduce the weight of your gear. The best place to start this process is by reducing the weight of your big three: you sleeping bag, tent, and backpack. These are usually the heaviest items in your pack and replacing them with lighter or more compressible alternatives is usually the fastest and most cost effective way to dramatically reduce your overall pack weight.

After reducing the weight of the big three, the process of reducing your gear weight becomes a little bit more time consuming and can require a significant amount of new skill acquisition. Let’s not worry about that for the moment and focus instead on getting your base gear weight under 25 pounds.

There’s still plenty of low hanging fruit we can trim from your gear list and next month we’ll turn our focus to eliminating non-essential gear from your pack.

If you have any questions in the meantime, be sure to leave a comment below.

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