Ultralight Comfort Backpacking – Part 1: Gear Swaps

Ultralight Comfort Backpacking – Part 1: Gear Swaps

Comfort Hiker

I used to think that I had a pretty good backpacking setup. My gear served it’s purpose, was lighter and more compact than your typically camping gear, and I spent quite a bit of money it. The weight… well, that was just a part of backpacking. Then I went on a weekend backpacking trip with a friend of mine who was an ultralight backpacker. I was carrying my regular gear setup that came in somewhere around 40 pounds with food and water. My friend’s pack weighed about half of mine. Needless to say, he was running circles around me the whole trip. I needed to make some changes to close that gap, but I didn’t want to sacrifice comfort.

My tent was my heaviest item, so I figured that was a good place to start. My original tent was a Zephyr 3 by Alps Mountaineering. I see they’ve gotten a little lighter since I bought mine several years ago… But, my particular vintage had toppled the scale at a back breaking 6 pounds 1.9 ounces. I enjoyed the little extra space that allowed me to bring my pack inside out of the elements. However, I can keep it dry by packing a garbage bag if need be. I ended up settling on a Big Agnes Fly Creek UL 2 which came in at 2 pounds 4.5 ounces after I shed the packaging materials. Out of the box, this single gear swap saved me 3 pounds 13.4 ounces in my base pack weight! I still could have gone a little smaller, and lighter. However, making may pack as absolutely light as possible is not by only concern. I still want to be as comfortable as I can. The Fly Creek UL2 still gives me enough head room to sit up if I need to. I can bring my pack, or a fellow backpacking inside if I choose to. It’s not as flimsy as some of the lighter models out there, and It’s free-standing which allows me to camp on hard rock surfaces and the like.

I was originally using a cheap tarp as a makeshift footprint. It didn’t feel very heavy, but the scale doesn’t lie. It shockingly weighed 1 pound 9.2 ounces. A Big Agnes footprint for the Fly Creek UL2 comes in at 5.1 ounces, including the little stuff sack it comes with. Saving 1 pound 5.1 ounces by this simple swap is great, but it also allows me to do the “fast fly” configuration on my tent, and setup in rain without getting water in my tent! If I ditched the stuff sack, I could save another 6 grams, but then I would be putting my dirty footprint next to my other gear. For the sake of comfort, I’ll might carry the 6 gram stuff sack depending on what kind of conditions I’m hiking in. I thought that removing the plastic sincher on the draw strings might bring the weight of the stuff sack down a little, but it didn’t even register as a gram on my scale. If it’s less than a gram, it’s not really a concern to me. 

I owned two packs before all of this. My larger pack was an XL Osprey Aether 85 that came in at 5 pounds 4 ounces and held 91 liters. My smaller pack was a 34 liter Black Diamond Boost that weighed 3 pounds. These are both great packs, but I really needed something smaller than 91 liters and larger than 34. After trying on many, many packs… I ended up picking up the Osprey Atmos AG 65. The large size pack holds 68 liters and weighs 4 pounds 8 ounces. This change did save me 13 ounces over the Osprey 85, but I could have cut my pack weight in half. The main reason I didn’t is because of comfort and functionality. The Atmos 65 feels like it is literally hugging you when you put it on. It has nice cushioned shoulder straps. The “fit-on-fly” hip belt allowed me to extend the cushion around my corners a little bit so the strap didn’t rub on my corners. The vented back panel allows my back to stay cooler and dryer than conventional back cushions. The compartmentalized design allows me to easily access my gear, etc, etc, etc. So what I’m getting at is that I could have gone a lot lighter when choosing a new backpack, but it would have been at the cost of comfort and functionality. Having a really comfortable pack makes carrying your gear so much easier in my mind. Not having to empty your entire bag in order to retrieve something that’s buried in the bottom could be priceless in the right circumstances.

On my last trip I hiked with the MSR Miniworks EX Microfilter to filter water along the trail. It did a good job turning mud puddles into palatable water. Unfortunately, it had a few downfalls in my eyes. It plugged up pretty quickly, which did get rather annoying after a while. I had to clean ithe filter several times to fill my 3 liter CamelBak, otherwise the flow would reduce to a trickle.It felt like I had to pump it forever to get that 3 liters of water, and it was squeaking away the whole time. Any chance I had of seeing some wildlife nearby was pretty much gone after using that thing. And finally, it weighed 1 pound 2 ounces (even after letting it dry for months). When I was trying to suck some water out of a half inch deep puddle with my MSR filter, another guy came by with his Platypus system, cupped some water into his bag, then sat back and watched me pump away while gravity did the majority of his work for him. Boom! I was sold. I went out and bought a Platypus GravityWorks 4.0L Filter System. As an added bonus, it only weighs 11.5 ounces out of the box. Saving 6.5 ounces (36.1%) by just changing water filters is a huge win on my current initiative! In reality, I don’t need to carry everything that it comes with. I’ll be filling directly to my Camelbaks, so I don’t need the “clean water” bladder that comes with it. I won’t be storing water in the Platypus bladders, so I won’t need the cap either. I can ditch the heavy sack it comes with too.

A while back I picked up a small steel camping cook set from a yard sale. I was bringing the large pan from this set, and a 1 cup messuring cup along on my backpacking trips. Though functionally sound, this setup weighed 6.4 ounces. I recently picked up a Trek900 titanium cook set by Snow Peak. The whole set weighs 6 ounces, but I will only take the large cup/pot with me backpacking. That cup only weighs 3.7 ounces, giving me a 2.7 ounce/42% weight savings!

Original Product Original Product Weight Replacement Product Replacement Product Weight Weight Savings Percentage Weight Saved
Zephyr 3 by Alps Mountaineering 6 pounds 1.9 ounces Big Agnes Fly Creek UL 2 2 pounds 4.5 ounces 3 pounds 13.4 ounces 62.7%
Tarp 1 pound 9.2 ounces Big Agnes Fly Creek UL 2 Footprint 5.1 ounces 1 pound 4.5 ounces 81.3%
Osprey Aether 85 5 pounds 4 ounces Osprey Atmos AG 65 4 pounds 8 ounces 13 ounces 15.5%
MSR Miniworks EX Microfilter 1 pound 2 ounces Platypus GravityWorks 4.0L Filter System 11.5 ounces 6.5 ounces 36.1%
Generic steel camping pan 6.4 ounces Snow Peak Trek 900 Cup 3.7 ounces 2.7 ounces 42.2%

While this wasn’t a huge number a changes, it did save 6 pounds 8.1 ounces. I could have gone lighter on a few things to save a little more weight, but that would have cost me comfort as well.

Want more? Part 2 is going to be dedicated to slimming down the weight of consumables, and part 3 is going to touch on gear modifications. Check back soon to see these parts after they are published.

Meet the author: Greg Kjono (10 Posts)

Completely obsessed with adventure sports and travel, I founded ActivePursuits.net to share my experiences with the world. Want to find out more about me? Check out my links below!

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