My recommendations on the following pages are focused on backpacking gear, but most of the observations are applicable to a variety of outdoor activities. I also have a list of my “gear for life“. I strive for simplicity and gratitude.
- Sleep System
- Shelters (tents, tarps, hammocks)
- Kitchen Gear: Stoves, Cookwares, Water, Food Storage
- Other Items: Knives, Lights, Avoid polyurethane… delaminates quickly, especially if exposed to water?!
The key to ultralight is to use your head… having enough experience to know how to deal with various situations, and to carefully think about what is needed (or more likely not needed).
I was the prototypical boy scout. I wanted to “be prepared” for any situation, so I carried everything including the kitchen sink, whether or not it was likely to be needed. Over time I have come to appreciate the ultralight backpacking and climbing styles popularized by Ray Jardine, Mark Twight, the folks at BPL, and these days /r/Ultralight. While I don’t completely embrace all their ideas, my approach has been strongly influenced by them. I will agree with Andrew… ultralight people need to chill.
I spent a year trying super ultralight (SUL) approach, e.g. based weight <5lbs. I recorded my last super-ultralight gear list from 2007 when I decided I like more comfort than could be achieve with such a weight minimization focus. I also figure out that while I can push and do 30 or in one case 50 miles on a summer day, that my sweet spot is more like 15-20 miles/day. I have found that my light-weight approach captured in my 3-Season Gear list keeps me as safe and comfortable as my heavy-weight friends in camp, and is significantly more comfortable when I am moving.
If you haven’t figured it out yet… I am a recovering gear-a-holic. I was obsessed with figuring out what was the best gear. Pretty much every weekend I was doing at least a short trip to test new items. It seemed like I was spending more time thinking about gear than using it.
After several years I decided to rein my spending, and to get more focused on using rather than buying gear. I started that transition by committing to a zero-cash spend in 2006. If I wanted something new, I had to sell items I already owned to cover the cost. My “budget” was whatever was in my PayPal account. In 2012 I pretty much locked in the gear I am still using today except for items that had to be replaced because they wore out or were lost. Generally I replace items that wore out with the identical product.
Lists and Reviews
Other information you might find useful include:
- Hiking Life’s Gear Used by Experienced Thru Hikers, 2022 survey of PCT gear
- halfwayanywhere surveys of the long trails
- history of Mark’s Goto Gear my 3 season backpacking list
- Informal History Of Backpacking Equipment in the 60-70s (the golden years)
- Utah State University Outdoor Catalog Archive
- Interesting Gear Lists (dated)
- Reviews by Mark (dated)
- Backpacking for Cheap
- Outdoor Gear Retailers (dated): sf bay area, select locations, web
- Favorite Manufacturers:
- Garage Grown Gear sells products from a number of cottage companies.
- List of Cottage Companies
- Edible Gear by EAT (Eastern Active Technologies) was a funny parody site. Try ordering something.. the error message is great
- Favorite Stores:
- Downworks: Santa Cruz, CA. ULA, Osprey, Montbell, Rab
Other People’s Recommendations
I am not following outdoor gear as closely as I used to. As a result, some of my recommendations might become dated. There are several sites that I use when I want to see a list of current products that are likely to have category leading performance:
- Ryan Jordan’s personal selection
- Adventure Alan does a good job covering ultralight equipment. I appreciated Alan’s articles in the early days of backpackinglight.com.
- Frank Revelo has a pragmatic, moderate cost, often DIY approach to gear which is refreshing
- Cleverhiker comes closest to my personal taste in equipment. While I don’t stack rank items exactly the same as they do, I never find myself saying “Why did they include XYZ in their listing?”
- Greenbelly Backpacking Guide has a recommended gear section (need to scroll down) which I find is very readable. I tend to agree with Cleverhiker in actual picks, but Greenbelly’s pages are often more complete.
- Outdoor Gearlab covers a wide variety of gear types, but I never agree with their stack ranking. Sometimes items are in their list which I find myself saying “Really? You liked it?”. Most of the time items I think are the best appear in their lists, just not top rated by them. Fail to include the smaller, class leading cottage companies. Are they a shill for big name outdoor gear companies?
- Gear Junkie for outdoor industry news and reviews.
- roadtrailrun.com – running focus