The Big Three: Lightweight Backpacking

Your backpack, your sleeping system (sleeping pad+pad), and shelter are the three most important items you should have in your backpack. Because you can’t use your sleeping bag or pad separately, your sleeping bag and sleeping pad should be treated together. You can reduce the combined weight of your backpacking gear by replacing them with lighter-weight alternatives.

The Big Three: Backpack, Sleep System, Tent

Once you have weighed all the items in your backpack, and made a gear list you are ready to reduce your base pack’s weight. Your backpack, tent, and sleep system are the most heavy items on your list. You’ll be able to reduce their weight to less than 3 pounds each. Although it may sound impossible, keeping each component under 3 pounds is possible.

The only way to reduce the bulk of the three big ones is to replace them by lighter versions.

Lightweight Sleep Systems

The goal is to reduce your total sleep system’s weight to no more than three pounds. If your top quilt or sleeping bag weighs less than two pounds (32 ounces), and your sleeping pad less than one pound (16 grams), this is possible.

Let’s begin with your quilt or sleeping bag. You should replace any sleeping bag or quilt that weighs more than 40oz. For three-season camping, I recommend a quilt or sleeping bag that is rated for 20°F. Synthetic fills are more lightweight and less compressible than down insulation. Because of their compressibility, you can use a smaller backpack that is lighter and can thus save a lot of weight.

Many experienced backpackers will tell yo that Feathered Friends and Western Mountaineering have the best sleeping bags for 3 season down. These sleeping bags retail between $400 and $500. They are slightly more expensive, but they are also of high quality.

A new sleeping bag can be a significant investment. However, a quality down bag will last for at least ten years. They’re a great investment that will last for many years if they are kept clean and uncompressed.

A quilt or hoodless sleeping bag can be a good choice if you are planning on sleeping in warmer temperatures, 40 degrees or higher. Take a look at the:

  • Feathered Friends, Flicker 40 UL quilt (19 ounces).
  • Enlightened Equipment Revelation quilt (15.8 ounces).
  • Zpacks Classic (Hoodless), Sleeping Bag (15.1 Ounces)

All of these are good options. All of them are insulated with down, and they’re highly compressible.

Shelters and Tents Lightweight

Let’s now move on to our shelter. You should replace your 3 season tent if it weighs in excess of 40 ounces. This is another area where you can save significant weight. Tarptent sells the best lightweight tents available and they cost less than $300. Tarptent tents are lightweight and can be set up with trekking poles. This can save you weight, especially if you already use trekking poles. There are two options available. However, unless you’re always hiking with someone, I recommend the one-person tent.

These lightweight shelters are great alternatives to traditional shelters. The last four years have seen significant improvements in tent design and fabric technology. This makes these tents lighter than tents made by smaller companies. Larger companies offer better long-term warranties than smaller ones, and tents can be seen in retail stores before they are purchased.

  • Big Agnes Fly Creek HV 2 (31 ounces).
  • NEMO Equipment Hornet IIP (32 ounces).
  • MSR Carbon Reflex 1 (23 Ounces)

Although tarps and hammocks are lightweight alternatives to tents they can be used in many situations.


Your backpack is the last thing you should add to your weight loss plan. You won’t be able to estimate how much you will need until you have replaced your tent and sleeping bag. A 55-60 liter backpack will be sufficient for most trips, from weekend hikes to thru-hikes on the Appalachian Trail.

The mainstream backpack weight has fallen quite substantially in the last few years. There are many options for packs between 2 and 3 pounds, such as the Osprey Packs Exos58 or Granite Gear Crown 2 60. Ultralight cottage industry companies like Ultralight Adventure Equipment and Gossamer Gear sell backpacks that weigh less than two pounds. They also offer features like hip belt pockets and mesh pockets that are not available in mainstream packs.

Do the math

Let’s look at some combinations of Big Three components in order to show how weight savings can be achieved. Each of these examples has the following information: I have listed the component’s weight in ounces, their total ounces together, and their equivalents in pounds.