There are known abnormalities in this gear guide based on “AI” that’s, well, missing a lot of its “I”. We are rebuilding this gear guide with real humans and manual curation! In the meantime, please visit our new Gear Shop for a much nicer gear discovery experience!

Guide's Gear - Backpacking Light

Overview

The following gear represents some of our recommendations for participants in Backpacking Light’s Wilderness Adventures Program.

Here’s our criteria for recommending this gear:

  1. It must be durable. You’re spending good money on this gear. It should last a reasonable amount of time and be able to be used in a wide range of conditions without falling apart.
  2. It must have a high performance-to-weight ratio. We don’t want you carrying around features and extra weight you don’t need.
  3. We must have first hand experience with it. We never make recommendations for this list if we haven’t personally used the gear in the field, talked to other users about their positive and negative experiences with it, and are confident that the gear will be reliable and perform well.
  4. The gear must be versatile. We experience wide ranges of climatic and environmental conditions on our trips, and your gear needs to perform across the whole range. In addition, it must perform well in your home areas or wherever else you might be traveling and hiking.

Be sure to contact your guide or our trek director directly if you have any specific gear questions or special requirements, and reference your group’s Gear List Spreadsheet and the Welcome Packet for additional details. Note: If you click a link below and complete a purchase, we receive a small commission, which helps support our website – thank you very much for this support, we greatly appreciate it!

New: Synthetic Insulated Jacket Recommendations

For context, check out our recent Synthetic Insulated Jacket State of the Market Report.

Best Ultralight Warmth: Nunatak Skaha Apex

How to accomplish it through customization:

  • Maximize hem length;
  • Maximize sleeve length so you can tuck your hands inside your sleeves;
  • Get rid of all pockets;
  • Choose the max insulation weight;
  • Choose the minimum fabric weights;
  • Choose elastic cuffs;
  • Get the hood.

Learn more here.

Most Comfortable: Patagonia Nano Air Light Hoody

  • Stretch fabric and insulation are terrific for mobility while backpacking and scrambling in cool weather;
  • Very breathable shell fabrics extend the range of conditions for active wear;
  • Simple design with no frills saves weight.

Learn more here: men’s | women’s.

Highest Overall Performance-to-Weight Ratio: Patagonia Micro Puff Hoody

  • Although the Nunatak Skaha Hoody has the highest warmth-to-weight ratio, the overall feature set of the Patagonia Micro Puff Hoody (full zip, pocketed), combined with insulation that has a very. high loft-to-weight ratio, makes it our Guide’s Gear pick for overall performance for its weight;
  • PlumaFill insulation may offer some durability and insulation-to-weight ratio benefits not available in other synthetic insulations;
  • Feature-rich jacket – two big handwarmer pockets, full zip, two big interior stash pockets, hood – no other jacket offers this much at this weight and warmth;
  • Long hem, long sleeves, roomy hood – the only compromises made include a lack of hood drawcord, and waist drawcord, which some users may want;
  • Now available in non-hooded (“jacket”) and vest styles – for men and women!

Learn more here: men’s hoody | women’s hoody | men’s jacket | women’s jacket | men’s vest | women’s vest

Best Long-Term Value: Arc’teryx Proton LT Hoody

  • One of the very few jackets offering a more durable shell fabric and continuous filament insulation
  • Great fit for athletic/trim body types, with long enough sleeves and hem, and minimal body volume.

Learn more here: men’s | women’s

Head
Warm Hat
Weight: 0.6 oz
Price: $85.00 $62.93 (26% OFF)

Merino wool for next-to-skin comfort and wide range of thermoregulation. As thin as possible - dries fast and lightweight. An incredibly comfortable hat.

Sunglasses
Weight: 0.8 oz
Price: $150.00

High contrast lenses suitable for both moderate sunlight and snow travel; versatile design with removable side shields and good coverage. Polar/photochromic lenses highly recommended for best versatility in variable light conditions, and glare reduction.

Sun Hat
Weight: 2 oz
Price: $6.95 $0.93 (87% OFF)

Packable, fast-drying, comfortable.

Neck Gaiter
Weight: 1.5 oz
Price: $20.00

For sun/wind protection, additional head warmth + washcloth!

Upper Body
Short Sleeve T-Shirt
Weight: 2.7 oz
Price: $69.00

An extremely light and comfortable layer for sleeping, hot weather hiking, and as an insurance layer for very cold conditions.

Long Sleeve Base Layer
Weight: 3.5 oz
Price: $129.00

Our choice for a base layer - very thin and light for fast dry time and warm weather comfort.

Insulated Jacket
Weight: 15 oz
Price: $279.00

There are lighter jackets out there, but you may want a bit of additional warmth for the high altitudes and northern latitude of the Rockies. We like this model because it provides plenty of room for layering over other clothing.

Wind Shirt
Weight: 3.6 oz
Price: $99.00

A hooded wind shirt provides inclement weather protection while moving in cold and windy conditions, which prevents you having to wear a rain jacket and overheating. Also good for sun/insect protection in camp.

Rain Jacket
Weight: 6.4 oz
Price: $159.00 $94.73 (40% OFF)

Very packable, breathable, light, and not extraordinarily expensive.

Hiking Shirt
Weight: 7 oz
Price: $99.00 $68.99 (30% OFF)

Long sleeve with collar for sun and bug protection, highly breathable for hiking in warm conditions. Plus it looks sharp!

Lower Body
Hiking Pants
Weight: 9.5 oz
Price: $79.00
Rain Pants
Weight: 5.4 oz
Price: $149.00

Perhaps your least-worn piece of clothing, so make it ultralight and don't break the bank on them! These are a great option.

Underwear
Weight: 3.5 oz
Price: $30.00 $22.73 (24% OFF)

Snug fit to prevent chafing and provide support; synthetic fabric for best durability; ultralight weave for breathability and fast dry time.

Long Underwear Bottoms
Weight: 3.4 oz
Price: $59.00

Primarily an insurance layer worn under raingear for cold/wet-weather hiking, and for sleeping in cold temperatures.

Feet
Hiking Shoes
Weight: 12 oz/shoe
Price: $139.00 $82.73 (40% OFF)

Durable, well-cushioned, very sticky sole, and stable platform for rough trail / off trail trekking. Size up one full size over your normal shoe size.

Weight: 11 oz/shoe
Price: $150.00 $74.83 (50% OFF)

Very well-cushioned waterproof-breathable shoe for wet, cold weather (late season treks).

Weight: 11 oz/shoe
Price: $160.00 $127.73 (20% OFF)

More technical than the Hokas, may be a better choice for treks with significant amounts of off trail travel in wet, cold weather (late season Timberline & Silver Run treks).

Hiking Socks
Weight: 2.5 oz
Price: $26.00

Durable, cushioned, minimal stink, washes and wears well over several days in the backcountry. Bring 2 pair, some folks like a 3rd pair to keep clean for sleeping.

Weight: 2.5 oz
Price: $22.95

Compared to the Darn Tough, these fit a little better on narrower feet, especially when wet. Durable, cushioned, minimal stink, washes and wears well over several days in the backcountry. Bring 2 pair, some folks like a 3rd pair to keep clean for sleeping.

Sleeping
Sleeping Bag
Weight: 1 lb 15 oz
Price: $79.95

One of the best values in lightweight sleeping bags on the market - water-resistant down, waterproof-breathable fabric foot and side panels, minimum temperature comfort range of 17-28F.

Sleeping Pad
Weight: 20.5 oz
Price: $269.95 $201.73 (25% OFF)

For the weight, there may be no other pad that's as stable (not wobbly), as warm, or packs as compact as the S2S Comfort Light Insulated pad.

Packing
Backpack
Weight: 2 lb 3.4 oz
Price: $390.00

For its weight, this is one of the most durable, water-resistant, load-carrying packs we've used. We recommend the Southwest model over the Windrider model for its more durable exterior pockets, and the 4400 size for its versatility for both short and long trips.

Stuff Sacks
Cooking & Water
Stove
Weight: 0.6 oz
Price: $22.00

Tired of breaking plastic sporks in the cold and spending the rest of the trip eating with stubs, we recommend titanium utensils. We like this one because of its versatility - it even has a serrated edge for cutting.

Weight: 3 oz
Price: $14.95

Good taste, lightweight kit, reasonably fast treatment time, and reliable - no parts to break! Can be used for backup or primary treatment. Highly recommended for cold weather trips where freezing temperatures can cause a filter to crack.

Weight: 2.3 oz
Price: $39.95

The fastest and easiest-to-use water filter we've ever tried. Not recommended for silty waters, but great for clear mountain streams.

Other Gear
Trekking Poles
Weight: 14.5 oz
Price: $7.95

Durable, strong, stiff, and light, with easy to use mechanisms for length adjustment.

Insect Repellent
Weight: 2 oz
Price: $6.95

Nontoxic and very effective, and doesn't stain or dissolve plastics or stink like hazardous waste like DEET, which is pretty icky stuff.

Headnet
Weight: 0.7 oz
Price: $10.00

Good visibility, elastic crown so it stays on your hat, drop neck to cover your collar area, and extremely light. The perfect headnet.

Headlamp
Weight: 3 oz
Price: $29.95

Simple, reliable, durable, and light. Use lithium batteries for best cold-weather performance and bring an extra set.

Headlamp Batteries
Weight: 0.7 oz
Price: $9.95

Best option for long light life in cold temperatures. Bring an extra set. The Tikka requires 3 batteries.

Camp Chair
Fly Fishing / Tenkara Gear
  • Tenkara Fly Rod (2.8 oz) – Tenkara fly rods are the gold standard in ultralight backpacking. We like this model for its versatile length – great for alpine lakes and streams, and it comes with extra tip sections in case you break a section.
  • Tenkara Lines / Leader (< 1 oz) – Don’t forget to add tenkara lines and leaders!
  • Flies – ask at a local shop and buy local. Or, just buy this kit if you want everything (lines, leader, flies), it’s pretty versatile!
Cameras

The following recommendations are based on one simple criterion: what gives you the best quality image at the least possible weight?

Weight: 3.5 oz
Price: $400.00 $379.99 (5% OFF)

You can't get a lighter camera than the Hero 5 Black that is also waterproof, durable, shoots 4K video, and is just plain fun to use. Incredibly versatile!

  • If you’re interested in a more traditional small, pocketable, 4K camera with some zoom range, check out the Sony RX100V. Professional quality images in an incredible light and small package.
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