What’s in his pack? Gear-planning tips from an ultralight backpacking expert

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RYAN JORDAN, an Eagle Scout, is the program director of the Montana High Adventure Base and the chartered organization representative of Venturing Crew 2001 in Bozeman, Mont. He is a licensed wilderness skills instructor and guide, and the founder of backpackinglight.com. Get an idea of what Jordan packs in his backpack for a long-distance trek, below:


Backpack: When you lighten the load, you can get away with a lighter pack! Simple packs without complicated suspensions and harnesses weigh less than 2 pounds. Compare this to conventional backpacks designed for loads of 50 pounds or more, which can weigh 8 pounds. But don’t make the rookie mistake of cutting the handle off your toothbrush without lightening the rest of your gear and expecting your still-heavy load to be comfortable in a frameless 12-ounce pack. Jordan carries a Hyperlite Mountain Gear Porter 4400, shown above ($365).

Shoes: Mountain boots with lug soles have their place, but if most of your hiking program involves light packs on trails, boots are overkill. U.S. Army research shows saving a pound from footwear is equal to saving 5.7 pounds from your backpack! So take the pounds off your feet and hike in trail-running shoes. His pick? La Sportiva Helios SR ($130).

Clothing: Pack only the clothing you can wear at once. “Extras” are nice but not required for wilderness travel. Rinse socks and underwear en route, and dry them by hanging them off your pack while hiking. Three layers of clothing — hiking shirt and pants, base layer (long underwear) top and bottoms, and rain gear (jacket and pants) — plus an insulating top layer (fleece, down, or high-loft synthetic appropriate to your locale and weather) are all you need during the summer. Jordan uses a Patagonia Sun Stretch Long-Sleeved Shirt (starting at $69) as a trekking shirt. His favorite pants are REI Screeline pants ($79.50). Other clothing gear includes baselayer Patagonia Lightweight Capilene Long-Sleeve Crew (starting at $39) and Bottoms (starting at $34), a Patagonia Houdini Jacket ($99) as a wind shirt, Montane Minimus 777 Pullover ($299) as a rain jacket and ZPacks Challenger Pants ($165) as rain pants.

Sleeping Bag: You don’t need a winter sleeping bag for summer camping. A 750+ down fill, 30-degree rated bag weighs less than 2 pounds, and when combined with the clothing you are carrying (which will add at least 10 or 15 degrees of comfort), it will keep you warm enough anywhere you spend the night outside between the Fourth of July and Labor Day. To save even more weight, try a hoodless down quilt or higher-loft (e.g., 850 cubic inches per ounce) down bags. Jordan opts for a Katabatic Gear Chisos 40 Down Quilt sleeping bag (starting at $415), and combines it with a Cascade Designs Therma-Rest NeoAir XLite sleeping pad (starting at $129.95) and a Goosefeet Gear Hooded Down Pullover for extra-cold nights.

Stove: White-gas stoves are heavy, inefficient and prone to flare-ups. For four- or five-person groups, consider a canister stove like the Ruta Locura BRS-3000T stove ($25, plus a Jetboil adapter, $50) with a Jetboil Sol Ti Pot. In normal summer conditions, this system consumes less than half an ounce of fuel per person per day (compared to more than 1.5 ounces with white gas).

Water: Water filters can be heavy (11-plus ounces) and prone to clogging with silt. They also require tedious field maintenance. Classic 1-liter hard-sided water bottles and hydration bladders weigh 5 to 7 ounces per liter of water storage. Switch to chemical treatment (consider liquid or tablet chlorine dioxide kits) for lighter treatment of large volumes of water. One 3-ounce Aquamira kit ($14.99) treats 30 gallons. Use soft-sided water bottles, like the Platypus Platy Bottle ($12.95), to shave pounds off of your group’s water systems.

Food: Don’t neglect the valuable metric of calories per ounce (CPO) when planning your menu. High-carbohydrate foods, such as rice and pasta, have a low CPO (50 to 70), while high fat foods, such as peanut butter and nuts, have a high CPO (150 or higher). A balanced menu is best — make sure you have a reasonable supply of protein, as well — but try to minimize water weight in your foods, pack a healthy portion of high-fat calories and target a total CPO in the 120-140 range for your overall diet. Jordan’s favorite trail snacks include: PROBAR, Epic Bars, Justin’s Peanut Butter packets and more.

Shelter: Floorless shelters such as tarps and pyramids require more campsite selection and pitching skills, but are pounds lighter than double-walled tents. They are also drier due to increased airflow (less condensation), roomier and can accommodate an entire patrol or crew. Jordan opts for the Locus Gear Khufu CTF3-B ($513).


Looking for ultralight gear on a budget? Check out Jordan’s picks perfect for beginners looking to shed some pack weight.

8 Comments

  1. Roughly $2,000.00 for the above list of basic gear. Not very reasonable for Scouts. Glad to se a budget list also as it is more important to get out there with what you have and buy smart when you have to as it will take years for most to build a system.

    • We agree that $2,000+ is not reasonable for most Scouts or Scouters. Thanks for also taking a look at the budget-friendly items. Our author, Ryan Jordan, shares some great affordable suggestions. But it’s also fun to dream a bit when looking at what a professional mountain guide uses on his treks. Appreciate you reading! -Gretchen Sparling

    • Part of the problem is many of his gears are made with cuben fiber which is monopolized by one company who determine the price. Most of the budget-concious “ultralight” hikers opt for silnylon instead.

  2. I was wondering if I could get more information on where Ryan found the research from the US army in the shoe section, stating that “saving a pound from footwear is equal to saving 5.7 pounds from your backpack”.

  3. 100% with Csanders ! We are 5 scouts at home, so that’s more than 10000 USD budget ! Instead, go to Décathlon and it will cost you 10% of this amount (for middle quality gear). And of course, true scouts use no stove and no inflatable mattress, thus it will compensate a part of the additionnal weight due to lower quality gear…

    • Actually, quality wouldn’t have to play into it at all. 🙂 The problem is not the quality, but who controls the supply of the fabrics.

      Replace Katabatic Gear with Enlightened Equipment, Patagonia with Marmot, Locus Gear with Mountain Laurel Design and Hyperlite Mountain Gear with any of the other lightweight backpack manufacturer and the total cost is effectively cut by half (or up to 3/4) without too much deviation.

    • If by “true scouts use no stove”, you mean that they cook over an open fire, most of our high adventure backpacks are in areas where open fires are not permitted, so we bring canister stoves.

  4. I appreciate Ryan Jordan and what he has done for lightweight backpacking. I do have some concerns about water.

    The Sawyer Mini Squeeze weighs 2 ounces and is readily backflushed. Even with its syringe, which can also be used as part of your first aid kit, and any necessary tubing, its weighs quite little.

    The recommendation to switch to chemical treatment (consider liquid or tablet chlorine dioxide kits) for lighter treatment of large volumes of water I find problematic. Chlorine dioxide takes up to four hours to properly treat, which means you have to plan far enough ahead and may have to carry more water than you otherwise would.

    Tablets generally meet the EPA guidelines for microbiological water purifiers (but take up to 4 hours). The only liquid that I am aware of that can make the same claim is the solution made by the MSR Miox.

    The noted liquid Aquamira has an EPA registration application that states, “A 2% Aqueous Solution of Chlorine Dioxide for Use in controlling the Build-Up of Slime in water storage containers. Kills Odor-Causing Bacteria and Enhances the Taste of Stored Potable Water.” That is not all that we as backpackers are faced with when we pull water in the backcountry. As such, it is not intended for our needs as backpackers.

    I also prefer our Scouts to use hydration bladders with the bite valve right near one’s mouth as I have found there is less chance of dehydration as compared to bottles that require more effort to use while on the trail. But HYOH.

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