Light Backpacking

World's most ultralight gear

A collection of great gear for folks who like to travel light:

Maxit Beanie

This is what professional football players wear under their helmets for games in Green Bay in December—very thin, very light, lots of warmth. I always have one in my pocket along with the Duckbill (which it goes comfortably under) and am ready for anything hatwise (except rain, where an OR Snoqualmie Sombrero does best, or the Golite umbrella)

Maxit Beanie
Available from Stretching Inc.

Or $19 from Amazon

“Survival” Ground Sheet

I long sought for an ideal ground sheet to go with the ultralight tarp. Other “space blankets” are either too heavy or too fragile, but this one of augmented tyvek is perfect. If you’ve nothing better to read, you can read the survival instructions on it.

Thermo-Lite Emergency Survival Blanket
Available from Campmor

Kelty Cloud Pack

Extravagant but wonderful—birthday fodder. It is superlight (the Spectra cloth is so tough it won’t even take a dye, so all models are white) and super adaptable—nearly every component can be subtracted or added, so you take only as much pack as you want for the occasion. The waist belt molds to you, and can also be left behind. It’s a pack for going out and staying out.

Kelty Cloud 4500 or 4750
Available from

Or $120 from Amazon (women’s)

Petzl Zipka Headlamp

LED bulbs changed everything in light flashlights (the Photon Micro-Lite 2 is still the best for keychains). Longtime headlamp maker Petzl came up with a new level of ingenuity in this version, which reels in its own strap. For making camp in the dark, reading in a tent, or exploring new trails at night, there’s nothing better.

Petzl Zipka Headlamp
Available from Amazon

Z-Rest Pad

Now the best sleeping or loafing foam pad. The accordion fold means that it lies flat instantly without curling, nests its cells for greater compactness, can be simply halved for double the padding for a seat, and folds up quickly. Wet mossy log, rocky ground, burr-filled grass? Drop this and all is comfy and dry. No reason to get larger than the 3/4 length.

Z-Rest (20x72x0.75 in.)
Available from from Amazon

Royal Robbins Expedition Shirt

There are plenty of non-cotton hiking shirts that dry quickly and disperse sweat. This is the best I’ve found for that, but the winning feature is the side-opening “document pockets” on each side—you can stash a map in one side and your light binoculars in the other, both instantly accessible while wearing a pack. The shirt used to have a dorky look and colors, but that’s been fixed.

Men’s L/S Coolmax Expedition Shirt
Royal Robbins Outdoor Travel Clothing

Pilot’s Finger Light

When you want to keep your night vision, a red flashlight is essential. For a long time I’ve used a red Photon Micro-Lite. This thing from an extreme-gear new supplier is better. It fits on your finger (or can be mounted on glasses) and directs all its bright LED light forward in a sharp cone—designed specifically for reading maps or text in the dark, but also usable for traveling a known trail. When sleeping under the stars, I prefer it for reading because it doesn’t light up the night or blind me. Nifty item.

S-LITE LED Finger Light
Ceejay Engineering


Patagonia Duckbill Cap

It was originally designed for kayakers before helmets took over, so it dries in a trice. Super-light, it can be wadded up in a pocket like a handkerchief, but it does all the duties you want from a hat in terms of shade for your eyes and sun protection, while providing maximum ventilation. Mine goes everywhere with me.

Patagonia Spoonbill Cap
Previously available from Amazon and Blue Ridge Mountain Sports

-- Stewart Brand 02/3/04

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