Let’s start with what we wear from the head and end with the toes:
Most people on the trail have a scarf – usually a seamless tubular bandana, almost all of which are made of stretchy polyester fabric ca. 135g/m². You may have used such bandanas as a hat, scarf, glove, headband, napkin or something else. Keep in mind that you need more than one piece to use for different things at the same time – one won’t be enough for gloves, scarf and a hat.
Have sun protection for your head and eyes. A combination of bandana, visor and sunglasses is a good and a very light option.
For your first and most inner layer use the lightest, most breathable and fast drying clothing. It will most likely be made of polyamide.
Our advice for the next layer is a fleece jacket. A modern fleece jacket can weigh around 200g – these mesh fabrics wick the moisture much better than merino wool.
A quite important piece of gear is the wind jacket. The weight of these starts at only around 50g (male size M) – this is much less than a tee. The protection provided for its weight is unparalleled.
As the last outermost layer we suggest a puffy jacket with a hood. Basically you can decide between down or synthetic insulation. The compressibility of the quality goose down (800 CUIN and above) is still much better than the synthetics. On the other hand, modern synthetics like APEX™ have the advantage to keep its volume when wet. A disadvantage with the lightest down jackets is that in order to form the down chambers, stitches are made through both the inner and other fabric. This results in thin lines with virtually no down insulation – just the two thin layers. Meanwhile, the APEX™ insulation is produced as a sheet and needs no chambers. Our recommendation in a nutshell: If you are looking for a light puffy for the summer – get a synthetic jacket which is not stitched through. If you are looking for more protection from the cold, get a down jacket with properly made chambers.
Gloves are handy. Lightweight fleece gloves weight from around 20-30g, so quite worthy to have.
Get some running shorts – these are more comfortable, much lighter and dry quicker than hiking pants. If it gets cold, cover your legs with wind stopper pants. If you expect lower temperatures also pack synthetic long johns.
Be careful with the choice of socks. Your socks should be breathable, durable and should not move on your feet. Our advice is to get some running socks and at least one extra pair. If you are prone to blisters, toe socks might help you.
Shoes are very important. If you are not sure what you want, try different options. There are two main types of shoes, used by hikers – trail runners and hiking boots. The classic boots are losing fans in the last decade and more people are converting to running shoes. There are also options in-between like approach shoes for technical terrain or low hiking shoes where the outer sole looks more like a hiking boot. We encourage you to try some options if you haven’t. The shoes change the perception of walking quite a lot.
We have one last tip when it comes to shoes. Take them off whenever you take a break, let your feet breath and also try walking barefoot when you feel safe to do so.
Many hikers use light gaiters. Gaiters prevent debris from entering your shoes which might be quite unpleasant on loose terrain.
The classical configuration is a tent, a mat and a sleeping bag. Many hikers prefer to switch the tent with a tarp and the sleeping bag with a quilt. Many prefer sleeping in a hammock.
Tents provide the most protection against rain, wind, moisture on the ground, bugs and also give privacy. However, this comes with some weight penalty.
A tarp is a great option to protect you from rain, but can be tricky to use in high wet grass. Tarps are very light. You can also use a tarp that doubles as a poncho and saves even more weight from your backpack.
Bivi bags are light and can offer full protection. Still, these are not a very popular choice among hikers because sleeping in a bivi when raining can be a bit claustrophobic.
Whether using a tent, a tarp or a bivi we suggest using some kind of a ground sheet. This is a piece of thin, light and cheap material to protect your gear from the terrain. Popular choices are Tyvek and polyolefin (polycro).
For insulation, the traditional mummy sleeping bag is losing popularity among summer hikers. Many, especially among the ultra-light hikers, prefer a quilt. We recommend this more minimalist approach especially if you need more space when you sleep. If you stretch your zipped sleeping bag too much while asleep you actually compress the insulation and make it worthless.
There are two basic types of sleeping mats – inflatable and closed cell foam. The inflatable mats offer more insulation and comfort for their weight and are more packable. Foam mats are more abusable (no need to worry about punctures), are very cheap and can be cut to the exact size that you need. People are very different in their needs for sleeping mats. Some need the mat not just for thermal insulation but also to smooth the terrain and make it more comfortable, while others can sleep on rough gravel and enjoy the massage. Try different mats in different conditions.
If you like sleeping in a hammock, this is a great option, but you should plan accordingly, because you will need anchoring points (usually trees). If you are hiking through the forest, this might be the best idea. There are great options for hammocks that offer rain and bug protection. For thermal insulation we recommend a quilt and an under quilt. Hammocks don’t need mats. A hammock will not be the lightest option, but might be the best choice for sleeping in the forest.
There are many options for a good backpack on the market. Here are our general recommendations.
Choose the backpack last – you might be surprised how small your gear will get after some optimizations. Plan the volume with maximum food, water and fuel and with all warm clothing inside. Don’t forget to also check the pack with minimum expected load (almost none consumables and all the clothes on your body). Backpacks have different compressibility and a big, waggling bag can actually be quite uncomfortable.
Decide which items must be easily accessible without taking the back off (like water, bandana, or jacket). Many packs have pockets on the waist belt and pockets for water bottles are a standard for running vests and backpacks.
Will there be gear on the outside of the pack like a foam mat or poles? Consider if you will store wet gear like a tent or a rain jacket. Mesh pockets on the outside are very useful for this purpose.
Decide if you need waist and chest straps. You can opt to lose the stability and the better weight distribution for a slightly lighter pack. If you like your pack stable on your back, don’t give up the waist strap. Bigger packs usually have some hardware to make the back more rigid. Most ultra-light hikers would not use a hard back, but the content of the pack itself to provide some stiffness and a softer feel on the back.
We recommend a waterproof backpack. If you use a non-waterproof bag, consider a pack liner, not a rain cover – eventually sweat or rain will absorb through the back of the pack.
We hope these tips will be useful. Happy trails.