Lightweight 3-Season Backpacking Gear List
With new technologies and innovations gear is always evolving. As I looked back at a post I wrote a year ago, I noticed some of my gear has changed and some has remained the same.
The 3-season gear list below allows me to hike light while remaining safe and comfortable. It comes in at a base weight (total pack weight, minus consumables like food, water and fuel) of under 10 lbs when my pre-trip research and logistics have been applied. This list may not be for all, so customization is always an option. Everyone has their preferences and comfort levels to which I am an advocate for following. My hope is that this list will help you with your planning, figure out what you may or may not need, give you some guidance if you're new to the backpacking world and inspire you to hit the trails.
*Disclosure: All of the gear mentioned in this article was purchased by me and is not influenced by the companies or brands in any way. I am not compensated for the products that are mentioned in this list if they are purchased by others. This is just gear I purchased, use, really enjoy and what works for me. Every individual’s choices may be completely different. Thank you.
Osprey Exos 58
Long distance hikes, weekenders and even training day trips, this pack continues to be my go-to. After many miles, it shows minimal signs of wear. I love the way it carries weight, ventilates and the simplicity in design. The outer mesh rear shove-it pocket serves well for that wet jacket or when I am drying out my just cleaned sock rotation. Bottle pockets on each side of the pack provide me with easy access to my water and maps for the day, while the hipbelt pockets are generous enough in space to fit an iPhone 7. I've even been able to fit a bear canister in this pack horizontally, for areas where it's required, without any struggle. A removable top lid helps shrink the pack down to a 50 liter and lowers the overall weight by about 4 oz. I rarely ever find myself using it. Weight: 2 lbs 8 oz, with top lid attached, 2 lbs 4 oz without.
Trash Compactor Bag
I've never been a fan of rain covers. In my experience, they are flawed at what they are designed to do. Keeping water out. Instead, I've seen them get ripped off by vegetation or blown off by wind if they accidentally loosened up. Gear would get soaked and you would be waiting for the next moment during a trip where you could dry your things out under the sun. Trash compactor bags are relatively low in cost, durable and light in weight. I've used them on all of my trips including a full day soaker where rain was falling at a rate of about 2" an hour. Not once has my gear in my pack ended up wet. One of these bags will last you about 1 month of excessive use, before it may need to be replaced. Weight: 0.5 oz.
Sea To Summit Ultra-Sil Stuff Sacks
Light, durable and great for organization. These stuff sacks also offer some water resistance. Weight: 0.4 - 0.6 oz.
Sea To Summit Lightweight Dry Sack
I carry a couple of lightweight stuff sacks in my pack for specific items (see 3 pictured together above). Some of those items being extra food. I'll pair this bag with an OP SAK and then hang it using the PCT Method to keep my reserves and other scented items away from wildlife. It is just the right size for everything in between 3-4 day resupply points. For a bigger trip, I'll just swap this for a slightly bigger bag. Weight: 0.8 oz.
Cheap, light and effective. I'll use a few of these on each trip. One for maps, one for snacks during the day and a couple more for additional gear like a homemade first-aid kit. Weight: 0.2 oz.
Shelter & Sleep System
Single Person Shelter
Mountain Hardwear Ghost UL 1
On many of my solo trips, I like to hike fast and for as long as possible each day. So when I roll into camp in the evening, I look at my shelter as protection from the elements so I can get a good night's rest. Something simple, light, easy to setup and where livability space isn't too much of a concern. For the rest of my trips, the goal(s) may be different. In this case, I may consider a shelter with a little more generosity as far as features go.
Going with the aforementioned, I have really been enjoying the Ghost UL1 by Mountain Hardwear. This double wall tent is ridiculously light, weighing in with a trail weight (tent body, rainfly, tent poles) of just 24 oz according to my scale. It is also fully free-standing which allows me to ditch the tent stakes if I wanted to (though for the few extra ounces and perfect pitch I will carry them).
The tent may feel a little crammed for some with dimensions of L 81" x W 35" (Head) 21" (Feet) x H 34" (Peak Height), but for solo ultralight missions where I am spending little time in camp I find this shelter to be suitable. Weight: 1 lb 9 oz trail weight, 2 lbs packaged weight. To learn more about this tent, check out my full review on it here.
Double Black Diamond Down Quilt
Quilts can be an excellent option for those looking for a bit of versatility. They can get a bit drafty, but allow for unrestricted movement while sleeping. I sleep warm so in most cases I will just drape this over in all but those chillier nights. If a draft gets to me I can either wrap myself entirely in it like I would be if I were in a traditional mummy sleeping bag or I could add my layers for extra warmth and still be able to not feel like a human sardine in a sardine tin due to lack of space. Unless it gets down to around 15F, a quilt is usually what I will go with.
This quilt uses 700 fill-power duck down with a DWR (durable water repellent) finish. It weighs under 1 pound and is very cost effective. I've personally slept comfortably in it down to 39F before needing to add a clothing layer for additional warmth, though others may find it to be cold with a higher temp. Weight: 14 oz, 14.5 oz with stuff sack.
Therm-A-Rest Neo-Air XLite
For 3-season trips I like to go with a 3/4 length sleeping pad. Not only does it cut down on space and weight, but I also find it provides a bit more on-trail health. A pad of this length rests under my 5'10" frame from head to knee. From there to my feet, I will rest my backpack underneath. This aids in reducing swelling of my lower extremities and keeps my gear accessible (should I need something at night) without taking up extra space in my shelter. Unless I am hammocking or out in the winter, this air inflated pad is my go-to. Note: It may sound like a bag of potato chips over the course of a few uses, but after the material softens up it should go away.
The choice of pad length may not be for everyone, but I find it to work for me (It is also available in regular and long lengths). This pad is comfortable, durable and barely noticeable in my pack. It has also kept cold drafts from coming up off the ground down to 20F. Ideal for all 3-season trips. Weight: 8 oz for Small (3/4 length).
Sea To Summit Aeros Pillow Ultralight
Gone are the days of having to stuff your clothes or puffy jacket under your head. This pillow provides all of the plush comfort of my pillow at home without the extra bulk. The contour of this pillow allows me to sleep on my side without pinning it down under my shoulder.
It packs down to the size of a plum and inflates with just a couple of breaths of air. Some backpackers may knock on this one, but for the little extra weight I will gladly carry it and get a comfortable night's rest. Weight: 2 oz.
Cook System & Water
Pot, Mug, Bowl
MSR Titan Tea Kettle
The Titan Tea Kettle is my versatile one-in-all cookset. What I mean is that I use this as my cooking pot, my eating bowl and my drinking mug. It is made of titanium which makes it very light in weight. An added bonus to titanium that I love is the fact that it cools relatively quick once it is removed from a stove. This allows me to avoid carrying a pot gripper or enjoy my morning coffee while I break down camp and start my day on the trail.
My entire cook system rests nicely inside of this pot (pictured above), which I find to be another bonus. Below I will break down the rest of my cookset into detail. At 0.85 liters, the pot is big enough to cook in comfortably and wide enough to eat out of. Three rows of rivets where the handle connects to the pot are strategically placed at the one, two and three cup levels which help take out any guesswork. Weight: 4.2 oz pot, 6.2 oz for cook system minus fuel.
Fancy Feast Cat Food Can Alcohol Stove
This stove is one of the simplest out there. The advantages of using it are: it's light weight, it won't clog, there are no parts to fail and fuel can be found pretty much anywhere for it (see what I typically use, pictured below). They are also relatively cheap to make. Some disadvantages to using it are: boil time is usually around 6 mins rather than a 3-5 min canister stove, windscreens are needed every time, there is no shut off switch or valve regulator, fuel consumption may be equal to a canister stove due to trip length resulting in lack of weight difference.
Denatured alcohol (pictured above) is what I will usually use. Some other alternatives could be HEET (in the yellow bottle) or paint thinner. Though the denatured alcohol burns cleaner. The stove I use burns about 0.7 oz of fuel per meal and the bottom row of holes I strategically placed to where my fuel fill line would be so I don't have to worry about measurements too much. With the stove lit and taking 6 mins to bring my water to a boil, I will set up camp, have a little dessert (a good motivator for those days when you're feeling tired) and then enjoy my dinner. Weight: 0.3 oz for the stove.
A windscreen is critical when using an alcohol stove like this. I made one at home out of regluar aluminum foil, by simply folding it a few times. When using it with my stove, I like to keep it about 1/2" away around my cooking pot and about level to the top of the pot heightwise. Weight: 0.5 oz
Fuel Storage (3)
Poland Spring 8 oz Water Bottle
This bottle carries enough fuel to last up to a week or slightly more for me between resupply points. If I am carrying less, I can squeeze it down a bit smaller without puncturing the container. Ideal and nests without any issues in my cooking pot. Weight: 0.5 oz
Book of Matches
Easy to find, simple and effective. Also crucial, if you are using the cat food can stove, to preventing burned finger tips. Weight: 0.2 oz.
GSI Outdoors Table Spoon
I like to make most of my meals a little soupy, which aids in easy cleanup. It's tough to find a spoon that is big enough for me to enjoy my meal rather than taking tiny sips. This spoon fit the bill. I wasn't aiming to shave grams by cutting the handle down, but it worked to my advantage. I shaved the spoon down so that it would fit into my pot with the rest of my cook system items. I find organization is key. Weight: 0.5 oz.
Sports Drink Bottle
The water we carry weighs 2 lbs 2 oz per liter. I'll reuse water bottles or sports drink bottles multiple times before recycling them. They can weigh as little as 1 oz whereas other bottles can weigh 6 oz or more. An added benefit is that some bottles like the Smartwater bottle (pictured left) can be compatible with lightweight screw-on water filters. Weight: 1 oz.
This water filter is very easy to use and clean. It's light and compact so I barely notice it in my pack. Not only do I use it backpacking, but I'll also bring it with me for day hikes, trail runs, kayak trips and more. The flow rate is up to 2 liters per minute, allowing me for fast refills so I can spend more time hiking and less filtering. With a flow rate that quick, I have even used it as a backcountry shower so I can stay clean and healthy for many miles.
To filter, all I have to do is place the soft bottle at the source and let it flow in. Once the soft bottle is full, screw the filter cap onto the bottle and drink or squeeze into another container. To clean or unclog the filter, simply shake the bottle when it's full of water or place the filter cap into a water source and swish it around back and forth. The filter lasts 1,000 liters before it needs replacement so at 2 liters a day figure 500 days of use. Since this comes with a soft bottle, I will use it as one of my water storage containers and when its empty it packs down small. Weight: 2.3 oz for the filter and bottle combined.
Not all of the following clothing is packed for each of my trips, but all are suitable for the various conditions 3-seasons can throw at you. I look at many factors such as trip location, precip, temps, bug conditions and more. Through research, past trip experiences, reports and more, I will then determine which of these stays in the pack and which of these stays at home.
Shirt or Alt Baselayer
Patagonia Lightweight Capilene Baselayer
A great warm weather shirt or a moisture wicking insulation layer. This lightweight top keeps me dry and comfortable in various conditions. It is made of polyester, which can be more breathable and more stinky. Though the odor control used in this fabric does a good job of keeping the latter of the two at bay. Weight: 3.5 oz.
Old Navy Go Dry Cool Performance Polo
This shirt is comfortable, breathable, light doesn't cling to anything. It too is made of polyester though it doesn't have the odor control of the other shirt mentioned above. Great for those 'zero' days after you head into town or a morale booster while out on the trail. Weight: 3 oz.
Patagonia Strider Pro Trail Running Shorts 5" Inseam
If it's not buggy or below 50F, I will most likely be wearing these. A built in liner provides support and comfort, while also possibly removing the need to carry underwear. They offer great mobility and are quite breathable. Some shorts can look pretty skimpy and possibly offend trailmates. Others can be too baggy, resulting in shorter strides, slower paces and lack of movement. I find these to work well for me. Weight: 4.6 oz.
Rain Gear Top
My go-to for quick passing storms, humid hikes or windy summit attempts. This soft shell packs up to the size of a pear, barely taking up any space in my pack. It is wind and water resistant, making it breathable and quick drying. A drawcord hood helps me cinch down and provide reliable protection. Weight: 3.3 oz
Kuhl Parachute Jak
When the rain is more frequent or constant, I will go with this lightweight hard shell. With seam sealed stitching and a drawcord hood I have stayed dry for a relatively long time. It is waterproof and somewhat breathable, so I wouldn't use it on humid trips or with quick passing weather. It packs down into its own small pouch that's about the size of a sweet potato. This jacket has a drawcord hood too, providing a snug fit when needed. Weight: 7 oz.
Rain Gear Bottom
Outdoor Research Helium II Pants
I'll pair these with the aforementioned hard shell jacket when my hiking pants just aren't enough. They are fairly breathable for a WP/B shell, durable and light in weight. They also stuff into their own single pocket for when I am not using them. Weight: 5.4 oz.
Mountain Hardwear Ghost Whisperer
Chilly nights, brisk days and everything in between are no match for this lightweight down puffy. I've used this as part of my sleep system or a layer for when it gets colder. It contains 800-fill-power goose down making it highly compressible and very warm (I've worn it comfortably with just a t-shirt on down to the upper 20's when I am active, though I do run warmer than most). The proprietary Q.Shield TM Down helps this jacket retain its loft even after it gets wet. I prefer a jacket with a hood and for a few extra ounces it's worth its weight in gold. It also pairs well, when used as part of my sleep system, due to the fact I use a quilt. Weight: 7.7 oz.
Glove Liners & Glove Shell
Mountain Hardwear Plasma Liners
REI Co-Op Minimalist Waterproof Mitts
I'll only carry these in the shoulder season. Lightweight fleece liner gloves provide warmth and proper finger dexterity for those colder than normal moments. The mitts give me protection from the elements and a little more heat retention with my fingers being close together inside. Weight: 3 oz for liner, 1.5 oz for mitts.
This piece of gear isn't just headwear. With over 100 uses, I have worn it as a neck shield from the sun, a balaclava and a sweatband. I have even filtered coffee with it once while out on the trail. Weight: 1 oz.
Patagonia R1 Fleece Pullover
If it is a little brisk out and my jacket is a bit much to pair with a bag or quilt, I'll put on this warm and breathable layer to help me rest more comfortably. It also works well for those cool autumn morning's when I am leaving camp, and need a little insulation before the sun comes up. Weight: 12 oz.
I sleep warm, so the need for a warm pair of sleepwear pants isn't something I'll consider until it reaches the shoulder season or colder months. For most 3-season nights I'll either sleep in my hiking pants (see Clothing Items Worn below) or I'll get some rest in a pair of shorts.
Darn Tough Midweight Hiking Socks
I like to have a nice dry cushioned pair of sleep socks for my trips. If its wet out all day, these socks won't leave my pack until I am in my shelter. If it's dry, I will most likely rotate them with my hiking pair throughout the day as I go through wash/dry cycles. Foot care and blister prevention are always critical. These socks are made of merino wool which also aids in blister prevention. They are also quick drying and excel at temperature regulation. Best of all, they come with a lifetime guarantee. Weight: 3 oz.
Toiletries & Foot Care
Wet Ones Wipes (1)
These have come in handy multiple times during trips and allow me to get a decent basic clean. Weight: dependent on how many I bring.
Like my spoon, I shaved this down to fit nicely in my kit, not to cut out weight. It still works great and I never find I need the extra length when I am out. Weight: 0.5 oz.
Dr. Bronner's Peppermint Soap (3)
Just a drop or two of this soap and some water and I have a do-all cleaner. I'll use it as a body wash, dish soap (when my soupy meals still have remnants), laundry wash (when just water rinsing isn't enough) and also as toothpaste (this one isn't for everyone). I'll take what I need and store it in a small Nalgene bottle and leave the rest at home. Weight: 0.5 oz for the bottle, soap is dependent on how much I need.
Unscented Toilet Paper (4)
For those times when you need to poop in the woods. To follow LNT, I will only use a square or two as a final clean for each time I go. In some places I will blue bag it when packing out is required. Too much TP can added to unnecessary bulk, weight and flowering from the soil if you bury way too much of it. I won't use a trowel during warm weather 3-season trips but instead will use my heel or trekking pole to dig 6" into the soft soil. For shoulder 3-season or tough soil environments, I will bring a trowel. Be sure you know the LNT Principles and do your best to follow them with this and all other aspects of your trip. Weight: unnoticeable, 4 oz for the trowel.
Healing Balm (5)
Before bed each night I will let my feet air out and then use this stuff. Overnight it allows my feet to heal and also provides essential oils to help prevent blistering or wet skin during the following day. Weight: dependent on the length of the trip.
I'll always make sure I have some hand sanitizer with me on my trips. This can be helpful for post-bathroom times, handling trash or other moments when I want a quick clean. I like to use one that comes in a convenient carry system which I strap to the outside of my pack for quick, easy access (circled in yellow in pic above). I'll also pick up a big bottle and refill this smaller one at home before I head out when it is needed. Weight: 2 oz.
My first aid kit consists only of things I could need depending on the specific trip. I am never going to be performing something such as an open heart surgery while outdoors. A good first aid kit should be made of things you are comfortable using. Though I am certified in wilderness medicine, I find with proper planning I can bring only what I may need and leave everything else at home. While accidents can happen, my goal with every kit and trip is to never need it in the first place. The kit below is if I were out for a solo 3-season adventure.
Nitrile Gloves (1)
Keeps me clean and helps prevent infection or transport of pathogens.
Roll Gauze (2)
My logic with this one is that you can always make gauze squares from a roll if needed when you're outdoors. Not the other way around.
Bandages, Alcohol Wipes, Medical Tape, Topicals (3)
Medications, Vitamin I, Electrolyte Tabs (4)
Ibuprofen can come in handy for long distance trips.
Picaridin Insect Repellent Wipes (5)
As a backup.
After Bite (6)
Great relief from PI or those persistent insects that still get their bites in.
Emergency & Gear Repair
Swiss Army Classic SD Knife & Multi-tool (1)
This is all I have ever needed. Its fine edge knife blade helps with tasks I need it for. Scissors give me an additional advantage and can also be used with my first-aid kit. Tweezers work if I manage to find a tick on me. It also has a screwdriver tip, file and toothpick. Weight: 1 oz.
Light My Fire Firesteel (2)
A great backup for matches. This firesteel works in windy and wet conditions. I'll also get 3,000 strikes out of it before it needs to get replaced. Weight: 1 oz.
SOL Emergency Bivy (3)
This bivy will reflect 90% of my body heat back to me in an emergency. An outer orange shell helps be found and this one is also reusable. It can also be used as an emergency shelter if in a bind. Weight 3.5 oz.
In the event something should happen to my water filter. Weight: 0.2 oz
Tenacious Tape (5)
Duct Tape (6)
Krazy Glue (7)
Black Diamond Ion Headlamp
This headlamp provides me with enough brightness for completing camp chores at night and has a reasonable battery life. It runs on two AAA batteries and lasts 6 hours on high (38 meters/100 lumens) and 180 hours (6 meters/4 lumens). I can cycle through the brightness range to that which I prefer. A red LED helps me preserve my eyesight for night time map reading and keeps me from blinding others at camp. There is also a nice lockout feature which keeps things in my pack from turning the headlamp on and draining the batteries. During certain times of year, when the daylight is less, I'll grab a slightly longer burning headlamp such as the Black Diamond Spot. Weight: 1.9 oz.
MPowerd Luci EMRG Lantern
My backup for camp or an emergency is this tiny solar powered inflatable lantern. When I need to charge it, I'll strap it to the outside of my pack as I hike during the day so that the built in solar panel can power it back up (see pic below). At night it inflates with just a couple of breaths of air. It lasts for 12 hours before I need to recharge it , which takes about 7 hours to do so.
When it's not being used, this lantern packs down to about the size of a hockey puck. It has 4 settings (high, low, flash and red flash) and best of all I don't have to worry about bringing extra batteries for a backup light. Weight: 2.4 oz.
For communication on most trips, I have found just a simple smartphone works. I'll also use a couple of other features with my phone (see Camera and Navigational Aid below). For trips where service is not as reliable, I'll carry a InReach or SPOT device.
Sea To Summit Headnet
Mosquito season can be strong in New England and in other places during spring or where humidity is a common factor. This headnet isn't going to win me any fashion awards, but it will allow me to hike efficiently and comfortably.
By pairing it with my worn headwear (see below) I can focus on my trip, pace and the scenery without having to stop constantly to swat bugs out of my face. The one I use is also treated with Insect Shield (permethrin based insect repellent for clothing and gear), and will last for 70 washings (the lifetime of the garment). It also packs down very small. Weight: 1 oz.
Sun Protection & Bug Protection