What is the BIG Three? When we talk about the BIG Three, we are refering to the three heaviest pieces of equipment that every backpacker uses: Sleeping Bag, Shelter, and Backpack. In this post we are going to break them down one by one to help you save some serious pounds on your back.
Most experienced hikers tend to favor bags by Western Mountaineering which retail for $300-$400. Other good vendors are Montbell or Marmot, which can also tend to be pricey. Me personally, I use the Thermarest Haven top bag. It's a 20 degree top bag which basically acts as a down quilt. I rely on the insulation from my airpad to suffice for the bottom, and it works quite well. Any bag can be upgraded with a lightweight bag liner or by sleeping in thermal underwear and socks. I also recommend sleeping in a beanie which will help keep body heat from escaping via your noggin.
Remember, when using down, it is vital that you do your best to keep it dry at all times or else it could damage it's insulation value.
Again, if your shelter weighs more than 40 oz, you need another option - especially if it's a single person tent. This is usually the hardest sacrifice for people to make. Most people, for some reason, feel more secure in a fully enclosed tent. If you're wanting to go lighter, you do have to make some sacrifies, and the thing to aim for here is sleeping under a tarp or a tarp-tent. Tarp-tents are basically tarps that are cut in the shape of tents and for the most part are floorless shelters, however there are some options with floors.
The first thing to note here is that these type shelters are called single-wall shelters which means there is only one layer of material (usually sil-nylon) between you and the outside. This being said, single wall shelters are more prone to condensation so be careful not to bump the wall of the tent. I would suggest something that is a little more roomy. Check out www.tarptent.com or Six Moon Designs for some options <$250. If it's a floorless shelter, find some Tyvek home wrap to use as a ground cloth. A Tyvek ground cloth will typically weigh 3-3.5 oz, depending on how big you cut it.
Let me go over the difference between Light and UL packs. Light packs are typically internal frame packs and are between 2 and 3 lbs. They have fairly decent support and you can find them in volumes (usually) up to around 3500 cu inches. Depeneding on your gear, this is probably sufficient for up to a 4 day trip.
UL packs are somewhat of a newer concept. I've seen these packs as light as 18 oz. That's VERY light, but why? UL packs typically don't have a frame in them which is why they are able to be so light. The downside to that is, they don't support weight as well. Unless you're taking a serious minamalistic approach where you have a base weight <7lbs, multi day trips will get really heavy once you add the food and water to the mix. Frameless packs don't distribute the weight of the pack as well as internal frame packs. Packs with a frame can distribute the load onto your hips where with frameless packs the weight rests on your shoulders. If you're doing a 3+ day trip, your shoulders can ache very badly from this. If you opt to go the frameless pack route, I strongly suggest finding one that has an aluminum hoop stay as well as a place to put a sleeping pad or foam pad in the back for support. This will help the weight distribution issue. I really like what Gossamer Gear has to offer in the department of UL packs. I use the Mariposa and really like it (Favorite feature is all the pockets which is very hard to find even in internal frame packs; I love pockets). I've done 4 days at around 28 lbs and didn't have any issues with comfort.
If your total hiking weight (food and water included) is over 30 pounds I would go with a internal frame pack. For internal frame packs, I recommend Osprey. Tye has a great review of his Osprey Exos in our gear reviews section. I've also used an Osprey Atmos 50 in the past and it was a great pack.
Nick's Big Three
Sleeping Bag: Thermarest Haven - 22 oz
Backpack: Gossamer Gear Mariposa: 25.75 oz
Shelter: Outdoor Research Night Haven: 34 oz
Grand Total: 81.75 oz; 5.11 lbs