This kit was designed to take my previously 30 lb base weight down to a near-ultralight range, closer to 10. Looking back, it's shocking to me that my gear was ever so heavy-- but at the same time, I look at trips where I struggled to do 15 or 18 mile days on markedly easier terrain than the Sierra, and then cease to wonder.
The goal was to get my weight down with minimal cost while maximizing the purchase efficiency, buying gear I could keep for a long time and use for a long time too-- so in theory, this list may serve as an ok introduction to UL backpacking, using widely accessible gear that will remain relevant. For anyone new to this effort, lighterpack is an incredible tool to organize and parse your gear. Here's the site, and here's the gear list I used on this trip. It'll be broken out more below. I want to make it clear that none of these are affiliate links-- I don't care about that stuff. If you find this useful or interesting, that's its own reward.
Tent: TarpTent ProTrail - purchased on sale for $180 - 1.6 lb
This tent was the second biggest weight savings I made-- the tent I was using previously was a 3.5 lb bivvy, which was already a notable (and $40) improvement from a 6 lb Kelty tent that I had salvaged from the garbage once upon a time.
Impressions: a phenomenal non-freestanding tent that is weather-proof, incredibly spacious, but can require some creative setup if camping on rock or snow. Vents extremely well, versatile, packs to nothing. 10/10 purchase. Pay the extra money to have TT seam seal it for you-- or, if you're like me, seizing control wherever possible, and looking for things to do during quarantine, do it yourself. Get the Costco poles! Or get your friend with a Costco membership to get them for you (thank you Tyler!) These fellas are wonderful stakes.
Slideshow: My pitch got better over the trip, both in site selection and tension distribution.
Pack: REI Flash 55 - purchased on sale for $80 - 2.4 lb
REI garage sales and ULgeartrade are a blessing. I picked this up essentially brand new, saving me from a "top-of-the-line" 1980 backpack, a Gregory weighing in at close to 7 lbs. Don't get me wrong, the thing was indestructible, but to get my base weight closer to 10 lbs, changes were needed.
Impressions: A wonderful entry level pack. I love the roll top closure, it rides very comfortably, and my only gripe is that a size L pack, which fits my height, doesn't fit my waist. The hip belt goes from 34" - 46", which is entirely too large for me, struggling to properly load my hips/unload my shoulders. I liked how accessible the side pockets are while wearing the pack, and how customizable it is without cutting anything. However, I need a smaller pack-- I almost always rolled the top as far down as it would go.
Backpack walkaround on the 15th and final JMT day..
Sleeping Bag: Kelty Cosmic 20 - purchased on sale for $130 - 2.5 lb
Everyone will have non-negotiables, and mine is a mummy bag. Is a quilt lighter? Yes. Is it more versatile? Yes. Is it cheaper? Yes. Do I sleep as well in one? Hell no. This is a bomber value for a sleeping bag, even more if you get it on sale. The quality/price does not get higher-- and the weight, while at the heavier end of the UL spectrum, is in that spectrum, which is amazing for the price. Check out the Outdoor Gear Lab review, comparison.
Impressions: I love this bag. I find a single zipper is the exact amount of versatility that I need. I sleep cold, and on the coldest nights, I stay cozy with wind pants, a fleece, or a down jacket. On hot nights, it's fine mostly unzipped, or as a ground cushion. I have slept between 25 and 75 degrees in this bag and I'm still kicking. It could be lighter, it could pack smaller, but certainly not for the price.
Pad: Z-Lite Sol Short - purchased for $35 - 0.6 lb
This pad is iconic. It's not the lightest, the comfiest, god knows it's not the most compressible, and it's got no features to speak of. But it's iconic for a reason. It's cheap, effective, and entirely apocalypse-proof. I love a good CCF pad-- going to sleep is as simple as throwing that bad boy on the ground and hopping on. Also makes cowboy camping easier when you're not worrying about popping a featherweight inflatable pad.
Food/Water Quick Takes:
Sawyer Squeeze Micro: Lower flow rate worth the small size to me, you gotta backflush anyway. Bring extra gaskets. You will drop or break one. ($30, or $20 for the mini)
SmartWater Bottles: Lighter than a Nalgene, surprisingly durable.
Sea to Summit Long-Handled Spoon: Spoon length matters big time. ($11)
Food/Water combined cost: $150; budget version: $60
Clothing Quick Takes:
Running Shorts: 3" inseam shorts that I've had laying around forever. Pick what works for you! I am not a hiking pants person, so. (Probably around $20)
Montbell Dynamo Wind Pants: Great layer with the shorts, provides a shocking amount of warmth for 3 oz. ($80)
RailRiders Mojave: This was a huge piece of gear for me-- expensive, but worth it. This will be my hiking shirt forever. Versatile, light, protective. I will preach the value of this shirt to anyone who will listen. ($85)
Decathalon Fleece: A great midlayer, was rarely used but important. ($12)
Down Jacket: I borrowed a jacket while I'm still figuring out what I want! ($0)
Darn Tough Socks: This is the last place I would sacrifice quality. Hike in whatever clothes, but keep your feet warm, dry, and free from blisters. And bring 2 pairs! ($20 per)
Clothing combined cost: ~$230. Budget version: get Darn Toughs for $20.
Altra Lone Peak 3.5s: I'm a zero-drop fan, and these aren't for everyone, but they're certainly for me! I've seen none of the lifetime issues that have been reported.
BV500: Due to how much I use it, I bought one for $80; NPS visitor centers also rent Garcia cans for like $5 or $10 a trip. I'm (embarrassingly) also getting a BV450 for shorter trips. I fit 9 days of food in the 500-- barely.
20k mAh battery: this blog post from Ultralight Dandy contains everything you need to know about batteries. You don't need a 20k unless you really think you need a 20k!
Pack Liner: send extra liners in your resupply-- they tear easily, but are important for waterproofing.
First Aid Kit: Your FAK only has to be enough to get you out of the wilderness and to help. You do not need to pack an entire hospital-- at the same time, don't die out there/be safe! Also deal with your blisters before they become blisters!
All told, I spent about $800 on essentials over a calendar year preparing for this trip, though that could've easily been closer to $400 with some more cost-saving measures. I will also have this gear for a long, long time. This cost brought my pack weight from over 3o pounds down to 12. It also let me comfortably hike 20 miles a day in the Sierra coming straight off the couch. At the height of my fitness a few years ago, with the heavy pack, 13 miles or so was a long day.
Some electronics aren't captured here, as I'd define them strictly as optional. Maps and phone apps are nice, but a compass and a CalTopo printout are as good as anyone really needs.
If you've got any questions, let me know-- I'm so happy to elaborate on any of this gear, and I love talking about it!