Isn’t ultralight expensive?

I hear that a lot. While it can cost a pretty penny to get completely outfitted, one of the reasons I offer so much assistance to folks is so they can save money by purchasing the right gear the FIRST time. If I can help a hiker skip some mistakes a beginner might make (like the mistakes I made in 2003), they can start investing money in quality gear from the get go.

But the expensive myth doesn’t really hold true once one looks at the cost of gear. My Mountain Laurel Designs backpack costs $180, which is cheaper than most traditional packs by Gregory or Mountainsmith. The Gossamer Gear tarp I have costs $200; way cheaper than the majority of quality tents on the market. My quilt costs less than $300, and most 20 degree down sleeping bags cost about the same. You can scrimp on your sleeping bag, but saving a couple hundred bucks isn’t going to be very worthwhile when you’re shivering in the cold, and eventually want to replace it with a quality product. The BushBuddy stove I used to use when I cooked is over $100, but I never had to buy fuel, so it has payed for itself many times over. Nowadays I just soak my food in a plastic container…which I’m confident is cheaper than any stove on the market.

There are many items in my pack that are cheap yet functional.  My sleeping pad costs $16 and my water bottle is a recycled sports drink container. When I carry thermal underwear, they’re a cheap pair of jeggings that work as well as the expensive brands do. When traditional backpackers say my ultralight set-up is expensive, they are failing to remember how much they paid for their own gear. Often twice as much!

21 Replies to “Isn’t ultralight expensive?”

  1. Saw you on Oregon Field Guide! Any plans to maybe write a book for those of us who want to share your ultralight dreams? I’m 46 years old and my knees won’t hold up to lugging around 70-plus pounds anymore! I also don’t want to spend a ton of money! I agree with your theory about buying quality the first time rather than experimenting with crap products. I want to get my money’s worth right from the start.
    Happy trails!

  2. Finding the time for adventure is easier once you decide that’s what you want out of life. Our society does it’s best to trap us at an early age into debt, but I avoided that like the plague. Never had a credit card, lived beyond my means, or fathered children. Even when I was only making 12K a year working retail jobs, I still socked away enough money to go out for months on trail. There were some creative living situations going on that may raise a few eyebrows though. I squatted in the warehouse I worked at for a few months one year, and 90% of my food came from the dumpsters behind the grocery store, so rent and food bills were not a problem. But I looked at this lifestyle as another branch of my hiking adventures!

    Making adventure happen seems to be a matter of priorities. People find time to do things like golf or watch television…I just wasn’t interested in things like that. I knew I wanted to emancipate myself from wage slavery once a year, so I did everything I could to make that dream a reality.

  3. Lint,
    Keep on truckin’, man. Am reading dirtmonger’s journal on and he has teamed on the trail with you lately. Love what you say about the ultralight. I’m 60, got back into bpacking again 3 years ago and started off buying some stuff i wish i hadn’t. but, o well. i’m now all about the lightest. do bushbuddy, but have the traditional not the ultra. you should also mention how one can find a lot of good gear being sold 2nd hand without much use on it. that’s how i picked up a cool gassamer gear u.l. backpack. few years older than current models, but o so lite and functional. got to be functional in the end, eh?

    Love your stuff!

  4. Just watched your segment on Oregon Field Guide. I’ve always loved nature and hiking/backpacking, but now that I’m older and have more chronic pain issues than I care to mention, I have trouble keeping moving without sufficient heat for my upper back, neck and shoulders during the night (and during the day, truth be told) without roasting the rest of me and a supportive surface for sleeping. What I want to know is the answer to two questions:
    1) Have you tried any of the camping hammocks, like the Hennessy Ultralight Hammock and what you think of them, if so?
    2) Do you have any workable suggestions besides bulky, wasteful Thermacare strips or an electric heating pad for keeping my arthritic back, neck and shoulders sufficiently warm, both during the day (a breeze across my neck and shoulders, even on a very warm day, is enough to start severely painful aching and muscle spasms) and at night, which are what I usually rely on? I’ve got an entire wardrobe of warm vests, scarves and shrugs, but they don’t always cut it (not by a long stretch). I’ve thought of heat reflecting material, but most of that seems to be bulky and/or not meant for reusable clothing.

    No, I’m not kidding. I would damned near kill to be able to backpack overnight again, but doing so without a pack train and/or massive amounts of strong painkillers seems nigh unto impossible.

  5. Just watched the PBS segment. Very cool.
    You are inspiring. I have incorporated UL stuff into my hiking style too.
    You are very right on how folks “pack thier fears”. Great phrase.
    Keep on Keepin On.

  6. I carried a Warbonnet Blackbird on my 2010 AT thru hike and loved it. Very comfortable, and with trees abound, finding a spot was easy every night. Unfortunately, I have no real suggestions for the warmth question other than trying something like Columbia’s Omni-Heat material. I haven’t tried it, but after Googling around a bit, it seems like it might be good.

  7. Finding used gear is a great way to save some money. I’m lucky enough to live in a town with LOTS of used gear, and even find gems in the Goodwill from time to time.

  8. Hey Lint,
    We crossed tracks in the North of Ca. this past summer. I was wearing Altra Lone peaks and you just had to check out the tread wear on them. They made it about 600 miles with the help of duct tape.The red fabric disintegrated on me.
    Glad to hear you made it up north okay.
    I intend to complete the pct in 2015 or 16, maybe see you then.
    Take care.

  9. 600 miles isn’t too bad for any pair of shoes, but I have heard a few people complain about the fabric falling apart on the red version. The Lone Peak 2.0 will be out soon (I got to see them at the Outdoor Retailers convention in SLC this weekend!) and the fabric appears to be different. Altra is still a pretty new company, and I pass any feedback I get directly to them. See ya on the trail!

  10. Lint,

    you the man. I fell into the American trap, but I’m diligently working for the man to get out of it so that I can enjoy life in the way you do.

    Good luck,


  11. So far my Lone Peak 2.0 shoes have been holding up great! As with all my shoes, I preemptively capped the toe area with barge cement, which prevents premature peeling of the sole. Thus far I’ve put about 300 miles on my Lone Peak 2.0’s and they look great! The day after day pounding of a thru hike will be the true test…and I plan on testing them this summer!

  12. Do you ever guide people on hikes? I want to do some segment hikes but I am alone. I have the means to pay for some expert advice.
    Ps. I loved watching you in the FlipFlop series!

  13. Love your info and philosophy. Really agree with the umbrella. What brand do you like?

  14. While for some people ultralight is quite expensive. If I had the money I would go straight to around a 6 lb base weight. I am 15 so spending even $150 of tarp is hard to justify (and explain to my parents). My base weight is currently about 10lbs because I either don’t have the gear, or its just a cheap knock off. I hope to accumulate the amount of gear you have in your collection eventually. You are an inspiration and a role model to me. Keep doing what you do.

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