The Big Three

“He who would travel happily, must travel light.”

~ Antoine de Saint Exupery, ‘Wind Sand & Stars’ (1939)

Landmannalauger to Skogar Camping

Macpac Minaret – Landmannalauger to Skogar | Iceland, 2000

Before you start cutting the labels off your clothes, the edges off your maps and the end off your toothbrush, it is worth noting that the most significant weight savings will most likely be found in your “Big Three” items; namely your shelter, backpack and sleeping bag.

To illustrate my point, let me give you a brief insight into my own evolution into an ultralight backpacker (i.e. base weight of less than 10 lbs).

Once upon a time………..

For more years than my back or knees care to remember, I lugged around a big tent, a huge backpack and a bulky sleeping bag.

Altogether the three items weighed in at over seven kilograms (15.4 lbs – see chart below).

Although undeniably heavy, all three pieces of equipment were uniformly well made, durable and never let me down in the most difficult of conditions.

Seeing the “Light”


Cam Honan carrying the Dana Designs Terraplane | Western Arthurs Traverse, Tasmania, 2002

In the early 2000’s, my backpacking world was turned on its head when during a hike on the Wonderland trail, I encountered a gentleman by the name of Jim, who hailed from Beaverton, Oregon. In addition to being an all-around good bloke, Jim was the first ultralight backpacker I had ever met (Note: At that point in time, “lightweight” backpacking gear was virtually unheard of outside of a relatively small community of enthusiasts in the US).

You name it, his pack, shelter, sleeping bag and everything else he was carrying was not only lighter, but considerably lighter than the equivalents that I was carrying. How much lighter you ask? Probably 60-70%.


At first I thought that Jim was some sort of minimalist nutter straight off the commune, but after chatting for a while and thoroughly inspecting all of his gear, it became obvious that the guy knew what he was doing.

From what I could see, he was sacrificing neither performance or safety with any of his gear choices, and the fact that his pack weighed so much less, meant that he was going to have a more enjoyable wilderness experience, simply because he wasn’t burdened with such a heavy load. Rocket science it wasn’t.

I became an instant convert.

The Evolution

Fast forward to the present day.

The cumulative weight of my “Big (or not so big) Three” items is generally between 1.2 and 1.7 kg (2.65 / 3.8 lbs), depending on the conditions.  A savings of at least 5.5 kg (12.1 lbs) from my 1990’s total.

That’s a lot of weight.

We’re talking five days food, five and a half litres of water, half a case of beer or more than a hundred Snickers bars!

See the tables below for details:

No Universal Blueprint

The above example illustrates the dramatic weight savings that are possible by downsizing your “Big Three”.

However, not all hikers are interested in ultralight items such as tarps, quilts and frameless backpacks. Many folks want more comfort and support than these gossamer weight items are sometimes able to provide.

The Big 3

Before & After | (L) Yours truly with the Dana Designs Terraplane on the Pyrenees High Route, 1999; (R) Me again hiking the Cape to Cape Walk in Western Australia with an MLD Burn in 2010.

That’s OK.

As I mentioned in the Going Light introductory page, there is no universal blueprint as to how we should all backpack.

The trick is finding lighter weight gear options that suit both your individual needs as well as the dictates of the environment into which you are venturing.

For detailed analysis of the “hows, whys and wherefores” of the Big Three items, see the respective articles on Backpacks, Shelters and Sleeping Bags in the Gear section of the website.