Lightweight Backpacking: REI Style

From REI’s blog

EDIT 8/12: For the people who prefer to read just gear lists, here’s a summary:

“This article is not about getting the lightest gear at REI as you would on BPL or Reddit /ul, or whatever gear site you may frequent. The article is about how, with typical gear, people end up being light anyway despite what people saying about light gear being dangerous, not sturdy, etc.”


I’ve asserted that the whole debate about taking lightweight gear is silly.

I truly believe you have to work not to go light, but to go heavy.

Meaning, you have to take more crap than you need. And you go out of your way to buy the heaviest gear.

Mainstream gear is becoming lighter than earlier counterparts. And the key to going light is not what you take but rather what you don’t take.

The Lightweight Backpacking: REI Style article is an experiment.

Can a person purchase all their gear at REI pack 20 lbs or less for their base pack weight? And use gear that is typically purchased by most REI consumers?

REI is arguably the most popular outdoor store for a particular demographic of backpacker (affluent, college educated) who does not want to do lots of research for their gear, purchase mail order from cottage companies, and takes a more casual approach to weight reduction. In other words, the typical backpacker is more likely to get most, if not all, their gear and clothing at REI for backpacking.

Additionally, twenty pounds or less is considered the traditional threshold for the lightweight backpacking category and seemed a good starting point as any.

I imposed the following guidelines for myself:

  • All the gear and clothing must come from REI with a few noted exceptions. Most people do have a toothbrush, after all.
  • Nothing could be on clearance. The exception would be some winter gear as of this writing it is August, and most of the winter clothing (hat, gloves, etc.) are not available. I did use the full retail price vs. the clearance price, however. 
  • The gear would not be the least expensive nor the most expensive gear
  • The gear would also be mid-range concerning weight

Why these stipulations? Esp the last two parts?

Again, the typical REI consumer is not going to go out of their way to purchase the very expensive and light Big Agnes Copper Spur tent.   The same consumer will have enough knowledge to realize that the Base Camp 4 tent used for family camping trips is overkill for backpacking.    The typical REI customer is also not going to purchase from cottage gear companies or use budget alternatives that are effective. I base these assertions on the admittedly non-scientific way of having many friends, colleagues, and acquaintances who fall into these parameters. Time is a precious resource for many. And REI, besides being well known, is a one-stop shopping place for many.

Also, an addition based on recent comments: Forget semi-frameless packs, pads perceived to be fragile, short pads, unknown brands for most consumers, trail runners, Smart Water bottles vs Camelbaks,  or one person tents.  Again, this is gear the typical REI consumer purchases and not what an experienced person looking to go lighten someone’s load would suggest.

Having stated all that, here is the  Lightweight Backpacking: REI Style list.

It is not lightest, heaviest, least expensive, or the most expensive list that can be purchased at REI.  (On purpose!)

But I feel it is a reasonably typical list of what most REI consumers will purchase for an off-the-shelf kit for their backpacking pursuits.

Happy Trails!

–Paul Mags 


Pack and accessories      
Osprey Stratos $190 59 Osprey appears to be the most popular pack at REI.  This size pack typically works for most weekends. Yes, there are lighter packs, but the point of the list is not using the lightest gear, but rather to show that the typical gear purchased is light in aggregate anyway.
Osprey Pack Cover $35 I think pack covers are mainly useless, but they are popular. So included it as a typical item that is purchased.
Subtotal $225 62 oz  
Sleeping System      
Marmot Trestles  $150 39 A 20F bag for standard Colorado conditions. More casual backpackers seem to like synthetic as this type of insulation seems to need less care than down initially. 😉
Therm-a-Rest ProLite Sleeping Pad $90 16 Not too heavy, not too light. Good R-value. Reasonably durable. It is a Goldilocks pad for many people.
Subtotal $240 55  
Shelter System      
REI Co-op Quarter Dome Tent $350 60 The weight is the packed weight. Most casual backpackers take all the stakes, stuff sacks, etc. that come with a tent.  The Quarter Dome is large enough for most people and can fit a second person in a pinch. Doubles as a car camping tent if need be,
Stakes with the tent –  Most people take the stakes that come with the tent; lousy as they may be. 
Subtotal $350 60  
Lexan spoon $1 0.375 Standard spoon. Usually found with the cookware. So cheap it is not online.
Lighter from home 0 1
GSI Outdoor Haullite Boiler pot $30 8.6  Just a standard cooking pot that I think would be attractive for the people who make Mountian House-type meals.
MSR Pocket Rocket II  $45 2.6 The MSR Pocket Rocket is still the baseline for most canister stoves. The Jetboil Flash would be the other popular stove. But my gut feeling that a Jetboil  stove is more popular with people who are out more than our theoretical more casual backpacker. I could have gone either way, to be honest.  Add the pot above and the price and weight are almost a wash.
Toothbrush 0 <.125  
Dental Floss 0 <.125 Works for repairs, too!
Sea to Summit Ultra-Sil Stuff Sack $15 .7 Silnylon is no longer an exotic fabric and is reasonable in price. 
Subtotal $91 13.275   
CamelBak 2L Reservoir  $33 Most people prefer a CambelBak for their hydration and water needs.  For the people who wrote and said “substitute water bottles”, you are missing the whole point of this exercise. 😉
MSR Trailshot water filter $50  5.2 I’ve heard from my more typical friends versus the lightweight world. And they seem to like this filter. They know MSR, they know filters, the Sawyer Squeeze is not something they would buy or are familiar with as a product. Why do I know this? Because I’ve had friends purchase  this exact MSR Filiter at REI recently!
 Subtotal $83 13.2  
Clothing in pack      
REI Co-op Down Jacket $100 10.5 Affordable, functional, and effective. And readily available in REI.
Darn Tough Quarter Cushion Socks $18 2 The heavier, more cushioned socks, seem to work well with the more typical heavier footwear.
REI Co-op Rain Jacket $70 9.4 Your standard all-purpose shell. 
REI Co-op Talussphere Rain Pants $90 9 Standard, all-purpose, rain pants.
REI Thermal Top and REI Thermal Bottoms $70 10 REI house-brand gear items work well enough.
Outdoor Research Soleil Beanie $30 1 Just your standard warm hat. 
Manzella Cascade Outdoor Gloves $22 2 Reasonably weather proof gloves. Again, typical of what may be bought and carried.
Subtotal $400 43  
Adventure Medical Kits UltraLight $29 8 Yep. I realize that a functional first aid kit can be put together at home for less weight and money. But, again based on my unscientific analysis of what I’ve seen, most people would rather purchase a ready-made first aid kit. So here it is.
Deuce of Spades Trowel/TP/Ziploc $20 1 LNT means leave no #2 and TP lying around! I have no affiliation with The Tent Lab (maker of the Deuce of Spades). But for the weight, no reason NOT to take one. Esp now that the longer trails are getting popular.  Avail at REI. And the TP is usually just taken from home. 🙂
Hand sanitizer $3 2.25 Get the travel size
Petzl Tikkina Headlamp $20 3 Very standard headlamp.
Subtotal $72 14.25  
Equipment “on self”      
REI Co-op Sahara T-Shirt $25 4 Standard wicking technical t-shirt.
REI Co-op Screeline Shorts $70 5 Nylon cargo shorts. 
Darn Tough Quarter Cushion Socks $18 2 The heavier, more cushioned socks, seem to work well with the more typical heavier footwear.
REI Co-op Paddlers Hat $30 3.5
Leatherman Squirt $33 1.9  Again, going with what the theoretical typical REI consumer would buy. A smaller multi-tool seems about right.
Sunglasses $0 1 Probably already have a pair? I like safety sunglasses myself: Light, durable and inexpensive.
Suunto A10 $18 1 Basic compass. 
Keen Targhee II shoes $125 34 Keens are extremely popular at REI. Our theoretical REI consumer may realize trail shoes are better than boots for well-maintained trails. But they are usually not quite ready to eschew ‘sturdy’ footwear and use trail running shoes. Yet. 
Total $311 52.4  


So there you have it.  A complete, lightweight,  REI gear list using typically purchased gear.  Take a liter of water, and three days of food and the total gear carried is under 30 lbs for a long weekend of backpacking.

Everything is off-the-shelf (or website in this case) and nothing exotic. I could easily go lighter with just gear at REI.  Substitute a lighter, if more expensive, tent, pad, and pack and the gear list is around the 15 lb base pack weight mark.  The prices will go up in some cases, but perhaps down in others. If I were to convince these theoretical REI customers to drop certain items (pack cover, use a homemade first aid kit, use a smaller knife, etc.) even more weight is saved just by using REI gear.

The theoretical REI consumer will be warm, safe, comfortable and will hardly be making sacrifices for a two or three-day outing.

Another observation? I often hear people talk about how expensive it is to go light. Oddly enough, with the right mix of REI-type gear, cottage gear, budget alternatives, and some high-end gear, a person can go very light, have functionally the same equipment and be as safe FOR LESS MONEY than just using REI-type gear exclusively.  However, when the average REI consumer earns more than the typical household average, a little over $2000 worth of gear is probably not a huge burden either, to be honest.

Going light is not some obscure rubric. Take what you need.  And what you need, that also happens to be light,  can often be found at the store most people associate with backpacking oriented activities using gear they would normally purchase anyway.

It is harder to go heavy than it is to go light in 2017.


  • The prices are rounded up.
  • All the weights are from the REI site. Exception? Some clothing items did not have weights so I took weights from their nearest equivalent that I could find.
  • I used Men’s medium or equivalent as the baseline for clothing.
  • Items that vary on trips such as food, fuel, guidebooks, and maps (which are trip dependent) not included
  • I did not list hiking poles. Call it a coin-toss if people use them or not for casual backpacking.
  • Cameras will add weight. Most people just take a smart phone at this point. Price and weight depend on the phone.
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Just Bill
Just Bill
6 years ago

Add $20 for a membership.
1 year of returns or exchanges.

Get 10% back to clear 2k or…. if talking typical REI customers; to purchase that next upgrade or replacement… or even to get a week or two of off the shelf meals.

Get on the trail: it’s easier than ever

Bill Kirk
6 years ago

Thanks for all the detail, Paul. Excellent point of departure for variations depending on the nature of the trip. For longer backpacking trips, there are a couple more items on my gear list. I use the same 1/4-dome tent on your list, although I have now switched to a lighter weight 1-person tent to save a pound or so on longer treks. I noticed your list didn’t include a tent footprint, which would add about 6 ounces. And I may have missed the fuel on your list. For a weekend, I suppose one of the small 4-oz cannisters would work.… Read more »

6 years ago
6 years ago
Reply to  Paul Mags

Even still, switching to a Z-Lite small (10oz, $45), Marmot Trestles Elite 30 (33oz $140) would be an improvement. Just throwing out there that you can go UL buying at REI without the use of cottage gear!

6 years ago

I think a lot of these folks go roughly 2-3 times per year max, only in summer. That seems to be the limit for normies from what I’ve noticed with friends and acquaintances. So for two years of trips if comes out to $3-600 per trip excluding gas. Wow.

Kelly Carter
Kelly Carter
6 years ago
Reply to  DouchePacker

That sadly describes my reality. I *dream* of going more often, so spend lots of time on hiking/climbing/gear websites, so end up spending way more money than my actual outings justify. And I keep buying duplicate items because something better comes out. If I added it all up, I’d probably be stunned.

Douche P.
6 years ago
Reply to  Kelly Carter

My question for you Kelly is what are the barriers to you being able to go out more often? I found that I had to give up some social activities on the weekends, but I just go to happy hour during the week instead to maintain friendships

Mike B
Mike B
6 years ago
Reply to  DouchePacker

A lot lot cheaper than that weekend in Napa Valley. $300 – $600 will cover the hotel room depending on how nice of a hotel maybe not even that.

john parker
john parker
6 years ago

Nice ob paul! Very similar to where I started out! that’s a good list to help scouts start from too.

6 years ago

So with me being as newbie as newbie gets, I am planning to do a little walking after I retire. I am acquiring all my gear now so I can learn how to use it before I go get lost in the mountains. My first move 6 – 8 months ago (probably wrong) was to visit every backpack website imaginable and I settled on a ULA Catalyst. Why? Well cause it looked strong and shaped like something I would like. I’m really in love with this thing even though I haven’t worn it out of my own shadow yet. I’m… Read more »

6 years ago

Cart before the horse, IMO. You can tell this list was put together by an experienced outdoorsman. An “average” backpacker would have a similar gear list to this, yes… but would also be carrying a blue tarp to put the tent on, a full roll of TP, a mini french press, a leatherman, sandals, and a second set of clothes. Boom, there’s your 30 lb average base weight. Bonus pounds for the camp chair. Of course, maybe that’s the point of this whole exercise – you can get down to a reasonably light packweight, not by buying all the fancy… Read more »

Bob Lacourse
Bob Lacourse
6 years ago

All great points Paul. I personally only buy a couple small items at REI that I need in a pinch. I find REI to be very expensive, even with the 10% refund check. I go there to try cloths or shoes on then I go on line and find the best deals. I save myself easily 500.00 this way. I understand your articles point. Just sayin. My base weight for thru hikes is usually around 17 LBS. I need to shave at least 4 LBS off that.

John Goering
John Goering
6 years ago

A well done exercise Paul. But obviously, this is another case of one size doesn’t fit all. We don’t hike or pack anyplace in SW MT without bear spray anymore and I’m usually packing a backup. That alone adds about 3 lbs. And we did use a Copper Spur for part of a year, a tent I grew to absolutely hate. Between the hang-up zippers and the condensation dripping through the netting onto bags and gear, not to mention on my back while on elbows trying to make a futile effort to exit with the fly entangled in the fly… Read more »

6 years ago

Disclaimer: I am an REI employee and am intimately familiar with the point of this discussion! I rankled a little bit at first, then found myself nodding “uh-huh, yep,” as the article went on. I see two groups of customers. The first is new to the area, all excited and needing all of the gear. When outfitting them, we try to have thoughtful discussions about weight vs. cost, how much they will be using the gear, age and fitness levels, what they aspire to do, etc, and help them base their decisions on that information. The second type of customer… Read more »

Kelly Carter
Kelly Carter
6 years ago

A big reason is that I have an elderly mother and a disabled son that I need to help with, especially on weekends, while holding down a job during the week. I agree that there a few smaller things I could give up that would free up a little time, plus I do need to lean on others a bit more to help out to free up more time for me. Thanks for the encouragement.