Camp Lighter—How New, Compact Gear Makes It Easier Than Ever to Get Outdoors

Before Kata Polano set out on her first combination backpacking and long-distance trail-running trip last year, her biggest concern was hauling the supplies she would need on the 37-mile overnight journey. While many backpackers have long seen 30 pounds as the ultimate lightness goal for their bags, Ms. Polano explained that “fastpacking” demands a level of agility that any extra weight can dash. Thanks in part to the increasing availability of new ultra-lightweight camping and hiking gear, the tattoo artist from Revelstoke, British Columbia, was able to condense her load to under half that amount. “Why would you carry 30 pounds on your back when you can carry 12?” Ms. Polano said.

Whether you were setting up a canvas flap tent with the Scouts or loading up a parents’ car with clunky propane tanks and sleeping mats, setting out for the outdoors used to mean a whole lot of hoisting. But recently, outdoors retailers have started enlisting high-tech superlight fabrics—including Silnylon, Dyneema and Gore-Tex—to fabricate tents, sleeping pads and day packs that take up less space and feel better on your back than ever before.

Compact gear arrives amid a frenzy of outdoors appreciation. A 2020 Kampgrounds of America survey found five times as many first-time campers in 2020 as there were in 2019, and two-thirds of those campers expect to head out to the wilderness again in 2021. Equipment that doesn’t threaten to overtake one’s garage makes the pastime even more appealing.

Here, our top picks to lighten your load.

Aerios 30 Backpack | 2 LB.

The perfect pack must balance heft and ease. Too heavy and you’re quickly exhausted, light enough and you risk losing clavicle-saving features like padded straps. Arc’teryx’s new launch cuts weight but doesn’t sacrifice creature comforts. A breathable panel on the shell keeps the pack from sticking to your back, and a padded hip belt takes tonnage off the shoulders. Plus, its water resistance means you won’t be bogged down with sogginess. When Vern Dewit, an IT consultant from Calgary, Alberta, who has logged over 700 outdoor trips on his blog explor8ion.com, first started exploring the outdoors in the 1990s, he had a large, 90-litre canvas pack that “absorbed moisture, and if it rained, it would weigh 10 pounds more.” Not the case with this liquid-crystal polymer ripstop nylon. $190, arcteryx.com

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