When filled to the brim with every last piece of essential equipment, my 65-liter pack weighs in at approximately 25 pounds. For those that can’t easily picture such an arbitrary figure, that’s the equivalent of roughly three brimming gallons of water; or 31 Patagonia Synchilla Snap-T Pullovers; or 167 Clif Bars, depending on the flavor.
To some, 25 pounds might seem like a relatively manageable number, but to a growing body of outdoor enthusiasts, heavy gear like mine is reserved for history. As cottage brands and established outfitters introduce lightweight fibers and fabrics that are assessed not in pounds, but grams and ounces, the outdoor industry is slowly but surely parting ways with the burdensome gear it once considered revolutionary. If you need any proof of this shift towards embracing ultralight gear, simply peruse the backpacking setups found on ultralight forums, where base weights (that is, the weight of an entire backpacking setup excluding food and water) rarely exceed 12 pounds for trips spanning weeks or months.
Before we forget why we first fell in love with all the aging outdoor gear that’s shrinking in the shadow of ultralight hardware, let us take a moment to remember what makes heavy, hulking, beefy, portly, plump equipment so special; it’s not the craftsmanship, the quality, or the comfort, but a combination of all three (and then some). I, for one, continue to embrace and defend heavy gear, regardless of the added weight—let me tell you why.
Over the years, my equipment has slowly but surely transitioned from traditional gear to lighter alternatives. For instance, the cutlery set I formerly used to down a backwoods meal included a fork, spoon, and knife bonded by a keyring, until I adopted a do-it-all titanium spork (0.6 ounces). So too did I ditch boots for trail runners, use layers as a makeshift pillow instead of bringing one, and transition from a synthetic to a down sleeping bag (2 pounds, 11 ounces). But there remains a handful of odds and ends I keep around regardless of the nearly-weightless replacements now available, if only because I’m willing to sacrifice the added weight in exchange for the comfort they provide.
Take, for instance, my beloved pack, a 65-liter Gregory Zulu. It weighs two times more than the Hyperlite Mountain Gear Southwest that’s also in my quiver. Indeed, it’s quite the bundle to carry here and there, but the mesh back panel, suspension system, and load adjustment straps are traits I simply can’t pass up on a multi-day hike. (My Hyperlite weighs 30.1 ounces, but it lacks any such features.) It’s also quite durable and reasonably priced, so I don’t feel bad when it tips over as I’m eating lunch on a rock and slides into the dirt with a hard thud.
The same can be said for my tent, a free-standing, two-person model made by Sea to Summit (3 pounds 4.3 ounces) that offers mental security and loads of comfort. I can set it up in minutes, probably with my eyes closed. The same goes for the two-to-three liters of water I carry on the trail that provide a little more peace of mind when I don’t know where the next source of hydration will come from. While I’m always open to challenging the status quo, I’m also happy to embrace what still works—especially if it’s comfortable.
Every Ounce Doesn't Actually Count
If I were to examine my entire setup, I could easily cut weight in more ways than one. I could ditch my Jetboil Flash (14.2 ounces) for an old tuna can and some rubbing alcohol, or use baking soda instead of toothpaste to brush my teeth (a bad idea, according to dentists), but making one or two small changes won’t drastically impact my overall weight. They say every ounce counts—I beg to differ.
Instead, I would need to completely revamp my entire setup from top to bottom, shedding as much weight as possible. Otherwise, removing a total of one or two pounds from my 25-pound configuration won’t make a very noticeable difference beyond making me less comfortable in the long run. Realistically, I’m just not dedicated to ultralight arrangements, and I’d rather not compromise my entire system in an effort to save a lot of weight.
Okay, so this final reason isn’t entirely rational, but I’ll admit that I continue to use some of my old, heavy gear for reasons rooted in sentimentality. I love that my trusty old pack has traversed beautiful trails, and that I bought my dinky headlamp at Walmart when I first traveled solo across the country. I love my old Altra Lone Peak shoes (10.5 ounces each) that are slightly melted along the sole, a result of drying them too close to an open flame in eastern Oregon after trudging through the rain for days. And I love the old-school cool of a cotton tee that’s soaked with sweat after a long day—throw it on a rock, let it dry and it’s good to go by morning (conditions permitting).
In no way are these opinions a rebuff of ultralight gear. I’m always on the lookout for new equipment that’s better suited for the task at hand, especially if it means I can lighten the load and make things easier on myself. Gear is constantly evolving, and so too must I evolve with it or risk being left behind (quite literally). But there remains some heavy hardware in this world that I can’t yet live without.
Read on for a breakdown of the "traditional" backpacking gear that's well worth the extra weight, to me.
Non-Ultralight Gear Worth the Schlep
Gregory Zulu 65 Pack, 3.75 pounds
I’ve already proclaimed my love for this pack many times over, but bear with me just once more. The Zulu’s 210-denier fabric withstands my maladroit tendencies on the trail, and six exterior pockets keep everything organized, including oversized hipbelt pockets that actually fit a modern smartphone. My favorite unconventional feature? A bungee strap located on the shoulder padding secures a pair of sunglasses for easy access.
Jetboil Flash, 14.2 ounces
It’s a tad bit unwieldy in comparison to other stove systems such as the MSR PocketRocket, but the Jetboil Flash boils water like nobody’s business. It’s cheaper than other integrated canister stoves and the color-changing heat indicator is a nice touch, as is the piezoelectric ignition system that doesn’t require a lighter.
Leatherman Wave Plus, 8.5 ounces
The odds are unlikely that I’ll need it on the trail, but I routinely schlep a multi-tool on almost every trip (in addition to a lighter pocket knife). The Leatherman Wave Plus has a well-established reputation for being one of the best you can buy—it features 18 different tools including spring-action scissors, bit drivers, metal/wood files, and my favorite outdoorsy instrument, a bottle opener.
Nocs Provisions Waterproof Binoculars, 11.8 ounces
The kid in me is always looking for an excuse to stop and smell the roses, which is why I occasionally pack a pair of binos that help me spot song birds, watering holes, or sleepy alpine villages. This pair from Nocs comes furnished with 8x magnification power, multi-coated lenses, a rubberized housing that’s IPX7 water-resistant, and a "No-Matter-What" lifetime warranty that lets me use and abuse them without worry.
Gregory 3D Hydro Reservoir, 7 pounds (full)
When I’m backpacking in regions where water sources might be scarce (i.e. California, where the annual drought plagues the Sierras), I often carry more water than I might need in a three-liter reservoir that pairs with my pack. When filled to the brim, it weighs a shade over seven pounds (I know, a lot), but the design sits flat against my back and a soft-molded handle makes it easy to refill the bladder at a moment’s notice.
Canon A1, 1 pound 5 ounces
Like countless others, I fell in love with film photography during the pandemic and now bring my hand-me-down Canon A1 almost everywhere. I carry it in Hyperlite Mountain Gear's Camera Pod, which is made from flexible Dyneema Composite Fabrics and finished with water-resistant zippers. It stores my camera and a spare roll of film, and secures damn near anywhere on my pack thanks to the eight points of attachment and two included carabiners. Sure, the pod itself weighs next to nothing, but true ultralighters would just leave the camera at home.
Price: ~$100 - 200