The basics of an ultralight backpacking setup – warmth, shelter, and fuel – is all you need to enjoy the remoteness of the wilderness. Less is more applies, as long as the less can serve in more ways! Below are my suggestions for female specific backpacking products that will keep the base load light – sub 10 pounds light.
It’s easy to outfit yourself in women’s specific ultralight backpacking gear. Recognize lighter and more durable gear may be more expensive. Do not feel obligated to make sudden changes to achieve your ultralight set up.
NOTE: As with any recommendation list, this is a general guide. Personalize, customize, and supplement my list for various conditions (personal body temperature, trip location, season, duration, miles, elevation, weather, etc).
You may find that the top women’s products do not fit broader shoulders or wider child-bearing hips as some men’s or unisex products do. Try out gear that works best for you and smooth out any hot spots or uncomfortable chaffing you have before you hit the trail.
Comfort level also plays a role. Everyone’s different. Make changes and adjustments that make you most comfortable for your goals.
Remember, the point is not to be the lightest, it is to be light and minimal. That said, if you are trying to go light and fast, you should be mentally and physically prepared to have some discomforts naturally – achy legs, chilled bones, damp hair – even if they are small and short lived (which I hope they are!).
Know where you go. For instance, my list does not include bear spray, but you better be sure you have it if you are anywhere in griz country!
Women’s Ultralight Backpacking Gear List (Base Weight: 9 lbs.)
Ultralight Backpack: Mariposa 60 Backpack Weight: 30.5oz
Things to look for in a female ultralight backpack include no top compartment, but rather a roll closed function, one simple main compartment, light but durable material, and very few straps or tie downs. Frameless for ultralight backpacking will be lighter and, since there is less weight, the pack should not be too burdensome without the support.
A waterproof pack is nice but can be more expensive. Focus on fitting the hip belt well because that is where majority of the weight is carried. Try on backpacks and take the time to wear them around a little to see which size fits you best.
The Mariposa 60 pack is a winner for an all-around women’s specific backpack. It has 7 exterior pockets, customized hip belt strap, removable internal frame, and is lightweight. The hip belt strap has pockets for storing easy-to-reach items – phone, snacks, camera.
It handles up to 35 lbs. of gear in 60 L worth of space. There are lighter packs of different sizes and volumes on the market. So be sure to pick the one that works best for you and fits all your gear.
I always line my packs with a large trash bag. It keeps the contents dry and protected. I like to have a rain cover to keep the backpack material dry because once it absorbs water, it becomes heavier and can chaff.
I do not carry stuff sacks or compression sacks –I pack my gear into all the corners and crevasses of my pack better when articles are loose and form fitting.
Also read: 12 Best Ultralight Backpacking Packs
My method is to pack the heavier and bulkier items at the bottom of the pack (by my hip belt where most of the weight is carried), stuff those air pockets with items I will not need during the day, and place items I may need (warm layer, rain jacket, water filter, and snacks) at the top of my pack.
Tent: Mountain Laurel MLD Grace Tarp Weight: 5.5oz
The Mountain Laurel MLD Grace Tarp has great headspace and a large floor print. It is a lightweight classic “A Frame” design with curved cuts. It pulls tight and is easy to pitch with only three stakes. It is available in two sizes, solo (single person) and duo (two people), and comes in a range of color choices and fabric types.
The MLD Grace is waterproof, is easy to set up, and holds a comfortable structure with minimal poles. The two downsides are that (1) the tarp is not flush with the ground so although the rain will not come in from above, it may bounce off the ground into the tent and (2) bugs also have an all access pass to your dry space.
Sleeping Bag: Hammock Economy Burrow Weight: 18.62oz
The Hammock Economy Burrow may be ordered with many customized features. These sleeping bags are 800 duck down fill and are light and packable. It is versatile as a top quilt, or a zip-up sleeping bag. The quilt option is great for those who may be claustrophobic in the traditional mummy bag as it has a large adjustable opening.
This bag also comes with loops along the side of the bag to allow you to attach it to your sleeping pad. If you are a night roller like me, you will like this feature to keep you from frequently rolling off the sleeping pad. Additionally, there are several customized features you can add to make this bag suit your personal sleeping comforts. For example, you can customize length, width, temperature, overfill amount, and color.
I have never regretted the investment I have made into a down sleeping bag. A good nights’ sleep makes even the hardest days more bearable. Down insulation is lighter than synthetic insulation and packs down smaller. But once down is wet, it does not hold its warmth as well. Synthetic can get wet and still maintain its warmth.
Down sleeping bags are also considerably more expensive. If worried about the down bag getting wet, take out the lining of your backpack and stuff the bottom of the sleeping bag into it.
Find a nice medium between being warm, but not taking up majority of your bag space and weight with your sleeping bag
Sleeping Pad: NEMO Tensor Ultralight Sleeping Pad Weight: 15oz
The NEMP Tensor is an ultralight insulated sleeping pad with 3 inches of cushioned loft. It comes in different sizes and lengths. For extra lightness, go with the short mummy and save a couple of ounces without losing the quality or warmth.
The inflate valve is flush with the pad and is a one directional feature. It comes with a vortex pump sack to assist with inflating (leave this at home for those lighter trail days).
This pad packs small, is easy to inflate and deflate, it is quiet, and is thick. I prefer to carry the weight of a full sleeping pad with enough padding around my hips and shoulders. My child-bearing hips cause me discomfort and pain without proper padding; this pad is my solution. Some people will use their pack only, others use a ¾ length blow up pad and rest their feet on their pack to keep them off the ground.
The full-length pad is also great insulation on the cooler nights as the ground will take heat away from your body causing you to lose warmth throughout the night.
Pillows are a personal preference. I do not pack a pillow. I stuff any extra clothing I am not wearing that night into my rain jacket layer and bundle it into ball as a pillow. I leave out one softer shirt or buff to lay across the top where my skin makes contact with the rain layer so that it is more comfortable against my face. Or, use your backpack as a pillow and lay a shirt over it the same way.
Rain Jacket: Outdoor Research Women’s Helium II Weight: 5.5oz
The Women’s Helium II jacket is storm proof! Water resistant, windbreaker, breathable, and super light. It has a chest pocket that is also a stuff sack. It compresses and clips to the side of your pack or stuffs into a side pocket for easy access.
When off the trail, mine fits right into my purse so that I always have either an evening layer, a windbreaker, or a rain jacket on hand without having to carry around another item.
Warm Layer: Patagonia Women’s Nano Puff Jacket Weight: 10.8oz
A warm layer is a must whenever you are hiking. For ultralight backpacking, the Women’s Nano Puff jacket is the best warm, windproof, and water resistant option. PrimaLoft insulation is compressible, lightweight, and maintains 98% of its warmth even when it gets wet.
There are two exterior zipped pockets and an interior check pocket that doubles as a stuff sack. This jacket uses recycled materials and contents. Save weight with the hoodless Nano Puff jacket. I appreciate Patagonia’s commitment to environmentally friendly and sustainable products.
Headlamp: Petzl ACTIK CORE Weight: 2.6oz
It is not worth skimping on weight here. It is important to have a headlamp that has a long battery life, is durable, and bright. The ACTIK CORE is rechargeable headlamp, but also uses lithium or alkaline batteries. The rechargeable option allows for weight saving by not having to carry extra batteries.
A USB charger, which you will need to charge your phone, will work for this headlamp too. It has 450 lumens and is weather-resistant. The is a red light feature is easier on the eyes during evening conversations or while cooking. Learn the lock function so the battery does not drain if accidentally gets turned on during storage.
Stove: MSR PocketRocket Deluxe Stove Weight: 2.9oz
The MSR PocketRocket is a small, compactable, durable, and lightweight stove. It attaches to the top of a fuel canister and comes with a windshield. Its arms swing out and lock into place to support a cooking pot.
The valve switch adjusts the power of the stove and, at full performance, it has a quick boiling time. I recommend carrying the stove tool kit with you for added security in case a screw comes loose.
Fuel: MSR IsoPro Fuel Weight: 13.1oz
With the MSR PocketRocket stove, use the 4oz or 8oz IsoPro Fuel canister. It will surprise you have efficient the fuel source is and how long a canister will last. The fuel is a blend of isobutane and propane. The nice thing about the canisters is that they maintain their high internal pressure at low temperatures and at higher elevations.
These canisters also have a built-in fuel gauge to help determine how much fuel in left in the canister. Make sure to recycle them appropriately after they are empty.
Titan Kettle Pot Weight: 4.2oz
The Titan Kettle Pot holds .85 liters of liquid and is perfect for a solo hiker. The lid helps for fast boiling and easy pouring. You could stop by your local thrift shop or second hand store and buy a small pot, but it will not be as light or sit as well on the stove top.
Light My Fire Spork Weight: >1oz
Sporks are an all-in-one spoon, fork, and knife. Light My Fire Sporks are BPA-free plastic or titanium, weigh very little, and are easy to clean. The spork can also be used as a cooking utensil to stir pasta or flip eggs.
Any old fork or spoon from your kitchen drawer will also do the trick. Although, three utensils will weigh a little more than a single versatile spork.
Gerber Ultralight LST Fine Edge Knife Weight: 0.5oz
The Gerber Ultralight LST Knife folds into itself for compact and safe travel. When opened, the blade locks into place and is stainless steel for durability. Knifes are an essential item for backcountry travel.
Katadyn BeFree Water Filtration System Weight: 2oz
The Katadyn BeFree is a 1.0 liter is a flexible, foldable, and collapsible water flask. It is a small filter built into the top of the bottle. It can fill up to 2 liters of water per minute and filters out bacteria, cysts, and sediment. It is 100% PVC and BPA free. Easy to maintain. To clean it, shake it in clean water and you’re done.
It is simple to fill other water bottles from the BeFree. It is adaptable and connects to hydration bladder tubes as well.
The only down side is that the flask is not interchangeable with other bottles. So if you are thru-hiking and the flask gets punctured, you cannot replace it with any standard tread bottle.
First Aid Kit: Ultralight/Watertight .7 Medical Kit Weight: 8oz
The Ultralight/Watertight .7 Medical Kit is ultralight and waterproof with enough supplies for a group size from 1-4 people. It contains four different types of bandages, 3 types of dressing, 11 pieces of moleskin, gloves, duct tape, elastic wrap, medications, and wound care.
I would advise bringing extra pain reliever medications (ibuprofen) and an emergency lighter. If you are going on a trip for more than four days, opt for their larger medical kit with more supplies. You are the most important factor of any trip, so be sure to take care of yourself first.
Phone – Weight: 5oz
Charger (short cord) – Weight: 2oz
Satellite Messenger: inReach Mini Garmin Weight: 4.23oz
The inReach Mini is a small and light satellite communicator. It has two-way global messaging, makes SOS calls right from the device, GPS tracking, and compass navigation.
Pairing it with a smartphone expends its features and allows for access to topographic maps, aerial imagery, and weather charts.
USB Power Bank: Goal Zero Flip 20 Power Bank Weight: 4.2oz
The Flip 20 Power Bank is a portable charger for electronics. It has an USB and micro USB cable. It takes four hours to charge the bank and will charge your cell phone, satellite phone, and headlamp on the go. Note: this specific power bank does not work with Samsung Galaxy S8 smartphone.
Menstrual Cup: Lunette Weight: 1.1oz
The Lunette is BPA free silicone and contains no latex. Use this cup for at least a year without replacing. Menstrual cups come in different sizes and shapes. It is environmentally friendly and more affordable than buying a pack of one-time use tampons every month.
The alternative is to pack in and out tampons. This ends up being more weight, is more difficult to manage, and sometimes has an odor.
On and off trail I use and swear by menstrual cups. Admittedly, it can take a little time (a cycle or two) to get used to and can be messy at first. But once mastered, the process is quick and easy. It is the by far the best solution to having your period on trail.
Every 12 hours (depending on your flow), dig a 6” deep hole in the ground, empty the cup into the hole, rinse the cup with filtered water (boiled water would be best), and reinsert. Plan to bring an extra half liter of water and maybe a pack of cleansing wipes to help keep clean and sanitary.
My recommendation is to get some practice with the cup during several cycles leading up to your trip so that game time is a breeze. If you do not have time to practice, no worries! Believe it or not, using the cup in the backcountry is easier than in the comforts of your front country home.
Toothbrush: Brush With Bamboo Weight: 0.3oz
The Brush With Bamboo toothbrush is lightweight and environmentally friendly. The handle is bamboo, a natural cellulose fiber, and 100% biodegradable. Bamboo is a self-regenerating grass with minimal amount of rain and without pesticides. The bristles are mostly made from plant-based castor bean oil.
It is naturally anti-bacterial and anti-microbial. Rinse the toothbrush after every use to keep it clean. To save more weight, saw the toothbrush handle in half.
Toothpaste Dr. Bronner’s Travel Size All-One Toothpaste Weight: 1oz
If you are someone who needs/prefers the refreshing taste of peppermint in the backcountry, this is the way to go. Dr. Bronner’s Travel Size is 70% organic ingredients, fluoride-free, non-GMO, and packaged in 100% recyclable boxes and tubes.
I bring a small bag of baking soda, wet my toothbrush, and brush. It does not taste great, but it cleans well in the backcountry. I do not advice using this method front country long term as the effects on your teeth could be harmful.
Lighter – Weight: 0.7oz
Any lighter works just fine. You can get a multipack and keep them in different backpacking kits. You can find them at any convenience store or gas station. I carry one in my stove kit and an emergency one in my first aid kit. I would advise against matches as they are not waterproof, could damage easily, and creates more waste.
Carrying a lighter is an essential item even on every trip. Lighters are necessary for cooking and starting a fire to keep warm. I carry a backup on my medical kit.
Bug Spray: Permethrin Insect Repellent Weight: 0oz
Apply Permethrin Insect Repellent to your clothes and tent before you hit the trail. It is effective against ticks, spiders, chiggers, mites and mosquitoes. Permethrin is a synthetic version of Chrysanthemum flower’s natural insect repellent pyrethrin.
It breaks down in sunlight but can last up to 6 weeks on tents and 6 washing for clothes before needing to reapply. Other pluses: it is odorless, non-greasy, and it does not damage clothing or equipment. The downside: it can be harmful in waterways and to aquatic life.
Sunscreen: Joshua Tree Skin Care Weight: 2oz
Joshua Tree sunscreen is a 100% natural sunscreen with organic oils and butters. It keeps your skin hydrated and nourished and it is water resistant for 40 minutes.
Getting sunburned is dehydrating and irritates the skin, causing all around discomfort. Make sure to take care of yourself and your skin on (and off) trail. You can also protect yourself by wearing clothing with SPF protection, a brimmed hat, and sunglasses.
Toilet Paper – Weight: >1oz
Grab some toilet paper from home and keep place in a zip locked plastic bag. To properly dispose of waste: dig a cat hole 8 inches deep, away from any water source, and either bury the toilet paper in the hole or pack it out.
Hand Sanitizer – Weight: 1oz
Bring hand sanitizer on all backcountry travel trips. Use after you go to the bathroom and before any time you eat. The last thing you want is to get sick the in backcountry. Additionally, this is a very helpful to have if you are hiking during your period. You can grab travel size bottles from your local pharmacy or a convenience store. Try to use environmentally friendly brand whenever possible.
Supplements – Weight: >1oz
Iron, magnesium, and calcium supplements are great to take daily. They help with muscle cramps, soreness, and energy levels. Some women will also take vitamins B-12 and D.
Wallet – Weight: >1oz
In a secured water proof container or bag, carry personal identification, small amount of cash, credit card, emergency contact information.
Total Base Weight: 9 lbs
So, there you have it. Everything you need as a woman to hit the trail with an ultralight backpacking setup. Maybe you are feeling a bit overwhelmed by the prospect of securing all this gear. Don’t fret! Keep reading for some additional tips and advice…
So, What Exactly is “Ultralight” Backpacking?
When people talk about going ultralight, they are talking about the base weight of their hiking gear – the fixed gear and tools necessary for backcountry travel (backpack, tent, sleeping gear, cooking, hydration systems, and other essentials).
The base weight excludes consumables. Consumables are varied gear that changes based on trip location, season, duration, miles, elevation, and weather (clothes/layers, food, water, etc).
Is Going Ultralight Right For You?
There is no better or worse reason to go light. But it does provide a different experience. Some women appreciate having less weight in their packs, which in return, is less wait on their shoulders, waist, knees, and ankles. Less weight can help avoid potential injuries and it makes you more fuel-efficient. You can move faster along the trails and soar up and over more difficult terrain with ease.
In the end, it’s really about comfort vs speed. Do you prefer all the small luxuries that come with a very heavy pack weight? Or would you rather forego some niceties on the trail and move more quickly with a lighter pack over the terrain? Make your choice and ultimately, have fun!
More Tips To Help You Lighten Your Overall Pack Weight
People who are into getting extra ultralight will shave even the smallest ounces off their gear wherever they can. For example, some people fit their packs to the max size they anticipate having it throughout their hike and then cut off extra straps and material. Others will go as far as drilling holes in their toothbrushes to lighten their load.
I think the key is to have fun and do what’s right for YOU. Take your time figuring out your own tricks through trial and error! Also, don’t miss this article with a ton of ideas – 49 Ways to Lighten Your Backpacking Load