Shelter, Sleep System, backpack. The most important pieces of gear you’ll have for your trek. They also eat up the majority of your base pack weight whether you’re an Ultralight or Light-weight Backpacker. Regardless of which category you’re aiming for, every ounce is counted; but the lighter the gear is, the more expensive it becomes. So, while you do need to keep your base weight as low as possible, your financials will play a role in the gear you end up selecting. You also need to be real with yourself if you want (and can afford) to go Ultralight-weight, because there are huge sacrifices that come with that. Are you prepared to Cowboy camp, or at most use only a Tarp and Tub style shelter? Can you physically (and mentally) handle sleeping with a Quilt and flat mat sleep system in the terrain you’ll be covering (PCT’ers will have to think about a wide range of terrain going from the Southern California desert, to the High Sierra mountain range, and the Northern Cascade wilderness)? How is your body going to feel with a frameless backpack with no padding on the hip and shoulder harness? So, safety does play a huge role in gear selection. If you can’t handle Ultralight-weight gear, you’re putting yourself in a reckless situation. Risky = Good! Reckless = Bad!
This is why I decided to Lightweight. It’s light enough where it falls in the “Rule of Three’s” (the “Big Three” should not be more than one third of your base pack weight), and the items won’t be putting my body in direct contact with any extreme elements I might come across (wind, rain, hail, snow) while at camp.
Backpack planning has been all about compromise. I want a good night’s sleep (or at least the best night’s sleep as possible for the situation), so while my tent was more expensive than I had originally planned for, it saved me big in the weight department, which opened up some space for a heavier sleep system I feel I need to be able to sleep well. Being an extremely cold sleeper, I knew I needed extra insulation. My sleeping pad is topping the scales at 1.5 pounds, but it’s thick, inflatable, and duck-down filled. My pack is considered extremely heavy coming in at 4 pounds, 12 ounces, but it’s highly adjustable to fit my body exactly as it should, which makes for a better ride (better ride = a happier hiker), and the extra padding in the hip and shoulder harness means less friction burns and pressure bruising.
The big three were stressful, but once those were locked down, I could start filling in the holes with the smaller items, working down from most important to least important. All while keeping ounces in check.