Backpackers Never Forget “The Big Three”


Backpackers Never Forget “The Big Three”

by Amy Lignor


There are many industries that refer to “The Big Three.” Whether it be automobile manufacturers, publishing companies, or even sports. However, the term also crops up when speaking about the world of backpacking.

It’s important to note that there is a difference between what you should have in your backpack versus “The Big Three.” Various items you need to look at when heading up that mountain include, the right clothing, illumination, first-aid supplies, and more. But when shopping, people tend to get caught up in the weight of these products and how to eliminate every ounce (i.e., finding the lightest titanium cookware), forgetting to take into consideration the three items that are absolutely essential.


This trio is easy to remember because they are actually the biggest, heaviest and most expensive pieces of gear you will buy: shelter, a sleeping system, and the backpack, itself. These are the first things a person will purchase when they make the decision to put backpacking on their “to do” list. It is also a fact that since these items represent a large investment of cash, people who have been hikers for a long time are often hesitant to replace gear with lighter weight alternatives. The upside? It will not cost as much as you may think. From EBay to Backpacking Lite and other websites, used backpacking gear can be found that’s in extremely good condition. So if you plan on doing some serious backpacking, it’s absolutely worth it to sell your old heavy stuff now and buy new lightweight backpacking gear that better fits your needs.


If you wonder how much your 3 ‘essentials’ should weigh, the answer offered up by many professionals is that “The Big 3” should weigh no more than 9 pounds total. Setting the 9 pound limit will offer you the most comfort and will make every backpacking excursion as unburdened as possible.


Take some examples: Backpacks that are absolutely wonderful for both longer and shorter trips can be found in a variety of places. At you will find a list of do-it-all packs for longer trips that come highly recommended. Among these are the Hyperlite Mountain Gear Packs, which are very light, functional and extremely durable. The 3400 Southwest Pack will work for most trips, and the 2400 Southwest Pack is a Backpacker Magazine award winner for “Best UltraLight Pack.” The HMG packs have stiff frames, capable of supporting heavy loads, and are made of Cuben Fiber which is light, waterproof and extremely durable.


For shorter or weekend trips, packs that carry loads of 10 to 18 pounds, like the Mountain Laurel Designs Exodus in Dyneema Fabric are recommended. At just over a pound, it has the same volume of the do-it-all packs but saves weight by not having a frame. With light but durable Dyneema X fabric, it’s surprisingly strong, light and resistant to abuse.


Now, we talk shelter. Conventional tents are no longer the prime product for backpackers. Experts recommend pyramid shelters, tarps and shaped tarps because they are lighter and better ventilated, yet offer excellent wind and rain protection. For instance, a pyramid shelter with a palatial 65+ ft2 floor area and 5+ feet of headroom can weigh as low as 1.5 pounds depending on the fabric choice. So you’re looking at a shelter choice that’s storm-worthy yet weighs 4 pounds less than conventional tents.


When it comes to finding a product that allows you to sleep warm, down quilts have become far and away the best for most backpacking trips. At half the cost, they’re substantially lighter than sleeping bags. For example, a +20°F down quilt weighs just over a pound and can cost as little as $150, as opposed to the $460 dollars you’ll spend for a +20°F sleeping bag.


To make your backpacking journey memorable, less of a burden, and a whole lot of fun, make sure to do your research and get the best “Big Three” out there.


To find out even more statistics, prices, and choices, head to any of the hiking websites available, from to Bass Pro Shops at




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