When you’re climbing a steep, rocky trail on the side of a mountain, a bulky pack catching on branches or scraping against boulders will slow your ascent. Lightweight, space-saving camping essentials can provide warmth, shelter, and comfort out on the trail without making you feel like a pack mule. In addition to staples like food, water, a first-aid kit, and a multitool, these super-squishable items—which total just 8.75 pounds—will get you through your next night in the woods.
The Osprey Levity 45’s main compartment holds 12 gallons of gear, which easily accommodates everything on these pages—with room for trail mix. The steel frame at the rear of the pack suspends nylon netting, a design that evenly distributes weight across your back. It also provides breathing room so your sweat can evaporate.
Shelter typically adds the most bulk to a hiking load. The REI Co-op Quarter Dome 1 tent has about the same sleeping space as a twin mattress, but it packs down to 6-by-18.5 inches—about the size of a house cat. Its aluminum poles support a nylon structure with a mesh top that lets you glimpse the stars. A removable waterproof cover repels rain.
3. Sleeping bag
Fall nights are crisp, but the Marmot Phase 30 cocoon will keep you toasty in temperatures as low as 30 degrees Fahrenheit. The bag’s fill is mostly soft down, which creates millions of microscopic air pockets that trap warmth. Squeezing the air back out compresses the sack down to about the size of a football.
Nights and mornings in the outdoors call for hot meals and coffee to fuel your trek. The MSR WindBurner packs neatly in its 1‑liter aluminum pot for storage. When it’s time to cook, the pot screws directly onto the burner, which attaches securely onto a fuel canister below it. The sealed setup boils water in less than five minutes.
The Mountain Hardwear Ghost Whisperer down jacket weighs less than a gray squirrel and can smoosh into one of its pockets, creating a shape about 5-by-10 inches small. Both the down insulation and the tightly woven nylon exterior have a durable water-resistant coating, so you’ll stay dry on misty mountain mornings.
The inflatable Therm-a-Rest NeoAir Xlite mattress lifts you 2.5 inches above the rocks and sticks on the cold ground. Your lungs and the fresh air blow it up in about two minutes. A screw-down valve will keep it fully puffed overnight. Deflated, it’s just 9-by-4 inches—roughly the footprint of a 1-liter water bottle.
Supportive sticks take stress off your joints, especially on downhills. Clamps at the top of the Black Diamond Distance Carbon FLZ trekking poles allow you to adjust their height between 37 and 43 inches. To collapse into a 13-inch-long package, the carbon-fiber supports each break into three sections, strung together by a Kevlar cord
A bulky lantern is unnecessary. The diminutive Petzl Tikkina headlamp can throw a 33-foot beam wide enough to illuminate your entire campsite and burn for more than 200 hours on its lowest power setting. Crank up the power to maximum brightness and it will light up the trail as far as 130 feet in front of you.
This article was originally published in the Fall 2018 Tiny issue of Popular Science. Note: This article has been updated to correct the spelling of the Petzl Tikkina headlamp.