Thru-Hiking Kits by Budget: Best UL Shelters, Packs, and Sleep Systems

Trends & Top 10Maggie Slepian

Best Thru-Hiking Kit UL Ultralight Lightweight Pack Sleeping Bag Quilt Shelter Tent Dirigo 2 Hyperlite Mountain Gea

Putting together a thru-hiking kit is a daunting endeavor. The gear can be expensive, and you don’t want to buy anything more than once. Beyond that, thru-hikers come from all sorts of financial backgrounds, and oftentimes the most expensive models just aren’t feasible for everyone. That’s fine though—there are many offerings out there, in price ranges to fit all budgets. 

In this series, we’ll list our recommendations for thru-hiking kits, including options for the dirtbag-budget hiker, the somewhere-in-between hiker, and the no-expense-spared hiker. Pick and choose from different price categories, or go straight down the line in the category that best suits your budget. 

Since a thru-hiking setup is complicated, we’re going to split this series into three parts. Today, we’ll give you our recommendations for the Big Three items: shelter, pack, and sleep system. Keep in mind that we focus on ultralight backpacking here at Garage Grown Gear, so the items listed are more geared towards lightweight, specialized kits. Stay tuned for more on accessories, clothing and food!  


Shelter

Dirtbag Budget

Six Moon Designs Skyscape Scout

$144.99

Best Thru-Hiking Kit UL Ultralight Lightweight Pack Sleeping Bag Quilt Shelter Tent


This simple, affordable, one-person trekking pole shelter is perfect for solo hikers just getting into tarp tents. The Skyscape Scout uses 2 trekking pole for structure, and has an internal mesh body with a fully enclosed bathtub floor. The canopy is generous, with a vestibule big enough to keep your gear out of the elements without cramming everything into the tent with you. You’ll have to waterproof this model on your own, but a simple seam-sealing treatment does the trick. It weighs just over two pounds, and has a wide-side door for easy entry and exit. 

Other Great Options: Tarptent Protrail, and the Six Moon Designs Lunar Solo

 

Somewhere-in-Between 

Gossamer Gear The One

$299.25

Best Thru-Hiking Kit UL Ultralight Lightweight Pack Sleeping Bag Quilt Shelter Tent

This shelter is a stalwart for trekking-pole tent aficionados. With a stable pitch and a deep bathtub floor, it inspires confidence in high winds and at less-than-ideal tent sites. The shelter is designed for one person, but is incredibly spacious with a large vestibule and plenty of room to sit up and move around inside. The 2021 upgrade to The One just arrived!

Other Great Options: SlingFin Portal 2, and the Big Agnes Fly Creek HV UL2

 

No-Expense-Spared

Hyperlite Mountain Gear Dirigo 2 

$794.99

Best Thru-Hiking Kit UL Ultralight Lightweight Pack Sleeping Bag Quilt Shelter Tent

There are lighter (and less expensive) shelters on the market, but few Dyneema Composite Fabric (DCF) tents are as durable as this offering from Hyperlite Mountain Gear. Built with five varying weights and constructions of DCF based on high-use regions of the tent, this shelter was thoughtfully designed and built to last. It has a horizontal spreader bar for increased shoulder room, and two doors and vestibules for two-person comfort on the trail. 

Other Great Options: Zpacks Duplex, Tarptent AEON Li, and the Gossamer Gear The DCF One 

 

Pack

Dirtbag Budget

Gossamer Gear G4-20
$179.99

Best Thru-Hiking Kit UL Ultralight Lightweight Pack Sleeping Bag Quilt Shelter Tent

This pack was built with thru-hikers in mind. Organization is key, with one of the side pockets smaller for reaching water bottles on the go, and the other one longer for holding tent poles or a rolled-up shelter secure on the outside of the pack. The hip belt pockets are unique as well: one is open mesh with an elastic top for easy access to snacks, and the other is a large, zippered pocket to hold small items you want to have on hand, but keep protected. This pack has a roll top, and we recommend a pack liner if you think you’ll get rained on. The Robic Nylon is durable, but not waterproof.

Other Great Options: YAR.Gear Mountain Drifter, ULA CDTGranite Gear Crown 2 60L, and the Mountain Smith Zerk 40

 

Somewhere-in-Between

Lite AF 40L Curve

$315

Best Thru-Hiking Kit UL Ultralight Lightweight Pack Sleeping Bag Quilt Shelter Tent

LiteAF appeared on the market just a few years ago, and has quickly become known for their customizable packs, wild patterns, and deep knowledge of the ultralight thru-hiking community. These packs are made with DCF, built right at the LiteAF headquarters in New Jersey, and have the comfort of a heftier full-suspension pack without the weight penalty. The side pockets are generous, the shoulder straps are well padded, and you even get the often-forgotten shoulder strap pockets. Get a custom model or buy one off the shelf if you don’t want to wait the lead times. 

Other Great Options: Chicken Tramper Ultralight Gear CTUG-35, Mountain Laurel Designs Burn 38, Waymark Thru, and the Gossamer Gear Mariposa

 

No-Expense-Spared

Hyperlite Mountain Gear 3400 Southwest
$344.99

Best Thru-Hiking Kit UL Ultralight Lightweight Pack Sleeping Bag Quilt Shelter Tent

Made from a durable DCF, this is a burly, quality pack that can stand up to off-trail abrasion. It is a simple 55L, with a removable internal frame and rugged Cordura outer pockets. Featuring a roll-top closure, a wide hip belt with good-sized pockets, and a large back pocket to stash quick-grab gear, this is one of the more durable packs out there. Be aware that the DCF material against your back can feel sweaty during hotter days on trail.

Other Great Options: Superior Wilderness Designs DCF Long Haul 40L and the Zpacks Arc Blast 55L

 

Sleeping Bags

Dirtbag Budget

Cumulus Magic 125 Sleeping Bag
$199

Best Thru-Hiking Kit UL Ultralight Lightweight Pack Sleeping Bag Quilt Shelter Tent

This sleeping bag is as simple as it gets — no hood, no zipper, and it weighs in under 9 ounces. It really is just a sack full of feathers. While the Magic 125 is ultralight and packed with 850-fill down, be aware that this model is only rated down to 50 degrees. This is a fantastic warm-weather bag, but if you’re planning anything colder, you’ll definitely need a sleeping bag liner. Most hikers should be fine wearing a beanie and a jacket in the bag during cooler nights as well. 

Other Great Options: UGQ Bandit and HG Eco Burrow

 

Somewhere-in-Between

Enlightened Equipment 20-Degree Revelation
$289.99

Best Thru-Hiking Kit UL Ultralight Lightweight Pack Sleeping Bag Quilt Shelter Tent

These are some of the most popular quilts in the thru-hiking world. Enlightened Equipment quilts are packed with high-loft down in u-shaped baffles to keep the fill in place. Quilts have the benefit of being a flexible sleep system for a range of temperatures. Cinch the footbox shut and snap the collar around your neck when it gets cold; then open it up for venting when temperatures rise. 

Other Great Options: Loco Libre Gear Ghost Pepper, Gryphon Gear Aries Quilt, and the REI Co-op Magma 15 Sleeping Bag

 

No-Expense-Spared

Feathered Friends Hummingbird UL 20

$509

Best Thru-Hiking Kit UL Ultralight Lightweight Pack Sleeping Bag Quilt Shelter Tent

Formerly known as the popular “Merlin” model, this renamed mummy bag is one of the most popular sleeping bags from Feathered Friends. This bag is made in Seattle, packed with 950+ fill-power down, and has a thick draft collar for extra protection from the wind. The insulation is protected by a DWR-treated 10D Pertex Endurance fabric, which has some water resistance and is also highly breathable. Concerned about the temperature rating? Most thru-hikers won’t need anything beyond a 20-degree bag, and this one is as cozy as it gets. 

Other great options: Katabatic Flex Quilt, Nunatak Arc UL Three Season and the Western Mountaineering Ultralite

Trends & top 10

8 comments

Rolf Asphaug

Rolf Asphaug

My current big three: Enlightened Equipment Revelation 0 degree, wide/long configuration (I sleep cold and typically camo in Colorado, and it’s still under 2 lbs). Durston X-Mid 1 person tent. Great double wall tent, super-easy setup. Granite Gear Drop Crown x60 pack (Drop version of the Granite Gear classic and currently insanely priced at $90; I’ve worn this many days already and love it.) I’m 62, an experienced backpacker, and currently hike only about 8-10 miles/day But I’m building up to the Colorado Trail next summer using this combo.

Amy Hatch

Amy Hatch

Hi Charlie,

Thanks for your comment. This article actually does NOT have affiliate links and is just our straight up recommendations. Obviously, we do link to products sold through GGG when relevant.

Cheers,

Amy

dw

dw

Sixmoon always has dirtbag budget backpack sales. I thru hiked the AT with the fusion 50, which is $147 on their website, and it was burly, well structured and amazing!

Prometheus

Prometheus

A couple years ago I bought a Dan Dursten X-Mid 1P and love it. It matches the HMG weight at 29 oz, and almost hits the budget of the dirtbag option at only $200. It is a double wall trekking pole tent that comes in at 1.75 lbs and only $200. I love this thing. For packs, I’m surprised not to see ULA listed. The Circuit is my go-to long distance and cold weather pack. My Gossamer Gear Kumo 36 is perfect for summer treks and when I want to cut the weight down as much as possible. For insulation, my Hammock Gear and UGQ quilts are the best I’ve found and fall into the dirtbag (HG Econ line) to mid-range (HG Premium and ULA) budget ranges. I mostly use hammocks when on the trail, but when I have to take a tent, the X-Mid is a great option. I highly recommend it. At 6’2", I find it hard to fit into the options often listed for “best of lists” as one of the best ways to cut weight on a tent is to make it only 86" long or less … but that’s too short for me. Most of the time, these best of lists don’t include options for taller folks like myself. It would be good to see us represented more in some of the gear selection recommendations. Ultralight for us usually means something different than it does to someone who’s 5’8" tall and able to use shorter pads, sleeping bags/quilts and tents.

Eric B.

Eric B.

My “No Expense Spared” SUL gear:
1. TENT→ Tarptent Notch Li solo tent – (21oz.) (Dyneema tent)
2. SLEEP SYSTEM→ REI FLASH (R 3.7) air mattress, (15 oz.) Western Mountaineering overstuffed Megalite bag – 20 F.(24 oz.)
3.PACK→ Osprey EXOS 58 Large (60 L.) – (2 lbs.11 oz.)

TIP: For 2 people→ A very light, quality remote canister stove with vaporizing loop for inverted canister cold weather cooking the Chinese Fire Maple is excellent. With titanium legs/pot stand and easily rotating canister attachment & control valve this it IT. Why can’t MSR make one this light??

OK, my EXOS 58 pack is not “SUL” but is THE most comfortable UL pack I’ve ever worn or owned. There is no such thing as a “frameless” backpack that is comfortable with a 25 lb. load. PERIOD. “Comfortable frameless backpack” is an oxymoron.

Bruce Baker

Bruce Baker

The Skyscape tents require two trekking poles. Just to clarify. I love mine.

Bruce Baker

Bruce Baker

The Skyscape tents require two trekking poles. Just to clarify. I love mine.

Charlie Strange

Charlie Strange

There are affiliate links in this article. Don’t you have to disclose that by law?

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