The Best Lightweight Hiking and Backpacking Gear In Fall | Complete Guide

The Best Lightweight Hiking and Backpacking Gear In Fall | Complete Guide

Lightweight hiking and backpacking at its best is wonderful lightness of step without compromising on anything. I recommend trying lighten your gear a little at a time, so you can find your own comfort zone. The most important thing is not necessarily “shaving as much weight as possible” and living super ascetically, but enjoying the wonderful nature colored by fall as comfortably as possible!

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The long-distance fall hike is the most wonderful hike of the year. The best hiking season in the Nordics begins in the middle of September. Check your gear and you are ready to go!

When you want to hike with lightweight backpack, choose the 'big three' from the light end: sleeping system (sleeping bag and sleeping pad), tent, and your hiking rucksack. When weighing the options on a tight budget, consider which items are worth investing and which items are not that important.

For a long-distance or multi-day fall hike, you need more or less the same equipment as for a summer hike, especially if you're heading to Lapland or to the mountains. Hiking gear in fall is often supplemented with warmer layers of clothing, but if you have initially chosen equipment for three seasons, there is no need to make any new purchases.

In this article, I listed my own favorites, which I use on hikes from spring to late fall in the Nordics, some also go with me in winter. Here you can find gear suitable for lightweight backpacking for a week's hike (or longer):

  • Sleeping bag
  • Sleeping pad
  • Tent
  • Hiking Backpack
  • Cooking essentials
  • Clothes and hiking shoes for fall
  • Essential gear (first aid, toilet paper, electronics, map, etc.)

The best sleeping bag for fall hikes

Sleeping bag and sleeping pad together form a 'sleep system'. Since the sleeping bag and sleeping pad form a warming whole, you should always choose them to be compatible.

For fall and northern hikes, you might survive even with a summer sleeping bag, if the sleeping pad is warm, the weather doesn't get cold, and you don't get cold easily. The later you hike in fall, the more likely night frosts become. For those who get cold easily, I definitely recommend a three-season sleeping bag.

I can’t praise enough my three-season sleeping bag, *Sea To Summit Flame FM3 W Regular (665 g, 1 lb 7.46 oz). The sleeping bag is wonderfully roomy and warm (I'm a cold sleeper and get cold easily) and it packs into a very small package.

The women's Sea-To-Summit Flame 3 is at its best at -4°C (24.8 °F), and in hot weather the bag opens almost completely to become a blanket or a soft base. I also take this with me as an inner bag for winter skiing adventures when it gets really cold.

  • There is also a version of the sleeping bag for longer hikers: *Sea To Summit Flame Fm3 W Long (745 g, 1 lb 10.28 oz). I would estimate that the shorter version can fit a sleeper up to 170 cm (5 ft 6.93 in).
  • Sea To Summit also has a men's model *Sea To Summit Spark SP3 Long (745 g, 1 lb 10.28 oz) which is also suitable for long hikers.

Significantly cheaper, but still light and warm three-season sleeping bags can be found for example from Rab:

Read also my guide on choosing a sleeping pad and sleeping bag for lightweight backpacking!

It may not be worth getting a separate inflatable pillow if it is not necessary for your sleep. I recommend folding a pillow from a light down jacket by tucking the jacket into its own hood.

The best sleeping pad for summer and fall hikes

Even more important than a sleeping bag is a sufficiently warm sleeping pad to insulate the cold. My go-to pad for fall and northern hikes is the Thermarest Neoair XLite W (434 g / 15.309 oz with accessories), which is difficult to find in stores anymore.

The closest to this is probably the *Sea To Summit Aircell Etherlight XT Insulated Regular(470 g, 1 lb 0.579 oz). The Sea To Summit is luxuriously thick at 10 cm (0.39 in) and the R-value is a comfortable 3.2, which will last until the fall frosts. If I didn't own Thermarest Neoair XLite, I'd probably get this pad.

Perhaps the lightest three-season sleeping pad on the market is *Thermarest Neoair Uberlight Regular (250 g, 8.818 oz). I own a short torso model of this, which I have acquired for summer running adventures.

  • The R-value of the sleeping pad is 2.3, so it is a three-season pad ‘with a maybe’. If you're a cold sleeper, this might make you feel cold. As a solution and as an extension of the hiking season, you could add a super-affordable ultra-light (155g, 5.467 oz) cell foam pad, from which you can cut off an extra piece if you want. The foam pad protects the ultra-light air pad from sharp stones and branches that may be left under the tent. The combined weight still remains in the very light category.
  • The downside of the sleeping pad is that, in addition to being easily broken, there is a brittle material that can disturb a sensitive sleeper.

*Thermarest Women's Trail Lite is also a very popular sleeping pad. The best features of the sleeping pad are its warmth (R-value 4.5, which means it works even in the first frosts), comfort and a budget-friendly price. The only downside is the weight of the sleeping pad (710 g, 1 lb 9.045 oz) – to achieve a lightweight backpack you need to shave weight from somewhere else more.

Those who get a good night's sleep on tatami can also try the ascetic *Thermarest Z-Lite Sol Regular pad (410 g, 14.462 oz).

A lightweight backpack for fall hiking

For an fall hike of a week or more, you need a 40-80 liter backpack, depending on your equipment and side hobbies (photography, fishing, etc.). Your main selection criteria are:

  • the fit and adjustability of the backpack to fit your back and shoulders well
  • the size of the backpack corresponds to your gear (not too small and not too large)
  • the backpack is comfortable to carry even when it is packed full of stuff.

A good and sturdy hip belt is all the more important the heavier your load is. Front opening, various details, pockets, cords and compartments do not automatically mean a better backpack. Ultralight backpacks often open from the top and everything unnecessary is stripped, but they often work very well.

  • Don't buy the *Fjällräven Kajka 75 W if you want to hike lightly. Choose Kajka by all means, if the weight (3300 g, 7 lb 4.404 oz) doesn't bother you. Kajka sits well on the back and the carrying comfort is great even with a large load. However, Kajka is not suitable for lightweight backpacking.

When looking for a lightweight backpack, I tested a few models from Osprey, because I own a 20-liter Tempest for day trips and a 44-liter Talon suitable for short summer hikes, which I have been satisfied with. The adjustability and fit of Osprey backpacks are great.

  • For example, the popular *Osprey Ariel 65 W, is lighter than Kajka by more than a kilogram (the men's equivalent is the *Osprey Aether 65). Almost a kilo lighter is the 70-liter *Osprey Ariel Plus 70 W of the same size category, which gives you a detachable daypack for a trip to conquer the nearby fells or mountains.

There is already a lot of choice in 60-kilogram and smaller hiking backpacks, and even very light options. If your other equipment is light (these are not suitable for heavy loads!) and you are hiking for a few days (max. week) at most, good models are e.g.

Ultralight (less than a kilo, 2 lb 3.274 oz) backpacks are more and more available in online stores. If you end up getting one, I recommend researching exactly how much weight the backpack can hold before carrying comfort suffers and comparing the weight of your own gear (including food and fuel) to that limit.

I finally ended up ordering an ultralight backpack with my own measurements before the hike in Lapland and Sarek in Sweden, because the weight from the 15-day food supply was already so much that the options were running out. (I will write a review of ultralight backpacks later!)

The best tent for fall hikes

You can usually use the same tent for an fall hike as in the summer, even in the north. Especially if you are hiking alone, you should choose the lightest possible tent, preferably less than two kilograms (4 lb 6.5 oz).

  • Based on my hikes, *Fjällräven's Abisko Lite 1 is a really popular tent for solo hikers. The tunnel tent withstands fall storms well, and the weight is reasonable, 1900 g (4 lb 3.021 oz). Fjällräven tents are durable and of high quality.
  • A cheaper and lighter version for one person can be found at MSR. The *MSR Hubba NXweighs only 1290 g (2 lb 13.503 oz). The *MSR FreeLite 3 V3 accommodates three people and weighs only 1230 grams (2 lb 11.387 oz).

The two-person MSR Hubba Hubba NX I own weighs about 400g (14.11 oz) more. The tent has been on my journey for several years and experienced all kinds of challenging conditions. MSR's Hubba Hubba has been a perfect purchase. (But, I still hope that on the 2024 hikes I will spend the night in the ultralight tent I have sewed myself!)

Up until now, I have preferred two-person tents on hikes, because in a bigger tent changing clothes or arranging things for the next day goes more smoothly. It also feels safe when the backpack rests in the armpit and not in the vestibule.

The same things apply to fall hiking as they do in summer. You should choose a tent that can be set up easily and quickly. A solo hiker has to succeed alone, even in rain, storm and when tired.

On average, you should not cook in the vestibules, even though it often rains during fall hikes. Therefore, you don’t necessarily need a huge vestibule. You can get shelter from the rain under a multi-purpose tarp.

  • Light tarps for solo hikers include, for example, *DD Hammocks Superlight Tarp S (280 g, 9.877 oz) and *Rab Siltarp 1(250 g, 8.818 oz). The tarps are more or less the same size and also in the same affordable price range.

Cooking on trails in fall

Your kitchen for fall hikes is the same as for summer hikes: you need a stove, a pot, a light handle for the pot (if the pot is not equipped with a handle), a lighter and fuel, and a container for storing water (while Nalgene bottles are great, they are heavy - a big empty soda bottle is all you need), eating utensil (spoon) and a mug. Summer gas works well until the frosts. You should also have some kind of knife.

What to wear hiking in fall

When heading for a multi-day hiking adventure, you need at least two sets of clothes: the clothes you will be hiking in and a change of dry clothes. Merino wool and technical materials work well, cotton is a bad material in every way.

My hiking clothing consists of the following items:

At a minimum, the change of clothes includes the outfit you'll be sleeping in as well as a warming intermediate layer and a warm break jacket. My set includes:

  • For the night, a merino wool layer (e.g., *Devold Duo Active Woman Long Johns and *Duo Active W Shirt), alpaca wool socks (any light and warm wool socks) and *Buff tube scarfand dry light gloves, such as *Hestra Merinowool Liner mittens.
  • A light down jacket (an absolute must-garment) is an excellent break jacket, as it is warm and light to wear, and you can fold it into a pillow for the night. I have found good and cheap jackets from Mountain Equipment and Scandinavian Explorer brands. The *Rab Microlight Alpine Women's Jacket is also a popular and affordable model, but it is a bit heavy. The investment piece would be the *Rab Women's Mythic Alpine Down Jacket in a great color, which has a FP of 900 and weighs only 286 grams (10.088 oz).
  • The clothes to put on and take off during the hiking day are from the change of clothes dry sack, i.e., thin merino wool, fleece, windbreaker. I usually take two pieces of a thin technical long-sleeved shirt (á 96 g, 3.386 oz), one to wear and the other in a dry bag. I also pack two pair of socks if there is a very wet hike ahead, one pair for dry weather.
  • A flannel shirt might be a no-go for a lightweight hiker, but since I love my Marmot flannel shirt (245g, 8.642 oz) that buttons down the back and is perfect for hiking in fall weather, I always take it with me. *Marmot Women's Fairfax Light Novelty Flannel is a similar lighter flannel shirt for fall hiking.
  • It is also a luxury to find a clean pair of underwear in your dry sack for the end of the hike, if you hike for longer than 5 days.
  • I usually also have a bikini and a light travel towel (*Sea to Summit Airlite M, 46 g, 1.623 oz) with me.

Hiking shoes for fall adventures

One of the nice things about lightweight backpacking and hiking is that the shoes can also be comfortably light. Especially if your ankle is used to stress (e.g., you trail run), you really don't need traditional heavy hiking boots. Since I have moved away from traditional hiking boots, I am not even going to recommend them here.

  • I tested light hiking shoes Inov 400 Rocklite on a few long hikes (including the challenging Sarek hike in Swedish Lapland), which worked incredibly well. The bad side of the shoes was that they wore out very quickly into holes and the sole is already threatening to fall off in pieces. But my feet were grateful.
  • At least on easier and prepared trails, you can also choose trail running shoes as hiking shoes, which I’ve seen on e.g., King’s Trail in Sweden. Depending on your preferences, the shoes can be Goretex versions or you can have the attitude that your feet are always wet during the hike anyway.
  • The light and waterproof *Lowa Renegade GTX Mid Lady (445 g, 15.697 oz) works really well on easier trails and lighter backpacks. I could use these for e.g., Karhunkierros Bear’s Trail in Finland, but I probably wouldn't take them to Halti Finland because the soles are quite soft.
  • I've just bought Hoka Trail Code mid hiking shoes to replace the broken Inovs - I'll make a review on these after the tests, but my expectations are high. Hoka Anapaca didn't fit my foot well, but it was tough to decide between the Hoka Trail Codes and *Hoka Women's Kaha 2 GTX and *Hoka Speedgoat 5 Mid GTX, as the *Hoka Speedgoatis my go-to trail running shoe.
  • For breaks and crossing waterways, it is also good to have some kind of sandals (Crocs or similar), which can even fit a thin wool sock (it can be cold in the evenings).

Other hiking equipment for fall

Hiking first aid kit

You should always go through your *first aid kit before hiking, because medicines and plasters expire and you may have used up, for example, the disinfectant. Assemble a small waterproof bag as a travel pharmacy according to your destination and your own needs.

My EA bag contains:

  • small scissors, a mini bottle of disinfectant or a few individually packaged disinfectant wipes, different sizes of breathable and waterproof plasters or cutable plaster strips, one large plaster and a few large waterproof plasters with gauze pads, a roll of Leukoplast tape (multipurpose), a roll of sterile flexible gauze (6cmx5m), a few individually wrapped small gauze pads, a needle, a piece of thin polyester thread, an ultralight space/emergency blanket, 400 mg ibuprofen tabs / painkillers (2x10), antihistamine tabs (10 pcs), 5 Imodium (dhiarrea tabs), nasal spray. So far, I've needed everything but the space blanket and diarrhea pills. Weight approx. 150-200 g (5.291 - 7.055 oz).

Navigation and electronics

You should always carry a map and a compass with you on a hike, even if you go on a marked hiking trail. Get a map printed on waterproof Tyvek paper (maps in Finland), or print the necessary parts of the map on waterproof paper yourself. A *basic compass is sufficient for normal hikes in any weather.

On many hiking trails in the Nordics, the mobile phone network disappears most of the time. Map applications can also be used in airplane mode, which saves battery. Closing the cell phone saves even more battery.

Since I do photography in addition to hiking, I pack my camera and all kinds of photography accessories. If you don't do photography, you naturally don't need this stuff.

Hygiene and other useful things for hikes

  • *Folding foam pad. A small rectangle cut out of foam or a folding pad doesn't weigh much but is a real multipurpose tool. The base warms your butt while sitting, keeps dirt out of the tent when you use it as a hallway mat, and serves as a wind shield for the stove and it is also suitable as a picnic table.
  • Foldable trekking poles. Your best friend on the uphill, crossing waterways and in the swamp. I own the lightweight Black Diamond Distance Carbon Z poles and never go anywhere without them. Similar poles are *Leki Ultratrail FX.One Superlite.
  • Headlamp and spare batteries. My favorite is the *Petzl Tikka, which works for a very long time on one set of battery.
  • Dry bags. The lightest dry sacks are the *Sea To Summit Ultra-Sil Nano Dry Sack bags, which should be handled carefully so they don't break. Depending on your backpack and your packing of the sleeping bag and sleeping pad (the sleeping bag must stay dry) and the amount of gear, get a couple of larger (e.g. 12 l) and a couple of smaller (e.g. 1.5 l) dry sacks for a change of clothes, a light down jacket, toilet paper, medicine, electronics and money bag (e.g. *Deuter Security Wallet). I carry money, cards, notes and car keys in a money bag with a neck strap on my hiking trips.
  • Carabiners. Depending on your gear, a pair of carabiners can be a very useful addition outside of the rucksack. Choose light but strong carabiners.
  • Toilet paper. The amount depends on your own needs. For a week's hike, I manage with one roll. Carry the roll in a small dry sack. I also have a tiny hand sanitizer in the dry sack. You can remove the cardboard to reduce unnecessary weight.
  • Hygiene. At its simplest, a toiletry bag can only consist of a toothbrush (halving a light bamboo toothbrush saves about 10 g, oz) and mini toothpaste. My go-to product is a box of Vaseline - suitable for everywhere from lips and fingertips to soles of feet.
  • Personal medicines and other cosmetics. If you need.

Lightweight hiking and backpacking at its best is wonderful lightness of step without compromising on anything. I recommend trying to lighten your gear a little at a time, so you can find your own comfort zone. The most important thing is not necessarily “shaving as much weight as possible” and living super ascetically, but enjoying the wonderful nature colored by fall as comfortably as possible!

Read also my guides to lightweight hiking and backpacking and save money for not buying things you don’t need:

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