POLL: Which is More Important — Light Weight or Comfort?

At this end of this week, I’m heading out for a few days of backpacking and product testing. Among the items I’m trying out is a two-person Mountain Hardwear tent that weighs about a pound and tent stakes from Cascade Designs that have carbon cores and tip the scale at .2 ounces each. Both of these come at a cost: The tent is small and the stakes will set you back $7 a piece.

My sleeping bag, on on the hand, will be filled with about three pounds of down. I sleep cold and don’t want to compromise the comfort of my slumber — I’ll be warmer, but at the penalty of extra ounces I’ll carry.

We all wrestle with these (usually) opposing factor of our gear, whether we’re shopping for tents at REI or deciding what goes in the pack for an overnight. Do you buy the spacious five-pound tent or the three-pound cocoon? Do you use a half-size sleeping pad and wiggle uncomfortably all night or suffer carrying the full-length air mattress? Freeze-dried backpacking food or yummy fresh veggies? Instant coffee or real?

Carrying your own kit means tradeoffs and a long list of decisions. For each piece of gear, you have to weigh a multitude of factors and come to a conclusion that strikes the right balance for the given situation. A day ride is different from tackling the Great Divide, backcountry different from sidecountry. And while the cost-benefit equation is often multifaceted (price/weight, weight/durability, weight/safety), and while each piece of gear and application brings a unique perspective, the final decision often distills to a very binary approach: Some folks live to shave ounces, others to stay comfortable no matter what.

Which are you?

This week, one poll participant will receive Smith Optic’s awesome Maze snow helmet. We’ll pick the winner via random number generator (and announce it here) — all you have to do to enter is vote and leave a comment so we have your email to contact you. Contest ends Sunday, October 30, at midnight PST.

Congrats to Kenneth Sams, who won the lid! Thanks for commenting, everyone.

{ 79 comments…read them below or write one }

  • Hotmann

    My longest outing is typically no more than 3 days, and I don’t cover much more than 10 miles a day so I don’t need super ultra light gear. For me comfort and price are the main factors in a purchase but I’ll splurge a bit to get a good blend of both comfort and lighter weight.

  • soren

    They aren’t mutually exclusive…lighweight can be comfortable. Lighter weight means easier on your body means longer distances and more flexibility as to where/when you camp means more comfort and peace of mind.

  • Daniel Via

    Comfort vs weight is definitely tough. I like the idea of light weight, but I can’t afford all the cool stuff so I have a few light weight items and space saving stuff, but at 41 most of my gear is for comfort. These old bones don’t handle discomfort well…

  • Walker Thompson

    I’ve been on the comfort train for months now! Lightweight is out, IMO! My Santa Cruz Nomad allows me to huck the biggest terrain in the back country. In other words, I opt for performance more than lightweight, and I don’t think you get that much performance with lightweight…

  • Nick Skog

    Tough call but I would say an efficient balance between the 2 (leaning towards light-weight) because if I pack smart and keep the weight down, moving across the terrain is easier and more comfortable and my trip is simplified.

  • Fenriq

    Comfort means way more than light weight to me. I swapped out my newer lighter seat for my older one solely for comfort. Hmmm, I just coined a new disorder, cyclo-anorexia though perhaps cyclo-bulimia is more accurate?

  • G

    Not mutually exclusive. Most lightweight equipment is designed with comfort in mind as well, even if there are compromises made to keep things feathery.

    I pick lightweight, because all my ultralight gear works well for me in the comfort department.

  • Craig Rowe

    I’m going somewhat lighter now only because I’m rebuilding a knee. But, ultimately, I choose comfort. A well-rested, well-fed hiker is rarely in need of rescue. NOLS did a couple-year study on pack weight and injuries and found that yes, lighter packs result in fewer injuries in the backcountry. It’s fine to shed items on shorter hikes or in areas where the weather is highly predictable. I just think cutting straps and tarps and frameless packs can sometimes take the lightweight movement a bit too far. Plus, in guided settings or when you happen to be the most experienced packer, many of the items carried can be used for medical purposes in the backcountry.

    It all comes down to what makes one comfortable, there is really no right way to trek.

  • steven threndyle

    As Herbert Cain might say – you are mixing apples and oranges (and this is last reference I’ll make to any Republicans). You are mixing a quantitative (lightness – measured in grams) versus a qualitative (subjective) measure. As someone who has used/owned maybe nine or ten helmets for inbounds skiing, my answer is… NONE! I still prefer a toque! I agree with Walker – I think lightweight is ‘through’ as a trend (though, duh, Vibram’s toe socks seem to disprove that). If something is comfortable, you won’t notice the weight. And if, say, a pack’s light, but a pain in the ass to take care of and susceptible to tearing or blowing out, well then you’re just wasting money.

  • Jerry Anderson

    Comfort first, then durability, then weight. If my pack, or boots, or parka chafe or create blisters, the weight won’t save them from the trash can.

  • Andy

    Comfort is king. I do feel there are opportunities with gear where shaving weight is a huge benefit. But overall, I would rather be comfortable and thus get more enjoyment out of the experience.

  • jared

    It is all about the marginal comfort value of a particular ounce. I LOVE having a light pack – I feel great all day backpacking and can go faster and further. But I will always bring a pack pillow because for those few ounces I sleep much better than without them. I will almost never bring a change of clothes because even thought it may be more “comfortable” to wear clean clothes after a few days, it does not provide additional comfort significant enough to justify the weight.

    I bet everyone who replied “comfort” is thinking only of the handful of items that make a big difference in their comfort level. Lots of other things that provide some additional comfort will be left home in favor or weight.

  • Leon Shaner

    Lightweight. There are all sorts of things I can do to make my gear more comfortable but I can’t do much about the weight. So starting with the lightest possible gear, if it lacks comfort, I will either get used to it, or compensate in some other way that doesn’t compromise the (light)weight too much.

  • Chris

    When debating between weight vs. comfort, I usually vote for a lighter pack. It makes the hiking/climbing/skiing more enjoyable. My summer bag weighs less than a pound, my winter bag weighs 2lbs, and I routinely travel with a 1/4 length pad, turned sideways, in the summer and a 3/4 length pad in the winter. It lets me go further, for longer, and come back with more stories.
    It also saves my back, and since I’m a professional mountain guide who wants to keep doing this in 20 years, those weight savings mean my back, knees, and ankles will last a bit longer.
    I can’t help but think that this is even more important for the weekend adventurer, who wants to make every free minute on the trail, in camp, or on the mountain count.
    I vote for Lite is Rite.

  • J Radochia

    For hiking I would say lightweight, except for food, because it means greater mileage, less soreness and I just assume sleep under the stars if its nice out and under a tarp if its not. In the winter though I think its important to find a compromise. Both in skis between super light touring setups that include flimsy bindings and floppy skis and bulletproof but ultra heavy downhill or duke/baron setups, and in camping where warmth becomes an issue because gear that is warm and light costs a fortune.

  • Erik

    Comfort – hands down. There comes a point, however, where no amount of comfort will convince me to carry something that is a brick.

  • Nate L

    I’m sure most folks have better backcountry cred here than I do, but I’ve done a number of trips living in the woods for more than a month straight. From that, I’ve gleaned that Comfort is huge when it comes to enjoying the trips (for me, anyway).
    Here’s the BUT… I alway to try figure out what can do double-duty. I carry a lighter-weight sleeping bag, then pair it with a down sweater, and warm hat. I’ll ditch pants (shorts and gaiters only), but bring a comfortable pair of rain pants that I can lounge in at night. I usually opt for one jacket with a hood, instead of multiple layers with no hoods.
    And I always freeze my bourbon in a Platypus. It usually warms up by the time I’m ready for it, but in the meantime – it can give you an extra day of life for any fresh fruit or vegetables you bring into the backcountry.
    Happy travels, and thanks for a great blog.

  • Matt

    Somethings are worth sacrificing for. If you spend $250 on boots, you’ll be thankful. If you spend $25, chances are you’re gonna have a pretty tough time of it. Same principle applies here. Make your choices. For me, that’s freeze dried food that I can cook in one pot and a single change of essential clothing so that I have room for the bigger tent and comfy sleeping bag.

  • Colby

    depends on the mission at hand, and discomfort is all relative. that being said, freezing your marbles off is no fun. i usually error on the side of caution and comfort.

  • Dave

    A little from column A and a little from column B. Shave weight where you can so you can pack a couple of things that are a little heavier but increase your comfort.

    I do find the best way save weight and still have comfort is to try and find multiple uses for your gear. Take a lighter bag and sleep in your insulated clothing, use your trekking poles as tent poles, use a mug as a pot/ a pot as a mug etc…

  • Baba Ganoosh

    Go comfort, there’s no point in taking a trip to have a miserable time. Train to pack a little heavier, and it’s no big deal.

  • @Ueli Steck

    LIGHT WEIGHT so I can run up the Eiger Nordwand and then go run a marathon and then swim the English channel and win an Ironman and wrestle a bear!

  • mitchmoney

    Definitely lightweight. The only exception is sleeping gear. Everything else, I try to find things that can be used in more than one way to save on how much I bring.

    One reason I do this is that I’m a poor college student and can’t afford to keep buying new gear so I just find new ways to use what I have, haha.

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