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Explore Michigan Backpacking with Chicken Tramper Ultralight Gear

In a world where ounces equal pounds - and pounds equal pain - here's why you should treat yourself for peak hiking season this summer with CTUG's Michigan-made ultralight gear! #ExpeditionPartner

"Yeah man, your kit is definitely looking a bit heavy."

Those were extremely generous words from Austin Gongos, cofounder and one of the "Main Dirtbags" of U.P.-based Chicken Tramper Ultralight Gear ("CTUG"). We first connected literally days after I completed a thru-backpacking trek of the Waterloo-Pinckney Trail, the Detroit region's preeminent backpacking trail. So, my 50 lbs of decades-old backpacking gear was on full display for the entirety of the online world to see.

Fortunately, I can get away with heavy packs for extended periods of time. Maybe that's due to the extensive cardio that I work into my everyday life. Or perhaps a distant ancestor of mine was a Sherpa. Who knows, but regardless of whether I'm trekking in the Detroit region, in the upper peninsula of Michigan, the Rockies, or the Andes, I have been fortunate enough to complete multi-day backpacking expeditions regularly carrying 45+ lbs on my back.

That doesn't mean that I should - and neither should you. The truth is, the extra pounds that I typically carry reflect the age of my gear, antiquated manufacturing methods, and outdated belief systems that surrounded its production. My old REI 65 liter pack dates back to 2008. Most of my sleep system and other accessories have a carbon date of circa 2016.

Compared to 2023 gear, my kit is a dinosaur. A heavy relic from a bygone era. The outdoor industry has changed dramatically in the last 15 years - and especially since the pandemic. Spear-headed especially by gear manufacturers like CTUG, the recreational world is moving towards producing equipment where the minutiae of each product is designed to enable you to hike farther, explore more terrain, endure harsher conditions, and increase sustainability from both environmental and athletic longevity perspectives.

Don't worry - we're not here to convert you to the ultralight faithful that treks off into the woods with 20 lbs or less on their backs. However, the everyday outdoor gear that the ultralight community relies on greatly improves even shorter day hiking trips, mountain biking rides, afternoon kayaks - even mowing your lawn.

We know this firsthand because we tested CTUG's everyday products.

Spoiler alert, they're awesome.


Cost: $30.00

Weight: 1.4 - 1.6 oz (depending on size)

Recommended Use: Backpacking, Hiking, and Kayaking

When Austin and I connected on the phone, one of the first questions that he asked me was whether I had joined the "Smartwater Bottle Team" yet. Alas, I had not - I was still using an older water system including a reservoir, nozzle, and hose. I did mention to Austin that I had noticed the recent uptick in thru-hikers opting for larger water bottles lately, especially Smartwater-sized bottles.

Turns out that the data backing the "Smartwater Movement" proves that it's far more than just a recreational fad. Larger plastic water bottles are cheap, durable, featherlight, recyclable, readily, replaceable, and work effortlessly with most screw-on water filters. Better yet, these bottles fit into just about any water bottle pocket on most commercial backpacks.

But what if your backpack doesn't have a dedicated water bottle pocket? Or one that has a pocket so inconveniently located that you either rely on buddies to grab your water, or completely take off your pack? We'll raise the stakes even higher - what if your reservoir opens while you're hiking, only alerting you to the disaster when your pack starts leaking (based on a true, personal horror story)?

Friends, that's where CTUG's top-selling Water Bottle Sleeve swoops in to save your trek. Designed to easily attach to virtually any backpack shoulder strap, the Water Bottle Sleeve will fundamentally change your perspective regarding your on-trail water system. Immediately accessible, extremely lightweight, and an absolute space-saver inside your pack, it blows our mind that this sleeve isn't a mainstream staple in the outdoor hiking community. Plus, the mesh visibility eliminates the potentially fatal guessing-game of "How much water do I have left?" from your hiking concerns.


Cost: $40.00

Weight: 1.6 - 1.7 oz (depending on stitching)

Recommended Use: Backpacking, Hiking, Kayaking, Mountain Biking, Trail Running, and Snow Sports

In full transparency, I have been skeptical of shoulder strap pockets for a few years now. That's solely because of a test-run with a similar product 8 years ago, produced by a renown national gear manufacturer. That first experiment ended poorly; the pocket was too narrow for my iPhone, didn't attach reliably, and wasn't remotely water resistant. I've since opted to keep my handheld gear in my pants pocket, despite the aspirational practicality of a shoulder strap pocket. Sad.

The awesome CTUG Team must have run into similar issues, because their Shoulder Strap Zipper Pocket remedies every single one of those previous complaints. The Zipper Pocket is easily - and securely - attachable to any backpack shoulder strap. The pocket has plenty of room for my iPhone X, PLUS room for fruit snacks and other trail goodies. The sealed pocket is highly water resistant and is manufactured with waterproof Xpac on the seam. Oh, and my favorite part is that the front of the pocket has a "bonus mesh pocket" with an elastic band that is perfect for holding my GoPro camera.

In summary, the Shoulder Strap Zipper Pocket is a lightweight no-brainer for casual adventurers and a must-have for outdoor content creators.


Founded in 2018 by Austin Gongos and Nathan Ackerman, CTUG strives to make durable and lightweight gear for people who love wild places, Michigan backpacking opportunities, and need gear that will last thousands of miles. CTUG's mission focuses on helping to get more people outside and develop a passion for the natural world. CTUG also incorporates "Leave No Trace" principles into their manufacturing process and outdoor operations.

This is a sponsored article featuring the products of one of our #ExpeditionPartners, Chicken Tramper Ultralight Gear LLC. Please note, however, that Expedition Detroit retains the right to decline creating sponsored content based on our experience with certain products or services. Stated differently, we only publish if we fully endorse what our partners produce. CTUG's products absolutely fit in that category.

Do you produce or provide outdoor goods or services in the Detroit region? Looking for an innovative, multimedia platform to feature your operations? CONTACT US today to learn more about our #ExpeditionPartners program and collaborative marketing opportunities!


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