What’s the best ultralight backpack? We interviewed thru-hikers and put several models to the test to find some of the top lightweight hiking backpacks.
First things first: Ultralight hiking is not for everyone. If you like creature comforts like cushy sleeping pads, multiple changes of clothing, complex meals with fresh ingredients, or a full-size toothbrush, you may want to reevaluate your backpack needs.
But if you’re looking to get out while packing light, you’ve come to the right place.
The Best Ultralight Backpacks of 2021
The Granite Gear Crown2 ($200) weighs just 2 pounds 3 ounces and has a 60L capacity. And even at such a low weight, it can transform from a “weekend heavy-hauler to a lightweight bag for a long thru-hike,” according to Seth Orme. He carried the stalwart backpack on the Pacific Crest Trail while hauling out heaps of trash for 5 months during the 2016 Packing It Out hike.
The Crown2 is made from 210-denier, high-tenacity nylon. Orme used it for more than 2,000 miles and found the fabric “plenty durable.”
He reported that, at just over 2 pounds, the Crown2 can comfortably haul 35 pounds or more. It does this with its innovative hip belt, improved back panel, and thoughtfully placed 10mm load-cinching straps. The combination gives users a pack that fits well and stays comfortable all day. Read the full GearJunkie review of the Granite Gear Crown2.
ULA Equipment has some big-time fans in the world of thru-hiking. Just check out the comments below! And it earned the reputation for comfortable, durable ultralight packs the hard way — thousands of collective miles on backs.
If this USA-made cottage brand had a flagship pack, it would probably be the Circuit ($255). The Circuit falls into that versatile size of 4,200 cubic inches (68 L).
Weighing in at just 41 ounces, the Circuit can still handle loads up to 35 pounds, making this pack a go-to choice for the weekend hike with a bear bin and fishing pole, or a summerlong adventure on the Pacific Crest Trail. Indeed, it’s a top choice of the PCT and other thru-hikes.
And for its versatility, consumers absolutely love this pack. Recommended for a base weight of 15 pounds or less (up to 35 pounds total load), the Circuit carries weight with a remarkable 1.2-ounce carbon fiber and Delrin suspension hoop in conjunction with a dense internal foam frame and a single aluminum stay.
It provides modest organization with the main body, a front mesh pocket, left and right side mesh pockets, an extension collar, and left and right hip belt pockets. ROBIC fabric provides a durable but very light foundation for this pack.
A much-anticipated backpack coupling from Osprey, the Levity and Lumina ($250) hit the market in 2018 and have gained popularity since. These are remarkably light packs from a mainstream manufacturer, weighing under 2 pounds.
While there are other packs in this weight range, Osprey brings some excellent suspension engineering into play. The pack definitely rides like it’s on a trampoline, suspended away from the back. Depending on your preference, you may love or hate this feeling.
Osprey uses high-molecular-weight polyethylene (HMWPE) fibers in the external facing for durability. But the pack also uses very light silnylon in the interior bag, raising questions of durability among critics.
After a couple of years of testing, we like this pack for its ventilation and suspension. However, the very narrow design makes it extremely difficult to load a bear bin into these.
The Levity and Lumina are also quite fragile. We’ve worn holes in them simply from rubbing on other gear while riding in the back of a pickup truck. So be aware these need to be treated with care. Read the full GearJunkie review of the Levity and Lumina here.
Gossamer Gear makes superlight backpacks that hit a similar weight and price point. The Mariposa 60, for example, weighs 2 pounds and has a removable internal frame and load lifters. This pack has been around a lot longer than the Osprey, with a lot of fans in the ultralight hiking world.
The Gossamer excels with ROBIC high-tensile nylon, which is remarkably durable for its weight. It also hits a modest price point ($270) compared to packs made with more expensive Dyneema fabrics.
A standout of the Gossamer is its organization, with seven extra pockets outside the main storage. There’s a mesh pocket for wet items and three large side pockets.
Its biggest downfall compared to the similarly priced Osprey is back ventilation. This pack uses a foam sheet to give some breathability, but it’s hard to compete with Osprey on that front.
Zpacks offers one of the lightest backpacks in its size range. It’s also tough as nails. But you’ll pay a hefty price for this brand’s exceptional Dyneema offerings.
The Arc Blast weighs just 21 ounces but is built to carry up to 35 pounds, with super-durable Dyneema fabric. It will also give you a nice suspended frame for ventilation. The only downside? A $325 price tag.
This pack is a favorite of hikers who put down massive miles. For example, Dan “Knotts” Binde, who has crossed the United States seven times in the last 3 years, swears by this pack.
“I haven’t switched up my packs a lot, but once I got used to it, it was solid, really durable — which I was worried about,” he said.
Hyperlite Moutain Gear makes a wide range of ultralight equipment, including a dozen backpacks for everything from mountaineering to ice climbing. For backpackers and hikers, several choices meet ultralight demands.
The 3400 Windrider is a bomber Dyneema pack made in Maine. It has removable aluminum stays and weighs about 32 ounces.
The pack is basic. It has one main compartment with a bladder holder, a large mesh area with three separate compartments, two side pouches, and an ice axe loop. It keeps water out through the roll-top closure and compresses down with a strap.
It’s expensive at $345. But dang, is this brand durable! In our testing, despite climbing, rolling and unrolling the top closure hundreds of times, placing sharp objects in the main compartment, sitting on them in rafts, and getting brushed and harassed by thorny wilderness on miles-long treks, there was not a single hole or tear. Read the full GearJunkie review of the Hyperlite Mountain Gear 3400 Windrider here.
The Sierra Designs Flex Capacitor ($200) is a remarkably versatile pack. I carried it on a speedy high route in Colorado with explorer Andrew Skurka, who helped design it.
While not the lightest on the list, the Flex Capacitor is a great choice for those who want a pack that can literally expand for various jobs.
It quickly and easily adjusts from 40 L of capacity via tight straps up to 60 L with the quick release of a couple buckles. It weighs 2.5 pounds, which feels light for a pack with a beefy frame. Still, it handles bigger loads better than the rest on this list.
In short, I really liked this pack in quick testing. It seems like a great choice for those who want a single backpack that will stretch into various uses yet still weigh in well under 3 pounds. Read the full GearJunkie review of the Sierra Designs Flex Capacitor here.
The Mountainsmith Scream 55 and Scream 50 are a heck of a deal for light backpacks. At a retail price of just $160 (and can be had for a lot less), these are by far the least expensive on this list. I used the Scream 55 pack on a few big hikes and was really impressed.
These packs are top-loaders with roll closures. This isn’t my favorite style, as it tends to minimize the useful space at the top of the pack. But given these packs’ 50-55L size, they should have plenty of space for any light packer.
Two large external pockets help with gear organization. This is nice, as the style has no top lid, and thus needs other places to put small, frequently needed items. In use, I was impressed at how well the minimal EVA framesheet distributed weight through my back, hips, and shoulders.
On the negative side, the vertical rear pockets are a little too tight to fit tent poles. The side pockets are also pretty snug, although we found they work well for water bottles.
The Scream 55 weighs in at 2 pounds 13 ounces, only 3 ounces heavier than the Scream 50. While certainly on the high end of the scale for lightweight packing, these backpacks have durable ROBIC fabric and are good choices for those on a budget.
Serious ultralight backpackers heap praise on the Mountain Laurel Designs Exodus 55L ($245), and for good reason. The frameless pack carries a load of 20-25 pounds and weighs in at a scant 18 ounces. The brand calls it the “lightest full-size, full-featured, frameless pack made.”
It’s a popular design for thru-hikers or others doing big, lightweight miles who may be carrying a bear bin to protect their food from bruins. At 12 inches wide, 7 inches thick, and 35 inches high, it will fit a small bin with room to spare for other gear.
This design comes in two fabric choices. The Exodus 55L uses Dyneema X Fabric, which has a ripstop pattern of HMWPE to stop tears. It costs $245.
To go full-blown Dyneema, upgrade to the Exodus DCF 55L for $290. The extra $45 saves you just one ounce. But the upgrade in materials means it will last forever as well as be largely waterproof (it’s seam-taped).
The Exodus has a very supportive, cushioned hip belt, especially for an 18-ounce pack. The SuperWick Mesh-lined waist belt wings with 1.5-inch webbing, and the buckle adjusts from about 28 to 45 inches.
It’s a simple design that serves the needs of ultralight hikers with not much extra. Customers can add a lid or hip belt and shoulder pockets if they so desire.
Ultralight Backpacks: Pros & Cons
Ultralight backpacking means keeping your entire load low. Your base weight, including all your gear — except consumables like food, water, and fuel — should be under 10 pounds.
And that’s where these packs shine. They are light themselves, thus adding very little weight to your back. But they also carry light loads comfortably and can stand up to reasonable on-trail use.
You really need to keep your weight down with these packs (Flex Capacitor excluded). Most of them won’t serve you well if you load them heavy, so they’re a little less versatile than more robust backpacks.
Where does this matter? If you own just one backpack and plan to use it for hiking, ski mountaineering, and rock climbing, you’ll want to look elsewhere.
Some of these packs aren’t super durable for off-trail hiking. Be sure to scrutinize materials closely if you plan to use them bushwhacking.
Ultimately, you will have to decide if you want to trade weight savings for creature comforts. For those who’ve made the leap, the above are some of the best packs on the market.
Ultralight Backpack FAQ
What Is the Best Ultralight Backpack?
Ask 100 hikers about their favorite ultralight pack and you’ll get a dozen different answers. But like all backpacks, the most important aspect is that it fits your body perfectly and is adjusted properly! If you don’t know how to fit a pack, it’s worth a trip to an outdoor shop to talk with a qualified salesperson.
Are Ultralight Backpacks Worth It?
If you can keep your packing weight low, yes, an ultralight backpack is worth the investment for many hikers. However, it’s worth noting that ultralight packs require the user to understand how to pack efficiently to keep their load weight quite low, usually less than 25 to 30 pounds.
If you expect your gear will weigh more than that, an ultralight backpack will probably not be a good choice, as many won’t carry heavy loads very well.
What Is a Good Base Weight for Ultralight Backpacking?
Your base weight is the weight of all your gear not counting things you consume such as water and food. So it includes things like your stove but does not include the food you cook.
Most ultralight backpackers consider a base weight of 10 pounds to be a good measure of ultralight backpacking. Get it down to 5 pounds, and you’re in superlight backpacking range. And for lightweight backpackers, you can stretch up to about 20 pounds.
Have a favorite ultralight backpack we didn’t include? Let us know in the comments for future updates to this article.