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.
As ultralight backpacking explodes in popularity, with weekend backpackers and seasoned thru-hikers alike focusing more and more on a lighter base weight, the options for a streamlined, ultralight setup on trail have expanded dramatically.
There isn’t one blueprint model of what makes a perfect ultralight pack, and it really does depend on what you are comfortable with. To help narrow down the choices, we interviewed a number of knowledgeable thru-hikers and put several models to the test to find some of the best ultralight backpacks out there.
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 pack light or take on extensive mileage by foot, you’ve come to the right place. While there isn’t a single ultralight backpack for everyone, we’ve noted some of the useful features and specs of each of our recommendations to help you find the best ultralight backpack for your needs. At the end of our list, be sure to check out our ultralight backpacks buyer’s guide and frequently asked questions section.
- Best Overall Ultralight Pack
- Runner-Up Ultralight Pack
- Best Budget Ultralight Pack
- Best Breathable Backpanel
- Best for Heavy Loads
- Best of the Rest
The Best Ultralight Backpacks of 2022
The Granite Gear Crown2 ($200) weighs just 2 pounds 3 ounces and has a 60L carrying capacity. 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. Seth carried 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 achieves 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, making it one of the best ultralight backpacks on the market.
- Weight:2.2 lbs.
- Volume:60 L
- Material: 210 denier high-tenacity nylon
- Outside Storage: 2 zippered hip belt pockets, 2 side water bottle pockets, ice axe attachments, front stretch mesh shove-it pocket
Runner-up: ULA Equipment Circuit
ULA Equipment has some big-time fans in the world of thru-hiking. The company has rightfully earned its reputation for comfort and durablility the hard way — on the backs thru-hikers over thousands of collective miles.
If this USA-made cottage brand had a flagship pack, it would probably be the Circuit ($279). A top choice for the PCT and other thru-hikes, 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 summer-long adventure on the Pacific Crest Trail.
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. If you’re considering an ultralight backpack for your next adventure, don’t look past the ULA Equipment Circuit.
- Weight: 2.28 lbs.
- Volume: 68 L
- Material: ULA 400 denier Robic
- Outside Storage: 2 zippered hipbelt pockets, 2 adjustable side water bottle pockets, front shove-it pocket, ice axe/trekking pole attachments
Best Budget Ultralight: Mountainsmith Scream 55 (Men’s) & Scream 50 (Women’s)
The Mountainsmith Scream 55 and Scream 50 are a heck of a deal for ultralight backpacks. At a retail price of just $160 (and can be had for a lot less in the off-season), these are by far the least expensive on this list. I used the Scream 55 pack on a few big hikes and was highly 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. Given these packs’ 50-55L size, however, they should have plenty of space for any light packer.
Two large external pockets help with gear organization. With no top lid, this feature gives you a place to put small, frequently needed items. In use, I was impressed with 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 backpacks, these backpacks have a durable ROBIC fabric and are good choices for those on a budget.
- Weight: Scream 55: 2 lbs. 13 oz., Scream 50: 2 lbs. 10 oz.
- Volume: Scream 55: 55 L, Scream 50: 50 L
- Material: 210 denier Robic HT Nylon with Alkex (Aramid) R/S
- Outside Storage: 2 zippered hipbelt pockets, 2 mesh side pockets, double barrel front panel storage pockets
Best Breathable Backpanel: Osprey Levity (Men’s) & Lumina (Women’s)
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 backpacks from a mainstream manufacturer, weighing in at 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 a 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, making it a questionable choice for National Parks and other places where traditional bear bins are required.
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. They’ll keep you comfortable and streamlined on the trail, but be aware that these need to be treated with care.
With its solid suspension system, padding, and breathability, these packs are comfortable option for the backpacker looking for a lightweight model that doesn’t have to be exceptionally durable.
- Weight: 1 lb. 12 oz.
- Volume: Levity: Small: 42 L, Medium: 45 L, Large: 48 L
- Volume: Lumina: Extra Small: 38 L, Small: 41 L, Medium: 45 L
- Material: Main: 30 denier Cordura silnylon ripstop, Accent: NanoFly 210 denier nylon X 200 denier UHMWPE (ultra high molecular weight polyethylene), Bottom: NanoFly 210 denier nylon X 200 denier UHMWPE
- Outside Storage: 2 dual access stretch mesh side water bottle pockets, front shove-it pocket
Best for Heavy Loads: Sierra Designs Flex Capacitor
The Sierra Designs Flex Capacitor ($220) 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, weighing in at 2.5 pounds, 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. Though it’s heavier than most other options on this list, it feels light for a pack with a beefy frame, and handles bigger loads better than the other backpacks on this list.
Overall, I really liked this pack after testing. It seems like a great choice for those who want a single backpack that will stretch for various uses, yet still weighs in well under 3 pounds. If you’re looking for the absolute lightest pack out there, this may not be the one for you. But as a reliable, adjustable backpack for lightweight backcountry pursuits, the Flex Capacitor would be a fantastic option.
- Weight: 2 lbs. 10 oz.
- Volume: S/M Torso: 56 L, M/L Torso: 60 L
- Material: 100 denier Nylon-Poly Ripstop/420 denier Nylon Oxford
- Outside Storage: 2 zippered hipbelt pockets, 2 mesh side pockets, 2 stretch mesh hydration pockets on shoulders, ice axe attachment
Best of the Rest
Gossamer Gear makes superlight backpacks that all hit a similar weight and price point. The Mariposa 60 ($285), 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 backpacking world.
The Gossamer excels with ROBIC high-tensile nylon, which is remarkably durable for its weight. It also hits a modest price point compared to packs made with more expensive Dyneema fabrics.
A standout feature of the Gossamer line is their knack for organization. In addition to seven extra pockets outside the main storage compartment, this pack has 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.
With its broad range of external storage options, durable design, and lightweight construction, the Mariposa is a go-to backpack for the thru-hiker looking for a featured, reliable option that will last throughout a season of heavy use.
- Weight: Small: 29.4 oz., Medium: 31.2 oz., Large: 33.3 oz.
- Volume: 60 L (36L main compartment, 24L exterior pockets)
- Material: 100 and 200 denier Robic high-tensile strength nylon
- Outside Storage: 2 zippered hipbelt pockets, 3 side pockets (one large dump pocket, two small water bottle pockets), front mesh shove-it pocket, ice axe attachment
Zpacks offers one of the lightest backpacks in its size range, and they’ve also managed to make this pack tough as nails. Constructed with ultra-durable, lightweight Dyneema, the combination of these features makes the Arc Blast one of the best ultralight backpacks for strenuous objectives.
The Arc Blast weighs just 21 ounces, but is built to carry up to 35 pounds. With a comfortable, suspended frame for ventilation, the only real downside to this pack is its $375 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.
Though it comes at a cost, the Arc Blast is about as streamlined as it gets, ideal for the dedicated thru-hiker looking for an ultralight option that can still haul relatively heavy loads.
- Weight: 19.9 oz. (short torso height), 20.2 oz (medium torso height), 20.5 oz. (tall torso height)
- Volume: 55 L (42 L main compartment, 2.5 L each side pocket, 8 L front mesh pocket)
- Material: 1.6 oz/sqyd Dyneema Composite Fabric on the inside, with an extra layer of 50 denier polyester on the outside
- Outside Storage: 2 side water bottle pockets, front shove-it pocket
Thru-Hiker Dan 'Knotts' Binde's Favorite Gear
Hyperlite Mountain 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 the ultralight demand.
The 3400 Windrider ($355) is a bomber Dyneema pack made in Maine. It has removable aluminum stays for added versatility, and weighs in at 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, 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.
- Weight: White: 31.7 oz., Black: 34.7 oz.
- Volume: 64.8 L (55 L main compartment, 9.8 L outside storage)
- Material: White: DCH50 (main body) & DCH150 (bottom), Black: DCH150 (main body & bottom)
- Outside Storage: 2 zippered hipbelt pockets, 2 side water bottle pockets, front shove-it pocket, ice axe attachment
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 (Ecopak Ultra) for $325. The extra $80 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 no unnecessary features. Customers can add a lid or hip belt and shoulder pockets if they so desire.
For the lightest and fastest hikin missions where weight and efficiency are the biggest concern, the Exodus has proven to be one of the best ultralight backpacks out there.
- Weight: 18 oz.
- Volume: 58 L
- Material: ECOPAK Ultra 200/400 in MLD Gray+Black, MLD Dyneema X 210 denier UHMWPE Ripstop in Wasabi Green or Gray
- Outside Storage: 2 side water bottle pockets, front shove-it pocket, trekking pole and ice axe attachment
Why You Should Trust Us
Chris Carter has spent way too much time obsessing over every minutia of the gear he takes on adventures. As an ultralight thru-hiker and endurance backpacker, the functionality to weight ratio of each item he carries on his back is of utmost importance, and every element of the gear he packs is considered. Chris has thru-hiked the Triple Crown of long trails, (the Appalachian Trail, Pacific Crest Trail, and Continental Divide Trail) and continues to pursue long-distance hiking around the world.
Aside from backpacking, he is an avid rock climber and ultra-marathon runner. His gear closet looks about as diverse and unorganized as a second-hand consignment store, but he’s passionate about making informed, wise decisions about the gear that keeps him comfortable and safe in the mountains.
Buyer’s Guide: How to Choose the Best Ultralight Backpack
Ultralight Backpacks Fabric Selection
Ultralight backpack manufacturers have the difficult challenge of offering an extremely lightweight package while also being durable enough to hold up to months of abuse on rough trails. For that reason, these packs are constructed with the latest, most durable materials on the market, which often explains the high price tag.
Some of the most common fabrics found in ultralight packs are Dyneema Composite Fabric (DCF), Ultra, ECOPAK, X-PAC, and Nylon (such as Robic or Cordura). Each of these fabrics have different benefits and uses, and impact the weight, durability, and weather resistance of the packs they construct.
In general, Ultra, ECOPAK, DCF, and X-PAC are waterproof to some degree, though most hikers will still use a bag liner or cover in significant rain to keep their gear dry. Materials such as Robic Nylon, however, will absorb water slowly over time and allow your pack contents to get wet.
The introduction of DCF and X-PAC to the backpacking scene represented a pretty significant jump in ultralight fabric technology due to their incredible strength-to-weight ratio. Packs such as the Zpacks Arc Blast have secured their spots as the lightest packs in their size range because of DCF, with the ability to carry loads of up to 35 pounds while maintaining an impressive, ultralight weight.
Ultralight Backpacks Volume Selection
The volume of your ultralight pack is an important part of the selection process, and depends heavily on how dialed in your base weight is. Ideally, you want to have a sub-10-pound base weight while wearing ultralight packs, which includes everything aside from consumables (such as food, fuel, and water). This is largely because, in order to achieve such a low weight, ultralight backpacks are generally not as durable or supportive as traditional, heavier backpacking backpacks.
Overpacking them will result in faster deterioration over time, and they just won’t hold the load as comfortably on your back. For that reason, you want to make sure the gear you are packing is also as ultralight as possible if you are going to be using an ultralight pack.
For most ultralight hikers, a 40L pack will provide enough volume for a long weekend trip, or a 3-to 5-day push between towns on a thru-hike. This will always depend on the climate and terrain you intend to hike through, but for general three-season use, 35L to 40L should suffice.
As hikers obsess further over every gram in their packs, truly committed ultralight backpackers can whittle their entire thru-hiking kit to fit into 30L or smaller packs, but this comes with some notable sacrifices. Using simple tarp shelters (or even a rain poncho) in lieu of tents, going stoveless, or carrying less food helps to save weight, but not everyone is ready to take that leap.
Hipbelts on Ultralight Backpacks
For a couple of reasons, many ultralight backpacks have a removable hipbelt or no hipbelt at all. This is primarily found in frameless ultralight packs. Many hikers that have already dialed their base weight well below 10 pounds find that they can save even more weight by leaving the hipbelt off.
With frameless ultralight packs, hipbelts are not as load-bearing as traditional packs, as there is no frame for the load to be transferred to. The hipbelt really only helps keep the pack close to your body while hiking, preventing it from jostling around, since you optimally will be carrying a weight that won’t overly fatigue your shoulders.
While most ultralight packs will still have a hipbelt, they will often not be as padded as traditional packs, and you may have the option of removing them entirely. You can still find great ultralight options, such as Osprey’s Levity and Lumina, that have excellent suspension, ventilation, and support at the cost of a slightly heavier package. It’s important to think about the comfort level you are looking for in your pack, and how far you are willing to go to cut more weight.
Packing an Ultralight Backpack
You want to pack an ultralight backpack in much the same way that you would pack a traditional backpack, however, there are some additional considerations that are important to note. Namely, ultralight packs cannot carry the same weight that traditional packs can, so it is important to have as minimal and lightweight a kit as possible. This will not only prolong the life of your ultralight backpack, but will make it feel a lot more comfortable over the long haul.
As previously mentioned, you will ideally have a base weight that is under 10 pounds. Starting at the bottom of your pack, place your lighter, fluffier items like a sleeping bag and other elements of your sleep kit. These will serve as a “pillow” on your lumbar on top of which some of your heavier items can sit.
Bulkier, heavier items such as your cooking kit, food, and tent, should go in the middle of the pack and be situated as close to your back as possible. By putting these items in the middle of your back, you alleviate a significant amount of stress from your shoulders or lower back, which is particularly important with ultralight packs.
Finally, at the top of your bag, you want to pack lighter items that you may want to use throughout the day, such as a midlayer or rain jacket.
Since ultralight backpacks also tend to have less padding than other packs, you want to be more aware of how your gear is fitting inside your pack, in order to avoid things poking uncomfortably into your back.
Getting ultralight gear in the mail can sometimes be a disconcerting experience. You just dropped $300 on this package and you can barely feel it in your hands! While it may seem flimsy and fragile, most ultralight backpacks on the market are constructed with the leading ultralight and ultra-durable materials out there and can take quite a beating. There are some elements to consider, however, when choosing the right pack for you.
If going as light and fast as possible is your biggest concern, and you have the budget to be able to replace gear as it deteriorates, choosing an ultralight pack purely for its weight could be a good option. If you want an ultralight option, but also plan on putting it through a little more torture and want some comfort along the way, you might want to look at a more durable, slightly heavier model.
Buying an ultralight pack is an investment that has the potential to greatly improve your backpacking experience. The ability to travel light and fast not only increases the amount of wilderness you can enjoy in a given time, but can also reduce the beating your body takes on a demanding backpacking trip, allowing you to hike further and limit injuries.
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.
Also, some of these packs aren’t super durable for off-trail hiking, so be sure to scrutinize materials closely if you plan to use them bushwhacking.
Ultimately, you will have to decide if you’re willing to trade creature comforts for a minimal weight. For those who’ve made the leap, the above are some of the best ultralight backpacks 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 support 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 the superlight backpacking range. For more casual, lightweight backpacking, you can stretch the weight 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.