Every serious hiker, I am sure, can think of that time when they went on a multi-day hiking adventure and just took too much stuff. It happens to the best of us.
So, you could be here because you want to buy the best ultralight backpack in the world, or even just the lightest backpack. Luckily for you I have the lightest, the bestest, the strongest and the comfiest of the lot shrunk down into one beautiful list. My only rules were that the packs had to weigh less than three pounds and had to be suitable for thru-hiking.
The slightest pack on this list comes in at a ludicrously-light one pound, while the heaviest (the 2.7-pound Sierra Designs Flex Capacitor) is not going to throw out any backs.
I have packs that will make you look as cool as an Arctic ranger (but not as cool as a turtle, nothing is cooler than a turtle). Packs that will make you look a bit odd. Packs for the gadget-geeks, the ounce-counters, the Osprey lovers, the overnight campers and for the serious thru-hikers.
Join me so we might trudge through this world together, and maybe I can help you choose the right ultralight backpack for you. And so here they are, in no particular order…
The 12 best ultralight backpacking packs:
1. MLD Exodus
No particular order by backside! When you pick up a Mountain Laurel Design’s Exodus backpack for the first time, it is easy to overcompensate, thinking it is going to be much heavier, only for you to lift the bag too easily and end up falling over on the floor. It happens.
This frameless pack is a ridiculous one pound. Things that weigh more than an MLD Exodus are a basketball, or two Big Macs. In fact, you could say that a basketball and two Big Macs weigh approximately two-and-a-quarter times more than an MLD Exodus. Ya know, if you wanted to, and wanted to be technically correct.
Okay, so it’s light. We get it. We freaked out a bit with it. We love it. But what else?
Weight: 1 lbs
Max Load: 35 lbs
The Exodus does something that some of the other brands fail to do. That is: lovely airy external pockets that you don’t have to squeeze things into. I hate it when you have to do that. What, are you trying to skimp on material or something?
There is a mesh pocket on the front about half the length of the pack, while bungee attachments and compression straps ensure this bag is not just a one trick pony. You can probably get away with load sizes of up to 25 pounds as well.
Did we mention it was light? Erm yes, we did. Did we mention that it is the lightest in this list, maybe the whole world? No, we didn’t! New information!
Price: $235 mountainlaureldesigns.com
2. Gossamer Gear Mariposa 60
Are you one of those serious hikers that don’t care one bit for fashion? One of those guys that love the gear for how good it is, over how good (or hideous) it looks. Stand up the Mariposa, you ugly, asymmetrical masterpiece!
One side of the pack has one long pocket; the other side has two smaller ones that stick out of this already-wide pack. So, if they are stuffed to the brim with, well… stuff… then you tend to cast a bit of a weird shape. Don’t be surprised if you see people pointing at you from a distance. They are merely trying to work out what it is you actually are.
Jokes aside, the medium pack with a medium belt weighs in at 1.9 pounds, yet the mostly nylon fabric makes this a tough bag, the company themselves describing this pack as their “gear-hauling workhorse”.
Weight: 1.9 lbs
Max Load: 35 lbs
It comes with seven external pockets that make up about 24 liters of the total 60L capacity of the bag, making for roomy external packing, while a large breathable mesh pocket is ideal for wet stuff, or for storing stuff that keeps the wet stuff away. The hip belt pockets are great for storing those sweet things for easy day-long access, while this pack comes with external trekking pole and ice-ax storage.
We have made fun of the looks, but are there any real other negatives about this pack? Well, the top pocket can be a little more difficult to access when the bag is fully loaded, but apart from that, not really. It. Is. Awesome.
Price: $180 gossamergear.com
3. Hyperlite Mountain Gear 3400 Southwest
You know what? I am just going to come straight out with it. I love the way the Southwest looks. It is a near replica of its twin sister, the 3400 Windrider, but it just makes me want to fill it full of warm gear and then get lost in a snowy alpine mountain range somewhere with no bears or tigers.
It makes me feel like jumping on a sled for a polar expedition, somewhere with no polar bears. It just makes me want to do anything adventurous in snow, without the possibility of getting eaten by a creature larger than I am.
According to Hyperlite Mountain Gear: “The superlight and time-tested main compartment of the Southwest is constructed with 100% waterproof Dyneema® Composite Fabrics.”
They then go on to reassure you of its 99% chance of waterproofability, and you know what? That might not be a real word, but I do like those odds.
Weight: 2 lbs
Capacity: 55L internal, 9.8L external
Max Load: 40 lbs
The pack comes with a roll down system that essentially shrinks it to the size of the smaller version, the Southwest 2400 – a 40 L version with the same 9.8 liters of extra external storage in the outer pockets. There are four compression straps on the side, while a ‘Y’ compression system over the top keeps everything neat and tidy.
The hip belts also come with roomy pockets.
Are there any downsides to something that is so obviously a great multi-day backpacking accessory? Probably just one. The straps lack a little bit of padding, so when you are dealing with the higher-end weights, it can be a little uncomfortable, particularly when you are not used to it. When you are used to it, ignore the above, you will have an awesome pack that makes you look like an Arctic Ranger, and what is cooler than that? Maybe a turtle, but that’s about it.
A little pricey too, but you get what you pay for.
Price: $345 hyperlitemountaingear.com
4. Osprey Levity/ Lumina 45
If you like Osprey, which most of the population of the world do, and you like ultra-lightweight backpacks, then you will love the Osprey Levity. The Levity is for men, the Lumina for women, but if it there is one thing this pack does right, it’s that it does it light.
According to Osprey: “Our NanoFly® fabric integrates ultra-high-molecular-weight polyethylene ripstop and Cordura Nylon, creating an incredibly light fabric with remarkable abrasion resistance.”
Dumbing it down: It is light and it is strong.
Keep your valuables separate with a fixed top lid zip pocket, while the large, stretchy front pocket is the perfect place to store your wet weather gear. The pack is covered with compression straps to help bag those lighter loads, while there are numerous points to anchor gear to the outside.
Weight: 1.85 lbs
Capacity: 45 L
Max Load: 20 lbs
The pack comes with Osprey’s trademark 3.5mm LightWire suspension, which many people love. Myself included. However, some people feel that it makes the pack feel like it is too far from your back, and more of like a turtle shell than a backpack. I personally am a massive fan of having the ventilation.
Alright, let’s get down to the nitty gritty. This pack also comes in a 60L version, but there is a reason why we have chosen the 45 L to feature in this list.
Although weighing in at an impressively light 1.89 pounds, the men’s pack has a carrying capacity of just 25 pounds, while the smaller brother can still pack a decent 20-pound load, so you are not really getting that much extra bang for your space.
Other issues are the two lateral pockets being a bit too tight, but all-in-all, a sensational backpack and a good pick for you ounce-counters out there.
Price: $250 osprey.com
5. Ultralight Adventure Equipment CDT
This is a damn good pack, which is obviously why it made this list. But are there better packs out there that could have leap-frogged the CDT into this list? Sure. What raised this ULA pack to greatness is because of how cost-effective it is.
You get a tough pack suitable for loads of 20 pounds or less, and you get it for $145. But before we begin blowing smoke up CDT’s behind (if you know what I mean, ‘winking emoji’), let’s check out some of the pack’s limitations.
There are no bells and whistles on this pack. What you see is what you get, and what you get is a collection of fabric brought together by some straps. There are no hidden pockets for the hidden pocket fans among you. It does not unzip and become an emergency tent. It is a backpack. It does what it says on the tin.
Weight: 1.5 lbs
Max Load: 20 lbs
The CDT is the smallest and most basic of the ULA packs that are made in Utah. We love the spacious hip belt pockets that are large enough for my (sizable) Snickers Bar stash. The front mesh pocket is also of a decent, useful size, while the sides are lined with roomy pockets that even I can reach my water bottle from while the pack is still mounted on my back. Putting it away again, however, is a different story.
You are going to need to purchase a waterproof cover separately for this bag as it will let the water in, but with all that delicious money you have saved by purchasing this pack in the first place, I am sure you can afford it. You clever person, you.
Price: $145 ula-equipment.com
6. Granite Gear Crown 2
With the lid on, this heavyweight among the featherweights plops in at nearly 2.4 pounds. You wouldn’t want to drop that on your toes otherwise… no, wait… that’s still really light! And it comes with the bulked-up carrying capacity of 35-pound loads.
I am going to go ahead and say it as well: The Crown 2 looks the business. There is something calming in the cylindrical way that it conceals its 60 liters. It is symmetry done well, with thoughtfully-placed compression straps along the entirety of the pack, adjustable at both the sides and front.
Yes, thoughtful, that is what it is. Thoughtful in the way they allow you to remove the top lid, if those are not your thing. Save on 3 ounces of weight, plus whatever you would have been carrying in that lid.
Weight: 2.38 lbs
Capacity: 60 L
Max Load: 35 lbs
The foam frame comes with ventilation channels to assist in breathability. Just how effective it is remains to be seen, and if there is one thing I will say about the Crown 2, it is that the frame is quite rigid and can take some getting used to. Oh, but so thoughtful. Cut down on more weight, ye frame haters, for Granite Gear have made this frame removable (well, of course they have).
The belt is completely adjustable as well, with spacious pockets. And you know how much I love spacious pockets. In fact, this belt is so cool and unique that Granite Gear currently have a patent pending on it. Good luck guys, and keep making awesome backpacks!
What about the negatives? I don’t have any really. This is a good pack. And for less than 200 bucks, you can’t really go wrong.
Price: $199.95 granitegear.com
7. Z Packs Arc Blast 55
Ah yes, the Arc Blast. Are you my favorite pack on this list? Am I talking to a backpack? It would be a legitimate question.
This featherweight pack is kind of a cross between an Osprey and a Gossamer. Kind of. The 1.3-pound pack comes with a ‘Flexed Arc’ adjustable frame (I know – how does a 1.3-pound bag come with a frame? How?) which keeps a layer of air between your back and the pack, so your clothes don’t get drenched on the hotter days.
Everything about this pack just screams take me out into the foulest weather you can find! Stat! With taped seams and waterproof materials, the manufacturers only recommend using dry bags for important items, like your sleeping bag. Just in case.
Weight: 1.3 lbs
Max Load: 35 lbs
I love the roll down top of the bag, being completely adjustable in height as your load lightens on those long hikes, and your food stocks dwindle. And the bag-length mesh pocket on the front is as useful as a candle in a blackout.
If you want me to say anything negative about this backpack, then you will need to poke me with a stick. Alright, stop it, I will tell you!
At $325, this is one of the most expensive price-by-weight purchases out there. In fact, by weight, this bag is more expensive than silver. Less is more.
And if you want the extra side pockets that are detachable, you have to buy them separately, and they cost $25. I cannot for the life of me work out why you would sell an incomplete bag, and then charge extra to complete it, but there you go. A small price to pay to own this wildness warrior.
Price: $325 + $25 for side pockets. zpacks.com
8. Katabatic Onni Lite Skin 65L
I am going to look you dead in the eye and say; struth mate, this is a pretty awesome backpack. Why sayeth I this?
I would like you to imagine me doing that Ace Ventura thing where Jim Carey takes a massive breath before delivering his reasons. Surely you know what I am talking about.
[cue deep breath!]
It comes with removable shoulder strap gear tethers, a hydration port and ribbed foam shoulder straps for extreme carrying comfort. Compression cords lining the outside of the pack keep everything together, and can double up with the pockets to store all that cool camping gear you are carrying. There is somewhere to hang your trekking poles and your ice ax.
The side pockets can hold 2 liters of water, while the mesh pocket on the front is so big that it looks out of place. And that is awesome. Because you can put more stuff in it.
The pack is lined with a ventilated back panel so comfortable, that come the end of a long day on the trail, you will be reluctant to take your pack off.
[return to normal breathing]
Weight: 1.73 lbs
Max Load: 35 lbs
Being a very sneaky fellow, I have managed to save the best for last. This backpack also comes with a magnetic roll-top closure, you know, the same as those waterproof bags. Store your gear, roll it down, clip it around and your gear will be dry as a bone.
Being a small company and burdened with the excellent problem of an outstanding reputation, it is a good idea to order you packs well in advance as there can be a waiting list for these products. They are, quite simply, that good.
Anything negative? Well, the slanting side pockets close out on the slightly too-short size, after starting so well and high, but that is forcing me to be picky when really, I have nothing worthy to criticize. Love it.
Price: $280 – $305 katabaticgear.com
9. Gossamer Gear Gorilla 40
Being only a 40-liter backpack, I wasn’t sure if I should feature the Gorilla in this list. But then I remembered that it was a Gossamer. And a Gorilla. So I didn’t really have a choice. It climbed its own way in there.
It weighs in at a little over 1.9 pounds, the higher weight-to-volume of this bag compared to some of the other backpacks on this list explains the higher carrying capacity of 30 pounds. This is a well-built bit of gear and likely to last you a long time, if you treat it right.
What this does mean, is that if you are an experienced hiker and have your packing skills down (if you are debating a hair dryer or a pair of shoes, this is not the pack for you), you are perfectly able to use the Gorilla on thru-hikes.
Weight: 1.9 lbs
Max Load: 30 lbs
We love the signature mesh pocket on the front that takes up most of the face of the pack. The water bottle pockets on the sides are deep and easy to access, so you can have a drink without dismounting the backpack.
I like the roll over lid that features the pocket, even if it can be a little hard to access sometimes, particularly when the pack is filled to the brim. I like that you can loosen the straps to store something up top like a sleeping bag or a roll mat, ultimately adding more volume to the total. It also allows you to strap additional things to the outside of the pack.
Being a Gossamer, you can rely on the Gorilla having compression straps in all the right places, and is of course trekking pole and ice ax compatible.
Price: $172 gossamergear.com
10. Osprey Exos / Eja 48
If you are reading this list, lost in a world of technical jargon and big, fancy writers’ words from someone that knows exactly what he is talking about, and you need someone to just give it to you straight. Then I can be that man too.
You will see Osprey backpacks on every trail from Everest Base Camp to Machu Picchu, and for good reason. They are well built and comfortable.
The Exos for men and Eja for women makes this list for one reason and one reason only. It epitomizes all things comfort. It is like being forced to carry pillows. The Exos takes in the unbelievably comfortable Exoform harness, while the AirSpeed ventilated suspension keeps the weight off your back, and channeled more toward the naturally-strong parts of the body.
Weight: 2.57 lbs
Max Load: 40 lbs
We love that they have brought in the stow-on-the-go system for your trekking poles, getting them out of your way without having to take off the pack.
At 2.57 pounds it is one of the heavier packs on the list, but we still class this as super-duper ultralight. If you are new to hiking and want to get into it, this is the backpack that could take you there. It is oh so comfortable, which is perfect for when you are just finding your feet, and at 200 bucks, it won’t be too heartbreaking if your first hiking adventure results in screams of: I’m never, ever doing that again!
Things that may upset the more experienced trekker are the lack of pockets on the hip belt. I mean, come on, really? I can store my trekking poles, but then have to drop my pack to reach my Snickers stash? Not cool. Not cool.
There is also not a lot of room in the external pockets, but it is good that you can fling away the top lid to save on weight, while still being able to properly seal the bag.
Price: $200 osprey.com
11. Ultralight Adventure Equipment OHM 2.0
The OHM 2.0 is a bit of a dark horse in terms of making this list. But I like it, what can I say. It is big, it is light, it is sturdy and I will still be able to afford to eat this week if I treat myself to a ULA OHM 2.0.
Expect to be able to carry a 30-pound load with those luxurious wide straps and comfortably-padded hip belt that feature large, hand-friendly pockets. The large droopy side pockets can be stuffed to the brim with extras.
Weight: 2.16 lbs
Max Load: 30 lbs
On the downside, the carbon frame rods make this pack feel a little heavier than the competitors, but it still comfortably sits in the ultralight category.
Price: $225 ula-equipment.com
12. Sierra Designs Flex Capacitor
I have this question for you: Are you Inspector Gadget? Are you that dude with the solar panel strapped to the outside of your pack charging your GPS and altimeter and other crazy atmospheric-testing devices? If so, I have the pack for you.
It runs on a gusseted system, like the tongue of a one-piece leather boot, so that the pack can expand to hold 60L, or be shrunk down to just 40L for those overnight and quick hiking adventures. It is the pack for every occasion.
It comes with a shoulder strap water bottle pocket, stretch mesh side water pockets, two ample-sized hip belt pockets, compression straps, loops for ice ax and trekking poles, the trademark lightweight Y-Flex suspension system, load lifter straps and hip belt straps and a jet pack. Well, not a jet pack, but all that other stuff.
Weight: 2.7 lbs
Max Load: 50 lbs
I do not really want to finish with a negative, but that is just the way it seems to have crumbled. That awesome gusset system we mentioned earlier prevented the designers from including a large external mesh pocket on the front of the bag, so if you have stinky or wet gear you do not want in your pack, then tough. Tie it to the outside, or bite the bullet and chuck it in. I’m sure it doesn’t smell that bad!
This is the heaviest pack in a best ultralight backpacks list. It is only 2.7 pounds, but that is rather chunky compared with the rest. That is why it features last.
Price: $199.95 sierradesigns.com
I hope you enjoyed this list. If you have any further questions, feel free to drop me a line below.
Just How Light is Ultralight Backpacking? A Beginner’s Guide
As a travel writer and photographer, Gordon spent the better part of 2018 visiting 13 different countries as far apart as Chile, Morocco and Vietnam. He is in New Zealand in 2019, writing a third travel book, while exploring pretty much anything that forms a bump on the Earth’s surface.