Every outdoor enthusiast who often participates in demanding backcountry hikes knows how important it is to use the right gear and pack as lightly as possible. Whether you’re planning a regular backpacking trip, a short two-day hike, or an Appalachian expedition, an ultralight backpack is a must if you want to fully enjoy your adventure.
Unfortunately, not everybody is ready to join the “ultralight revolution”. If you’re a hiker who is always carrying loads of equipment, including not-so-necessary items like complex meals with fresh ingredients, multiple changes of clothing, or cushy sleeping pads, maybe it’s finally the time to reevaluate your backpacking needs.
As far as we’re concerned, ultralight backpacks are the backpacks of the future. Thanks to the most advanced technologies, these products are not only lightweight but also highly versatile, durable, comfortable, and even water-resistant in some cases. However, in a market that’s oversaturated with hundreds of different lightweight backpacks, finding the right model for your needs can be quite challenging – especially if you don’t know much about hiking accessories.
Have no worries – we’re here to help you out. In this article, we’ll be taking a closer look at the market’s 10 best ultralight backpacks, with the ultimate goal of helping you find a model that you’ll be able to use for the years to come. Make sure to check out our buying guide as well – it’s bound to help you determine which features are a must-have for your brand-new lightweight backpack.
Table of Contents
- 1 Best Lightweight Backpacks – The Reviews
- 1.1 Mountainsmith Zerk 40 Lightweight Backpack
- 1.2 Gregory Optic 48 Lightweight Backpack
- 1.3 Granite Gear Crown 2 60 Lightweight Backpack
- 1.4 Osprey Levity 60 Lightweight Backpack
- 1.5 HMG 3400 Windrider Lightweight Backpack
- 1.6 Sierra Designs Flex Capacitor Lightweight Backpack
- 1.7 REI Co-op Flash 55 Lightweight Backpack
- 1.8 Sea to Summit Hydraulic 35 Lightweight Backpack
- 1.9 Arc’teryx Brize 25 Lightweight Backpack
- 1.10 Mountainsmith Scream 55 Lightweight Backpack
- 2 Best Lightweight Backpacks – The Buying Guide
- 3 Best Lightweight Backpacks – The Verdict
Best Lightweight Backpacks – The Reviews
Mountainsmith Zerk 40 Lightweight Backpack
The most interesting thing about this backpack is the history behind it. As it turns out, Zerk 40 was designed, developed, and tested in cooperation with The Real Hiking Viking, a famous thru-hiker with 50,000 followers on Instagram.
This is a lightweight, frameless backpack whose well-designed shoulder straps allow comfortable carrying. Using the model’s straps helps with balancing the load by shifting the weight to the front of the wearer’s body, which, in turn, increases the overall level of comfort.
Another great thing about this lightweight backpack is that it comes with a removable hip belt. However, the model’s hip belt doesn’t really provide that much support. Its main job is to help the backpack hug the wearer’s body.
The pack’s removable bear canister, on the other hand, helps the user gain flexibility – you can strap it for adventures that require it or simply leave it at home when it’s not needed. In our opinion, the bear canister is an extremely useful feature we’d like to see on all other ultralight backpacks.
Finally, the model’s large side pockets are big enough for most gear, including sizable water bottles. They even feature additional bonus pockets, which you can use for storage of snacks or other small items. The ultralight form factor of this lightweight backpack and its handy features easily turn it into a worthwhile investment.
Gregory Optic 48 Lightweight Backpack
When it comes to hiking backpacks, Gregory Mountain Products is undoubtedly a household name. Their brand-new Optic 48 Lightweight Backpack retains all the good features of Gregory’s older backpacks while also introducing some new features and upgrades.
First of all, Optic 48 comes with a large mesh on the back, whose job is to promote ventilation and wick moisture off the wearer’s back. For this backpack, you can choose the lightweight weather flap or ditch it for the brain-style top lid.
Just like most backpacks made by this company, this model features a plethora of thoughtful details. From the quick-stow system for sunglasses (located on the shoulder straps) to hip belt pockets to the ergonomic zipper pulls, the overall design of this backpack turns each interaction with it into a pleasant experience.
The main compartment of Gregory Optic 48 is very spacious and provides a lot of space for hiking gear. The main compartment is closed via the included drawstring, and it includes a special sleeve for the hydration bladder. The model also has a couple of attachment points as well as both lower and upper V-shaped compression straps.
In terms of durability, Gregory Optic 48 sports 100-denier nylon on its main body and 210-denier nylon on its bottom. As such, it is very durable and capable of withstanding daily wear and tear. Overall, this is a very well-designed backpack that you’ll be able to use for carrying heavier loads without worries.
Granite Gear Crown 2 60 Lightweight Backpack
Here we have one of the most popular lightweight backpacking packs on the market – Granite Gear Crown 2 60. As its name suggests, this ultralight backpack has a total capacity of 60 liters.
However, even despite its spaciousness and the base weight of 2lbs 2oz, this is actually a minimalist backpack with a simple design. In other words, it contains no extra internal or external pockets or any other unnecessary features. Here, there’s only a single roll-top main compartment, basic compression straps, and a couple of big exterior pockets.
Although slightly heavier than most products of this type and quite minimalistic, Crown 2 has everything you’ll need for your next adventure. It’s an ideal thru-hiking backpack – there’s an internal hydration sleeve, an exceptionally supportive frame, adequate volume, as well as the perfect amount of pockets. There’s even a removable top lid!
Furthermore, Granite Gear Crown 2 comes in three torso lengths – long, regular, and short. The model’s hip belt, on the other hand, can be easily adjusted to suit the wearer’s waist size. Another good reason to go for this lightweight backpack is its durability – it mixes two different types of high-tenacity nylon that are coated with a water-repellent finish.
All in all, Granite Gear Crown 2 60 is a superb choice for all thru-hikers looking for a pack that is both functional and minimalistic.
Osprey Levity 60 Lightweight Backpack
There aren’t a lot of thru-hikers who have never heard of Osprey. This company is an industry leader and a favorite brand of many backpackers everywhere around the world. Is their Levity 60 pack a good choice for ultralight hikers?
In short, yes – it is. Released in 2018, this is one of the company’s bestsellers, and for a couple of good reasons, too. With a base weight of just 1lb 14oz, this model undoubtedly belongs in the featherweight category. Those who don’t need that much space can go even lighter – Levity 45 (45-liter carrying capacity) weighs only 1lb 13oz.
In terms of organization, this model excels. While it has no hip belt pockets, this backpack has a total of 4 external pockets – zippered storage in the top closure, a large front mesh pocket on the front, and two tall side pockets. The backpack excels in terms of ventilation, too. Its shoulder straps and the hip belt are made out of foam dotted with small holes and its back panel sports a suspended-mesh construction.
With a volume of 60 liters and a strong metal frame, this ultralight backpack easily handles heavier loads. And while it features thin 30-denier Cordura silnylon, it’s still a fairly durable bag overall. It’s a fantastic all-around pack that you won’t regret buying if you’re a thru-hiker looking for comfort and quality.
HMG 3400 Windrider Lightweight Backpack
Behind this impressive-sounding name hides one of the most iconic and well-made ultralight backpacks on the market. This pack is both waterproof and very durable, and it also carries a lot of volume despite its exceptionally low weight.
One of the greatest things about Hyperlite Mountain Gear 3400 is that it’s made out of high-tech Dyneema composite fabric (also known as cuben fiber). Not only is this material waterproof, but it also helps keep the base weight down at just 2 pounds. It also contributes to the sleek, minimalistic design of the whole backpack – the Windrider is probably the prettiest model on our list.
The carrying capacity of HMG 3400 stands at 55 liters. However, the model’s hip belt isn’t that good when it comes to transferring the weight to the wearer’s hips – we’d advise against loading this backpack up with more than 35 pounds of gear. Another thing we didn’t really like is the back panel, which is also made out of Dyneema composite fabric (cuben fiber) but it’s not breathable enough and lacks ventilation.
In terms of storage, Hyperlite Mountain Gear 3400 has a spacious main compartment, two hip belt pockets, and a large, stretchy mesh pocket on its exterior. Its roll-top closure makes the pack fully waterproof, and two aluminum stays stiffen its back panel.
With plenty of external storage, good durability, and excellent water-resistance, this is one of those packs that are definitely worth the price. While not flawless, the Windrider stands among the market’s best options for those who need something that’s both sleek and practical.
Sierra Designs Flex Capacitor Lightweight Backpack
While certainly not the lightest pack in our roundup, this model is an excellent option for thru-hiking enthusiasts who need a model that expands for various jobs. As its name suggests, Flex Capacitor is capable of transitioning between two sizes – 40 and 60 liters – and that’s its best feature and the main selling point.
Just like many other lightweight packs on our list, Flex Capacitor also sports an aluminum frame system. It easily handles heavy loads and comes with a couple of basic but solid features. Here, you will find hip belt pockets, a water bottle pocket on the shoulder strap, mesh side pockets, an internal water-reservoir sleeve, ice ax loops, and a zippered top lid. You’ll have no issues with finding enough space for all of your hiking gear and several days of food.
However, as we said, the fact that this is an expandable ultralight pack is the best thing about it. When compressed, the model works well for shorter hiking trips with lightweight gear. When it’s expanded to 60 liters, the pack turns into a suitable choice for long-distance, thru-hike adventures – it carries weight remarkably well.
With expandable volume, a durable frame, and a myriad of pockets for storage of your hiking essentials, Sierra Designs Flex Capacitor is certainly a worthwhile investment and of the best ultralight backpacking packs currently on the market.
REI Co-op Flash 55 Lightweight Backpack
Comparable to popular Zpacks Arc Blast in terms of volume (but not weight), REI Co-Op Flash is a significantly more affordable option for folks interested in ultralight backpacks. Although not the best choice for heavy loads, this is one of those comfortable, well-made ultralight packs that look and feel just as advertised.
The best thing about this backpack is that, unlike the already mentioned Zpacks Arc Blast, it comes at a genuinely affordable price. However, this doesn’t mean that it’s not as good – this is, after all, an REI-made bag. As such, it is exceptionally versatile and packed with convenient features.
For suspension, Flash 55 uses a spring-steel perimeter-style frame. While this means that it can’t really handle heavier loads, it certainly contributes to the overall level of comfort. After all, those who need a more capable lightweight backpack should look into heavier and more substantial lightweight backpacks, like the ones made by Mountain Laurel, ULA, or Gossamer Gear (with ULA Circuit and Gossamer Gear Mariposa 60 being the best examples).
The shoulder strap pockets, hip belt pockets, and the top lid closure are all removable in order to save extra 70 ounces. There is also a front mesh pocket and a couple of additional pockets that you can use for your water bottle, snacks, and other essentials. The back panel of this pack, on the other hand, is 3D-contoured and keeps the wearer cool and comfortable.
Sea to Summit Hydraulic 35 Lightweight Backpack
The next model on our list is a combination of a regular pack and a classic roll-top dry bag, and there aren’t many packs that successfully combine these two designs. Is this pack a good choice for ultralight hiking enthusiasts?
This pack sports a comfortable frame that is exceptionally easy and quick to remove and reattach. The main body is made out of durable, top-notch materials that easily withstand wear and tear that come with activities like backpacking. Its roll-top closure, on the other hand, features an interlaced lip that allows Hydraulic 35 to survive brief submersion – hence the name.
While not as feature-packed as, for example, the popular Gossamer Gear Mariposa 60 or Mountain Laurel Exodus, Hydraulic 35 comes with enough bells and whistles to justify its price. There’s an easy-carry handle at the top of the pack, well-padded & adjustable back and sternum straps, and a hip belt whose job is to support heavy loads.
The biggest competitor of this pack is the already-mentioned ULA Circuit. While both of these packs work wonderfully when it comes to thru-hiking and similar long-distance backpacking adventures, Hydraulic 35 is a better choice for casual river days and for folks on the budget. However, ULA Circuit has a lower weight and more pockets. If your ultralight backpacking escapades often take you to moist and rainy areas, Sea to Summit Hydraulic 35 is probably your best choice for the money.
Arc’teryx Brize 25 Lightweight Backpack
Here we have a solid little pack made by the industry’s most renowned name – Arc’Teryx, an outdoor clothing and gear manufacturer based in Vancouver, Canada. This model belongs in the category of packs intended for the careful backpacking enthusiasts, as it has limited extra pockets and a pretty narrow profile. With a volume of just 25 liters, this ultralight pack is well-suited to day hikers.
It features carefully arranged pockets for the storage of hiking essentials – from your water bottle to your flashlight. Although it sports a very minimalistic design, Arc’teryx Brize isn’t as “ultralight” as we’d like it to be. With a total weight of 1.99 pounds, it certainly isn’t among the market’s lightest packs. Furthermore, its back panel is made out of molded foam and doesn’t work that well when it comes to ventilation.
However, despite these flaws, Arc’Teryx Brize 25 is still a much better choice for day hikers than most models designed for long-distance hiking, such as Zpacks Arc Blast. Its simplicity is its biggest virtue, and its flexible, minimalistic construction and relatively low weight make it suitable for a number of outdoor activities. The volume of just 25 liters won’t allow you to carry heavier loads, but it’s more than enough for 1 or 2-day backpacking exhibitions.
In conclusion, this ultralight backpack takes a top place among packs intended for short hiking adventures – if you’re a casual hiker, you won’t regret going for it.
Mountainsmith Scream 55 Lightweight Backpack
We’ll end this roundup with just like we started it – with a Mountainsmith pack. Their Scream 55 model is among the market’s best multi-day ultralight backpacks and a product that undoubtedly deserves a closer look.
This brand-new, upgraded version features an augmented frame that increases the maximum weight the pack can handle and allows users to carry heavier loads. The body of this pack is made out of robic nylon – you won’t have to worry about its durability. The packs that are made out of robic nylon are typically very sturdy and easily withstand daily wear and tear.
With a volume of 55 liters and features such as the hydration reservoir sleeve or external attachment points, Mountainsmith Scream 55 deserves its place among packs that are great for thru-hiking. While not as feature-packed (or spacious) as the already-mentioned Gossamer Gear Mariposa, which is probably the market’s most popular lightweight pack, this pack is still a fantastic choice for multi-day hiking.
This is also one of those packs that come with lots of storage options. There are two cylindrical and zippered external pockets, mesh water bottle pockets, an elastic shaft holder, and a single daisy chain. All of these will allow you to pack loads of hiking gear – the model’s volume of 55 liters and the sheer number of storage options turn it into one of the best backpacks for folks who carry a lot of stuff but still want an ultralight pack.
Best Lightweight Backpacks – The Buying Guide
Finding your ideal lightweight pack can be challenging. The goal of our roundup of the market’s best lightweight backpacks was to make the job of sorting through hundreds of available packs a bit easier. The goal of this buying guide, on the other hand, is to show you which features you should keep an eye out for when shopping for a featherlight pack.
Only the most experienced hikers should consider going for one of the frameless packs. If you’re planning to carry more than 20 pounds of gear, your best option would be to get a model that features a lightweight internal frame.
As you probably already know, the frame is what allows a person to carry his gear more comfortably. Its job is to evenly distribute the weight between the wearer’s hips and shoulders. Most of the backpacks in our roundup sport some sort of (lightweight) frame.
Packs that fall into this category never weigh more than 3 pounds. It’s very easy to spot the different designs and styles of packs whose weight exceeds 3 pounds. One such model won’t only have a larger and more intricate frame, but also far more padding.
Extras such as these are only worth it in case you often carry very heavy loads (over 45 pounds). This often applies to backpacking enthusiasts who carry gear for other people, like for their kids.
Otherwise, your load should never exceed 20 – 30 pounds.
Larger packs often drive people toward carrying more stuff than they actually need. Going for one of the smaller packs, on the other hand, forces people to prioritize their item selection and choose gear that is light and compact.
Most ultralight hiking enthusiasts agree that the best backpacks have a carrying capacity of between 40 and 65 liters. After all, that’s one of the reasons why models such as Zpacks Arc Blast or Gossamer Gear Mariposa are so popular. However, we’ve decided to exclude these models from our roundup to make space for alternatives that are just as good but more affordable.
An important thing to mention here is that a lot of manufacturers of hiking backpacks include external pockets in the total volume (carrying capacity) of a particular model. Always keep in mind that you’ll be packing some of your gear on the outside of the pack. See our review of the best budget hiking backpacks under $100.
The best hiking packs of this type are typically made out of either silnylon or cuben fiber (Dyneema composite fabric). Both are great at doing their main job – protecting one’s hiking gear from getting damaged.
Nevertheless, there are some differences between these materials worth noting. Cuben fiber is more waterproof and doesn’t rip as easily. Silnylon, on the other hand, is more UV and abrasion-resistant and significantly more affordable.
We should also mention that some lightweight packs, such as Sea to Summit Hydraulic 35, are made out of waterproof materials. However, we think that serious hikers should never rely entirely on the waterproofing level of their backpacks. Things like clothes and sleeping bags should always be stored in waterproof dry sacks instead.
Almost all backpacks of this type have a main compartment that is accessed through the top opening. Some designs, however, provide users with zippered access from the front.
Most of the ultralight models on our list feature roll-top closures, like the ones you’d find on a standard dry sack. This kind of design isn’t only extremely easy to use, but it also helps with keeping the water at bay.
On models that are slightly heavier, the top opening may be secured via a zipper or a drawstring. In such cases, the backpack’s top part is typically covered by a “brain”, which is a simple flap that acts as a lid and usually features some additional pockets.
Those shopping for a lightweight backpack should avoid side-loaders – additional zippers add extra weight. Keep things simple and get yourself a top-loader.
Best Lightweight Backpacks – The Verdict
All of the lightweight backpacks we’ve analyzed above are good in their own ways. They are light enough to make every outdoor adventure easier on the body while still providing their users with most of the features found on larger models.
However, one of these packs managed to stand out as the market’s best offering, and its name is Hyperlite Mountain Gear 3400 Windrider. While not flawless, this model has everything that an ultralight backpack needs to have – and more. Besides the fact that it’s waterproof, durable, and very spacious, Windrider is also the sleekest-looking product of this type money can buy today. It’s a worthwhile investment in every sense of the term and one you certainly won’t regret making.
I love hiking. From the Camino de Santiago to the West Highland Way in Scotland or simply a great day hike on the weekend. Hiking refreshes me, my mind, and keeps my body reasonably fit. So far I have walked three Camino routes and many other long distance hikes in the UK, Canada, and around the rest of Europe. One of the best was my hike up Ben Nevis.