If you’re a seasoned trekker, I’m sure you’ve had your share of aches, pains, and “holy crap I’m dying” moments while hauling your jumbo hiking backpack into the woods. Today, we’ll look at how you can ditch those pains with an ultralight backpack.
Back in the day, ultralight backpacking simply meant “toss a tarp and some hardy snacks in a bag and get ‘er done.” That’s no longer the case because ultralight backpacks allow you to carry your creature comforts to remote locations — without going full Bear Grylls.
So how do you find the best pack for your trail-traversing tendencies? Of course, the most important factor is weight, but other considerations include capacity, comfort, and durability. Let’s break it all down so you can climb some mountains without breaking your back.
Ultralight vs. traditional
Traditional hiking backpacks usually come with a full frame (external or internal), multiple compartments, and lots of pockets, zippers, padding, and heavy fabrics. It can be difficult to lighten your load with traditional packs since they already weigh several pounds while empty. Plus, all the extra pockets and compartments make it easier to overpack.
Ultralight backpacks only include features with an intentional purpose. Though these backpacks cut down on zippers, straps, and compartments, what you’re left with will serve you much better on the trail. That’s why ultralight packs weigh around two pounds or less, but still stand up against long journeys. They’re constructed from modern laminate fabrics, like Dyneema and Tyvek, that offer the durability of heavier fabrics without adding weight.
You’ll find ultralight backpacks are full of thoughtful features catered to adventurers, and still provide extreme durability and comfort. Just keep this in mind: most ultralight backpacks perform best with a maximum load of 35 pounds or less.
Input may receive a portion of sales if you purchase a product through a link in this article. We only include products that have been independently selected by Input's editorial team.
The Gossamer Gear Mariposa is a 60L pack that can handle carrying loads up to 35 pounds and is made with lightweight and durable 200D Robic Nylon. The seven total pockets are wide and deep, with double-decker pockets lining either side. Load lifters allow for weight to be transferred off your shoulders, and a bonus “sit pad” slides into the back panel for added cushioning on your lumbar. The Mariposa is beloved by many ultralight hikers and is great for beginners.
The HMG 3400 Porter 55 is a roll-top closure pack that creates a solid seal for waterproofing and has a Y-strap to hold everything in place. The roll-top can be extended for extra space or rolled tightly for more compression. It comes with a large mesh pocket on the rear and two large solid-fabric pockets on the side. All internal seams are bonded with waterproofing tape, for advanced durability and waterproofing. The removable frame can save you an ounce and a half if you’re strict on weight.
Granite Gear’s Virga 2 is a frameless pack designed for week-long adventures, but it performs best with loads under 20 pounds. This is a minimalist’s dream design and works well for hardcore ultralight trekkers. The internal compression system keeps your gear in place without cutting off access to external pockets and the fold-down closure protects from the rain. It comes in three different sizes.
One of the most spacious packs on this list, the ULA OHM 2.0 carries up to 30 pounds inside its 63L compartment, but still weighs in at just two pounds. The internal aluminum “suspension hoop” adds structure, while an internal pad holster can hold a closed-cell sleeping mat for extra cushioning on your back. This pack fits a bear canister inside with space to spare — ideal for hikers with bulkier gear.
With a weight of just 1.5 pounds, the Z-Packs Arc Blast is one of the lightest framed backpacks available. The concave back and mesh "trampoline" padding keeps you cool and comfortable while carrying loads up to 25 pounds. Adjustable shoulder straps, interchangeable hip belts, and other modular add-ons make this a versatile option that can stand up against harsh weather and long distances.
The Atom+ from Atom Packs offers a sleek minimalist style along with all the features you’d expect from a solid hiking pack. Built to carry up to 30lbs with an internal compartment of 35L, this bag also has large side pockets for an extra 5L of storage. A removable hip belt can be positioned in just the right spot to keep weight off your back, while a 5mm closed cell foam back panel provides cushioning. For style-minded hikers, this bag is completely customizable down to the colors, sizing, and modular features.
For such a light and comfortable backpack, it’s impressive the Gossamer Gear Gorilla can carry so much. This 40L pack does an excellent job of transferring weight through the hip belts and its cushy shoulder straps can carry 30 pounds of gear. The large front pocket is exceptionally stretchy and great for storing important items in an easy-to-reach place. Both the frame and hip belt are removable allowing for even lighter loads when you need it.
The Mountainsmith Zerk 40 was co-designed by an ultra-runner, and it shows. This 40L bag has many unique features, including running vest-style shoulder straps with built-in mesh pockets for holding snacks and water. Since it’s made to be light and compact, do not expect to load more than 20 pounds in this pack. This backpack is great for agile hikers on the trail. Bonus points for being made from 210 D Extreema Nylon sourced from recycled materials.
The ULA CDT is a great budget ultralight backpack option. The CDT provides a lot of value and volume, with the ability to hold 54L of gear. Because this is a frameless pack, it is best for loads around 20 pounds or less. It's made from 400D RipStop Nylon so you don't have to worry about it tearing easily. The straps and hip belt are comfortable and good for wear during long distances.
The Waymark Thru 40L is a simple and light hiking bag with a removable frame. The Thru 40L is made of a VX-21 heavy duty material with a Y-strap closure on the top. Though this is a roll-top design, thanks to the Y-strap you can still carry extra items (like a sleeping mat) on top. The three-point side compression straps can be used to cinch your bag smaller, or carry your trekking poles; it's an excellent option for trips ranging 2-4 days.