The 7 Best Ultralight Backpacks for Trekking
When setting out on a long trek or thru-hike, the importance of a lightweight and practical backpack cannot be overstated. With each step, the load on your back becomes a critical consideration. Ultralight backpacks offer the perfect solution, minimizing weight while maximizing functionality and endurance.
In this guide, we’ve carefully curated a selection of backpacks that combine lightweight design with robust construction, providing adventurers with the means to conquer challenging landscapes without the weighty burden.
Whether you’re an experienced thru-hiker or a newcomer to long-distance trekking, this comprehensive list will help you select the perfect ultralight backpack for your upcoming journey.
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Through extensive use and testing, the Gossamer Gear Kumo earned its title as the best overall ultralight backpack with a compelling blend of affordability, comfort, and functionality. Offering an impressive 36L capacity, it caters to the needs of both thru-hikers and weekend warriors.
The Kumo’s lightweight yet robust design ensures it can withstand the rigors of challenging terrain, while its comfortable carry provides the essential support for extended journeys. At its price point, it surpasses the competition, making it the go-to choice for trekkers and thru-hikers seeking a reliable, cost-effective, and versatile pack for their ultralight adventures.
The Hyperlite Mountain Gear Unbound stands as the pinnacle of ultralight backpacking, delivering unparalleled performance that justifies the investment. From my firsthand experience, this pack has consistently outperformed any other ultralight option, making it the ideal choice for those who are serious about optimizing their gear.
The Unbound’s unparalleled performance on the trail and meticulous craftsmanship, prove that sometimes, quality is worth every penny.
The Six Moon Designs Swift X is a standout choice for ultralight backpackers who prioritize comfort while tackling extended hikes. One of the key reasons it excels in this department is its innovative suspension system, which ensures that the load is distributed evenly, reducing the strain on your body during long treks.
Additionally, the Swift X boasts a plethora of well-thought-out features that were designed to cater to the needs of hikers carrying moderate to heavier loads on their adventures.
The Outdoor Vitals Shadowlight stands out as a budget-friendly ultralight backpack that combines lightweight design with a full tubular aluminum frame for added support and comfort. This feature sets it apart from many other affordable packs, as the frame not only helps distribute the weight evenly but also maintains the integrity of the bag’s shape during extended treks.
With a spacious 65-liter capacity, the Shadowlight offers ample room for your gear without compromising on comfort or durability, making it a great choice for backpackers looking to explore the outdoors without breaking the bank.
The Gossamer Gear Mariposa is a solid option for hikers who are transitioning from heavier, traditional backpacks to an ultralight one, as it has numerous pockets that facilitate efficient organization. The pack strikes a balance between ultralight design and the need for ample storage space, allowing hikers to carry their essentials while shedding unnecessary weight.
With a frame to support your load, the Mariposa offers enhanced comfort, making it an excellent choice for those making the shift towards a more lightweight backpacking experience without compromising on storage or comfort.
The Hyperlite Mountain Gear Prism stands as a dependable winter-climbing pack that places practicality above all else. Perfect for ice and alpine climbing, it prioritizes functionality over frills, making it an alpine workhorse that meets the rigorous demands of cold-weather adventures.
This Prism’s ultralight design doesn’t compromise on durability, and it’s designed to withstand the harsh conditions and rigorous use that winter climbers face. From our experience, this pack will offer the reliability you need to tackle challenging alpine ascents.
The Mountainsmith Zerk excels as the best ultralight backpack for efficiency, boasting a plethora of easily accessible pockets and running vest-inspired straps. Designed with a focus on quick and convenient access, this backpack offers eight pockets that can be effortlessly reached while wearing it, ensuring that essential gear or accessories are always at your fingertips.
Not only does the Zerk provide top-tier usability, but it also does so without breaking the bank, making it a budget-friendly option for those who value accessibility in an ultralight backpack.
Ultralight backpacks can be worth it depending on your specific needs and preferences as a hiker or backpacker. These backpacks are designed to be exceptionally lightweight, making them a popular choice for thru-hikers, minimalist trekkers, and those who prioritize reducing the overall weight of their gear. The benefits of ultralight backpacks include reduced physical strain during long hikes, greater maneuverability, and faster travel times.
However, the decision to invest in an ultralight backpack depends on your individual hiking style, the type of terrain you plan to traverse, and your budget. If you prioritize comfort over saving every possible ounce of weight, or if you frequently carry bulky or heavy gear, a standard backpack with more features and cushioning might be a better choice. Ultimately, the value of an ultralight backpack comes down to your specific outdoor activities and personal preferences, so consider your needs carefully before making a decision.
Choosing the best ultralight backpack for your needs involves careful consideration of various factors and gear nerd details. Here’s a comprehensive guide to help you make an informed decision:
Base Weight: Your base weight is the weight of your backpacking gear, not including consumables like food, water, and fuel. Ultralight backpacks are designed for those with a low base weight (usually around 10 or less). Before shopping for a backpack, assess and reduce your base weight by selecting lightweight and compact gear. This will help you choose an appropriately sized backpack.
Backpack Capacity: Consider the length and type of your trips. For shorter trips, you can opt for smaller capacities (30-50 liters), while longer hikes may require larger capacities (50-70 liters). Make sure the backpack has enough room to accommodate your base gear, seasonal equipment, and the specific demands of your trips.
Backpack Weight: Ultralight backpacks are known for their minimal weight. Check the actual weight of the backpack before purchasing. Look for packs made with lightweight materials like Dyneema or Robic nylon. A good ultralight backpack typically weighs between 1 to 2 pounds.
Frame Type: Ultralight backpacks come in various frame types, including frameless, internal frame, and removable frame. Frameless packs are the lightest but offer minimal support and are best for those with very light loads. Internal frames provide better support and are suitable for moderate loads, while removable frames allow you to customize support.
Fit & Comfort: A comfortable fit is crucial for long-distance hiking. Look for backpacks with adjustable shoulder straps, hip belts, and sternum straps. Check if the manufacturer offers different sizes for a better fit. Ensure the padding and design of the backpack’s straps and hip belt are comfortable for your body type.
Access Points: Determine whether you prefer top-loading, front-panel access, or roll-top closures. Front-panel access can be more convenient for finding and accessing items in your backpack.
Pockets & Compartments: Consider your organizational preferences. Look for a backpack with enough external pockets and compartments for storing and accessing essentials. Some ultralight packs have minimal pockets to save weight, while others offer more organization options.
Durability: Ultralight backpacks are often made from thinner materials to save weight. Ensure that the material is durable enough for your intended use, and be prepared to handle your gear with care to prevent excessive wear and tear.
Water Resistance: Most ultralight backpacks are not fully waterproof. You may need to use a pack liner or a rain cover to protect your gear in wet conditions. Check if the backpack has a water-resistant coating or if the manufacturer offers a rain cover.
Load Capacity: Most ultralight backpacks are designed for loads of 20-30 pounds or less. Ensure the backpack can comfortably carry your gear while staying within this range.
Customization: Some ultralight backpacks offer customization options. You can often choose the color, frame type, and other features to fit your preferences.
Cost: Ultralight backpacks can range from affordable to premium. Consider your budget and prioritize features and weight savings accordingly.
By carefully assessing your needs and taking these gear nerd details into account, you can choose the best ultralight backpack for your specific hiking style and preferences. Remember that the ideal backpack may vary from person to person, so don’t hesitate to seek advice from fellow backpackers or gear specialists.
A good base weight for ultralight backpacking is typically considered to be around 10 pounds (4.5 kilograms), excluding consumables like food, water, and fuel. Base weight refers to the total weight of your gear and equipment, including your backpack, shelter, sleeping system, clothing, and any other items you’ll carry, but excluding items that can vary depending on the length of your trip.
In ultralight backpacking, the focus is on minimizing the weight of each piece of gear to make your overall pack as lightweight as possible. Achieving a base weight in this range allows for a more comfortable and efficient hiking experience, as you’ll carry less weight on your back. Keep in mind that specific gear choices can significantly impact your base weight, and it’s essential to balance the reduction of weight with your personal comfort, safety, and the environmental conditions of your trip.
Remember that a base weight of 10 pounds is a guideline, and your ideal base weight may vary depending on your hiking style, the weather, the length of your trip, and your own personal preferences.
Ultralight backpacks, known for their minimalistic design and lightweight construction, offer several advantages and disadvantages:
Reduced Pack Weight: The primary advantage of ultralight backpacks is, as the name suggests, their lightweight design. This significantly reduces the overall pack weight, making hiking and backpacking more comfortable and less strenuous.
Increased Mobility: Lighter backpacks allow for more effortless and faster movement on the trail. You’ll experience less fatigue and be able to cover longer distances more comfortably.
Enhanced Comfort: Carrying less weight on your back can reduce the strain on your body, making your hiking experience more enjoyable and comfortable, especially during extended trips.
Greater Agility: The streamlined design of ultralight backpacks often provides better balance and agility, which can be beneficial for activities like trail running or fastpacking.
Versatility: Ultralight backpacks are typically designed with simplicity and versatility in mind, allowing you to adapt them to various outdoor activities, from day hikes to thru-hikes.
Limited Load Capacity: Ultralight backpacks are not ideal for carrying heavy or bulky gear. Their reduced load capacity means you must carefully select and prioritize your gear.
Less Durability: To save weight, ultralight backpacks often use thinner materials, which can be less durable than heavier, more rugged packs. This may result in a shorter lifespan for your backpack.
Limited Features: Ultralight backpacks usually have fewer pockets, compartments, and features compared to traditional backpacks. This can be a disadvantage if you prefer more organizational options.
Higher Cost: High-quality ultralight backpacks can be more expensive due to their advanced materials and construction techniques.
Learning Curve: Transitioning to an ultralight backpacking setup requires careful gear selection and a willingness to adapt to a simpler approach. It may take time to adjust to the reduced number of items you carry.
Ultimately, the choice between an ultralight backpack and a traditional backpack depends on your personal preferences, the nature of your outdoor activities, and your comfort level with lighter gear and fewer features. Some hikers prefer the freedom and comfort of ultralight backpacks, while others may find traditional packs more suitable for their needs.
Selecting the right size ultralight backpack is crucial for a comfortable and efficient hiking experience. The size you need depends on factors like trip length, personal preferences, and whether you’re a minimalist or new to ultralight hiking. Below is a breakdown of liter ranges to consider:
Weekend Trips (35-50 Liters): For weekend trips, opt for packs in the 35-50 liter range. They offer enough space for lightweight gear, a compact shelter, a sleeping bag, and a few days’ worth of food. New ultralight hikers can comfortably manage with these sizes, especially in warm weather.
Thru-Hiking (50-60 Liters): If you plan to embark on longer thru-hikes that require more gear or have variable weather conditions, consider backpacks in the 50-60 liter range. They can accommodate a complete set of gear, including extra clothing, a larger shelter, a bear canister, and a week or more of food.
Minimalist Thru-Hiking (35-50 Liters): Some experienced ultralight hikers prefer to stick with smaller packs even on thru-hikes. This forces them to further reduce their gear and only carry the essentials. It’s a great way to minimize weight and keep things simple.
Specialized Gear (Varies): Consider your pack size based on any specialized gear you carry. For example, if you’re a photographer with camera equipment, you might need a slightly larger pack to accommodate your gear.
Ultimately, the right size will depend on your specific needs and preferences. It’s advisable to carefully plan your gear, test it out on shorter trips, and make adjustments as needed. Keep in mind that as you gain more experience with ultralight hiking, you might find that you can comfortably downsize your pack. Whether you prefer to keep it minimalist or have a bit more comfort and convenience, there’s an ultralight backpack size that’s just right for you.
Whether or not you need a hip belt for an ultralight backpack depends on various factors, including your load weight, your personal comfort preferences, and the design of the backpack. Here are some considerations:
Load Weight: Ultralight backpacks are generally designed for carrying lighter loads. If your base weight (all gear excluding consumables like food and water) is relatively low, you might not require a substantial hip belt for weight distribution. In such cases, a minimal or removable hip belt could be sufficient.
Comfort Preferences: Some hikers and backpackers prefer having a hip belt for added stability and weight transfer, even with lighter loads. A hip belt can help prevent the backpack from bouncing or swaying as you move, which can enhance your overall comfort and balance on the trail.
Backpack Design: The design of the ultralight backpack plays a crucial role. Some ultralight backpacks come with padded hip belts or removable options, while others forgo hip belts entirely. It’s important to consider the specific design and features of the backpack you’re interested in.
Terrain and Activity: The terrain and type of activity you engage in may also influence your choice. If you’re hiking on uneven or challenging terrain, having a hip belt can help maintain balance. For trail running or activities requiring more agility, a minimal or no hip belt might be preferable.
In summary, there is no one-size-fits-all answer. Assess your individual needs, considering load weight, personal comfort preferences, and the characteristics of your chosen backpack.