Recommended Lightweight Backpacks

recommended lightweight backpacks

The Hyperlite Mountain Gear 2400 Southwest Pack on the rugged terrain of the GR20 in Corsica. This pack is a favorite and a Backpacker Magazine award winner for “Best UltraLight Pack.”

Recommended Lightweight Backpacks

Do-it-all Packs for most trips up to a week (or longer)
These Recommended Lightweight Backpacks are your first choice if you want one light pack to work for all your trips. These packs will carry gear and food for trips up to 7 days or more—yet at around 2 pounds they are not too heavy to use for a long weekend on the Appalachian Trail. They have an internal frame to support heavier loads and will accommodate a bunch of gear and/or a bear canister.

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HMG Southwest 2400. Light, rugged & versatile. Can be dragged across rock. Virtually waterproof.

Hyperlite Mountain Gear Packs: HMG makes very light, functional and extremely durable packs. The 3400 Southwest Pack will work for most trips, even those requiring a bear canister. The 2400 Southwest Pack is a personal favorite and a Backpacker Magazine award winner for “Best UltraLight Pack.” For longer trips it’s great for those with a more compact kit. Its slim profile gives great balance for scrambling. HMG packs have stiff frames, capable of supporting heavy loads. HMG packs are Cuben Fiber which is light, waterproof and extremely durable. Seam taping and a roll-top closure make these packs virtually waterproof! 

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The Ohm 2.0 Pack: Slogging up the Mountaineer’s Route on Mt. Whitney carrying a bear canister and 7 days worth of food in a ULA Ohm 2.0 pack. Its slim profile gives great balance for scrambling and its durable construction is up to the abuse of climbing Sierra granite. In this case it allowed us to climb over the summit of Whitney mid-trip on the Southern Sierra High Route.

ULA Equipment Packs: ULA packs are a great value. They have much of the performance of HMG packs but cost less.  The Circuit Pack will work for most trips, even those requiring a bear canister. The Ohm 2.0 Pack is great for those with a more compact kit and/or shorter trips (although I carried gear and food for 7 days on the Southern Sierra High Route including a bear canister). Its slim profile gives great balance for scrambling. ULA packs are Robic fabric which is light and reasonably durable but inexpensive, keeping pack prices down.

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Z-packs Arc Pack: What sets it apart is the load carrying capacity of its external carbon fiber frame.

Z-packs Arc Packs: If you hike mostly on trails, this might be the pack for you. What sets it apart is the load carrying capacity of its external frame. Z-packs does a modern, lightweight carbon fiber reinvention of the external frame backpacks of the 70’s and 80’s. Make no mistake, nothing transfers load to your hips like an external frame pack. Their Flexed Arc carbon fiber frame creates an air gap against your back, reducing that sweaty back feeling. The external frame has some considerations for off trail use. It doesn’t move with your torso as much as an internal frame pack when scrambling on rough terrain. And if you need to haul or lower your pack the external frame is exposed. It could catch on things and/or be damaged [but guessing that the majority of readers don’t haul their packs on rock]. The are Arc Haul uses more economical Dyneema fabric. The Arc Blast uses, lighter but expensive Cuben Fiber.

Gossamer Gear Mariposa 60 Pack: A great trail pack with a lot of volume! While not quite as durable for scrambling/bushwhacking as the HMG and ULA packs, the Mariposa is under two pounds and has a bunch of features and creature comforts, like a top lid with a pocket that many trail hikers will appreciate.

Osprey Exos 58 Pack: The main advantage of the Exos 58 is off the shelf availability form major retailers like REI (the rest of the packs on this page are not). At 2.7 pounds the Exos 58 is almost a pound heavier than other packs on this page but has features like a breathable, tensioned-mesh back panel frame and a top lid with a pocket that some trail hikers may appreciate.


Recommended Lightweight Backpacks for shorter trips (e.g. a long-weekend)

recommended lightweight backpacks

A light and compact pack is a huge advantage when navigating over difficult terrain. Alison descending after the crux of the GR20 with her 1 pound MLD Exodus Backpack

These packs are a great choice for a “long-weekend trip*,” typically 3 days and 2 nights. Their main advantage is that they weigh 10-18 oz, or 1/3 to 1/2 the weight of the Do-it-all Packs. In general, these packs are suited to carrying loads of 10 to 18 pounds. As such, many do not have a frame and/or may have less capacity than the Do-it-all Packs. But some backpackers with a trim gear kit may be able to use these packs for longer tips. *Note: 90% of backpackers take 90% their trips for 3 days or or less.

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Mountain Laurel Designs Exodus In Dyneema Fabric

Mountain Laurel Designs Packs: The MLD Exodus Pack is a darling of the AT and a Backpacker Magazine award winner for “Best UltraLight Pack.” At just over a pound, it has the same volume of the Do-it-all Packs but saves weight by not having a frame. With light but durable Dyneema X fabric, it’s surprisingly strong, light and resistant to abuse. The 0.8 pound Burn Pack at 38 liters is a smaller and lighter version of the Exodus and is suitable for backpackers with a trimmer gear kit and/or lighter load.

Note: Mountain Laurel Designs is now offering their Burn, Prophet, and Exodus packs in Cuben Fiber. the Cuben Fiber is inherently near-waterproof. When you combine this with a Cuben stuff sacks for your down sleeping bag and jacket, you can pretty much not worry about rain. That means less time dealing with putting on a pack rain cover (they don’t work anyway) or dealing with putting everything in a waterproof pack liner.

 

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MLD Burn Pack in Cuben Fiber

Hyperlite Mountain Gear 2400 WindRider Pack: The 1.7 pound 2400 WindRider Pack is another winner of Backpacker Magazine’s “Best UltraLight Pack.” This pack is a hybrid between theDo-it-all Packs and Short trip packs. It has a bomber frame to support heavy loads but for many backpackers its 40 liter volume is more appropriate for shorter trips. It’s virtually waterproof and will handle a ton of abuse.

ULA Equipment CDT Pack: At 1.5 pounds and frameless, the CDT is ULA’s lightest and most basic pack. Like the MLD Exodus, its volume (54 liters) is similar to the Do-it-all packs, only the lack of a frame relegates it to shorter trips for many (but not all) backpackers.

Zpacks: At around 1.5 pounds the Arc Haul and the Arc Blast from Z-packs, would be a good choice for trail hiking. Especially those with sensitive shoulders that want to transfer the maximum weight to the hip belt.

Gossamer Gear Packs: Heather ‘Anish’ Anderson used the The Gorilla 40 Ultralight Pack to set the speed record for the Appalachian Trail. At 1.6 pounds, the Gorilla is a hybrid between the Do-it-all Packs and Short trip packs. It has a frame to support heaver loads but its 40 liter volume is more appropriate for shorter trips. The 1.1 pound Kumo Superlight and 0.6  Murmur Hyperlight are frameless 36 liter packs suitable for backpackers with a trimmer gear kit and/or lighter load. Unique to the Gossamer Gear Packs is an external and easily removable foam back-pad. This adds a bit of structure to the frameless packs and can be used as a sit pad for breaks and in camp, and/or to put under your feet at night if you use a shorter sleeping pad.

Osprey Exos 38 Pack: The main advantage of the Exos 38 is off the shelf availability from major retailers like REI (the rest of the packs on this page are not). At 2.2 pounds the Exos 38 is over twice the weight of most packs on this page but has features like a breathable, tensioned-mesh back panel frame and a top lid with a pocket that some trail hikers may appreciate.

By | 2016-05-19T18:06:35+00:00 November 16th, 2015|Backpacks, Beginners, Recommended Gear|30 Comments

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30 Comments

  1. Rob November 26, 2015 at 11:39 pm - Reply

    No mention of Zpacks?

    • Alan Dixon November 27, 2015 at 2:42 am - Reply

      Good point Rob. Not forgotten. An Arc Blast is on its way to me this week to test/evaluate. Stay tuned. -Alan

    • Alan Dixon December 15, 2015 at 7:04 pm - Reply

      Added Arc Blast and Haul to the list.

    • umanfly August 7, 2016 at 5:03 am - Reply

      Zpacks: At around 1.5 pounds the Arc Haul and the Arc Blast from Z-packs, would be a good choice for trail hiking. Especially those with sensitive shoulders that want to transfer the maximum weight to the hip belt.. Its in the middle of the paragraph .

  2. John Callahan November 28, 2015 at 5:32 pm - Reply

    Alan – I would be interested in your thoughts on a good winter pack for the Adirondacks, White Mountains, and Mount Rainier. I used an older version of the GG Mariposa last winter in ADK’s but it was not ideal. I was looking at HMG Porter and CiloGear 45L Worksack (expands to 70L).
    Thank you.

    • Alan Dixon November 29, 2015 at 7:16 pm - Reply

      Sorry for the late reply John. Was out doing a section hike of the AT with Alison.
      As to the packs. A Hyperlite Mountain Gear Pack would be a great choice. I like the waterproof main bag, and the super durable Cuben Fiber with minimal panels and seams. [The CliloGear is twice the weight has many more panels on the main bag.]

      Which Hyperlite Mountain Gear Pack would be based on the expected volume of your load. The 3400 porter would be fine and give you plenty of room for gear. My preference is always for pockets so I would probably go with the 3400 southwest, but that’s just me. I know many purist climbers abhor external pockets. All the best this winter in the ADKs.

  3. Micah December 4, 2015 at 10:52 pm - Reply

    Alan,
    I am torn between the MLD Exodus, the ULA Ohm 2.0 and the Exos 48. What is your take on a bag that could allow me to carry up to 30lbs if I wanted to do an overnighter with the wife and carry a heavier load and still have the ability to reduce that by 10lbs when solo section-hiking the AT? Thanks for a great website as well.

    • Alan Dixon December 5, 2015 at 2:10 pm - Reply

      The Ohm is probably the best all-rounder of the group. Unless you have shoulders of iron, I think you’d be unhappy with 30 pounds in the Exodus. The Ohm is almost 3/4 a pound lighter than the Exos, so it would be a better choice for the AT when not carrying extra weigh for others. The only consideration is if you hike in very warm weather and sweat a lot. In that case the Exos with it’s ventilated back panel bears consideration–altho nothing will keep you back completely dry in those conditions. [This consideration is personal taste. I carried the HMG 2400 for 8 days on Corsica in the middle of a record breaking heatwave. It has a completely flat and waterproof back panel. For me it was fine. IMO a sweaty back is not a big deal. But some feel otherwise.] Hope this helps, -a

  4. Jason January 8, 2016 at 7:41 pm - Reply

    Hello there,
    My name is jason and I have a question. First off I’m a faily large guy being around 280lbs but that doesn’t mean I can’t hike all day non stop cause I can. I am having some trouble finding a backpack that fits larger people and still staying light. Furthermore I will be doing multi day hikes with my family so I want to stay around the 60L size so I can help carry the younger kids stuff but all around I wanna plan for around 40ish pounds total pack weight.
    P.s I love the new upgrade to the site and I enjoy reading all the stuff you put on here thanks for being such an invaluable resource

    • Alan Dixon January 8, 2016 at 7:51 pm - Reply

      Jason thanks for your kind comments about the site. And you know from reading here, that UL is a great option for somebody to shoulder a bit of weight for younger kids. My motto was everybody gets to have fun, including dad (which is another way of saying it isn’t fun for day if the total load is too much!). UL allows you to carry extra but still not have that load crush you!

      I am almost certain that ULA can do custom work to get a pack that fits you (if their largest standard option doesn’t suit), but give them a call to make sure. And it is also possible that HMG will custom make a custom pack as well.

      Have fun backpacking with the kids, -a

  5. Dee April 11, 2016 at 3:51 am - Reply

    Your site looks great…hadn’t checked it out in a long time. 🙂 Wondering if you have any experience with packs that would carry ok with out using the hipbelt. My hubbie has a physical issue that came up that does not allow him to use a hipbelt….
    Thanks, Dee

    • Alan Dixon April 11, 2016 at 8:17 pm - Reply

      Dee, for no hipbelt backpacking 1) try to get pack weight as low as possible, and 2) look for beltless packs (or packs with removable hip-belts like a Gossamer Gear Gorilla 40 or ULA Ohm –you can remove the belt from either pack) that have wide and fairly firm shoulder straps. In the day my son and I used routinely carry 20 pounds or more in the belt-less GoLite Breeze pack. You other option is to do a DIY rucksack. I have a very nice one I made with super wide shoulder straps that weighs only 8 oz. I still use it. Hope this helps, -alan

  6. Debbie April 25, 2016 at 5:25 am - Reply

    Alan, which of these packs do you recommend for a small woman, 5’1″, 107 pounds? I usually carry around 20 pounds and sometimes up to 26 lbs in a Gossamer Gear mariposa on longer trips.
    thanks, Debbie

    • Alan Dixon April 25, 2016 at 10:42 pm - Reply

      Debbie,
      A few Q’s will better help me to assist you. Are your trips mostly on trail? What size are you in a Mariposa? Is it the right volume (or a bit too large or too small for you)?. Do you need to carry a bear canister? What do you like about the Mariposa and what would are you hoping to get with a different pack? -alan

  7. Cheri November 14, 2016 at 9:24 pm - Reply

    Our daughter will be hiking with me for about 6 days on the AT with a resupply at 3 days. She is a beginner backpacker. I anticipate her base weight will be 13 pounds. The bulkiest item she will have is the 20 degree EE Revelation, short, regular width and she will be carrying the Zpacks Duplex tent. She has been measured once for torso at 15″. I have asked her to get remeasured at 2 other outfitters so we can make sure the measurement is accurate. Which packs would you recommend for that torso length? From what I can tell the Exos 48 does not come in that short of a torso. I don’t want to spend the money for a Zpacks or HMG (the pack I use) since this will be her first time out and she may not like it.

    • Alan Dixon November 15, 2016 at 1:01 am - Reply

      Cheri, good Q. I am in the field now. Will get back to you soon. Best, -alan

    • Alan Dixon November 15, 2016 at 11:53 pm - Reply

      Cheri, that’s really tough one that has no exact answer, other than try it and see. My wife is 5’3″ with 16″ torso. She can generally get by with Medium pack. E.g. my wife is currently using a Z-Packs Arc Blast size medium 18-22 inch torso. It works fine for her 16″ torso on the lower end of it’s adjustment range. Thus in a similar way, the small Exos might fit your daughter when on the lower end of its adjustment range.

      Get at REI? Gently trying it out (maybe on a day hike) with tags attached so you can return in resellable conditon? might be a good way to suss out more about its fit. Hope this helps. -a

  8. Steve November 25, 2016 at 2:07 am - Reply

    Hello Alan, I have been following you site for awhile and appreciate your work. I have been a casual backpacker and have been started adding lightweight equipment this year. I am looking to upgrade my backpack. I do all my hiking on trails in the northeast. I am 5’8″ 175 pounds. When I am solo I can carry about 20 pounds, but when I take my children I will carry more like 35-40 pounds. I always liked the way external frames carry. I was considering the HMG southwest or windrider 3400; the z pack arc haul or osprey exos 58. Any advice on which light weight pack would also handle the heavier loads?

    • Alan Dixon November 25, 2016 at 3:33 am - Reply

      Steve, no right answer on this one. Every body has a different tolerance for weight on shoulders & hips. For the 20 lb weight range I would suggest the HMG or ZP. The ZP is a good trail pack and will disribute more weight to your hips. The HMG is a tougher pack and more suited to off trail use and will be more durable over time.

      The 40 lb weight range is going to be challenging for any of these packs. It’s just not fun to carry that much weight. That being said I think the HMG 3400 or the Exos 58 would be good to try. The HMG does have the advantage of being almost waterproof which is nice in the northeast. Hope you have a great time out with your kids. -a

  9. Steve November 26, 2016 at 2:15 am - Reply

    Thanks Alan I appreciate your feedback. I think to it will be between the HMG and Exos I agree 40 pounds is not fun to carry, but I have considered it worth it to get the children out there. I will continue to use your site to decrease the weight. I have invested in some of your recommendations–quilts, Neoair sleeping pads, and a Cuben shelter–but I need to stop spending for awhile. I see how easy it is to get caught up in the gear addiction! With these changes I hope to keep the weight down to about 30 pounds but 2 children age 11 and 9 do not carry much! Thanks again.

  10. Scott January 6, 2017 at 7:09 am - Reply

    Thanks for all of your hard work and great information on the site! I’m curious if you have ever tried Osprey’s Talon Series, I find them to personally be slightly better options than the Exos series. They’re slightly lighter than the Exos, and have frame “sheets” instead of the small, medium, and large sizes of the Exos series. The difference in being able to adjust to just the right size makes load carry way better than the Exos (for me). I two night / three day with a Talon 22, and five night / six day with a Talon 33. Granted, this is with a 9 pound base weight, to which the credit goes in no small part to the info gained on your site.

    • Alan Dixon January 6, 2017 at 1:54 pm - Reply

      Scott, I have not used a Talon Series pack. But based on your comments may need to investigate. And nice job on the 9-lb BPW. Happy trekking, -a

  11. Adam Leach February 24, 2017 at 4:02 pm - Reply

    Alan, I was considering getting the 3400 southwest instead of the 2400 to give myself the versatility to go on longer trips. Is this a good idea, or would you recommend another pack at that size? Thank you!

    • Alan Dixon February 24, 2017 at 4:06 pm - Reply

      Hi Adam,
      I think the 3400 would be a good choice. It’s a more versatile all-round pack since it can more easily accommodate a bear canister and some extra gear. Unless you are disciplined about minimizing the volume of gear and food, you might find the 2400 it bit tight on longer trips. Best, -alan

  12. Sean M Scott March 1, 2017 at 5:20 pm - Reply

    Heading out for my first two week, high adventure trip this summer with my Scout troop. We are going to Philmont in NM. Finding the right pack for this type of terrain and this length of time is overwhelming. Can you give me your thoughts/basic “low down” on the packs I should consider, and why?

    Thanks,
    Sean

    • Alan Dixon March 1, 2017 at 6:13 pm - Reply

      Hi Sean, Philmont is indeed and adventure! Picking the right pack is a decision dependent on a number of factors. Knowing your hiking style, goals, needs, and especially your concerns might help me narrow things down a bit and better assist you. Best, -alan

  13. Brandon June 24, 2017 at 2:53 am - Reply

    Alan, on your custom Ohm 2.0 can you tell me a little more about the fabric front pocket. Is it pleated (with elastic at the top) to provide a little more space or is it basically just a flat piece of fabric? I am curious if it provides any extra storage like the mesh pocket or if the storage works back into the main pack body. Also, is the pack 100% robic and still only at 32oz stripped of all the extras? Thanks!

    • Alan Dixon June 25, 2017 at 12:54 pm - Reply

      Brandon, my all Robic Ohm 2.0 weighs 30.5 oz. The “front” pocket is cut with some extra room but is not pleated. It is gathered with elastic cord at the top. It has good capacity and has worked for my needs. It expands outward from the main pocket so does not rob the main pocket of room. I am guessing that it has slightly less ultimate capacity than the mesh pocket when it is fully expanded. But again it has enough capacity for my needs. And unlike mesh, it is still 100% undamaged after much use.) Best, -alan

  14. Michelle July 1, 2017 at 6:57 pm - Reply

    Alan, first of all your website is filled with priceless information, planning a hiking trip to Patagonia in November/December and was having difficulties finding the logistical information, thank you so much for doing this. Your information has been extremely helpful especially for planning the Torres Del Paine W trek.
    My question is in regards to backpacks, my husband and I are in the process of upgrading our 20 year old (HEAVY) gear. Looking at backpacks…some of the reviews I read on the ULA Ohm 2.0 and what was also on their website did not recommend traveling with this pack due to the frame not being as sturdy and prone to breakage. Did you and your wife check your luggage with the airlines? I suppose traveling on the buses in Patagonia its mostly other backpacks so maybe not a problem with heavy loads being dropped on the pack, I really want to get an ultralight pack but don’t want it to break in route. Your input on this would be great. thank you!

    • Alan Dixon July 1, 2017 at 8:10 pm - Reply

      Hi Michelle, good Q. A short answer as I am at the airport en-route to Iceland. I don’t believe it’s ever a good idea to check any sort of backpack. And especially a Light or UL one! Alison and I share a large Eagle Creek roller duffel that we check. Both our backpacks easily fit when empty and flattened like two pancakes. We also put heavy stuff like food in it along with non-checkable items like a small knife. The rest of our gear goes carry on. This system as served us well all over the world. [In fact we are using it for this trip to Iceland.] Have a Great trek in TdP. Warmest, -alan

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