testing the best backpacking backpack / ultralight backpack

Backpacking Backpack Comparison Table

Backpacks Price ($) Weight (oz) Volume (L)
Zpacks Arc Haul Ultra 60 399 21.9 60
Outdoor Vitals CS40 Ultra 368 27.0 53
Hyperlite Mountain Gear Unbound 55 399 31.0 64
Outdoor Vitals Shadowlight 60 250 31.5 66
Gossamer Gear Mariposa 60 285 31.5 60
Osprey Exos & Eja Pro 55 290 33.2 63*
ULA Equipment Ultra Circuit 380 33.8 68
REI Co-op Flash 55 199 45.0 63*

*When external pocket volume is not provided by the manufacturer, we conservatively estimate it to be eight liters.

Best Ultralight Backpacks

Hyperlite Mountain Gear Unbound Backpack

The HMG Unbound 55 (shop now) is minimalist, ultralight, waterproof, durable, and comes with a massive suite of external storage for all of your snacks, water, and day gear. This thru-hiking-inspired design is an overall upgrade to Hyperlite’s base models, the Southwest, Windrider, and Junction. Read more in our full-length Hyperlite Mountain Gear Unbound Backpack Review.

  • Weight: 31.0 oz
  • Price: $399
  • Materials: Dyneema. DCH 50 top DCH 150 bottom
  • Frame: Contoured aluminum stay, 1/4″ foam back panel
  • Load Capacity: 40 lbs
  • Internal Volume: 55L
  • External Volume : 9L
  • Pros: Waterproof. Durable. Ultralight. Good load transfer. Massive side pockets. Reverse pull hip belt.
  • Cons: Expensive. External rear stretch pocket has no slack. No load lifters.

Construction & Features

HMG packs have become iconic for their instantly-recognizable, white Dyneema Fabric construction. The material is burly and indestructible, waterproof, and ultralight. And Unbound makes great use of it with a simple roll top design adorned with a massive external storage suite. A single, lightweight aluminum stay transfers weight from shoulders to hips.

Perhaps our favorite feature is the cinchable, XL side pocket design. They’re roomy enough to each store multiple water bottles. And because they’re so large, they’re also great for carrying accessories like rain gear, gloves, hats, etc. The Dyneema Stretch fabric front pocket too is quite large and voluminous with expansion capabilities.

The removable hip belt is comfortable, includes reverse-pull adjustability for ease of operation, and has two massive zippered pockets on either side, more than large enough to store a phone. Rounding out the suite of features are a top Y-strap (we recommend it for storing a fleece or camp sandals), shock cord compression on the side panels, a stretch fabric under-pack pocket, and orange daisy chain trim.


HMG Unbound 55 is an exceptional all-purpose ultralight backpacking backpack that will haul and protect your gear for many years to come. We recommend it very highly, and even prefer Unbound over past Hyperlite favorites.

Zpacks Arc Haul Ultra 60L Backpack

The magic of the Zpacks Arc Haul Ultra 60L (shop now) is that you get a full external frame backpacking backpack for only 22 oz. It’s designed with the new and best-in-class Challenge Ultra fabric, which is waterproof, and has a better durability-to-weight ratio than Dyneema. Arc Haul is our top choice for crushing long on-trail mileage

  • Weight: 21.9 oz
  • Price: $399
  • Materials: Challenge Ultra 200
  • Frame: External Curved Carbon Fiber Stays, suspended mesh back panel.
  • Load Capacity: 40 lbs
  • Internal Volume: 47L
  • External Volume : 13L
  • Pros: Very ultralight. Exceptional load transfer. Comfy. Waterproof. Ventilated. Good pockets. Best-in-class materials. Wide articulated shoulder straps.
  • Cons: Expensive. Frame durability is modest. Hip belt pockets sold separately.

Construction & Features

We love Arc Haul’s ultralight take on the old-school full-external-frame design. This offers exceptional load transfer from shoulders to hips, and makes it one of the comfiest packs in our guide. The Arc in its namesake refers to the curved carbon fiber air stay frame configuration, which keeps the surface off your torso via a taut Lycra panel for excellent back aeration while preventing any lumps from jabbing.

While on the whole, this pack makes for a great daily driver, we don’t recommend Arc Haul for extensive off-trail hiking, canyoneering, or extra-rugged pursuits. You can’t have a 22 oz full-frame pack with making compromises, and while the frame’s durability-to-weight ratio is high, it’s total durability is modest. We would describe it as tough-not-rugged.

If the frame is headline news, Arc Haul’s next biggest story is the seriously excellent suite of external storage. A massive mesh pocket adorns the front, and two large side pockets fit water bottles, rain gear, or whatever else.

At $399, this is already one of the most expensive ultralight backpacks, yet even so, we feel it’s worthwhile to add in a pair of modular  Belt Pouches for $30 a pop.


From a technology and engineering perspective, the Zpacks Arc Haul 60L is far and away the most impressive ultralight backpack. It is comfortable, has large user-friendly pockets, and is likely the single best option to reduce your base weight.

Outdoor Vitals CS40 Ultra Backpack

The  CS40 Ultra (shop now)is a new and lighter-than-average contender in an elite group of best-in-class, internal frame ultralight backpacks made with best-in-class Challenge Ultra fabric. Read more in our full-length Outdoor Vitals CS40 Review.

  • Weight: 27 oz
  • Price: $368
  • Materials: Challenge UltraWeave 200
  • Frame: 2 Carbon Fiber Stays, Foam Back Panel
  • Load Capacity: 35 lbs
  • Internal Volume: 41L
  • External Volume : 12L
  • Pros: Very ultralight. Challenge ULTRA fabric is durable and waterproof. Comfy. Load lifters. Premium performance.
  • Cons: Expensive. Rear pocket is stretch mesh. Side pockets are a bit small. 40L size is less versatile than 50L+.

Construction & Features

The most important callout here is the use of Challenge Ultra fabric. Still relatively new to market, this best-in-class wonder fabric beats Dyneema at its own game as it is lighter weight and more durable, while still offering full waterproof protection. Perhaps the only materials choice we disagree with on this pack is the use of stretch mesh for its rear pocket, which has a poor track record of being prone to snags, tears, and rips.

We also love the two ounce carbon fiber stay frame, which lends structure, transfers weight to hips, and allows for functional load lifters to further ease the shoulders. In conjunction with its aerated foam back panel, hiking with the CS40 pack proved to be very comfortable, especially compared to frameless packs in a similar weight class.

We found the hip belt foam to be comfy and the structured hip belt pockets to be adequately sized for storing a few snacks each, even if we wouldn’t have minded them to be about 25-50% larger. The reverse-pull hip belt adjuster is very nice. The use of static side-compression-cords with line locks (as opposed to shock cord) was interesting, but proved functional at holding a sit pad or hanging socks to dry.

The 41L main compartment volume is perfect for storing an ultralight load, though we generally find 50+L packs to be more versatile in their ability to fit a week’s worth of food or winter camping gear.


If you want a top tier, fully-featured, lighter-than-average ultralight backpacking backpack, the OV CS40 Ultra is well-worth considering. It’s durable and waterproof thanks to Challenge Ultra Fabric, and has great comfort and load transfer thanks to the carbon fiber frame. Despite a few minor quibbles with their pockets, we give this pack a very strong seal of approval.


ULA Ultra Circuit

The Ultra Circuit (shop now) is an absolutely top tier, comfy, indestructible, ultralight-yet-voluminous backpacking backpack. Designed for thru-hiking, but perfect for all multi-day excursions, this comfy, internal frame workhorse is built with best-in-class Challenge Ultra fabric, its namesake upgrade to the original Robic Nylon version. Read more in our  full-length ULA Ultra Circuit Review.

  • Weight: 33.8 oz
  • Price: $380
  • Materials: Challenge ULTRA 400/200
  • Frame: Aluminum stay, carbon fiber & plastic U-shaped suspension hoop, dense foam back panel
  • Load Capacity: 35 lbs
  • Internal Volume: 45L
  • External Volume : 23L
  • Pros: Ultralight. Waterproof fabric. Incredibly durable. Voluminous. Comfy. Excellent buckles and straps.
  • Cons: Expensive. Rounded bottom doesn’t sit upright while loading. Not seam taped.

Construction & Features

At it’s core, the Ultra Circuit is a roll top, internal frame pack, the body of which is built with waterproof and lighter-and-more-durable-than-Dyneema Challenge Ultra fabric, our preferred backpack material. The frame utilizes one aluminum stay in conjunction with a U-shaped suspension hoop and dense foam back panel covered in aerated mesh for surface breathability. It transfers weight to the hips very well, and your shoulders will be thankful of the functional load lifters.

This pack has the best rear stretch mesh pocket we’ve ever tested. Primarily, this is because it’s also the largest. But the UltraStretch fabric is both durable, and well, ultra stretchy. This allows for an exceptional exterior storage capacity, which is enhanced by the pair of large, cinchable side pockets. Each is wide enough to store a pair of 1L Smartwater bottles.

One standout design feature of this pack is the dual, reverse-pull hip belt adjusters. That is, there are two adjusters on each side of the hip belt, which improves pressure distribution and helps customize a perfect fit. What’s more, the nylon webbing adjusters are the best we’ve ever used thanks to their large lip. Two large and very burly hip belt pockets complete the package.


Relative to its 33.8 oz weight, the ULA Ultra Circuit is arguably the most durable, comfortable, and functional, backpacking pack available. From perfect nylon strap adjusters, to the best-in-class Challenge Ultra fabrics suite, we give our strongest seal approval to the designer’s choice of features and materials across the board. Simply put this backpack is excellent. We highly recommend this pack to thru-hikers and weekend warriors alike.

Best Value Ultralight Backpacking Backpacks

REI Flash 55 Backpack

The REI Co-op Flash 55  (shop now) is a well-rounded pack that hits it out of the park in terms of performance-to-price ratio. From our perspective, it is the single best backpack at the $200 price point, despite being light-not-ultralight.

  • Weight: 45 oz
  • Price: $199
  • Materials: 100D & 210D recycled Robic ripstop nylon
  • Frame: 3.5mm spring steel spanning perimeter with cross brace, contoured aerated foam panel
  • Load Capacity: 30 lbs
  • Internal Volume: 55L
  • External Volume: Not provided, 10L estimated
  • Pros: Lightweight. Incredible value. Customizable. Good load transfer. Bonus exterior pockets. Lid storage.
  • Cons: Not quite ultralight.

Construction & Features

The Flash 55 design features a roll-top closure topped by a removable lid with lots of pockets on the sides, hip belt, and even the shoulder strap. We’re very glad to see packs coming with shoulder pockets, as we usually wind up paying extra to attach aftermarket models. All in all, the Flash is very user-friendly in regard to external storage.

The frame is a 3.5mm steel rod that runs the perimeter of the contoured and aerated foam back panel. It is comfy, spares the shoulders, are carries light-to-medium weight loads comfortably.

We like how customizable this pack it. Not only can the lid be removed, but so too can the hip belt and shoulder pockets. They call the customizability “Packmod” and if everything is taken off, the user can shave seven ounces. But to be honest, those features are probably all worth their weight and we wouldn’t expect to remove them very often.

Compared to previous versions of the Flash 55 backpacking backpack, they’ve added adjustability to the torso, modularity to the feature-set, increased pocket durability, and sewn the whole thing with recycled fabrics! Great job REI!


All said and done, the Flash 55 is simply an incredible performer relative to its price. It’s both better, and less expensive than average. Great for backpackers of all experience levels, we love the incredible value proposition of Flash 55 and recommend it highly.

Osprey Exos Pro 55 & Eja Pro 55 Backpack

Behold! Osprey has actually gifted us with a true ultralight backpack! The Exos/Eja Pro 55 series (shop now) are slimmed down versions of their forebears, and combine ultralight materials and a slightly smaller chassis to achieve nearly a full pound of weight savings; right on the ultralight bullseye. Read more in our full-length Osprey Exos Pro 55 Review.

  • Weight:  33.2 oz
  • Price: $290
  • Materials: 100D recycled nylon ripstop with DWR
  • Frame: 3.5mm alloy peripheral frame with adjustable suspension and tensioned mesh back panel
  • Load Capacity: 30 lbs
  • Internal Volume: 46
  • External Volume: 9L lid + pockets
  • Pros: Ultralight. Comfy. Excellent weight transfer. Sustainable. Aerated back. Osprey guarantee. Adjustable fit.
  • Cons: Bulky and tall. Delicate stretch mesh. Strap salad. Modest frame durability.

Construction & Features

Most notably, this is a full frame backpack, meaning a 3.5mm alloy frame suspends the back panel and transfers weight from shoulders to hips like a charm. And like it’s predecessors, the Exos Pro 55 & Eja Pro 55 have top notch aerated foam and spacer mesh to maximize surface breathability for the hip belt and back panel, reducing sweat.

The frame itself is quite flexy, and we would describe it as durable-not-rugged. It is also adjustable to fit your torso height. Because the frame is rather tall and bulky, we recommend sizing down if you fall in between sizes. The pack is made with a UHMWPE ripstop, DWR-treated nylon. Strong and ultralight and water resistant!

As ultralight backpacks go, the Osprey Exos Pro 55 & Eja Pro 55 are about as fully-featured as one can hope for. They have a full size detachable lid that fits 9L of storage for frequently accessed items, as well as massive side and rear external pockets. We don’t love the side pockets though, as they’re made of delicate stretch mesh which is prone to tearing, and all of their storage is derived from stretch, rather than slack material. What’s more, they’re crisscrossed by static compression straps which can interfere with access.

Underneath the lid is a cord cinch, compression strap, and top cover for when you want to use the pack without the lid. The hip belt pockets are interesting. One has a zipper closure as per usual – only we wish it were slightly boxier/larger – and the other has an elastic envelope closure, which is very convenient for accessing frequently needed items and/or items that don’t require zipper security.


This is likely one of, if not the best Osprey brand backpack that they’ve ever produced, and at just over two pounds, it is also the lightest. It is better than the original, comfy, does an excellent job of transferring weight, and comes with lots of external storage. Our biggest complaint is the bulkiness, and height of the frame, and the use of stretch mesh instead of more durable materials on the external storage.

Gossamer Gear Mariposa 60 Backpack

The Gossamer Gear Mariposa 60 (shop now) is a fully featured, framed, two pound ultralight backpack for under $300 with the best pockets anywhere – such good value!

  • Weight: 31.5 oz
  • Price: $285
  • Materials: 100D & 200D Robic Nylon
  • Frame: Aluminum stay, removable foam sit pad
  • Load Capacity: 35 lbs
  • Internal Volume: 36L
  • External Volume : 24L
  • Pros: Most external storage. Ultralight. Great value. Thru-hiker favorite. Load transfer.
  • Cons: Least internal storage. Stretch mesh pocket can snag.

Construction & Features

What shines brightest about the GG Mariposa is its external storage: 24L spread across seven pockets! 40% of total storage is external, which is more than just about any other backpack can claim. This creates an excellent user experience for the wearer, as all of your gear is always on hand and you never have to go digging. Perhaps the only drawback here is that they’ve skimped a bit on internal storage – 36L is on the low end, but still plenty sufficient for the average load.

So long as you can keep total weight at or below 30 lbs, this pack’s minimalist framing is actually super comfortable. The Gossamer Gear Mariposa 60 deploys an aluminum stay to help with weight transfer, and a modular foam sit pad does double duty as the back panel. A nice 2-for-1.

Mariposa is an old-school ultralight design proven time and again on the PCT. But it still holds its own against much fancier and more expensive models. Constructed with high strenght-to-weight Robic nylon, this ultralight backpack is both durable, affordable, and trustworthy. However, unlike packs made of Dyneema or Challenge Ultra, it’s merely water resistant – not proof, which we feel is the most significant drawback compared to more expensive models.


This backpacking backpack delivers an excellent user experience, low weight, and good all around durability for a very reasonable price. It’s no wonder the Mariposa 60 has long been a thru-hiker favorite. Gossamer Gear has logged over 500 5-star reviews, and we’re sure you’d give it one too! What’s more, Gossamer Gear has given our readers a custom coupon code. Use “AdventureMore15” for 15% off ($40) at checkout!

Outdoor Vitals Shadowlight Backpack

Outdoor Vitals Shadowlight 60L (shop now) offers the rare combination of sub-two-pound weight with a load transferring frame. It’s extremely uncommon to find that pairing for just $250. What’s more, this pack is smothered in featured, most of which we like, some of which we don’t, and none of which over-“shadow” the big picture fact that this is a legitimately great ultralight pack. Read more in our full-length Outdoor Vitals Shadowlight Review.

  • Weight: 31.5 oz
  • Price: $250
  • Materials: Robic Nylon
  • Frame: Inverted 24″ Aluminum U
  • Load Capacity: ~35 lbs
  • Internal Volume: 50L
  • External Volume : 16L (our estimate)
  • Pros: Ultralight. Large volume. Great value. Lots of external storage. Frame transfers load to hips. Removable sit pad back panel. 
  • Cons: Unnecessary front zipper interferes with mesh pocket. Side pockets are a bit shallow.

Features & Construction

Zoom way out and the Shadowlight is a classic roll top design built with durable Robic ripstop nylon. It has a removable hip belt and inverted U-shape aluminum frame, which in conjunction with load lifters, does an excellent job of transferring weight from shoulders to hips. A modular, comfortable, closed-cell foam sheet does double duty as a sit pad and back panel. A top strap gives additional storage for lightweight bulky items such as sandals, foam sleeping pads, or a fleece.

Unlike most packs, this one has two levels of side pockets, an upper deck and a lower deck. These are roughly the same size. We recommend storing water bottles in the lower half and knickknacks like gloves, beanies, or snacks in the upper. Our tester adored the upper pockets.  And honestly, we wish they were more common.

Shadowlight also has massive hip belt pockets. These are definitely larger than you find on most packs, even able to fit a large size phone, and definitely able to fit tons of snacks.

Really, the only feature configuration we dislike on the Shadowlight are its dual external stretch mesh pockets bisected by a zipper. The zipper allows for easy access to the main compartment. But all that you should be storing in there are items like tents and sleeping bags that you won’t need until you get to camp anyway, by which point the roll top is already open. What’s more, splitting the stretch mesh pocket into two long/tall channels reduces its volume and ability to store bulky items.


What shines the brightest about  Shadowlight is the combination of it’s ultralight weight and affordable price tag. We like most of it’s features, dislike some of its features, but the overall result is just really good for $250. At that price point, it might be one of, if not the best ultralight backpack!


More Great Ultralight Backpacks

Zpacks Nero Ultra 38 Backpack

We tested Nero Ultra 38 (shop now) on the Mt. Rainier Wonderland trail, and it immediately became our pick for best super ultralight pack. The frameless design is nothing more than a roll top Challenge Ultra dry bag with shoulder straps, hip belt, and large external pockets. But when it comes down to it, that’s all one really needs.

  • Weight: 13.5 oz*
  • Price: $309*
  • Materials: Challenge Ultra 200 or 100
  • Frame: Frameless, with optional foam sit pad back panel
  • Load Capacity: 20 lbs
  • Internal Volume: 25L
  • External Volume : 13L
  • Pros: Super ultralight. Waterproof. Large external pockets. Sit pad back panel. 
  • Cons: No weight transfer to hips. Minimal load capacity.

*Weight and price measure base model in Jet Black (ULTRA 200) with size medium padded hip belt and foam sit pad.

Construction & Features

This is a frameless, roll top pseudo-dry bag style fastpacking backpack with large external pockets, extra wide, 3/8″ thick EVA foam shoulder straps, and a top compression strap. Add the sit pad foam back panel and you’ll be surprised how comfortably it carries 20 lbs.

We’re particularly keen on the large, 8L center mesh pocket and 2.5L side pockets. These are made with a static mesh that is more durable than stretch mesh but still allows wet gear to breath and dry. Plenty of room for knickknacks and rain gear. A single top strap can hold down a something like a fleece, though a Y-strap would have been preferable.

For how simple it is, there are some nice potential customizations. Choose the Ultra 200 since it’s much more durable for only 0.3 extra oz. Strap on the complimentary foam sit pad (1.0 oz) as a back panel to add structure and lump-protection, and/or add the padded 3 oz hip belt to keep the pack securely fitted while hiking with optional belt pouches. And why not add a 0.6 oz water bottle should pouch while you’re at it?


For those who already have a completely dialed in ultralight kit and want to explore the world of super ultralight gear, the Zpacks Nero Ultra 38 could be their last big upgrade. This frameless pack is a top performer thanks to its waterproof Challenge Ultra fabric, comfy sit pad back panel, and large external pockets. It’s probably even comfier, lighter, and more user-friendly than you think, and we strongly the Nero Ultra 38 to ultralight backpackers.


Granite Gear Crown3 60 Backpack

Our pick for best value and best ultralight backpack under $250, there’s just so much to love about Granite Gear Crown3 60L (shop now). The bottom line is that this is high quality, versatile, comfortable, voluminous, durable, lightweight backpack that crushes it in the backcountry.

  • Weight: 36.8 oz
  • Price: $240
  • Materials: 100D & 210D Robic nylon with DWR
  • Frame: Compression molded polyethylene sheet
  • Load Capacity: 35 lbs
  • Internal Volume: 55L
  • External Volume: 5L + pockets
  • Pros: Best value. Lightweight. Great features. Versatile.
  • Cons: Heavier end of ultralight spectrum.

Construction & Features

Constructed with old faithful Robic nylon, a roll top closure, a simple-yet-very-effective molded sheet frame, and massive external pockets on the sides, rear, and hip belt, it’s off to a good start. And then come the lid, the crown jewel, so to speak. The lid weighs three ounces and stores five liters. If you don’t need or want it, it can easily be removed.

Once disconnected, the lid can be clipped to the shoulder straps to create an accessory chest mount. But even more exciting, you can detach the hip belt, connect the detached lid to it, and voile, you have a modular fanny pack. We especially love this for hikes that involve setting up a basecamp and taking short side trips.

The Vapor Current Mark 3 compression molded polyethylene sheet is super lightweight, comfortable, and airy. We’re surprised more brands don’t use such a simple and effective solution! It’s rated to be comfy up to 35 pounds, but you can also buy a modular U-shaped aluminum stay which increases load capacity by another 8 pounds!

Granite Gear Crown3 60 also offers all of the right straps in all of the right places. First is a bottom strap designed to hold a foam sleeping pad. It also has dual elastic cinch straps to mount a water bottle for easy access (though we still prefer mesh pockets). Vertical and cross section compression straps abound, and pack can easily cinch down and convert into a large day pack.

For the sustainably minded, the Granite Gear Crown3 60 is also available in an undyed greige colorway, which reduces dyed water waste by 55%. Heck yeah, Granite Gear!


Does it sound like we love this backpack? Because we definitely do. It’s an incredible performer for an incredible price, and the most possible bang for your buck. Grab the Granite Gear Crown3 60 ultralight backpack and we promise you won’t regret it.

Durston Kakwa 55

The Durston Kakwa 55 is an incredibly well-designed, comfortable, ultralight backpack decked out with user-friendly features and constructed with best-in-class, waterproof, hyper-durable Challenge Ultra 200 fabric. Its greatest flaw is that it is never in stock! Challenges with infrequent availability are why we’ve placed Kakwa 55 into the “more great packs” section. Shop now.

  • Weight: 29.0
  • Price: $260
  • Materials: Challenge Ultra 200
  • Frame: Inverted U frame of hollow aluminum
  • Load Capacity: 45 lbs
  • Internal Volume: 55L
  • External Volume : 15L
  • Pros: Ultralight. Best in class materials. Waterproof fabric. Great value. Excellent weight transfer. Shoulder Strap Pockets. Bonus side pocket.
  • Cons: Not seam taped. Usually sold out.

Construction & Features

This pack is constructed with Challenge Ultra 200 fabric. A waterproof material, 15x stronger than steel, and statistically superior to Dyneema and ripstop nylon in virtually every way. Note that while the fabric is waterproof, the pack is not seam taped and dry bags or liners are still recommended.

Kakwa 55 has a famously excellent load carry for an ultralight pack thanks to its inverted hollow aluminum tubing frame and load lifters. It is comfortable with loads up to 45 pounds. The S shaped shoulder straps are ergonomic and comfy. The reverse pull hip belt straps are choice and easy to use. The whole setup is just so dang comfortable and user-friendly. Though it does tend to take on a barrel shape when full.

We also love the suite of pockets. It has a large static mesh front pocket which creates room via pleated slack, rather than more commonly used stretch mesh, which can be prone to ripping. Two large top entry side pockets carry water bottles, but one has a bonus zippered pocket for storing a hat or gloves that can be accessed while worn. The suite is polished off with two large hip belt pockets, and a pair of complimentary shoulder strap pockets good for storing bear spray or Smartwater bottles up to 700ml.


Kakwa is in contention for one of the best ultralight backpacks on the market thanks to top of the line Challenge Ultra fabric, a sub-two pound weight, an intelligently designed external storage suite, and excellent weight transfer all for an incredible value. There’s a reason it’s almost always sold out.

Mountain Laurel Designs Exodus 55L Backpack

Tough, durable, voluminous, nearly waterproof, and weighing only 18 ounces, the MLD Exodus 55L is an ultralight backpack to behold (shop now). It’s a staple in Alan’s quiver, and he uses it for guiding in Alaska.

  • Weight: 18 oz
  • Price: $325
  • Materials: Challenge Ultra 100/200
  • Frame: Frameless, with optional foam sit pad back panel
  • Load Capacity: 25 lbs
  • Internal Volume: 48L
  • External Volume : 10L
  • Pros: Ultralight. Waterproof fabric. Extremely durable. Great pockets. Elegant design. Alan’s pet pack.
  • Cons: No weight transfer. Low load capacity. 7-10 week lead time. Only compatible with full ultralight kit. Hip belt pockets are not complimentary

Construction & Features

What makes this pack so ultralight is the frameless design, meaning no back panel, no aluminum stays, no weight transfer, and a 20-25 lb comfortable load range. As such, this is a professional-grade, expert-level ultralight backpack that can only be used with a fully dialed-in ultralight kit. But if you are confident in a 10 lb base weight, this might be the single best backpack available.

Exodus is constructed with best-in-class waterproof Challenge Ultra fabric, 10x stronger than steel, and more abrasion resistant than Dyneema. What sets it apart is how all of the external pockets are also designed with Ultra fabric (as opposed to mesh or stretch fabric). It’s pleated for expansion volume, and protects gear from light rain or getting scraped up when dragged over rough surfaces.

S-shaped 3″ wide by .8″ shoulder straps sit comfortably and disperse pressure. A minimalist hip belt secure the pack to your torso. A Y-strap allows for additional storage on the upper deck.


The MLD Exodus 55 is a beauty to use and behold and we recommend to anyone who seeking the most favorable blend of durability, low weight, and high volume. If you’re a serious ultralight hiker who can stomach a 7-10 week lead time on your order, we highly recommend the MLD Exodus 55.

Best Backpacking Backpack Accessories

Hyperlite Mountain Gear Roll Top Stuff Sack

Hyperlite Mountain Gear Roll Top Stuff Sack is a classic dry bag made out of Dyneema. The DCF11 fabric is extremely durable, lightweight, long lasting, completely waterproof, and just feels indestructible and high quality.

  • Weight: 2.0 oz
  • Price: $79
  • Materials: DCF11
  • Volume: 43 L
  • Pros: Ultralight. Ultra durable. Best-in-class. Voluminous.
  • Cons: Expensive.


The 25L size L is probably the most universal, but we love the 43L XL, which is . 4oz heavier and big enough to store a 4-season sleeping bag, puffy, and all extra clothes without over compressing.

If you’re going to spend that much on one dry bag, you might as well get the one size that fit’s all. And it’s compatible with winter camping bulk.


This is an excellent ultralight dry bag fit for an ultralight backpack. For less expensive (but less durable) ultralight dry bags, turn to the Sea to Summit Ultra-Sil Dry Bags.

Sea to Summit Ultra-Sil Dry Bag

For waterproof gear storage at a great price, we recommend the Sea to Summit Ultra-Sil Dry Bag. The largest model weighs only 2.6 oz and holds 35L, enough for a sleeping bag, puffy jacket, and camp clothes with room to spare.

  • Weight: 2.6 oz
  • Price: $40
  • Materials: 30D Cordura sil-nylon, bluesign® approved, PFC free
  • Volume: 35L
  • Pros: Ultralight. Waterproof. Good value.
  • Cons: Slightly delicate.

Features and Verdict

There’s nothing fancy here, this is the same ultralight dry bag that’s been on the market for years, only now it’s manufactured slightly more sustainably with bluesign® approval. Ultralight sil-ny is great, albeit, not the most durable.

If you want something even more bomber and long lasting that won’t lose waterproofness due to minor abrasions, check out our pick for bets performance dry bags, the Hyperlite Mountain Gear Roll Top Stuff Sack.

Gossamer Gear Pack Liner

The ideal way to keep gear dry is with a waterproof backpack. But a Gossamer Gear Pack Liner is the next best thing.

  • Weight: 1.2 oz
  • Price: $5 (for two)
  • Materials: Polyethylene film, PVC free
  • Volume: 48L
  • Pros: Ultralight. Waterproof. Durable.
  • Cons: Crinkly. Does not protect external storage/pockets.


Weighing a scant 1.2 oz and costing only $2.50 per liner, they’re a killer bargain when it comes to ultralight gear. For how thin these plastic bags are, they’re shocking durable and hyper effective.

Compared to rain covers, these ultralight backpack liners are a fraction of the cost and weight, and work significantly better. Plus, they won’t blow away or make it harder to access pockets. However, the only downside is that they don’t protect external storage areas. Supplement the pack liner with dry bags, or just don’t keep stuff on the outside of your pack if it isn’t supposed to get wet.

While they technically hold 48L, you won’t want to fill them to capacity. There is no closing mechanism, but you can get by just by scrunching the top down and setting something on top to prevent it from unfurling. A full-size backpack will likely require two liners to protect everything inside – one liner for sleeping bag plus camp clothes, and one for all of the rest.


It’s more effective than a pack cover at protecting interior contents, but at the cost of not protecting external storage.

Ursack Major Bear Sack

Unless a canister is strictly required by land management, we always prefer the Ursack Major Bear Sack 10L, now made with ballistic grade Spectra.

  • Weight: 7.6 oz
  • Price: $110
  • Materials: Ballistic Grade Spectra
  • Volume: 10.7 L
  • Pros: Lightweight. Easy to carry.
  • Cons: Slightly less protective than canister.

Features and Verdict

It’s lightweight, comfy to carry in an ultralight backpack, and does actually protect your food in the overwhelming majority of bear encounters. We recommend pairing it with the Loksak Opsac bag as a smell-proof, waterproof, liner system. When full, it holds about 4-5 day worth of food.

The Ursack has been revamped with a tighter weave for double the tear-resistance. Upgrade to the Ursack Major XL for even more storage, or the Ursack AllMitey Bear and Critter Sack for even more protection when rodents threaten to nibble. Bear sacks are the way to go!

Bearvault BV500 Bear Canister

When bears are present and canisters are required, we recommend the Bearvault BV500 Bear Canister for the best blend of volume, protection, and value. We prefer bear bags whenever possible, but this is our go-to when that’s not an option.

  • Weight: 40.0 oz
  • Price: $95
  • Materials: Polycarbonate
  • Volume: 11.5 L
  • Pros: Bearproof. Good value. Waterproof. Durable.
  • Cons: Heavy and clunky, like all bear cans

Features and Verdict

Like all bear canisters, it’s heavy, clunky, and doesn’t store well in a small or midsize pack. But we do appreciate how it doubles as a camp stool, and the strap guide indents allow it more securely strap to the top of a backpack – where we tend to keep ours.

The Bearvault BV range now comes in four different sizes, ranging from overnights to expeditions. This is the largest size, and likely the most versatile if you only want to own a single canister.

Gear Aid Tenacious Tape Repair Patch

For small to mediums sized rips and tears, we prefer using a Gear Aid Tenacious Tape Repair Patch, precut in a hexagonal shape.

  • Weight: 0.1 oz (once applied)
  • Price: $5
  • Technology: Tenacious Tape
  • Cons: Long lasting. Works in backcountry. Very adhesive. Waterproof.
  • Cons: Requires smooth surfaces


When applied to a smooth, relatively clean surface, the repair patches are incredibly long lasting and durable. The adhesive is significantly stickier than duct tape. The patch itself is waterproof and will prevent leaks. We recommend the hex shaped patches because the corners are less sharp than rectangles, thus less prone to catching and peeling.

These repair patches work on tents, backpacks, rain jackets, hiking clothes, and pretty much any other fabric item that can be laid flat and smoothed out. However, they won’t work well on textured surfaces, like shoes or mesh.


Nonetheless, Gear Aid makes a best in class product that should be a staple in every hikers repair kit, especially those who use ultralight tents with thin fabric. We always carry them and you should too.


using hyperlite mountain gear in the desert


These Tips will help you get the best performance and enjoyment out of your backpack. Either the pack you intend to buy or the pack you already own.

PRO TIP | How Big of a Backpacking Backpack Do You Need?

It may surprise you, but often times we believe a bigger ultralight backpack is better than a smaller slimmer one. We like packs in the 55L range (assuming you don’t take the extra volume as a license to fill it with unnecessary items!) First, more volume makes it easier to pack and unpack.

That is, it’s time consuming to try and shove your gear into too small of a space. And it’s just as difficult to unpack or find items in a solid brick-like mass. Second, it’s not good to crush your down bag and jacket, and it takes them a lot longer to loft up if they’ve been crushed to the size of a grapefruit.

We use large backpacks and stuff sacks to avoid this. Last and certainly not least, many times the larger volume model of an ultralight backpack is only a ounce more, e.g. the HMG Southwest 3400 vs. 2400 or the MLD Exodus 55L vs the Prophet 48L. In addition, that extra volume makes it a more versatile and flexible purchase, changing a backpack used for a quick weekend overnight into a week long trip with a bear canister.

So yeah, while a smaller ultralight backpack may look all pro and sleek, most times the larger pack is far more practical and user friendly, so long as it is also lightweight.

testing new packs on the Appalachian trail

PRO TIP | Why Backpacking Backpack Pockets Really Matter

While in general we’re a bit skeptical of unnecessary pack features, we love pockets! Nothing is more time consuming and frustrating than trying to find the need-it-right-now item buried deep in the main bag of your pack. As such, we use all available pockets to store cameras, gear, food and clothing where we can quickly access them during our hike.

Hopefully we only go into the main pack at lunch and when we get into camp for the night. We especially like pockets we can access without stopping or taking our pack off. In particular, large hip-belt pockets, and side pockets that are designed so we can reach back and get things out of (e.g. a water bottle or jacket) while hiking. Finally, remember to put the same things in the same pocket all the time!

Mesh Pockets vs Solid Fabric Pockets?

We prefer solid fabric pockets on our packs. That being said, mesh pockets are quite popular on many major brand packs. They have the advantage of being able to see what is in them, and that they allow for wet things like socks to dry during the day. They also are usually stretchy and do a good job of keeping gear snugged up against the pack body.

But mesh pockets have the disadvantage of being far more delicate than solid fabric pockets as they catch, snag and tear easily. Most times they are the first things to fail on a pack — especially if you hike on anything but wide open easy trails. Second, they do a much poorer job of keeping dust, spay and other debris off of your gear. Finally while mesh pockets may look lighter, it rarely is much lighter than a solid fabric pocket. As such we get all our packs with solid fabric pockets if possible.


So yeah, while a streamlined backpack with few external pockets may look slick, leave them to climbers. A backpack with lots of pockets is far more practical and will save you a bunch of time and frustration trying to find things.

For more reading on tips to best use pockets: Efficient Backpacking Tips | Easily Increase Mileage and Fun

PRO TIP | Backpacking Backpack Comfort

No matter what pack you use, unless you are a NFL linebacker, carrying 40 pounds is not comfortable. Or put another way, the total weight of your pack is the most important factor for your bodies comfort — not the packs brilliant design features! As such, the number one thing you can do for “pack comfort” is to shave a bit of weight. Every bit helps!

Yes, a pack with a stiffer frame and a wide, padded hip-belt will help soften the pain of a heavy pack from your shoulders and hips. But that does not equal comfort as your weight goes above 30 pounds. And your hip joints, legs, knees, feet, lungs and heart will feel the full pack-weight every step!

That being said, some packs do a better job of transferring pack weight to the hips and have more comfortable shoulder straps. Osprey packs like the Exos and Eja packs do well in these areas, altho the Hyperlite Mountain Gear, and Z-Packs also do well and weigh less. In our opinion a wide hip-belt with sufficient padding like on the HMG packs works better than more heavily padded and “ergonomically” sculpted hip-belts used on heavier packs.

How to Lower Your Pack Weight To Make An Ultralight Backpack Comfier

Look at our 9 Pound Full Comfort Lightweight Backpacking Gear Checklist. This will give you lots of ideas on how to shave weight out of your pack. A 9 pound pack is all you need to be happy, safe and warm. So, if you want to lower your pack weight but retain all the convenience and comfort of “traditional” backpacking, look no further than this Lightweight Backpacking Gear List.

This Backpacking Gear is suitable for most backpackers on most 3-season trips in the lower 48 and even trips world-wide.

Ultralight Backpacking Gear spread out around a hiker

PRO TIP | Pros and Cons of a Waterproof Backpacking Backpack

Dyneema Composite Fiber (DCF) packs with taped seams have the advantage of being nearly waterproof. When combined with DCF stuff sacks or other nearly-waterproof sacks you won’t need a rain cover. As such, you pack your pack the same way every day whether it’s raining or not, and you save the weight and hassle of a pack cover. Drier pack and contents with less aggravation equals peace of mind.

One downside of DCF packs is that they are about $100 more expensive than the same pack in standard nylon. This is because the fabric is expensive and hard to procure. And because it requires specialized equipment and processes to make gear from it. The second downside is that for now only cottage and smaller manufactures offer packs in DCF which means limited sources and sometimes a 2-4 week wait for your pack to made and delivered.

PRO TIP | Skip the Rain Cover

So most pack covers don’t really keep your pack dry, they weigh about 1/2 pound, and they add cost. And they are a hassle to take on and off and flap in the wind. One way to skip the rain cover is to use a Dyneema pack and Dyneema or other highly water resistant stuff sacks. This was discussed above and is our preferred method but it is costly.

A far less costly and still light way to skip a rain cover is use a light waterproof pack liner. There are a number of options:

  • The lightest (but inexpensive) option is to use 2x Gossamer Gear Pack Liners. Use (1) liner for sleeping bag and insulating clothes and (1) liner for everything else.
  • The lowest cost other option (still light) is to line your pack with a single sturdy trash compactor bag .
  • Finally some pack manufactures sell light a waterproof pack liner, these last a longer but usually cost more.

A liner is shown here waterproofing an ultralight backpack

PRO TIP | Bear Canister 101

Bear canisters are becoming part of trail life as more parks require them each year. These are some of the lightest options to meet this requirement

If you want to hike the John Muir Trail, Yosemite, Rocky Mountain Park or many of the Parks in Alaska, you’ll need a bear canister and a backpacking backpack that can hold it. So, it makes sense to purchase a pack that works well with a bear canister. Almost all of our packs will fit a bear canister, although the larger packs with a well-padded back panel will do better.

A note about frameless ultralight backpacks and bear canisters: With some intelligent packing you can carry a bear canister in a frameless pack with an unpadded back. Guiding in Rocky Mountain Park last summer, Alan carried a rigid Wild Ideas Scout bear canister with 5 days of food and guide gear in his Exodus DCF Frameless Backpack, saving himself around 3 to 4 pounds versus a standard UL pack and a Bear Vault BV500 canister.

Ursack Major Bear Sack 10L in black

bearvault bv500 journey bear canister

Wild Ideas Ultralight Bear Canister in black

Which Bear Canister Is Right for You?

Above from left to right: Ursack, Bear Vault, and Wild Ideas

First, check your Park and see which bear storage they require (approved canisters). And a fair warning that there is no consistency between parks about what they require so you will need to check the specific reg’s of each park you plan on visiting. The largest certifying organizations are IGBC or Interagency Grizzly Bear Committee, SEKI (Sequoia and Kings Canyon Parks), and Yosemite. Many other parks like Rocky Mountain National Park have their own requirements. Yeah, don’t get us started on a unified US certification! Once you know the requirements pick one of the three storage options below:

  1. LIGHTEST if allowed: Ursack Bear Bag (7.6 oz) | The very lightest and the first choice for bear storage. But only if the Ursack is approved in your park! So check the reg’s. These highly preferable when wearing an ultralight backpack.
  2. VALUE: Bear Vault BV450 (33 oz) Bear Vault BV500 (41 oz) | The Bearvault BV-450 and BV500 hit the sweet spot for weight, cost, and availability. The only downside is that they are somewhat heavier than Wild-Ideas canisters. We can get ~5 days in a BV450 and ~7-8 days in a BV500 canister. Great with any backpacking backpack
  3. LIGHTEST RIGID CAN: Wild Ideas Scout (28 oz) or larger Wild-Ideas Weekender (31 oz) Best performance, best for an ultralight backpack

Tip bring compact, calorie-dense food: Pack the right food and you can get a few more days out of a smaller bear canister like the Bearvault BV-450 above. Not only will you have less food weight (for the same amount of calories), but the smaller canister will leave more room in your backpacking backpack for gear. What’s not to like?