testing the best backpacking backpack / ultralight backpack

Backpacking Backpack Comparison Table

Backpacks Price ($) Weight (oz) Volume with pockets (L)
MLD Exodus 55 325 18.0 55
Zpacks Arc Haul Ultra 60 399 21.9 60
Outdoor Vitals CS40 Ultra 368 27.0 53
REI Flash Air 50 299 31.0 50**
Durston Kakwa 55 280 31.3 68
Hyperlite Mountain Gear Unbound 55 399 31.0 64
Outdoor Vitals Shadowlight 60 250 31.5 66
Osprey Exos & Eja Pro 55 290 33.2 65*
ULA Equipment Ultra Circuit 380 33.8 68
Gossamer Gear Mariposa 60 315 34.7 60
REI Co-op Flash 55 199 45.0 55**

*When external pocket volume is not provided by the manufacturer, we estimate it to be 10L.

**Based on side-by-side comparisons, we suspect manufacturer has underestimated volume.

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.

Verdict

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.

Verdict

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.

Verdict

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 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-X 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 its 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 UltraX 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.

Verdict

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 UltraX 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.

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. At time of publication, the size medium is backordered.

  • 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. Comfy. Durable. Waterproof fabric. Great value. Excellent weight transfer. Good value.
  • Cons: Not seam taped. Usually sold out. Built-in front shoulder strap pockets could be larger.

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, built-in shoulder strap pockets. These can fit bear spray, a phone, or small bottle, but we wish they were slightly larger.

Verdict

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

  • 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: Frameless – 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.

Verdict

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 with a 10lb base weight who can stomach a 7-10 week lead time on your order, we highly recommend the MLD Exodus 55.

REI Co-op Flash Air 50

We’re thrilled to see REI continue pumping out Co-op brand ultralight gear, and the sub-two-pound Flash Air 50 might just be their crown jewel.

  • Weight: 30 oz
  • Price: $299
  • Materials: UHMWPE ripstop nylon
  • Frame: Shaped spring steel piping
  • Load Capacity: 25 lbs (likely a conservative estimate)
  • Internal Volume: 40L
  • External Volume : 10L
  • Pros: Ultralight. Very comfy pre-curved foam hip belt & padded back panel. Fair value. Load lifters. Minimalist design.
  • Cons: Slim exterior pocket profiles decreases usable volume. Pad mod detachable pockets are lackluster. No daisy chain on shoulder straps. Top Y-strap too narrow. Bladder tube ports lets rain in.

Construction & Features

For starters, you can think of this design like a streamlined version of REI’s esteemed Flash 55 backpacking pack, including a very similar aerated foam back panel, pre-curved hip belt, and pocket configuration. Where it differs is the use of lighter weight fabrics, lack of torso-adjustability, and removal of the top compartment (AKA brain). Let’s dive in.

Flash Air 50 is built with a UHMWPE ripstop nylon fabric, which in terms of performance, is probably similar to the Robic Nylons found across the cottage industry. UHMWPE  refers to its ultra high molecular weight polyethylene rip stop grid, making it extra hard to tear, even if a small puncture should occur.

The back panel and pre curved hip belt (with lovely reverse pull adjusters) are constructed with a very comfortable perforated foam with large air flow valleys to help reduce heat build up. The foam paneling is connected to a spring steel pipe frame with load lifters up top to reduce shoulder pressure and transfer weight to the hips.

Traversing the entire lower half of the pack are a wide array of front and side pockets, made with more of the same ripstop nylon (and a bit of mesh). While generally voluminous, if the main body compartment is fully loaded, it eats into exterior pocket volume from the inside, reducing the amount of gear you have easy access to. Its hip belt pockets do not have structured undersides, meaning they feel a bit thin and act smaller than they look. An easy improvement to this pack would be adding a bit more slack to most, if not all of the external pockets.

A few other minor odds and ends caught our attention, including the top drinking bladder tube ports, which are a rain entry point. We also found the PackMod pockets to be lackluster. The shoulder strap mesh one is slightly too small for a full size phone and doesn’t seem very durable. Another hangs loosely and bounces around as you walk.

Verdict

We’re ecstatic to have found a legit ultralight backpack from a mainstream brand. Flash Air 50 is large, light, and comfy. From price to performance, this one is really good across the board, albeit not exceptional in any particular way.

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!

Verdict

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.

Verdict

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 2024 Edition

The Gossamer Gear Mariposa 60, an exceptional and iconic ultralight backpack, beloved by thru-hikers, and updated for 2024. You still get the same great external storage suite, but now with an improved frame-hip-belt-combo that moves with you. And the entire pack is made with recycled Robic Nylon and C0 DWR for a nice sustainability boost.

  • Weight: 34.7 oz
  • Price: $315
  • Materials: Recycled Robic Nylon, 100d & 210D
  • Frame: Closed shape aluminum, sit pad back panel
  • Load Capacity: 35 lbs (estimate)
  • Internal Volume: 36L
  • External Volume : 24L
  • Pros: Massive external storage suite. Eco-friendly design. Good value. Ultralight. Frame-hip belt mobility. Sit pad included. Lid pocket. S-curve shoulder straps.
  • Cons: Not made with best-in-class composite fabrics. Heavy-end of ultralight spectrum. Delicate stretch mesh.

Construction & Features

Like its predecessor, the 2024 edition of Gossamer Gear Mariposa 60 is a full size, fully-featured internal frame backpacking pack. It’s designed for medium to long-length trips, thru-hiking, and/or carrying extra gear and supplies. Mariposa is constructed with a combo of 100d and 210d Recycled Robic Ripstop nylon, famous for its high durability-to-weight ratio, and now sustainable too.

One unique aspect is how much of the volume is external storage; the 60L capacity is split between a 36L main compartment, and 24L spread across a multitude of external pockets. This makes it incredibly easy to access all of the gear you will need throughout the day, and is a major differentiator and draw for this pack vs others like it. It has all of the normal pockets you’d expect on a premium ultralight backpack, only modified with a lid pocket, extra pocket on the upper half of the wearer’s right side, and a super XL enlarged side pocket on the wearer’s left. With the Gossamer Gear Mariposa 60, you will never want for external storage.

The frame is a closed shape aluminum stay which connects to shoulder load lifters for increased comfort. The frame is taller than before, steepening the angle of the load lifters, thus increasing their efficacy. The frame situates into the PVT Frame hip belt housing. This connection is unique in that it allows the hip belt to move with you slightly, adjusting to your stride while keeping the pack in perfect alignment on your back. The back panel is a removable, functional sit pad that eliminates the need to carry an standalone sit pad.

Verdict

The updated Gossamer Gear Mariposa 60 backpack is an exceptional full-size ultralight pack, with best-in-class external storage, and now made with recycled Robic Ripstop and a frame-hip-belt combo that comfortably moves with you. This design competes favorably with other packs in the ~$300 price range where you won’t find many better options. Nice one, Gossamer Gear!

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.

Verdict

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!

 

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.

Sizes

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.

Verdict

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.

Features

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.

Verdict

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

About

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.

Verdict

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

PRO TIPS & BACKPACKING BACKPACK BUYER INFO

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.

Summary

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?

67 replies
  1. Bert courson
    Bert courson says:

    Hi, thanks for the extended review.

    If you can find the Vaude Wizard 24+4 I’m sure it would rise to the top for most versatile, And they are indestructible. I’ve carried many rocks (collecting them) in mine over years. Remarkable pack.

    Reply
  2. Jeff
    Jeff says:

    Seems like a real miss not to include the Durston Kakwa 55 in this list of new packs. I see your comment re not in stock at all sizes, but that shouldn’t disqualify it – it’s in demand and getting scooped up. Just got mine and looking forward to trying it out once I get out of winter here!

    Reply
    • Jaeger Shaw
      Jaeger Shaw says:

      Green light on the Durston Kakwa from our team. Unless you want a dedicated super ultralight pack, we’d 100% go with the 55. We’ve been tracking its stock, but hesitated to include on the list as there isn’t a complete size run available at time of posting.

      Reply
  3. Mel Barr
    Mel Barr says:

    Hi Alan,

    How do you carry the ultralight backpacks in airplanes?. Since the materials/suspension are light, they are likely to get damaged in check-in process. If I pack it in a large suitcase – I am not sure where to leave the suitcase when I start the backpacking trip

    Also, how durable is Caldera Keg-F system and how often do you need to replace the Keg

    Reply
    • Alan Dixon
      Alan Dixon says:

      If you get one of the more rugged DCF (e.g. HMG), and now new Ultra Fabric packs (MLD Exodus) they are more than up to the abuse of check-in for carry on. In fact we just did this a few weeks agao with with a coastal walk in the UK. No problems. Just walked off the plane grabbed a train, and went hiking. Best, -a

      Reply
    • George Riley
      George Riley says:

      sorry little late but most airlines provide clear garbage bags for checked backpacks. completed the colorado trial in July and it went well flying to Denver. Pack everything internally with poles etc..l.
      or ship ahead poles, stakes, knife, etc and carry as carryon luggage.

      Reply
    • Alan Dixon
      Alan Dixon says:

      You can also, use your pack as your carry-on piece. I did this recently on a trip to the Bolivian Altiplano. Worked fine for a 3 leg flight. Best, -alan

      Reply
  4. bb
    bb says:

    “Guiding in Rocky Mountain Park last summer, Alan carried a rigid Wild Ideas Scout bear canister with 5 days of food and guides gear in his Exodus DCF Backpack”

    hey alan. with this combo (scout + exodus) was there any barrelling of the back of the pack? how did you orient the can inside the pack? is there room for padding in the form of clothing or foam to avoid barreling and hard corners digging into your back? could you feel the can at all?

    I own a scout and I’m considering a prophet (same dimensions as the exodus, just shorter in the extension) but want to make sure they ride comfortably together.

    Reply
    • Alan Dixon
      Alan Dixon says:

      Hi William, good Q. With the Wild Ideas Scout bear canister in the Exodus, you need to put it in vertically and then pad around it in the sides of the can in the spinal area of the pack. Also my sleeping bag is in the bottom of the pack and then the can goes on top of it. That keeps the critical hip belt, lower lumbar area comfortable. Hope this helps. Warmest, -alan

      Reply
  5. Gift Bag
    Gift Bag says:

    I love the new bag!! The bags by the testers give me great ideas on what fabrics to use.
    I have a piece of waxed canvas that will work well.
    Thanks for all the pictures Shoulders Bags

    Reply
    • Alan Dixon
      Alan Dixon says:

      Gift Bag, not exactly sure what you are talking about. Waxed canvas would certainly be a retro way to go for a backpack. And not sure what pictures you are talking about. Best, -alan

      Reply
  6. Jolly G
    Jolly G says:

    Hey Alan – Can you recommend the lightest pack that also offers the best weight transfer to the hips? I have a bad back and need to avoid anything that pushes down on my shoulders and compresses my lumbar. I should mention I’m tall too (6’5”) with a long torso (21”-24” depending on the pack). Thanks.

    Reply
      • Tim
        Tim says:

        Hi Alan,

        My wife and I are backpacking beginners and I have been doing some research on equipment. We are trying to go fairly light but don’t think we will get down to “ultralight” status quite yet. I was just about to order the Zpacks Arc Zip Ultra 62L for me and the Zpacks Women’s Arc Haul Ultra for my wife when I cam across your article “Best Backpacking Backpacks for 2022”. Like Jolly G. wrote to you in June 2020 I have a cranky back + knees + hips (64 years old and 40 years playing squash). I sweat a lot in the heat so am looking for a backpack that would be both as cool as possible while transferring as much weight to my hips as possible. Your thoughts on these two packs and your other suggestions / recommendations would be greatly appreciated. All the best!

        Reply
        • Jaeger Shaw
          Jaeger Shaw says:

          The Zpacks Arc Haul is an excellent pack with great weight transfer. These are full on ultralight packs though. You might also consider the new Osprey Exos Pro 55 which weighs just two pounds and boasts great weight transfer and excellent back aeration.

  7. Lillers
    Lillers says:

    Thanks for the great info. I’m new to backpacking and after much research have decided to go lightweight…not ultra light or standard weight. Your info has really helped me narrow things down. After much research, I’m down to three packs and really appreciate your insight as all three are on your list. I will make a point to visit your site regularly for more tips and info.
    All the best!

    Reply
    • Alan Dixon
      Alan Dixon says:

      Lillers, nice to hear from you and glad you find the site useful. I am hitting the backcountry for 10 days starting tomorrow morning. And I don’t know which three packs you are looking at. Happy to help you when I am out. Warmest, -alan

      Reply
    • Alan Dixon
      Alan Dixon says:

      Lillers, I am back. Let me know what packs you are interested in and I will do me best to help. Warmets, -alan

      Reply
  8. Darcy
    Darcy says:

    There’s a feature of the ULA packs that you might not have fully appreciated: Their hipbelts! As a short, very curvy woman with a booty, I find it difficult to get a good pack fit, especially the hipbelt. The ULA let me choose the size of my pack, the type of shoulder straps, and the size of hipbelt. I have a small pack and XL hipbelt. PLUS their hipbelt design lets me adjust the top and bottom of the hipbelt to fit my curves.

    Reply
    • Alan Dixon
      Alan Dixon says:

      Yes Darcy, ULA does a great job fitting women, and customized fit in general. I was one of the first men to realize that the “women’s” S shaped shoulder straps were actually more comfortable for men too. That being said, there is a great amount of adjustability in the Granite Gear Crown packs. And Gossamer Gear & Zpack both allow you to choose your hip belt size independent of the pack size. Best, -alan

      Reply
  9. Jon Eskelsen
    Jon Eskelsen says:

    Thanks for the post. I found it very interesting. Looking forward to reading more reviews on this site. I’ve seen on several other lists that the REI Flash 55 received positive reviews. Curious if you have taken a look at it and whether you consider it a worthy pack or not? Thanks for your sharing your views.

    Yours
    Jon

    Reply
  10. Greg
    Greg says:

    Great writeup – lots of solid info, especially for those just getting into UL. I have several UL packs, some homemade, some from cottage vendors. But I’ve settled on a relatively heavy framed pack – even for short trips in which I could fit what I need in a UL pack – because the heavy framed pack fits and distributes the weight well that I cannot distinguish a difference when I use it vs a pack that weighs a quarter of the weight. I’m as surprised as anyone could be that I’m saying this. I have absolutely nothing against the packs you mention here – they are all great; maybe I just found that magical perfect pack for my body frame.

    Reply
    • Alan Dixon
      Alan Dixon says:

      Hi Greg, Whatever works. Hike your own hike. Altho, I do point out that the #1 factor for pack comfort is total-pack weight. And after a 20 mile day those extra pounds can really grind you down physically and mentally. For loads under 20 lb, and definitely under 15 lb, my preference is to go frameless without a hip belt. If find this the ultimate in freedom of movement and joy on the trail. To each their own. Best, -alan

      Reply
  11. Ben
    Ben says:

    Hey Alan, have you done a separate review of the HMG pods anywhere? I’ve seen Ryan use them extensively and wondered if & how you use them for packing.

    Reply
    • Alan Dixon
      Alan Dixon says:

      I have not reviewed them elsewhere. I use both pod, roll-top and regular stuffs. Each has its strengths. Pods are really nice if you need to be able to see and find gear in the stuff, and of corse for fitting exactly in the pack’s crossection. For something like a sleeping bag, a standard stuff is actually better. Best, -alan

      Reply
  12. Will Shipp
    Will Shipp says:

    Hi Alan,

    In the “Who is Adventure Alan” YouTube video you are wearing a water bottle holder on the shoulder strap of your HMG SW 2400. Who manufactures that water bottle holder and where can I find it? As you know getting water bottles in/out of the side pockets of the HMG SW can be a chore and I am looking for a better system to access my drinking water while on trail.

    Thanks!

    Reply
    • Will Shipp
      Will Shipp says:

      And to be a bit more specific I almost always carry Smartwater 1L bottles so the water bottle holders manufactured by HMG aren’t a good fit.

      Reply
      • Ed. C.
        Ed. C. says:

        Will,
        I watched the video and zoomed in on one of the stable shots. It’s an Essentia water bottle pouch. I did a google search and couldn’t find it anywhere.

        If you can’t find it, just do a search for ‘water bottle holder’ or ‘water bottle pouch’ and maybe add in the word ‘backpacking’ and there are many vendors including many of the ultralight tent/backpack manufacturers.

        In addition you can find tons of options for making your own. You can do it using parachord and/or elastic chord (and even hair ties!).

        if using elastic line, just put one strap at the top (just below the cap’s shoulder) and then one at the bottom.

        For parachord, You’d probably have to be a bit more creative to ensure that it holds, but there’s several DIY videos that can show you.

        Reply
  13. Jason Millwood
    Jason Millwood says:

    Thank you, Alan! I just purchased the Circuit based on many and your recommendations. It’s actually not a huge pack like everyone makes it out to seem. I look at the internal volume of a pack for my main criteria. The main volume in the circuit is only 2,400 CU IN (40L) same as my HMG 2,400! I’m glad I went Circuit over Ohm 2.0

    Reply
  14. chris
    chris says:

    I can’t find a pack that ticks all my boxes; should I take the huge leap and make my own?

    40 ltr
    Frameless
    Under 28 ounces
    BV 500 low & horizontal
    Solidly anchored compression straps on the front; not on the sides (for skimo style ski carry, snowshoes, etc)
    Super fast one strap – one buckle roll top that doesn’t come undone
    No laminates anywhere. Meaning DCF or xPac.
    Def no Velcro either. Same for zippers.
    Water bottles on the belt towards the back, phone on the shoulder.
    Full height side pockets for 3 liter Platys when in the desert.

    No compromise on any of these.

    Reply
    • Alan Dixon
      Alan Dixon says:

      Hi Chris, thanks for those incredibly detailed spec’s ;-) I know of no pack that comes close to have all these features. Guessing you’ve already suspected this, but you’ll need to sew your own or have someone sew it for you. Alison and I had somebody sew us two custom, to our spec’s “Canyon Specific” Frameless Backpacks for our canyoneering trips in UT. It can be done. Wishing you all the best creating your dream pack. Warmest, -alan & alison

      BTW FWIW we prefer our canisters on the top of the pack. -a2

      Reply
    • E.C.
      E.C. says:

      Chris,
      I’m by no means an expert and I am not endorsing a brand, but in my quest I came across the Zimmerbuilt packs. I emailed Chris and he was very responsive. I almost pulled the trigger on having him build me a pack. It would be very similar to what’s on his site in an attempt to keep the customization down (and thus the cost). I didn’t have near as many requirements as you…although I do understand the desire to put a BV500 low and horizontal. Actually, you can seem my quest directly below your post. Please pardon the wordi-ness. Chris’s packs were some of the least expensive custom packs out there. I had a limited budget and had to cross out some of the other custom shops.

      In the end, I went with a brand I can get at the local ‘three-letter-outdoor-enthusiast-store’ for one sole reason: I could try it on and I knew it fit me right and fit well. Don’t get me wrong, the pack I got actually fit all my desire-ments save for one. Putting the BV500 horizontally in the pack at about the crook of my back. But that wasn’t a deal breaker. I figure that I can recoup the space by packing better and less (which I’ve confirmed I can do in my new pack).

      BTW, most of the well known ultra-light pack companies will modify their design to fit your requirements…save for maybe the horizontal bear can placement. But if you know of a pack that you like and know it fits you well, it might be worth a call to see if they’ll do the work.

      Good luck with your quest. It can be daunting and challenging to find the right kit. It’s an investment; researching till your eyes ache and searching out leaders in the community, like Alan here, is certainly worth the effort.

      Reply
      • chris
        chris says:

        Thanks for the input Alan and EC.
        Zimmerbuilt is amazingly affordable.

        For my specs to work out the bear can needs to be outside the pack body.

        I was thinking something along these lines, although the one profiled here is framed I believe:

        https://www.instagram.com/p/BoEkqmTFLVo/

        Reply
  15. Ed. C.
    Ed. C. says:

    Alan, (sorry for what’s to be a long email)
    So I’m whittling down my selection on a backpack. It’s tough because so man of them aren’t available at local stores and, like shoes and pants, you never know how it will fit until you try it on.

    REI recently started carrying the HMG 2400 and 3400 packs. I spent about an hour there trying it on with weight and fiddling with it. I added about 35 lbs and it felt really comfy. I then tyed with a weighted bear canister to figure out how it would fit. I tried it on top, but it slid out the side as I couldn’t cinch down the y-strap. But I figure for a 4-5 day trip I could put it inside a 3400 along with my stuff.

    So, with all that said, I was wondering if you had any guidance between three packs
    1) HMG 3400
    2) Katabatic Onni Liteskin 50L
    3) Zimmer Built of similar size, but customized just a little.

    All three are probably overkill for my skill and level of travel. but I figure buy once, cry once.

    Cost:
    HMG 3400: $345
    Onni LS 50: $325
    Zimmer: ~$315 (w/ aluminum stay), might increase with some mods

    Materials
    HMG: Dyneema Composite
    ONNI: XPac or similar
    Zimmer: XPac (although could do Dyneema, but for more cost)
    Note: I’ve heard that XPac might be more durable than Dyneema, but not sure about XPac vs HMG’s composite.

    Weight
    HMG: 32 oz stock
    Onni: 29 Oz (medium)
    Zimmer: ~31 oz (depending on what I add)

    Other stuff
    HMG: I was considering having the waste belt be custom with a nylon webbing strap instead of their pockets so I can add my own pockets, this would be an additional cost. Their pods are made for their packs and might help with keeping things organized. Some have said their belt pockets are a bit small
    ONNI: This has some kind of ribbed foam that supposedly helps keep your back drier. Some people have complained about their belt pockets.
    ZImmer: totally customizable from the get go. No real complaints.

    I almost pulled the trigger with the Zimmer, but I’m worried about fit. I’ve read many stories where folks just can’t get a pack to fit them well, but works for many others. This is not a complaint with Zimmer, but for packs in general (for instance, I don’t like how the Osprey Atmos AG fits…I don’t like the belt). I’ve looked at Gossamer Gear, Granite Gear, ZPacks, and others. But I keep coming back to these three.

    So, I’m hoping that you have some insight on how you chose the HMG. have you ever tried any other cottage industry packs? Maybe one of the other’s I’ve listed. Any help you can provide would be great.

    Thanks for your time.

    All the best,
    Ed

    Reply
    • Alan Dixon
      Alan Dixon says:

      Hi Ed. Apologies for the late reply. I was on a 100 mile trek and just got back. Unfortunately, it is not possible to test and review all packs on the market. As such, I don’t have enough familiarity with ONNI or Zimmer to opine with any authority. I will say that in general I prefer Dyneema to XPac. And yes, pack fit is personal altho as I say in my pack guide, the #1 think you can do for pack comfort is carry less weight. To that end, you might consider shedding weight with some of the gear in our 9 Pound Full Comfort Lightweight Backpacking Gear List. Or do it for free by reducing your food weight with our 2019 Best Backpacking Food – simple and nutritious. There are things here that will definitly improve your backcountry experience without the vaugaries of pack fit. And reducing the food weight is free. Wishing some great backpacking over the next year. Warmest, -alan

      Reply
  16. Terri
    Terri says:

    Hi,
    Can you do a review of the Dan Durston 43L pack when it is available? It was just listed on Massdrop as a preorder for $120. I got one, but they won’t be delivered until April :). It is 29 oz, highly water resistant, has shoulder and hip belt pockets, internal frame, load lifters, and a bungee type expandable front pocket. The price is phenomenal. A BV 450 will fit inside. Hope it delivers all it promises. I haven’t seen anything at this weight and with these designs ever at this price point.

    Reply
    • Alan Dixon
      Alan Dixon says:

      Hi Terri. Good Q and it is on the radar. Just out of the backcountry guiding clients for a couple of weeks. So yes, I am scheduled to receive one of the DD packs from Massdrop this spring and assuming it’s decent I will add it to my Backpack Guide. Best, -alan

      Reply
  17. Bret
    Bret says:

    Great list. Like how you separated into 3 categories. I know you Eos but another light framed pack that’s often overlooked is Osprey Talon 44 at 36oz. They also now have Levity but seems rather fragile.

    Reply
  18. Dilley
    Dilley says:

    Hello!
    Your site is great. I think it helped convince me that ultralight wasn’t just a ridiculous goal to have.
    I am trying to decide between two packs. My goal is a pack that I can carry on (or very close to carry on size as I’m good at charming the airlines) or check through, as well as do mostly weekend but occasional 3-5 day backpack trips. Kind of a one bag for all. Base weight is currently around 15-18 lbs but I’m looking to continue to go lighter.
    I’m 6’2″ 165 lbs 20″ torso. I require a small waistbelt.
    I’m looking at the 3400 southwest HMG, but I have to pay full price and order a custom removable waistbelt which makes it $400.
    I’m also looking at getting the Circuit ULA but customizing it with all white VX42.

    I’m scared to go without load lifters as they’ve been very helpful (I feel) on my Osprey Kestrel 38.

    Any help is appreciated!

    Reply
    • Alan Dixon
      Alan Dixon says:

      Hi Dilley, apologies for the late reply. I was in the backcountry when you posted your comment and then it slipped through the cracks. My suggestion is to get your base weight in the range of 10-12 pounds. That should not be all that difficult or expensive. At that point, load lifters are not as important for pack comfort. Alison has tender shoulders and does not have issues with the HMG pack. But honestly, while Alison and I prefer the HMG Packs, the ULA pack is a better vale. Getting the standard Circuit and lining with the a trash compactor bag or the Gossamer Gear Pack Liners would be the most bang for the buck. You can use the $ you save to replace some of your other heavy gear. Hope this helps. Warmest, -alan & alison

      Reply
  19. Laura Kasko
    Laura Kasko says:

    I am a small woman whose old backpack, a Gregory Diva, is falling apart. I need a large capacity pack with a small hipbelt and lots of outside pockets. I see that you also recommend pockets. But none of your most recommended packs have good and numerous pockets. Do you know of any that do? I’m so tired of looking at the same bullet design made by every single company. Thank you!

    Reply
    • Alan Dixon
      Alan Dixon says:

      Hi Laura,
      Apologies for the late reply. Alison and I are just back at a computer after a month of guiding Alaska’s Brooks Range and then some personal trips in Alaska. Now digging out of the backlog of being away from the internet for a considerable amount of time. First, just curious how many pockets you want and where do you think you want them. This would be useful to know. Second, the Z-packs fully configured could have as many as 9 pockets, 2 hip belt, 2 shoulder straps, 4 side pockets, and the rear bucket pocket. The Gossamer Gear Mariposa has 7 standard if you include the lid pocket, and you can bring that up to 9 by adding two additional shoulder strap pockets. The HMG pack can also take two very nice add-on shoulder strap pockets. Finally, there are some custom shops that cold sew you one with pockets to your spec’s. Also don’t forget cargo short/pants as another place to store gear. Hope this helps. Warmest, -alan & alison

      Reply
      • Laura Kasko
        Laura Kasko says:

        Thank you! I just got back from a trip, also. I like the old style side pockets, with plenty of room in them. Think old external frame pockets. I need a frame that will carry expedition weight, too. I like the idea of custom shops, just not sure where to find a reputable one near DC. Right now I’m looking at the youth-size Gregory Wander and a few Ospreys, but usually the hipbelts on Ospreys, no matter what they say, are not for xs women.

        Reply
  20. Josh Spice
    Josh Spice says:

    Hey Alan, PLEASE remove the Wild Ideas cans from here. Bears have destroyed them in one minute, multiple times. It really irritates me that the Sierra Bear group still lists these as certified. Thanks.

    Reply
  21. Jaclyn
    Jaclyn says:

    Hi Alan,

    Your site has been invaluable for understanding gear in preparation for my section hike. I’m going to try the hammock camping on the AT!
    I appreciated your article about the Mantis. The ship date is after my hike starts. I need to put together my beginner hammock kit. Pack is Silnylon Burn 13oz. I prefer a larger fly since I’ll likely experience heavy rains.

    I’m looking for information about easy and intuitive suspension – what suspension should I source that is intuitive and easy?

    I’ve narrowed down my choices of hammock:

    Dutchware Half Zip with Net 15.5 oz Whoopie Hook Suspension w/ 4ft Huggers – prefer this brand
    Blackbird 15 oz Whoopies w/Dynaweave Straps – $200 – the inner shelf seems useful

    Tarp is Blackbird Superfly $135 – I’m willing to take the weight
    Kelty TripTease Lightline
    Kungix Stakes 7″ Aluminium

    I’d love to hear what you would try for suspension as a beginner. My hike starts in 5 weeks!

    Thank you for all your contributions to the community :)

    Jaclyn

    Reply
    • Alan Dixon
      Alan Dixon says:

      Hi Jaclyn, super excited you are going to hammock camp on the AT. The Dutchware Half Zip is a great choice. If you want a very simple, beginner friendly suspension system I would get the “Mantis Complete Suspension (Includes the following: 2 – 12′ spider daisy chain straps, 2 – mantis).” Doesn’t get easier than this. BUT one thing you should consider is the Dutchware COMPLETE NETTED HAMMOCK PACKAGE for only $280. It’s way easier and less expensive than piecing together your own kit. Hope this helps and wishing you a great AT hike. Warmest, -alan & alison

      Reply
      • Jaclyn
        Jaclyn says:

        Thank you Alan! That complete kit saves me a lot of time and potential mistakes.

        If I get the Sil Poly Xenon Tarp I’m concerned it will soak in water weight on rainy nights. Part of the reason I feel confident doing the AT is because of your awesome 5lb baseweight method! I know you recommend the Cuben Fiber Hex Tarp for your 5lb pack.

        Do you think I’ll have additional weight with the Silpoly Xenon during rainstorms? Is it worth the weight savings to upgrade to the CF Tarp? Ideally I thought the CF Winter Palace would be amazing protection for the AT, though it is incredibly pricey for my budget I will be using a CF pack because I would like to avoid additional weight during rainy weather.

        Reply
        • Alan Dixon
          Alan Dixon says:

          Jaclyn, I guess the Q is how often is the tarp going to be saturated on the AT, that it is still soaking wet in the morning when you pack up? My guess is not all that much, e.g. even in an overnight shower it will likely be fairly dry in the AM — and then how often does it rain? Then weigh that information, against the cost of a DCF tarp (more than the entire Dutchware package). If cost were no object, then the DCF tarp has advantages in weight, no-stretching when wet, and low water absorption. BUT frankly, most nights I do not setup a tarp and it sits in my pack for a just in case I get a random (unforecast) rainshower at night. Hopefully this will give you some perspective to better decide. Best, -alan

        • Jaclyn
          Jaclyn says:

          Thanks Alan, saving the money is definitely a big consideration. You and Alison are an inspiration, a true hiking couple :)

          Does this logic on cuben fiber tarps for the AT apply to the Cuben Fiber Packs? The MLD Burn CF pack is $55 more then the Sil – is there significant advantages? I’m skipping the hip pockets / stow pockets / shoulder pockets because of cost, just going to use a basic fanny pack for my daily use gear.

        • Alan Dixon
          Alan Dixon says:

          If it were me, I would get the DCF Exodus with all the pockets and skip the DCF tarp. The DCF Exodus is definitely worth the cost. In fact, the Exodus is what I usually bring when hammock camping on the AT as the down (top and bottom quilts) takes up a lot of volume. A waterproof pack is always a great thing with all that down — and pockets are also great. And with how light you seem to be dialing in your kit at, I am guessing that that the Exodus could handle the weight for you. Then you can put all your gear into one highly-water-resistant place. See excerpt below from the pack guide. Best, -a

          PRO TIP | How Big a Pack Do You Need?

          It may surprise you, but often times we believe a bigger pack is better. We like packs in the 55L range (assuming you don’t take the extra volume as a license to fill it 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 a pack 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 pack may look all pro and sexy on your back, most times the larger lightweight pack is far more practical and user friendly.

        • Jaclyn
          Jaclyn says:

          Hi Alan,

          I am partial hiking the AT for 3 months starting May 15th. I plan to spend August in Maine soaking up the sites :)

          I am attempting to practice your 8lb Appalachian Trail baseweight method, and I’m having an issue getting my hammock quilts down to 14oz.

          The Hammock Gear quilts that I ordered are vastly heavier then the 14oz weight you have listed for yours!

          Top quilt is 22 oz – this is a 20 degree Econ short-wide (which feels a little short, and I’m a side sleeper

          Under quilt is 19oz – Econ 30 degree 3/4 underquilt. Matches your temp rating but mine comes in at 19oz

          How can I get my quilts down to 14-15oz a piece? Right now I’m carrying 13oz more then you just in quilts!

          Also, because I am summer hiking, is there a mid-summer date where I can release carrying my underquilt? I have a warm 9oz puffy jacket from Sierra Designs with 3 ounces of down. My hesitation to sending my under quilt home is getting trapped in colder temperatures at elevation. I’m not comfortable handling elevation temperature fluctuations yet.

          I was surprised at how different the weight of my quilts are to your listed weights. I am trying to get my weight down.

          Any insight you provide is so helpful!
          You were right about the Dutchware Gear Netted Hammock kit – t’s awesome and was so easy to obtain
          You were also right about Cuben Fiber packs and the MLD Exodus.
          Ron thought the Prophet matches my small torso best!

          Wishing you an awesome hiking season,
          Jaclyn

        • Alan Dixon
          Alan Dixon says:

          Hi Jaclyn, my quilts are custom made. I am only 5’8″, and a quiet sleeper with good quilt control. As such, my quilts are significantly narrower and somewhat shorter than most quilts. Then they are +30 quilts (not +20 like yours), made with lighter fabric than the Econ line and have 900 fp down. All that makes them lighter than your quilts, but also makes them cost a crapload more $ than yours. So light but not anywhere near as good a value as your Exon Quilts (but again this is my profession).

          Note that a standard size +30 Premium Phoenix underquilt is 12.9 oz. And that a short length, standard width +30 Premium Burrow Top Quilt is 14 oz (and mine is narrower than standard). So you can get very close to 13 to 14 oz each if you to to the premium line. But again not a great value to save just a few ounces for each!

          For warm/summer Wx I have a minimal 7.5 oz +40 underquilt that I use — Adam made it specifically for me for this purpose. If it’s warm, I leave it off when I go to bed, and then attach it in the middle of the night as temps drop below 65F or thereabouts. The down jacket doesn’t really help as a substitute for an underquilt as you compress the down under you. And most folks find thaT hammocks without an underquilt are surprisingly cold once temps drop below 60F. Hope this helps. Wishing you a great hike. Warmest, -alan & alison

        • Alan Dixon
          Alan Dixon says:

          Oh, and your Down Jacket makes a great supplement that will usually put +30 quilts more in the range of +20 (or thereabouts). -a

        • Jaclyn
          Jaclyn says:

          Thank you Alan, your advice means a lot to me!

          I went for a 20 degree top quilt in a wide so it would serve multiple thru hikes – the AT hammock this year, the PCT ground camping next year in the desert, Sierras, the Pacific Northwest the following year, along with the AZT and Colorado Rockies in the future.

          What do you think? Is there a single top quilt that could handle all those temperatures? Am I better off saving the weight on the AT and have a summer 40 degree quilt for summer camping in non alpine conditions? Trying to be minimalist and have one top quilt that can handle different terrains!

        • Alan Dixon
          Alan Dixon says:

          If it were me, and this is what I recommend on my site as well, I would go with +30 quilts. And if the forecast is to be colder than I am comfortable in a +30 quilt, then I would supplement it with a warm down jacket and other warm clothing. This is what Alison and do. This “system: is not only lighter but also more flexible. A sort of “layering system” for sleeping. As long as you are not in a cold snap in shoulder season, a +30 quilt with a warm down jacket should suffice for the trips you describe. BUT with the caveat that this for an “average” sleeper — that is every person sleeps different, some sleep warmer some colder. It’s good to know which you are before committing to buying a sleeping bag or quilt. -a

      • Jaclyn
        Jaclyn says:

        Hi Alan,

        I just tried the MLD Prophet with 15lbs and it fits rather unwell- the weight is in the shoulder, there is a shoulder gap, and my shoulders are sore after 30 minutes. The shoulder strap fit is awkward as well. Do you think the ZPacks 55L will fit better and carry the weight in my hips more? I appreciate any advice because I would prefer to go easy on my shoulders. Sincerely, Jaclyn

        Reply
        • Alan Dixon
          Alan Dixon says:

          Hi Jaclyn, some folks just aren’t a good match for frameless packs. My son and I can, and have carried almost 30 pounds in a frameless, hipbelt-less pack (e.g. for long section hikes of the CDT) without and issue. This would be unthinkable for Alison and she has some strong shoulders. So yes, the ZPacks Arc Blast 55 L, should be a revelation for you in terms of getting weight off your shoulders and onto your hips. Only downside is that it is a bit more fiddly with smaller parts. So you will need to treat it with a bit more care. Wishing you some great hiking this year. Warmest, -alan & alison

        • Jaclyn
          Jaclyn says:

          Thank you Alan, you have been a lifesaver! I was really worried about the 4-6 day carries on the AT with the frameless on my shoulder. I do really like MLD’s pack though, the Cuben Fiber material seems robust! What a durable bag!

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