Zpacks Nero Ultra 38 Super Ultralight Backpack Review

zpacks nero ultra 38

14.5 Ounces of Super Ultralight Perfection

Now proven successful on many a thru hike, the Zpacks Nero Ultra 38 is our pick for best super ultralight backpack. The frameless design is nothing more than a roll top dry bag with shoulder straps, a hip belt, and external pockets. But when it comes down to it, that’s all one really needs.

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  • Weight: 14.5 oz*
  • Price: $305*
  • 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.
  • Cons: Frameless. Minimal 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.


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 is a 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.

For how simple it is, there are some nice potential customizations. Choose between Challenger Ultra 200 (black) or save .3 oz with Challenger Ultra 100 (gray). 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 30z hip belt to keep the pack securely fitted while hiking. And why not add a .6 water bottle should pouch while you’re at it?

We tested this pack on the Wonderland Trail and found it comfortably and that it easily managed an ultralight load.

And did we mention that it has an even slimmer sibling, the Sub Nero 30 with a base model weight of just 9.3 oz? While the Nero family is clearly designed to cater to the super ultralight backpacking niche, they do double duty as travel or ultralight hiking day packs. When compressed, the take up only 1L of volume and can easily be stored in a larger pack.


We completely understand that super ultralight backpacking isn’t for everyone, and that frameless fastpacking backpacks put more weight on the shoulders and can be uncomfortable. Do not buy this backpack on a whim, unless your kit is already fully dialed. But for those who have mastered the art of ultralight, the Zpacks Nero Ultra 38 backpack may be your best possible chassis for hauling a super ultralight kit for the least possible weight.


Compare this to more great options in our guide to the best ultralight backpacking backpacks of the year.