Home » Hiking » Hiking Gear » Best Ultralight Backpacks for Thru Hiking and Backpacking 2021

Best Ultralight Backpacks for Thru Hiking and Backpacking 2021

Updated:
Ultra Light Backpacks

Download the
Lightweight Hiking Gear List

Add your name and email to download the Lightweight Hiking Gear List

Invalid email address
We promise not to spam you. You can unsubscribe at any time.

Sharing is caring!

This is a gear review of The Best Ultralight backpacks for backpacking and thru hiking in 2021.

I have thru hiked thousands of miles and been able to try many backpacks over the years. I definitely know the difference between a good backpack and a bad backpack.

Lightweight backpacks are getting better. It is no longer necessary to carry a 2.5kg (6lb) backpack as was normal 10 or 20 years ago. Lightweight backpacks are the new normal.

All the rucksacks listed bellow are highly rated by long distance thru hikers as backpacks worthy of consideration.

These long distance hiking trails require a strong, functional lightweight backpack in the 35-60 litre range.

Best Ultralight Backpacks for Backpacking in 2021

The Best Ultralight Backpacks for backpacking in 2021 are:


Best Backpack for Backpacking – Overall

Osprey – Exos 48 Review

Weight: 48 litres – 36oz / 1030g
Pros:

> Lifetime guarantee – if the pack breaks they fix or replace it
> The mesh harness allows air circulation around the back.
> The most comfortable ultralight backpack for carrying heavier loads
Cons:
> Heaviest of all the packs listed.
> Small hip belt pockets on older models, new models don’t have hip belt pockets.
> Mesh pockets on the side and rear of the packs is prone to rips and tears but are much better than previous models

I have used the Osprey Exos on all of my Triple Crown hikes. On the PCT I used the large capacity 58 litre which is the perfect size to fit a bear canister horizontally. While all the other packs in this review can carry a bear canister, they have to put the bear canister in vertically.

The large capacity main compartment also allows for lots of room to haul several litres of water along with several days of food through the desert or mountains.

When it comes to Bear Cannisters all the ultralight packs in this review can fit the Bear Cannister horizontally.

The Osprey Exos 58 has a weight of 37oz while the Exos 48 has a weight of 36oz.

It also has room for a hydration pack in the main compartment and the ventilated back panel which works well. The top lid of the Osprey Exos is strange and the added weight of the removable brain is a completely useless for most people. In fact, just get rid of the top lid, it is not worth it.

I changed to the Osprey Exos 48 litre for the CDT and AT as I didn’t need so much carrying capacity. This is one of the best lightweight backpacking backpacks and the most comfortable ultralight backpack in this review.

The Osprey Exos is the recommended pack if you want to carry slightly heavier loads and are not ready to commit to becoming an ounce counting ultra light hiker.

Both the shoulder straps and hip belt makes this the best packs on the market for comfort, well at least when it comes to lightweight backpacks. I found the hip belt to be the best out of all the packs in this review.

Each shoulder straps have small water bottle holsters which are big enough for a small gatorade bottle or similar.

When you are ready to get serious about moving to ultra light then look at some of the other lighter packs listed below.

Older models suffered from very flimsy mesh material, newer models use less of this material and as a result are more durable.

The new models are also lacking any hip belt pockets but have nice side pockets for water bottles.

There is also the ability to strap trekking poles to the pack without using the compressions straps to hold them in.

The Trekking poles straps are sometimes annoying and I found that I rarely used them. I preferred to strap them to the side of the pack using the compression straps.

Osprey recently released the Levity lightweight backpack. which is possibly the best pack they have released in recent years. I have not used this backpack and neither have any of my thru hiking friends so I am unable to give a comprehensive review at this time.

I would say this pack has a lot of potential for hikers moving to lighter weight gear. So far the only complaint I have heard is the hip belt pockets have been removed but this is the same complaint for the new Exos.

And like all the other lightweight packs in this review it is not designed to carry heavy loads like 35 pounds or similar. Overall, it is one of the best backpacks for the Pacific Crest Trail.

Osprey Exos 58litre – 38oz – 1080grams
Osprey Exos 48litre – 36oz – 1030grams
Osprey Levity 45 litre – 28oz – 780grams

Compare Prices:


Best Ultralight Backpack for Thru Hiking

Hyperlite Mountain Gear – Southwest / Windrider Review

Weight:
Southwest 2400 40 litre – 30oz / 850g
Windrider 2400 40 litre 30oz / 850g
Junction 2400 40 litre 30oz / 852g
Southwest 3400 55 litre – 32oz / 910g
Windrider 3400 55 litre 32oz / 902g
Junction 3400 55 litres 32oz / 907g
Pros:

> The most lightweight waterproof backpack for hiking in this review
> Strong and durable. Able to last multiple long distance thru hikes
> Comfortable
> Popular with ultralight backpackers
> Great mesh pockets, external pocket and storage for water bottles
Cons:
> Expensive.
> Small hip pockets on older models but newer models have bigger pockets.

Hyperlite Mountain Gear (HMG) backpacks are made out of super lightweight Dyneema Composite Fabric backpacks, formally known as Cuben fiber. They come in three styles and sizes that are perfect for hiking.

The HMG Windrider, HMG Southwest and HMG Junction come in 40 and 55 litre. The only real difference between the them is the front material used for the side and rear pockets.

My overall choice for the best ultralight waterproof backpack is the Hyperlite Mountain Gear 2400 which is a 40 litre pack but thru hiker Alexandra ‘Puff Puff‘ Mason uses the Hyperlite Mountain Gear 3400 which is the 55 litre version. She used the Hyperlite Mountain Gear Windrider 3400 while she hiked the PCT twice, the Appalachian Trail and the Te Araroa Trail in New Zealand.

Puff Puff thinks the 55 litre is perfect for the PCT but would have liked the 40 litre version for the Appalachian Trail. She reports that the pack is about 90% waterproof but she still uses a trash bag to be sure.

It uses two aluminium stay and a 1/4 inch foam backing on the back panel which is very comfortable. The ultralight backpack has a comfortable back panel and shoulder straps.

The front mesh pocket and side mesh external pockets make great water bottle pockets. The carrying capacity in the main compartment is quite large.

Overall this is a simple, high quality pack that is very popular among hikers for good reason. This could be one of the best ultralight packs on the market right now and one of the best packs on this list.

This is the best backpack for the Appalachian Trail due to the waterproof Dyneema composite material and the trail being quite rainy. In fact this is the best backpacking backpack for bad weather and there is no need for a rain cover.

Alexandra ‘Puff Puff’ Mason uses the Hyperlite Mountain Gear Windrider 3400, she writes about her journeys on her website – https://masonalexandra.com


Mountain Laurel Design – Prophet / Burn Review

lightweight hiking backpack review of the MLD Prophet

Weight:
Prophet 48 litre – 16oz / 454g
Burn 38 litre – 14oz / 400g
Pros:

> Extremely lightweight packs
> Great value for money
> Long wear life
> One of the best thru hiking packs
Cons:
> Not comfortable with heavy loads
> Only for ultra light hikers

The Mountain Laurel Design (MLD) Burn and Prophet are two of the lightest high quality backpacks on the market.

The MLB Burn is an ultralight pack for the experienced thru hiker that has progressed from lightweight hiking to ultralight hiking.

They are only for hikers that have a very light base pack weight around 10lb (4.5kg) or lighter. If you are an already experienced hiker and have already started the journey of moving from Lightweight to Ultralight then this might be a backpack for you.

Fellow Aussie thru Hiker Cam ‘Swami’ Honan has used the MLD Burn for thousands of miles of hiking around the world. He reported that the pack is comfortable as long the pack weight being carried are light loads less than 22lb (10kg.) The MLD Burn is durable enough to last him at least 8000 miles (13000km).

It has small exterior pockets with two side pockets and front mesh pocket. It also has a roll top lid which thru hikers love when they need to access the main compartment quickly.

This lightweight rucksack should only be used in conjunction with an Ultralight Backpacking Quilts and an Ultralight Backpacking Tent.

Cam ‘Swami’ Honan uses the MLD Burn and writes about all thing hiking on his website https://www.thehikinglife.com/


Pa’lante V2 Pack Review

lightweight hiking backpack review of the Pa'lante V2 Backpack

Weight:
Pros:

> Best light hiking backpack for ultralight hikers
> Great simple design with shoulder pockets and a bottom pocket under
> Good value for money
Cons:
> Not comfortable with heavy loads above 25lb (11kg)
> Only for ultra light hikers with a very low base weight
> Potentially long wait times for delivery

The Pa’lante V2 is an ultralight pack for the hiker looking to lighten their gear weight. This pack is frameless with a roll top closure so only suitable for those who have a low base weight.

At 16 oz (454grams) it is a worthy ultra light choice to consider.

Experienced thru hiker Micheal ‘Grizzly’ Ivey who has a base weight of around 8-9lb (4kg) uses this pack. As his base weight is so low he does not use the hip belt. It should be mentioned that hip belts are optional on this pack. The whole weight of the rucksack is on the shoulder straps.

Grizzly hiked the Pacific Crest Trail with me in 2015 and again in 2019. He also hiked the Continental Divide Trail, Colorado Trail twice and Superior Trail.

He reported that the Pa lante V2 is the best lightweight backpack and the perfect size for him as he is an ultralight hiker. It is comfortable as long as the contents of the pack weight is kept below 25lb (11kg).

The pack is not waterproof and he uses a packliner. He likes the pack so much he used it on his 2019 thru hike of the Pacific crest Trail.

Micheal ‘Grizzly’ Ivey uses the Pa’lante V2, you can follow him on Instagram – https://www.instagram.com/grizzly_hikes/

This lightweight rucksack should only be used in conjunction with an Ultralight Backpacking Quilts and an Ultralight Backpacking Tent.


Gossamer Gear Kumo / Murmur Review

Weight:
Gossamer Gear Kumo 36 litres – 18oz / 525 g
Pros:

> Extremely lightweight packs
> Great value for money
> Long wear life
Cons:
> Not comfortable with heavy loads
> 36 litres is small for most hikers
> Only for ultra light hikers who have their lightweight gear dialled in

Gossamer Gear are a well known pack manufacture and a great choice for the minimalist hike.

Their larger packs such as the Gossamer Gear Mariposa 60 are popular but the lighter packs such as the Kumo and Murmur are the real lightweight packs of choice.

Again, like a lot of the packs mentioned, do not load these packs with too much stuff. They are for the ultra light hikers only.

It comes with a roll top closure and overall the main compartment is not that big. The huge waterbottle pockets on the side and the large stretch fabric pocket on the back make the pack quite a bit bigger than it really is.

At 36 litres they are small packs which is enough for thru hiker and bikepacker Onna ‘Onnamove’ Voellmer.

She has hiked the Pacific Crest Trail , Continental Divide Trail and Arizona Trail and uses the Kumo. She thinks it is the perfect lightweight backpacks for thru hiking and peak bagging.

She reports that the shoulder straps on the pack are comfortable with loads up to 20lb (9kg) but it is often loaded up with 25lb (11kg) when leaving town after a big resupply.

Although it comes with a supplied backpad that sit on the back panel, but she uses the sleeping mat the Gossamer Gear Nightlight sleeping pad for extra padding. It is hard to find anything wrong with this pack, except it is only for ultra light hikers who have committed to lightweight gear.

Onna ‘Onnamove’ Voellmer uses the Kumo 36 and writes about her hiking and bikepacking adventures on –  https://theredheadednomad.com/

This lightweight rucksack should only be used in conjunction with an Ultralight Backpacking Quilts and an Ultralight Backpacking Tent.


ULA – Circuit / CDT Review

lightweight hiking backpack review of the ULA Circuit backpack
ULA – Circuit / CDT Review

Weight:
Circuit 68litre – 41oz – 1160 grams
CDT 54 Litres – 24oz – 680 grams
Pros:

> The CDT is a nice lightweight backpack
> Comfortable with heavier loads
> The ULA backpacks offer optional colours, pockets and personalised embroidery.
Cons:
> The ULA Circuit is rather heavy

Some of the most popular backpacks on the long distance hiking trails are the ULA Circuit (68 litre) and the ULA CDT (54 litre).

They are strong, lightweight and suitable for any long distance thru hike. While the ULA Circuit is the most popular pack I prefer the ULA CDT for it’s lighter weight and no frills features.

The Circuit is the heaviest of all the packs listed here and at 68 litres is quite large. These packs also come with optional shoulder pockets.

Would you like to have your trail name or website embroided onto your pack or have your own personalised colour? They can do that for a couple of dollars extra.


Other Packs to consider

Other Great Packs I have not yet had the chance to review:

Zpacks Arc Blast: The Zpac Arc Blast in on my list and very popular with ultralight backpackers. It is on my list and will be reviewed very soon. Stay Tuned.

Granite Gear: They also make some great backpacking backpacks but most of them are not ultralight. Granite Gear packs are comfortable and better at carrying heavier loads.


Buyers Guide

All the packs listed above are great quality and will work well for hikers that want to move from a traditional hiking set up to lightweight or Ultra Light.

Best Overall lightweight backpack

The best lightweight backpack is the Osprey Exos which is comfortable and able to carry heavier loads if needed.

Best Ultralight backpack

The Hyperlite Mountain Gear packs are the best lightweight backpacks on the market right now. They are the best compromise between lightweight, strong materials and they are able to carry heavy loads if needed. As they are made form Cuban Fibre they are the most waterproof of all the packs. They would be the perfect lightweight backpack for thru hiking and backpacking.

Closely followed by the ULA and the best lightweight backpacking pack for the hiker wanting to commit to going ‘ultra light’ are the MLD, Gossamer Gear and Pa’lante packs.

Osprey Exos on the PCT during the review of this backpack
Gear Testing the Osprey Exos 58 on the Pacific Crest Trail

Why use an Ultra Light Backpack

Making the move from a traditional hiking set up to lightweight, then moving even further to ultra light backpacks is not for everyone. Specially when it comes to ultralight backpacks.

Having a base weight of 6kg (13lb) or below will make hiking so much easier. There will not only be less stress on the body but less chance of injury and much less fatigue at the end of a days hiking.

All of the ultralight backpacks listed are recommended as a major step in lightening the base weight of your hiking gear.

Carrying a backpack on the Inca Trail Peru in 1997
Gone are the days of carrying a heavy backpack like I did in Peru circa 1997!

A Word of Warning about Ultralight Backpacks

Do not consider buying any of the MLD, Gossamer Gear or Palante packs unless you are committed to having a base weight below 5kg (11lb).

If you want to use an ultralight backpack like the backpacks in this review, then you should only be use it in conjunction with an Ultralight Backpacking Quilts or Ultralight Sleeping Bag and an Ultralight Backpacking Tent.

Carrying loads heavier than 22-25lb (10-12kg) with any an MLD, Gossamer Gear or Palante packs will not be the most comfortable ultralight backpack. Some do not come with a hip belt or the hip belt is optional. Carrying heavy load with these backpacks are not an option. You have been warned!


Backpack Frame vs Frameless

Frameless Backpacks are lighter and simple. Backpacks with frames are arguably the most comfortable lightweight backpacks.

Frameless backpacks are for the hiker looking to move to ultralight backpacking who will be carrying much less weight.

A frameless pack should only be used if the loads are not too heavy and the gear is packed thoughtfully. Then they will be comfortable.

Some ultralight backpacks save even more weight by not using the hip belts.

For example, don’t pack your stove in your backpack so it pushes a sharp object onto your back.


Dyneema Composite Fabric Backpacks

Dyneema Composite Fabric backpacks, formally known as Cuben fiber backpacks, are completely waterproof  but cost significantly more than other materials. The Hyperlite Mountain Gear Packs are the most waterproof of the packs in this review and the best lightweight waterproof hiking backpack in this review.

3 well used backpacks on the CDT
3 Well used ultralight packs fully loaded and about to head out on the last section of the Continental Divide Trail

Frequently Asked Questions

How Much Does A Backpack For Hiking Cost?

The best lightweight backpacking pack is a big investment. In many ways you get what you pay for. Quality costs money but many a hiker has been upset by companies that change a lot of money for a backpack only to find that it is worn out after a couple of months use.
Even though some of the backpacks listed are rather expensive, they are considered good value for money.

Which company has the Best Backpack Warranty?

Before purchasing any of these backpacks be sure to check the warranty and return policy. Many hikers have been upset over the years when products do not live up to expectations.  
Osprey has one of the best warranties in the business. I’ve had my pack repaired and replaced due to holes in the side pockets, free of charge.
It could have been considered fair wear and tear or it could have been considered a weak point in the design, but they stand by their products. Not all companies are so forgiving.
Hyperlite Mountain Gear is also reported to have great after sales service.

What Is The Best Lightweight Waterproof Hiking Backpack?

Most modern backpacks are lightweight and strong but not all are waterproof. Lining the inside of the backpack with a large trash compacter bag is the cheapest method to waterproof the contents. The Best Lightweight Waterproof Backpack is the Hyperlite Mountain Gear Windrider 2400.

What is the best material for a Backpack?

The materials used nowadays are much lighter than years past with little compromise on strength and durability. The weight of lightweight hiking backpacks have decreased significantly since the days of 6lb / 2.5kg backpack that were normal 20 years ago.
Lightweight Dyneema (Cuban Fibre) has led the way on making modern backpacks so much lighter but not all manufacturers use this material. Other materials such as Xpac and and Cordura are also used.

What is the best Capacity for a Lightweight Backpack?

40-60 litres is enough capacity for 90% of hikers that are committed to hiking with a lighter backpack. For the hiker that is moving from lightweight to ultra light, a 40 litre pack or smaller would be enough.
This is not recommend for most people until the level of hiking experience and ability matches the commitment to go ultra light.

How Durability are Lightweight Backpacks?

The most comfortable backpack probably has so much padding that it weighs too much. The best lightweight backpacking pack will not be comfortable unless you trim the weight of all your other bits of hiking gear to ultra light.
Most ultralight waterproof backpack are likely made of material such as Dyneema (Cuban Fibre) and takes a little more care to prevent holes and tears (which can be easily fixed with tape).
All the packs listed are able to withstand multiple long distance hikes with minimal wear and tear.

The choice is yours. Now go and get one and go hiking.

Another one of the Best Hiking Gear Reviews from BikeHikeSafari.


Next : Read more about Ultralight Gear below

best lightweight hiking backpack
best lightweight hiking backpack
best lightweight hiking backpack

Sharing is caring!

Photo of author
About the Author:
Brad is an Australian who has completed the hiking Triple Crown after he hiked the Pacific Crest Trail, Continental Divide Trail and Appalachian Trail. He has hiked on every continent (except Antarctica) and has cycled from Alaska to Ecuador. He is an expert on outdoor gear currently living in Sydney, Australia.

Download the
Lightweight Hiking Gear List

Add your name and email to download the Lightweight Hiking Gear List

Invalid email address
We promise not to spam you. You can unsubscribe at any time.