Ultralight hiking backpacks in 2021 are getting better. It is no longer necessary to carry a 2.5kg (6lb) backpack.
This review contains the Best Lightweight hiking backpacks for backpacking on the market now. All the ones listed bellow are highly rated by long distance thru hikers as backpacks worthy of consideration.
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. You have been warned!
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.
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 my 2.5kg/6lb backpack that I carried 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.
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.
Backpack Frame vs Frameless
Frameless Backpacks are lighter and simple. Backpacks with frames are arguably the most comfortable ultralight 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.
For example, don’t pack your stove in your backpack so it pushes a sharp object onto your back.
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.
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.
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.
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.
I have used the Osprey Exos on all of my Triple Crown hikes. On the PCT I used the 58 litre which is the perfect size to fit a bear canister horizontally and haul several litres of water along with several days of food through the desert. It also has room for a hydration pack. The top lid is strange and the added weight of the removable brain is a completely useless for most people.
I changed to the 48 litre for the CDT and AT as I didn’t need so much carrying capacity. This is one of the best lightweight backpacking packs and the most comfortable ultralight backpack in this review.
This 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. 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 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.
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 other lightweight packs it is not designed to carry heavy loads.
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 Circuit is the most popular pack I prefer the 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.
Hyperlite Mountain Gear (HMG) backpacks are made out of super lightweight Dyneema Composite Fabric backpacks, formally known as Cuben fiber. They come in two styles and sizes that are perfect for hiking.
The Windrider and Southwest come in 40 and 55 litre. The only real difference between the two is the mesh used on the outer pocket of the Windrider which is great for airing out smelly or wet gear.
I would prefer the 40 litre pack but thru hiker Alexandra ‘Puff Puff‘ Mason uses the Windrider 3400 – 55 litre version. She has 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 which is very comfortable. Overall this is a simple, high quality pack that is very popular among hikers for good reason.
Alexandra ‘Puff Puff’ Mason uses the HMG Windrider 3400, she writes about her journeys on her website – https://masonalexandra.com
The most lightweight waterproof backpack for hiking in this review
Strong and durable. Able to last multiple long distance thru hikes
One of the best lightweight hiking backpacks
Great mesh pockets, external pocket and storage for water bottles
Small hip pockets on older models but newer models have bigger pockets.
Mountain Laurel Design – Prophet / Burn Review
The Mountain Laurel Design (MLD) Burn and Prophet are two of the lightest high quality backpacks on the market.
The MLB Burn is the best light hiking backpack for the hiker that has progressed from lightweight hiking to ultra light hiking. They are only for hikers that have a very light base weight around 10lb (4.5kg) or lighter.
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 weight being carried is less than 22lb (10kg) and is durable enough to last him at least 8000 miles (13000km).
The Pa’lante V2 is an ultralight pack for the hiker looking to lighten their gear weight. This pack is frameless 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 optional hip belt. The whole weight of the rucksack is on the shoulder straps.
He reported that the Pa lante V2 is the best light hiking backpack and the perfect size for him. It is comfortable as long as the contents of the pack is kept below 25lb (11kg). The pack is not waterproof and he uses a packliner. He likes the pack so much he will be using it on his 2019 thru hike of the Pacific crest Trail.
Great simple design with shoulder pockets and a bottom pocket under
Good value for money
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
Gossamer Gear Kumo / Murmur Review
Gossamer Gear are a well known pack manufacture and a great choice for the minimalist hike. Their larger packs such as the Mariposa 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. 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 perfect for thru hiking and peak bagging. She reports that the pack is 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, 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.
Only for ultra light hikers who have their lightweight gear dialled in
What is the best lightweight backpack to buy in 2021
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.
The most comfortable ultralight backpack for heavier loads is the Osprey Exos 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.
The Hyperlite Mountain Gear packs are the great middle ground as they are light, strong, able to carry good loads if needed and they are the most waterproof of all the packs. They would be the perfect lightweight backpack for thru hiking and backpacking.
The choice is yours. Now go and get one and go hiking.
Next : Read about more great lightweight hiking gear below