Ultimate Guide to the Best Lightweight Backpacks for Thru Hiking and Backpacking 2021

Ultra Light Backpacks

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The Best Lightweight backpacks in 2021 are getting better. It is no longer necessary to carry a 2.5kg (6lb) backpack as was normal 10 or 20 years ago. Things have changed. When it comes to Backpacking Gear, Lightweight backpacks are the new normal.

This review contains the Best Lightweight 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.

These are the best backpacks for long distance hiking a Camino in Europe, backpacking on overnight hikes or thru hiking on trails such as the Pacific Crest Trail, Appalachian Trail or Continental Divide Trail or Te Araroa Trail.

These long distance hiking trails require a strong, functional lightweight backpack in the 35-60 litre range. These lightweight hiking backpack reviews should help you choose the right backpack.

Best Ultralight Backpacks

There is no such thing as the best ultralight backpack. The best ultralight backpacks for long distance hiking are lightweight, comfortable, durable, functional and reasonably priced.

When choosing a lightweight hiking backpack there are many things to take into consideration. The list below are all the best thru hiking packs lightweight backpacks for long distance hiking.

Best Lightweight Backpacks 2021

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 a lightweight tent and a lightweight sleeping bag.

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!

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 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.

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

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

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.

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.

Best Lightweight Hiking Packs Review

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

Osprey – Exos 48 Review

lightweight hiking backpack review of the Osprey Exos

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


  • 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


  • 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

Best Prices:
REI | Amazon | Moosejaw.com | Backcountry.com

ULA – Circuit / CDT Review

lightweight hiking backpack review of the ULA Circuit backpack

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.

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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.

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


  • The CDT is a nice lightweight backpack
  • Comfortable with heavier loads
  • The ULA backpacks offer optional colours, pockets and personalised embroidery.


  • The ULA Circuit is rather heavy

Hyperlite Mountain Gear – Southwest / Windrider Review

lightweight hiking backpack review of the Hyperlite Mountain Gear Southwest

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 HMG Windrider and HMG Southwest come in 40 and 55 litre. The only real difference between the two is the front mesh pocket of the HMG Windrider is better for airing out smelly or wet gear.

I would prefer 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

Southwest 2400 40 litre – 30oz 850grams
Windrider 2400 40 litre 30oz – 850grams
Southwest 3400 55 litre – 32oz – 910grams
Windrider 3400 55 litre 32oz – 902grams


  • 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


  • Expensive.
  • Small hip pockets on older models but newer models have bigger pockets.

Mountain Laurel Design – Prophet / Burn Review

lightweight hiking backpack review of the MLD Prophet

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 Lightweight Sleeping Bags and a Lightweight Tent.

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

Prophet 48litre – 16oz 454grams
Burn 38litre 14oz – 400grams


  • Extremely lightweight packs
  • great value for money
  • long wear life
  • One of the best thru hiking packs


  • Not comfortable with heavy loads
  • Only for ultra light hikers

Pa’lante V2 Pack Review

lightweight hiking backpack review of the Pa'lante V2 Backpack

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 Lightweight Sleeping Bags or Quilts and an Ultralight Tent.


  • best light hiking backpack for ultralight hikers
  • 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

lightweight hiking backpack review of the Gossamer Gear Kumo Review

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 Lightweight Sleeping Bags or Quilts and an Ultralight Tent.


  • Extremely lightweight packs
  • great value for money
  • long wear life


  • Not comfortable with heavy loads
  • 36 litres is small for most hikers
  • 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.

What is the most comfortable lightweight backpack?

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.

What is the best lightweight backpack?

The Hyperlite Mountain Gear packs are the best lightweight backpacks on the market right now. They are the best complromise 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.

Other Packs to consider

I have not yet had the chance to review packs like the 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 also make some great backpacking backpacks but most them are not ultralight. Granite Gear packs are comfortable and better at carrying heavier loads.

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

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  1. Hello Brad, we are using Levity and it’s really the best UL from Osprey. It has better (bigger) side pockets (it can fit with no problems 2x1l water bottle). The bottom is more durable and the best – it’s so light! We hiked PCT in 2017 with Exos 38 and we have struggled with a bear canister a bit. The Levity 45 has no problem to fit the BC. We have hiked more than 3000 km with the backpack and it’s still in a good shape (no tears at all).

    I want to thank you about the blogging, it helped us a lot on the Te Araroa which we are currently hiking (300 km left to Bluff :-) ).

    1. The Levity is a great pack, nice and lightweight. Good luck on the rest of the TA, you should be finished by now.

  2. Shepherd,
    What are your thoughts regarding the Zpack Blast?
    Need another burger in New Zealand?

    1. I really want to love the Arc Blast pack. I’d love to hike with it but I am hard on my gear. I have met many hikers that love the pack, but there are just as many who hate it. The pack is very fragile and wears out quickly unless treated very gently. Zpacks also seem to have a very inconsistent warranty, some hikers get repairs and replacements without hassle, other get treated poorly.

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