Best Lightweight Hiking Backpacks
Lightweight hiking backpacks in 2020 are getting better. It is no longer necessary to carry a 2.5kg (6lb) backpack.
There are many lightweight hiking backpacks on the market now. All the ones listed bellow are highly rated by long distance thru hikers as backpacks worthy of consideration. They will suit anyone hiking a Camino in Europe, backpacking on overnight hikes or thru hiking on trails such as the Pacific Crest Trail, Appalachian Trailor Continental Divide Trail. These long distance hiking trails require a strong, functional backpack in the 35-60 litre range but it must be lightweight.
The Perfect Backpack for Thru Hiking
There is no such thing as a perfect backpack. The best backpack is one that is lightweight, comfortable, durable, functional and reasonably priced. When choosing a hiking backpack there are many things to take into consideration. The list below are all highly rated backpacks.
Top 12 List of Lightweight Backpacks in 2020
Osprey Exos 48 – 48 litres – 36oz / 1030grams
Osprey Exos 58 – 58 litres – 37oz /1060 grams
Osprey Levity 45 – 45 litres – 28oz – 780 grams
ULA Circuit – 68 litres – 41oz / 1162 grams
ULA CDT – 54 litres – 24oz / 680 grams
Hyperlite Mountain Gear Southwest 2400 – 50 litre – 30oz / 852 grams
Hyperlite Mountain Gear Windrider 2400 – 50 litres – 30oz / 851 grams
Hyperlite Southwest 3400 55 litre – 32oz – 910grams
Hyperlite Windrider 3400 55 litre 32oz – 902grams
Mountain Laurel Design Prophet – 48 litre – 16oz / 454 grams
Mountain Laurel Design Burn – 38 litres – 14oz / 400 grams
Pa’alante V2 – 40 litres – 16oz / 454 grams
Gossamergear Kumo – 36 litres – 18oz / 525 grams
Why Go Ultra Light
Making the move from a traditional hiking set up to lightweight, then moving even further to ultra light is not for everyone. Specially when it comes to 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 backpacks listed are recommended as a major step in lightening the base weight of your hiking gear.
A Word of Warning about Ultra Light Hiking
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). These ultra light packs should only be used by the minimalist hiker in conjunction with a lightweight tent, lightweight sleeping bag etc. Most will not be comfortable with heavier loads above 22-25lb (10-12kg). You have been warned!
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.
The weight of backpacks have decreased significantly since the days of my 2.5kg/6lb backpack that I carried 20 years ago. The materials used nowadays are much lighter than years past with little compromise on strength and durability. Lightweight Dyneema (Cuban Fibre) has led the way on making modern backpacks so much lighter but not all manufacturers use this material.
The most comfortable backpack probably has so much padding that it weighs too much. The lightest backpack probably will not be comfortable unless you trim the weight of all your other bits of hiking gear to ultra light. And the most waterproof backpack is 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.
Frame vs No Frame
Backpacks with internal frames are arguably more comfortable than those without but for the hiker looking to move to ultralight it is likely that you will be using a pack without a frame. As long as the loads are not too heavy and the gear is packed thoughtfully they will be comfortable. For example, don’t pack your stove in your backpack so it pushes a sharp object onto your back.
Most modern backpacks are lightweight and strong but not waterproof. Lining the inside of the backpack with a large trash compacter bag is the cheapest method to waterproof the contents. Dyneema (Cuban fibre) packs are almost completely waterproof but cost significantly more. The Hyperlite Packs are the most waterproof of the packs mentioned. Is the cost of the lightweight, waterproof Dyneema worth the extra money!
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.
Backpacks are one of the bigger outdoor gear investments. 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
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 container horizontally and haul several litres of water along with several days of food through the desert. I changed to the 48 litre for the CDT and AT as I didn’t need so much carrying capacity.
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.
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 pockets on the hip belt 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.
- Lifetime guarantee – if the pack breaks they fix or replace it
- The most comfortable of all these packs when hauling heavier loads.
- The mesh harness allows air circulation around the back.
- Heaviest of all the packs listed.
- Small hip pockets on older models, new models don’t have hip pockets.
- Mesh material on the side and rear of the packs is prone to rips and tears. The new 2019 models seem to have fixed this problem.
ULA – Circuit / CDT
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.
Circuit 68litre – 41oz – 1160 grams
CDT 54 Litres – 24oz – 680 grams
- The CDT is a nice lightweight pack
- Comfortable with heavier loads
- Optional colours, pockets and personalised embroidery.
- The Circuit is rather heavy
Hyperlite Mountain Gear (HMG) backpacks are made out of super lightweight Dyneema (Cuban Fibre). 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 also 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 waterproof of all the packs
- Strong and durable. Able to last multiple long distance thru hikes
- Small hip pockets on older models but newer models have bigger pockets.
The Mountain Laurel Design (MLD) Burn and Prophet are two of the lightest high quality backpacks on the market. These packs are for the hiker that has progressed from lightweight hiking and wants to move to ultra light hiking. They are only for hikers that have a very light base weight around 12lb (5.5kg) 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).
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
- Not comfortable with heavy loads
- Only for ultra light hikers
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. He hiked the Pacific Crest Trail with me in 2015 and also hiked the Continental Divide Trail, Colorado Trail twice and Superior Trail. He reported that it is the perfect size for him and 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.
Micheal ‘Grizzly’ Ivey uses the Pa’lante V2, you can follow him on Instagram – https://www.instagram.com/grizzly_hikes/
- Extremely lightweight packs
- 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 low base weight
- Potentially long wait times for delivery
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.
Onna ‘Onnamove’ Voellmer uses the Kumo 36 and writes about her hiking and bikepacking adventures on – https://theredheadednomad.com/
- 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
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 best packs for heavier loads are the Osprey Exos and the ULA and the best packs for the hikers wanting to commit to going ‘ultra light’ are the MLD, Gossamer Gear and Pa’lante packs. The HMG 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. The choice is yours. Now go and get one and go hiking.
What backpack would you like to use and why? Let me know in the comments below.
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