What a great time to be alive my friends…
Why is that?
Well because we are living in a golden age of outdoor gear, ultralights backpacks have never been better! Gear-nerds unite!
Ultralight backpacks have changed the hiking and traveling game considerably. Backpackers can now travel way lighter with the help of some brilliantly designed ultralight backpacks.
But with an influx of great backpacks, has also come an influx of bad backpacks, and knowing which one to spend your money on can be tough.
So to help, I’ve put together this epic guide to the best ultralight packs for backpackers.
As a former Appalachian Trail thru-hiker, I can attest to the importance of having a truly badass ultralight backpack. And by the end of this guide you will be able to crush your travels and outdoor backpacking adventures like never before…
Quick Answer: The Top Ultralight Backpacks of 2020
- Best Overall Ultralight Backpack: Granite Gear CrownC2 60
- Best Ultralight Bag for Women: Osprey Eja 48
- Best Lightweight Backpack for Travel: Osprey Farpoint 40
- Best Day Hiking Backpack: Osprey Daylite Plus
- Best Budget Ultralight Backpack: Gregory Optic 48
- Best Ultralight Waterproof Backpack: Sea to Summit Hydraulic 35
- Best Ultralight Bag for Thru Hikers: Gossamer Gear Gorilla 40
- Best Ultralight Bag for Thru-Hikers (Runner up): ZPacks Arc Blast
- Bonus: Best Lightweight Travel Backpack: Nomatic Travel Bag
Granite Gear CrownC2 60
- Price > $$
- Weight > 2 lbs. 2 oz.
- Liters > 60
Osprey Eja 48
- Price > $$
- Weight > 2 lbs. 10 oz.
- Liters > 48
Osprey Farpoint 40
- Price > $$
- Weight > 3 lbs. 1.75 oz.
- Liters > 40
Osprey Daylite Plus
- Price > $
- Weight > 1 lb. 3.8 oz.
- Liters > 20
Gregory Optic 48
- Price > $$
- Weight > 2.5 lbs.
- Liters > 48
Sea to Summit Hydraulic 35
- Price > $$
- Weight > 2 lbs. 7 oz.
- Liters > 35
Gossamer Gear Gorilla 40
- Price > $$$
- Weight > 1 lb. 14 oz.
- Liters > 40
ZPacks Arc Blast
- Price > $$$$
- Weight > 1 lb. 5 oz.
- Liters > 55
Best Ultralight Backpacks: Performance Breakdowns
To make choosing the right ultralight backpack for yourself even easier, I have broken down my top picks into different categories. That way, you can base your next ultralight backpack purchase on your own specific needs.
As I cover the performance of each ultralight backpack on my list, I break down things like weight, price, specs, carrying capacity, comfort, fit, and much more.
These reviews offers up near-complete pictures of the absolute top ultralight backpacks on the market today.
Here are my top picks for the top ultralight backpacks in 2020:
Best Overall Ultralight Backpack
- Price: $199.95
- Weight: 2 lbs. 2 oz.
- Volume: 60 Liter
- Maximum Comfortable Load: 35 lbs
The Granite Gear Crown V.C. 60 is my overall top pick for the best ultralight backpack.
Some ultralight backpackers might cringe at the size of my top pick for ultralight backpacks. The Granite Gear CrownC2 60 is a 60-liter backpack. Typically, ultralight backpacks tend to have smaller volume (to reduce weight). That said, the Crown V.C. had won my top honors for several reasons.
Whilst being weight conscious is my top priority when assessing an ultralight backpack, in the end, it has to be comfortable too.
The Granite Gear Crown V.C. 60 kills it in that department. The hip belt and shoulder straps feature dual-density padding and narrow webbing straps to help you achieve the perfect fit.
Now the maximum load capacity of 35 lbs is a guideline, not a base weight you should be striving for. The good news is you have plenty of space for all of your important backpacking gear and food.
For organization and pack access, the top-loading design features a secure roll-top closure that provides easy access to the main compartment. The pack exterior sports light and effective LineLoc compression, a massive stretch-mesh front pocket as well as stretch-mesh side pockets for keeping all your exterior gear secure.
By design, ultralight backpacks are not known for being super tough or durable (you will hear this repeated many times). The Granite Gear Crown V.C. 60 does make an effort in that regard. It is made with a 100-denier silk-nylon hybrid body and 210-denier Cordura reinforcements for extra strength in key areas.
Keep in mind though that ultralight backpacks need to be treated with a little care. If you abuse this in excess they will break or tear eventually.
- Large for an ultralight backpack.
- Not as light as some of its competitors
Best Women’s Ultralight Backpack
- Price: $200.00
- Weight: 2 lbs. 10 oz.
- Volume: 48 Liter
- Maximum Comfortable Load: 35-40 lbs
The Osprey Eja 58 is an ultralight backpack specifically designed with ladies in mind. From all reports, the Eja 48 wins out as the best ultralight bag for women because it is light, very comfortable, and also super practical.
The Osprey Eja 48 is walking the line of being ultralight in weight, but I dig its toughness. Also, I love it because it delivers a super comfy fit in an ultralight frame. It allows backpackers to carry everything they need without sacrificing comfort.
The Eja 48 features an ExoFoam harness and AirSpeed ventilated suspension system that distributes load weight and offers a supportive fit for those long days on the trail.
For storage, the Eja 48 has dual-access fabric side pockets with removable compression cord for water bottles or smaller items. The internal main compartment has a compression strap that helps you maximize the pack’s volume and keeps everything locked into place.
For even more storage solutions, the (removable) top lid cord loop attachment provides multiple options for affixing gear to the exterior of your pack.
The Osprey Eja 48 is the full package and certainly one of the finest ultralight backpacks I have come across.
Check out the men’s Osprey Exos 48.
Check out my in-depth review of the slightly larger Osprey Exos 58.
- High quality
- Heavier and Bulkier than its competition.
- I really don’t like the lack of hip belt pockets.
Best Lightweight Backpack for Travel
- Price: $160.00
- Weight: 3 lbs. 1.75 oz. (S/M Size)
- Volume: 40 Liter
- Maximum Comfortable Load: 25-30 lbs
Enter the Osprey Farpoint 40. The Farpoint 40 is the perfect backpack for those travelers looking to travel light. If you are the type of minimalist traveler who doesn’t need to bring a ton of stuff along for a trip, the Osprey Farpoint 40 will serve you very well indeed.
The Farpoint features a large zippered panel that gives access to the main compartment. The zippers have lockable sliders too for added security.
There are three different ways you can carry the Osprey Farpoint 40. The standard padded shoulder straps, the padded top and side handles for hand carrying, and detachable messenger-style shoulder strap.
An important point to make is that the Osprey Farpoint 40 can be carried on planes. 99% of airlines will let you use this bag as a carry on, which over your travels will save you a ton of time and money. #gamechanger.
By going with a travel-light bag like the Osprey Farpoint 40, you’ll be able to keep all of your valuables with you, and save a ton of money (which pays for the bag ten times over!).
Check out my in-depth Osprey Farpoint 40 review.
- High Quality
- Not a hiking backpack.
- Lacks the space for travelers with lots of gear needs.
Best Day Hiking Backpack
- Price: $65.00
- Weight: 1 lb. 3.8 oz.
- Volume: 20 Liter
- Maximum Comfortable Load: 15-25 lbs. (estimate)
I know I am veering off the ultralight path a bit, but stay with me here.
Every backpacker needs a good day hiking backpack. For those quick weekend missions to the mountains or a big city requires that you pack a few essentials along for the journey. The Osprey Daylite Plus is the best day hiking backpack on my list.
The large main compartment features a padded interior sleeve for safely packing a tablet or other electronics. A zippered mesh organizer pocket has a key fob in the smaller main compartment, which is handy. Everyone has keys!
Onto ventilation. The mesh-covered back panel has slotted foam for excellent ventilation and breathability. The dreaded swamp-back-blues can be a very inconvenient reality with other daypacks. Backpacks that feature only fabric where your back meets the backpack are serving up a recipe for a super sweaty back.
A great addition to the Daylite Plus is the open-topped stash pocket for jacket or other quick-use items. To top it off a small front zip pocket allows you to store items you use frequently in their own zone.
Point being, the Osprey Daylite plus is a great value day backpack for the money ($65). Osprey Daylite Plus for the win.
Check out my in-depth Osprey Daylite Plus review here.
- High quality
- Not an overnight backpacking backpack.
- Limited gear storage for big items.
Best Budget Ultralight Backpack
- Price: $189.95
- Weight: 2.5 lbs. (M size)
- Volume: 48 Liter
- Maximum Comfortable Load: 40 lbs.
Now they aren’t giving away the Gregory Optic 48. But for $189.95, I feel like it is the best ultralight hiking backpack for the money.
The Optic 48 is a great budget option for thru-hikers too. The backpack features a well ventilated, dual-density FocusForm shoulder harness and supportive hipbelt which targets comfort zones and aids in carrying comfort.
I really love all of the little details of this pack. From the convenient water bottle pockets to the rain fly location to the sunglasses storage zone; the designers at Gregory should get a good Christmas bonus this year. All of your little bits and pieces have their home somewhere inside the Optic 48.
For even more storage the Optic 48 features dual-zippered hip belt pockets that provide secure, easy-to-access zones for snacks or your phone. The Optic 48 bests the Eja 48 for storage options, simply because Gregory has included hip belt pockets!
The Gregory Optic 48 is a great ultralight backpack for long-distance hikers on a budget.
- High quality
- I have questions about the outer mesh pockets’ durability.
- The damn water bottle pockets don’t make it easy to get your bottle in or out.
Best Ultralight Waterproof Backpack
- Price: $169.95
- Weight: 2 lbs. 7 oz.
- Volume: 35 Liter
- Maximum Comfortable Load: 20-25 lbs.
Sea to Summit is not super famous for their backpacks. In recent years though, they are making an obvious and concerted effort to improve their reputation in that regard (they do, however, make awesome dry bags among many other fine products). They have certainly found their niche here with the Sea to Summit Hydraulic 35 Drypack.
The Summit Hydraulic 35 is not a full-sized hiking backpack. It is intended to be used as a day hiking backpack at the most. Ideally, it is a great bag for river guides, kayakers, travelers or city folks who live or travel in wet regions.
The Summit Hydraulic 35 is great at what it does. It is 100% waterproof, surprisingly lightweight, and packs plenty of gear storage to hold your laptop, snacks, water bottle, and a few layers.
This backpack features a fully adjustable, low-profile padded shoulder harness and a removable waistbelt for maximizing carrying comfort. I’m a big fan of the deep stretchy mesh exterior side pockets.
Also, if you spend a lot of time in the water (kayaking, river guide, fisherman, scuba divers, etc) the Sea to Summit Summit Hydraulic 35 is fully submersible. Not many backpacks out there can survive (I mean not get wet inside) a full-on river plunge.
The Summit Hydraulic 35 ultralight waterproof backpack is a great piece of adventure gear!
- Fully waterproof
- Sea to Summit includes lifetime warranty
- Not a proper hiking backpack.
Best Ultralight Bag for Thru-Hikers
- Price: $215.00
- Weight: 1 lb. 14 oz.
- Volume: 40 Liter
- Maximum Comfortable Load: 35 lbs.
For serious ultralight thru-hikers looking to crush big miles with the fewest weight restrictions possible, the Gossamer Gear Gorilla 40 is where it’s at. This ultralight backpack was designed specifically with thru-hikers in mind.
All of the adjustable hipbelt and shoulder straps come together to bring you a comfortable fit. One unique feature of the Gorilla 40 is the SitLight pad. The SitLight is a removable back pad that doubles as a seat when you arrive in camp. Who doesn’t want to rest a tired bum on something other than a pointy rock?
The aluminum frame is at the core of what makes this backpack so light, yet it gets the job done in terms of providing support.
If you decide to go with the Gossamer Gear Gorilla 40, keep in mind that you will need to fully embrace the ultralight program. What I mean is, 40 liters isn’t an eternity of space to work with. You’ll need ultralight, ultra small, minimalist everything to make it work.
That said, going totally ultralight is great. You can really cover some serious miles day in and day out when your backpack doesn’t way 30 pounds+.
- High quality
- I have questions about the mesh pockets’ durability.
- They make you pay extra for hip pockets! Damn them!
Best Ultralight Bag for Thru-Hikers (Runner up)
- Price: $325.00
- Weight: 1 lb. 5 oz.
- Volume: 55 Liter
- Maximum Comfortable Load: 30 lbs
To put things in perspective the Zpacks Arc Blast weighs about as much as a block of cheddar cheese. The Arc Blast is ridiculously lightweight and is my top pick for the lightest backpack on my list.
Zpacks is a small company that makes the backpacks themselves in the USA as the orders come in. They are now so popular amongst the ultralight thru-hiking community that the wait times for the Zpacks backpacks can be months (but usually it’s about 5 weeks+).
Apart from a solid mesh back panel ventilation system, the adjustable torso straps really help you dial in the backpack for a custom fit. The standard model of the Zpacks Arc Blast is pretty barebones. The pack is listed at 55 liers, though in reality, it feels as though it shares the same capacity as a 40 or 45-liter backpack, and that’s being generous.
Keep in mind that if you want hip belt pockets, trekking pole straps, and internal pouches they are not included. You have to request them and of course they cost more money to add.
The fabric of the backpack is made out of a unique DCF which really helps to keep the pack water-resistant (not waterproof).
If you are a thru-hiker looking for the absolute minimum base weight the Zpacks Arc Blast will be your new best mate.
- Lightweight doesnt sacrifice quality
- It’s a pain in the ass that you have to pay extra for pockets. I guess when you make everything yourself as Zpacks does, you need to charge for the extra work adding pockets involves.
Bonus: Best Lightweight Travel Bag
- Price: $229.00/279.00
- Weight: 4 lbs.
- Volume: 40 Liters
- Maximum Comfortable Load: 20-30 lbs. (estimate)
The Nomatic Travel Bag is indeed not an ultralight backpack or a hiking backpack of any kind. In fact, it is a whole other species of backpack completely.
For travelers on the move, a new travel bag is taking the internet (and the travel world) by storm. The Nomatic Travel Bag is one sweet unit. In fact it is such a badass travel bag that it found its way onto my ultralight backpacks list. Go figure.
Basically, if ever there was a travel bag to cover ALL of your short term travel needs, the Nomatic Travel Bag would be a the very top of the list.
The Nomatic Travel Bag comes with an insane amount of brilliantly thought out pockets, compartments, and gear storage options. It even comes with a mesh laundry bag. No more cramming those dirty socks in the front pocket of your backpack eh?
From start to finish the Nomatic Travel Bag features one sleek design after another. My favorite features include the fleece lined valuables pocket, the laptop pocket, the high-quality water resistant materials they used, and the specific compartment for your shoes (there is one for socks/underwear too)!
Remember, the Nomatic Travel Bag is one of the best carry on bags for travelers as well. Well done, Nomatic, well done.
Check out my in-depth Nomatic Travel Bag review.
- Compact and slick aesthetics
- Thoughtful design
- You’ll need to pay extra if you want the travel bag plus all of the accessories.
Picking an Ultralight Bag
As you have now seen, Ultralight backpacks are all over the place in terms of style, design, weight, capacity, and price. Choosing the right ultralight backpack for your personal needs is very important.
The three most important questions you need to ask yourself:
- What is the best weight to performance ratio that is best for me?
- How many liters is sufficient for my needs?
- How much am I willing to spend on an ultralight backpack?
Below, I breakdown all of the important aspects of an ultralight backpack.
To make the important decision regarding which ultralight backpack you should buy, you first need the complete picture of what makes an ultralight backpack awesome in the first place.
Ultralight Backpack Weight
Because you have dipped your toes in the great ultralight backpack ocean I am thinking that you are concerned with backpack weight. Or at least going ultralight as much as you can.
If you go with an extreme ultralight backpack like the ZPacks Arc Blast you will certainly be in possession of one the lightest ultralight hiking backpacks that have ever existed. That said, the lighter the backpack is, the less tough (and possibly less comfortable) it will be. Also weight (or lack there of) is directly linked to price.
In order to get the backpack weights down as low as possible, manufacturers use bare-bones materials that breakdown in the long run. It is the same across the entire ultralight world. Sleeping bags, down jackets, trekking poles, etc… the lighter they are the less durable they are, period.
I recommend trying to find a sweet balance between light and tough. With the Gregory Optic 48 you get the best of both worlds.
Ultralight Backpack Price
Like I said, with outdoor gear generally, the more ultralight something is the more expensive it will be. You can see that the most expensive backpack on my list is also the lightest.
How much you will use this ultralight backpack of yours should also factor into how much you are willing to pay for it. Are you planning a major thru-hike? Going to travel around Europe? Just looking for an awesome day pack?
Each of those scenarios will require a different price point. If you are planning on hiking thousands of miles in a single shot, you’ll probably want to invest in a very ultralight backpack like the Granite Gear Crown V.C. 60. Likewise, if you are planning on backpacking Europe, the Osprey Eja 48 would be the way to go.
Bottom line: the price of ultralight backpacks are very dependent on what their intended use is. Figure out what you will be doing and find the appropriate price point from there.
Ultralight Backpack Fit/Comfort
When compared to full-sized bulked out hiking backpacks, ultralight backpacks are certainly not as comfortable. All of that padding found in heavier backpacks is significantly reduced in ultralight backpacks.
Really I am amazed that the ultralight backpack companies are able to make reasonably comfy backpacks given they are trying to strip them down as much as possible. That said, most ultralight backpacks are devoid of any sort of suspension system.
Here is our reoccurring theme: the lighter you go, the less comfortable your backpack (is likely) to be. Ultralight backpacks are minimalist units. What you don’t get in padding, you enjoy in lightness.
The backpacks featured on my list are all generally quite comfortable, with slight variations of course. I highly recommend that you measure your waist and torso BEFORE ordering an ultralight backpack online. That way, you’ll be certain to get the perfect fit.
Ultralight Backpack Ventilation/Breathability
Breathability is another aspect of the backpack that you should study and take seriously. You sweat a lot when you are trekking. Ideally your backpack should provide for a bit of airflow and ventilation to allow for all that back heat to escape.
The Osprey Eja 48 features a good example of a properly ventilated back panel. The mesh holes and gaps between the back panel and the frame allow for a healthy amount of breathability to combat moisture stagnation.
A properly designed ultralight backpack will always allow for some airflow to occur.
Ultralight Backpack Volume/Carry Capacity
The idea in buying a ultralight backpack is that you should— in theory— be carrying less gear. If you’re keen to haul 50-pounds in a backpack weighing two pounds, I’m sorry to tell you that it won’t be pleasant.
By design, ultralight backpacks kind of force the user to cut out anything unnecessary to any given trip. There simply isn’t the luxury of extra space in an ultralight backpack.
Likewise, ultralight backpacks were not designed to bear heavy loads. If you over load your ultralight backpack it will either break on you, or it will be very, very uncomfortable to hike with. The Granite Gear Crown V.C. 60 offers up a decent volume (60 liters) in a lightweight package.
Though, if you are serious about joining the ultralight cult, simply plan on on becoming more of a minimalist backpacker.
Ultralight Backpack Design
Deciding on which sort of design to go with is more of a personal reference thing. Ultralight backpacks are designed to be practical and efficient whilst eliminating everything that is unnecessary. Day packs for example are light to begin with, so designers have more free to add in more design features.
More over less though, ultralight backpacks are designed to perform at very high-levels of use. They are intended for you to be able to pack all of your gear in a reasonable, organized way.
I am a big fan of the way the Gregory Optic 48 features many practical organizational solutions for backpackers. After cost, weight, and volume, design is probably the next most important thing for you to consider.
Ultralight Backpack Material/Durability
Ultralight backpacks are not the toughest cookies in the bakery. What I mean is you can’t treat you ultralight gear in the same way you would a normal hiking backpack.
Slamming it on the ground, dragging it across the floor, leaning it against a cactus plant, knocking it against thorny blackberry bushes… all of those scenarios could spell as major tear (and resulting disappointment) or puncture for the delicate ultralight fabric.
Again—say it with me now— the lighter a backpack is, the less tough it is likely to be.
That said, a majority of ultralight backpacks can take a fair bit of abuse.
Usually ultralight backpacks are made from one of two materials: Ripstop Nylon or Dyneema Composite Fabric (formerly cuben fiber). Both are fairly water-resistant, and can manage to survive a few decent snags.
Just be a little more careful with your backpack than you normally would and you should be fine.
Alas, you have made it to the end of my review. Well done! You are now ready to drink the ultralight cool aid and join in all of the lightweight fun.
Choosing the best ultralight pack for yourself is a challenge. The last thing you want is to be disappointed with a backpack you were so excited about.
After reading this review, you are now armed with all of the important information needed to buy a truly badass ultralight backpack for your adventures.
Not sure which one is for you still? When in doubt, go with my favorite ultralight pack: the Granite Gear Crown V.C. 60.
Best Ultralight bag for women? That’s the Osprey Eja 48.
Just want a pack to go on radical day hikes with your partner? Consider the Osprey Daylite Plus.
Welcome to the ultralight backpack cult: the most comfortable group of backpackers you will ever meet. Good luck!
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