The 10 Best Ultralight Hiking Backpacks That Won’t Strain Your Back

If you’re a seasoned hiker, I’m sure you’ve had your share of aches, pains, and “Holy shit I’m dying” moments while carrying your giant hiking backpack through the woods. Today we’ll see how you can get rid of those pains with an ultralight backpack.

Back in the day, ultralight backpacking simply meant “put a tarp and some heavy-duty snacks in a bag and you’re done.” That’s no longer the case, as ultralight backpacks allow you to carry your creature comforts to remote locations – without having to pack a lot of Bear Grylls.

So how do you find the best backpack for your trail riding tendencies? Of course, the most important factor is weight, but other considerations include capacity, comfort, and durability. Let’s break it all down so you can climb mountains without breaking your back.

Ultralight vs traditional

Traditional hiking backpacks usually come with a full frame (external or internal), multiple compartments, and plenty of pockets, zippers, padding, and thick fabrics. It can be difficult to lighten your load with traditional packs because they already weigh several pounds when empty. Plus, all the extra pockets and compartments make it easy to overpack.

Ultralight backpacks only include intentional purpose features. While these backpacks cut down on zippers, straps, and compartments, what’s left will serve you much better on the trail. That’s why ultralight bags weigh around two pounds or less, but still hold up to long rides. They are made from modern laminate fabrics, like Dyneema and Tyvekwhich provide the durability of heavier fabrics without adding weight.

You’ll find that ultralight backpacks are packed with thoughtful features for adventurers, while offering extreme durability and comfort. Keep this in mind: most ultralight backpacks work best with a maximum load of 35 pounds or less.

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the Gossamer Gear Mariposa is a 60L bag that can support loads up to 35 pounds and is made of lightweight and durable Robic 200D nylon. The seven pockets in total are wide and deep, with lined double-deck pockets on either side. Load risers help transfer weight off your shoulders, and a bonus “seat pad” tucks into the back panel for extra cushioning on your lower back. The Mariposa is popular with many ultralight backpackers and is perfect for beginners.

the HMG 3400 Porter 55 is a roll-top closure pack that creates a strong seal for waterproofing and features a Y-strap to hold everything in place. The roll-top can be stretched out for more space or rolled up tightly for more compression. It comes with a large mesh pocket on the back and two large plain fabric pockets on the side. All internal seams are taped with sealing tape, for advanced durability and waterproofing. The removable frame can save you an ounce and a half if you’re strict on weight.

Virga 2 from Granite Gear is a frameless pack designed for week-long adventures, but works best with loads under 20 pounds. It’s a minimalist’s dream design and works well for hardcore ultralight backpackers. The internal compression system keeps your gear in place without cutting off access to exterior pockets, and the fold-down closure protects against rain. It comes in three different sizes.

One of the roomiest packs on this list, the ULAOHM 2.0 carries up to 30 pounds inside its 63L compartment, but still weighs only 2 pounds. The internal aluminum “suspension hoop” adds structure, while an internal cushion case can hold a closed-cell sleeping mat for extra padding on your back. This bag can hold a bear cartridge inside with room to spare – ideal for hikers with bulkier gear.

Weighing just 1.5 pounds, the Arc Blast Z-Packs is one of the lightest framed backpacks available. The concave back and mesh “trampoline” padding keep you cool and comfortable while carrying loads up to 25 pounds. Adjustable shoulder straps, interchangeable hip belts and other modular accessories make it a versatile option that can withstand the elements and long distances.

the Atom+ from Atom packs offers sleek minimalist styling along with all the features you expect from a solid backpacking pack. Designed to carry up to 30lbs with a 35L internal compartment, this bag also has large side pockets for additional 5L storage. A removable hip belt can be positioned in just the right place to keep the weight on your back , while a 5mm closed-cell foam back panel provides cushioning. For the style-conscious backpacker, this pack is fully customizable down to colors, size, and modular features.

For such a light and comfortable backpack, it’s impressive the Gossamer Gear Gorilla can carry so much. This 40-liter pack does a great job of shifting weight through hip belts, and its plush shoulder straps can carry 30 pounds of gear. The large front pocket is exceptionally expandable and ideal for storing important items in an easy-to-reach place. The frame and hip belt are removable, allowing for even lighter loads when you need them.

the Mountaineer Zerk 40 was co-designed by an ultra-runner, and it shows. This 40 liter bag has many unique features including race vest style shoulder straps with integrated mesh pockets to hold snacks and water. Since it’s designed to be lightweight and compact, don’t expect to load more than 20 pounds into this bag. This backpack is ideal for agile hikers on the trails. Bonus points for being made from 210D Extreema nylon from recycled material.

the ULA CDT is a great budget ultralight backpack option. The CDT offers plenty of value and volume, with the capacity to hold 54L of gear. Because it’s a frameless pack, it’s best for loads of around 20 pounds or less. It’s made from 400D RipStop nylon so you don’t have to worry about it tearing easily. The shoulder straps and waist belt are comfortable and can be worn over long distances.

the Waymark through 40L is a simple and light hiking bag with a removable frame. The Thru 40L is made of sturdy VX-21 material with a Y-closure on top. Although it’s a wheeled design, thanks to the Y-strap you can still carry extra items (like a sleeping mat) on top. Three-point side compression straps can be used to tighten your smaller pack or carry your trekking poles; it is a great option for trips ranging from 2 to 4 days.

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