10 Best Lightweight Backpacks of 2018
Whether you’re planning an epic thru-hike or a quick weekend jaunt, keeping pack weight down is key. A lightweight backpack will allow you to cover more miles using less energy, and will ultimately make backpacking way more fun.
Lightweight backpacking isn’t just for long-distance trekkers anymore. The entire outdoor industry is going light and there’s a good reason why: Lightweight backpacking is way more comfortable. Your backpack will be one of the four heaviest items on your back (backpack, tent, sleeping bag, and sleeping pad), so it’s a great place to start reducing overall weight.
We’ve researched and tested dozens of lightweight backpacks to narrow this list down to the very best of the best. Whatever your hiking goals are, we hope this post helps you find the perfect pack to keep you comfortable on the trail for many years to come.
For more of our top gear recommendations, have a look through these popular CleverHiker Gear Guide links:
WEIGHT: 1 lb. 14 oz. / 2 lbs.
VOLUME: 40L / 55L
MAX WEIGHT REC: 40 lbs. for both packs
PROS: Ultralight, nearly waterproof, durable/burly, spacious hip belt pockets (updated 2018)
CONS: On the pricey side, not as cushy/padded as some packs
The Hyperlite Mountain Gear 2400 and 3400 Southwest strike an exceptional balance between weight, weather resistance, and durability. These burly ultralight backpacks have a minimal design, but their frames are highly effective and feel sturdier than most lightweight packs. The unique DCF fabric and taped seams on the Southwest make it one of the most weather-resistant and durable packs we've ever tested, hands down. If you pair the Southwest with some of HMG’s waterproof stuff sacks/pods, you’ll have an almost completely waterproof system.
The main downside with the Southwest is its higher price point due to the DCF fabric, but this pack will last for many years and thousands of trail miles if treated with care. Most of our backpacking gear is ultralight and compact, so we find the 2400 Southwest provides enough space for most of our 3-5 day backpacking trips. If your gear isn't quite dialed in or you want the ability to carry bulky winter gear, we recommend bumping up to the 3400 size, which is pretty much the exact same pack with more space.
LEARN MORE: Check out our full review of the HMG Southwest.
WEIGHT: 1 lb. 14 oz.
MAX WEIGHT REC: 35 lbs.
PROS: Ultralight, durable, well-padded and comfortable, convenient SitLight pad
CONS: Front pocket mesh not very durable, a bit pricier than some packs (hip belt not included in base price)
The Gossamer Gear Gorilla 40 has been among our favorite packs for a long time, and with good reason. It’s a well-designed, durable, and comfortable backpack with all the details dialed in. The Gorilla has a unisex ergonomic hip belt shape, which is comfortable for both men and women and carries weight well on the trail. One of our favorite features of the Gorilla is its removable SitLight pad, which acts as back padding on the trail and a cushy seat around camp. This pack has a simple aluminum stay frame, well-padded shoulder straps, and a removable hip belt. The Gorilla’s top-zip pocket is also a nice touch for storing small items. This pack's capacity is 40 liters, so it's a good option for those with their gear dialed in, but if you want more space, check out the Silverback 50 or Mariposa 60.
WEIGHT: 1 lb. 5 oz.
VOLUME: 55L (Feels more like 40L)
MAX WEIGHT REC: 30 lbs.
PROS: Insanely light, weather resistant, good back ventilation and comfort if not packed too full
CONS: Expensive, materials not quite as durable in the long run, hip pockets cost extra, long wait time may be required
The ZPacks Arc Blast is a featherweight pack that’s an exceptional fit for thru-hikers and ultralight backpackers carrying base weights around 10 to 15 pounds. This pack’s unique arching frame creates a taut mesh back panel that provides great ventilation when not packed too full. The Arc Blast also has torso adjustment straps to help you dial in the perfect fit. ZPacks lists the Arc Blast’s volume at 55 liters, but we feel its max volume is closer to 40 liters to get the proper fit. This pack is made with DCF fabric, which makes it highly water resistant and insanely light, but it also increases the price. In addition, features like hip belt pockets, trekking pole straps, and internal pouches cost extra. All things considered, the Arc Blast is a truly exceptional backpack for ultralight trekkers with their gear dialed in. The Arc Haul is also a good option for those willing to carry a few extra ounces for increased durability.
WEIGHT: 2 lbs. 10 oz. / 2 lbs. 9 oz.
MAX WEIGHT REC: 40 lbs.
PROS: Affordable, exceptionally comfortable, good back ventilation
CONS: No hip belt pockets, water bottles are slightly cumbersome to access
The recently updated Osprey Exos 48 (men’s) and Eja 48 (women’s) are extremely comfortable, lightweight backpacks with great all-around value. The Exos and Eja have a sturdier frame than most lightweight packs, carry heavier loads comfortably, and won’t break the bank either. One of our favorite features of these packs is their tensioned-mesh frame, which contours to the back nicely, is incredibly comfortable, and increases back ventilation on the trail.
Our biggest complaint with the new 2018 models is the lack of hip belt pockets. We spend a lot of time on the trail, so we like to have quick access to items like our cell phones (for gps), cameras, sunscreen, chapstick, hand sanitizer, and a few snacks. Without hip belt pockets, we have to take off our packs every time we need one of those items, which quickly gets annoying. The water bottle pockets on the Exos and Eja are set high and secure, which means your bottles won’t fall out when you bend over, but makes getting to them a little tougher than most packs. Overall, this pack has a few quirks and downsides, but if comfort is your main priority, this pack is among the very best. If you're looking for more space, this pack is also offered in a larger Exos 58 / Eja 58 size.
WEIGHT: 2 lbs. 8 oz.
MAX WEIGHT REC: 40 lbs.
PROS: Affordable, sturdy frame transfers weight well, good back ventilation
CONS: Outer pocket mesh not very durable, water bottles are slightly cumbersome to access
The new-to-the-scene Optic 48 is Gregory’s response to the increasing demand for lightweight backpacking gear. With features similar to Osprey’s Exos, the Optic is comfortable, sleek, and well-designed. Though not quite as comfortable as Osprey’s stretch mesh back panel, the frame on the Optic 48 feels very sturdy and transfers weight to the hips extremely well. This pack can carry heavier loads quite comfortably. We like the features and pockets on this pack, but the mesh side and front pockets do lack a little durability. Overall, the Gregory Optic 48 is a solid lightweight pack with great features and a very affordable price tag. If you're looking for more space, this pack is also offered in a larger Optic 58 size.
WEIGHT: 2 lbs. 11.2 oz.
VOLUME: 40-60L (expandable)
MAX WEIGHT REC: 40 lbs.
PROS: Affordable, durable, exceptional compression system, good back ventilation, useful shoulder strap pocket
CONS: No front mesh pocket, zippers occasionally snag, unique back padding takes a little getting used to
The relatively new to the scene Sierra Designs Flex Capacitor, crafted by accomplished outdoorsman Andrew Skurka, offers a unique, comfortable, and highly versatile design. The key strength of the Flex Capacitor is its ability to compress or expand its main compartment to carry between 40 and 60 liters, giving it one of the best compression systems of any pack we’ve ever tested. The main downside with this compression system is the loss of a front mesh pocket, which can be useful for storing items you may not want to put inside your pack, like wet gear (shelter, rain gear, water filter, etc.), garbage, toilet paper/trowel, maps, etc. That said, the Flex Capacitor’s strengths still outweigh this downside in our opinion. This is an affordable, durable, and well-designed pack that has the ability to carry heavy loads comfortably. The Flex Capacitor can tote a ton of gear, but also compresses down nicely for those fast and light trips.
WEIGHT: 2 lbs. 9 oz.
MAX WEIGHT REC.: 35 lbs.
PROS: Durable, comfortable, spacious, well-constructed with details dialed in
CONS: weight transfer pulls backwards slightly, debris can get stuck in mesh
The Ultralight Adventure Equipment Circuit is a comfortable, lightweight backpack made tough for the trail and with all the details dialed in. The circuit’s unique, three-part frame transfers weight to the hips well, but we do notice the weight of the pack pulling backwards slightly, leaving us a bit less balanced than we’d prefer. The mesh on the front pocket of this pack is far more durable than most backpacks and in general this pack is quite burly. If you’re looking to go even lighter, ULA offers the Ohm 2.0 and the frameless CDT for the truly ultralight traveler.
WEIGHT: 2 lbs. 5 oz.
MAX WEIGHT REC: 35 lbs.
PROS: Affordable, durable, comfortable, spacious, adjustable hip belt helps dial in the perfect fit
CONS: Foam back panel takes a little getting used to, water bottle pocket mesh not very durable
The redesigned Granite Gear Crown2 (men’s & women’s) is a durable and well-designed lightweight backpack with a large volume and an affordable price tag. The Crown2 has a unique, fully-adjustable hip belt and a removable top lid if you’re looking to save some weight. It’s simple frame consists of a moulded foam pad and a removable plastic sheet. This pack has a large volume (almost too much space for most of our trips), but it also compresses well when not fully loaded. The Crown2 also comes in a 38 liter size if you’re looking for a fast and light pack. The Granite Gear Blaze is a similar (but heavier) pack with a stronger frame, adjustable torso, and bigger front mesh pocket.
WEIGHT: 1 lb. 12 oz.
MAX WEIGHT REC: 30 lbs.
PROS: Ultralight, very comfortable, frame carries weight well
CONS: Tight side pockets make removing water bottles very difficult, no hip belt pockets, thin sidewall materials limit long term durability
The newly released and incredibly lightweight Osprey Levity (for men) and Lumina (for women) share some similar features to Osprey’s popular Exos and Eja packs, but are made with ultralight materials to keep weight to a minimum. On par with Osprey’s commitment to comfort, we’ve found the stretch mesh back panel and secure frame on the Levity/Lumina to be exceptionally comfortable and carry weight well.
However, there are some significant downsides with some of this pack’s features in our opinion. The lack of hip belt pockets means you won’t have easy access to items like sunscreen, chapstick, snacks, phone/camera, etc. while hiking. But possibly even more troublesome are the extremely tight side pockets that make removing water bottles very difficult. Cinching down the side compression straps or using a water bladder will help, especially if the pack is lightly loaded. Also, the external fabric on the Levity and Lumina feel quite durable, but the interior fabric is fairly thin, so you’ll want to treat it with care.
If weight and comfort are your chief concerns and you're willing to put up with a few quirks, the Levity or Lumina could still be a good fit. Osprey also offers these packs in a 60 liter version, but that size is less appealing to us given its weight restrictions.
WEIGHT: 1 lb.
MAX WEIGHT REC: 25 lbs.
PROS: Incredibly light, durable, comfortable if not packet too full
CONS: Frameless packs work best with ultralight loads, hip pockets cost extra, long wait time may be required, non returnable
The Mountain Laurel Designs Prophet is a featherweight frameless backpack designed for experienced ultralight travelers and thru-hikers. This pack is simple and strong, keeping weight to an absolute minimum for those looking to crush miles. It’s a frameless pack, meaning you’ll need to travel very light and pack your gear carefully to keep it comfortable, but minimalists love it. Adding hip belt pockets will cost extra with this pack, but we wouldn’t buy a backpack without them. MLD also makes the similar 38L Burn and 58L Exodus packs, just remember that 58L is a lot of volume for a frameless backpack.
The following backpacks didn’t make our final list, but they’ve got a lot of good things going for them. In this section we'll try to quickly highlight each pack's main strength and explain why it didn’t make the final cut. And you never know, maybe one of these packs will be the right fit for you.
WEIGHT: 4 lbs. 6 oz.
MAX WEIGHT REC: 50 lbs.
Okay, so you’ve read our advice on hiking light and you’re just not sold. Or maybe you love the gear you have and carrying little extra weight doesn’t bother you. If that’s the case, check out the Osprey Atmos 65 AG (for men) & Aura AG 65 (for women). These packs will hold 50 pounds much more comfortably than any ultralight backpack and they're still lighter than most traditional packs. At 4 pounds 6 ounces, these backpacks are heavier than the packs we choose to hike with, but they're a fan favorite in many backpacking circles and get excellent reviews.
WEIGHT: 2lb 12oz
MAX WEIGHT REC: 30lb
The REI Co-op Flash 45 (men’s & women's) is an affordable option for hikers looking to keep their pack weight down. It has a all the features you’ll want in a lightweight pack including a comfy hip belt, foam back panel, and removable top lid. We prefer the fit and feel of some of the other packs on this list, but the Flash 45 does have a price-to-weight ratio that’s tough to beat.
WEIGHT: 3lb 10oz
MAX WEIGHT REC: 45lb
The REI Flash 65 Pack (men's & women's) is another good budget option for hikers, but this model can carry heavier loads and more volume. The downside to that equation is extra weight. We prefer the fit and feel of some of the other packs on this list, but the Flash 65 does have a comfortable frame, solid hip belt, and some nice features - like a full-body zipper to access any item in your pack.
CRITICAL BACKPACK CONSIDERATIONS
PRICE - A solid lightweight backpack shouldn’t break the bank. That said, if you take care of your backpack, it will last for many years and thousands of miles, so it’s not a bad idea to invest in a good piece of equipment either. We recommend a range of packs on this list from budget buys to high-end products and talk about the pros and cons of each.
WEIGHT - Your backpack will be one of the four heaviest pieces of gear you carry on backcountry trips (backpack, tent, sleeping bag, sleeping pad), so it’s an important piece of gear for keeping overall weight down. The options we recommend have a good balance between weight, comfort, and durability.
FRAME - The lighter your overall pack weight, the less frame you’ll need. Most of the packs we recommend have simple frames that will be comfortable for carrying loads up to around 35lbs. If you prefer to carry heavier loads, choose one of the packs we recommend with a sturdier frame.
VOLUME - The volume of your bag will limit how much gear you can carry in it. Most experienced lightweight backpackers can easily fit their gear in a 40-50L pack, even for a thru-hike. If you’re new to lightweight backpacking, you might want to choose a pack with a larger volume and work your way down. Also, if you plan to use your pack for winter trekking, consider bumping up a size to accommodate heavy, bulky gear.
DESIGN - A backpack doesn’t have to be complex to be exceptional. It’s often the companies that keep design elements simple and streamlined that make the best lightweight packs. At the end of the day, your backpack is just a sack to carry other gear comfortably. So don’t feel the need to overdo it with a ton of excess compartments, pouches, zippers, clips, and straps.
MATERIAL - Most lightweight backpacks are made from one of two materials: Ripstop Nylon or Dyneema Composite Fabric (formerly cuben fiber). In general, DCF is lighter and more water resistant, but also more expensive. Both materials are durable and highly functional for backpacks.
FIT - Fit is one of the most important factors for a backpack, but it’s also one of the toughest features to pin down until you have a pack fully loaded and on your back. The packs we recommend are well known for their comfort and we've tested them extensively in the field. Measure your torso length and hip belt size before ordering and you should be good to go.
BUYING ONLINE - Check the seller's return policy before you buy, but you can almost always return an unused pack within a certain time frame after purchasing. We recommend buying your top choice, trying it on at home, and returning or exchanging if it doesn’t fit quite right. We’ve been buying lightweight backpacks online for years and we’ve yet to have any problems.
KEY DESIGN FEATURES
MAIN COMPARTMENT - Most lightweight backpacks have one top-loading compartment for storing the majority of your gear. That’s really all you need. Extra compartments and zippers add unnecessary weight and complexity. Pack items you won’t need until camp (tent, sleeping bag/pad, stove) in the bottom of your pack and you’ll be set.
FRONT MESH POCKET - Most lightweight packs have a large mesh pocket on the front (the side facing hikers behind you). This feature comes in very handy on the trail. It’s great for gear you want to stow quickly or keep easily accessible, like a rain jacket or water purifier. It’s also good for airing out wet gear.
HIP BELT - A good hip belt is a critical feature of any backcountry pack. Your hip belt will hold most of the weight of your pack on your hips, which keeps your shoulders from tiring. Hip belts should be comfortable and transfer weight without slipping. Every pack on this list has a solid hip belt.
SHOULDER STRAPS - Shoulder straps will hold a significant amount of your pack weight as well. You’ll want them to have comfortable padding and be well spaced to avoid chafing and odd pressure points. Every pack on this list has comfortable shoulder straps.
HIP BELT POCKETS - With a lightweight pack, you won’t need to take breaks nearly as often, so you’ll want to have certain items easily accessible, like snacks, sunscreen, lip balm, camera, etc. Most of the packs we recommend have built-in hip belt pockets, but if they don’t come standard, we recommend buying the aftermarket hip belt pockets that fit your pack.
SHOULDER POUCH - We're also fond of using shoulder strap pouches on our packs. We mainly use them for easy camera access while we hike. A couple packs we recommend come with shoulder pouches, but most don’t. So you might consider an aftermarket shoulder pouch if it sounds like a good fit for you.
WATER BOTTLE HOLSTERS - Hydration is key in the backcountry, so your water bottles should always be easy to access. It’s shocking to us when we test packs that won’t allow us to grab a water bottle while hiking. That’s just not acceptable.
WATERPROOFING - In general, it’s not a good idea to fully rely on any backpack for waterproofing. Even seam-sealed packs made from waterproof materials will develop small leaks over time, so we always recommend protecting important items (sleeping bag, clothes, electronics, etc.) in waterproof stuff sacks or plastic bags inside your pack.
HYDRATION PORTS - If you prefer drinking from a water bladder while hiking, a pack without a hydration port could be a dealbreaker. We’re not huge fans of water bladders, so this isn’t a big deal for us, but most of the packs we recommend do have hydration sleeves and ports.
TOP LID - Many lightweight backpacks don’t have a top lid these days in order to reduce weight. Instead, they use roll-top closures, clips, and straps to keep gear secure, which is very effective. We do recommend a couple of packs with top lids, but if you don’t have one, you probably won’t miss it.
STERNUM STRAP - Sternum straps are included on most backpacks these days. They give you the option to connect your shoulder straps across your chest for a more secure feel. It’s a nice touch when the sternum strap has an elastic section for a little give and the clip has an emergency whistle built in.
LOAD LIFTER STRAPS - Load lifter straps can be used to pull the tops of your shoulder straps towards the backpack. This will take some of the downward pressure off your shoulder straps and transfer it to the front of your shoulders and chest. Many lightweight backpacks don’t have load lifter straps these days and they’re not really necessary if you’re carrying a light load.
TREKKING POLE & ICE AXE LOOPS - Trekking pole and ice axe loops are a nice touch. They make it easy to stow your sticks when you’re not using them. We find that we use ours quite often and many of the bags we recommend come with them built in.
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- And More: CleverHiker Gear Guide
We hope this guide was helpful for finding the best backpack to fit your needs. If you want to provide feedback or recommend an item we missed, please use our contact form to get in touch.
Thanks for reading and happy trails!
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