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The 6 Best Ultralight Backpacks of 2024

We tested ultralight backpacks from Gossamer Gear, ULA, Hyperlite, Mountainsmith, and more to find the best pack for your needs
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Best Ultralight Backpack Review (Some of the best Ultralight Backpacks in our stable!)
Some of the best Ultralight Backpacks in our stable!
Credit: Justin Simoni
By Jane Jackson, Brandon Lampley & Justin Simoni  ⋅  Jun 5, 2024

The Best Ultralight Backpacks for 2024


Ready to join the ultralight revolution? Over the past decade, our thru-hiking experts have tested 40+ of the best ultralight backpacks around. In this latest iteration, we bring you the top 19 ultralight backpacks on the market. We've slogged along the John Muir Trail, hiked around Southern France's Haute Alpes, and traversed miles of talus in Argentine Patagonia to put these packs to the test. We logged hundreds of trail miles to assess performance, subjecting each to our rigorous testing metrics, including weight-to-volume ratio, carrying comfort, adjustability, and features. Each year, the ultralight world grows and becomes increasingly competitive. This review highlights budget-friendly models and our top-ranked packs, as well as niche products.

If you're looking to shave a few ounces (or pounds) from your pack, check out our other reviews for the best in ultralight gear. If you're willing to carry a little extra weight for more comfort, larger carrying capacity, and extra organizational features, consider one of the best backpacking backpacks or best women's backpacking backpacks from our reviews.

Editor's Note: Our ultralight backpack review was updated on June 5, 2024, to include more packs from Hyperlight Mountain Gear, Black Diamond, and REI Co-op.

Top 19 Ultralight Backpacks

Displaying 1 - 5 of 19
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Awards Editors' Choice Award Best Buy Award Top Pick Award Top Pick Award Top Pick Award 
Price $315 List$275 List$369 List
$369.00 at Hyperlite Mountain Gear
$399.95 at Backcountry
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Check Price at Backcountry
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Overall Score Sort Icon
93
85
85
84
79
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Pros Abrasion-resistant Robic nylon, comfortable, well-designed pockets, carries both light and heavy loads wellLightweight, carries light and medium loads well, adaptable, perfect feature set, more durable than mostTons of external storage with different pockets, durable and water-resistant DCF pack material, comfortable yet minimal padding and vertical stay, removable hip beltModular design, running vest-style shoulder straps, rough and light Ultra 200 pack fabric, voluminous center pocketSensational comfort and back breathability, tons of organizational pockets, perfect for those getting into the ultralight lifestyle
Cons Large capacity makes it less versatileA little small for a bear canisterDurability comes at a cost of additional weight, lacks load liftersLimited external lash points, pricier than other options, doesn't carry the heaviest loads bestHeavier than other ultralight packs, mesh back may have durability issues
Bottom Line This pack wowed us with its perfect set of features, comfortable design, and impressively large carrying capacityDelivers a perfect set of features, plenty of pockets, comfortable straps, and carries well, all at an affordable priceFor those seeking a pack to support their cross-country thru-hikes with tons of external storage space, excellent weather resistance, and famous durabilityA pack that's clearly made to make you feel as if you could run to the next mountain range over yonder without breaking a sweatAn excellent pack for those who want to move up from a conventional backpack, but don't want to lose out on creature comforts
Rating Categories Gossamer Gear Marip... Gossamer Gear Goril... Hyperlite Mountain... Black Diamond Beta... Osprey Exos Pro 55
Comfort (40%)
10.0
10.0
9.0
9.0
9.0
Ease of Use (25%)
10.0
9.0
9.0
8.0
9.0
Weight-to-Volume Ratio (20%)
8.0
5.0
7.0
7.0
5.0
Adjustability (15%)
8.0
8.0
8.0
9.0
7.0
Specs Gossamer Gear Marip... Gossamer Gear Goril... Hyperlite Mountain... Black Diamond Beta... Osprey Exos Pro 55
Measured weight 32.6 oz 31.1 oz 34.6 oz 31.68 33.2 oz
Weight per liter (full pack) 0.54 oz/L 0.62 oz/L 0.87 oz/L 0.70 oz/L 0.60 oz/L
Advertised volume 60 L 50 L 40 L 45 L 55 L
Stripped weight 18.0 oz 17.2 oz 26.0 oz 19.0 oz 30.4 oz
Measured volume (main compartment) 42 L 39 L 35 L 40 L 33 L
Organization Compartments Lid, side pockets, center pocket, dual zippered pockets on hip belt, main compartment Lid, side pockets, center pocket, dual zippered pockets on hip belt, main compartment Side pockets, center pocket, dual zippered pockets on hip belt, bottom stash pocket, main compartment Side pockets, center pocket, dual zippered pockets on hip belt, main compartment Lid, mesh side pockets, center pocket, dual zippered pockets on hip belt, main compartment
Hydration compatible Yes Yes No Yes Yes
Single side pocket 700ml Smartwater capacity 5 3 5 5 5
Single hip belt pocket capacity 5 Clif Bars 5 Clif Bars 6 Clif Bars 5 Clif Bars 4 Clif Bars
Able to strip off frame and hip belt Yes Yes Yes Yes No
Whistle on sternum strap Yes Yes Yes No Yes
BearVault BV500 compatibility Good Ok Ok Good Good
Sizes Available Torso: S, M, L
Hip Belt: S/M curved (M/L curved and S, M, and L straight sold separately)
Torso: S, M, L
Hip Belt: S/M curved (M/L curved and S, M, and L straight sold separately)
Torso: S, M, L, Tall
Hip Belt: M (S & L sold separately)
Torso: XS, S, M, L Torso: S/M, L/XL
Frame type SitLight foam pad / removable stay SitLight foam pad / removable stay 1 removable aluminum stay, embedded, non-removable foam pad 2 removable stays, thin foam padding 3.5 mm powder-coated LightWire frame
Fabric 100D & 200D Robic nylon 100D & 70D Robic nylon 150 D DCH fabric, Dyneema Stretch Mesh, Hardline with Dyneema Ultra 200, Ultra 400, 4-way stretch mesh, 100d nylon 4mm Ripstop NanoFly: 100D nylon x 200D UHMWPE ripstop


Best Overall Ultralight Backpack


Gossamer Gear Mariposa 60


93
OVERALL
SCORE
  • Comfort 10.0
  • Ease of Use 10.0
  • Weight-to-Volume Ratio 8.0
  • Adjustability 8.0
Total Weight: 32.6 oz | Weight-to-Volume Ratio: 0.54 oz/L
REASONS TO BUY
Comfortable with both light and heavy loads
Versatile
Great feature set
Well made
Fits bear canister
REASONS TO AVOID
Heavier than some

Once again, against relentless competition from other brands, the Gossamer Gear Mariposa 60 holds its place at the top of the fleet. This pack balances comfort with an emphasis on lightweight design in an unparalleled way. Its feature set is thoughtful and useful but not overkill. It provides plenty of external carry options without feeling weighed down by superfluous bells and whistles. The Mariposa has our favorite stretchy center mesh pocket, which proved large enough to store extra layers, snacks, and other items we wanted to access quickly. It fits a bear canister and can carry a heavy load comfortably, yet it can also compress to carry a smaller load comfortably. The fabrics used in its design are durable and lightweight; miles of bushwhacking and talus-crossing hardly left a scratch.

Marketed as a 60-liter pack, the Mariposa can carry up to 64 liters when stuffed to the brim. For some, this might feel like too much room for an ultralight pack, as the more room you have, the more likely you'll fill it with unnecessary gear. It's also not the lightest model in our lineup, though its 32.6-ounce total weight and 0.54-ounce per liter weight-to-volume ratio are impressive. Plus, its slightly heavier weight added a level of comfort that couldn't be beaten. If you're looking to go much lighter, the Mountain Laurel Designs Exodus 55L is about half the weight. It offers a great weight-to-volume ratio but will cost you in comfort.

Read more: Gossamer Gear Mariposa 60 review

ultralight backpack - the ultralight gossamer gear mariposa going into the sierras.
The ultralight Gossamer Gear Mariposa going into the Sierras.
Credit: Sarah Van Cleve

Best Bang For Your Buck


Gossamer Gear Gorilla 50


85
OVERALL
SCORE
  • Comfort 10.0
  • Ease of Use 9.0
  • Weight-to-Volume Ratio 5.0
  • Adjustability 8.0
Total Weight: 31.1 oz | Weight-to-Volume Ratio: 0.62 oz/L
REASONS TO BUY
Tough but light Robic nylon construction
Can transform from a day hiker to a multi-day backpack
Great spread of features without compromising on weight
REASONS TO AVOID
Not as waterproof as other packs
Top flap may not be everyone's favorite

Once you get used to the supreme comfort of the Gossamer Gear Gorilla 50, it's hard to imagine living without it. It has great back padding, an internal aluminum frame, and an excellent hip belt. Those aren't the only reasons we love the Gorilla. Its voluminous external pockets swallow up gear so much that we rarely need to open the pack's main compartment until it's time to make camp. Even more impressive is the modular design that allows you to customize the pack for the trip's itinerary by easily stripping components off that you may not need to cut even more weight.

There's little we don't love about the Gorilla and it will be difficult for anyone to wrangle it out of our greedy thru-hiking hands. The top flap design of Gossamer Gear is unusual in our ultralight category, and you may prefer a rolltop. If you're especially rough on gear, the judicious use of mesh for the side and center pockets and holding the back padding in place may become untimely victims of your heavy-handedness. In that case, the exceptionally durable Dyneema construction of the Hyperlite Mountain Gear Porter 55 is a better pick, but it's not exactly a budget-friendly purchase.

Read more: Gossamer Gear Gorilla 50 review

Nothing reminds us of the joy of sweet simplicity than a good walk in the woods.
Credit: Justin Simoni

Best for Long Distance Thru Hikes


Hyperlite Mountain Gear Unbound 40


85
OVERALL
SCORE
  • Comfort 9.0
  • Ease of Use 9.0
  • Weight-to-Volume Ratio 7.0
  • Adjustability 8.0
Total Weight: 34.6 oz | Weight-to-Volume Ratio: 0.87 oz/L
REASONS TO BUY
A multitude of useful exterior pockets to store close-at-hand gear
Dyneema Composite Fabric is extremely durable and water-resistant
Comfy and embedded foam padding, hip belts, and shaped vertical stay
REASONS TO AVOID
Heavier than other packs of the same total volume
Lack of load lifters

Good friends, food, views, and gear are critical for peak enjoyment while spending weeks at a time hiking a long trail. We found the Hyperlite Mountain Gear Unbound 40 to be our best ally when looking for an almost perfect pack for the long haul. The extremely durable and water-resistant DCF pack material means you don't have to worry about acute gear malfunction leaving you stranded several states in. The embedded foam padding, internal shaped stay, and hip belt all work in consonance to support moving the weight of your loaded pack and distributing it off your tired shoulders. The massive exterior center and side pockets allow you to carry much of the gear you'll use throughout the day outside the main pack compartment. A sneaky bottom-of-the-pack stash pocket gives you a few more liters of storage.

Comfort, carrying-ability, and convenience come at a cost, and for the Unbound 40, it's a few more ounces being registered on the scale when compared to some of the other packs we'd consider when going off the map for a few weeks. The main culprit is the more durable 150-denier polymer face fabric that adds so much insurance against downpours and abrasive rocks. Another is just how many useful, voluminous pockets you'll find on the Unbound 40. If you don't need such carrying capacity yourself, it would be better to look for a more minimalist pack that utilizes lighter materials. But for us, these included features stopped us from having a frustration-fueled meltdown on the trail more than a few times and allowed us to persevere to our next resupply smiling. Try out the Ultralight Adventure Equipment Ultra Circuit for another long-distance trail-worthy pack with great storage capacity, comfort, and durability.

Read more: Hyperlite Mountain Gear Unbound 40 review

We took advantage of the local Spring runoff to do an impromptu field test of the Unbound 40's water resistance claims. After our misogi cleansing, we found the contents of the main compartment to be relatively dry, thanks to the waterproof DCF, taped seams, and our triple folding the roll top.
Credit: Justin Simoni

Most Versatile


Black Diamond Beta Light 45


84
OVERALL
SCORE
  • Comfort 9.0
  • Ease of Use 8.0
  • Weight-to-Volume Ratio 7.0
  • Adjustability 9.0
Total Weight: 31.68 oz | Weight-to-Volume Ratio: 0.70 oz/L
REASONS TO BUY
Modular design allows you to dial in pack for different trip types
Excellent running vest-style front straps can hold water, snacks, your phone
Ultra fabric is ounce for ounce some of toughest pack material out there
Excellent center mesh pocket
REASONS TO AVOID
Not the best carry for heavier loads
Limited external daisy chains or tie-off points,
More expensive than many other choices

There are many details we love about the Black Diamond Beta Light 45, from its tough and light Ultra 200 fabric to its running vest-inspired shoulder straps with all those easy-to-access pockets. But what surprised and delighted us the most was just how versatile and modular the pack design was, allowing one to use all the built-in features for heavier loads, or to strip them off when going fast-and-light — the latter being what this pack is best for. We weighed the pack at only 19.0 oz when fully stripped, and that still gives you 40L of internal capacity and more than 10L of carrying capacity in the center and side pockets! If you haven't completely dialed in exactly what you prefer, this pack will give you a lot of mileage over its life offering options to work with while perfecting your own system.

This transformer of a pack wasn't our favorite for carrying the heaviest of loads, and we struggled to carry over 35 lbs with the Black Diamond Beta Light 45. Pack weight just wasn't transferred to the hip belt as well as with other packs. The sternum and shoulder straps also have a bit of stretch to them - great for moving around quickly and even running — but not so great carrying out a seven-day load. But for high mileage, long days, and lighter loads, this pack will support your performance-oriented goals. If you're hoping to shoulder an even lighter pack and don't mind less versatility, the Mountain Laurel Designs Exodus 55L would be our top suggestion. If better weight carrying is something you want to optimize, check out the REI Co-op Flash Air 50, which features copious padding and excellent load lifters.

Read more: Black Diamond Beta Light 45 review

The banana-shaped right front pocket on the Black Diamond Beta Light 45 fits our phone tight and securely for easy access to messaging and navigation.
Credit: Justin Simoni

Best Full-Featured UL Pack


Osprey Exos Pro 55


79
OVERALL
SCORE
  • Comfort 9.0
  • Ease of Use 9.0
  • Weight-to-Volume Ratio 5.0
  • Adjustability 7.0
Total Weight: 33.2 oz | Weight-to-Volume Ratio: 0.6 oz/L
REASONS TO BUY
Super well-thought-out design and features
Great suspension system
Excellent back ventilation
REASONS TO AVOID
Heavy for an ultralight pack
Lid top may be a turnoff for rolltop lovers

We must come clean and admit we're still blown away at the amount of engineering put into the exceptional Osprey Exos Pro 55 to take a more conventional backpack design and make it sincerely ultralight. Weight may be gone, but all the creature comforts that one expects from a backpack are not left on the cutting room floor. We especially loved the back suspension system that provided comfort against our pack load and gave a ton of air circulation our poor back so desperately craves.

If you want to shave off as much weight as possible from your kit, the Osprey Exos Pro 55 won't be attractive to you since the frame, padding, and hip belts aren't removable, even if the top lid is. That said, one can certainly make a proper sub-ten-pound base weight kit when using the Exos Pro, and for that, we applaud Osprey's effort. The main nylon fabric is built to last for years, but you should know that the back mesh on the suspension system might need to be babied a little more. Another worthy alternative to the Exos Pro 55 is the REI Co-op Flash Air 50, which also has comfortability in the back and padding that reminds us of more conventional packs, but features a very light main pack body. The main difference between the two is that the Flash Air 50 is a roll-top.

Read more: Osprey Exos Pro 55 review

A comfortable pack makes for a happy, trail-eating hiker.
Credit: Justin Simoni

Best for Exceptional Durability


Hyperlite Mountain Gear Porter 55


74
OVERALL
SCORE
  • Comfort 8.0
  • Ease of Use 8.0
  • Weight-to-Volume Ratio 5.0
  • Adjustability 8.0
Total Weight: 31.5 oz | Weight-to-Volume Ratio: 0.57 oz/L
REASONS TO BUY
Lightweight yet incredibly durable
Comfortable, considering its simplistic design
Low profile, good for technical travel
Full-sized, comfortable waist belt
REASONS TO AVOID
Expensive
Few external storage options

Missions in the mountains require packs that can handle two main things. First, the pack must be able to carry heavy loads. Second, it must be burly, which means it needs to offer protection from abrasions and keep its contents safe from rain and snow. The Hyperlite Mountain Gear Porter 55 does all these with style. It's simple and sleek, with a roll-top closure and lots of external lashing options. Its side straps can accommodate skis, boots, tent poles, or ropes, while its small waist belt pockets can hold snacks, phones, and sunscreen. We liked this pack's size; it is a bit more versatile than some of its larger siblings from Hyperlite. The Dyneema fabric used in its construction makes it one of the most durable and water-resistant packs we've tested.

Unfortunately, all of these great attributes come at a cost. Hyperlite packs are some of the most expensive on the market. Therefore, you'll want to be certain this is the tool you need before throwing down so much money. Also, if you're into pockets, features, and bells and whistles, this simplistic pack might be a little disappointing. If you're not willing or able to invest, the Gossamer Gear Gorilla 50 is our favorite pick for affordability. While it's not built from Dyneema, it's still quite durable and has plenty to offer, especially in ways of comfort.

Read more: Hyperlite Mountain Gear Porter 55 review

ultralight backpack - here, we have the porter loaded almost to max capacity.
Here, we have the Porter loaded almost to max capacity.
Credit: Alexa Flower

Honorable Mention for Exceptional Weight to Volume


Mountain Laurel Designs Exodus 55L


56
OVERALL
SCORE
  • Comfort 4.0
  • Ease of Use 5.0
  • Weight-to-Volume Ratio 10.0
  • Adjustability 5.0
Total Weight: 16.4 oz | Weight-to-Volume Ratio: 0.30 oz/L
REASONS TO BUY
Featherlight and high-volume
Waterproof Ultra fabric
Excellent design and detail
REASONS TO AVOID
Very expensive
Low load limit, especially for volume
Fiddly to make comfortable

The Mountain Laurel Designs Exodus 55L is what one may imagine — both the good and the bad — of what ultralight backpacks are all about. It has advanced composite materials whose weight rivals that of tissue paper, with slimmed-down features, minimal pockets, a cool name, and a hot price tag to match. There's a lot to unpack concerning the Exodus, but if you're an advanced hiker already possessing a streamlined kit and looking for the best weight-to-volume value on the market, the Exodus is made for you.

If you're not yet that advanced of a backpacker and your entire carry weight is more than 20 pounds, then the Exodus won't support you as you gain the requisite experience to be the next “Flyin'” Brian, “Anish” Anderson, or Jeff “Legend”. The big spoiler to the Exodus's incredible weight-to-volume ratio is that it skimps out on back padding, an internal frame, as well as other niceties like hip belt pockets, making you figure those details out yourself using clever packing and repurposing gear. If that's too much of a puzzle to solve on top of all the other logistics of a big-thru hike, consider another ultralight backpack like the Gossamer Gear Mariposa 60 that better supports your adventure, both literally and figuratively.

ultralight backpack - the mountain laurel designs exodus 55l (seen here with additional...
The Mountain Laurel Designs Exodus 55L (seen here with additional accessories) is a finely-tuned long trail crusher, but make sure it's the right amount of pack for your experience and goals.
Credit: Justin Simoni


Compare Products

select up to 5 products to compare
Score Product Price
93
Gossamer Gear Mariposa 60
Best Overall Ultralight Backpack
$315
Editors' Choice Award
85
Gossamer Gear Gorilla 50
Best Bang For Your Buck
$275
Best Buy Award
85
Hyperlite Mountain Gear Unbound 40
Best for Long Distance Thru Hikes
$369
Top Pick Award
84
Black Diamond Beta Light 45
Most Versatile
$400
Top Pick Award
79
Osprey Exos Pro 55
Best Full-Featured UL Pack
$290
Top Pick Award
75
REI Co-op Flash Air 50
$299
74
Hyperlite Mountain Gear Porter 55
Best for Exceptional Durability
$389
Top Pick Award
74
Ultralight Adventure Equipment Ohm 2.0
$260
72
Durston Kakwa 55
$260
72
Ultralight Adventure Equipment Ultra Circuit
$380
70
Granite Gear Crown3 60
$240
68
Ultralight Adventure Equipment Circuit 68
$300
66
Hyperlite Mountain Gear Southwest 55
$379
63
Gossamer Gear Murmur 36 Hyperlight
$185
62
Ultralight Adventure Equipment CDT
$220
56
Mountainsmith Zerk 40
$220
56
Mountain Laurel Designs Exodus 55L
Honorable Mention for Exceptional Weight to Volume
$325
52
Granite Gear Virga3 55
$200
51
Homiee 50L with Rain Cover
$70

ultralight backpack - we snuck out to visit the ice lake basin from telluride while...
We snuck out to visit the Ice Lake Basin from Telluride while training up for the Colorado Trail, later in the year with the Gossamer Gear Mariposa 60.
Credit: Justin Simoni

How We Test Ultralight Backpacks


Over the past ten years, our testing process has always begun with deep research into the market to see what's out there. After we make our selection, we purchase all the products at retail prices to eliminate bias from our reviews. Our ultralight backpack testing protocol consists of both lab testing and trail miles. We independently verify weight and volume measurements. We take it a step further by scoring packs based on their weight per unit volume, allowing us to compare different volumes fairly. On-trail testing included trips such as 260 winter miles on the AT, five segments on the Colorado Trail, and completing the arduous Sangre de Cristo Range Traverse in Colorado. We spent time in Patagonia, the Continental Divide Trail, and the Sierra High Country. Additionally, we made direct comparisons using 15 and 30-pound weights for shorter test laps around our local trails in Boulder, CO.

Our ultralight backpack testing is divided into four different metrics:
  • Comfort (40% of overall score weighting)
  • Ease of Use (25% weighting)
  • Weight-to-Volume Ratio (20% weighting)
  • Adjustability (15% weighting)

Why Trust GearLab


This review is the result of the combined efforts of several GearLab ultralight experts. Jane Jackson and Brandon Lampley bring to the table a wealth of related experience. For 200+ days a year, you can find Jane outside using and testing gear. With years spent working and playing in the Yosemite backcountry, the Tetons, and the Wind River Range, as well as trips taken to the Alaska Range, the Himalayas, and Patagonia, she has spent plenty of time under the burden of a heavy pack. Brandon has hiked both the Pacific Crest Trail and Appalachian Trail, essentially back-to-back, with only four months off in between. He also has first ascents to his name in the Indian Himalayas and has summited Denali and Ama Dablam. Justin Simoni lends his deep knowledge and vast experience to this review, gained from his time in the Colorado backcountry. Justin has done fast-and-light missions on the very ridge of the Continental Divide, the Sangre de Cristo Range, and the Mosquito-Tenmile Range. With no external support, he has summitted all the Colorado 14ers and Centennials in two separate years. He can be heard quietly musing about giving an unsupported FKT (fastest known time) of the Colorado Trail another go after his daily high-elevation-gain trail runs.

The ULA Ultra Circuit feels like a best friend on the trail, always...
The ULA Ultra Circuit feels like a best friend on the trail, always supporting your long-distance outdoor adventures.
The Osprey Exos Pro 55 has an athletic fit and great breathability.
The Osprey Exos Pro 55 has an athletic fit and great breathability.
Cinch straps on the main pack body help add versatility for long...
Cinch straps on the main pack body help add versatility for long thru-hikes as well as shorter day trips in the mountains.
We took all these packs on a variety of outdoor adventures to help you find the best pack for you.

Analysis and Test Results


In the past ten years, we've tested over 45 ultralight models in addition to hundreds of the best backpacks of all styles. The products we've included this year represent the cutting edge in ultralight technology. If you're looking for larger frames and luxury padded waistbelts, look elsewhere; the packs in this review hardly resemble a traditional backpacking pack. Many exciting small brands have popped up in this category of outdoor gear over the past few years, as well as strong options from larger brands. We've had fun assessing their latest products. Here, we evaluate the top products available for multi-month thru-hiking adventures and shorter alpine trips focused on fast and light backcountry travel.


Value


When making an outdoor gear purchase, we often trade off one thing for another, and no one understands trade-offs better than an ultralight enthusiast. We all spend too much time “weighing” our options. Bringing a slightly thicker sleeping pad can mean foregoing powdered milk in the coffee- decisions, decisions. However, ultralight packs continue to get better and more comfortable as time passes.

Side pockets are easy to access and a perfect place to stash on-the-go snacks. Well-designed features that work are one of the big reasons why we think the Hyperlite Mountain Gear Unbound 40 delivers good on value.
Credit: Justin Simoni

The Gossamer Gear Gorilla offers very impressive comfort and versatility for a reasonable price. The Gossamer Gear Mariposa isn't much more expensive but is our favorite all-around ultralight backpack. Alternatively, the ULA Ultra Circuit is more expensive, but is also made of more durable materials designed to last for a long time through trying conditions. The Durston Kakwa 55 is one of our lineup's most dialed-in ultralight packs at an excellent value.

Unfortunately, we found the side pockets on this pack frustrating to...
Unfortunately, we found the side pockets on this pack frustrating to both take out and put back in items while wearing it. We instead needed to stop, take off the pack and work with the pockets that way.
Small side pockets will only fit three smooshed Clif Bars.
Small side pockets will only fit three smooshed Clif Bars.
Each side pocket is small, only fitting one smartwater bottle.
Each side pocket is small, only fitting one smartwater bottle.
Unfortunately, we found many of the features of the Homiee 50L with Rain Cover too lacking for serious backpacking, but it does make a reasonable option for casual overnights.

We found one of the least expensive packs in our lineup, the Homiee 50L with Rain Cover, just didn't deliver on the level of performance we'd expect from a high-value ultralight pack. This pack might not be a great choice except for taking on the most casual trips or having it as a backup pack in the trunk of your car that you can grab to take a quick trip.

Comfort


Of course, we all want an ultralight pack to be featherlight, but it must carry our load comfortably to be worth it. For each of these packs, we judged load-carrying comfort for two loads: 15 and 30 pounds. We then averaged each pack's performance in both categories to generate our carrying comfort score. Fifteen pounds is a perfect comparison weight for ultralight hikers on a short trip. Thirty pounds is a fair comparison weight for lightweight hikers on shorter trips, ultralight hikers carrying a week's worth of food, or those brave enough to travel in the winter. While some packs can be stripped of their frame and waist belt, our evaluation of “great, good, or poor” for carrying 15 and 30 pounds is with the frame and waist belt in use, as these features add significantly to the comfort of carrying a pack. We only recommend stripping down a pack completely when carrying 12 pounds (or less) in total weight.


The Gossamer Gear Mariposa and Gossamer Gear Gorilla earned our highest scores in this category. With hip belts and back pads on, these packs are impressively comfortable, well-balanced, and secure to carry. They are some of the easiest and most comfortable packs to strip off their frame and waist belts for loads under twelve pounds. The Osprey Exos Pro 55 is nearly as comfortable but for different reasons. Its tensioned mesh back panel and wrap-around non-removable belt help to carry the load far better than most other solutions in the ultralight world.

ultralight backpack - simple yet effective load lifters on the rei co-op flash air 50 can...
Simple yet effective load lifters on the REI Co-op Flash Air 50 can help adjust how the pack sits on your upper back, making it easy to dial in the fit even on the go.
Credit: Justin Simoni

The ULA Ultra Circuit, Hyperlite 3400 Porter, and Hyperlite Mountain Gear Unbound 40 also scored well when it comes to comfort. All three have cushy back padding built in to keep your gear from poking you with every step.

To simplify our findings for load-carrying comfort even further, we've broken down some of our award winners' niches as far as load-carrying comfort goes:
  • Best for 10-20 lb loads: Mountain Laurel Designs Exodus 55
  • Best for 15-25 lb loads: Gossamer Gear Gorilla and Mariposa
  • Best for 35+ lb loads: Hyperlite Mountain Gear Porter and Unbound 40

The ULA Circuit and ULA Ohm 2.0 both offer above-average comfort. Both ULA models have good back padding. The Black Diamond Beta Light 45 takes a lot of design cues from running vests and is built to have the packs load hugged tightly to the body for less bounce. The REI Co-op Flash Air 50 has a thick back and hip belt padding that reminds us more of a conventional backpack design mated to an ultralight pack body. Along with some of the best load lifters we've tested, there's very little comfort compromised.

ultralight backpack - the back foam padding and plastic sheet add a ton of  comfort and...
The back foam padding and plastic sheet add a ton of comfort and stiffness to the Granite Gear Crown3 60, allowing it to realistically carry more weight than many other ultralight packs.
Credit: Justin Simoni

The Durston Kakwa 55, Granite Gear Crown3 60, and Hyperlite Mountain Gear Southwest 55 are more decently comfortable packs. They each straddle the line between comfortable hip belts and shoulder pads without offering too much padding that they're extra heavy. Of course, that makes them less comfortable than the more thickly padded packs earning top scores in this metric, but these three are still solid contenders.

ultralight backpack - the durston kakwa maintains decent comfort while still being...
The Durston Kakwa maintains decent comfort while still being lightweight.
Credit: Justin Simoni

Ease of Use


How easy is it to use the features of the pack? Similar to comfort, what's the point of a specialized pack if you need an advanced degree in spatial awareness to use it? We used every pocket repeatedly to see how conveniently they were located, how easily they were accessed with and without removing the pack, and how versatile they were for different types of trips and different styles of packing.


The one-two punch of the Gossamer Gear Gorilla and Gossamer Gear Mariposa again get top honors in this metric. We found both models intuitive to use as soon as you throw them on your back, yet both have the features we like to see in more advanced packs. Standout details include the very voluminous center pocket that swallows up even large gear, like a bear canister.

ultralight backpack - the gossamer gear gorilla 50 delivers a ton of value for the...
The Gossamer Gear Gorilla 50 delivers a ton of value for the features it offers, and was our choice for a particularly adventurous route through then Sangre de Cristos.
Credit: Justin Simoni

Not to be outdone, the Osprey Exos Pro 55 also delivers when it comes to being a no-brainer to use. The Exos Pro is very “Batteries Included,” and for a small weight penalty, it just works without too much fiddling about. If you're transitioning to ultralight from a more conventional backpack, this pack makes the transition utterly painless. The REI Co-op Flash Air 50 will also feel at home from those coming from conventional packs.

ultralight backpack - we love the side pockets on the osprey exos pro, which are easily...
We love the side pockets on the Osprey Exos Pro, which are easily accessible even while wearing the pack.
Credit: Justin Simoni

On the opposite side of the ultralight spectrum is the Hyperlite 3400 Porter, which in its own right is also easy to use but can grow with you like Lego blocks. Need more carrying capacity of any sort? Just lash on whatever you need. It has the utmost flexibility in carrying your gear while being super burly to boot. Its brethren, the Hyperlite Mountain Gear Unbound 40 includes a wide variety of some of the best-designed external pockets that you won't find on the Porter, all ready to swallow up gear you'd like to have close at hand without needing to open up the main compartment.

The Durston Kakwa 55 also has some well-thought-out features and pockets that are a joy to use. We particularly like the zippered stash pocket found within one of the side pockets to allow us to securely keep very important items, like keys and cards.

The Durston Kakwa 55 comes ready to go for your next long distance hike.
Credit: Justin Simoni

The ULA Ohm 2.0 can fit an impressive eight Clif Bars into each of its hip pockets. The Granite Gear Crown3 60 has a lid with a brain, for those folks who love that feature. It can also fit five Smartwater bottles in each of its side pockets. The ULA Ultra Circuit is also impressive, though it holds just four 700-milliliter Smartwater bottles in each of its side pockets. The Gossamer Gear Gorilla and Mariposa, Osprey Exos Pro, Hyperlite Porter, Southwest, Unbound 40, REI Co-op Flash Air 50, Homiee 50L with Rain Cover, Mountainsmith Zerk 40, and Mountain Laurel Exodus all have whistles attached to their sternum straps.

ultralight backpack - the mountainsmith zerk has a whistle on the sternum strap and...
The Mountainsmith Zerk has a whistle on the sternum strap and shoulder pockets that can easily fit these 700-milliliter Smartwater bottles.
Credit: Justin Simoni

Weight-to-Volume Ratio


The weight-to-volume ratio is a measurement used to compare packs of differing volumes. This metric gets straight to the point; how much does this pack weigh relative to the volume it carries? We measured the weight of each model on our digital scale, as well as each of its disparate parts.


Pack volume was measured, as well as the volume of the main exterior pockets. This gives us a normalized way to compare packs from different manufacturers using the same rules.

We measured the Durston Kakwa 55 as having approx. 40L of internal storage in the main compartment when the roll top is rolled 3x.
Credit: Justin Simoni

We were sometimes very surprised at how different the advertised total volume was from what we measured.

We measured the internal volume of the Durston Kakwa 55 using ping...
We measured the internal volume of the Durston Kakwa 55 using ping pong balls to be around 40L.
The external center pocket of the Durston Kakwa 55 is a stretchy...
The external center pocket of the Durston Kakwa 55 is a stretchy mesh that expands when you add gear. The mesh is useful for drying out wet clothes.
We measured the volume of the main compartments and all the extra...
We measured the volume of the main compartments and all the extra pockets, too!
Ping pong balls ruled the roost when measuring the internal volume of various pockets of these packs.

Finally, we calculated the weight-to-volume ratio to compare each pack directly, regardless of volume, to get a fair idea of how light these packs really are. All the packs in the ultralight category faired extremely well when looking at their weight-to-volume ratios, but there certainly are some standouts.

ultralight backpack - the large pack volume of the mountain laurel exodus is attained with...
The large pack volume of the Mountain Laurel Exodus is attained with an extra-long roll top. Given the manufacturer's low 20-pound load limit, you may find it difficult to fully pack this main compartment.
Credit: Justin Simoni

Top honors go to the Mountain Laurel Exodus 55, with its seriously low weight-to-volume ratio of just 0.3 ounces per liter. It's built as a fast-and-light pack that practically dares you to break long trail hiking speed records. The Exodus has minimal features, smaller exterior pockets, and a large main pack compartment. It uses lightweight but tough 3.5 ounces per square yard Ultra 200D fabric. The Ultra family of composite fabrics comes up often when we look at packs with excellent weight-to-volume ratios, as the fabric is incredibly durable for its low weight. The Durston Kakwa 55 comes in at a respectable 0.42 ounces per liter, the Ultralight Adventure Equipment Ultra Circuit at 0.53 oz/L, and the Black Diamond Beta Light 45 at 0.70 oz/L.

ultralight backpack - stripped of many of its optional accessories and by rolling the roll...
Stripped of many of its optional accessories and by rolling the roll top down tightly, the Black Diamond Beta Light 45 makes a fairly good day pack.
Credit: Drew Crittenden

Not trailing far behind the Exodus is the Gossamer Gear Murmur 36 Hyperlight boasting 0.35 ounces per liter. This bag is a smaller 36-liter pack made of thin 30D Cordura & 70D Robic nylon.

The Durston Kakwa 55 uses Ultra 200 fabric to make a very lightweight pack, especially for the amount of internal space it can accommodate your gear with.
Credit: Justin Simoni

The ULA Ohm 2.0 also vies for attention with its great weight-to-volume ratio of 0.5 ounces per liter. We measured the Granite Gear Crown3 60 at 0.53 ounces per liter. The Gossamer Gear Mariposa came in at 0.54 ounces per liter, quickly followed by the Granite Gear Virga3 55 at 0.55 ounces per liter.

ultralight backpack - the granite crown3 has a ton of internal storage in a lightweight...
The Granite Crown3 has a ton of internal storage in a lightweight package.
Credit: Justin Simoni

Adjustability


Adjustability tests how well a pack conforms to your body, adapts to different adventures, and carries the usual suspects of backpacking gear. We asked ourselves: Is this pack working with or against us in the adventures we want to bring it along for? We also considered sizing and customization options available during the ordering process.


Ultralight backpacks generally don't have a great degree of adaptability to fit a wide spectrum of body types, but there are a few absolute standouts. The Granite Gear Crown3 60 features a hyper-adjustable hip belt that can be extended to cover multiple conventional belt sizes. This belt can also be paired with the Crown3's removable lid to become a hip pack for day trips away from base camp. The Granite Gear Virga3 also has this exceptionally adjustable hip belt, width-adjustable shoulder straps, and extreme torso length adjustment. The Osprey Exos Pro 55 also has excellent torso length adjustability.

ultralight backpack - these shoulder straps accommodate an incredible range of both torso...
These shoulder straps accommodate an incredible range of both torso height and width.
Credit: Justin Simoni

Many packs are modular in design, allowing you to forgo many parts of the pack. This allows you to pair the pack down for weight savings, make them more appropriate for shorter trips, and allow you to grow with the pack as your own ultralight backpacking experience grows. The Gossamer Gear Mariposa and Gossamer Gear Gorilla both scored highly for adjustability, with an incredible amount of modularity in both of their similar designs, which allows them to be worn comfortably — depending on load — with or without their back padding, internal frame, or hip belt. Both of these packs can also be purchased with “mix and match” hip belts, allowing you to order your perfect combination of sizes. This customization is also available for all the ULA packs we tested (the Ohm 2.0, Ultra Circuit, Circuit, and the Ultralight Adventure Equipment CDT).

The ability to remove the hip belt, back padding, and metal frame...
The ability to remove the hip belt, back padding, and metal frame gives you the option to start with a much lighter pack.
Packs like the Mariposa allow you to trim down on the weight you&#039;re...
Packs like the Mariposa allow you to trim down on the weight you're carrying by removing parts.
Both the Gorilla and Mariposa have removable back padding, internal frame, and hip belt.

Both the Black Diamond Beta Light 45 and Hyperlite Mountain Gear Unbound 40 are also designed to be stripped of their hip belt, internal stays, and compression straps for very fast and light adventures when carrying lighter loads. The Beta Light can also have its minimalist back padding removed.

The hip belt, back stay and the two side cinch straps can be removed...
The hip belt, back stay and the two side cinch straps can be removed from the Hyperlite Mountain Gear Unbound 40 if you would like to save several ounces when hiking in with a lighter carry.
Many components of the Black Diamond Beta Light 45 can be stripped...
Many components of the Black Diamond Beta Light 45 can be stripped off for further gram savings, making this an extremely modular pack. The most weight savings come from removing the hip belt.
Both the Hyperlite Mountain Gear Unbound 40 and Black Diamond Beta Light 45 are designed to be modular, so you can take off parts for a lighter load at the expense of carrying weight limit and comfort.

The Hyperlite Porter adjusts to suit your needs in a very different way, featuring a plethora of daisy-chained webbing on its exterior for you to lash on almost anything you can think of. Its load limit is rated quite high, so feel free to pile on the gear and accessories.

ultralight backpack - where will your perfect ultralight backpack take you?
Where will your perfect ultralight backpack take you?
Credit: Justin Simoni

Conclusion


We hope the information in this review sparks an interest in the ultralight world. If all the gear required feels overwhelming, simply getting a lightweight pack is a wonderful place to start. A light pack automatically jumpstarts the transition toward lightening up the rest of your kit. The packs in this review range from extremely slimmed down to more comfy options for those unwilling to part with the standard backcountry creature comforts. Our testers have worn loads of different packs within and outside the ultralight world, bringing a breadth of experience to help guide you toward the pack that is right for you.

There are all kinds of ways to shed some weight from your backpack's load — for example, you may trade in your clunkier hiking boots for top trail running shoes or a low-profile pair of the best hiking shoes. If you're seeking an best ultralight tent or a lightweight sleeping bag, see our backpacking list to start you in the right direction.

Jane Jackson, Brandon Lampley & Justin Simoni