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5 Best Ultralight Backpacks for Long Distance Backpacking

A lot of hikers ask me which backpacks I think are the best for multi-day hikes and long distance backpacking, and time and again, I recommend the packs listed below. Why? I think they’re large enough to fit all of the gear and food you need for a backpacking trip for a variety of temperatures and terrain, they all carry extremely well, and their internal and external storage is simple and functional. While these are all great packs, they all have slightly different personalities, with slightly different strengths and weaknesses, which I spell out below.

1. Gossamer Gear Mariposa 60 Backpack

The Gossamer Gear Mariposa is a great pack for backpackers who are still lightening their loads because it has plenty of storage. As someone who’s taken a Mariposa on most of my long hikes ranging from 50 up to 250 miles, I can tell you it’s intuitively organized for a multi-day trip, with plenty of external pockets for wet or bulky gear, and lots of covered storage for items you need less frequent access too. It also has a unique long side pocket that’s perfect for storing a tent, especially a wet tent, separate from the rest of your gear. The Mariposa is a very refined and comfortable ultralight pack, best used for hiking on established trails.

Gossamer Gear Mariposa Ultralight Backpack
Gossamer Gear Mariposa 60 Ultralight Backpack

Weight: 32.7 ounces

Volume: 59 liters

Price: $204

Likes:

  • Unisex shoulder pads and hip belt
  • Wide range or torso lengths available from extra small to extra tall
  • Hip belt is available in multiple sizes so you can get a near custom fit
  • Solid, reinforced side bottle pockets instead of mesh (which tears easily)
  • Side bottle pocket is reachable when wearing the backpack

Dislikes:

  • Not as much ventilation as mesh-backed packs in hot and humid weather

See also: Marposa 60 Ultralight Backpack Product Specs

2. Hyperlite Mountain Gear 3400 Southwest Pack

Hyperlite Mountain Gear specializes in multi-sport backpacks for backpacking, climbing, packrafting, and winter sports where durability, a streamlined exterior, and enhanced waterproofing are important. While their packs are made using cuben fiber which is tough and lightweight, they tend to use a heavier grade of fabric than other gear makers, emphasizing durability over weight. If you backpack off the beaten track, off-trail, or in conditions that will rip the heck out of a nylon backpack, I recommend you get the Hyperlite Mountain Gear 3400 Southwest Pack. 

Don’t need as much storage capacity? Try the 2400 Southwest Pack.

Hyperlight Mountain Gear 3400 Southwest Pack
Hyperlite Mountain Gear 3400 Southwest Pack

Weight: 32.4 ounces

Volume: 65 liters

Price: $330

Likes:

  • Taped seams and needle holes make the pack nearly waterproof
  • Roll top closure and side straps provide good compression
  • Side water bottles are reachable and replaceable while wearing the pack
  • Bomber tough against puncture or abrasion by aggressive vegetation
  • Fantastic load to hip transfer
  • Good range of sizes available for people with short torsos, including women

Dislikes:

  • White color is quickly discolored by dirt and grime
  • No back ventilation

See Also: 3400 Southwest Pack Product Specs

3. Ultralight Adventure Equipment Circuit Backpack

The Circuit is a tough ultralight pack with a tear drop shape that results in an excellent carry. While it is the heaviest ultralight backpack I recommend, I like it because it’s tough enough and functional enough for 4 season use, with an excellent external attachment system for carrying winter gear. I also like the Circuit because it’s one of the friendlier packs available for women, with a choice of shoulder straps to fit the female figure. Fit is the most important aspect of buying any backpack and the folks at ULA are borderline fanatical about making sure their customers’ packs fit them perfectly. So if you’re looking for a company with high touch customer service, they’re a good choice.

ULA Circuit Backpack
ULA Circuit Backpack

Weight: 41 ounces

Volume: 68 liters

Price: $235

Likes:

  • Huge extension collar/roll top closure provides extra volume when you need it, but rolls up and out-of-the-way when you don’t
  • Solid reinforced hip belt pockets provide excellent durability
  • Replaceable hip belt, with multiple sizes available for a custom fit
  • Multiple shoulder strap options available, enabling unisex wear

Dislikes:

  • Heavier than other alternatives

See also: ULA Circuit Backpack Product Specs

4. Zpacks.com Arc Blast Backpack

The Zpacks.com Arc Blast is a cuben fiber backpack with an adjustable length backpack making it a good choice for backpackers who want to dial in a custom fit. The Arc Blast also has a mesh back panel that provides better back ventilation in hot and humid weather since it has a trampoline style external frame While the Arc Blast is durable enough for hiking on trails, the external frame, rear mesh pocket, and external attachment straps make it too fragile vulnerable for off-trail hiking. Still, it’s an excellent pack for long trail hiking with a great carry and a highly functional assortment of pockets and external attachment options.

Don’t need as much storage? The Arc Blast is also available in a 52 liter and 45 liter size.

ZPacks.com Arc Blast Backpack
ZPacks.com Arc Blast Backpack

Weight: 21 ounces

Volume: 60 liters

Price: $325

Likes:

  • Shoulder pads are free to rotate around different chest shapes
  • Side water bottle pockets are reachable while wearing the pack
  • Compression and external attachment system can be customized using gear loops located around perimeter of pack
  • Pack add-ons can be added any time after purchase and be trip-specific
  • Pack is nearly waterproof with seam taped seams

Dislikes:

  • Roll top closure does not secure along sides of pack, only on top
  • Front mesh pocket is not stretchable and quite limited in size
  • Need to pay extra for customizations which can significantly increase price

See also: Arc Blast Backpack Product Specs

5. Granite Gear Crown VC 60

The Granite Gear Crown VC 60 is the only ultralight backpack that I recommend that you can try on at REI and other outdoor retailers. It’s also the least expensive one. Available in both a men’s and women’s version, the Crown is laid out like other ultralight backpacks with a long rear mesh pocket, side water bottle pockets, and a roll top closure. The distinguishing feature of the Crown is its 360 degree compression system which along the top, back, and sides of the pack, which is better than any of the other packs I’ve listed above. This is an important capability if you take a lot of trips with very different capacity requirements – long trips with a lot of gear and supplies, or shorter trips with far less – making it an excellent pack for thru-hikes as well. With mesh pockets, I wouldn’t recommend taking the Crown off-trail, but it’s an excellent pack for hiking on established trails with a really good carry.

Granite Gear Crown VC 60 Backpack
Granite Gear Crown VC 60 Backpack

Weight: 34 ounces

Volume: 60 liters

Price: $200

Likes:

  • Women’s specific version available, the Crown VC 60 Ki
  • External mesh pockets let you stow food and gear for easy access
  • Ample side compression lets you attach more gear to the outside and top of the pack
  • Large extension collar for extra storage
  • Good back ventilation with air channels

Dislikes:

  • No hip belt pockets
  • Mesh side pockets are less durable than ones made with solid fabric

See also: Crown VC 60 Backpack Product Specs

Disclosure: Philip Werner has received sample products from Gossamer Gear, Hyperlight Mountain Gear and Granite Gear in the past, as well as loaner packs for review from ZPacks.com and Ultralight Adventure Equipment. Despite this, the author was under no obligation to include the items listed in this article and the views expressed are entirely his own. 

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8 comments

  1. I haven’t been on a real hike since I was a teen, about two weeks in the mountains of Wyoming, and I’m attempting to get myself highly encouraged to attempt the Thru-hike of the Appalachian Trail, what pack would you recommend? I understand you only need minimal supplies and should be as light as possible, plus you can resupply throughout the trek.

  2. As an avid offroad camper but a total newbie to backpacking, I really appreciate these reviews. I am a small-ish woman looking for comfortable ultralight gear, however I’ve found relatively few female specific ultralight backpacks to choose from. Many unisex, but not many geared at women specifically. Seems like there are more ‘traditional’ women’s packs (heavy). I’m very interested in the Zpacks. Have any ladies out there had any experience with the Zpacks?

  3. You reviewed ZPacks Arc Blast but Zpacks Arc Haul is very similar and this is my experience June 2016. This style is stated to have a 40lbs load capacity. I took it for 35 miles in three days holding 33lbs to test it for when I go for a few months into nomads land. On day ONE I felt a rash forming on my lower back. All the weight was pushing down resting on the center of my lower back and I tried everything to get it to my waist….and YES…I know how to pack and dress. Upon my return I had a rash the full length of where the belt is sewn into the backpack. In another day or two it would have been raw. I’d even changed clothes. Another site also tested the style you reviewed stating it should carry 12lbs less than what Zpacks states. So…I’m not alone. Basically – I feel their load capacity is for the strength of the bag but not what happens when carried on a human being. The belt is a weak design for heavy loads and is hollowed on the inside…ya…beats me! Also…the carbon rods running vertical along the sides for support cause a sharp razor-like edge at the bottom…which sliced my thigh when resting it and then bringing it around to my back. Another bad design overlook. Unfortunately I didn’t hike within 30 days of receiving my pack because it was winter for me…so…I’m limited to a store credit which does nothing for me since I don’t want anything else from Zpacks. When you get the pack be sure to load it up to near capacity and go for a 10hr hike…ups and downs…etc..and see how it feels but be sure it’s within 30days of getting it if you need to return for a full refund. Also, side pockets cost extra and it takes 6 weeks to get. I think Joe has some great designs but safety and belt capacity on a human still need work.

  4. I see that you considered the Osprey Exos 58, and I’m just wondering what it was about it that didn’t make it a Top 5 contender? I just went on a week long trip in the Rockies and 4 of my friends have this pack and love it. I’ve really been considering it, but interested in what your thoughts on it are.

    • The Hip belt sizing of the Exos is its downfall. If it fits you great, but Osprey seemingly goes out of its way to sell you a pack where it’s very difficult to get a proper fit because the hip belt is too short. Which is one of them aim reasons it’s not in the top 5. You can read my review here. packs

  5. Philip,
    I was interested in replacing my LLBean White Mountain pack. At over 6 pounds, I was looking to downsize to complete my section hiking of the Long Trail. While comfortable, durable, and set up well, it seemed like a good idea to replace it.
    I read this article, then went to Outdoor Gear Exchange in Burlington. An experienced AT hiker worked there, and after trying several packs, he said to try the VC60. It fit well, so I bought it. While it didn’t have the compartments of my Bean pack, I found that I had to re-learn my arrangement of stuff.
    I did Section 10 using this and it worked pretty well, though still working on how my stuff is arranged. I am a slow hiker at my age, so take a bit more time when I do my hikes.
    Bottom line in the Crown VC 60: I like it.

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