Home / Gear Reviews / Backpack Reviews / 5 Best Ultralight Backpacks for Long Distance Backpacking

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, but also quite durable.

Don’t need as much storage capacity? Try the Gossamer Gear Gorilla 40 Backpack.

Gossamer Gear Mariposa Ultralight Backpack
Gossamer Gear Mariposa 60 Ultralight Backpack

Weight: 29 ounces

Volume: 59 liters

Price: $245

Likes:

  • Female friendly 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. Hyperlight Mountain Gear 3400 Southwest Pack

Hyperlight 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 Hyperlight Mountain Gear 3400 Southwest Pack. 

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

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

Weight: 33 ounces

Volume: 65 liters

Price: $320

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. This post contains affiliate links. 

Updated 2016.

Most Popular Searches

  • best ultralight backpack
  • ultralight backpack
  • ultralight backpacks

49 comments

  1. I think I would add the Exped Lightning 60 to this list. I love mine because of great load transfer to the hips, large capacity, great ventilation of my back, and a relatively good price.

    Scott

  2. Philip,

    Nice article but I’m curious why you picked the ULA Circuit vs. the Ohm 2.0 since it’s a little lighter. Is it the extra capacity?

    • In part, since most of my readers are transitional UL/Lightweight backpackers. The Curcuit is a better general purpose pack as I explain which can scale up to 4 season backpacking. Better and more durable external attachment system. I’m a big fan of durability and function and think they’re more important than scale weight.

  3. Thanks for the female-specific options. As you know, it’s a big selling point for me.

  4. Wondering if you considered the Kalais by Elemental Horizons? I enjoy mine very much but I don’t have any experience with these other packs so I can’t make a first hand comparison. The specs put it in the same category as these other packs. A number of experienced backpackers who are familiar with these packs have posted reviews saying that it is as good as or better than packs on this list. It’s a newer/smaller company so it hasn’t gotten a lot of attention.

  5. Elemental Horizions Kalais or the Aduro SL are better packs than 2 of those you listed in my opinion. The Aduro with it’s air beam suspension is easy to adjust for the volume inside the pack and gives a custom fit to the load you are carrying that trip. The clam shell design opening with a waterproof zipper is easier to get gear in and out of without having to unload the pack from the top to get an item. This makes it great on day or weekend hikes and the wraparound design is great for climbing or skiing,you can really snug it down if the need arises. The Kalais is a lightweight workhorse. The belt and shoulder are the most comfortable i have found. When i stop on trail i often leave it on because it fits so good not like others when you just want it off. Durable and great ventilation. I dont want a one size fits all take it or leave it pack. If i need extra straps or tie outs or grommets in the bottom of certain area for deep river crossings they get right the first time.

    Disclosure:I learned about EH from some of the most hardcore hikers i know. I paid retail for all my packs and wherever others see them they want one.

  6. I don’t understand why Six Moons Design Fusion packs doesn’t get rated in these reviews. They have a good design and have excellent weight carrying limits compared to the pack weight (40+ pounds with 39 oz total weight). They were designed by the same person who designed ULA packs. SMD just doesn’t get the respect it deserves.

  7. Nice list! We must have similar taste, as I’ve had 3 of those 5 packs (HMG SW currently).

  8. My favorite since quite a while are the Laufbursche backpacks, awesome quality, outstanding design and functionality:

    • That’s quite an interesting line. Looks like they can be ordered from Germany, thought they are on a long-distance hike until the end of September according to their web site. I have not yet found any current reviews, but the web site makes the packs look quite impressive.

  9. Kurt in Colorado

    As a “lightweight” backpacker looking to become a “lighterweight” backpacker, I discovered SectionHiker while looking for packs. Thanks to Philip’s reviews, I purchased the GG Crown VC 60, in no small part because I could order it through REI and return it if it didn’t fit: because it seems crazy to buy a pack without even trying it on, much less using it first.

    After two years, I am still very happy with the Crown. I carry 28-40 pounds for my 3-8 day trips (complete pack weight) in the Colorado and Wyoming high country, and it has been extremely comfortable. It is admittedly not really quick to open, with four small clips to release (two straps, two rolltops). I would accept a few extra ounces for a quick-access zipper somewhere!

    The large stretch mesh pocket holds an amazing amount of junk. I could actually use two smaller stretch pockets, as I’m often digging all the way to the bottom for something. But overall, I have no complaints and love how durable it is despite its light weight.

    If you’re transitioning from a traditional pack, I think you’ll find the Crown to be an easy trade. (And no, sadly, I have not received any free gear from Granite Gear!)

  10. I recently bought a Granite Gear Crown VC 60.

    Summary: Overall, I like it. My first and only use so far was a 7-day, 108-mile trip in Olympic National Park. Some of the trip was extremely rugged going (Skyline Trail) in full sun, without air movement, and temperatures ranging from 75-degree mornings (24C) to 95-degree afternoons (35C).

    Likes:

    * Made well.

    * Carries well.

    * Has an intelligently-designed roll-top closure. The extension collar is not just extra fabric. It has two stiffeners, one toward the front and one toward the back (they’re like lips on a big mouth). These make it really easy to roll the top down tight, and there are two over-the-top compression straps and another one on each side. These hold the top closed tight.

    * Dull stealthy color.

    * Back pad wets out from sweat but does not absorb it, so it dries almost immediately when the pack is shucked off.

    * Framesheet pulls out in seconds. (I put my pack into a plastic bag for odor control and to keep my bedding clean, and sleep with the pack lumped up under my knees.)

    Dislikes:

    * Line locs are used for most pack compression. Awkward. Flat 5/8″ straps would be much easier to handle.

    * Using mesh for pockets is stupid. Effing STUPID! I ripped open my left-side pocket on my first day with this pack while crossing a smallish trail-blocking fallen tree, when I simply brushed against a snapped-off branch.

    * Side pockets are trendy-small, trendy-tight, and nearly useless. Almost every other pack available these days has the same design flaw. It’s very hard to slide anything other than my fingers into these pockets, and they aren’t deep enough to hold anything securely, especially after the pocket fabric rips.

    * The front pocket is too small, too tight, and too delicate as well. It is also oddly-shaped, so it’s hard to choose which of the things I need to have handy I can get into it. I much prefer two huge side pockets (each big enough to carry a full 2.5-liter water bladder at the end of the day), and a detachable front pocket (for my cookset, fuel, and day’s food).

    * Shoulder strap padding is stiff. Can cause me severe pain after the first day of a trip. This is also a current trend. Also stupid.

    * The back padding does not ventilate, no matter what the advertising copy says. It is also heavy, and not needed anyway if you carry your bedding inside a plastic bag, folded flat against your back.

    * My hip belt is slightly too big. I have a men’s medium pack, which fits me, but even with some extra flab, I’m too small for the medium hip belt. REI didn’t offer a medium-sized pack with a small hip belt, though Granite Gear does, so I’m stuck.

    * At two pounds, two ounces (34 oz. / 964 g), the pack is much heavier than it needs to be. A lot of this weight is in the back padding, and a bit is in the framesheet. The back padding is superfluous though the framesheet is handy. Without the padding, I’d bet that the pack would weigh closer to 28 oz. (794 g), maybe less. I once made a similar-sized pack that, even with two added wood-dowel stiffeners, weighed only 22 oz. (624 g) and was hands-down the most comfortable and useful pack I ever carried.

  11. I have a previous model Mariposa and a friend has a Crown VC. I am very happy with my pack and he has said he really likes how the Crown VC feels.

    I can reach my water bottle without taking off the pack, he can’t reach his without help (or taking off the pack). Based on this alone, I would never buy a Crown VC.

    • Kurt in Colorado

      RE: water bottles on the Crown VC. I would love to have a water bottle pocket that I can reach while walking. My impression is that most hikers these days use bladders, so makers ignore bottle pockets? I prefer a big satisfying gulp from a bottle. I’ll be adding a water bottle holder to my belt: bothersome but a simple workaround.

      RE: Crown’s hip belt. I have a 33″ waist, and when I cinch the medium belt really tight, it’s almost used up. But it’s plenty tight so no problem for me. As Philip notes, a replacement belt may be purchased from GG.

      RE: mesh pockets. The side pockets could be better designed, as water bottles can pop out, even with the cord pulled tight. (And I, too, would prefer straps to cords.) But after two years, my pockets are fine. YMMV. The side pockets stretch plenty big enough for my bottles or sleeping mat, even with the interior packed to the gills. Again, your experience may differ.

      RE: back ventilation. Does any pack truly have complete ventilation? Every mfr claims they have the perfect system, but there’s no such thing as backpacking without a sweaty back, is there?

  12. My latest and greatest backpack is the ULA CIRCUIT. Chris at ULA helped me fit it to perfection. This pack is the most comfortable bag I have ever owned. After you set all the straps before you start hiking there is no need to do any more adjustments. The strap buckles hold so there is no slippage. Set it and forget it! I have made major mods to the straps and some buckles and removed the water bottle holders, aluminum stay, water bladder bag and small utility bag. The strap that goes over the top of the pack has been removed. I fashioned a daisy chain made from ZING-IT and attached one end to the haul strap and the other end a large fishing snap. Also used ZING-IT for the large mesh pocket. The weight of the pack is now 34 oz. and that also includes a COLD STEEL MINI PAL knife attached to one of the shoulder straps. The ULA CIRCUIT is the best pack I have ever owned and with the mods I made it is also quite light! THE FISHWHISPERER

    • Actually the ULA CDT is a better choice in my opinion. It’s lighter and has 50 liter storage. I’m sure the circuit is nice too, but you can shave nearly 20 ounces with the CDT. I’ve used it for a couple of years now and I love it. I usually use a tent vertically in the center of the main compartment to give it structure since it has no frame. I’ve found it comfortable up to around 25-30 lbs.

  13. I really like the Mariposa and the Gorilla. But my two complaints are that they are both way too heavy. (The Z-Packs Blast looks good, but I haven’t tried it yet.) As a UL hiker, I have used the Murmur (about 2200ci or 35L) in the past for trips up to two weeks. But it does not lend itself well to cold weather hiking. You need a bit of a larger pack for the cold weather gear needed for that.

    My other complaint was the heat. On 70-80 degree days, both the Mariposa and Gorilla are too warm with them sitting comfortably (hauling a 25pound load) on your back. All the packs in the Gossamer Gear line up feel warm when carrying them and it is not unusual to have a sweat soaked back yet feel cool on your front.

    So, I match your choices for two packs on your list. The Z-Packs Blast and The Gossamer Gear Mariposa/Gorilla. The others are just too heavy to consider, despite the durability.

  14. No Deuter ACT Lite? Awesome light pack for long distant trips

    • The 50 liter Act Lite weighs 3 pounds 11 ounces, so not exactly ultralight.

    • Used an ACT Lite before switching to the Laufbursche Huckepack. The Deuter is not ultralight but still one of the lightest “standard backbacks” one can get plus the quality is on a high level. Deuter btw is the most used and most well known brand here in Germany, an german company as well I think.

  15. I wish I had read this article for its broad perspective last year, but if I had, I probably would not have purchased the lightest and most comfortable pack I’ve ever carried – it fits my body like it grew on my back. I’m talking about the ZPacks 52L.Arc Blast Backpack, I used it the first time for a 7-day loop/93 mile of the Wonderland Trail, starting-out with a total of just over 20 pounds. It saves at least a pound over most of the other packs in your review – I bought it because weight was a big criterion when I was shopping and it looked like the lightest pack on the market that had a decent suspension system.

    On the trail I learned two things quickly: first, you need to keep the back bowed to make the suspension system work properly; second, you need pockets in the front for your map and camera and sunglasses and all the other stuff you need during the day. I used my pants pockets for a few items, but I spent a lot of time getting at my bug juice, sunscreen, camera or water treatment. The pack and I went through a good rain without a trace of leakage. I liked the water-bottle pockets and the rear mesh pocket – I kept bulky stuff there that could get wet – my rain gear and my tent in a bag. I found the mesh to be heavy-duty and have had no problems after several trips.

  16. Great revue But what about the gossamer G4 its light and alot less money then the arc blast Cant decide which one to get.Doing 3 to 8 day trips. at a base weight of 13lb.I like the arc blast but to many $$$ would like some insight on this.GREAT SIGHT.

    • When I upgraded my pack last spring, I looked carefully at both the G4 and the Arc Blast.

      I liked that the G4 was the same weight and half the cost of the AB, but I didn’t care for the rucksack style, which is always going to be up against your back. The AB has a clever little suspension system that weighs nearly nothing and moves the pack away from your back and inch or two and lets air circulate through the mesh back, which is always nice, but really sweet on a hot day. It also has a roll-top closure that is 100% watertight.

      I finally purchased the Arc Blast which I used for the first time on a 6 1/2 day circuit of Mt. Rainier – even after a 19 mile day on the Wonderland Trail, it was still comfortable. I am glad I spent the extra $.

    • While the g4 is inexpensive, It’s not that great of a high capacity pack (sincs the design is decades old now). It has no frame or stays in back so it will collapse (sag) if you pout anything heavy into it; the long side pockets collapse if you put anything heavy in them, and the hip belt is pretty flimsy. Its the kind of pack you need to provide your own “frame” for (a roll up foam pad) and something that would be good for carrying big puffy insulation to fill up the volume. Check out this article I wrote on UL packs. It has a picture of a G4 in it. http://sectionhiker.com/what-is-an-ultralight-backpack/

  17. Philip I think Ill go with the zpack AB they sound like a great company and my current Dueter pack ways in at 3lb 13oz so I want togo as light as I can. Once again I enjoy your sight. THANKS

  18. Not sure where you got your info from but on the ZPacks website it states 3 sizes of Arc Blast backpacks and none weight what you have listed in this article – 17.4oz

    • I reviewed a pack that ZPacks sent me last year, but the weight has obviously gone UP since last year, something I wouldn’t have expected from them. I’ll update the weights listed here. Thanks.

      But there’s a second issue with quoting weights on Zpacks. These are only weights for the base pack without all the custom modification you need to add to make it fully featured. You get a custom pack, but they nickel and dime you on all the “extras” that other pack manufacturers include in their base product.

      • Philip, thanks for your reply. Yes, I understand. I guess I’d write next to the weight, exactly that – it’s the skeleton weight without add-ons. I just ordered one but didn’t need to add anything as there are things I can use in place of their choices to accomplish the same task. Cheers!

  19. 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.

  20. 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?

    • Nicola – I just left a review under Nao. I’m female, 5’10” and weigh 148lbs…if that means anything regarding my physical experience carrying a Zpacks.

  21. 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.

  22. Thanks for the review, Nao! If you have any suggestions for a lightweight female backpacker in the Pacific Northwest, I’d Love to hear it.

  23. 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

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *