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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: $255

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.

Zpacks Arc Blast

Weight: 21 ounces

Volume: 55 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

See also: Arc Blast Backpack Product Specs

5. Granite Gear Crown 2 – 60Liter Backpack

The Granite Gear Crown 2 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 2 GalleryWeight: 36 ounces

Volume: 60 liters

Price: $199

Likes:

  • Women’s specific version available, the Crown 2 for women
  • Hip belt pockets
  • Adjustable length hip belt!
  • Optional removable top lid pocket
  • External bear canister carry
  • 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:

  • Mesh side pockets are less durable than ones made with solid fabric

See also: Crown 2 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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40 comments

  1. All of these packs are excellent choices (which is why they are on this list) but the most important thing is getting a good fit.

    • Hi. I hiked a bit on the PCT in the 1970s with a Jansport D3 with hip wings (?) which worked pretty well. I suppose things have come along since then. My problem is my height (6′ 10″). Any suggestions as to what might work for such a tall guy (and slim… only about 215). I have a teenage son whom I would like to get into hiking. He is 6 4 but with a long torso.

      Thanks!
      John

  2. Fellow hikers;
    Over the years from 1968 to the present I hiked with backpacks made by Kelty, Gregory, Lowe Pro, Dana Designs, Ems and until recently, my very favorite,the Osprey Aether 85. I never thought I would stop using the Osprey but decided at my age of mid 70’s to try a light weight back pack. After some research I purchased the ULA “Circuit”. This pack is just right for me at my current age of 78. Note: If I was younger I would still be with the Osprey as it was the most comfortable for carrying about 35 pounds and fit me perfectly. Now with the Circuit my loads are about 30 pounds as I do not hike as far and my equipment is all the best lightweight gear I can find. For example, I really love my Zpacks raincoat, my 25 degree Feathered friends bag that weights in about 28 oz, My platypus gravity water system (Note: I am now trying out the Sawyer Mini water system and so far like it. I have noticed that most thru hikers are using the Sawyer). With the Platypus gravity system I always carried a plastic cup for when the water availability was limited and this enabled me to easily fill the “dirty” bladder. My other light weight gear includes; GSI Pinnalcle Soloist cook kit, Pocket Rocket stove, Nemo Cosmo sleeping pad, and Big Agnus Fly creek 2 Platinum tent. I am still able to do a 10 mile hike although it is noticeably more difficult. As the saying goes, my mind says I can do it but my body is not really fully convinced!!! I hope all reading this stay on the trails for as long as I have. It gets in your blood and perhaps that is where I will end up at the end of my days. Happy hiking.
    “Renaissance Man” AT class of 2008.
    Gordon Ripley, Rindge, NH

  3. I have gotten so much out of visiting your site. Thanks for sharing your knowledge in a simple manner for us total newbies out there. Cheers from western australia

  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

      • The Exos 58 size small works well for me, 5’7″ female 125 lbs, but not surprised that the hip belt would be too small for many. The pack feels and carries great but I will say that some of the pieces are delicate and mesh side pockets fragile.

      • The Osprey Exos 58 is to short. Do you mean the padded area of the belt? I am male, 5 10″ish, 170 and have a very small waist. The biggest problem I have with most packs is that the belt is too long. I run out of adjustment and can’t get it tight enough. And or, it is hard to get to the buckle because it is adjusted all the way in. So if the belt os short I am happy because this pack is on my short list to buy.

  5. I use an old GG gorilla (I think 2009). I never really liked the hip belt with the added pouches so about 2 years ago I stopped taking it. Now I prefer no hip belt. My normal pack weight is anywhere from 12 to 27 pounds depending on weather and duration of my trip. I like the idea of cuben because it’s kinda waterproof and the HMG seems perfect, but I also very like the idea of the zpacks arc because of my super sweaty back. Do you think any of the 5 you reviewed would work well without the hip belt? Or can you recommend another “beltless” pack?

    • You can remove the hip belt on the Gossamer Gear Kumo and the Gorilla. The ULA fastback might also work for you.
      http://www.ula-equipment.com/product_p/fp.htm

    • Hey Josh, I recently purchased the Zpacks Arc Haul and really like it (with a small amount of miles on it to be clear). Hated the hip belt pockets though (bulky and got in the way), and returned them for the Zpacks 4-in-1 multipack that goes on your chest (or upper waist…lots of reviews out there). My gridstop fabric version weighed 3.5 ounces for a total pack weight of 28.5 ounces (including lumbar pad). It’s a lot bigger, at 60 total liters, than you may be used to however, but I love the open-air venting in the back. Get the lumbar pad though… little more stress on your lower back that will take a few practice runs at lower weights to adjust to, but I think worth it for the venting.

    • That makes you an O.G. (That is a compliment in ebonics, stands for original gangsta’)

  6. Hey Phil: I would like to ask have you checked out the Flex Capacitor backpack? range 40 to 60L
    top loader…Made by Sierria Designs this is another great pack for the money..
    Oldmiser

    • I’m working on the review now. But without a rear mesh pocket….can’t imagine why that was left out…..

      • I have gotten hooked on rear mesh pockets, too. But how would one work with the FC? I have a similar question about the new Crown 2. How does one access things in the mesh pocket when the compression straps (that appear to cross over the pocket) are tightened?

      • On the crown 2, you simply unsnap the buckles and pull what you want out of the long mesh pocket. Kind of thought that was obvious….

      • Yes, but then you lose compression. I can see that with some loads, you might not get it back. Once the skin is off the sausage, so to speak.

      • But that doesn’t matter. You’ve taken off the pack! After you’re done fiddling with whatever it is you wanted, you reattach the straps. Then put on the pack and be on your way.

      • But here I am, not even having held the pack, “arguing” with someone who has used it!

  7. I have been backpacking for the past two years using the Terra Nova Laser 20 Elite pack, which weighs in at about 7.5 ounces. I use it primarily for long distance overnight hikes but have been able to stretch my trips out to 3 days, 2 nights. It takes a lot of careful planning and packing, but I have it down to a base weight of just under 7 pounds and a fully loaded weight of just under 12 pounds, which makes it a joy to carry. I am 70 years old, hike in the White Mountains of NH and I love this pack. It’s only drawback is that it rides right against my back and it hot weather the sweat runs off my back and down my legs. But I can deal with that.

    • I’m used to 1/3 the volume of most of these, for ~4-5 days in moderate weather. (Osprey Rev 18) I was figuring an all-weather, extended stay upgrade would be 30-35l; 60l+ gives me PTSD flashbacks to steel-frame packs as heavy as me in Scouts! I’m more excited about keeping things small and tight than lightweight, honestly. Guess I can cinch them down.

      Can anyone comment on the stability of these packs while running? I want to add my 20°F bag and more food without a giant pack flopping around while I trail run and scramble.

  8. I see you have recommended the ULA Circuit, have you tried the Ohm 2.0? I am wondering how it compares to the Circuit. I have read some articles that say it fits the same amount of gear and others that say it is much smaller volume wise. Our daughter, who is petite, would like to hike and is having a hard time finding a pack that doesn’t overwhelm her frame.

    • It’s a very nice pack..I am in the process of reviewing it. Its feels much smaller than the Circuit but only has a little less capacity. I would pick it for a wet environment though because the top only closes with a drawstring and not a roll top.

      • Thought I would let you know, ULA had prior years packs a a discount. I called them and talked with Rodney. He also recommended she try the Circuit, offered to change out the “J” straps to “S” straps for a nominal fee and assured me they have a “no hassles return” on the prior year packs too, just like their regular products. I placed the order yesterday and received a shipping notice later in the day! She will try the ULA and I have asked her to also try out the Deuter packs. Thank you for the advice.

    • Take a look at Deuter “SL” packs. Many female backpacker swear by them.

  9. I am absolutely torn between the Crown2 and the Mariposa – what would you say are the main distinguishing differences? I’m fairly new to ‘ultralight’ hiking and will be mostly sticking to established trails but want something that will grow with me. Sizing on the Mariposa seems much more straightforward given my 18″ torso is between sizes on the Crown2.

    • They’re dramatically different backpacks. I carried a Mariposa for about 8 years (I’ve switched to a HMG 2400 SW mainly) and frankly think the Crown 2 is a better, more general purpose pack – one that I’m seriously thinking about using to hike a long trail myself. It has better compression, so you can use it when it’s less full, a roll top, optional top lid, you can carry a bear canister under the lid, resizable hip belt, better ventilation, I can go on and on. But you can use both packs for trail based hiking just fine, although the Mariposa with that long very specialized pocket can make you pack your load in a pathological way and is less flexible than the crown 2 or other packs with symmetric pockets. My 2 cents.

  10. I have gotten hooked on rear mesh pockets, too. But how would one work with the FC? I have a similar question about the new Crown 2. How does one access things in the mesh pocket when the compression straps (that appear to cross over the pocket) are tightened?

  11. This may be a stupid question, but when it says the load rating for the Granite Gear Crown 2 is 35 pounds does that include the weight 2.2 lbs of the pack or is it 35 lbs plus the 2.2 lb pack “tare weight”?

  12. Lots of great info on site! I’ve been looking at some of these packs to purchase and was wondering out of all of them (or any other backpack for that matter) which carries the heavier load better? I know a lot of that is personal preference but just wanted yours to narrow it down. My second preference would be back ventilation as I live in SW so lots of hot weather.

    I carry a lot of weight in climbing gear/ropes as that is our main purpose in hiking/camping. Long approach hikes to all day/multiple day climbs, I can easily have 20-30lbs with just climbing gear and essentials for a day trip so looking for a pack that can handle around 40lbs. I’m not wanting a heavy ”old school” ridged pack as we scramble a lot off trail although it seems that’s almost required for heavy weights.

    My first choice is the ULA but may go with Catalyst instead of Circuit just for more weight capacity, not larger volume. Next it’s a toss up between the HMG 3400 and the GG Crown2. The only pack I’ve heard that carries 40 plus pounds comfortably (and isn’t what I’d call UL) is the Osprey Atmos AG but that isn’t one you’ve reviewed.

    I know I need to try them on but the ones I want are from cottage vendors and I’m not buying 2 and sending one back, lol

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