10 Best Ultralight Backpacks of 2022

10 Best Ultralight Backpacks

Most truly ultralight backpacks are frameless, hip belt optional, and only designed to carry maximum recommended loads up to 20 pounds. While backpacking this light isn’t for most people, the increased availability of ultralight backpacking gear and access to know-how on the Internet and through social media has made it more achievable than ever.

Convention has it that you’ll want to drop the weight of your gear (minus food, water, and fuel) to 10 pounds or less to go ultralight, including the weight of your backpack. One way to do that is to use a backpack made with ultralight waterproof materials like Dyneema DCF or XPac. Another option is to pick a simple, minimal pack that’s light on features or is a low volume pack that saves weight by requiring less material to make.

Here are the 10 ultralight backpacks that we recommend that manifest these qualities.

Make / ModelVolumeWeightFabric
Zpacks Nero38L10.9 oz / 308 gDyneema DCF
Waymark Thru UL 4040L21.2 oz / 601 gEcoPak
SWD Ultralight Superior Frameless45L18.2 oz / 516 gUltra
Gossamer Gear Kumo 3636L20.5 oz / 581 gRobic Nylon
LiteAF Ultra Curve 3030L13-19 oz / 368-538 gUltra
Northern Ultralight Sundown48L18.6 oz/ 526 gXPac
Mountain Laurel Designs Burn38L16.5 oz / 467 gDyneema Gridstop Nylon
Gossamer Gear G4-2042L25 oz / 709 gRobic Nylon
Nashville Packs Cutaway40L14.2 oz / 402 gUltra
Atom Packs 4040L15.4 oz / 437 gEcoPak

Be sure to read our Ultralight Backpack Selection Guide below which explains these tradeoffs in greater detail.

Note: If you want a lightweight backpack that has a frame or frame stays and a fully-featured hip belt, can comfortably carry 25-40+ pounds, but still weighs between 2 – 3 lbs, see our article, The 10 Best Lightweight Backpacks.

1. Zpacks Nero 38L

Zpacks Nero 38
The Zpacks Nero 38 is a frameless Dyneema DCF backpack that weighs 10.9 oz and has a max recommended load of 20 lbs. It’s a roll-top pack with a front mesh pocket and DCF side pockets. The back of the pack has elastic to hold a foam pad. The main body is 25L in size, the front mesh pocket holds 8L and the two water bottle pockets hold 2.5L each. The Nero has a removable webbing hip belt that can also be repositioned higher or lower on the back panel to better match your torso length. The Nero’s interior is also seam-taped making it virtually waterproof. Read the SectionHiker Nero 38 Review.

Check out the latest price at:
Zpacks

2. Waymark Thru UL 40L

Waymark Thru Frameless Ecopac
The Waymark Thru UL is a minimal, frameless pack with a roll-top closure, side water bottle pockets, and a front stretch pocket. It’s made with EcoPak, which is waterproof and more abrasion resistant than Dyneema DCF. The Thru UL ranges in volumes from 38-42 liters depending on your torso size and is best suited for base weights (minus water, fuel, and food) of 10 lbs. The pack does not have a hipbelt, but is compatible with an add-on webbing or padded one. The Thru UL is available in multiple colors and torso sizes. We think the construction and attention to detail on Waymark’s packs is top-notch.

Check out the latest price at:
Waymark Gear Company

3. Superior Wilderness Designs Superior 40L

Ultralight Superior Frameless SWD

The Superior Wilderness Designs Ultralight Superior is an 18.2 oz frameless ultralight backpack with 45 liters of capacity: 35 liters in the main compartment and 10 liters on the exterior. The pack made is with Ultra, which is a new ultralight waterproof material that is more abrasion resistant than Dyneema DCF and XPac. The Ultralight Superior comes with a lycra pad sleeve on the back panel, a foam sit pad that can be used as a seat while taking breaks, and a 1″ webbing belt. The pack is designed for loads up to 20lbs. Several low-priced customizations are also available.

Check out the latest price at:
Superior Wilderness Designs

4. Gossamer Gear Kumo 36L

Gossamer Gear Kumo Backpack
The Gossamer Gear Kumo 36L  is a 20.5 oz frameless ultralight backpack made with Robic Nylon that can be stripped down to 17.2 oz by removing its optional components. Out of the box, the pack comes with a removable hip belt, an optional sit foam pad, a front mesh pocket, two side bottle pockets, and elastic side compression. But it bucks the norm with a fold-over top flap with a handy map pocket, instead of the roll-top found on most ultralight frameless packs. That flap serves double duty as the pack’s extension collar but can also be used like a top lid to compress gear, including small bear canisters, against the top of the pack. The Kumo is a great pack with a huge following in the thru-hiker and section hiking community. Read the SectionHiker Kumo Review.

Check out the latest price at:
Gossamer Gear 

5. LiteAF Ultra Curve 30L

Ultra-Lime-Green
The LiteAF Ultra Curve 30L has a main body with 30L of gear storage, with an additional 15L in external pockets, totaling 45L. Made with Ultra 200 fabric and seam-sealed, it’s a roll-top backpack made with large side pockets and the front mesh pocket found on ultralight-style packs. But the thing that really sets LiteAF apart from other ultralight pack makers is the wide range of garish colors, patterns, and fabrics they offer. If you’re sick of white, black, or grey-colored backpacks and want a pack that lets your freak flag fly, check out their color palette. The max recommended load is 20 pounds.

Check out the latest price at:
LiteAF

6. Northern Ultralight Sundown 48L

Northern UL Sundown
The Northern Ultralight Sundown has a main body with 38L of gear storage, with an additional 10L in external pockets, totaling 48L. Weighing 18.6 oz, the Sundown is a roll-top style ultralight backpack with side and front mesh pockets. One of the things that makes the Sundown such a delight to carry is the relative narrowness of its main body, which gives the pack a very lively feel. Read the SectionHiker.com Northern Ultralight Sundown Review.

Check out the latest price at:
Northern Ultralight

7. Mountain Laurel Designs Burn 38L

Mountain Laurel Designs Burn 38L Backpack
The Mountain Laurel Designs Burn is a 38 liter frameless rolltop backpack that weighs 16.5 oz. Made with 210D Dyneema Gridstop Nylon, it has a sewn-on padded hipbelt, S-shaped shoulder straps, deep side pockets, and a solid stretch front pocket for improved durability (not shown here). With a recommended load range of 18-25 pounds, the thing that sets the Burn apart from other ultralight backpacks is the quality of its construction and bomber durability. The pack has over 50 heavy-duty sewing bartacks and can withstand multiple thru-hikes. Minor customizations are also available.

Check out the latest price at:
Mountain Laurel Designs

8. Gossamer Gear G4-20 42L

Gossamer Gear G4-20 Backpack
The Gossamer Gear G4-20 is a 42L frameless ultralight backpack that weighs 25 oz and can carry up to 25 lbs comfortably. The G4-20 has a front stretch mesh pocket, two side pockets including one that’s large enough to carry a shelter, an external map pocket, and a roll-top closure. Its internal storage capacity is 30L with 12L in its mesh and side pockets. The well-padded hip belt, which includes pockets, is not removable, but you can ditch the molded foam sit pad covering the pack’s back panel and reduce the pack weight to 21.7 oz. Read the SectionHiker G4-20 Review. 

Check out the latest price at:
Gossamer Gear 

9. Nashville Packs Ultra Cutaway

The Nashville Packs Cutaway is one of the most innovative frameless ultralight backpacks we’ve encountered in a long time. It’s a 40L (total volume) roll-top with side and front pockets, as well as a bottom sleeve for trash or hats, buffs, snacks and is designed so that all of the exterior pockets can be accessed on the move while wearing the pack. While it is available in Ultra (shown here) in addition to other fabrics, the thing that sets this pack apart is the vest-style shoulder strap system which is hands-down the most comfortable, best-fitting, and functional vest-style shoulder strap system I’ve ever used. This is because Nashville has a unique way of measuring your size for the best fit. You can also get the Cutaway with J-style straps, or both, because the pack is modular and you can switch between them. Read the SectionHiker review.

Check out the latest price at:
Nashville Packs

10. Atom Packs – The Atom EP40

Atom EP40

The Atom EP40 is made by Atom Packs, a small backpack manufacturer from the UK that has quickly established an international reputation. The Atom EP40 is frameless, does not have a hip belt, and has a max recommended load of 20 lbs. The main body holds 35L and the external pockets can hold up to 10L more.  It has a roll-top w/top webbing strap, dual shoulder pockets, two side pockets, a from mesh pocket, and a bottom pocket with a trash port for stuff snack wrappers or hats, buffs, etc.

Check out the latest price at:
Atom Packs 

Ultralight Backpack Selection Guide

Ultralight Backpack Volume

How much volume do you really need in an ultralight backpack, when you’re really trying to get your TOTAL pack weight below 20 pounds? It’s hard to make a blanket recommendation because it ultimately comes down to the climate you plan to hike in and what your clothing, sleep insulation, shelter, nutrition, and water needs will be. For general three-season conditions, most UL backpackers find that a 40L pack provides more than enough volume for a 3-5 day trip, including gear, food, fuel, and water. It gets much more difficult to fit everything you need into a 30L backpack, however, unless you can resupply more frequently, you go stoveless, or you don’t need to carry much water. However, given the list of packs above, there’s not a huge weight penalty for carrying a higher volume pack than you need, since they’re all so lightweight and you can compress them using a roll-top closure or side compression.

Ultralight Backpack Fabrics

Most ultralight backpacks are made with Dyneema Composite Fabrics (DCF), XPac, Nylon (Robic, Cordura, Dyneema X, etc.) In terms of durability, Ultra is usually the most durable in terms of abrasion resistance, then EcoPak, XPac and LiteSkin, then DCF, and finally Nylon, although it depends on the denier or weight of the material used. DCF and XPac revolutionized UL backpack manufacturing because they’re so lightweight, but are being quickly overtaken by newer waterproof fabrics like EcoPak and Ultra which are even more robust and ecologically sustainable products.

The biggest areas of wear and tear on a backpack is the base, where you put it down on the ground, and the side pockets, especially if they’re made with mesh. Most UL pack makers have switched to more durable mesh, use more durable stretch mesh that has finer holes and is less prone to snagging, or have switched to making external pockets with solid fabrics for better durability.

DCF, XPac, ECOPAK, Ultra, and LiteSkin are all waterproof materials so they won’t absorb water when it rains. DCF has the advantage that it can be seam-taped which greatly increases the waterproofing of a backpack. While XPac, ECOPAK, and Liteskin can be seam-sealed, most people don’t bother and line their packs with trash compactor bags or use waterproof stuff sacks. Very little water will get in anyway. It’s much the same with Robic Nylon and other high tenacity nylons although they will soak thru, can make your gear wet, and take a while to dry out. See the following FAQs for more advice and reader discussion:

Hip Belts on Frameless Backpacks

The hip belts found on frameless backpacks are not load-bearing because there’s no frame to transfer to load to the hips. This explains why many ultralight packs don’t have them, they’re removable, or stowable, and only made with webbing if they’re included at all. Their only real purpose is to provide an anchorage for hip belt pockets or to prevent the pack from bouncing against your torso if you walk fast.

Since the hip belts are not load-bearing, all the weight will rest on your shoulders. When choosing packs, you should consider how much shoulder strap padding you prefer and the strap width that you find most comfortable.

Gender-Specific Backpack Features

An increasing number of UL pack makers are including S-shaped backpack straps on their packs, that are more comfortable for women because they accommodate breasts more comfortably.  Many men also find them more comfortable than the J-shaped shoulder straps that were used previously.

Sizing

Shorter torso lengths are also increasingly available to accommodate women, who on average, aren’t as tall as men. However, matching your exact torso length is a little less critical on a frameless backpack because the hip belt is not load-bearing. The fitting process is actually more similar to fitting a daypack (without a hip belt) than a regular framed backpack, although matching your torso length is still a good benchmark to aim for.

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7 comments

  1. No Pa’lante? I added daisy chains to the shoulder straps (shhh), and have loved the nothing-on-my-back feel. Of course, that has alot to do with the low weight load, but it’s a very handy pack. I also use the Nero for bulkier loads. Both hard to choose between. BTW, the Atom seems a P knock-off.

    • Pa’lante just doesn’t wow me. It’s just a bag.
      If you want a backpack that really advances the state of art, go to Nashville Packs. Atom’s packs are superb and they make quite a few very nice models.

  2. Phil, are ALL of the packs frameless?

    I eschew frameless backpacks! for 2 ounces I would FAR rather have a far,e like that on my Osprey EXOS 58. (and of course, tehlight padded hip belt.
    For me the comfort of a decent light frame and padded hip belt FAR outweighs (pun intended) the lack of those items. Same for my full length REI FLASHinsulated air mattress. COMFORT, within reasonable weight limits, both on and off the trail is what makes backpacking much more enjoyable.

    So yeah, for SUL gear I have a Gen. two, Dyneema Tarptent Notch Li solo tent, 3 cup anodized aluminum cook pot, (not ti!) and a Western Mountaineering down mummy bag but still I have comfort.

    There is UL, SUL and crazy light. I see most frameless backpacks in the latter category, just like hiking poles whose straps have been cut off. <-DUMB!

    • You’re missing the point, tho your approach is as legitimate as any.

      The point of frame less packs is that they are more comfortable under 20lbs with no hip belt what so ever.
      Which for many puts less strain overall on their bodies, is simpler and is worth getting dialed in for.
      Even more so for long distance self supported trail runners.

      There are triple crowners in both camps, tho I certainly agree cutting tags off and toothbrushes in half is an utterly pointless persuit for gram reduction.

      Crazy light is no pack at all for record breakers/athletes who smash out the GR20 in Corsica in 31 hours with no sleep. (obviously such runs are assisted)

      Anyone willing to get off there arse and embrace the backcountry is less dumb than the majority of the population ergo not dumb at all, regardless of how they choose to do it.

      Gear’s a means to an end… A tool, different tools for different goals.

  3. Thanks for the prompt reply Phil. Could you indicate which packs have the option of frame stays?

    • Before I do, I just want to emphasize that these packs are designed for a max of 25 lbs and don’t NEED a frame to carry that kind of load. The fact that they do have frame stays is kind of a nice to have, since you can remove them. If you routinely carry more than 20-25 pounds total, get yourself a pack from my 10 best lightweight packs list. You’ll probably be much happier since the pack won’t collapse on you and hard objects won’t poke you through the back. The Sundown has frame stays and you can buy a “Framed” version of the Thru UL from Waymark.

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