10 Best Ultralight Backpacks of 2023 (with Frames)
Backpacking packs and backpacking gear have gotten much lighter weight in recent years due to innovations in the materials and fabrics available to backpack manufacturers. Most 40-60L ultralight backpacks now weigh between 2 and 3 pounds. The ones we list below all have frames or frame stays and can usually carry between 25 and 35 pounds of backpacking gear, food, fuel, and water. If you need to carry more than that, you’ll want a bigger backpack. Less than that, you’ll probably want to get an even lighter, frameless, ultralight backpack.
Here are the 10 best ultralight backpacks in the 40L-60L range that we recommend. Stay tuned as we update our 2023 recommendations for the best ultralight frameless backpacks, the most durable backpacks for wilderness backpacking, and ultralight backpacks for women.
Be sure to read our Ultralight Backpack Selection Guide below and the linked FAQs for even more advice and reader feedback. SectionHiker has an international reputation for its comprehensive men’s and women’s backpack reviews and we’re passionate about helping our readers find the best backpacks for their needs.
1. Zpacks Arc Haul Ultra 60L Backpack
The Zpacks Arc Haul Ultra 60L is an ultralight ventilated backpack with a suspended mesh back panel to keep you cool in hot weather. Made with waterproof and extremely durable Ultra 200 and 100 fabric, the 20.9 oz Arc Haul Ultra 60 is a seam-taped roll-top backpack with side water bottle pockets and a front mesh pocket for external gear storage. The torso length is adjustable by raising and lowering the shoulder pads, while the hip belt is available in multiple lengths. Daisy chains on the shoulder straps and hip belt let you easily customize the pack with accessory pockets, including ones from other pack manufacturers. The Arc Haul Ultra can haul up to 30 lbs comfortably. A Woman’s model is also available. Read the SectionHiker Arc Haul Ultra 60L Review.
The Hyperlite Mountain Gear 3400 Southwest (55L) is a streamlined and durable backpack good for any kind of outdoor adventure from thru-hiking to wilderness backpacking. Made with super-strong but ultralight Dyneema Composite Fabrics, it’s seam-taped and effectively waterproof, with solid external pockets for increased durability. The frame on this roll-top pack consists of two aluminum rods, called frame stays, that can be bent for a custom fit. Weighing 2 lbs 2.5 oz, it has a maximum recommended load of 40 pounds. We recommend getting the black-colored version because it’s more durable than the white-colored one. The sizing is unisex. Read the SectionHiker.com 3400 Southwest Backpack Review.
The Granite Gear Crown 3 60 is an ultralight-style roll-top backpack that’s well-suited for thru-hiking, section hiking, and multi-day backpacking trips. Weighing between 32.6 oz to 44.6 oz with all of its optional components, it has all of the features you’d expect including an optional top lid (there’s a roll-top underneath), a large mesh front pocket, and side water bottle pockets. What makes this pack unique is an adjustable length hip belt so you get a custom fit, the ability to carry a bear can canister under the top lid, and wrap-around compression straps that make it easy to carry bulky gear. The Crown 3 60 has a maximum recommended load of 30-35 pounds. A women’s model of the Crown 3 – 60, is also available. Read the SectionHiker Crown3 60 Review.
The Osprey Packs Exos Pro 55 is a new ultralight version of the famed Osprey Exos Backpack, a longtime thru-hiker favorite, but weighs nearly one pound less. Weighing 2 lbs 2.6 oz fully configured, the Exos Pro 55 has a ventilated mesh back panel, an adjustable torso length, and rigid perimeter frame that makes it good for hauling heavier loads up to 25-30 pounds. The floating top lid can be removed if not needed, dropping the pack weight to 2 lbs even. Ultralight details and back ventilation make the Exos Pro 55 an ideal backpack for hiking in hot or humid conditions. A women’s model is available called the Osprey Eja Pro 55.
The ULA Circuit Backpack is a popular multi-day backpack for thru-hikers and weekend backpackers. Weighing 37.3 ounces, this 68-liter backpack has a load-carrying capacity of 35 pounds and is available with men’s or women’s specific shoulder pads and a unisex hip belt. The Circuit has a roll-top favored by long-distance hikers, with a front mesh pocket, two large side water bottle pockets, and two large hip belt pockets. Lightweight, but bomber tough, this pack can last through a long-distance hike and come back for more! Read the SectionHiker Circuit Backpack Review.
The Gossamer Gear Mariposa 60 is a great pack for backpackers who are lightening their loads because it has plenty of storage. It’s intuitively organized for multi-day thru-hikes and section hikes with plenty of external pockets and covered storage. The Mariposa has a lightweight aluminum frame capable of carrying 35 pounds comfortably, and interchangeable hip belt sizes are available, ensuring a good fit. It’s made with Robic nylon which is good for on-trail use, but you may want something more durable for tougher terrain. Weighing 1 lb 14.5 oz, it has a unique side quiver pocket that is perfect for storing a tent or hammock. The sizing is unisex. Read the SectionHiker Mariposa 60 Review.
The REI Flash 55 Backpack (newly updated in 2023) is a 2 lbs 13 oz ultralight-style roll-top backpack with an optional top lid. The pack has all of the standard features of an ultralight-style backpack including a front mesh pocket, side water bottle pockets, and hip belt pockets. There are two things that set this pack apart from others. First, it comes with pockets and straps (called “packmods”) that can be removed without having to resort to scissors and can save an additional 7 oz of weight. Those same pack mods can be moved around to tailor the pack to your needs. The Flash 55 also has innovative side water bottle pockets that make it very easy to reach your bottles, with snap closures to secure tall bottles if you use them. A women’s specific model is also available. Read the SectionHiker REI Flash 55 Review.
The Gregory Focal 58 (women’s Facet 55) are multi-day backpacks with mesh-backed trampoline-style perimeter frames capable of hauling 30-35 pounds. Weighing 2 lbs 9.3 oz, fully configured, the floating top lid and included rain cover can be replaced by an ultralight weather flap, dropping the pack weight close to 2 lbs 6.5 oz ounces. A front stretch mesh pocket, side water bottle pockets, and back ventilation make the Focal and Facet good packs for hiking in humid weather. The biggest difference between the Osprey Exos and Eja above, and Gregory Focal and Facet is that the 2022 Exos and Eja have an adjustable length torso. Read our Gregory Focal 58 Backpack review or our Gregory Facet 55 review.
The Waymark Gear Lite 50 is a lightweight internal frame backpack made with EcoPak EPX200 that is suitable for multi-day backpacking and thru-hiking trips. Weighing 32.8 oz, the Lite 50 has a standard UL rolltop design with a sewn-on hip belt, a front mesh pocket, and durable side pockets. The pack is available in multiple colors and the sewing and construction are absolutely top-notch, making the Lite 50 a real contender for backpackers that want a lightweight roll-top pack made with waterproof fabric. Note: the seams on this pack are not seam-taped, so a pack liner is still recommended. Read the SectionHiker Waymark Gear LITE 50 Review. Sizing is Unisex.
Atom Pack’s The Mo EP50 is a 32.1 oz ultralight backpack made with EcoPak EPX200 . It has an internal frame consisting of a plastic framesheet and a single aluminum stay. It has an ultralight style roll-top build with a 4″ dual adjustable hip belt and S-shaped shoulder straps. The Mo is available in an off-the-shelf version with a fixed feature set and an enhanced custom-made model which includes a bottom stretch pocket. The seams on this pack are not seam-taped, so a pack liner is recommended. Atom Packs is located in the UK. Sizing is unisex. Read the SectionHiker Mo EP50 Review.
Most ultralight backpacks range from about 40 liters up to 60 liters in volume and usually weigh between 2 and 3 pounds. They’re intended for carrying loads between 25 and 40 pounds and have full frames or frame stays. The volume and weight capacity you need will depend on the amount of gear, food, fuel, and water you need to carry. This can vary from trip to trip, or town to town if you’re a thru-hiker or section hiker, but compression straps let you shrink a pack’s volume from 40L down to 60L as needed. Generally speaking, you want more “frame” for heavier loads, but this can be a matter of personal preference.
See the following FAQs for more advice and reader discussion:
Many ultralight backpacks are now available in men’s and women’s specific models, although there are a few exceptions. They also tend to have fixed torso lengths and hip belt lengths, although many backpack manufacturers have figured out that adjustable torsos and hip belts or ventilated backpacks give them a significant competitive edge. Many women prefer S-shaped shoulder straps and female-specific hip belts because they mold better to a “curvier” female form.
Most ultralight backpacks are made with Nylon and it’s variants include Robic Nylon, Dyneema Composite Fabrics (DCF), XPac, EcoPack, and Ultra. In terms of durability, Ultra is usually the most durable in terms of abrasion resistance, then EcoPak, XPac, DCF, and then Nylon, although it depends on the thickness of the material used. In addition, there are many different types of Nylon and thicknesses, which are measured by “deniers”, also abbreviated as “D” in “20D Nylon Ripstop. Usually, higher denier counts result in more durable fabrics.
Dyneema (DCF) packs are the most costly in terms of price, then Ultra, EcoPak, XPac, and then Nylon.
DCF, Ultra, EcoPak, and XPac are waterproof materials so you can get by without a backpack cover if you wish. That said, the shoulder pads and hip belts on all backpacks are not waterproof and will absorb some water, but your gear will stay dry even if you don’t!
Most ultralight backpacks do not include a rain cover. If your backpack is not waterproof and rain is likely where you plan to hike, we recommend you get a backpack rain cover or line the inside of your backpack with a plastic bag. Some people do both or wear ponchos that cover themselves and their backpacks. See the following FAQs for more advice and reader discussion:
Some of the backpacks listed above are roll tops and some have top lids. Which you choose is a matter of personal preference. Roll tops can be nice because they’re more minimalist and require fewer webbing straps. But top lids are handy if you need to change hats or gloves frequently or access a map and navigation gear. Still, other packs, like the Granite Gear Crown3 60 and the REI Flash 55 are roll-tops, but come with an accessory top lid that can you attach over them. That’s really the best of both worlds.
The most important factor when choosing an ultralight backpack is fit. Keep trying ones on until you get a torso length and hip-belt that fits you perfectly. Return policies and warranties matter. Stick close to manufacturers that guarantee their products, are easy to contact and want you to have the best experience possible. What makes an ultralight backpack great? It fits you, has easy-to-use external pockets or daisy chains to attach your own, and works well with your other backpacking gear choices.
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Waymark no longer offers high side pockets option.
No durston Kakwa on the list?
I’m waiting for Kasivo to demonstrate that they can stock Durston inventory reliably. There’s no point in recommending a backpack you have to wait months to receive because of seemingly chronic supply chain issues. Dan and I have conversed about my views on the issue. I also had a showstopper hip belt sizing issue with the Kakwa 40 so I’m waiting to see if that’s been resolved. In other words, they’d just didn’t make the cutoff date and we only pick 10. But thanks for your comment. The Kakwa has great potential, if only you could get it on a more timely fashion.
Can you comment a little further on your hip showstopper issue?
The hipbelt was much shorter than spec and made the pack unusable for me.
A bit biased, the mo is most out of stock aswell
It will be back in stock in 4 days. The difference, besides the fact that it’s made locally in the UK by hand and not in Asia, is that they can give you a definitive date of availability. I’d also recommend the Mo over the Kakwa any day. It’s a much nicer backpack and it can be customized if you want.
Our inventory issues are largely resolved now. Aside from the Pro models, the X-Mid tents have been in stock for several months now and will continue to be in stock for all of 2023. The Kakwa 40 will be in stock in the next week and will remain in stock throughout 2023.
Supply is more limited for the Pro tents and Kakwa 55 pack because I prefer to start with smaller batches of a new product in case I want to make some updates, but they can be preordered for delivery 2-8 weeks and will also be in stock for most of spring/summer.
I updated the hipbelt sizing updated for our 2023 Kakwa packs so both the padding and webbing are now longer to work better with a wider range of waist sizes. Along with this, I’ve clarified the hipbelt fitting information. Last year I gave the physical circumference of the belt which many people understood to be the recommend waist sizing but with clothing layers etc the belt won’t fit waist sizes up to the max circumference. Now I list both the circumference and a range for ‘recommended waist’ which is more clear.
Dan just shipped a kakwa 55 to me. I’ll have a review out in the next couple of weeks.
Which of these do you use the most?
I’ve used all of them pretty extensively. But the pack I used the most last year was the Zpacks Arc Haul Ultra 60. It was unbelievably hot and humid last year along the east coast and I got hooked on having a ventilated backpack. The Arc Haul Ultra is pretty close to perfect to holding my gear and I really like the fit. It’s also easy to tweak for backcountry fly fishing. The newest on this list is the Exos Pro 55, which I’m using at the moment. It’s also ventilated and very similar to the old Exos, but much lighter weight and considerably less expensive than a Zpacks.
Are you going to get a chance to look at the Exos Pro model? I am curious as to what they changed to cut the weight.
I’m using it now and should have a review out soon. They used lighter fabrics and frame components.
Neat. Looking forward to reading the review!
Most of these packs can scarcely be considered utralight. No mention of Durston Gear, KS Ultralight, SWD, MLD, Mountainsmith, Nashville, Timmermade, LiteAF, Pa’lante, Bonfus, Dandee.
Ultralight is anything under three pounds. If you read the article (big if), this is a list of ultralight packs with frames or framestays. I have a followup article coming out that will focus on ultralight frameless backpacks which are mainly designed for thru-hikers (resupply, very small loads), the most durable ultralight packs which are designed for wilderness (off-trail backpacking), and ultralight packs designed for women.
Bruh- the guy has reviewed many of the packs you’ve mentioned, use the search box.
Or you could just follow the link to the reviews off this list:
I’m starting to get the impression that many packs copy each other and most are basically the same. How you size it in relation to your body will determine how much you like it. You should assume that the stated weight you can carry will likely be 10 lbs. lower. Sure do like my MO though.
I think there are more differences than meet the eye. But you should treat buying a backpack like buying a suit. They all fit differently.
Mo beats Kaka easily? Please tell us more : your opinion counts- few of us try so much gear.
I’m going to hold off on answering you fully until I can try the Kakwa 55 that’s currently on its way to me. But the Mo is a wonderful backpack that carries very comfortably and it just really easy to use for the type of backpacking I like to do in the rugged NorthEast. I love the way it looks in black EcoPak and I have really grown attached to the bottom stretch pocket because it lets me eat all day long without stopping or wearing a front pack. I hate stopping during the day and plan my routes with pretty high daily mileages, so snacking on the move is really helpful. I also prefer wearing backpacks made by small firms over ones that are mass produced. I’m not against big manufacturers, but when it comes to a backpack, I like something that is a little special and customized, color or feature wise, for the things I like in a backpack (or at least hackable). I’ve reviewed an off the shelf Mo and loved it, but if I were to have one made I’d have it customized by color at least. You might scoff at the difference a personalized backpack makes on the trail, but I get enormous joy out of using gear that I have a personal attachment with. The Kakwa does not have a bottom pocket and every single one of them with be exactly the same.
Aaaaarrrggghhh! I have loved my EXOS 58 for the past 6 years but as i reach the Octegenerian mark this April I know I could use a pack that weighs 1 pound less.
What the heck – I spent over $600. for a Notch Li Dyneema solo tent to cut a pound or so off my Moment DW weight and it makes a lot of sense to do the same with my pack.
My current EXOS is the most comfortable 3 season pack I’ve ever owned so why not get another comfortable EXOS? (I can add more rationalizations but you get the idea.)
Remember the “World Famous” metal framed backpack?
Ugh, I’m old ?
Has anybody felt the Exos 58′ torso adjustment hard plastic rubbing on their shoulder blades?
I tried the pack in REI and it felt light and really comfortable, except that the hard plastic for the torso adjustment started rubbing my blades and that really killed it for me. I am skinny so I really felt it.
Any suggestion for a comfortable mainstream pack for up to 35lb total load? There is so much choice out there and it is mostly online, so it is hard to try, in addition to some brands being super pricey.
The new REI Flash 55 fits that bill very well.
I will definitely try the REI Flash 55 in the store. Is it better than GG Crown 3 or Gregory Focal? These two are not available in the store and can only be purchased online. I’m a bit hesitant to buy without a try.
Neither if those packs have adjustable length torsos, but the Flash does. The Crown 3 and Focal are also stocked in some REIs. Try calling ahead an asking if they have ones in the store.
Phillip, have you tried the new versions of Superior Wilderness Designs packs? Especially the Rugged Long Haul and the Big Wild? The modularity is amazing. Nice use of Ultra fabrics as well. The lightweight and rugged versions of the Long Haul are offered in ultra 200 and ultra 400. What’s nice is all their various accessories, straps, and additions can be bought after the fact and added to the pack. Very cool. Ordered a rugged long haul 50 for myself.
I reviewed a Rugged Long Haul over the summer. Thanks.
Any specific reasons it didn’t make the cut? Just curious I’m always trying new packs.
Any specific reasons it didn’t make the cut? Just curious I’m always trying new packs.
Its a custom made backpack – every one is different. It’s also complete overkill for anyone not backpacking in Alaska. It’s on a “Most durable backpacks list”
Fair enough. I went with the rugged version because it was a 1 ounce weight penalty from the standard Long Haul. I made the front pocket the standard venom mesh rather than the ultra 400 pocket that normally comes with the rugged. It came highly recommended for being able to haul heavier loads more comfortably than most UL packs like HMG (which is what I have currently). Thanks for the info and time.