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10 Best Ultralight Frameless Backpacks of 2023

As ultralight backpacking gear has gotten lighter weight, so have ultralight backpacks. So much so, that many thru-hikers, section-hikers, and long-distance backpackers are turning to frameless ultralight backpacks for their adventures. Designed for loads of 20-25 pounds or less (including food, water, and fuel), these backpacks and their manufacturers have proven to be wildly innovative in their use of cutting-edge materials, colors, and features.  While backpacking this light isn’t for everyone, the increased availability of ultralight backpacking gear and access to know-how through social media has made it more achievable than ever.

If your aim is to reduce the weight of your backpack to close to a pound or less, here are some ways of achieving that goal.

  1. Use a frameless backpack, since you don’t need the added support or weight of a frame or even a hip belt for loads under 20-25 pounds.
  2. Reduce the volume of your pack to 40L or less. which forces you to use lighter-weight and more compact gear.
  3. Pick backpacks made with ultralight fabrics like Dyneema DCF, Ultra, or EcoPak which are waterproof and highly durable.

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

Make / ModelTotal VolumeWeight
Nashville Packs Cutaway42L8-11 oz
Pa'lante V231L, 37L17-19 oz
LiteAF Ultra Curve 3045L13-19 oz
Waymark EVLV Ultra35L, 38L15-17 oz
Dandee Packs The Standard Pack35L15-17 oz
SWD Ultralight Superior Frameless45L18.2 oz
Mountain Laurel Designs Burn38L16.5 oz
Gossamer Gear G4-2042L20-26 oz
Mountainsmith Zerk 4040L29 oz
Atom Packs EP4040L14 oz

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

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

1. Nashville Packs Cutaway (42L)

nashville Packs cutaway

The Nashville Packs Cutaway is one of the most innovative frameless ultralight backpacks we’ve encountered in a long time. It’s a 42L (total volume) roll-top with side and front pockets, as well as a bottom sleeve for trash or hats, buffs, and 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 a variety of ultralight fabrics, the thing that sets this pack apart is the optional vest-style shoulder strap system which is hands-down the most comfortable, best-fitting, and functional vest-style shoulder strap system we’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 regular shoulder straps because the pack is modular and you can switch between them. Read the SectionHiker review.

View at Nashville Packs

2. Pa’lante Packs V2 (31-37L)

Palante Packs V2
Pa’lante Packs is one of the original movers among second-generation frameless backpack manufacturers and many other of their innovations have been copied now by others. Their V2 backpack includes the original bottom pocket for stowing snacks, layers, and trash, shoulder strap pockets, a stashable hipbelt, adjustable side pockets, and a designated stake pocket. The V2 is available off-the-shelf in two torso lengths: 16″ and 19″ and two colors: sand and black.

Garage Grown Gear

3. LiteAF Ultra Curve 30L (45L)

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.

View at LiteAF

4. Waymark EVLV Ultra (35L)

EVLV 35L Backpack
The Waymark EVLV Ultra is a minimalist frameless pack with a roll-top closure, side water bottle pockets, a front stretch pocket, and daisy chains on the shoulder straps.  It’s made with Ultra, which is waterproof and more abrasion resistant than Dyneema DCF. The EVLV ranges in volumes from 35-38 liters depending on your torso size and is best suited for base weights (minus water, fuel, and food) of 10 lbs. The EVLV is available in multiple colors and torso sizes. We think the construction and attention to detail on Waymark’s packs are top-notch.

View at Waymark

5. Dandee Pack’s The Standard Pack (35L)

Dandee The Standard
Dandee Pack’s “The Standard Pack” is a sleek-looking 35L frameless roll-top backpack available with J or S-shaped shoulder straps or Vest-style straps with integrated shoulder pockets on both sides, a large stretch front pocket, bottom pocket with a trash port, ice axe/trekking pole attachment system, side compression straps, optional hip belt attachment points, a g-hook top strap and sit pad attachment straps. It’s available in three torso lengths: 17″, 19″, and 21″ either as a custom pack from Dandee or off-the-shelf from Garage Grown Gear.

Garage Grown Gear

6. Superior Wilderness Designs Ultralight 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 20 lbs. Several low-priced customizations are also available.

View at S.W.D.

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 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.

View at MLD

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. 

View at Gossamer Gear

9. Mountainsmith Zerk (40L)

Mountainsmith Zerk 40
The Mountainsmith Zerk 40 has vest-style shoulder straps inspired by Ultra-running backpacks. It has a roll-top closure, removable, hip belt strap, a running vest-style shoulder strap system. Numerous open mesh pockets make it easy to store frequently accessed gear and food on the exterior of the pack so you don’t have to open it during the day. The pack comes with bear can straps so you can lash a canister on top and includes numerous external gear loops so you can attach additional gear to its exterior. While there is a foam pad in a pad pocket behind the Zerk’s shoulder straps, its primary purpose is to protect your back from being poked by the pack’s contents. Read the SectionHiker Review.

View at REI

10. Atom Packs – The Atom (35L)

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.

Available from:
Atom Packs 

View at Atom Packs

Frameless Ultralight Backpack Selection Guide

Early model of the Gossamer Gear Frameless G4 Backpack - 2011
Early model of the Gossamer Gear Frameless G4 Backpack – Frameless packs have come a long way since 2011.

Custom vs. Off-the-Shelf Backpacks

Many frameless ultralight backpacks are made by hand by cottage manufacturers and can be customized in terms of colors, fabric, or features. Some of the more established backpack manufacturers or retailers listed above only offer “stock” backpacks with a fixed set of features. The advantage of purchasing a stock backpack is that it’s usually available immediately without a long wait time. If you decided to go the custom route, be sure to contact the manufacturer if you have any questions before you order. Most custom backpacks are non-returnable.

Frameless 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.

Massive External Storage

Frameless ultralight backpacks tend to have a lot of external storage which is accessible while you’re still wearing the backpack. This is as much a mantra as a design philosophy with the underlying goal of hiking as many miles as possible (like all day) without ever having to stop and take your backpack off. Many frameless ultralight packs come with pockets sewn onto their shoulder straps, bottom stretch pockets so you can reach underneath a pack when worn to pull out snacks or deposit used wrappers, and accessible side pockets.

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.

Shoulder Straps

An increasing number of frameless pack makers are including S-shaped backpack straps on their packs, which 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.

There’s also an increasing use of vest-style shoulder straps on many backpacks which can take some getting used to if you were born and bred on more conventional shoulder straps. The added width and pocket storage on vest-style packs makes them an attractive feature and can help distribute the load across your shoulders, especially if your pack lacks a hip belt.

Torso Length

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 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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5 comments

  1. i got a Nashville Pack Cutaway and its my 1-3 day go-to pack right now. Really enjoying it. I was very skeptical because it seemed soooo lightweight but it’s a joy. Two sternum straps are necessary and I got the vest style harness. Really light and east to get comfortable with.

  2. I have the Pa’lante V2. I did modify it by having daisy chains sewn onto the shoulder straps. (hear that Pa’lante? LOL)

    It’s a joy to use. I was able to use a small bear canister – before I bought an ursack. Even frameless, and without load lifters (obviously), there was no discomfort for my bony shoulders – up to 19 lbs. I’d say the max would be pretty close to that.

  3. I have 2 favorite frameless packs. 1. Zimmerbuilt Quickstep and Bigstep 2. Yama Gear Sassafras.

  4. Your weight is off on the Nashy, it’s only taking account of the pack weight and not the straps.

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