The growing use of ultralight, abrasion-resistant, and waterproof pack materials like Ultra, Woven Dyneema, EcoPak, and Liteskin has ushered in a new era of durable lightweight, sub-3-pound backpacks that can withstand the abuse of multiple thru-hikes, bushwhacking, packrafting, canyoneering, and winter hiking and still come back for more. In the past, increased durability was larger achieved by using thicker and heavier fabrics to make backpacks. The reason these new backpack materials are such a game changer is that they are many times stronger than conventional materials such as Robic Nylon, Cordura, Dyneema DCF, or XPac resulting in far better durability without an increase in weight. While you may pay a premium for a backpack that is both lightweight and durable, it’s worth the investment since your backpack is the one piece of gear that can’t fail.
Here’s my go-to list of the most durable lightweight backpacks available today in the 50-70L volume range used by most multi-day backpacker and thru-hikers, Go ahead, run these packs through your favorite backpack torture test. I’m pretty sure you’ll be impressed with their durability under fire. Be sure to check out our selection guide below for answers to commonly asked questions about backpack durability
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 durable Ultra 200 and 100 fabric, the 19.6 oz Arc Haul Ultra 60 is a roll-top 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. The Arc Haul Ultra can haul up to 30 lbs comfortably. Sizing is Unisex, but a new women’s model
is also available. This pack is seam-taped. Read the SectionHiker Arc Haul Ultra 60L Review
2. Superior Wilderness Designs Rugged Long Haul 50
Weighing 30.7 ounces, Superior Wilderness Design’s Rugged Long Haul 50
backpack Long Haul is identical to SWD’s regular Long Haul 50, except it’s built with Ultra 400. With 50 liters of closed storage, it is well-sized for multi-day backpacking trips with all of the must-have features you’d expect on a lightweight backpack like a front stretch pocket, side water bottle pockets, and a roll-top closure. Pre-bent aluminum stays and a sewn-on hip belt also provide superior comfort, excellent load transfer, and a body-hugging fit, while a plethora of attachment points make it easy to tailor for technical hikes. Seam-taping is an add-on option that adds 1 oz to the pack’s weight. Read the SectionHiker Rugged Long Haul Review.
3. ULA Ultra 24 Circuit Backpack
The ULA Ultra 24 Circuit
is a 68L roll-top style ultralight backpack made with Ultra 200 and Ultra 400 that weighs 36.7 oz. The multi-part frame includes an aluminum stay, dense foam, a Delrin hoop, and load lifters for comfort and optimal load transfer. The Circuit comes with a wide interchangeable hip belt for optimal sizing including large, hard-faced hip belt pockets. Male and female-specific shoulder straps are also available as an option at the time of purchase. The Ultra 24 Circuit is not seam-taped, so you’ll want a pack liner Read our ULA Ultra 24 Circuit Review
4. Hyperlite Mountain Gear Northrim 55L
The Hyperlite Mountain Gear Northrim 55
is one of the most durable backpacks available today, but it’s also one of the most expensive. Weighing 34.4 oz, it’s a 55L roll-top pack with 10L of additional pocket space that is made with 375 Denier fully woven Dyneema in all of its high abrasion areas including its base, three external pockets, and hip belt pockets. Fully woven Dyneema is much stronger and more abrasion resistant than the Dyneema/Polyester composite used for Hyperlite’s less expensive packs, but it costs more. Also available in a 4400 cubic inch size, the North Rim has two internal frame stays that provide structure, a sewn-on hipbelt, waterproof zippers, and heavy-duty buckles that can stand up to serious abuse. All of Hyperlite’s backpacks are seam-taped. Read the SectionHiker Northrim 55 Review.
5. Seek Outside Gila 3500 Backpack
The Seek Outside Gila
is a 3500 cubic inch (57 L – not counting another 13L of pocket volume) ultralight-style roll-top backpack with an external frame capable of hauling very heavy loads up to 50 lbs, that blows other lightweight packs out of the water. Weighing 43 ounces, it’s made of a durable waterproof material called Ultra 400. The adjustable-torso length external frame behaves a lot like a ventilated backpack, keeping your shirt drier in hot weather. The solid side pockets and reinforced front mesh stash pocket provide an impressive amount of external storage, while a wide hip belt provides excellent support. The Ultra version of the Gila is not seam-taped, so you’ll want a pack liner. Read our Seek Outside Gila Review
6. LiteAF Ultra Curve 46L
The LiteAF Ultra Curve 46L
has a main body with 46L of gear storage, with an additional 15L in external pockets, totaling 61L. Made with Ultra 200 fabric and seam-sealed, it’s a 31 oz 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 exudes personality, check out their color palette. The max recommended load is 35 pounds. The Ultra Curve 46L is seam-taped.
7. Mountain Laurel Designs Exodus 55L
The Mountain Laurel Designs Exodus 55L
is a high-volume frameless backpack available in several fabrics including a version made with Ultra 200 and Ultra 400, which is fully seam-taped. Weighting 18 oz, it has a standard ultralight roll-top design with a solid front stretch pocket and side pockets made with solid fabric instead of mesh for added durability. The Exodus also has a sewn-in hip belt and female-friendly S-shaped shoulder straps. The pack’s maximum recommended load is 25 lbs. Sizing is Unisex. Read the SectionHiker Exodus Review.
8. Waymark Gear LITE 50 Backpack
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 34.2 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.
9. Atom Packs The Mo EP50
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 a typical 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 50 Review.
10. Six Moon Designs Swift X
The Six Moon Designs Swift X
is a 45 liter adjustable length backpack that weighs 36 oz. Available in LiteSkin (which we’d recommend since it’s even more abrasion resistant). It has a durable stretch Lycra front pocket and side water bottle pockets, solid hip belt pockets, and a removable Delrin frame stay. Six Moon Designs is one of the few lightweight pack makers to provide vest-style shoulder straps as an option as well as multiple hip belt lengths so you can dial in a great fit. Read our Swift X backpack review
What Makes a Lightweight Backpack Durable?
I’ve always been a bit obsessed with the durability of lightweight and ultralight backpacks because I destroyed so many of them back in the days when they were made with less durable fabrics like Silnylon, Robic (nylon), Dyneema Grid (nylon reinforced with Dyneema threads) and Dyneema Composite Fabrics or DCF, which is a Dyneema/Polyester laminate.
One of the key areas of backpack failure is due to abrasion, which occurs whenever you set the pack down on the ground, scrape against rock, or bushwhack through dense vegetation. Abrasion wears down the fabric of a backpack, eventually causing holes to form and allowing water and moisture to wet the contents. With continued use, the material will eventually fail.
In terms of durability, Ultra 400 and Woven Dyneema are top dogs in terms of abrasion resistance. Woven Dyneema, which is used on the high wear areas of the Hyperlite Mountain Gear NorthRim backpack has been field proven. It’s also been proven on custom-made mountaineering packs. Ultra 400 has less of a field track record but has been demonstrated to have a very high abrasion resistance on a standardized laboratory test, called the Taber Abrasion Test. Ultra 200 and Ultra 100 have comparatively less abrasion resistance than Ultra 400, which is used for the most demanding applications, like the bottom of backpacks. The different grades of Ultra are also referred to commercially as EcoPack EPL Ultra.
Some pack makers, including Waymark Gear and Atom Packs, also use a new material called EcoPak EPX400 and EcoPak EPX200 which is not as abrasion resistant as EPL Ultra and is less expensive, but still quite durable. It’s also made entirely with recycled content and available in a wide variety of colors. Finally, Liteskin is slightly less abrasion resistant than EcoPak EPX400, but considerably more than EcoPak EPX200. (Sources: Dimension Polyant Outdoor Material Guide 2017, EcoPak Outdoor fabric 2022 Guide). We list packs made with all of these materials above.
Backpack Failure Points
If you do a careful analysis of backpack failure points, you’ll find that they fail in a number of common areas, in addition to fabric abrasion on the bottom of backpacks and along the sides.
- Ripped side and front mesh pockets
- Torn shoulder strap or hip belt anchors
- Broken buckles
- Zipper failure
- Torn attachment points, including compression strap anchors
- Worn-out frame stay slots
If you want a lightweight (sub 3 pound) backpack that is going to last for a long time without a lot of pampering, it’s best to aim for packs that are:
- Overbuilt with bigger buckles and wide webbing straps
- Reinforced shoulder straps and hip belt wings
- No external mesh
- Have streamlined roll-top style designs
- Minimize their use of zippers
- Use standard hardware that owners can replace without sewing.
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