The growing use of Dyneema Composite Fabrics, Woven Dyneema, XPac, and LiteSkin have ushered in a new era of durable lightweight, sub-3-pound backpacks that can withstand the abuse of multiple thru-hikes, bushwhacking, canyoneering, and winter hiking and still come back for more. While you will 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 and ultralight backpacks available today. Go ahead, run these packs through your favorite backpack torture test. I’m pretty sure you’ll be impressed with their durability under fire.
The Hyperlite Mountain Gear Southwest 2400 (40L) is a bomber ultralight backpack that weighs 30 ounces. Made with special DCR/Polyester laminate for durability, it’s tough-skinned and effectively waterproof. There’s also no mesh on the backpack and all of the pockets on the hip belt, side water bottle pockets, and front stash pocket are hard-faced with 210D Dyneema X grid-stop. Sized for ultralight backpacking, the 2400 is also available in 3400 (55L) and 4400 (72L) sizes for gear-intensive trips. Available in white and black, the black-colored packs are made with a thicker DCF/Polyester laminate and more durable. Read our HMG Southwest 2400 Review.
The Hanchor Marl Backpack is a 55L backpack that weighs 2 lbs 5.5 oz that stands out in its ability to handle heavier loads well. It is constructed primarily of X-Pac VX21 and comes in four different torso lengths and four different hip belt sizes. The Marl is an ultralight style pack with a roll-top closure, two side water bottle pockets and a front mesh pocket. It includes load lifters and uses internal stays as a frame, which need to be bent to fit your personal dimensions before use. Read the SectionHiker Marl 55 Review. Sizing is Unisex.
The Seek Outside Gila is a 3500 cubic inch (57 L) ultralight-style roll top backpack with an external frame capable of hauling very heavy loads that blow other lightweight packs out of the water. Weighing 42 ounces, it’s made with a durable waterproof laminate called XPac that’s similar to DCF but less expensive to work with. The adjustable-torso length external frame behaves a lot like a ventilated backpack, keeping your shirt dry 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. Read our Seek Outside Gila Review
The Elemental Horizons Kalais XT is a roll top backpack with an adjustable torso length. Weighing 41 oz, it’s made with XPac and 210 Dyeenma X Gridstop. It has solid hip belt pockets and side pockets for extra durability with a Dyneema X reinforced stash pocket in the front. Wide compression webbing and oversized buckles add to the pack’s durability. The hip belt pockets are optional and removable, which is a good way to avoid destroying them if you have to push through a lot of heavy brush. Read our EH Kalais XT Backpack Review
The Superior Wilderness Designs Long Haul 50 is an 29 ounce roll top style backpack made with XPac. It has solid hip belt and side pockets for added durability, with a tough front mesh stash pocket (the mesh can be replaced with a solid XPac pocket as a customization option.) The shoulder straps and hip belt are made with Dyneema X grid stop which has been reinforced with XPac for added durability. SWD is also one of the few lightweight pack makers to provide S-shaped shoulder straps, which are suitable for men and women alike. Read our SWD Long Haul 50 Review
The ULA XPac-Circuit is a 68L roll-top style ultralight backpack that weighs 39 oz. The pack body and side pockets are now available in Xpac, with a heavy-duty mesh front stash pocket. The multi-part frame includes an aluminum stay, dense foam, and a carbon fiber hoop 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. Read our ULA Circuit Review
The Hyperlite Mountain Gear Northrim 3400 is hands down one of the most durable backpacks available today, but it’s also one of the most expensive. Weighing 35 oz, it’s a 55L roll-top pack made with 375 denier fully woven Dyneema in all of its high abrasion areas including its base, three external pockets, and hip belt pockets. Also available in a 4400 cubic inch size, it has two internal frame stays that provide structure, a sewn-on hipbelt for superb load-to-hip weigh transfer, waterproof zippers, and heavy-duty buckles that can stand up to serious abuse.
The Chicken Tramper CTUG-45 is a 45 liter ultralight roll-top backpack made with XPAC that weighs 30 oz. The pack is fairly unique in that it has an optionally removable internal frame made from carbon fiber arrow shafts, an external sit pad pocket, shoulder straps, and a sewn-on hip belt with a lumbar pad that gives it a max comfortable load of 30 pounds. Read our Chicken Tramper CTUG-45 review.
The Northern Ultralight Sundown Backpack is a modular 46-liter rolltop pack designed for ultralight-style thru-hiking. Weighing 25.8 oz ounces, it’s made with XPac, 210 Dyneema Grid, and heavy-duty mesh for extra durability. The hip belt pockets are made with XPac and come with waterproof zippers. The hip belt is also removable using an innovative clip attachment system when you just want to use the backpack as a minimalist day pack. Read our Sundown backpack review.
The Six Moon Designs Swift X is a 45 liter adjustable length backpack that weighs 36 oz. Available in XPac or 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.
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 and Robic (nylon). While many pack manufacturers have moved on to more durable materials and fabrics like Dyneema Composite Fabrics (formerly cuben fiber), XPac, and LiteSkin, the overall durability of a multi-day backpack can’t be determined solely by the material used to make the body of a pack.
If you do careful analysis of backpack failure points, you’ll find that they fail in a number of common areas.
Abraded base fabric
Ripped side and front mesh pockets
Abraded hip belt pockets
Torn shoulder strap or hip belt anchors
Torn attachment points, including compression strap anchors
Worn out frame stay slots
While the use of durable fabrics and materials helps address issues of abrasion, it’s a slippery slope because tougher fabrics tend to be heavier or higher in cost, making a pack that uses them potentially less attractive to buyers.
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
Eliminate or limit the amount of mesh they use
Have streamlined roll-top style designs
Minimize their use of zippers
Use standard hardware that owners can replace without sewing.
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