The Best Backpack for Ultralight Backpacking
By Steve Gillman
Which pack is best? There is no one answer to the question
of which is the best backpack for ultralight backpacking. It
depends on your own needs and preferences, as well as the nature
of the trips for which you'll be using the pack.
Let's start with your own needs and preferences. If you really
like to go light above all else, you will most likely want a
frameless pack. I use a GoLite Breeze that weighs just 13 ounces.
It may not be possible to get one that light now, but there are
many options which weigh less than two pounds.
Example: The Gossamer Gear G4 Ultralight Backpack weighs just
17 ounces and has a capacity of between 3,200 and 4,000 cubic
inches (depending on whether you pack the space in the extension
collar). (Specific examples will be out of date quickly as models
change, but this will give you an idea of what to look for in
terms of size and weight.)
Example: The GoLite Jam Pack weighs 31 ounces and has a capacity
of over 3,000 cubic inches.
If you are hiking for more than a few days between resupply
points, or if you simply like to carry more gear and luxuries,
you might need a bigger backpack, and perhaps even one with a
frame. Once you get past about 15 to 20 pounds total weight you
generally need more support than a frameless pack offers. Frame
backpacks for ultralight backpackers can still be under four
pounds, with some weighing less than three pounds.
Example: The Lowe Alpine Nanon 50:60 backpack has 4000 cubic
inches and weighs three pounds.
I prefer an external frame for comfort, but this can be a
personal matter (and external frame packs are getting hard to
find). With the external frame packs you get more airflow across
your back. I find internal frame packs to be uncomfortably hot.
When I go with a frameless, I usually travel light enough to
sling the backpack from one shoulder when I need to cool my back.
If you will be climbing or scrambling up rocks and cliffs,
an internal frame is best. You can't have your pack weight shifting
around or it will throw off your balance. If you are scrambling
but traveling really light, the best backpack might be a fameless
one with a hip belt. The The Gossamer Gear G4 Ultralight Backpack
mentioned above has a hip belt that can be added and weighs just
If you will be traveling with your gear will be subject to
airline luggage handlers among other risks, it may be smart to
go a bit heavier and get a tougher pack.
The best backpack for ultralight backpackers will depend on
these personal and trip matters, but it should rarely be more
than three pounds in any case. There is a line you may cross
somewhere, where a heavier pack invites heavier gear, and then
that total weight requires hiking boots instead of shoes, and
then you will no longer be going ultralight.
The North Face Verto 26 Backpack weighs just 11 ounces. Whether
or not it is the best backpack for ultralight backpacking depends
on many factors, including whether you can fit all your gear
in the 1,600 cubic inches it will hold (it is essentially a day
pack, but weekend trips can be done with day packs).
Want to go even lighter? The Gossamer Gear G6 Whisper "Uberlite"
Backpack (if still available) weighs less than 4 ounces (you
read that right), and has a capacity of around 2,000 cubic inches.
Now that's light!