Best Ultralight Hiking Backpack

Best Ultralight Hiking Backpack: Top 5 of 2021

Ultralight hiking backpacks have become increasingly popular in recent years. Using minimalist designs and reduced thickness fabrics, they are a great way to lighten the load on your back.

Since hikers have started prioritizing lightweight gear, the market has become flooded with weight saving packs. Each one claims to offer the best performance, but in reality they all have pros and cons.

In this article: we have ranked, reviewed and analysed the best ultralight hiking backpacks. Each option is ideally suited to a different type of hiker, allowing you to find a pack that suits your style.

Ranking The Best Ultralight Hiking Backpacks

  1. Hyperlite Mountain Gear 3400 Porter 55
  2. Mountainsmith Zerk Phantom 40
  3. Hyperlite Mountain Gear 2400 Windrider 40
  4. Osprey Levity 45
  5. Granite Gear Virga 2

Best Ultralight Hiking Backpack Comparison

Name

Price

Overview

Lightweight and versatile pack that is durable enough to handle epic adventures

Comfortable pack that is full of features to improve practicality on the trail 

Ventilated pack that is exceptionally comfortable and practical to carry in hot weather

Extremely durable pack that is built for harsh conditions during winter hikes

Incredibly lightweight pack that feels secure on your back for a sensible price

Best For

Overall

Comfort

Ventilation

Durability

Budget

Pros

Durable, versatile, intuitive design, useful attachment points, great size-to-weight ratio

Comfortable, adaptable, practical features, durable fabric, great roll top closure

Ventilated, comfortable, easy-to-use, decent features, adaptable compression

Durable, waterproof, comfortable, secure, good compression, hydration sleeve

Super lightweight, great compression, durable, large maximum volume, cheap

Cons

Expensive, lacks external pockets

Struggles with heavy loads

Limited padding, thin outer fabric

Expensive, lacking lash loops 

No frame, not great for heavy loads

Overall Rating

Capacity

55L

40L

45L

40L

50-58L

Weight

2lbs. 1oz. (936g)

1lb. 12oz. (794g)

1lb. 14oz (851g)

1lb. 13oz (822g)

1lb. 4oz. (567g)

Material

Dyneema

100D Nylon HT, 200D Spectra Double

210D NanoFly Nylon, 30D Cordura

Dyneema

Cordura

Why Do I Need The Best Ultralight Hiking Backpack

Carrying a heavy backpack can put a dampener on your hiking trip. It’s often a recipe for backache and will cause fatigue during a long day on the trail.

Finding the best ultralight hiking backpack is a great way to boost your energy. It can vastly improve your outdoor experience, providing you find a product that’s practical.

Despite the wealth of ultralight packs on the market, it can be challenging to find the right product. Many have sacrificed durability or reduced features in order to save weight, making their hiking performance below par.

Every pack on this list is designed to provide a safe place to stash your gear without excess weight. Each product has proven to be suitable for tough days on the trail, allowing you to enjoy your time in the outdoors.

Hint: We understand that hiking gear can be expensive. If you’re looking to reduce the cost of your equipment, we have also reviewed the best hiking backpacks under $100.

Best Ultralight Hiking Backpack
Ultralight hiking backpacks will improve your energy

How To Choose The Best Ultralight Hiking Backpack

Volume

The term volume refers to the total packing space a hiking backpack can accommodate. It includes the total combined space provided by all pockets and compartments.

You will need to choose a pack that has the volume necessary to carry your hiking gear. The amount of equipment you will be carrying often depends on the type or length of hiking trip you will be attempting.

If you’re looking for a ‘well-rounded’ pack that can accommodate most seasons; your best size is probably between 40–60L. It will give you the space to pack enough gear for a 3-5 day trip, without putting significant strain on your back.

If you are a minimalist looking to cut serious weight, then you might consider a 30L pack. The lightweight and secure feeling they provide can be great, but it might hamper your ability to carry camping gear.

Best Ultralight Hiking Backpack
The size of your pack is dependant on your hiking goals

Weight

It should come as no surprise that weight is a key consideration when choosing the best ultralight hiking backpack.

Modern lightweight packs do a fantastic job of reducing bulk and saving weight. The combination of modern materials, minimalist designs and reduced thickness fabrics has lead to many weighing in at 3lbs or less.

It’s key to note that the weight of your pack is also dependant on its volume. You will need to look for a good ‘weight-to-volume’ ratio in order to find an ultralight pack that’s large enough for your gear.

The backpacks on this list are some of the lightest around given their respective volumes. Once you have decided on the packing space you require, you can then find the lightest product that fits your needs.

Fabric

The fabric used can have a big impact on hiking backpack performance. It will greatly affect durability, comfort and weather-resistance.

Most quality packs are constructed from a variation of nylon, XPac or Dyneema fabric. Each of these materials are capable of providing lightweight durability, depending on the type and thickness used.

One area that XPac and Dyneema excel is wet weather. Both of these modern fabrics are fully waterproof, while nylon is naturally only water-resistant. However, many quality nylon hiking backpacks come with a rain cover that is fully waterproof.

It’s also worth noting that modern fabrics like Dyneema Composite or XPac will often add significant expense. If you’re trying to reduce costs, finding a high-quality nylon pack could be your best bet.

Pockets and Features

The best ultralight hiking backpacks generally use a minimalist design. Some will offer reduced features in order to save weight, but most still have a range of practical pockets and straps that make stowing your gear easy.

External storage pockets, attachment loops and main compartment design will all vary between products. The key is to assess how much outer pocket space you require and what type of gear you will be carrying.

Many ultralight packs also come with a removable internal frame. The frame will add structure and support if you’re carrying heavy gear, but can be removed for shorter excursions to reduce weight.

If you plan on attempting fast paced hikes in hot weather, it’s also worth checking if your pack is hydration compatible. Having the option of adding a hydration system is a great feature that can improve practicality on the trail.

Carrying Comfort

No matter how lightweight your backpack feels; it’s not going to be suitable if it’s uncomfortable. Carrying heavy loads can put serious strain on your back and shoulders if your pack isn’t up to the task.

The aim of a hiking backpack is often to place the load of your hips, rather than your back. The use of an internal frame and sternum strap does a great job of securing the load to your torso, while many ultralight packs offer the ability to remove these features if you’re carrying lighter equipment.

The padding used will also make a big difference. Foam back and shoulder pads are often added to cushion the weight, although ultralight designs can minimize this extra material to save weight.

Keep in mind that overheating can also cause discomfort. Most good hiking backpacks come with a ventilation system aimed at stopping ‘sweaty back syndrome’, allowing air to circulate through the back panel.

Best Ultralight Hiking Backpack
Comfort is key to a great hiking adventure

Best Overall Ultralight Hiking Backpack

Hyperlite Mountain Gear 3400 Porter 55

Hyperlite Mountain Gear 3400 Porter 55L
  • Weight: 2lbs. 1oz. (936g)
  • Capacity: 55L
  • Material: Dyneema
  • Frame: Removable Aluminium
  • Retailers: Backcountry
  • Alternate Models: 3400 Ice 55

Comfort

Ventilation

Water-Resistance

Pockets & Straps

Adjustability

Practicality (Ease-Of-Use)

Durability

Overall

Hyperlite Mountain Gear have made it their mission to provide gram-saving hikers with top notch equipment. The quality of their products is exceptional, with the 3400 Porter 55 proving to be the best ultralight hiking backpack in our review.

The lightweight pack uses a simple design while still providing enough features to keep hikers happy. It has a wide variety of attachment loops, great compression capability and will easily adapt to rain, snow or sun.

Build quality is also a strong suit for the 3400 Porter 55, with the Dyneema outer fabric and overall design making it capable of withstanding tough conditions. It’s also extremely comfortable to carry and actually performs at its best when fully loaded.

The well-rounded performance offered by the Hyperlite Mountain Gear 3400 Porter 55 makes it an easy choice for our top pick. Its incredibly practical and durable design makes it a perfect ultralight pack for most hikers.

Pros

  • Comfortable to carry
  • Highly durable
  • Streamlined design
  • Perfect for heavy loads
  • Great outer straps and loops
  • Adapts to any season
  • Useful waist pockets
  • Super light for its capacity

Cons

  • Very expensive
  • Lacks external pockets

Best Ultralight Hiking Backpack for Comfort

Mountainsmith Zerk Phantom 40

Mountainsmith Zerk Phantom 40
  • Weight: 1lb. 12oz. (794g)
  • Capacity: 40L
  • Material: 100D Nylon HT, 200D Spectra Double
  • Frame: Foam Padding
  • Retailers: Backcountry
  • Alternate Models: Scream 55

Comfort

Ventilation

Water-Resistance

Pockets & Straps

Adjustability

Practicality (Ease-Of-Use)

Durability

Overall

Modern day hiking gear is often focussed around saving weight and feeling comfortable. Fortunately, the Mountainsmith Zerk Phantom 40 ticks both of these boxes and is a great choice for outdoor minimalists.

The comfortable design features additional shoulder strap padding and a secure suspension that is built for long days on the trail. The thoughtful construction also features handy mesh pockets on the shoulder straps and a wide range of easy-to-reach pockets.

The Zerk Phantom 40 is also incredibly adaptable, with roll top closure allowing it to compress into a daypack for shorter hikes. The hip-belt and foam padding are also removable for those looking to cut excess weight or reduce bulk.

Overall, we were thoroughly impressed by the features and design offered for such a lightweight pack. It uses a modern design that feels incredibly comfortable with lighter loads, making it a great choice for multiday hikers looking to cover plenty of distance.

Pros

  • Great pockets
  • Comfortable to carry
  • Adaptable enough to be used for day-hiking
  • Useful shoulder strap mesh pockets
  • Hip-belt and foam padding is removable
  • Durable face fabric
  • Easy-to-use design

Cons

  • Not good with heavy loads
  • Comparatively small capacity

Best Ultralight Hiking Backpack for Ventilation

Osprey Levity 45

Osprey Levity 45
  • Weight: 1lb. 14oz. (851g)
  • Capacity: 45L
  • Material: 210D NanoFly Nylon, 30D Cordura
  • Frame: Internal Compression
  • Retailers: Amazon, Backcountry
  • Alternate Models: Levity 60

Comfort

Ventilation

Water-Resistance

Pockets & Straps

Adjustability

Practicality (Ease-Of-Use)

Durability

Overall

Osprey have been a known provider of quality hiking backpacks for many years, so it was no surprise to see the lightweight Levity 45 making our list. It’s a pack that’s built with thoughtful features and the ability to cope with hot days on the trail.

The Levity 45 outperforms its rivals during the summer months thanks to a ventilated back panel that maximizes airflow to reduce sweat. It comes in a shape that remains slim at the top and wider at the bottom, meaning the load is placed on the hips to reduce back strain.

Despite being slimmed down to save weight, the Levity 45 still retains three external pockets that are easy to access. It also uses a compression system to reduce the pack width when carrying smaller loads.

Upon review, we were thoroughly impressed by the Osprey Levity 45’s all-round performance. Its ventilated back panel sets it apart from the crowd, while its overall feature set makes it a great pick.

Pros

  • Ventilated back panel
  • Good exterior pockets
  • Comfortable load carry
  • Size adaptable design
  • Sleek and slim shape
  • Copes well when fully packed
  • Good suspension

Cons

  • Narrow design sacrifices pack space
  • Limited padding

Best Ultralight Hiking Backpack for Durability

Hyperlite Mountain Gear 2400 Windrider 40

Hyperlite Mountain Gear 2400 Windrider 40

Comfort

Ventilation

Water-Resistance

Pockets & Straps

Adjustability

Practicality (Ease-Of-Use)

Durability

Overall

Finding an ultralight hiking backpack that can cope with extreme conditions isn’t always easy. However, we found the Hyperlite Mountain Gear 2400 Windrider 40 provided exceptional durability in any situation.

The Dyneema outer fabric is capable of providing superb strength that can last for many years. It’s also fully waterproof and seam sealed, with the overall build-quality also proving to be an outstanding feature.

The pack uses a minimalist design with a handy roll-top that can adjust and compress the size when necessary, while also providing added weather protection. It also comes with useful hip-belt pockets and compression straps that make sure the load is stable on any terrain.

If you’re heading into harsh climates or facing tough ascents, the 2400 Windrider 40 is an ideal pack. Its strong and sturdy design will keep your gear dry in any weather, while it will leave you feeling secure and balanced on uneven terrain.

Pros

  • Super durable
  • Fully waterproof
  • Seam sealed
  • Stable suspension
  • Great top and side compression
  • Comfortable enough for extended trips
  • Minimalist design is intuitive

Cons

  • Very expensive
  • Lacking external attachment points

Best Budget Ultralight Hiking Backpack

Granite Gear Virga 2

Granite Gear Virga 2
  • Weight: 1lb. 4oz. (567g)
  • Capacity: 50-58L
  • Material: Cordura Nylon
  • Frame: None
  • Retailers: Amazon, Backcountry
  • Alternate Models: Virga 26L

Comfort

Ventilation

Water-Resistance

Pockets & Straps

Adjustability

Practicality (Ease-Of-Use)

Durability

Overall

It’s no secret that quality hiking gear can cost eye watering amounts. However, the Granite Gear Virga 2 proves that it’s possible to find a superb ultralight pack that won’t blow your budget.

Weighing in at just 1lb 4oz, the Virga 2 was the lightest pack in our review and a great gram-saving option for self proclaimed ‘speedhikers’. It’s even more impressive when you take into account the pack’s large capacity, which features a lidless top that can adjust the size from 50-58L.

The weight-saving design is minimalist and doesn’t include a frame, although a removable foam pad has been used inside the back panel to provide added comfort. A strong suit of the Virga 2 was durability, with the Cordura fabric providing superb strength that will last for many years.

Granite Gear are well-known for their quality products and we believe that the Virga 2 is no exception. The overall design, durability and practicality offered is far superior to its budget price and we highly recommend it for weight-conscious hikers.

Pros

  • Value for money
  • Incredibly lightweight
  • Adjustable capacity
  • Durable
  • Good compression system
  • Hydration compatible
  • Very comfortable when carrying lighter loads

Cons

  • Struggles to cope with heavy loads
  • No frame

Summing Up

Saving weight has become a priority for many hikers. It will make you feel light on your feet and give you increased energy throughout the day.

Finding the best ultralight hiking backpack is a great way to reduce weight. It can provide a practical place to stash your gear and keep you hiking with a spring in your step.

Every pack we have listed provides excellent quality without excess weight. Take the time to assess the features you require to find a product that suits your style.