Product Reviews

Top 10 Best Ultralight and Lightweight Backpacks for Hiking, Backpacking and Traveling

ParagonTrails presents the best ultralight and lightweight backpacks for hiking and backpacking

Lightweight backpacking has blossomed into a new and wonderful market over the last several years, and with increased interest, scientific research is producing innovations in material science every day to improve the quality of fabrics and decrease their weight.

With this innovation in material technology the cost of fibers that produce high-quality backpacks has dramatically increased and synthetic materials such as high denier polyester, ripstop nylon, and Dyneema composite fabric (cuben fiber), are spiking the price of ultralight, lightweight, and super-lightweight hiking equipment.

What this means is that ultralight packs can be expensive, but we’ve curated a list for any price point, and any sized adventure that you’ll ever find yourself on.

Whether you’re looking to day-hike a trail to your favorite camping spot, spend a weekend with your friends cooking out in the wilderness, or thru-hike across the entire breadth of the country achieving the triple crown, this list has some of the most highly rated, durable, and lightweight packs on the market today to help you have fun exploring the great outdoors.

How to Choose A Hiking Backpack

Choosing the right backpack’s an important decision and really shouldn’t be taken lightly. Your pack will carry all of your most essential items across thousands of miles, so it needs to be durable and versatile enough to accommodate varying weather and terrain.

As a general rule of thumb, a backpack that’s 30 liters or fewer is considered a day-pack, but you can use packs this size for a weekend or week-long trip if you’re strategic about how much your gear weighs, and how much space it consumes.

One of the many ways to conserve the volume of your pack, and decrease your total weight, is by dehydrating and vacuum sealing meals. While this does produce a lot of plastic waste that you’ll have to pack away and store until you can reach civilization, it’s a great way to save space and stretch out a smaller pack for a longer trip.

Next, we have packs that are between 30 to 45 liters and these are a favorite of ultralight or super-lightweight backpackers that want to have a streamlined and optimized gear list.

Backpacks in this range can be used for any adventure if the pack has enough features and is used to its full potential. The ability for a pack to store trekking poles, have dedicated storage for a sleeping bag or hydration pack, or be cinched down and compressed to compact a load, allows a pack of this size to shine on an expansive adventure into the untamed wilderness.

Considered to be the optimal pack range for beginning adventurers, or anyone that needs to carry a heavier load than usual, are backpacks between 45 to 75 liters. Some of the most renowned manufacturers have produced packs in this range which have been carried by the most extreme adventurers of the world to every continent.

Any packs larger than this, all the way up to the most extreme sizes of 115 liters or greater, would be best suited for expeditions in winter conditions with the pack secured down with bungee cords on a snow sled.

At the end of the day though pack size is up to you and what you feel most comfortable with, but if you want to have a rough rule of thumb in the back of your mind, your pack’s total weight, including your food and water, should total about 20 percent of your body weight.

With all that being said here’s our curated list of ten of the best ultralight and lightweight hiking backpacks on the market today for any adventure into the wilderness that you may find yourself on.

Deuter Airlite 14 Liter Ripstop Nylon Ultralight Hiking Daypack

The Deuter Airlite 14 liter backpack is the smallest pack on this list and starts us off with a question. What’s the most essential gear to bring on a day-hike or single night camping trip?

As always you’ll need food and water as well as some kind of temporary sleeping arrangement. This would include either a sleeping bag or quilt, a sleeping pad, and a tarp with a hammock, tent, or bivy.

In addition, hygiene items, maps, a personal locator beacon, and a cell or satellite phone, are all important to bring along on a hike. However, bringing all of these items with a 14 liter pack means that some items, like your sleeping equipment, will have to be tied to the outside of the bag.

The Airlite provides the solution to this though with several loops on the bottom which allows for equipment to be rolled up and attached.

On both sides of the pack there are spandex storage holders for two one liter water bottles, and there’s also a wet pocket suited for a hydration bladder or wet clothes.

If the spandex side pockets, wet pocket, main compartment, or bottom loops still aren’t enough storage, or you’re just looking for a spot to dry out some clothes, you can use the additional bungee stow system on the front of the pack to carry a few more items.

Then after you’re satisfied with how all the items in your pack are placed you can tighten everything down with the compression system and secure all the items in your pack more thoroughly.

When it comes to how the backpack is structured and supported and how comfortable it is, the pack’s internal framed and has a lightweight steel spring frame system providing support.

Covering the frame is a synthetic nylon ventilated mesh which also covers the shoulder straps and allows for your skin to breathe when in direct contact with the padding on the pack.

As you can see this small pack is very feature rich and finely constructed and primarily well suited for a single day hike or one night in the wilderness by a campfire, but due to its size probably shouldn’t be used for extended hikes unless by hardcore and experienced ultralight backpackers.

If you want to push the boundaries of this pack though bringing food would best be accomplished by dehydrating and vacuum sealing portions of your own favorite home cooked meal such as a hearty and filling spaghetti. Doing this could allow the pack to be used for a week long trip or perhaps even a bit longer.

Either way, we’re really impressed with the quality of this pack by Deuter and if you’re looking for an ultralight backpack that’s has a ton of features this is a great option.

Aqua Quest Himal 20L+5L Waterproof Foldable Ultralight Hiking Backpack

Seventeen ounces and with a durable waterproof design is the highly rated and popular Aqua Quest Himal ultralight hiking backpack. While this pack doesn’t look like much, don’t let its simplicity fool you.

This pack will keep your possessions dry and safe and is completely waterproof and highly resistant to flooding if fully submerged in water. The pack also sports a fully adjustable waist and shoulder strap that quickly dries and provides a comfortable carrying experience.

Another great feature about the Aqua Quest Himal is that it can be folded down into a tiny ultralight weight case in the front pocket of the pack which makes it easy to store away.

The only drawback to this pack is that it’s only 20-25 liters which means it should be used for day hiking or single night camping.

Since there aren’t any loops or additional water bottle holders the ability for this pack to be strategically used like the Deuter Airlite for an entire week trip is impossible.

This is still a great pack though and if you’re looking for an inexpensive bag made from the same high quality ripstop fabric as high-end backpacks, this is what you’ve been looking for.

Mountain Hardwear 30L Summit Rocket Ultralight Hiking Backpack

The Mountain Hardwear Summit Rocket is where we really start to look at packs designed for longer excursions out into the wilderness, but not the longest ones.

Since this pack is on the smaller end at 30 liters, you’re going to want to use it for a very streamlined pack weight and

the pack’s designed for more extreme weather and can handle harsh snow keeping your belongings safe from the elements.

The back of the pack is a compression molded material with a soft to the touch yet rigid form which provides support for the pack and contours to your back as you carry a heavy load.

If you want to support the pack even further you can use the HardWave frame sheet to provide load support, or you can use the compression system on the front and tighten all of your gear down a little more. If you’re not looking to use either of those, they can be removed from the pack to reduce weight.

If you’re looking to carry accessories this pack provides the solution to that with numerous loop holes for hanging valuable items.

Overall, while this backpack is simple it’s a very lightweight pack with all the features that you’ll need while out on the trail.

We would suggest using this bag for a trip lasting a few days, but it could be organized and used for longer trips in the same way as that the Deuter Airlite is by dehydrating and vacuum sealing meals to conserve space, and attaching items to the outside of the pack.

Either way, if you want to travel on the trails in the snow or sun then this pack has the space and all the features you’ll need at an affordable price.

TETON Summit 45L Ultralight Hiking Backpack

At 45 liters we’ve finally reached a pack that’s specifically designed for longer adventures. The Teton Summit is a feature rich pack that has all the perks of the highest quality backpacks, but it’s under a hundred dollars.

The Summit’s constructed with double-layered ripstop nylon for added durability to prevent tearing which will keep your gear safe. The pack also features a ripstop shell that folds over the top of the pack to keep water out of the main compartment.

The most useful feature of the Teton Summit though is its dedicated sleeping bag compartment at the bottom which keeps you from tearing your entire pack apart just to reach a few key items.

The best way to use the sleeping bag compartment is to attach your sleeping bag to the bottom loops of the pack, wrapped in a waterproof stuff sack, and then place all your food and snacks inside the sleeping bag compartment for quick easy access.

When it comes to the main compartment there are actually two entry points into the pack, from the top and in the middle. Since the bottom of the pack is a separate container and dedicated to a sleeping bag, the bottom of the main compartment ends up being toward the middle of the pack.

This quick access feature’s really underrated too and not a lot of packs have it, but once you’ve got a pack with level of access you’re not going to be willing to live without it.

Other great features about this pack are numerous and include: zippable and mesh pockets on each side, a wet pocket that holds a 3 liter water bladder (which is sold separately and can be found here), an integrated and sewn in rain cover, and fully adjustable waist, shoulder and chest straps.

If you’re looking for an affordable backpack made of ripstop nylon with almost every single feature that the most expensive packs have, then this is the best option.

In fact, this is actually our suggested pack for beginners looking to enter into the world of wilderness adventuring since it has such an affordable price point with basically every feature that you’ll need out on the trail.

Kelty Redwing 50L Ultralight Hiking Backpack

The bestselling and highly popular Kelty RedWing starts off our larger packs with a denier polyester construction which allows it to withstand harsh treatment while still being lightweight and flexible.

The shoulder and waist straps on this pack are very comfortable and covered in a thick padding and moisture-wicking synthetic mesh material to allow for optimal ventilation.

On both sides of the pack are zippable mesh pockets which help with organization and give quick access to small items and snacks. Also, there’s a really nice front pocket that you can use for easy access which contains an organizer panel, map pocket, and plenty of storage.

The main compartment has a U-shaped zipper system on the top which allows for the pack to be zipped almost all the way to bottom making it easy to rearrange all your gear without having to tear it all out.

When it comes to water storage there’s two zippable water bottle holders on each side with a designated hydration sleeve that can accommodate a 3 liter water bladder, which you can find here.

Also, you’ll want to think about bringing along a rain cover for the pack too since it’s water-resistant and not water-proof. This is really common for most packs unless they’re treated with a waterproof coating. If you want to coat your own pack you can find a spray for that here.

With that being said though, we really suggest that you use the rain cover instead of waterproofing sprays since they can permanently damage the color of the material. If the possible color damage doesn’t bother you though and you want maximum water-proofing, then spray your pack and use the rain cover too.

Overall, if you’re looking for a really comfortable and well-padded pack that doesn’t hurt your shoulders while carrying it, and is versatile enough to be used as a day-pack or for much longer adventures, then this pack’s a fantastic choice.

Deuter AirContact Lite 50L+10L Hiking Backpack

The next three lightweight backpacks coming up are all around 60 liters which brings us into the four season hiking territory. At this size a pack’s small enough to be comfortable to carry in three season backpacking with the versatility and size for winter hiking.

Packs larger than this, around 70 to 85 liters, tend to be too bulky for the average person, and have more space than most people need, leading them to pack unnecessary items and increase their total carry weight for no reason.

With all that being said though, the Deuter AirContact Lite’s a fantastic pack for all around adventuring and has a lot of features suitable for any hiking adventure.

When it comes to the pack’s construction the AirContact is crafted from synthetic nylon and polyester which cuts the weight of the pack by a large margin.

The main compartment of the AirContact Lite is 50 liters with a removable brain attachment allowing for an additional 10 liters to be added or subtracted. Also, this pack is designed to carry a hydration pack up to 3 liters in size which you can find here.

On either side of the pack on the waist straps are small zippable pockets which allow for personal items to be stored, and numerous loops and straps along the pack allow for an ice pick, trekking poles, or other items to be attached.

According to Deuter, the pack’s also been proven to reduce moisture by 15% with its breathable mesh and hollow foam design on the back, shoulder, and waist straps. The hollow foam padding that’s embedded into the pack’s also very thick and comfortable on the shoulders reducing back pain.

In addition, since the pack’s designed to be more tall than wide and have a snug fit on your back, the weight’s more well distributed and comes closer to your center of gravity making it much easier to carry.

If you want to further enhance your carrying efficiency you can use the cinch straps, displayed in the pictures above and below, to tighten all your gear down and move it closer to your back improving your stability.

Overall though, this pack is top of the line. With all of its features, and its affordable price there’s really not much negative to say about it except that it’s probably too heavy for the most extreme ultralight backpackers.

If you’re just starting out backpacking, or you’re a more intermediate hiker and need a pack that’s versatile enough to be used for winter backpacking, but also light enough for the other three seasons, this is a really good pack to consider.

Osprey Exos 58L Ultralight Hiking Backpack

The exceptionally popular Osprey Exos is a favorite of experienced ultralight thru-hikers for one simple reason. Osprey produces some of the highest quality ultralight packs on the market today.

The Osprey Exos 58’s very lightweight for being a larger backpack and comes in at a little over a kilogram.

Its exterior is constructed from synthetic materials to allow for quick moisture wicking and a very fast drying rate. If the pack becomes soaked, within just an hour or two in the direct sun, you’ll have a completely dried backpack.

In addition, the tensioned backpanel elevates your gear off your back, so it’s not in direct contact with your skin. The mesh netting and foam padding covering the shoulder straps and backpanel allow for better aeration improving your ability to stay dry in hot and humid conditions.

Cinch straps on both sides of the pack all you compact your gear, or you can just remove them if you want to save weight. There’s also a dedicated hydration pocket which can hold a hydration pack up to 3 liters, and you can find that here.

A wonderful feature of the pack is the trekking pole loops which will secure your poles to your pack if you don’t feel like using them, and the Osprey Exos also has an ice pick holder as well.

As you can see from the picture below the pack has a nice cover over the top which can be cinched down to keep your gear more secure and stop water from getting in.

One fantastic feature of the top lid is that it can be removed along with the cinch straps to save weight. If you do decide to remove the lid, you can still use the integrated flap jacket built into the pack to keep your gear safe and secure from rain or dirt.

Overall, the Osprey Exos 58’s a very nice ultralight pack and is being carried by some of the most seasoned hikers out on the trail every day. If you’re looking for a more advanced backpack than can carry around 20 to 40 pounds (9-18kg), but is still very ultralight, then this is one of the best packs to have.

Granite Gear Crown II 60L Hiking and Camping Backpack

The Granite Gear Crown II Backpack is a 60 liter powerhouse that can carrying anything you throw at it. This pack’s well-suited for any season hiking due to its versatility and large size, but its weight is very reasonable at 1.7 to 2.2 pounds (0.8-1.0kg), which makes it great for ultralight backpacking.

The Crown II’s made of a lightweight ripstop nylon and has a removable brain and numerous cinch straps surrounding the backpack which can be removed.

If you want to lighten the pack even more you can remove the adjustable hip belt, which has two pockets on it, for an additional 6.6 ounces (187 grams), but we’ve found the hip belt pockets too useful to remove. The sternum strap can also be removed as well if needed.

As with almost all the packs on this list of ultralight packs, the Granite Gear Crown II has a hydration sleeve which can hold a 3 liter hydration bladder that you can find here. The backpack also has sports two large water bottle holders on either side for you to bring a few liters of water.

On top of the pack’s a brain which can be removed and becomes its own small individual pack, or you can cinch the brain down onto the main backpack and use it as the top lid to keep rain out of the bag. When you’re ready to access your items you can remove the top lid and unroll the Roll-Top system to reach the main compartment.

If you’re going to be hiking through more rugged terrain in the winter you can use the exterior loops on the pack to bring along an ice pick, or if you’re done using your trekking poles, you can hang them on the loops as well.

In conclusion the Crown II is a highly customizable bag that has every feature of the most elite packs on this list, like the Deuter AirLite, or Osprey Exos and Atmos, with a slightly more affordable price. This pack is a champion and you can’t go wrong with it for any sized adventure you want to embark on.

Osprey Atmos AG 65L Hiking Backpack

A traditional backpack, and the second heaviest bag on the list, the Osprey Atmos AG has 65 liters of gear space and weighs about 4.5 lbs or 2.1 kg. For a superlight backpacker, this pack weighs their entire base weight since a lot of superlight hikers will have base weights less than 5 lbs.

The advantage of this pack though is that it’s a framed backpack and can handle more weight on longer hikes. The pack also has versatility too with an optional top-lid brain which can be cinched on and tightened for added storage to cover the top loading access to the main compartment.

There’s also the Anti-Gravity Suspension system which transfers the weight in your gear off your back and distributes the pressure to your waist belt, sternum, and shoulder straps. This feature is incredible and you’ve never had a pack with anti-gravity suspension, you need to try it.

With the anti-gravity system, and the mesh backpacking, the pack aerates very well and even very hottest conditions when you’re sweating your most. The pack also has a 3 liter hydration sleeve which can hold a bladder that can be found here.

On the bottom of the pack, and scattered all around in various positions, are loops to hang your sleeping pad or anything else you may need. Ice pick and trekking pole holders are available for quick access as well and zippered waist belt pockets to provide a comfy place for nesting snacks.

There’s also a sleeping bag compartment on the bottom of the pack with a removable divider which will allow you to access the main compartment from the top and bottom without ripping all of your gear out for one item. This is an awesome feature that we wish more packs had.

In conclusion, the Osprey Atmos AG 65 liter backpack is a top of the line hiking backpack that has a hard time being called ultralight. In a lot of ways it shouldn’t be on this list since it is so heavy, but because it’s such a high quality pack we couldn’t resist but mention it.

If you want one of the sturdiest backpacks on the market that you can buy, that’s also enjoyed by hardcore outdoor enthusiasts, then the Atmos is for you. We love the style of the pack, the anti-gravity suspension system, and the dual access main compartment the most and while this pack is on the expensive side, it’s worth the purchase.

TETON Sports 65+10L Hiking and Camping Internal-Frame Backpack

While this pack can’t be considered ultralight or even lightweight it’s an incredible pack that needs mention as well. The Teton Sports 65+10 Liter Hiking Backpack ends the list with the heaviest weight, most affordable price, and all the features of the most elite hiking backpacks.

A removable top-lid brain, loop straps which can hold an ice pick or trekking poles, a sleeping bag compartment, integrated rain cover, hydration pack sleeve, built in gear ties, and a rigid internal frame to carry heavy loads, this pack has everything and we didn’t even cover them all.

This pack has an absurd amount of features which you’ll see in the following two pictures and if you’re alright with how heavy this pack is then it is a must buy for any starting hiker or outdoor adventurer.

This pack makes the cost of entry into hiking go way down and opens up the outdoors to a lot of people who may not be able to spend a few hundred dollars on a super high quality ultralight hiking backpack.

The only issue with this pack though is that the torso length’s not very adjustable which means it may not fit well on everyone, like the Granite Gear Crown II will, but this pack is awesome in every other way.

In conclusion, if you’re still on the fence about which pack to buy and you’re just starting to hike, or you want a heavy but affordable hiking backpack with every feature you could need on the trail, then this is your best choice and most efficient use of funds. You can’t go wrong with this pack by Teton.

Conclusion

No pack is created equal and each backpack has a different use depending on the features it has and how large it is.

However, with the list provided above we hope that you now have an understanding on how different sized bags can be used for day-hikes, weekend trips, or week and many month long adventures.

If you have any questions, comments, concerns, or suggestions please do not hesitate to leave them in the comments section down below.

As always, may the trail treat you well, and have a wonderful day!


Advertisements

0 comments on “Top 10 Best Ultralight and Lightweight Backpacks for Hiking, Backpacking and Traveling

Leave a Reply

%d bloggers like this: