Home / Blog / The Best Ultralight Backpacks of 2023

The Best Ultralight Backpacks of 2023

May 01, 2023May 01, 2023

Gear-obsessed editors choose every product we review. We may earn commission if you buy from a link. Why Trust Us?

Trimming your pack weight starts with the pack itself. Here are the best lightweight backpacks on the market.

Choosing an ultralight pack is one of the trickiest gear decisions to make—you aren't just considering the weight and features of the pack, you also have to account for how much the rest of your gear weighs. The lightest pack might seem appealing, but if you’re cramming heavy gear into an ultralight pack not up to the task, you won't be comfortable on your trip.

With a range of hikers in mind, the packs on this list vary from minimalist frameless packs to larger capacity packs with ultralight frames and supportive hip belts. These are our top picks for ultralight packs currently on the market, in a range of capacities, materials, and load-bearing capabilities.

Ultralight packs can be quite comfortable and have amazing load-bearing capabilities, but most have a lower weight limit than more fully featured packs. Before you take the plunge, make sure your base weight—all your gear except food and water— is lower than 20 pounds, and preferably 15 pounds or less.

Packs in the ultralight category range in load comfort, so shop carefully and consider your gear. A frameless pack like the Granite Gear Virga won't be able to carry as much as a more supportive internal-frame pack like the Osprey Exos.

The packs on this list range from 30 to 60 liters, including the main compartment and exterior pockets. A 30-liter pack is for the most dialed ultralight backpacker, while a 60-liter capacity is great for longer treks with heavier food carries.

Most lightweight backpackers will be happy with a pack in the 45- 55-liter range, which is large enough for basic gear, food, and water, but not big enough to go overboard with the packing.

Pack features are fairly standard, but the combination is the key. You can have a top lid or a roll-top closure, fully waterproof or moderately water repellent, and a mind-boggling amount of pocket configurations.

Consider your types of trips, and adjust your choice accordingly. If you think you’ll be traveling fast and covering big miles, you’ll want more pockets you can reach without taking the pack off. If you’re hitting overgrown trails or sliding around on rocks, a more abrasion-resistant fabric or reinforcement is a good choice. Roll-top closures allow you to cinch the pack down as your food weight lowers, but top lids offer more organizational space with extra pockets.

To choose the best ultralight packs, I went with my own testing experience, input from other thru-hikers, the ultralight community, and retail workers. These packs all weigh under 3 lbs., and most weigh 2 lbs. or less.

We went with a variety of packs that will work for everyone from seasoned ultralight backpackers to newer hikers looking to lower their base weight. Because we wanted a range of packs for different backpackers, some niche models didn't make the cut.

Even though they might be popular with the thru-hiking community, packs like Waymark Gear's MILE 28-liter pack or Gossamer Gear's Kumo 36 aren't the best option for a range of hikers, many of whom need more weight distribution and capacity than the most minimal packs can provide.

The Exos is one of Osprey's most popular thru-hiking packs. This is the pack I carried in 2015 when I thru-hiked the Appalachian Trail, and it was one of the most commonly seen packs on the trail. While there has been an increase in the availability of similar packs in the years since, this is still a solid pick that can serve as a stepping stone for hikers looking to lighten their gear item by item.

This pack is the most similar in design and padding to heavier models, which also helps make it an easier transition. The Exos has undergone several updates since I bought mine, and this latest one has increased lower back support without a weight penalty, and the side pockets are stretchier and easier to access without taking the pack off.

This pack has a removable top lid with a zippered pocket—perfect for stashing small items you don't want to get lost in the bowels of the main compartment.

For a pack that weighs barely over 2 pounds, this refined model from an ultralight-focused company has the design pared down to the essentials while still providing strong suspension and support for heavier loads.

I’ve carried this pack on long desert sections with several liters of water, and the load carry stayed squarely on my hips, with support through the shoulders and sternum strap. This pack's excellent weight distribution means it has an upper limit of around 40 pounds, quite impressive for such a low weight.

This pack is waterproof thanks to the DCF body construction, and it's seam-sealed to keep your gear dry without a pack cover or liner. While the Southwest 2400 is available with a 40-liter capacity, the 3400 only weighs a few ounces more for 15 extra liters of space, and compresses down with the roll-top so you don't wind up with flapping fabric on shorter trips.

My only gripe is that the side pockets are high and not stretchy, making it hard to reach your water while walking.

Combining the design of an ultralight pack with the access of a climber's crag pack, this pack from direct-to-consumer brand Outdoor Vitals is comfortable for heavier carries, has convenient access, and features wide, comfortable straps that are easy to adjust as you’re moving.

The load lifters kept my gear close to my body and prevented shoulder fatigue, and the hip belt sat securely in place for ideal weight distribution.

The large front mesh section is divided into two pockets that take up most of the pack's front real estate, split down the middle with a zipper that allows you to open up the entire front of the pack to grab gear at the bottom without unloading the whole pack.

Instead of the standard two long side pockets, this pack has four smaller pockets at the top and bottom. My water bottles stayed in place in the lower pockets, but I didn't feel secure using the top pockets, as they were somewhat shallow and had a drawcord closure, not a zipper or flap.

This pack has a lightweight internal frame and a strong Spectra / Robic ripstop fabric that held up well during my trek through narrow sandstone canyons.

This frameless option is one of the most all-around handy packs I’ve tested. From the strong front mesh pocket that holds my extra layers, to the small top zipper section that stashes a headlamp and tent stakes, this pack was thoughtfully designed and carries a full gear load so well I had to double check to make sure it was frameless after my first trip.

The two side pockets are different dimensions, and Gossamer Gear suggests rolling up a trekking-pole shelter and stashing it in the larger side pocket, leaving the other one for a water bottle. The hip belt pockets are also two different styles, with one secured zipper pocket and one open mesh pocket. I keep snacks in the mesh pocket for easy access, and headphones / my phone in the zippered pocket.

This pack is highly water resistant, but the Robic nylon is not technically waterproof. The torso sizing does run small with this model. I sized up from a unisex small to a unisex medium.

If you see a technical, ultralight pack in a wild array of tie-dye, color-blocking, or galaxy patterned print, chances are it's a LiteAF pack. This small company was one of the first to print patterns on Dyneema Composite Fabric (DCF), adding another level of customization to its already highly customized packs.

The packs are now made with Ultra 200, similar in weight and durability to DCF, and still waterproof. These packs were designed with long-distance hikers in mind, with accessible pocket placement and strong, stretchy mesh on the large front pocket.

The lightweight internal stays provide support without weighing the pack down, and each side pocket can hold two slim water bottles.

Ordering a LiteAF pack gives you the option of adding pockets to the shoulders and hipbelt, torso sizing, hipbelt sizing, top closure, and more. It's as close to building a pack from scratch as you can get.

Available in three different body materials (Robic, ultraweave, or gridstop) for minor weight, price, and functionality differences, this pack is for the experienced ultralight hiker who has their kit dialed. With a 26-liter main body capacity and 6 liters in external pockets, this is the smallest and lightest pack on the list.

This pack is entirely frameless and comes with a minimal, removable hip belt, and wide side pockets that can fit large water bottles. The roll-top closure cinches down tight, and the large mesh front pocket is perfect for stashing snacks and layers.

All three of the tightly woven fabrics are highly durable, and we love the convenience of the shoulder-strap pockets as well. We recommend no more than 20 pounds for a load limit in this pack.

This is a new model for Granite Gear, though it keeps the brand's popular adjustable torso and adjustable hip belt from its more heavily featured packs. This pack utilizes compression straps around its entirety, helping keep the gear compact and close to your body, reducing movement on the trail.

Like other ultralight packs, this one has a space on the back panel for your sleeping pad, which provides some of the support of a frame without added weight. This pack has a larger capacity than other frameless models, making it a good option for loftier sleeping bags or other light-but-bulky items.

Since this pack is frameless, it does have a lower load capacity than others on this list, and we recommend a full carry of no more than 25 pounds, including food and water. This pack also comes in a men's and women's frame, making it one of the more specialty-fitted packs on this list without actually being a custom pack.

Mountainsmith worked hand in hand with Thomas Gathman, known in the trail community as the "Real Hiking Viking'' to design this pack for ultimate on-trail efficiency and comfort. This pack was built to do big miles at a fast pace, with nine external pockets and plenty of exterior organization so you can reach snacks, water, and small items without having to take the pack off.

The Zerk is ideal for weekend hikers or fast packers, and the shoulder harness is modeled after running packs, reducing movement and stabilizing the load against your back as you move.

The removable webbing hip belt provides more security and stability, though it isn't padded and doesn't contribute to weight distribution. This pack a good option for light packers, but is less comfortable for those carrying heavier loads.

PM : How much weight do you carry on your backpacking trips?

MS: My base weight is around 11 to 12 pounds, which is the weight of my gear minus food and water. Water adds about two pounds per liter, and long food carries add up fast. Depending on the trail, you might be carrying three or more liters at a time, so it's important to consider food and water carries when choosing a lightweight pack.

Just because my base weight is low, I can still be carrying 25 pounds or more on a long stretch of desert trail where water is scarce and the next town is five days away.

PM : What are the main features you look for in a lightweight pack?

MS: The main thing I look for in an ultralight pack is weight distribution, which means I prefer packs with comfortable hip belts and a lightweight internal frame. This helps keep the weight off my shoulders, creating a more comfortable load carry over the course of many miles.

Otherwise, I like side pockets where I can reach my water bottles without taking the pack off, and I like shoulder pockets to stash small items and snacks.

PM : How do you reduce your overall pack weight?

MS: The biggest thing I did to reduce my pack weight was bring fewer items. The items I carry are comfortable, but I don't take many extras. I stopped carrying extra layers beyond a mid-layer, rain jacket, and down jacket, and I shopped for the lightest items I could find that would still be comfortable on the trail.

I don't bring many extra toiletries beyond prescription medications, a toothbrush, and a travel-size toothpaste, and I try to see which items can serve multiple purposes.

Maggie Slepian is a full-time freelance writer in the outdoor industry and has tested gear professionally for almost ten years—she is an avid backpacker, trail runner, bikepacker, and horseback rider and has thru-hiked thousands of miles on the Appalachian, Colorado, and Ouachita trails, along with backcountry travel on terrain including coastal trails, the desert, and high alpine peaks. Maggie has written for New York Magazine, Huffington Post, REI, and Outside. She is a columnist with Backpacker Magazine and is the co-founder of Contact her at

The Best Camping Tents for Any Base Camp

The Best Binoculars for Getting a Closer Look

The 9 Best Ultralight Camping Chairs

The Best Bug Zapper for Camping Is 24% Off

The 7 Best Kayaks for Fishing and Floating

The 7 Best Outdoor Blankets for 2023

The Best Outdoor Gear From REI's Memorial Day Sale

Shop Backcountry's Unmissable Memorial Day Sale

Tested: The Best Camp Chairs of 2023

The Best Hiking GPS Devices

The Ultimate Fly-Fishing Gear Guide

The Best Inflatable Standup Paddleboards

The Expert: PM : How much weight do you carry on your backpacking trips? MS: PM : What are the main features you look for in a lightweight pack? MS: PM : How do you reduce your overall pack weight? MS: