How to Choose the Best Ultralight Backpack

The Best Ultralight Backpacks: How to Choose the Right One

Cutting weight is one thing all backpackers can agree on: A lighter load reduces stress on your joints, makes hiking easier and more enjoyable, and enables you to go farther or faster or both. Whether you’re hiking a long trail or just out for the weekend, an ultralight pack can make any trek better. 

But ultralight means different things to different people. For some, going too light undermines their comfort and security. For others, cutting every single gram they can is all that matters. To find the right pack for you, consider factors like comfort, capacity, durability, and price. Use this guide to get started. 

Ask Yourself These Questions

How far will I hike?

If you’re planning a thru-hike, with months of 25-mile days, the lighter the better. But if you’ll mostly be hiking for a few days at a time, with more moderate mileage, you might prefer a pack that balances low weight with support, durability, capacity, and features. 

How big is my load?     

Depending on the rest of your gear, the weather, and the amount of food and water you need to carry, you might want a larger or smaller pack. Overloading a pack occasionally is fine, but it stresses the pack’s seams and zippers, and undermines comfort. 

How important is durability? 

In general, the lightest packs use ultralight fabrics and materials that won’t hold up to bushwhacking and other serious trail abuse. 

What’s my budget?

Costly fabrics can drive up the price of the lightest packs. The most expensive fabrics (like Dyneema) are actually super strong, so it’s possible to have a pack that’s both ultralight and durable—for a price. 

Have I upgraded the rest of my kit?

It’s actually better to buy an ultralight pack last, after you’ve cut weight everywhere else. That way you know you’re getting a pack that has the right size and support for what you’ll really carry.     


The most minimalist packs have very few features, but make sure that style suits your personal preferences before going all in on a no-frills pack. Here are the main features to consider.  

Padding: Cushioning in the shoulder straps, hipbelt, and back panel can boost comfort over long miles, but the lightest packs often have very little padding (or none).   

Pockets: If you value organizing, don’t forgo pockets to save a few ounces. Like to cruise for miles with few breaks? Pockets on the hipbelt and shoulder straps make it convenient to grab snacks and sunscreen on the go. Check security: Do pockets have zippers? Check durability: Mesh pockets are vulnerable to wear and tear. 

Ventilation: Some packs have trampoline-style suspension systems that provide airflow between your back and the pack.

Adjustability: Adjustable suspensions, which let you customize fit, add weight so are less common on ultralight packs. With fixed suspensions, make sure you get the right size. 

Removable components: Hipbelts and top-lids that can be removed let you micromanage weight, according to the trip.   


The volume of a pack is measured in liters. Ultralight gear is compact, so if you’ve converted your whole kit, you can likely get by with a smaller (like a 50-liter pack instead of a 60-liter one). But the capacity you need is dictated by the amount of food and water you need to carry, and any special gear, like a bear canister or cold-weather supplies. Consider the largest loads you’ll carry and get a pack to match. 


No surprise: Ultralight packs routinely use lightweight fabrics and materials to shave weight. With nylon pack fabric, look at the denier (a number that measures density and hence strength). At the lightest end you’ll find packs with 30-denier nylon and at the heavy end packs use 200-denier (or 400 in the most durable conventional packs). Look for reinforcements on the bottom and other high-wear areas. The most durable ultralight packs use special fabrics like Dyneema, which are incredibly strong for the weight, but also more expensive.   


Just as with any backpack, fit is critical. And if you’re moving fast with an ultralight pack, a good, snug fit helps minimize bouncing and the chafing that can result. Measure your torso first. This is the distance, in inches, from your C7 vertebrae (the big spine knuckle where the slope of your shoulder meets your neck) to your iliac crest (the point on your back between the tops of your hip bones). 

Use this number to zero in on the right size, then try the pack on, loaded with the weight you’ll carry, to make sure it really fits. Tighten the hipbelt so it cups your hips, adjust the shoulder straps and load-lifters, and check for rubbing, pinching, and awkward gaps. The shoulder straps should be neither too tight nor too loose. 

All articles are for general informational purposes.  Each individual’s needs, preferences, goals and abilities may vary.  Be sure to obtain all appropriate training, expert supervision and/or medical advice before engaging in strenuous or potentially hazardous activity.