10 Best Backpacks For Thru-Hiking And Long Distance Backpacking

Planning your first thru-hike and wondering which pack is best for long distance backpacking? Here are ten lightweight backpacks designed for that purpose, that you really can’t go wrong with in my opinion. They have been around for years and received many positive reviews and industry awards, and you will see a ton of them in use on long trails like the PCT, AT and JMT.

Lightweight backpacks are designed for base-weights under 15 lbs and can comfortably carry a maximum load of 25-40 pounds. That’s perfect for 5-7 day stretches between resupply stops. If you can’t fit your stuff into one of these lightweight packs, you’re probably packing too much.

ULA Equipment OHM 2.0

The ULA Equipment OHM 2.0 is the pack I carry myself and recommend for most people interested in lightweight backpacking. I think it offers the best combination of comfort, room, durability, features and light weight.

Weight: 2 lbs, 3 oz (1 lb, 14 oz without extras)
Capacity: 64 liters (3,960 cu in)
Rec. Max Load: 30 lbs
Suspension: Carbon fiber/delrin suspension hoop
Price: $210
More info…

Granite Gear Crown VC 60

The Granite Gear Crown VC60 is the newest version of the Vapor Trail, a popular pack among thru-hikers and winner of many awards. It is also available in a female “KI” version. I carried this pack on my PCT thru-hike.

Weight: 2 lbs, 2 oz (1 lb, 13 oz without frame)
Capacity: 60 liters (3,660 cu in)
Rec. Max Load: 35 lbs
Suspension: HDPE removable frame sheet
Price: $200
More info…

Osprey Exos 58

Osprey is known for making high quality well-engineered backpacks. Unfortunately, most of them are too heavy. The Osprey Exos 58 is the exception. You get Osprey quality, comfort and features in a lightweight package.

Weight: 2 lbs, 6 oz (2 lbs without top lid)
Capacity: 58 liters (3,540 cu in)
Rec. Max Load: 40 lbs
Suspension: Mesh airspeed suspension
Price: $290
More info…

My Trail Co Backpack Light 50L

The My Trail Co Backpack Light 50L is the reincarnation of the Golite Jam, a classic pack with a long history and cult following. This simple pack design is time-tested and reasonably priced, a good choice for hikers on a budget.

Weight: 2 lbs, 2 oz
Capacity: 50 liters (3,050 cu in)
Rec. Max Load: 40 lbs
Suspension: Composite frame sheet
Price: $149
More info…

Gossamer Gear Mariposa 60

Gossamer Gear has been pushing the envelope of ultralight pack design for over a decade, but one constant in their lineup has been the mid-sized Mariposa 60. This award winning pack is their best-seller for good reason.

Weight: 2 lbs, 1 oz
Capacity: 60 liters (3,480 cu in)
Rec. Max Load: 35 lbs
Suspension: Removable foam sit pad
Price: $215
More info…

Hyperlite Mountain Gear Windrider 2400

Voted “Best Ultralight Pack” by Backpacker Magazine, the Hyperlight Mountain Gear Windrider boasts a 40 lb max load and 56 liter capacity in a featherweight pack that weighs under 2 lbs. Larger sizes are also available.

Weight: 1 lb, 12 oz
Capacity: 56 liters (3,450 cu in)
Rec. Max Load: 40 lbs
Suspension: Contoured aluminum stays
Price: $300
More info…

ZPacks Arc Blast

The ZPacks Arc Blast features a unique curved frame that improves ventilation, comfort and load support. Dyneema Composite Fabric (formerly Cuben Fiber) makes this one of the lightest packs in it’s class.

Weight: 1 lb, 5 oz
Capacity: 55 liters (3,350 cu in)
Rec. Max Load: 35 lbs
Suspension: Flexed arc frame
Price: $325
More info…

ULA Equipment CDT

The ULA Equipment CDT was my pack of choice for several years, before upgrading to the slightly larger OHM. It’s an excellent frameless pack, as long as you keep your gear compact and base weight under 12 lbs.

Weight: 1 lb, 8 oz (1 lb, 3 oz without extras)
Capacity: 54 liters (3,370 cu in)
Rec. Max Load: 25 lbs
Suspension: Frameless
Price: $145
More info…

Granite Gear Virga 2

The Granite Gear Virga 2 is a minimalist pack, perfect for ultralight backpacking with 25 lbs or less. It doesn’t have many bells and whistles, but benefits from Granite Gear’s great reputation for comfort, ergonomics and durability.

Weight: 1 lb, 3 oz
Capacity: 54 liters (3,300 cu in)
Rec. Max Load: 25 lbs
Suspension: Frameless
Price: $140
More info…

Mountain Laurel Designs Exodus 58L

The Mountain Laurel Designs Exodus 58L is the lightest pack on this list, weighing just a pound. That’s impressive for a full-size, full-featured pack, which may be why it was voted Backpacker’s Readers Choice for “Best UL Pack.”

Weight: 1 lb
Capacity: 58 liters (3,500 cu in)
Rec. Max Load: 25 lbs
Suspension: Frameless
Price: $195
More info…

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120 Responses to “10 Best Backpacks For Thru-Hiking And Long Distance Backpacking”

  1. Tre Reply

    What are your thoughts on the GG Lutsen 55 vs the OHM 2.0? I am a 5’4 female (19″ torso) and thru hike trips from 10-14 days. Want to keep everything as light as possible for obvious reasons, but need to be able to carry at least 5 to 6 days of food at a time in between most of my resupplies. I was looking at the Lutsen because it has an adjustable hip belt and I’ve had problems in the past with my hip belt becoming too loose after losing weight on the trail.

    • @Tre: I haven’t used the Lutsen myself but I have used Granite Gear’s other packs and I’m a big fan of how comfortable and ergonomic they are. The hipbelts on the Granite Gears are more thickly padded than on the ULA packs so you’ll probably like that. The Lutsen does weigh a bit more, but for maximum hipbelt comfort and carrying heavier loads I think the Lutsen or the Crown VC 60 Ki are probably good choices.

  2. dave whorraall Reply

    Hi Erik,
    Was just wondering why the Circuit got bumped?

    • @Dave: The ULA Circuit is a great pack, but for me it’s a little on the large side for lightweight backpacking. I think the OHM fits right into the “Goldilocks Zone” between the CDT and Circuit with just the right combination of features, room and weight. But, if you have more gear and supplies to carry (like for colder weather or longer stretches between resupply stops) the Circuit or Catalyst are still good options.

  3. Wabene Reply

    Great blog. I am a hiker in Duluth Minnesota looking to go longer and still fairly new to the endeavor. I did my best to look through this long running thread to make sure I’m not repeating someone else. So here’s my 2 ¢! The Exped Lightning 60. 2 lbs 7 oz, but with a max weight rating of 53 lbs. Definitely not interested in carrying anything close to that, boy is this pack great with 18-25 lbs! The hipbelt and adjustable frame are amazing putting the weight right where I want it and I am able to keep the pack off my back for great airflow. I can run with this thing on! Very simple roll top design (water resistant with no seams) and plenty of exterior attachment options for various gear. Nothing is everything for everyone and this pack has only two exterior pockets, but I have made it work. I am looking forward to winter to utilize all the space and attachment options.


  4. Bob Weston Reply

    Recently thru-hiked the CT. Used an HMG 3400 Southwest which performed very well. It weighs 2 lbs. and is waterproof, thus negating the need for a pack cover or concern about packed gear becoming wet. Other packs such as the Gossamer Mariposa or ULA Circuit have better multiple exterior pockets. After testing several brands we went with the HMG as we deemed the waterproof feature was more important than exterior pocket geometry. Also by not have a multitude of outside pockets we seemed more likely to have a better balanced pack. The HMG 3400 Southwest worked for us and we are pleased with the decision.

  5. Mike Kratt Reply

    Erik, based on your recommendation, I purchased the Granite Gear Crown VC 60L pack. I’ve worn it on six different treks in Northern CA and I agree with your comments concerning the hip belt and overall weight to capacity ratio. I’ve also tried to incorporate many of your UL gear suggestions with excellent weight reduction and no loss of comfort or safety. Great ideas and suggestions especially for older hikers. After a 6 day trek recently, I decided to add a couple of accessories to the Crown VC — belt pocket and shoulder pocket. I find having these extra pockets keeps me organized better and I can find small items e.g., pocket knife, hand sanitizer, etc. in one spot. Mostly because the Crown VC is basically one long tube, no top lid and the outside mess is hard to get at without taking off the pack. Anyway, thanks for the great website, suggestions, and gear reviews. I greatly appreciate it!

  6. david Reply

    I thought I’d just throw a couple of other unusual options in the mix. I just bought a Jansport Katahdin 50 on REI’s outlet page for $70(shipped). It says the weight is 2 lbs 6oz, but mine was 2lbs9oz I think. Maybe their Katahdin 40 is 2 lbs 6oz. Anyways with simple and non-degrading mods I got it down to 2 lbs 7oz. I could probably get another ounce or two off with a couple more hours of work but I’m not going to bother. So it is essentially a 2.5 pound pack for $70. Not superlight but pretty light considering it’s toughness. You could roll down a hill with it on and probably hurt yourself more than the pack.
    I also thought the Teton Sports Summit 2800 at sportsmans wharehouse for $70 was pretty interesting. Again not ultralight at 2.4 pounds but considering the price and features I think it’s a steal at $70.
    Neither one of these packs has waist belt pockets though, so I am sewing some ultralight DIY ones on my Jansport.
    Anyone have any reason’s not to buy these cheap branded packs?

    • mike Reply

      I agree the Katahdin is a good buy. I do miss having belt pouches, and my stretchy side pockets seem to be sewn on backwards. They taper towards the back, and I have a hard time getting water bottles in and out while wearing the pack. Otherwise, a good solid pick at a good price point.

  7. ben Reply

    golite no longer exists, went bankruot trying to set up hipstery gear shacks in major cities. Kind of a bummer, but thankfully got one before they went…still trying to track down an ion though.

    But to people new to UL, that ones gone, gonna have to check ebay for that gem.

    Though i did see they are setting up under the name “My Trail Company” has a logo that smacks of the AT and CDT logos. Will be keeping an eye on them to see what new fangled gear they must “shut up and take my money” for.

  8. Peter Hutchinson Reply

    Hi, I’m writing from Scotland and, having just (gladly) discovered your site and your post on a top 5 lightweight packs, I have a few questions for your and your online hiking friends.
    It seems the lightweight backpacking, and the packs that go with it, is far more developed in the States than here in the UK. Perhaps the weather here has something to do with people needing to carry heavier loads.
    Anyway, my main question revolves around my quest for a tough but fairly light pack, with a capacity over 50L and comfortable to carry with loads of up to around 40lbs. So far the ULA packs look interesting. Not cheap to buy here, but that’s ok if the pack is right. It seems to come down to the Catalyst or new Camino.
    Any experiences or advice regarding these, especially in relation to load carrying and capacity? Thanks!

    • @Peter: I think the ULA Catalyst and Osprey Exos 58 would be good options for making a transition from heavy to lighter gear. They have enough room to carry the heavy stuff you start out with, but will still work well if you decide to cut more gear weight in the future. I don’t know much about the ULA Camino except it looks similar to the Catalyst with a panel-loading front.

      • Glenn Reply


        Just used the ULA Catalyst on a contorted PCT hike (most but not all…). Was not happy with how it fit on the hips – slipped a great deal with my sweaty back. Looking at the Gregory Baltoro 65 instead. Any thoughts?


        • @Glenn: At 5 lbs the Gregory Baltoro seems ways too heavy to me. How much does your gear weigh? If your base weight is under 15 lbs and you just didn’t like the way the ULA rides, I would check out some of the other lightweight packs first (in the 2-3 pound range, or 4 lbs at most.) Osprey might be a good brand to look into. They have a mesh back panel that really helps with the sweating and they put a lot of thought into the way their packs are designed ergonomically to make them ride well.

    • chris weyers Reply

      Hi Peter

      I have just done the Coast to Coast second part across the UK using the ULA OHM 2. My load was not particularly great – around 20-25lbs, but lots of bouncing up and down across rough British moorland and rugged fields.

      What I liked: the outside dense mesh storage sack allowing me to pack a wet Akto tent. The two very large side pockets allowing easy access to water bottles and wet weather gear, very useful when you are continually changing into and out of rain gear.

      The narrow profile also meant it was a breeze to move when crossing narrow kissing gates and the myriad of tight stiles and gates encountered in UK cross country hikes.

      I also liked the hip pockets on both sides for easy access to phone and money etc.

      What I didn’t like: I was forever rebalancing and re-tightening. The pack often felt off-set. I discovered on the second day that the plastic/carbon? rods in the frame had come out of their pockets deep in the pack. I fixed this but the shoulder straps seemed to need constant readjusting. The whole arrangement seemed vulnerable – even though I recognise that it is probably that way in an effort to shave precious weight. But perhaps the pursuit of lightness ends up creating a fresh set of problems.

      Anyhow, in my experience the pack was not a set and forget, and I will probably go back to my Osprey packs either the exos for loads up to 25lbs or the Atmos 50 for heavy loads. I missed the mesh separator on the Ospreys that allows air to flow between your back and the pack, wicking sweat, and I missed the Osprey’s ability to ride almost entirely on your hip or your shoulders due to the stronger and more substantial webbing.

    • gene Reply

      Got a Camino this last summer. Did the Tahoe Rim Trail and loved it. My brother has a Catalyst and loves it. Pretty much the same except te Camino has a zipper that allows back access in addition to the top. I like the dual access, my brother likes the top access only. Tried the s straps, getting them changed out for the regular straps. Both excellent packs.

  9. Irene Reply

    Thank you Erik,
    I will have to see how the bear canister feels riding high as my torso is probably 18″-19″. I don’t do well with packs that affect my head and range of motion. I’ll have to get a bear vault for the strap to work and the wider mouth on the bear vault is appealing. Unfortunately, I have two of the Garcia canisters. How does your food hold up with the sun exposure? I can see how soft gear inside without packing around the canister would be a plus. Not having a bottom access wouldn’t be as important to me with this change. I’ll also see about testing out the Granite KI’s with the cushier waist belts. Thanks for the suggestions and will see about trying it out this summer. Irene

  10. Irene Reply

    HI Erik,
    I’ve done five ten day hikes (80 to 110 mile, mixed trail and xc) trips in Kings Canyon NP for the last several years with an Osprey Aura 50L (max weight 35 lbs). I’m starting out with total weight 42 lbs. I’ve been getting lighter every time, about 38 lbs last trip, but still seem to carry too much for the waist belt and end up folding up bandanas to cushion my hip bones. I’ve not used the hydration system with the pack. I carry two streamlined 22 oz. nalgenes in my side stretch holsters. I carry a bear canister vertically inside the pack and this takes up most of the room. I have the Copper Spur UL1 and love it. I also pack it inside as it started to get abused strapped outside. I have a First Need water filter and that takes up a side pocket (great filter with fast volume but takes up too much space in my pack). I am replacing the filter with a Sawyer mini-Straw. I have replaced my thermal layer with Patagonia’s down sweater. I don’t take a stove half the time and when I do I have replaced my jet-boil for a pocket rocket to minimize space. I’m trying to take weight as well as bulk out of my trips. I use a Mountain Hardware women’s Lumina sleeping bag and it keeps me warm above timberline. I’m looking for several things in an ultra light pack. One is a better waist-belt for those first several days of maximum food weight. I’m also tired of packing my clothes around the bear box and sleeping bag and tent. I was hoping to find an ultra-light with bottom access for sleeping bag, but in my case, it would be for my thermal layers and extra socks and items I only want to take out if I need them at night. I usually pack my daily food in a side-pocket and don’t get into the bear box until night to store my trash and morning to start another day. I want to minimize my get up and go time and do not like to repack my clothes around the big items everyday. I want to be able to pack my sleeping bag in the main compartment horizontally and the bear box also horizontally along with my tent with poles only going vertically. So I’m looking for an ultra-light set up with a cushy waist belt and bottom access to a sleeping bag section and a main compartment wide enough to take my bear can horizontally. I know if you go bigger you tend to take more, but I would like to be able to carry more water in the desert sections of the PCT and use the hydration system without feeling like my pack is going to explode as is the case with the Aura 50L when I start my long trips. I also want to test the latest set ups on two more ten day trips this summer 2015. I am 55, 5’1″ and 125 lbs. I would go with the Catalyst, but it does not have a separate or even floating bottom section or access. Thanks, Irene

    • @Irene: I think your best best may be one of these packs from Granite Gear:

      Granite Gear Crown VC 60 KI
      Granite Gear Blaze AC 60 KI

      One area where Granite Gear excels over other lightweight packs (especially for women) is that they have a nice, thick hip belt and they make female-specific versions of their packs (with the KI designation at the end.)

      These packs will not fit your criteria of carrying a bear canister horizontally inside or providing separate access to the sleeping bag. But, I do not think you will find any lightweight pack that does that. As packs get lighter they generally become narrower and eliminate compartments and zippers to save weight. However, I don’t think the lack of these features will negatively affect your comfort and usability if you make a few modifications to the way you pack your gear.

      I agree with packing your sleeping bag horizontally at the bottom of your pack. That provides a great cushion upon which the rest of your gear can ride. However, I would recommend moving your bear canister from inside your pack (where it has to be cushioned with clothing and whatnot) and instead strap it horizontally on top of the backpack using the long top strap. This is how I carry a bear canister and there are several benefits to doing it this way: It’s more comfortable because it doesn’t poke you in the back, it provides easy access to your food during the day and it frees up space inside the pack body for other (softer) gear.

      Here is a picture of my old Granite Gear Vapor Trail (the predecessor to the Crown VC 60) carrying a bear canister this way:

  11. Steve Reply

    Hello Eric,
    At 53 years of age just getting into backpacking. In good shape and will be going on a 5-day hike in the Cloud Peak area in early July. I am leaning towards the Osprey Atmos 50 (tried it on and it was quite comfortable), 20 degree bag (750+ down), sea2summit duo shelter (along with other gear). Though hiking with 7 others, I want to be completely self-sufficient (cooking gear, food, and all). Will this pack be large enough? Any other suggestions?

    • @Steve: Based on the sleeping bag and shelter you mentioned with I think the Atmos 50 will be plenty big enough for a 5-day trip. Any of the packs on this list are large enough for 5-7 day of food and gear as long as you choose lightweight, compact gear to go inside.

    • The Osprey Exos 48 is nearly the same size, but well over a pound lighter. Four plus pounds is pretty heavy for a pack these days. At 53, you are getting to the age where you will start appreciating the difference. :-)

  12. Ray Clark Reply

    Just picked up a Gossamer Gear Mariposa that I enjoy WAY more than my old ULA Circuit.

  13. Beast of Burden Reply

    Great site Erik. Love your Spreadsheet. Its really invaluable in identifying those heavy little gremlins hiding in the depths of your pack. Ive poured over little spiral notebooks with weights for years ,and the very illustrative pie chart at the top is SO MUCH EASIER. All the little (big) problems staring right at you in big blue slices!
    Ive been eyeballing The ULA Circuit for quite awhile but can’t seem to find it anywhere but on the proprietors website. I mean, it isn’t found on e-bay, craigslist, BPL forums, (or any other used gear forum) . Not at a garage sale or a swap meet….. nowhere…. I did see one at a trail head a rather shady looking thru hiker was trying to sell, but it was the nicest piece of gear by far in his collection and i didn’t really trust he obtained it through the most honest of means….
    Any explanations? Are they really “the last pack anyone ever buys” ? As personal as a pack’s fit is, I find it hard to believe no one is selling them second hand… any leads from the guru?

    • @Beast: I don’t think many people sell their ULAs second hand and they aren’t sold at many retail stores. But they are very popular among long distance backpackers. I’ve been carrying ULA packs exclusively for five years and I doubt I will ever go back to another brand. I wouldn’t say that they are the last pack you will ever buy, because they are made of lightweight materials and will eventually break down and need to be replaced. But you can get a few thousand miles out of em easily. There are lighter packs out there, and there are sturdier packs, but in my opinion ULA strikes a balance between those two opposing goals better than anybody else.

  14. Mark Reply

    Hello Erik,

    Was wondering what you think of the ULA OHM 2.0, and why you pick the CDT? I’m guessing weight. I know you’re a big supporter of ULA, as I am, and I am becoming more and more of an ultralight advocate. And, do you have an opinion of the Osprey Stratos 36 ? Thanks! Mark

    • @Mark: I chose the CDT because it is lightweight and minimalist and all of my gear and supplies fit inside (barely.) But I usually recommend the OHM or Circuit to most people because those packs have a better suspension and a bit more room. I am probably going to pick up an OHM soon for some hikes I have planned with longer stretches between resupply stops (7-10 days.) I don’t like the weight to space ratio on the Osprey Stratos 36 (only 2,100 cubic inches of carrying capacity but weighs 3 pounds.)

  15. Hi, I really love the last one on the list. But I’m a little confused about the capacity, is it suitable enough for 1-week camp ?. According to you, which one is the best recommendation ?

    Thank you.

    • Edbert Kashira: All of the packs on this list have enough room to carry 5-7 days worth of supplies and gear (if you carry lightweight, low-volume gear and food like I recommend on this site.) My personal favorite packs are the ones made by Ultralight Adventure Equipment (CDT, OHM and Circuit.)

  16. James Neitzert Reply

    Great site and advice. I normally camp with a 40l, but am seriously considering a Hornet 32 for up to 5 day hikes. Buying gear in NZ at a brick and mortar so, no delivery. (Haven’t had an address in seven years) My sleep system is a Outdoor Research bivy at 1lb, Sea to Summit MC3 bag (fits in your hand) at 1.6lb and an Exped UL 2.5 mat at 1lb. All Icebreaker clothes except Helium rain gear. So, around 20lbs including cooking gear and food. I figure I’ll have to fasten the mat outside, but am worried about food volume. I eat same basic stuff you do while camping. Any thoughts?

    • @James: It might be tight but I think you could probably get by with a 32 liter. My ULA CDT has about 28 liters in the main compartment and I can fit almost all of my gear in there without using the extension collar or external pockets. Good luck.

  17. Ray Reply

    Sadly, GoLite is going out of business and the GoLite Jams are no longer available.

  18. Gregory Adamson Reply

    After reading this article I went to the Golite website all excited and learned the Jam has been discontinued and the company is in chapter 11 bankruptcy.

    Thought I would throw that out there for those who read this and gets excited like I did.

    • @Gregory Adamson: Thanks for the heads up about Golite. This article is a few years old now and I will be writing a revised version soon.

  19. Ray Reply

    Ed, the only Outdoor Products Arrowhead packs I could find, at Walmart or elsewhere, were much smaller (more like daypacks) and weighed 2.1 pounds. They only cost $40, though.

  20. ed Reply

    I thought I would mention this because I ran across it by accident…..I own numerous packs of various qualities….but looking for a way to reduce weight as it seems even my lightest pack was about 2 1/2 lbs empty, I ran across a outdoor products arrowhead pack at walmart that weights 16.8OZ and is 46L……I have hiked several hundred miles with it this summer and absolutely love it (I am short at only 5’6″ so it fits my torso perfect to keep weight on my hips….anyone taller might find this to not be the case as there isn’t any torso adjustments) I think I paid around $40 for it.

    • Ray Clark Reply

      Thanks, Ed. I’m going to check this out. I may carry a couple of extra ounces of duct tape, but hey, if that’s all it takes…

    • Bryan Resch Reply

      Thanks Ed , I’m looking to buy my very first pack and that sounds like something worth checking out. I’ve been looking at so many sites , its making my head spin. Go Lite has a going out of business sale but a lot of stuff is gone already.

      • Ed Reply

        Amazon also has them, if you search for “Outdoor Products Arrowhead Technical Pack” they are about $34

  21. andy Reply

    I have found Zpacks.com makes the best ultralight equipment, especially packs and tents, using Cuben, which is half the weight of nylon and stronger but expensive.
    His prices are quite reasonable, considering they can last 20 years. My pack, tent, bag and air mattress weigh less than 4 pounds.
    The best clothing is polyester, which is very durable, light, fast drying and easy to wash.

  22. Tod Reply

    I am kinda new to the hiking arena but I have been researching how to hike light for a while. Early on, I borrowed a lot of equipment and quickly realized that a heavy pack can rob your enjoyment of the trip. Realizing this early, pointed me to buying quality “lightweight” equipment. Unfortunately, I purchased a pack before I wanted to go light and it is nice and big and heavy.

    I have my weight down to 5lb 13oz for my shelter, Sleeping bag, and sleeping pad. My shelter weighs 3lbs 1 oz and is a 3 person shelter so I can split that with someone, allowing my big 3 weight to get into the 4lb range. Sounds good, but my pack is 5lbs & 70L. Which brings me to my question…

    Which Pack..
    I have narrowed it to the
    CDT, OHM2.0 and Circuit.
    All of these would give me a base pack weight of under 8lb’s for pack, bag, pad and shelter, which I feel is respectable.
    I am really unsure of a couple of things when choosing these packs.

    CDT==> 54 Liters @ 1lb 8oz’s.. can I really fit everything I “need” into this pack?? It is 16Liters less than what I have. I also have never used a frameless pack so that will be a learning curve..

    OHM 2.0==> This is the middle of the 3, coming in at 1lb 15oz and 64L. But, all the information on here jumps from the CDT to the circuit. I also cannot discern if this is a frameless pack. It says The Ohm 2.0 is a full featured, (((full suspension (active) ultralight pack))) What is that??

    Circuit==> 2lb 9oz and 68L. I feel this is too heavy and bigger than I want (although I could pack some stuff I don’t need:). However there a lot of people that really like it, so I am considering it.

    I generally hike 5 day’s or less. We are thinking about a 10 trek also. Colorado, Utah, Arizona and a lot in Texas. Water proof is a must so I hope these bags can hold up to that, or would I need a cover?

    My clothes are the one thing that I have not been able to replace with light, compressible clothing. So they are still pretty bulky and require a bit more room. I do 3 season hiking..

    Sorry for the long post, I wanted to give you enough information to help out with your recommendation for a good bag that would fit my needs.

    • @Tod: Based on what you have told me about your shelter and clothing being kind of big and heavy I would eliminate the CDT from your list. I carry a CDT and it’s great for small lightweight loads, but it’s only slightly larger than a day pack. You really need compact gear to fit everything inside along with food and water. Much of the listed capacity of the CDT is in the external pockets and extension collar, but there is only 1,750 cubic inches in the main pack body. And since there is no suspension it’s best for lighter loads.

      Both the OHM and Circuit do have a suspension system (the OHM has a carbon fiber/delrin suspension hoop and the Circuit has the same, plus an internal foam frame and aluminum stay) and are generously sized (the Circuit especially, which is positively spacious in my opinion.)

      I wrote this article a few years ago when the Circuit was a well established pack in ULA’s line and the OHM was still relatively new, so I chose the Circuit for this list. The Circuit is still a great pack if you have a lot of stuff to carry, but these days I think I like the OHM better. It’s 10 ounces lighter than the Circuit (including 5 ounces of removable accessories) and still has plenty enough room for a typical thru-hike of the Pacific Crest Trail, Appalachian Trail or any other three-season hike in moderate weather where you’re carrying around 5 days worth of supplies at a stretch.

      So I would say go for the OHM. My only concern is that your bulky clothing may be a tight fit. But you’re probably planning to replace that stuff with lighter and more compressible clothing at some point anyway. Getting a smaller pack is a good way to force yourself to start doing that now :)

      Here’s an article about lightweight clothing and layering that might help point you in the right direction: My Ultralight Backpacking Clothing System

      Good luck!

      • mouton noir Reply

        Hi Eric,
        I’m still on the fence between aluminum internal frame and a soft internal frame. Is there any valid reason to not go for the soft frame as in the Golite?
        Also, would the REI Flash 48 be a good alternative to the Golite? It costs a little more but shopping/returning is that much easier.

        • @Mouton Noir: As long as your total pack weight is under 35 pounds you really don’t need to worry about suspension very much. A minimalist suspension system like you find in the packs from ULA, Golite and Granite Gear should all work equally well for light to mid-weight loads. The REI Flash 45 does look like it would be a good pack to include in the list. It’s lightweight (2 lbs, 3 oz), has decent capacity (3,051 ci), lots of features (big front mesh pocket, water bottle pockets, hip belt pockets, compression straps, minimalist suspension) and it’s inexpensive ($129).

    • I have no beef with any of the replies you have been getting, but I bought a Six Moon Designs Fusion 65 Pack and carried it on the Colorado Trail this summer. It is a tad over 2 pounds, but has an innovative frame that makes it the most comfortable pack I have ever carried. Definitely worth a look, and in the same category as some of the other packs you are considering.

  23. John Reply

    It also depends on how young your kids are.
    When mine were really young, they just carried day packs with a jacket rain shell, flashlight, and their toiletries.
    So the packs for my wife and I had to be big enough and have enough suspension to carried everything else.

    As they got older, they carried their spare clothes and lunch/snacks – and eventually their food and then their half of their shelter, and finally their sleeping bags.

    The sleeping bags take up so much room, it forces them to use a towering pack that is hard to manage.

    So you’ll want a pack that is big enough to carry 3 sleeping bags until they are about 12 years old.

    Ps: kids are MUCH warmer in kid sized sleeping bags (even though they are synthetic) than women’s down bags…

  24. I still have an old Gregory Pack that is my main multi-day pack. I am trying to find ways to reduce weight now that we are trying to get our two young kids out on a trip.

    I’m not sure if I should go with the lightest back with greatest cubic inches or stay small so I don’t pack as much?

    Are there other key features you would put up there with weight?

    • @Dave: That depends on whether you just want to replace your pack, or if you want to replace all of your other gear. If you are only in the market for a new pack, then get the lightest pack that will fit all of your gear (that has a good enough suspension system to support your total gear weight.) If you are planning on making changes to your entire system then go for a pack that is lightweight and low volume (like the ULA CDT) and it will force you to select lightweight gear to fill it.

  25. Barbara Matthews Reply

    Thanks for the info Erik! The photo is particularly helpful to see how that would fit.

  26. Barbara Matthews Reply

    I am looking to switch to a lighter pack. I frequently travel in areas that require a bear can. Since I can see many of these options without ordering them, do you happen to have any suggestions about which of them would accommodate a bear can? Any suggestions would be appreciated!

    • @Barbara Matthews: Any pack that has a long top strap can carry a bear canister strapped sideways on top. I like to carry mine this way because it is more comfortable than trying to stick the bear canister inside the pack, where it doesn’t fit well and pokes you hard in the back. The BearVault canisters work especially well when carried this way because they have grooves around the center where the strap can sink in and prevent it from sliding off. Of the packs in this list most of the ULA Packs have a top strap that should work, my old Granite Gear Vapor Trail (the precursor to the VC 60) had one so that would probably work as well. The Golite and Gossamer Gear also have a top strap. I’m not sure if the Golite Strap is long enough to go all the way around a bear canister, but it might be. The Gossamer Gears I used to have several years ago had a really long strap, so if they still do they should work. The Ospreys do not have a top strap, so the canister would have to go inside.

  27. Michael Reply

    Eric, I love your blog! Four great packs for consideration here are the Osprey Talon 33, the Osprey Talon 44, the Osprey Exos 48 and the Osprey Exos 38. They are lightweight, durable (the Talon packs are more durable than the Exos packs, but the Exos packs should hold up well if reasonable care is taken with them)), and they are loaded with many great features. Keep up the good work, Eric!

  28. John the White Reply

    Thanks for your tips on packing a backpack. Very helpful. Do you plan out your meals so you end your hike with no extra food? I always seem to have extra food (which ends up being dead weight) at the end of my trip.

    • @John the White: If I know the route well and am reasonably certain that I’ll be able to hit my next resupply point on time, then I don’t pack any extra food. If I get near the end and there is anything extra bouncing around the food bag I just eat it. If I’m hiking somewhere that is not as familiar and I’m not sure what kind of pace I’ll be able to keep, then I do like to pack some extra food just in case it takes longer than expected.

  29. Greg Reply

    I’ve been backpacking on and off for a while, but I’m in the process of transitioning to smaller and lighter gear. This is still a work in progress, but I’ve gotten a 2 pound down sleeping bag and ditched my heavy tent for a 14 oz. hammock and tarp. And I’m now using a soda can stove and platypus bags for water, to give a few examples. I’m probably never going to get to extreme ultralight, but if I could get my total pack weight down to 15-20 pounds for a couple nights in the woods, I’d be happy. Anyway, I’m curious what size backpack I should be looking at. My old pack is probably 5 pounds or more, and I’d like to get that into the 2 lb range. Size suggestions for a new pack would be much appreciated.

    • @Greg: A 2 lb pack like the ULA, Golite or Granite Gear will probably be plenty enough room for your gear and give you some flexibility in case you want to carry more and do some 5+ day trips. You may be able to squeeze everything into a smaller pack like a ULA CDT (21 oz) as well, but that requires more careful attention to be paid to packing only small, compact stuff.

  30. John Reply

    The jam straps aren’t very cushy. They are mostly soft and flexible enough to conform to your hips really well so there are no pressure points. They are also floppy enough that the pack sags and bounces if you load it up too heavy.
    The granite gear packs have very cushy straps and they make a women’s version that is well designed. (Not sure if their newest super light packs still have the very cushy straps, but I know the blaze ac does).

  31. I am surprised not to see the Gossamer Gear Gorilla on here!!

  32. Joe Reply

    Looking for a pack recommendation for my wife. I carry the ULA CDT and love it. Her total base weight is certainly under 10 pounds (we share some redundant gear and I carry out tarp tent shelter) and her gear is all very compact. She wants something with as much padding on the straps as my CDT and likes the hip belt pockets and mesh pocket. Was considering a Jam 35 but is that far too small? Any other recommendations?

    • @Joe: I have not seen the Golite Jam 35 in person yet. But if you are carrying the shelter and her base weight is under 10 pounds I think it would be big enough. According to the specs on Golite’s website the Jam 35 has 2,135 ci of room. By comparison the CDT has 1,750 ci of room in the main pack body (with the rest being made up in the exterior pockets and extension collar). So if you can fit all of her gear inside the main body of your CDT I think it will work. I’m not sure how cushy the straps are.

  33. Frank Mc Reply


    I’m not sure if it’s been mentioned but I run the Jansport katahdin 50L. Clocks in at 2 lb 1 oz. With a few trims and pull out the sleeping bag compartment divider you can get it to come in under 2 lbs. I never see many people talk about Jansport but their lifetime warranty is a great deal.

    Jansport Katahdin 50L Backpack

  34. Chris Reply

    Thanks for the awesome pack run down and the excellent discussion in the comments. I am curious why you did not include the Ohm (or currently Ohm 2., that is) in your rundown. Do you have reasons for jumping straight from the Curcuit to the CDT with a drop in base weight? Just curious as I am seriously considering the Ohm 2.0 and see it as a nice option that offers slightly more structure, but still comes in as ver light at 29 ounces with all the trimmings. Cheers!

    • @Chris: I have never used the OHM personally, but it looks like a good transition pack between the Circuit and the CDT. The CDT has plenty of room for all of my gear and it’s quite a bit lighter, so that’s why it is my pack of choice these days.

  35. marissa Reply

    My 11 year old son has to go on a school hiking trip – they need to have a 75L backpack – what would you recommend (other than not going ;-)- he weighs 35KG and is 5’2″

    • Marissa: I would normally never recommend a 75 liter backpack, especially for someone as small as your son. But I’m guessing the school will be providing all of the heavy gear and you just need to provide a pack big enough to carry it all? If that’s the case I would go with an Osprey backpack. They are heavy duty, comfortable and relatively lightweight compared to other large packs.

      The Osprey Aether 70 weighs 4 lbs, 8 oz and comes in torso sizes from S – XL.

      Here is some info from Osprey’s website on proper sizing and fitting:

  36. Harrison Reply

    Hey Erik, thanks all you helpful information. It has really helped my transition into going lightweight. So I have gotten my base weight to about 10 pounds, not including small things I have not been able to weigh, toilet paper, sanitizer, toothbrush, phone, camera, wallet, insect repellent, chargers, and my luxury item, crocs. I am getting ready to invest in my first ultralight pack. Ive been trying to decide between the ULA CDT and the Circuit. I feel like I am almost light enough to get the CDT, but I do not fully understand using my sleeping pad to help form the pack structure. For the beginning of my thru hike I am planning on using an inflatable pad. How exactly do you use an inflatable to do this? And would using an inflatable pad be putting extra stress on an already fragile item? Once it warms up I will switch back to my thermarest zlite pad.

    • @Harrison: The main deciding factor between the Circuit and CDT will be the bulk of your gear. Both are great packs, but the CDT is quite small. So you really need to have compact stuff to be able to squeeze it all in. The Circuit, on the other hand, is quite roomy. I use an inflatable sleeping pad with my CDT. Here is how I use it: I fold the sleeping pad into thirds (or fourths or fifths if using a full-length pad), then stick it in the little straps that hold it inside the pack, leaving the air valve open and at the top of the pack. Then I pack all of my gear in around it. The last step is to give the sleeping pad a couple of puffs (which will cause it to stiffen up) and then close the valve. Using this method you can make an inflatable pad even stiffer than a foam pad, and it provides great back support. Just remember not to set your pack down on any cactus or sharp stuff that could poke through and pop your sleeping pad ;)

  37. Andy Mitchell Reply

    I have just used a Zpack Cuben hybrid with polyester pack for 9 weeks on the GR5 with no wear except from a mouse eating the webbing. It was water resistant but not waterproof. It is stiff and thick enough not to need support, but still is very light..
    It is the the best pack I have ever owned

  38. Jordan Reply

    Hi Eric,
    First off, thank you for all the great help here!

    I’m looking at my shelter and I note above you are talking about getting the Lightheart Gear Solo as your next one. I was looking at the Zpacks Hexamid Solo, only because it was on your list. I am way out of the loop in backpacking, it has been about 30 years or so and so I’m really steering off your experience. Do you still think the Lightheart Gear Solo would be the way to go at this point?

    Thanks much, Jordan

    • @Jordan: My reason for preferring the Lightheart Gear over the Zpacks is because it is made out of silnylon instead of cuben fiber material. I am very hard on my gear and I expect it to last several seasons. Cuben fiber is the lighter choice, and I have heard reports from many hikers that it has held up well on long hikes. But, I still do not trust it (and I don’t trust myself to baby it well enough to keep it in good condition). So I’m willing to carry a little extra weight to go with silnylon, which I know from experience is highly waterproof and will hold up to several years of abuse before it explodes. I haven’t ordered it yet, but I do still plan on getting the Lightheart Gear for next year’s hiking season.

  39. Jordan Reply

    Hey Eric,

    I just got my “Eric the Black, Pocket Atlas, for the Colorado Trail”, (great guide, thank you) which I’m hoping to do in 2013 and I’m psyched.

    I just ordered the Osprey Exox 58 (turning 55 and I wanted to start off with a pack that will give me some extra support), otherwise I’m planning to go as light as possible within my budget and comfort level.

    A few questions:

    -You have in your gearlist the Thermarest Prolite Sml, but in the store they are touting the Thermarest Air xlite. The small is 8oz, 3 oz, less then the prolite. thoughts?

    -Do you recommend for GPS the Garmen Oregon (for a couple extra oz) or Dakota 20?

    -How much water should I calculate per hour/miles? I understand there are some stretches of the CT with over 20 miles with no water and wonder if I would need more then one, 2.4 L Platpus backup? (I can find a 2 or 3 L option online).

    Thanks for all you help and support, Jordan

    • @Jordan: I used Thermarest Prolites for year and they are great pads, but they are kind of thin. If you tend to sleep on your sides or stomach (as I do) you may want to go with the Neo Air instead, because it provides more thickness. My hips always dug through the Prolite into the hard ground underneath. I recently switched to an Exped Synmat UL 7 which is a blow up pad similar to the Thermarest Neo Air (but a little less crinkly). It’s very comfy. I have only used mine for a couple hundred miles so far, but I dig it.

      I believe the Dakota is just like a mini version of the Oregon. They are both good GPSs from what I’ve heard (I’m still using my old Garmin Colorado which refuses to die). The Dakota is a little smaller and lighter weight, which is nice, but it doesn’t come pre-loaded with topo maps like the Oregon does. I believe the maps are about $80 so that kind of kills the price difference between the two. I think if I had to make a choice, personally I would go with the Oregon 450T because it comes preloaded with topo maps, holds more waypoints and tracks and has a few more features.

  40. robert Reply


    i’m in the process of buying new gear in an attempt to decrease weight/bulk on the trail. so far i’ve replaced my sleeping bag (bought a golite adrenaline 3 season – any suggestions for a compression sack) and tent (cooper spur ul1 – couldn’t make myself go the shelter route). i haven’t changed my ground pad (older thermarest prolite 3) because it’s still in good shape and isn’t too bulky or heavy. i’m struggling on deciding what type of pack to get. i’ve looked a bit into the granite gear blaze but also the ula circuit. i’m not planning any long term hikes in the near future (unfortunately the job prevents that), so i’m more of a weekend warrior. i’d like a light back that has some support but that can also hold gear well without having to strap items all over the outside. any recommendations?


    ps: love the blog

    • @Robert: For storing my sleeping bag I use 13 Liter Sea to Summit Dry Sack. It’s not a compression sack but it’s waterproof and you can stuff your sleeping bag down pretty small just by stuffing in your back, squeezing the air out and then rolling the top. Weighs almost nothing (I think an ounce or two). I have used both Granite Gear packs and ULA packs and they are both excellent. Whichever you choose I don’t think you will be disappointed. These days I carry ULA personally. I like that they are a small operation, their packs are made in the USA and they have all of the features I need (like big mesh pockets outside). The ULA Circuit is a good medium-sized pack. If you need a bit more room the ULA Catalyst is bigger, a bit heavier but sturdy as hell and I think it is still their most popular model.

  41. Erik the Green Reply

    Hey Erik,

    Just thought I’d add my 2 cents. I found a great lightweight backpack after lengthy research: the Mammut Creon Light 45. It was very hard to find info/reviews on this pack, but it seemed to have everything I was looking for so I took a gamble and ordered one without even seeing it in person.

    After a few months and well over 100mi with varying pack weights, I can say with confidence that i LOVE this pack. Full internal frame, 45L capacity, suspended mesh back panel, weighs 1090g (2.4lbs), $180 msrp. It has some nice features which are all very well though out. My only complaint is that the shoulder strap padding is a little too thin for me, but my 2nd pair of socks works great to add some fluff there.

    I am very surprised this pack hasn’t gotten more publicity and just wanted to let people know it is out there. Its a great compromise for a lightweight pack with a full frame

    -Erik the Green

    PS it’s nice to see another Erik who spells his name correctly haha:)

  42. jim Reply

    i have been in the woods most of my life. Hunting camping and fishing but have recently become really interested in backpacking. i recently bought a coleman elate 65l just as a starter backpack. anyway to get to the point i have been checking different sites for a couple days about backpacking and how to pack. But i havent been able to find out anything about how to or where to pack small stuff. Like fire starter, multitool, binocoluars, notebook, pen and flashlight. I was just wondering your thoughts on how to pack this gear.

  43. Trish Reply

    Hi Erik,

    Just wanted to send you a big thanks for your input, and all of the great info on this site! I completed the 100 Mile Wilderness in 10 days on July 2nd. Thanks to much of the info here, my pack weighed in at 29lbs plus some ozs at the start! The big 3 I went with were:
    - ULA Circuit Backpack,
    - Lightheart Gear Duo Tent,
    - Z-Packs 20 degree short sleeping bag

    I followed your packing guide which worked perfectly – very comfortable load.

    We had TONS of rain for the first few days and flooded trail conditions..and thus, i got some bad blisters on the bottom of my feet by day 6 – gave your blister draining trick a try- it definitely expedited the healing. Also got chafing (never expected that) due to friction caused by wet shorts- used your alcohol trick which definitely dried it out!

    On my bucket list to get out west to hike – will definitely grab your guides!

    Thanks again Erik!! :)

  44. David Fanning Reply

    Mark, I’ve been there, man! I know you don’t think you can cram everything you want to take with you into anything smaller than an Osprey Exos 58 pack, but that’s because you haven’t walked long miles with a 35-lb pack yet. You don’t want to do this. Believe me! Do more research. Take a couple of hikes with a 35-lb pack. Get your base weight down to the 13-15 pound range before you even THINK about buying a pack. Then buy a smaller one, for God’s sake. Something that weighs at or under two pounds. Otherwise, you are going to spend most of your hike thinking murderous thoughts about the weight of your pack. You can thank me when you get back. :-)

  45. Mark Reply


    Thanks for a solid list of ultralight packs. I have never attempted a long distance hike, but I plan on thru hiking the AT in 2013. I have been doing my research and I am probably going to go with an Osprey Exos 58. I’m going to try to pack as light as possible, but I like the option of a suspended pack in case I do end up packing upwards of 35lbs. My question to you is, how much weight can an average male carry “comfortably” on a thru hike? I am 6′ 165 lbs, and I intended on testing this out for myself once I purchase my pack, but in your experience, what would you consider the max weight to be at whilst still being able to enjoy the hike? Thanks.

    • @Mark: I’m 6′ 210 pounds. For me 35 pounds is about the threshold for comfort. Once the pack gets above that weight it starts to feel like a burden. It’s ok for short stints, but no fun over the long haul. I usually try to keep my total pack weight in the 20-30 pound range. At that weight it feels nice and light and I can do 15-30 miles a day without too much fatique. Good luck with your hike.

  46. Shelly Reply

    Oops. Already ordered it. Will see how it works out and provide an update.

  47. Shelly Reply

    Have been researching light backpacks to make a new purchase. One backpack not mentioned here that I am considering is the 1.4 lbs Equinox Katahdin. I have a 19 1/2 inch torso (I’m 5-9 1/2) and this pack seems to be the right length 19-21.
    2nd choice –The Granite Gear Crown V.C. 60
    Am really intersted in the Exo Zpack mentioned here but am on the trail this month so not sure enough time to get it and it is for sure the most expensive .. and Go Lites are out of stock.

    Any thoughts?

    • @Shelly: Since I’m mostly a western hiker I have never actually seen one of the Equinox packs in person. I know they are popular back east with Appalachian Trail hikers. From looking at pictures it looks like a decent pack and I’m sure it will work fine. However there are a couple reasons why I would not choose it myself:

      1) It does not have a large external mesh front pocket. This is such an important feature because it provides a place to stuff small and oddly shaped items that you need to get to without having to dig into the pack (ex: first aid kit, toilet paper, maps or guidebook, ground sheet, etc.)

      2) I am not a fan of silnylon packs. It’s strong enough, but it is slippery and not as abrasion resistant and other materials (like Dyneema Gridstop). Also it does not hold it’s shape very well when stuffed with gear. In my experience silnylon packs are kind of “floppy” unless you are really meticulous about stuffing them. You have to fills out the entire area equally and make sure there are no weird shaped items inside (another reason you need the external mesh pocket)

      So personally I would go with the Granite Gear (or a ULA).

  48. Sole to Soul Reply

    Nice list, Erik! Be advised that ULA (Ultralight Adventure) is no longer in the loving hands of Brian Frankle. The new owner is not nearly as involved in customer satisfaction, at least that’s been my experience.

  49. JohnG10 Reply

    Hey Erik,
    How do you think the Jam, Crown and Circuit compare for folks carrying 25-30 lbs of bulkier gear ? (Synth bag, small tent, fleece insulation, 70 denier PU coated raingear).

    Also, do any of them fit slim teenagers better than the others ?


    • @JohnG10: I’ve never used a Golite Jam before (and they are getting hard to find anymore) but I have used the ULA Circuit and Granite Gear Vapor Trail (predecessor to the Crown) extensively and both do well with loads up to 35 pounds. The two packs are very similar in size and functionality. You really can’t go wrong with either. The only big difference now that Granite Gear has added a front pocket is the lack of hipbelt pockets on the Crown.

  50. Jack Reply

    I really like what you are doing here, it’s a good service and informational webpage for those interested in lightweight/ultralight. I’ve been hiking/backpacking since my scouting days – 50 + years…the lightweight/ultralight experience is par excellence compared to ‘back in the day’ and I appreciate you being an evangelist of the method.
    I would like to suggest the ULD CDT model. It is $135 and weighs in at approx. 20 oz. with a capacity of 3200 cu. in. As long as you keep the full load weight to 24 lbs. it carries “like it’s not even there.” A great pack with a lot of versatility..and of course can be modified to lighten its 20 oz weight also! Happy trails, see you out there. :-)

    • @Jack: Amen to that! The ULA CDT is the pack I carry myself (actually mine is a several year old ULA Conduit, which was the predecessor to the CDT) But, as soon as my Conduit finally gives up the ghost, I will be replacing it with a CDT. The reason I did not include it on this list is I feel that although it is an excellent pack for ultralight backpackers like you and me, it’s still a bit on the small side for lightweight backpackers whose base weight is still up around 12 pounds or more. But once you break the 10 pound barrier the CDT is perfect. Thanks for bringing it up.

      • mouton noir Reply

        ULA recommend a maximum load of no more than 18lbs for this pack

        • @Mouton Noir: I am surprised to see that ULA recommends an 18 pound max load for the CDT. My guess is they are trying to be ultra-conservative with their recommendations to minimize complaints or warranty claims. I have used my CDT for years (and it’s predecessor the Conduit before that) to carry loads in the 25 pound range all day long without any discomfort or breakage. I’ve even pushed it into the 30-35 pound range on occasion for short stretches when carrying lots of water (which is somewhat uncomfortable, but not torturous.)

  51. @Steve: Thanks for the grammar tip. Believe it or not I have a copy of Strunk and White in the bookshelf right by my desk. The problem is I never look at it. I was embarrassed to find the rule you mentioned is on the very first page! Ouch :P Thanks for buying a JMT Atlas and best of luck on your thru-hike this fall.

  52. Hi, Erik.

    Am a customer of your JMT Atlas and a fan of your blog. Appreciate you!

    As a longtime magazine and newspaper editor and editorial director, am compelled to point out that you misuse “it’s.” ;>) “It’s” is the contraction for “it is.” “Its,” without the apostrophe, is the possessive. Counterintuitive (many pro writers make the same mistake), but grammatically correct.

    I’d be happy to mentor you on grammar, as you’re mentoring me so brilliantly on the state of the art of lightweight backpacking.

    Will through-hike the JMT in September and celebrate my 70th birthday on Mt. Whitney on 1 October. Thanks for your guidance. The Atlas is brilliant.


  53. trish Reply

    Ya…i’m a bit of a thrasher myself. :) Sounds like a mummy would be my best bet.

    Thanks so much Erik!

  54. trish Reply

    Wow! Thanks so much for the info Erik! This really gives me a solid direction to work towards. I’ve been eyeballing the tarptents but the lightheart gear looks really good too.

    One more question. Do you have any experience with quilts? I’ve been looking at them as an affordable alternative to shaving off some weight. But i definitely don’t want to worry about being cold.

    Thanks again Erik.

    • @Trish: Quilts are good if you are a sound sleeper and can lie flat on your back all night long and not roll around too much. If you thrash and turn while you sleep (like I do) quilts are not so good because you will always be opening up gaps for cold air to sneak in. A mummy bag is better in that case.

  55. Trish Reply

    Hey Erik!

    Thanks for all of the great info on your site! Wondering if i might get an opinion.

    I’m fairly new to backpacking. The longest trip i’ve done is 26 miles over 5 days. I will be doing the 100 mile wilderness (10 miles/day over 10 days) at the end of june, & want to get my pack weight down.

    I am 5’0″ and 103 lbs. I’m pretty sure my pack was close to 35lbs for the 5 day trip. I’m looking into lighter weight packs and other gear to get my base weight down. I’ve been looking at the catalyst and others you’ve mentioned. One concern i had about the catalyst was that there is only 1 side compression strap. Any words of wisdom or suggestions?


    • @Trish: I would recommend trying to get your base pack weight (all gear minus food and water) down below 15 pounds (preferably closer to 12). If you pack 1.5 pounds of food per day on your trip and carry an average of 1 liter of water that means you will start out carrying around 35 pounds and end up carrying around 15 pounds at the end of 10 days.

      The ULA Catalyst is a great pack and it has a ton of room, so you should not have a problem fitting 10 days of food in there (as long as you pack lightweight, high calorie, low volume foods). Don’t worry about the lack of compression straps, most lightweight packs are like that. The trick is to pack them in a way so that your gear takes up all of the space inside and presses stiffly against the walls. Here are some tips for packing a lightweight backpack.

      I have heard the mosquitoes can be bad in Maine, so you’ll want a fully enclosed shelter. My next shelter will probably be a Lightheart Gear Solo. I haven’t had an opportunity to try it out yet, but it looks like a really ingenious design, with lots of mosquito netting and weighs well under 2 lbs. Tarptent and Six Moon Designs also have some nice lightweight shelters.

      For a sleeping bag try to keep it around 2 pounds. Marmot, Western Mountaineering, Montbell, REI all have high quality down bags in the 20 degree range that weigh around 2 pounds. I would recommend storing it in a lightweight roll-top dry sack so that it doesn’t get wet under any circumstances.

      Keep your sleeping pad under 1 pound. If you want comfort you can get a full-length inflatable like a Neo Air or Synmat UL for a pound. If you want to go lighter you can go with a 3/4 length pad or foam. Gossamer Gear makes some nice ultralight foam pads.

      These are the major items. If you can get your Pack, Sleeping Bag + Pad and Shelter under 7 pounds total you don’t have to worry too much about the rest of your gear. It tends to take care of itself.

      Good luck and have a great hike!

  56. Joanna Reichert Reply

    + 1 on the Circuit! I got mine while they were still doing colors (http://joannareichertphotography.wordpress.com/2012/02/22/new-backpack/ if you don’t mind links) before Christmas, and I think I found my pack soul mate. No joke, I tried on nearly 2 dozen packs, bought one that fit okay, and then finally bit the bullet and got the Circuit . . . . wow I love this thing.

  57. My current pack is the Mariposa Plus, gotta love all those mesh pockets! My previous two packs had them too. An original G4, and my $19 14oz homemade pack.
    Did I mention I love mesh pockets?

  58. RodentWhisperer Reply

    Ah, that makes sense. I’ve heard other say that the number one task when you are looking to go UL is to size down your pack– it makes it impossible to carry too much, eh?

  59. RodentWhisperer Reply

    No disagreements here. However, I do wonder why you chose the GoLite Jam over the GoLite Pinnacle. The weight of the Pinnacle is noticeably greater (by about 6 oz), but its volume is too (by about 1200 ci). What say you?

    • @RodentWhisperer: If the Jam isn’t big enough Pinnacle is a good alternative. But my philosophy is that moving to a larger pack to accommodate more gear is a step in the wrong direction. I would rather eliminate gear and replace it with smaller, lighter alternatives that fit in the smaller pack.

  60. Steve Gilliam Reply

    Great list of packs. There are so many choices!

    I’ve been using the Osprey Exos 46 since it came out. I really like the combination of features you get (39 oz for size L), especially the trampoline suspension which allows airflow across your back.

    I’ll be trying the Osprey Hornet 46 at (25 oz for size M/L) when it comes out in a dedicated large size this year. The previous M/L combined size was too small for most.

    BTW, I have several pieces of ZPack’s gear including the Hexamid Solo tent (8.8 oz) which is just fantastic!

  61. Hannah Reply

    hi eric. yeah im looking at the six moon designs starlite too. only weighs 1.5 lbs. im tiny so need to be super conscious about weight. Thoughts, comments, opinions?

  62. juma Reply

    Six Moons Starlite – its only 4200 ci but check the main body size. its way bigger than all the others that claim its size and weighs in a little less. I’d rather have stuff in the pack than clipped to the outside. but, as always, hyoh.

    • @Hannah: I’ve never used Six Moon Designs Packs before but they do have a good reputation. If it fits you and your gear I think it would be a good choice.

  63. Bill Moon Reply

    Hey Erik,
    One other thing I might mention about the ULA packs. I have kind of narrow shoulders from side to side. I was having a hard time getting the ULA packs to fit because the inside of my arms rubbed against the shoulder straps. When I tried to use the sternum straps to pull the shoulder straps in, the shoulder straps twisted. ULA has now come out with S shaped shoulder straps in addition to their regular straps. These were originally made for women but I got a Circuit with these S straps and it has solved my problem beautifully. I am now a happy camper.

  64. Three of the packs on this list are also available in female-specific versions:

    Granite Gear V.C. 60 Ki

    Golite Jam Women’s

    Osprey Aura 50

    These are designed to fit a woman’s torso better, with shorter back pads, narrower shoulder straps, wider hip-belts with more padding, etc.

  65. Dennis Reply

    Interesting choices. There are many and each tend to be personal. I am currently looking at the Mariposa, the ULA OHM 2.0, and the SMD Starlite. I am leaning towards the Mariposa with added hip pockets – cheaper, bigger with better outside pockets.

  66. Dave Reply


    Thanks so much for your site! I’m a big fan with plans to complete a long trail in the near future. While gearing up for AT I came across Hyperlite Mountain Gear and the Windrider pack. HMG is a fairly new company but they’ve got years of experience behind them and it shows in the Windrider. Here are some specs:

    weight: 1.6 lbs.
    volume: 2,400 cu. in. body + 250 cu. in. exterior pocket
    materials: H2O-proof cuben fiber/ripstop hybrid

    best of all though is that these award winning packs are made in Maine. HMG even offered to customize the pack for me because of an old back injury I have (which lead me to going ultralight!). I’d highly suggest checking it out.

    happy trails,


  67. Andy Reply

    Mountain Laurel Designs has several ultralight back packs, used a lot on the AT- mine worked well.
    The lightest packs- less than 1 lb are Zpacks made from Cuben. I just bought a hybrid silnylon/cuben that seems very durable and still less than 1 lb.
    For loads over 25 lb Six Moon Designs is best by test and experience.

  68. @ruffwork: Thanks for the suggestion. I met Joe and his wife on the PCT and have been wanting to try out his packs and tents for a while now, but haven’t had the chance yet. One thing I wondered about was the durability of the cuben fiber fabric. Glad to hear it held up for you.

    Here is the link to his website:

  69. ruffwork Reply

    I’ve been using Joe Valesko’s ZPacks for years and have been made a believer. I used the cuban Blast for 4 years before it wore out and now I’m trying then ne exo-pack this season. It looks very well made and comes in at under 13 oz. for 50L.

  70. David Fanning Reply

    Hard to quibble with your pack choices, although I would have chosen the Osprey EXOS 46 over the Atmos 50. It holds about the same amount of gear, but is itself over a pound lighter. I love the lightweight mesh that gives a bit of air space between the pack and your back.

    • @David Fanning: I remember seeing the Exos last year and thinking it was a cool pack. But I don’t see it in the lineup on the Osprey website anymore. I wonder if they have discontinued it for 2012?

      • Ah! Turns out I was looking in the wrong area on the Osprey website. Looks like the Exos is still available. At 2 lbs, 5 ounces for the 46L and 2 lbs, 8 oz for the 58L the Exos is a good lightweight alternative to the Atmos. Thanks for the heads up. Here’s the link to the Exos series

        • Ben Reply

          I have and love the Exos 58 (I’m 6’4″). It caries all my gear and 5-7 days worth of food very well. Hope to thru hike CDT some year with it.

    • Meik Reply

      Yah it’s true the exos seams on paper the perfect backpacking pack, or so it seamed to me after an extensive research for the perfect backpacking pack!
      So… i bought one, the 57L one!
      And… to my surprise… well… it fails miserably on a feature i definetly overlooked: Loadbearing! It is just not good on loads over 8-10kg. I know it is suposed to be used for lightweight only but the thing is with volumes of 46 and 57L you should be able to carry a slightly heavier load, on multiday trips and what not! But it just doesn’t feel confortable over those weights! So… i am selling it!
      However… i did manage to find the perfect pack: it is the exped lightning 45L! Excelent load bearing, super light (1Kg)and ventilated! Niceeee :) Cheers