Alightweight backpack and a lightweight overall load means you can cover more miles, more quickly. It’s a concept that has undeniable appeal and numerous benefits, particularly for your body. After all, nothing ruins a long-distance walk like crippling shoulder and hip pain after three days on the trail, usually caused by a hugely oversized pack stuffed with loads of unnecessary kit (see: Cheryl Strayed’s book Wild, or pretty much any novice hiker attempting their first multi-day walk. Don’t worry, we’ve all been there). The far more attractive alternative is to take only what you need, while minimising the weight of the rest of your gear at the same time. And that, in essence, is the spirit of ultralight backpacking.
It sounds simple, but actually this approach means being fairly disciplined when it comes to packing your kit. It also means knowing what you need and don’t need on the trail – which will differ greatly depending on the individual. After all, one’s person’s hiking essential is another’s frivolous luxury. This usually comes with experience, so many ultralighters are experienced backpackers who have gradually honed their kit down over multiple miles and plenty of time spent tramping trails.
In addition, whether your pack feels heavy or not will depend on your own carrying capacity, which is dictated by your height, weight, body shape, physical fitness and to a certain extent, your mentality too. As such, there are no hard-and-fast rules as to what exactly constitutes an ultralight approach, nor on what is considered an ultralight set-up. However, if you’re weighing all your kit, and recording these weights in order to identify items with potential for weight savings, you’ve certainly got the right mindset. And as a rule of thumb, if you’re packing for a multi-day trip of a few days up to a few weeks, you should aim for your total trail weight to be no more than 10kg. Committed ultralighters might aim to halve that figure again, but getting there means going into the realms of technically advanced (and expensive) fabrics and equipment, as well as being happy with a fairly spartan definition of what amounts to ‘comfort’ on the trail.
Ultralight backpacking has arguably existed for as long as people have been undertaking long journeys on foot, but it was popularised in the USA in the late 1980s and early ‘90s, when the concept of ‘thru-hiking’ epic trails like the Pacific Crest Trail (PCT), the Appalachian Trail (AT) and the Continental Divide (CDT) became increasingly widespread.
Choosing An Ultralight Backpack
It is widely accepted that one of the best ways to minimise your trail weight (sometimes referred to as your base weight) is to focus on the so-called ‘big three’: your shelter, your sleeping system and your backpack. If you’re carrying a lightweight sleeping mat plus a down sleeping bag or quilt, as well as a lightweight shelter or even a tarp and/or bivvy, there is the opportunity to make considerable weight savings when it comes to your pack. Think about it: there’s no need to take a robust, internally-framed pack that can haul loads of 20kg or more if your trail weight is less than 10kg. Instead, you can look at lighter, semi-framed or even entirely frameless packs, utilising lightweight fabrics such as ripstop nylon, silnylon, or even Dyneema Composite Fabric (DCF), formerly known as Cuben Fibre. You may even want to sacrifice features such as hip belts, load lifter straps, chest or sternum straps, and compression straps.
To help you whittle down your lightweight pack selection, we’ve carefully picked out some of the top options from leading brands. All the packs featured below have carrying capacities of 35 litres or more – realistically, the minimum volume needed for a multi-day pack – but weigh less than 1.5kg.
All are also widely available in the UK. Of course, if you’re prepared to import kit from the USA, there is a lot more choice, as many of the best-known ultralight backpacking brands are from small, US-based manufacturers. Good examples include makers such as Six Moon Designs, Granite Gear, Gossamer Gear, ZPacks, Hyperlite and Ultralight Adventure Equipment. Unfortunately, ordering these packs typically entails a long wait and increased expense, as they come with long lead times and additional costs in the form of taxes and import duties. That’s why we’ve largely steered clear of these options given the current difficulties (hey, blame the perfect storm of COVID and Brexit).
Best Ultralight Packs | Top 10
Here are the 10 lightweight backpacks that have impressed us. Rest assured that each one has been tested thoroughly during trips in the UK’s mountains.
- 1. Atom Packs Atom+ 40, 600g
- Osprey Levity 45, 800g
- Haglofs LIM 35, 930g
- Montane Trailblazer 44, 980g
- Arc’teryx Aerios 45, 1090g
- Exped Lightning 45, 1164g
- Sierra Designs Flex Capacitor 40-60, 1168g
- Osprey Exos 48, 1200g
- Mammut Ducan Spine 50-60, 1530g
- Gregory Paragon 48, 1540g
BEST BUY: Atom Packs Atom+ 40
Atom Packs is one of the few dedicated manufacturers of ultralight packs here in the UK. Based in the Lake District, this small but passionate team are already building an enviable reputation for turning out beautifully crafted, bespoke packs. Led by founder Tom Gale (a gangly 6ft 7in thru-hiker with some of the world’s longest trails under his belt, including the Appalachian Trail and Te Araroa), they manufacture every pack to order. This means that you can specify preferred pocket configurations, fabrics and colours to create a unique custom pack. The packs are also built tough, utilising 210-denier Robic Extreema fabric (or VX07/21 fabrics if preferred), designed to survive multiple days and many, many miles on the trail.
The Atom+ is basically a beefed-up version of the brand’s original frameless ultralight pack, the Atom. This one is built on the same body, but with an increased torso length to accommodate a removable hip belt and a foam back panel with a removable carbon hooped frame. Inevitably this adds a little heft, though the pack still weighs in at just 600g (that’s for the 40-litre size in a medium, with the lightest VX07 fabric as the main body). That makes it the lightest pack in this round-up by some distance. In terms of carrying capacity, it comes in 40 or 50-litre volumes, and the brand reckons it can haul up to about 13.5kg (30lbs) of kit, though we reckon around 10kg is a more comfortable cut-off.
Still, the removable padded foam hipbelt, removable padded back panel and contoured shoulder straps all aid carrying comfort. This is a far less spartan pack than some rivals. It’s also a lot more practical and versatile than most stripped-back, minimalist ultralight packs. For example, the harness incorporates two handy shoulder pockets either side of the sternum strap. These pockets are super stretchy and big enough to hold most smartphones or a fistful of trail bars. You can even get a lightweight flask in there, like a GSI Microlite 720 or Hydro Flask’s 24oz Lightweight Trail series (we tried it with both). There are also two roomy but tough side pockets, a large ‘shove-it’-style front pocket made from Dyneema stretch fabric, and also a Dyneema stretch bottom pocket on the base of the pack. The latter is designed to carry trail trash, which is a nice touch that helps us all to abide by LNT principles.
Elastic shock-cord on the front of the pack plus single side elastics enable you to stash additional gear (or, as the brand suggests, dry out soggy socks). They’re also a great place to secure tent poles or trekking poles, though there’s also a sewn-in trekking pole loop near the base of the pack. This really does feel like a pack that has been designed by people with plenty of experience when it comes to really long walks. If we were going to be hauling a pack through punishing terrain and serious miles, this would be our pick of the bunch, due to its hard-as-nails fabrics and unrivalled build quality. This makes it ideal for long-distance routes in the UK and further afield – and that would include some of the world’s epic thru-hikes, like the PCT or some of Western Europe’s longest Grande Randonnées.
Weight 600g/21oz (40-litre size in M back length with VX07 fabric) | Volume Available in 40 or 50 litre capacity| Sizes S/M/L/XL back lengths with XS-XL hipbelt | Main fabric 210D Robic Extreema or VX07 or VX21 | Frame Removable carbon fibre hoop | Pockets Up to 8 | Unisex.
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Osprey Levity 45
It took a while for specialist pack-maker Osprey to enter the ultralight arena, but when they did, it certainly caused a stir. The Levity (or women’s Lumina) is an internal-framed pack with a full perimeter frame and a suspended ‘trampoline’ mesh back system. Neither of those design features are usually found in the ultralight category – yet remarkably, the Levity 45 still weighs just 800g. To save weight elsewhere in the pack’s construction, Osprey developed their own ‘NanoFly’ ripstop fabric. This is very thin – almost translucent, in fact – but far tougher than it looks. Our tester carried this pack for three weeks straight while backpacking the 300-mile Cambrian Way across Wales, and it held up admirably.
In fact, it proved a stellar performer, delivering the brand’s trademark carrying comfort while coping with a full load of about 10kg, augmented by a couple of kilos of extra supplies at various points (mostly pork pies and Peperamis, if truth be told). The only piece of kit that ended up outside the pack was a lightweight tent, slung underneath via webbing straps. This was a decision taken soon after said tent got a good soaking a couple of days into the walk, and though the Levity lacks webbing attachment points of its own, sewn-in bottom loops and the front daisy chains enabled a couple of straps to be attached with minimal fuss.
Related: Best Long Distance Walks In The UK
Other features, like the roomy side pockets and large front pockets, came in very handy, as did the top zipped lid pocket. None of these pockets stretch though, so you do need to be slightly clever about your packing. The same is true when loading the main compartment, since it has a fairly unusual shape due to the curved and flared design of the back system. It does have a hydration sleeve and exit port though, which will suit backpackers who use a water reservoir. And though some users might bemoan the lack of hipbelt pockets, this can largely be alleviated by putting some thought into where and how you pack your kit (snacks at the top!).
Ultimately, if you’re looking to minimise your trail weight but still want the breezy ventilation of a suspended mesh back system, as well as the support and stability of a conventional internal-framed pack, the Levity is a solid choice. It will cope with typical lightweight backpacking loads up to about 10kg – the limitation here isn’t so much to do with the framing as with the relatively thin padding of the shoulder straps and hipbelt, and their degree of flex. Adjusting the load lifter straps helps but when overloaded the pack tends to pull, affecting overall carrying comfort. Still, provided you use it within the limits of the design you won’t be disappointed. When it comes to balancing weight, carrying comfort and ventilation, there’s probably no better ultralight pack out there.
Weight 800g/28.2oz | Volume Available in 45 or 60 litre capacity| Sizes S/M/L back lengths | Main fabric NanoFly UHMWPE Ripstop x 100D HT Nylon | Frame Perimeter wire frame | Pockets 4 | Women’s version? Yes (Lumina 45/60).
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Haglöfs L.I.M 35
The L.I.M 35 is essentially a large daypack, ideal for the biggest hill days from spring through to autumn. But since it can swallow 35 litres yet tips the scales at under a kilo, we felt it also merited a place in this ultralight packs round-up. It’s certainly one that will appeal to streamlined ultralighters and long-distance fastpackers, as well as lightweight wild campers looking for a compact but capable companion for quick overnighters.
Haglöfs’ L.I.M series stands for ‘Less Is More’, so it’s no surprise that the design ethos behind this pack is all about low weight and stripped-down features. However, this philosophy isn’t intended to compromise on performance or durability. As such, it has a full perimeter wire internal frame and a suspended mesh back system. This offers high levels of comfort and excellent airflow. And though the fabrics are lightweight, they’re also decently durable. The main body is made from 70-denier rip-stop polyamide, reinforced with a 140-denier panel in the base. All the materials are also Bluesign approved, ensuring the fabrics have been sustainably produced.
It’s a pretty versatile beast, and one that is a more comfortable carry than many rivals. That’s down to a well-designed harness in addition to that excellent ventilated back system. The hip belt consists of two broad padded fins with a single-pull, dual webbing strap. It does a good job of hugging the hips while simultaneously spreading the pressure over a wide surface area, which is far more effective than the often thin and basic waist belt straps found on most minimalist packs. Shoulder straps are fairly well padded too, with mesh inlays around the neck and collarbone area. They’re also equipped with load lifters and a sternum strap to further dial in the fit – just as well, since the back length is fixed and the pack only comes in one size.
In terms of storage, you get two triangular zipped stretch wing pockets plus two stretch mesh side pockets. The top-loading main compartment has an inner hydration sleeve and exit port, plus drawcord collar and a fixed lid with a small outer zipped pocket. The pack is fairly easy to load, though like a lot of trampoline-style back systems, that curved panel does intrude on the interior space a little. A minimalist shock-cord system on the outside of the pack offers both compression and additional gear storage.
Overall, we were impressed. The ventilated back system and well-designed harness make this a far more capable and comfortable pack than most rivals of similar capacity. In turn, this adds versatility, making it suitable not only for big hill days but also for minimalist overnighters or fastpacking trips.
Weight 930g/32.8oz | Volume 25 or 35 litres| Sizes One size | Main fabric 70D diamond ripstop nylon with 140D reinforcements | Frame Perimeter wire frame | Pockets 5 | Women’s version? Unisex.
Chosen for our Outdoor 100 2021/22. Read our full Haglöfs L.I.M 35 review.
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Montane Trailblazer 44
British brand Montane’s tagline is ‘Faster. Further’, which is an ethos that can be applied to ultralight backpacking as well as trail running. This pack is equally suitable for both pursuits, suiting ‘fast and light’ hikers as well as committed fastpackers. The design employs a single central stay in lieu of a full internal perimeter frame, giving some structural rigidity while keeping weight under a kilo. The harness and back panel are all about lightweight ventilation, with plenty of mesh and perforated foam for optimum airflow. In fact, with the pack on it feels a bit like wearing a trail running vest. That ensures a close, no-bounce fit and gives you plenty of practical pockets for easy ‘on the go’ access to drinks and snacks. You get two zipped chest pockets on the shoulder straps and zipped wing pockets on either hip.
The pack is a lidless roll-top design, but also has stretch mesh front and side pockets, and a forward zipped compartment. Inside there’s a hydration sleeve and a security pocket. Side compression straps, daisy chains and lower gear loops for trekking poles complete the feature set. So, although it’s a minimalist pack, it’s not short on storage solutions. Admittedly, the fabric isn’t the toughest, so this probably isn’t for you if you’re hard on your kit or likely to be doing a lot of bushwhacking. But for beating the averages on classic long-distance walks like the Pennine Way or the West Highland Way, this is the ideal companion.
The harness can be adjusted to fit a range of back lengths, providing sufficient support for loads up to about 10kg. The relatively thin shoulder straps and waist belt don’t have all that much in the way of padding, but if you’ve already got a lightweight setup, that shouldn’t be a problem. The 44-litre size will easily swallow camping gear, cooking kit and some spare clothing, while the profusion of pockets are handy places to stash snacks and tech. Overall, the Trailblazer 44 is a lightweight and functional pack, with a streamlined but practical design. It also seems very reasonably priced, without the eye-watering RRP of most specialist ultralight equipment.
Weight 980g/34.5oz | Volume Available in 30 or 44 litre capacity | Sizes O/S (adjustable back length) | Main fabric RAPTOR Cross Lite 70 Denier fabric, RAPTOR Resistance 210 Denier base panels | Frame Single centre stay | Pockets 9 | Women’s version? Unisex.
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Arc’teryx Aerios 45
Back in June this year, we managed to get our hands on the Arc’teryx Aerios 30, and we were pretty impressed with it. This 45-litre version is its bigger brother, sharing many of the same features as its smaller sibling but with a larger capacity built to handle overnighters and multi-day trips. Both are from the Canadian brand’s Aerios range of ‘fast and light’ kit, which so far encompasses a streamlined range of backpacks and trail shoes aimed at fast-packers.
Tipping the scales at just over a kilo, the Aerios 45 has an impressive volume-to-weight ratio. As we’ve come to expect from Arc’teryx, it employs premium materials, utilising tough but lightweight fabrics. The main body of the pack is a 210-denier Cordura nylon blend, with a ripstop grid employing liquid crystal polymer (LCP) mesh. LCP is basically the material known as aramid or Kevlar by another name – the same stuff used in bulletproof vests. As such, this is a pack that should withstand abrasion very well, making it ideal for tough trails.
“It’s easy to ensure a great, dialled-in fit.”
The design is similarly considered. It’s a rolltop-style pack with plenty of clever additional storage options and customisable elements, plus a low-profile harness derived from trail running packs. The pack has no rigid internal alloy frame – instead, it employs a stiffened framesheet comprised of foam and plastic polymer. It’s an excellent weight-saver that still gives the pack the capability to haul loads up to about 12kg. The innovative harness consists of padded, contoured shoulder straps with twin sternum straps and two zipped stretch mesh pockets. These wide panels conform to the shape of your torso, while the double bungees are designed to rise and fall with your chest movement. There are two further stretch mesh pockets on the hipbelt – one is zipped, the other elasticated. The belt is there for load stability rather than weight-bearing. It’s relatively thin, though well-shaped and ventilated. What you do get is a very close fit with minimal bounce, making this a pack well-suited to moving quickly over varied terrain.
There are lots of other features to like too. The AeroForm back panel is made of breathable mesh, which has a series of raised bumps or dots to further improve airflow. However, it feels a lot tougher than most mesh overlays. It’s a fixed back length, but the pack comes in both men’s and women’s versions, with two sizes (regular or tall) in each gender-specific version. As such, it’s easy to ensure a great, dialled-in fit.
The pack is top-loading, but there is two-way access to the main compartment via either the roll-top (which can be closed drybag style or cinched down using side compression straps) or a long side zip. This makes it easy to rummage around inside without needing to unbuckle and unroll the top section. The zipper itself is also a highly water-resistant, laminated, reverse-coil design.
We also liked the clever pocketing. The disadvantage of most roll-top packs is that you lose the additional storage of a traditional lid, but the Aerios overcomes this by instead giving you a zipped front pocket that you can basically used in the same way as a top lid pocket. There’s also a smaller security pocket with a key clip inside the main compartment, along with a hanging loop for a water reservoir and an exit port for a drinking tube. However, the pack’s best feature are its two cavernous side pockets, which have an adjustable shock cord system. They’re big enough to take two or even three water bottles (each!), or perhaps a sleeping mat or even your tent. The pack has sturdy daisy chain loops on the front and sides too, as well as a front shock-cord system. This makes it extremely configurable, so you can adapt the exterior as required. So, despite the streamlined and focused design, it’s a surprisingly versatile beast.
Weight 1090g/38.4oz | Volume 15, 30 or 45 litre capacity | Sizes Reg/Tall torso lengths | Main fabric 210D Cordura nylon 6,6 w/ 6.5 twisted 200D Liquid Crystal Polymer grid | Frame Foam/polymer framesheet | Pockets 8 | Women’s version? Arc’teryx Aerios 45 women’s (also available in reg/tall sizes).
The smaller Arc’teryx Aerios 30 was chosen for our Outdoor 100 2021/22. Read our full Arc’teryx Aerios review.
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Exped Lightning 45
The Exped Lightning is one of the most popular ultralight packs around. It was first released almost a decade ago, and the basic design is now well-proven. As such, you’ll see thru-hikers lugging the Lightning on long-distance trails throughout Europe as well as in the USA. In essence, it is a top-loading, lidless roll-top pack with well-padded shoulder straps. These are connected to a similarly well-padded lumbar panel and hipbelt via a single, chunky aluminium stay. There’s no framesheet or foam back panel, so there’s very little material against your back, delivering great ventilation. The vertical stay is augmented by an internal horizontal bar, forming a T-shape that Exped calls its ‘T-Rex’ frame (see what they did there?).
The latest version of the pack has tougher and more weatherproof fabrics than ever before, with a stronger T-frame and a redesigned lumbar pad and hipbelt. Otherwise, the features are relatively straightforward, consisting of a roomy main compartment with a mesh inner pocket for a water reservoir, and a deep external top pocket with a water-resistant zipper. Then you get twin stretch side pockets and zipped hipbelt pockets, plus external gear loops. There are also loads of compression straps to help stabilise your load or carry extra gear on the outside of the pack. Some might find this system a bit fussy, but it’s easy to customise the Lightning by removing the external webbing as preferred. In fact, if you don’t need the straps, you can take them all off, resulting in a very clean and streamlined pack.
“Balance between overall weight, carrying capability and user comfort.”
The sliding back system is a little fiddlier than some, but it has a wide range of adjustment to suit various torso lengths (hint: you’ll need to detach the Velcro lumbar pad, which folds down to give access to a hidden buckle). When set up correctly, it is a pretty capable gear-hauler. If you’re used to a full foam back panel or a trampoline-style system, the shoulder and lumbar padding might feel a little strange at first, but it does a good job at preventing a sticky, sweaty back. However, one thing to bear in mind is that you need to load the pack carefully to stop anything digging into your back. So, it’s a pack that suits highly organised hikers, especially since the lack of a lid, bottom compartment or front pocket means the bulk of your kit will all need to go in the main compartment.
Still, we liked the Lightning a lot. The latest iteration is a marked improvement on the previous generation that now strikes an even better balance between overall weight, carrying capability and user comfort. The build quality is also good, with tough fabrics and a highly weatherproof roll-top design that will suit long-distance walks in variable conditions. We reckon it would be ideal for walkers tackling classic long-distance routes like Wainwright’s Coast-to-Coast or even the Cape Wrath Trail.
Weight 1164g/41.05 | Volume Available in 45 or 60-litre capacity | Sizes One size (adjustable back length) | Main fabric 210D ripstop nylon, PU coated (1,500mm HH), Oeko-Tex 100 certified with DWR | Frame Aluminium alloy ‘T-Rex’ frame | Pockets 5 | Women’s version? Unisex.
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Sierra Designs Flex Capacitor 40-60
Designed with the help of US backpacking legend Andrew Skurka, the Sierra Designs Flex Capacitor packs are unique. A horizontal compression system enables the packs to expand outwards, giving you up to an extra 20 litres of capacity. This adds considerable versatility. The result is one pack that will do the job for quick overnighters as well as multi-day, long-distance adventures. It also allows you to overstuff the pack – for example, if you’ll be going a few days on the trail without resupply and therefore need to take on extra food or water. And unlike other packs with extending capacity, which often feel top-heavy when fully loaded, the outwards expansion system ensures that the Flex Capacitor remains stable and comfortable. In part, that’s thanks to a lightweight but surprisingly capable Y-shaped internal frame. This uses DAC aluminium alloy poles, the same as those found in many premium backpacking tents. Zoned shoulder, back and hip padding offers good cushioning, plus a little airflow, and the excellent hip belt transfers weight efficiently.
The top-loading main compartment has a bucket-style opening with a U-shaped zip. It’s easy to pack, with no awkward corners or curved back panel to intrude on interior space. We did find the zipper snagged occasionally on the fabric storm flap that covers it, which is a little frustrating. Inside, a removable mesh sleeve can take a hydration reservoir. On the exterior of the pack, there are twin large mesh stretch side pockets and trekking pole loops. You also get two useful zipped hip belt pockets and stretch pockets on the shoulder harness. These are great for stashing snacks, tech devices or water bottles. There’s no front pocket, because the compression system requires a central gusset and a lot of straps. This is the only real drawback of the design, as when cinched in they’re a little untidy and can flap around or snag on the trail branches and undergrowth. We also wondered about how weatherproof that top zip would be (especially since the pack has no raincover). Obviously, using drybags or a rucksack liner to pack your gear would get around this easily enough. So, overall, the innovative design outweighs any minor gripes, and it certainly proves its value on the trail. It’s a capable and comfortable gear-hauler, yet tips the scales at under 1.2kg (42.3oz). For a pack that will carry up to 60 litres, that’s an impressive feat.
Weight 1168g/41.1oz | Volume Available in 25-40, 40-60 and 60-75 litre capacity | Sizes S/M and M/L torso lengths plus S/M and M/L hip belt sizes | Main fabric 100D Nylon-Poly Ripstop/420D Nylon Oxford | Frame Y Flex DAC aluminium alloy | Pockets 5 | Women’s version? Unisex.
Chosen for our Outdoor 100 2020/21. Read the full Sierra Designs Flex Capacitor review.
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Osprey Exos 48
A stalwart of the lightweight backpacking scene, the Exos – or women’s Eja – is a perennial favourite amongst fast and light multi-day hikers. It was first launched back in 2009 before being redeveloped in 2014 with the now-familiar Exoform harness and Airspeed back system. It’s been part of the Osprey line-up ever since. Why? Well, basically, because the Exos and Eja series give you all the features and carrying comfort that are associated with Osprey packs, but with minimal weight.
The result is a pack that looks and feels a lot like the more deluxe gear-haulers in the Osprey range, while weighing in at just 1.2kg. We mentioned the harness and back system up top. This is a suspended-mesh, trampoline-style system, delivering plenty of airflow, combined with plush, padded, ergonomically sculpted shoulder straps and low-profile hip fins. The latter aren’t quite as comfortable as the wraparound hipbelts of Osprey’s bigger trekking packs, but are still supportive enough to handle lightweight and mid-range backpacking setups, providing decent weight transfer and good load stability. The pack’s perimeter alloy frame adds further rigidity to help carry reasonable loads in comfort.
Features are trail-friendly and useable: the Exos has roomy side pockets, a front stretch shove-it pocket fitted with a buckle and a floating, twin-buckle lid with both inner and outer zipped pockets. The main body of the pack is accessed under the lid, with a drawcord collar and top compression. Inside, there’s a hydration sleeve and exit port. The main compartment will accommodate plenty of kit, though it does require careful packing thanks to that curved back panel, which intrudes slightly on the internal volume. The outside of the pack has side compression webbing, an attachment loop and ‘stow on the go’ fitting for stashing trekking poles, plus lower webbing straps for attaching a sleeping mat or tent. To a certain extent, the pack is also strippable, as in common with many other Osprey packs, it has a removable lid with a FlapJacket top cover to give some added protection to the top drawcord closure.
So, with all these features, how comes the Exos is so light? The savings are largely down to the fabrics – the main body of the pack is made of 100-denier high-tenacity nylon. It’s a much lighter fabric than is typically found in most trekking packs, though still has a high strength-to-weight ratio. It ought to outperform packs like the ultralight Osprey Levity or Montane Trailblazer in terms of outright durability, while matching others like the Mammut and Sierra Designs options featured here.
Ultimately, the Exos is a superb all-rounder, and that is probably what accounts for its enduring popularity. It boasts excellent carrying comfort and stability, plus all the user-friendly design features of a conventional lidded rucksack. But at 1.2kg, it’s comparable in weight terms to far more spartan, skeletally framed packs like the Exped Lightning or Sierra Designs Flex Capacitor. So, if you’re looking to drop your trail weight but aren’t willing to make too many compromises, the Exos is an attractive choice – particularly when you also consider its pretty reasonable price point.
Weight 1200g/42.3oz | Volume 38, 48 or 58 litre capacity | Sizes S/M/L torso lengths | Main fabric 100D high-tenacity nylon | Frame Lightweight perimeter alloy | Pockets 5 | Women’s version? Osprey Eja 38/48/58 (available in S/M sizes).
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Mammut Ducan Spine 50-60
Described as a ‘lightweight hiking pack’, the Ducan Spine is built around a robust tubular alloy perimeter frame, which gives it plenty of rigidity and stability even when lugging heftier loads. So, while it isn’t in the same weight division as many sub-1kg ultralight packs, it’s a far more capable gear-hauler that, at a fraction over 1.5kg, still offers an excellent volume-to-weight ratio. To borrow an analogy from boxing, you can think of it as a welterweight rather than a featherweight, but with the bigger build to match. Basically, this is a pack designed to go the distance – although in terms of miles rather than rounds.
Load-bearing ability is further enhanced through Mammut’s innovative ‘Active Spine’ technology; a double-pivoting system designed to move with the natural motion of the hips and shoulders. We’ve seen pivoting hipbelts on many packs in the past, but the Ducan Spine also has pivoting shoulder straps. These are joined to the hipbelt by a flexible fibreglass rod, creating an hourglass-shaped back panel that supports the shoulders and lower lumbar while also holding the pack slightly away from your back for improved ventilation.
In fact, the only aspect that limits carrying comfort is the harness itself, which has some padding, but still isn’t the plushest (particularly compared to the deluxe cushioning of Mammut’s heavier, mountain-focused Trion Spine series). This pack also only comes in one size – though there is a women’s version – with a fixed back length. As such, it’s important to check the fit before you buy. The adjustable load lifter straps can be used to tweak the harness slightly, but it’s still a pack best suited to those with a back length of 18 inches or thereabouts (or around 16 inches in the women’s version).
That said, if it fits, you’ll likely love this pack. It boasts an array of original and practical features, like a single-pull compression system and a nifty removable waterproof pouch that attaches inside the pack, on the hipbelt or on the chest, giving you a versatile extra pocket. The roll-top design has a wide mouth opening to make it easier to access the main compartment, whether you’re packing up or rummaging through the pack for kit on the trail. There’s also a central zip to make this even easier, and there’s a zipped bottom compartment too. This would come in particularly handy for hut-to-hut trips, where you might just need to access a few essentials without unpacking your entire rucksack. The main closure is very secure, with a secondary zipper in addition to the drybag-style roll-top buckle. This means that if needed, it’s easy to overstuff the kit to carry extra supplies. The super-stretchy side pockets are very roomy, and will take a 1-litre Nalgene bottle, though the mesh fabric feels quite delicate. Still, it’s an impressive piece of engineering and a great choice for weight-conscious hikers tackling everything from long-distance walking routes to multi-day mountain treks.
Weight 1530g/53.9oz | Volume 28-35 or 50-60 litre capacity | Sizes O/S (fixed) | Main fabric 100D nylon-polyester blend with 210D nylon base | Frame Tubular alloy perimeter | Pockets 7 | Women’s version? Mammut Ducan Spine 50-60 women’s
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Gregory Paragon 48
The Paragon isn’t quite the lightest multi-day pack that Gregory has made – that would be the Optic 48 (1080g stripped), which OM editor Will Renwick reviewed back in mid-2019. In comparison, the Paragon weighs in at 1540g (technically, our cut-off point for a lightweight pack is 1.5kg, but we’ll let that slide). However, this pack is much more durable than the Optic, with a mix of 100D and 210D nylon fabrics on the main body, plus a more supportive hipbelt and a more comfortable back panel. As such, it seems a good option for backpackers looking to balance relatively low weight with lifetime durability and load-carrying comfort – the latter two being factors on which Gregory has built its reputation as a pack maker.
Unlike the fairly minimalist Optic, the Paragon is also arguably better suited to life on the trail. That’s because you also get loads of additional useful features such as a full-length side zip that gives access to the main compartment, plus a zipped bottom compartment. This has a toggled divider to separate it from the main compartment. The two large stretch side pockets will take a 1-litre Nalgene bottle and can be reached without taking the pack off. You also get a floating lid with two zipped pockets and an included raincover, plus two zipped hipbelt pockets and a large front shove-it pocket, with a buckle to stop your expensive down jacket or hard shell flying away down the trail.
The Paragon undoubtedly has the edge in carrying capacity too. In fact, this pack is one of the most capable load-luggers in this selection, easily hauling up to 18kg – though if your backpacking setup is that heavy, you probably shouldn’t be reading this round-up. But the 48 is designed with essentially the same harness and suspension system as the larger Paragon 58 and 68 packs, which accounts for that slightly overbuilt and over-specced weight capacity. It basically consists of a perimeter alloy frame with a fibreglass centre stay, designed to prevent the pack from barrelling when fully loaded. This is augmented by chunky shoulder straps, a ventilated, slightly suspended back panel and Gregory’s patented ‘freefloat’ hipbelt, which moves independently from the pack body. It works very effectively, offering good ventilation, plush comfort and plenty of grunt when it comes to taking the brunt of a fully loaded multi-day pack.
Of course, there’s no escaping the fact that for all its feature-laden carryability, this is still the heaviest pack here. Committed ultralighters would sneer at a pack that weighed 1.5kg even before you put anything in it – and that’s justifiable if your total load-out is a single digit figure when it comes to counting kilos. But if you’re hefting a little more weight than that, you’ll appreciate the gear-hauling capability of the Paragon. And let’s remember that everything is relative, after all – this pack is still significantly lighter than comparable rivals like the Osprey Kestrel or Deuter Futura Pro. It’s also an excellent multi-purpose rucksack, with the ability to handle camping weekends, hut to hut tours or extended lightweight multi-day trips.
Weight 1540g/54.3oz | Volume 48, 58 or 68 litre capacity | Sizes S/M or M/L (plus adjustable back length) | Main fabric 100D High Density Nylon & 210D High Density Nylon | Frame Wishbone perimeter alloy frame and fibreglass anti-barrelling cross-stay | Pockets 7 | Women’s version? Gregory Maven 45/55/65 (available in XS/S or S/M sizes, with adjustable back lengths).
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