Best Ultralight Backpack? Let's Dive Into a Thru-Hiker's Gear Closet!

Rafael 'Horsecake' Mujica
Best Ultralight Backpack UL Pack Backpacking GGG Garage Grown Gear Thru-Hiking

Wearing the Cutaway from Nashville Packs on the South Rim of Big Bend National Park, scouting where I was gonna propose to my now wife. No you can’t tell, but yes I was nervous. 

Your backpack can make or break a trip. If you grab a bag too small, you're going to be constantly playing tetris with your gear and food. If it's too big, you’ll be tempted to take more than you would like. A pack that’s not sized correctly to your torso risks being uncomfortable or even causing injury.

Understandably, the backpack is one of the top pieces of gear that backpackers fret about. It’s the core tool of the hobby!

There are more ultralight backpacks than ever on the market — made by more established brands, such as Gossamer Gear, Pa'lante and Hyperlite, as well as one-person cottage opeartions crafting UL Packs behind a sewing machine.

Choice means opportunity but can also cause confusion. How do you know which is the right ultralight pack for you and your thru-hiking, backpacking or fastpacking adventures?

As a general rule, I live by some guidelines. Anything between 15 to 30 Liters can be used for day hikes. Anything above that threshold can be used for overnight and multi-day trips.

These numbers can be fluid, as some hikers have their gear more dialed than others, and certain trip conditions determine what kind of gear you’ll need (microspikes and ice axes in snowy alpine environments, bear cans in high high density bear populations, large water carries in the desert, etc.). A person’s physical condition can also play a factor.

Like most gear nerds, I have a pack for nearly every occasion. Here’s a breakdown of all my packs, with detailed explanations around why and when I take each one. 


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Me, sitting next to a creek, thinking about the next pack I’m gonna buy.


Day Pack and Travel - The Gossamer Gear Vagabond

The Vagabond comes with a myriad of features that makes it incredibly useful as an EDC bag, bug out bag (if that’s your flavor), or as a day hike pack. Its best feature is that it can be worn like a traditional backpack, or used as a tote bag when you need to squeeze yourself into a crowded bus after loading it with groceries. 

I love that it comes with shoulder pouch pockets, so you can keep small important items within easy reach. The shoulder straps themselves are very plush, and the sternum strap has a wide range of adjustability and has some elasticity to it, giving a comfortable ride. Additionally, the top load design makes it hard for a curious thief to access the most valuable belongings inside the pack. 

Trust me, it's a very well designed bag, with its only drawback being that its top zipper is not waterproof. However, I have a much older version of this pack, and Gossamer Gear has since added water resistant zippers to the Vagabond. 


Best Ultralight Backpack UL Pack Backpacking GGG Garage Grown Gear Thru-HikingThe Gossamer Gear Vagabond on a day hike in the South Rim of the Grand Canyon. This is the second picture of me looking at a giant hole in the ground, so I must really like to do that I guess. 



The Tiempo by Nashville Packs

Having owned a Cutaway in the past, I know that the guys at Nashville Packs are stellar human beings who happen to also make stellar gear. Where the Vagabond is a day pack tailored more to travel, the Tiempo is intentionally designed for adventure — think day hikes, trail running and peak bagging.

Buyer beware, when you order this pack, you must also buy the shoulder straps separately. That is, unless you already own another pack from Nashville Packs. Making a two part purchase for a single piece of gear can be arduous. I have read several accounts and personally know of customers who have unwittingly bought just the pack, and become unpleasantly surprised when their package arrives in the mail.

However, if you can manage this INSURMOUNTABLE hurdle (insert largest eye roll emoji imaginable) by reading the full description for the Tiempo or Cutaway, you gain the opportunity to finely tune the fit of your pack to your unique torso, shoulder and chest size.    


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The Tiempo in real life. Human hand for scale

The MILE by Waymark Gear Co.

Where the Tiempo is adventurous, and the Vagabond excels at daily commuting, travel and day hikes, the MILE is the pack that fits the center of this Venn diagram. Its relatively small capacity of 28L and extendable collar make it perfect for day hikes, as well as ultralight overnighters in the summer.

It also sports a few features the other two packs don’t. One such feature is pretty ordinary in most packs, daisy chains. Daisy chains let you add to and customize your shoulder straps — or just go without any accessories and save weight.

If you’re looking for less of a pack for daily use, and want just ONE pack that can fit that day hike to overnighter realm of needs, then the MILE is the way to go. 

Best Ultralight Backpack UL Pack Backpacking GGG Garage Grown Gear Thru-Hiking

The MILE in an infinite white void.


Alternative Packs

Granite Gear Virga

16oz / 453.59g

26L /

Nashville Packs Tiempo

5.9 oz / 167.26g*

17L /

Waymark Gear Dark Sky

11.65oz / 330.27g

18L /

Waymark Gear Mile

16oz / 453.59

28L /

YAR.gear Cadence 

14oz / 396.89g

25L /

- In alphabetical order.

- All packs are frameless. 

*Weight of accessories and shoulder straps not included.

Best Ultralight Backpack UL Pack Backpacking GGG Garage Grown Gear Thru-Hiking

The MILE out in the wild 

Overnighter or Casual Trip -
The Meadowlark 30 by Neighborhood Packs

The longer I have backpacked (and in reality the older I get…), the less fussy I am about achieving high mileage days with a sub five pound baseweight.

Backpacking was an athletic sport for me. Nowadays, I do it for the vibes. Which is to say, more and more, I find myself reaching for my Meadowlark 30.

I went into great detail about my experience with the Meadowlark 30 in my gear review. It’s a feature rich, utilitarian, ultralight pack that gets the job done. The Meadowlark 30 is so versatile, it can work for a day hike or an ultralight thru-hike. For me though, it’s the perfect pack for a casual trip. I know exactly where my headphones and Milk Duds are, when I need them the most.


Best Ultralight Backpack UL Pack Backpacking GGG Garage Grown Gear Thru-Hiking

My maiden voyage with the Meadowlark in Northern Arizona.   


The Ultralight 40 by Volpi Packs

I have put the Ultralight 40 through a smorgasbord of conditions and trips. Desert thru-hike. No problem. Slot canyon backpacking. Again, no problem. The Volpi 40 is a no frills pack that is extremely versatile and hardy. Everything about it is simple, yet it performs reliably time and time again. It is extremely comfortable, and when you add the detachable padded hipbelt, it carries all your creature comforts well. It’s the green ‘93 Corolla with 500,000 miles that you see on your daily commute.  If you have wide shoulders or are into fastpacking, check out the Volpi Fastpack.


Best Ultralight Backpack UL Pack Backpacking GGG Garage Grown Gear Thru-Hiking
Going for a Rim-to-Rim-to-Rim of the Grand Canyon with the Volpi Ultralight 40. Again, I’m just staring into a giant natural cavity. I’m sensing a theme.

The Gossamer Gear Kumo 36

The Kumo has been a staple of the ultralight community for well over a decade, proving over and over it's still a relevant and reliable pack. It has some unique features that help it stand out. An over-the-top flap adds an extra layer of weather protection to the inside of the pack. The flap also sports a zipper for small yet important items. A slanted front pocket makes it easy to access the contents inside the mesh; a precursor to the bottom pocket so many ultralight packs have today.

The Kumo is made of Robic Nylon, which means it’s less water resistant than many of the other packs in this article, yet the Robic also makes it one of the most affordable packs on the market. If you have wide shoulders or are into fastpacking, check out the Fast Kumo 36, where the regular shoulder straps are replaced with running vest straps that can hold a plethora of stuff.


Best Ultralight Backpack UL Pack Backpacking GGG Garage Grown Gear Thru-Hiking

The Kumo, existing in a different white void. 


Alternative Packs

GG G4-20 Ultralight 

20.40oz / 578.33g

42L /

GG Kumo

18.5oz / 524.46g*

36L /

Packback Soolite

12.90oz / 365.70g

34L /

Volpi Ultralight

13.4oz / 379.88g**

45L /

Waymark Gear EVLV Ultra

14.20oz / 402.56g

35L /

- In alphabetical order.

- All packs are frameless.

*Weight of removables included.

**Weight of removables not included.


Best Ultralight Backpack UL Pack Backpacking GGG Garage Grown Gear Thru-Hiking

The Kumo out in nature. 


Ultralight State of Mind Packs - The Dandee

I have worked with Dan from Dandee Packs on several occasions. I helped pilot his running vest straps, and I've put in way too many orders for Dan’s gear (I have a problem, obviously). The man is talented and driven by detail. Dandee Packs' customer service is superb. I could go on and on, so I will.

Dandee Pack’s level of craftsmanship is exceptional, and stands above many other cottage makers. I have yet to have a Dandee Pack start to feel uncomfortable or deteriorate from heavy use. They are some of the best performing packs I have used.

From my experience, Dandee Packs is willing to experiment with different configurations and materials, as well as customize most aspects of their packs. Dan is the man, and I eagerly await his return to Garage Grown Gear. 


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My Dandee Pack, out in Slot Canyon Country.



The Joey by Pa’lante Packs

Do you remember April 2019? Avengers: Endgame was dominating movie theaters, the remix to “Old Town Road” was living rent free in your head, and the long awaited Joey from Palante had finally hit the market after years of anticipation.

The Joey was the first running vest backpack with an ultralight twist. It’s meant for backpackers who want to move all day. (Slaps pack). There are SO MANY pockets on this bad boy! Fastpacking is when it really shines; but if you're dialed in, you could even thru-hike with a Joey.

My favorite aspect of the Joey is that it has kept that ultralight state of mind throughout the last four years. It has not experienced the weight creep that many manufactures have placed on their packs, in order to offer more features and comfort to a wider audience. It is bare bones, but the Joey gives you the features you absolutely need.


Best Ultralight Backpack UL Pack Backpacking GGG Garage Grown Gear Thru-Hiking

The Joey in all black Ultra. Tree limb for scale. 

The Cutaway by Nashville Packs 

I wrote a detailed gear review for the Cutaway, as I was one of the early adopters of the pack back in 2019, and wanted to share my thoughts with the backpacking community. I LOVED this pack; it was nearly perfect in every way. I loved it so much in fact, that I wore it down until the shoulder straps were paper thin.

It’s perfect for long water carries, as the shoulder strap pockets can fit 1L water bottles each. In the large continuous front pocket, you can fit TWO 1.5L water bottles with sports caps AND a 3L Cnoc Vecto.

The front pocket is my favorite feature, as you can fit everything you would want throughout the day, and easily reach for it when you want it. Those small items you need, like chapstick or hand sanitizer, can go in the SIX shoulder pockets on your chest. Don’t forget though, you have to buy the shoulder straps separately.  


Best Ultralight Backpack UL Pack Backpacking GGG Garage Grown Gear Thru-Hiking
The Cutaway on the Guadalupe High Route, with a huge water carry and a giant sandwich. The monument at the top of Guadalupe Peak for scale. 


Alternative Packs

Bonfus Iterus 

12.02oz / 340.76g

38L /

Nashville Packs Cutaway

10.3oz / 292.00g*

43L /

Palante Desert Pack

19.20oz / 544.31g

37L /**

Palante Joey

13.90oz / 394.05g

24L /**

YAR.gear Mountain Drifter

14.08oz / 399.16g

38L /

- In alphabetical order.

- All packs are frameless.

*Weight of pack only. Strap weight not included. 

**Internal volume only.


Best Ultralight Backpack UL Pack Backpacking GGG Garage Grown Gear Thru-Hiking

The Joey, on the left, out in nature. 


Ultralight Haulers - the Atom+ by Atom Packs

At the end of the day, if my gear closet was on fire and I could only save one pack, it would be the Atom+. There are several caveats to this statement that are important for context, though. The first and most important is that I got my Atom+ back in 2018, when Atom Packs was just starting out as a company; and by company, I mean just Tom Gale and a sewing machine. You can read about just how custom made my pack was here, but the short version is that it shares the best features of the Atom+ and the Mo, and Tom was able to customize every aspect of the pack.

With success came more orders and emails, which allowed for less customization. There is still tons you can customize on your Atom Pack, more than many other cottage brands, in fact, but not the way you could back in ‘the before times.’ I'm super happy for Tom and his success.

I have put this pack through so much abuse. Through all kinds of weather, flora, elevations, and temperatures. I have put more than 35 pounds into it, and it carried fantastically. After five years, it still carries comfortably. It's so nice that I've been thinking about picking up a Roo for everyday carry. 


Best Ultralight Backpack UL Pack Backpacking GGG Garage Grown Gear Thru-Hiking
The Atom+, right before I set off to accidentally set the FKT for the Guadalupe Ridge Trail



The Mariposa 60 by Gossamer Gear 

Gossamer Gear has made this list three times; not only because they've been around since the late 20th century (1998), making them one of the oldest ultralight cottage brands, but also because they've gotten pretty good at making packs. It's no wonder why the Mariposa 60 consistently makes it onto nearly all of the Halfway Anywhere thru-hiker surveys.

At 60L, and a carrying capacity of 30 pounds, the Mariposa is the definition of ultralight hauler. Its internal frame does the magic, while the external sit pad sheath adds carrying comfort — the fact that it can also be used as a sit pad or sleeping pad is a solid bonus.

Like the Kumo, it has an over-the-top flap that helps keep the inside of your pack dry, with a zippered compartment that allows quick access to the items you need most.

The Mariposa also offers features that will seem familiar to traditional backpackers. The padded hip belt comes with easily accessible pockets. Hikers will find it simple to internally hang a bladder and run a hose to the front of the body.

Unlike most packs on the market, cottage or not, it also sports one tall pocket on the left side, and two normal sized pockets on the right — allowing you to store an umbrella, tent poles, or trekking poles on one side, and a water bottle and smaller items on the other. It’s a hauler, y’all. 


Best Ultralight Backpack UL Pack Backpacking GGG Garage Grown Gear Thru-Hiking

The Mariposa in Fall colors. 

The Framus 48L by Bonfus

The Framus has been on my radar for about two years now. The Atom+ has gone on my hardest trips, has seen many miles, varying conditions, and does not have an infinite amount of time left. It will eventually give out, as most packs do. When that happens, the Framus will be my next hauler. For good reason too.

The Framus is one of the lightest internally framed packs on the market. At 25oz (708g), with a padded hip belt, thiccc shoulder straps, and load lifters, it’s rated for a carry capacity of up to 40 pounds.

That amount of comfort and carrying capacity is perfect for winter trips, large water carries, longer off-trail trips, thru-hikes, or someone transitioning from a traditional backpacking style to something a bit more weight conscious.

Everything about the Bonfus design is well thought out. The aluminum stays are removable and adjustable. The pack uses Ultra 200 and 400, along with Ultragrid and taped seams, making it highly durable and water resistant. Did I mention the v-style over-the-top strap is perfect for a bear canister, or a large bag of Cheetos? 


Best Ultralight Backpack UL Pack Backpacking GGG Garage Grown Gear Thru-Hiking

The Framus is ideal for adventures that require some extra gear. 


Alternative Packs

Bonfus Fraumus

25.40oz / 720.07g

48L /

2 removable aluminum stays

GG Mariposa

30.50oz / 864.66g

60L /

1 U-Shaped internal stay

Granite Gear Crown 3

40oz / 1133.98g

60L /


Hyperlite Mountain Gear Southwest

30.80oz / 873.16g

40L /

2 removable aluminum stays

LiteAF Ultra Curved 40

31oz / 878.83g

55L /

2 removable aluminum stays

Pilgrim Ultralight Gear Highline Framed Backpack

22oz / 623.69g

44L /

1 Aluminum frame stay

- In alphabetical order.

Best Ultralight Backpack UL Pack Backpacking GGG Garage Grown Gear Thru-Hiking

From this angle, you can see how the frame, shoulder straps, and hip belt of the Framus make one cohesive unit that yields a high carrying capacity. 


Let’s Accessorize Your UL Pack

Your pack is the foundation of your backpacking system. You’re not making it through your 100 mile itinerary, if your pack doesn’t physically fit you or your needs. It’s always good to make your pack your own. Here are some ways to do just that.


I did an exhaustive review of the four lightest hiking umbrellas on the market, so head over there for the number crunching. However, I would like to introduce you to a new ultralight umbrella option: the Lightweight Umbrella by no/W. At 5.10oz (144g), it’s lighter by over half an ounce than the umbrellas that I previously reviewed.

What’s unique about the Lightweight Umbrella is that it does not have a reflective coating on the outer canopy. However, it still sports a UPF50+ rating, making it fantastic at keeping the sun off of you. I used a similar umbrella on the PCT, and didn’t find myself wanting for the reflective material, and thus saved weight.

If you want to go hands-free while hiking with your brand new umbrella, don’t forget to pick up one of these kits. 


Best Ultralight Backpack UL Pack Backpacking GGG Garage Grown Gear Thru-Hiking

Going hands-free with the SMD Silver Shadow. Pictured are the WEBO Shoulder Pouch and the Town Shirt Sun Hoodie.

Extra Pockets

There are all kinds of pockets you can add to your pack to make it fit your style of backpacking. There are shoulder pockets that let you store important small items that you need at a moment’s notice, as well as pockets that extend your total water capacity. There are even traditional hip belt pockets that can double as sternum packs. How about a fanny pack? There is literally no reason to stop hiking while the sun is out, unless you want to smell the wildflowers.

Gear Protection

I typically use Nylofume liners to keep my most important yet least weather resistant gear protected. It ensures that my down jacket and quilt stay dry. If you want to beef up your pack liner, you can always get something a bit sturdier. Lastly, whenever I’m one-bagging and traveling minimally, I like to keep my clothes and gear in cubes to keep everything organized and protected.

Bottom Line

Backpacking can be an expensive endeavor. That’s why it's important to get the right ultralight pack for your specific backpacking and thru-hiking objectives — so you only have to buy once, or at least are deeply self-aware when placing another order for a custom cottage-made pack ; )

It's also a mightly good idea to jump on sales when they come around, like the big Black Friday Cyber Monday Sale coming up on November 21st through the 27th on GGG! Hard plug, I know ; ) 



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UL Packs at GGG




Best Ultralight Backpack UL Pack Backpacking GGG Garage Grown Gear Thru-Hiking

Now get out there and hike! Thanks for reading: )

Rafael is a freelance writer and adventurer based in the Mountain West. You can find him trail running, backpacking, or sampling the best tacos during his free time. Follow all his adventures over on Instagram, or read more of his work over on his website

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