ultralight backpack reviews

A backpacker at Evolution Lake on the John Muir Trail in Evolution Basin, Kings Canyon National Park.

The Best Backpacking Gear of 2023

By Michael Lanza

The Wind River Range. The Maze District of Canyonlands National Park. Iceland. The John Muir Trail, Wonderland Trail, and Teton Crest Trail. Yosemite. The Grand Canyon. Glacier National Park. Yellowstone. The North Cascades and Pasayten Wilderness. Idaho’s Sawtooth Mountains. The High Uintas Wilderness. The Tour du Mont Blanc. These are just some of the numerous places where I’ve tested the backpacking gear and apparel reviewed at The Big Outside—so that I can give you honest and thorough, field-tested opinions that help you find the best gear for your adventures.

And that’s exactly how I came up with these picks for today’s best backpacking gear.

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A backpacker in the Ten Lakes Basin, Yosemite National Park.

The 10 Best Backpacking Packs of 2023

By Michael Lanza

Backpacks come in many sizes and designs for a reason: so do backpackers. Some of us need a pack for moderate loads, some for heavy loads, and others, increasingly, for lightweight or ultralight backpacking. Some prefer a minimalist pack, others a range of features and access. Everyone wants the best possible fit and comfort, and almost everyone has a budget. But no matter which type of backpacker you are, this review covers the best packs in each of those categories.

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Backpackers in upper Titcomb Basin, Wind River Range, Wyoming.

The Best Ultralight Backpacks of 2023

By Michael Lanza

Do you need an ultralight backpack? Many backpackers might answer “no” when, for many reasons, their answer should logically be “yes.” These packs aren’t just for thru-hikers. Typically weighing roughly between under two pounds and three pounds empty, ultralight packs have support for carrying 25 to 35 pounds—making them ideal for more than just ultralight backpacking. For many backpackers, that represents the range of pack weight they either carry on most trips—or could carry on most trips, with smart packing and reasonably light gear.

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The Mountainsmith Zerk 40 ultralight backpack.

Review: Mountainsmith Zerk 40 Ultralight Backpack

Ultralight Backpack
Mountainsmith Zerk 40
$220, 40 liters/2,440 c.i., 1 lb. 13 oz./822g (including removable accessories)
One unisex size, fits torsos 16-19 inches

Within the rather exclusive category of ultralight backpacks weighing two pounds or less, one sees similarities, most commonly and conspicuously a frameless, roll-top design with large external pockets. The Mountainsmith Zerk 40 takes that template and juices it with some smart details and add-ons, tougher materials, and a touch of modularity while keeping it significantly under two pounds. That suited my needs quite well trekking hut to hut for six days on Iceland’s Laugavegur and Fimmvörðuháls trails—and I think much about the Zerk will also appeal to many ultralighters and thru-hikers.  

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The Osprey Exos 58 ultralight backpack.

Review: Osprey Exos 58 and Eja 58 Ultralight Backpacks

Ultralight Backpack
Osprey Exos 58 and Eja 58
$260, 58L/3,539 c.i., 2 lbs. 14 oz. (men’s medium)
Sizes: men’s S/M and L/XL, women’s XS/X and M/L

Osprey’s men’s Exos and women’s Eja packs would seem like shining examples of gear proven to perform so well for so long that redesigning them risks customer backlash. As a longtime fan of the packs, I was eager to take the Exos 58 on a long cruise—nine days and nearly 130 miles through the High Sierra in August, mostly on the John Muir Trail with some on- and off-trail detours. I came away from that walk convinced that, with what they changed and what they kept in the Exos/Eja, Osprey done made these packs even better.

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