ultralight backpack reviews

The Deuter Aircontact Ultra 45+5 SL backpack.

Review: Deuter Aircontact Ultra 50+5 and 45+5 SL Backpacks

Ultralight Backpack
Deuter Aircontact Ultra 50+5
$250, 55L/3,356 c.i., 2 lbs. 11 oz./1.2kg
Deuter Aircontact Ultra 45+5 SL
$250, 50L/3,051 c.i., 2 lbs. 11 oz./1219g
One adjustable size in both models
Aircontact Ultra 50+5: backcountry.com
Aircontact Ultra 45+5: rei.com

Many mid-size, lightweight and ultralight backpacking packs share more similarities than differences—because the design details they share have proven popular and work. Still, Deuter’s Aircontact Ultra 50+5 and 45+5 SL distinguish themselves from some competitors for their adjustable, comfortable fit and smart design details that make a difference in your experience carrying it, as I found using the Aircontact Ultra 45+5 SL on a five-day, late-summer backpacking trip in the Wind River Range and a three-day hike on the 22-mile Boulder Mail Trail-Death Hollow Loop in the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument in early October.

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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./1.3kg (men’s medium)
Sizes: men’s S/M and L/XL, women’s XS/X and M/L
Exos: osprey.com
Eja: osprey.com

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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The Gregory Focal 58 backpack in the Grand Canyon.

Review: Gregory Focal 58 and Facet 55 Ultralight Backpacks

Ultralight Backpack
Gregory Focal 58 and Facet 55
$250, 58L/3,539 c.i., 2 lbs. 11 oz. (men’s small)
Sizes: men’s S-L, women’s XS-M

Starting my six-day backpacking trip in the Grand Canyon with more than the recommended max weight in my Gregory Focal 58 and planning some strenuous days of hiking up to 12 miles with over 7,000 feet of cumulative elevation gain and loss—including seven very steep off-trail miles—I knew I’d put this pack to a serious test. Not a problem for the Focal 58, though, which proved not only comfortable but has a nice feature set, too.

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Gossamer Gear Mariposa 60 ultralight backpack.

Review: Gossamer Gear Mariposa 60 Ultralight Backpack

Ultralight Backpack
Gossamer Gear Mariposa 60
$285, 60L/3,661 c.i., 1 lb. 14 oz. (medium pack with small hipbelt)
Sizes: unisex S-L for both pack and hipbelt

Certain items of gear rise to the status of “classic” based on their enduring popularity—especially with ultralight backpacking gear—and that rings true for the Mariposa 60. After hauling it on late-summer, multi-day hikes in Wyoming’s Wind River Range and Washington’s Pasayten Wilderness, I’ve come to understand why I’ve seen this pack on the backs of so many ultralighters: It sports much of what you’d want in an ultralight backpack with hardly a flaw.

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