Small Packs for Ultralight Backpacking

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Home Forums Campfire Editor’s Roundtable Small Packs for Ultralight Backpacking

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    Ryan Jordan


    Locale: Central Rockies

    A bit of talk ensues when pack weight is the topic of discussion, and especially, the weight of the actual backpack. Case in point from my own personal perspective: my passion for hiking with the 3.7 oz G6 Whisper Backpack.

    However, relative to “light weight packs”, not much attention is paid to “low volume packs” and their benefits.

    This forum is here to serve as a companion to the editorial:

    Small Packs for Ultralight Backpacking and the companion reviews that were published this week on small volume packs, which are linked from the editorial and the home page.

    Questions for discussion:

    Do you ever use a small volume pack? Why? Which ones do you like and why?

    And the biggie:

    Is a small volume pack with some niceties, such as a rudimentary frame(or framesheet), a few extra pockets to aid organization, more durable fabric, etc., worth the weight over a far simpler, less durable, but perhaps lighter and larger pack?


    1. Do you ever use a small volume pack? Why? Which ones do you like and why?

    Yes, always the smallest one I can get away with for that specific hike. I like to be descreet on public transport and on the trail. Looking like a day-hiker or trail runner.. My favorite is the Dana Design Kompressor, stripped on a few straps and with a thicker foam pad for stability and isolation for my feet while sleeping. 1000 cu in, big enough for a 3 day/2 nights/3-season lowland hike with SUL gear without kitchen. I had a GoLite Dawn, it was alright, but I could not stand the freakishly green color.. I also use an Osprey Daylite pack quite often. It is rather heavy for its volume, but quite sturdy and sits great on the back for running and biking too, even after getting rid of the straps I didn’t need.

    2. Is a small volume pack with some niceties..worth the weight over a simpler, less durable, but lighter and larger pack?

    No, no niceties for me please. A main compartment+top lid pocket & possibly mesh pockets on the sides for water/wet gear, that is enough. With backpacks with lots of pockets and straps everywhere, I always tend to look in all the wrong ones before finding what I’m looking for..


    Paul Grube


    Locale: Above Cache Creek, CA


    Dan Healy


    Locale: Queensland

    For the past year my self and girlfriend have been mostly using Macpac 35amp which is about the size of a normal 45l (approx 2700ci) pack. I normally carry a total of 7 – 14kg with this pack (I carry all the food, shelter, cooking gear so as to make a happy trip and have her come out more often!).

    The extra weight of a 35amp is relative – I weigh 86kg and compete in mtb races and adventure races. 1050g is only 1.2% of my body weight so the extra 300g or so (of a 35amp over a lighter pack) does not mean as much to me as a less fit 72kg person.

    Features: shock cord system for 2 water bottles – on the front straps!, 2x food and gadget pouches right where you need them – in front of you!, easy to get at side pouches with the closing system so your beanie, gloves and WB jacket does not fall/get ripped out (no other pack comes close here), 2 organising pouches on the top lid, shock cord on the rear for wet tarp or jacket. All this means I am not stopping to get at different clothes, food, changing a jacket etc. Also taking a photo or using binos is easy (clip the binos on the front straps) so I tend to do it more. All leading to a more enjoyable and hassle experience.

    The suspension system allows me to comfortably carry 10kg all day for 5 days and not start wondering where the finish of the trip is. In Australia we regularly carry 3 to 5 litres of water so pack weights can get to 12kg+ very easily. Try doing that with a sleeping mat as suspension!

    paul johnson


    Locale: LazyBoy in my Den - miss the forest


    when my pack wt was heavier, i would place either some old arrow shafts i had laying around cut to length, or more frequently, the pre-bent, shock-corded hoop pole of my bivy into the pad pocket, or b/t the rolls of my sleepingpad inside (depending upon which pack i was using at the time) of my frameless pack. this, effectively, acted as stays to prevent collapse of the virtual frame formed by the pad.

    just a thought.

    Ken Bennett


    Locale: southeastern usa

    If you look in the “Large but Lightweight” gear review on the main page, you’ll see the Atmos 50, which is about 3000 cubic inches. So 3000ci = Large <g>.

    Ryan mentions the GoLite 24 pack in his essay, which is 1250 cubic inches. Hope that helps.


    James Augustine
    BPL Member


    Locale: Southern California

    I just came back off a Mt. Williamson climb (California Sierra), west face, 12 mile, one way, 9000 feet gain, over 4 days, and used the GoLite Infinity pack, Kahtoola crampons, Grivel air tech racing axe, food, water (100 oz Platy bladder), Ryan’s essentials (Arc x bivy and bag), titanium 700 mug, backpacking light’s small spork, Gigapower stove and fuel, cocoon pullover, golite ether wind shirt, some extras, weighing 27.5 pounds. Can I go lighter on this?


    Jim Augustine

    kevin davidson


    Locale: Mythical State of Jefferson

    one of my favorite death marches.did you do the “normal” west side route or something technical?
    I’ve enjoyed the NW buttress in the past. and there’s always George Creek–about 10,000 feet of gain.

    What was your base weight (everything less food/water/worn clothing) ? It sounds as though you did a great job keeping weight down but hard to evaluate w/o more info–a more complete gear list possible?

    As far as packs go, the Infinity is an excellant choice. Most any pack that was significantly lighter
    would probably be too fragile for such use. At least until Dr. Jordan’s packs are on the market.

    This discussion should probably be on another thread as I realize that this started as ” small packs for ultralight bp-ing “–sorry.

    John Davis


    Locale: Isle of Man

    I can cope nicely with beer in pints, petrol in litres, distances in miles, ascents in metres and temperatures in Celsius, Kelvins or Fahrenheits, but cubic inches leave me dazed.

    I once worked out that there were 61 cubic inches to a good, old litre. Am I right. And does it matter when manufacturers measure volumes differently.


    I think the conversion formula from liters to cubes is .66 x liters = cubes

    Anders Bentsen
    BPL Member


    Locale: Oppdal

    liters to cubic inches: liters/0.016= cubic inches. Hope this could help.

    paul johnson


    Locale: LazyBoy in my Den - miss the forest

    you’re right John

    1L = 61.02374 in^3 (i.e. cu. in.)

    as is Anders

    1 in^3 = 0.01638706 L

    Ken Helwig
    BPL Member


    Locale: Scotts Valley CA via San Jose, CA

    the lazy way would be to type a search for the conversion. There are many sites that will do it for you. Just plug in the numbers and bingo.

    Oliver Budack
    BPL Member


    Why dont the americans use metric units like the rest of the world? Then there would be no problem :P


    paul johnson


    Locale: LazyBoy in my Den - miss the forest

    Why not switch?
    1. It’s what we’re used to. Metric system has been taught to children in school – even in the ‘dark ages’ when i was a kid. Perhaps with the hope that one day we might switch??? Although, whether we switch or not, it is very impt to know the metric system if one is involved in various scientific fields. It’s still unusual to hear metric equivalents here in the U.S. (e.g. i’ll often say it’s 400m or 800m, or 3 ‘kliks’ instead of 440yds/0.25 mi, etc. – do i ever get strange looks, even from my co-workers who also are familiar with the metric system, being engineers). Temperature is still my stumbling block, however. I’m forever performing mental conversions back and forth (unelss it’s a common C Temp, e.g. 20 deg C, 25 C, 37C – can’t think in Celsius yet. For years had my Audi automobile’s climate control set for Celsius display (as a learning aid), but it didn’t help much (mainly b/c it dealt with a restricted temp range, which i got to know well, but for OAT it was more difficult – maybe you can’t teach this old dog any new trick (besides my wife hated having to always ask me to what number she should adjust the temp to – see case in point, viz. people are unfamiliar with it & resistant to change – in the interest of matrimonial harmony, my Audi’s climate control system was returned to English units).

    My daughter studied abroad in London, England & found to this day some people there still have some problems with various aspects of the metric system (mostly older people probably, but i didn’t query her more specifically on this point).

    2. Too expensive to switch, especially nowadays with the proliferation of both mechanical, electro-mechanical, and electronic ‘gizmos’ of all types, in homes, automobiles, etc. Although, I would think that with so many imported, cost would not be that great since perhaps, in some/most cases, metric equivalents already exist. Perhaps they wouldn’t sell as well to the people in the good ‘ol USofA???

    Well, this is my…

    0.0167567 EUR (which = $0.02, or 2cents)

    …on the matter.

    [note: if this subject expands with replies, perhaps we should take it to the ‘Chaff’ thread where it would more properly belong.]

    John Chan


    I think it really depends on the application of the pack.
    Small volume packs with slightly heavier materials would be a benefit if your route takes you over rugged class 4 terrain where you need mobility and there’s a risk of pack abrasion. The downside of the system (for me) is the flip-side of Ryan’s argument. Less pack size = less versatility for a group. If you are trying to make big miles with a partner in tow sometimes you’ll have to “pick up the slack” when either of you falls behind. Not easily done without excess cubes in your pack. With a proper compression system in the larger pack you can retain a virtual frame right up till the end of the trip with some improvisation.

    My system “experimental” tries to address this dilemma. Below are the essential components that make the system work.

    5 night trip into Killarney La Cloche trail (100 km)

    Day 1:

    -Granite Gear Virga (adjusted to mid-volume)
    -3’x2′ reflectix sheet (for virtual frame and extra warmth)
    -Hennessy Hammock + supershelter (in snakeskins and lashed overtop pack)
    -Nunakak Ghost in medium silnylon stuff bag
    -Hennessy open cell foam insulator in stuff bag

    with associated gear + food + 1 L water

    Base pack weight = 10.95 lb
    Total pack weight = 20.65

    Day 5:

    -Granite Gear Virga (compressed to lowest volume)
    -3’x2′ reflectix pad (rolled tighter)
    -Hennessy Hammock + supershelter in snakeskins (moved to inside of pack)
    -Nunatak Ghost (in pack, without stuff sack, allowed to freely expand)
    -Hennessy open cell foam pad (outside stuff sack augmenting the reflectix virtual frame component)
    -other gear

    Base pack weight = 10.95 lb
    Water weight = 2.2 lb
    Total pack weight = 13.15 lb

    So this system works because some gear (the shelter) starts out lashed to the pack but can be brought into the pack when food is depleted, and the compressible gear can also be used to retain tension for the virtual frame to work properly. You also have the option to re-arrange stuff to accomodate gear from your partner if he/she is struggling.

    My thoughts,


    John S.
    BPL Member


    Moe, what do you do with your water bottle while hiking with the Dana Design Kompressor? It has no side pockets correct? Do you use hiking poles?

    Steven Scates MD
    BPL Member


    I’ve been out for a bit, but have access again to the forum-just as I plan a 4 day hike to Yosemite next week!

    I am going lighter than in the past, with my 38#s of stuff. I bought a GoLite Infinity, which saved 5# from my Arc Bora. I changed to an Arc Alpinist bag and tarp. I’m at 16# base, much better, but a ways to go.

    The biggest problem for me remains the small volume of the pack. I think it will work, but a few items eat a lot of volume (pad, Micropuff jacket, Nunatek pants, rain gear).

    Do you fit everything into these small volumes by brute force/compression sacks or tie anything outside? Before I move to anything lighter, the volume of couple of items will need to shrink.

    Thanks for the great forum to everyone,


    paul johnson


    Locale: LazyBoy in my Den - miss the forest

    multi-prong approach:

    1. smaller, lighter gear
    2. frequently accessed items in outside pockets (e.g. rain gear, windshirt, water treatment, water bottles – even sometimes the water bladder, depending upon the pack)
    3. other than summer (can use the smaller GossamerGear G6), a good-sized pack, e.g. GossamerGear G5 (in your case the GossamerGear Mariposa internal frame pack would be more appropriate due to your current base pack wt.) – both are larger than the Infinity.
    4. a pad which is no more than 48″ in length, though usually just a torso-length pad. furthermore, using the GossamerGear G5 or Mariposa, the pad goes in a pocket on the outside of the pack, freeing up space/volume inside of the pack. The pad goes against the back for padding & comfort & is readily handy for use as a sit-pad during rest stops.

    Patti Binder
    BPL Member


    Locale: Southwestern Florida

    One option: Don’t use stuff sacks for clothing or sleeping bag. Use a good strong waterproof pack liner and stuff everything in together. Eliminating those spaces between stuff sacks makes a lot more space. And the stuff like kitchen and food that needs stuff sacks nestles down in the soft stuff, eliminating more gaps. Saves weight of all those stuff sacks, too.
    Have fun on your hike.

    Steven Scates MD
    BPL Member


    Thanks for the advice.

    Patti, I had multiple stuff sacks that led to dead space as you described. I’ll repack without them, since they were not compression sacks anyway. If that doesn’t do it, I’ll pick up the packs as suggested by Paul.

    The main culprit is a heavy, non-compressable pad (an exped!-but I’ll try to change to the pads from BPL. Last year at this time, at 11000ft, it dropped to 9 deg F, and the ground was really cold. The Thermarest froze me all night. I’ve used the exped on snow with no coldness at all, but this is 2 lbs extra, so there must be a better way).

    Sorry to drift, but your advice is exactly what I have needed to try to improve.

    Thanks again, I’ll repack again.



    I’ve mostly used a belt pouch for the water bottle. and sometimes kept extra water in a platypus inside the Dana Kompressor. Works fine I think.

    I never use poles for regular hiking, only in the winter with snowshoes.


    Robert Ebel


    Locale: Earth Orbit

    Instead of using one big liner or many small bags I go in between. I like the sleeping bag and camp jacket in a bag of their own and then use some oversize bags for the rest of the stuff so it can all flow together and eliminate those dead spaces.

    Vick Hines


    Locale: Central Texas

    I use a 1100-1400 (variable) pack not counting 3 outside pockets which total less than about 600 when the pack is loaded. The pack weighs 5.75 ounces.

    Load control: structure is from two fitted, horizontal stuff sacks for the quilt and the hammock. These help the bag hold its 11×6 cross section. The quilt goes on the bottom, smaller sacks come next, then the fitted foodsack, which changes size and cannot be used for structure as a result. The hammock comes next at just below shoulder strap height. Finally any extras such as first aid and the sanctum sanctorum. Putting non-fitted sacks between and above the fitted sacks takes up the odd spaces left by the cylindrical sacks.This is a folding top, top compressing bag with compressor cords over the top and a ‘burp valve’ to purge air. The design is similar to several UL bags now on the market.

    Frame: Top compression and the horiaontal stuff sacks take care of all the structure I need on a UL pack without a hip belt. Although I sometimes use a folded pad fragment to take up space (even 1100 cu in is a bit much) when the pack is fully loaded for a multi-day walk, the pad rides outside until the load gets eaten down.


    Pockets: For me pockets are critical to isolate items that could cause problems inside the pack such as fuel, water and wet tarps. My back pocket is for the tarp, and has generous drain holes or netting, depending on my mood when I make one of these. Fuel and water ride in the side pockets.

    Durable fabric: Durable fabric is a non-issue. I rarely wear a pack out. Just retire them when I want to experiment with something new. Never had one tear up on the trail.

    Frame/sheet: Not needed with a beltless pack except as noted above to take up space.

    Vick Hines


    Locale: Central Texas


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