Can I use an Ultralight Backpack?

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    Craig J.
    BPL Member


    Locale: Mid-Atlantic

    Hi all. Long time lurker, first time poster here.

    I've researched the backpacks offered by a lot of the small purveyors mentioned on this site. It seems that 30 lbs or less is a typical max load. I do a lot of my backpacking in West Texas. My current gear list is pretty pared down (I'm at about 13 lbs for a warm weather 3 day trip). I could get that down around 11 lbs with a 16-24 oz pack. I'm currently carrying a Gregory Z55 that weighs ~57 oz with the lid removed.

    So this brings me to my questions. Sometimes desert trips require all water packed, so maybe 20+ lbs of water alone. My backpacking friends and I also like to eat well. On our Easter trip this year we probably packed 15 lbs of sausage, 4 lbs of tortillas, 2 lbs of cheese and 3 lbs of miscellaneous junk food (turns out Slim Jims have more calories per ounce than a Clif Bar) for 5 people. Also, we like to drink some whiskey (maybe too much whiskey) which amounts to another 2 lbs per person. So all said and done, I'm looking at about a 40 to 45 lb pack. Obviously, we could carry less water (whiskey and cheetos are not optional), but even at my most conservative, I'm still going to be above the 30 lb mark. Am I stuck with the Gregory (not too terrible heavy) or is there a lightweight option that doesn't force me to give up my breakfast of sausage and cheese quesadillas.

    Another concern is the durability of the ultralight packs. There's lots of thorny stuff in the Big Bend. Will the fabrics hold up to that kind of environment?

    Thanks in advance for any advice.


    Andrew Martin
    BPL Member


    Locale: PacNW

    You might want to check out the "The grocery sack grows up" article as it has a good table of packs and maximum weights.

    TLDR: no packs listed there have a max carrying weight over 35lbs

    SMD Fusion packs might work though but they are very new and I haven't seen anyone report back on how they carry.

    Edit: Fixed link

    Craig J.
    BPL Member


    Locale: Mid-Atlantic

    Thanks Andrew, but the link didn't work and a BPL search for "grocery sack" didn't turn up any hits.

    Craig J.
    BPL Member


    Locale: Mid-Atlantic

    Thanks again. I'll give that a read.

    J Mag


    You are going to want a framed pack, which rules out a lot of UL packs on the market.

    Something like a flash 45 by REI would be a good start. I got mine a few months ago for $60 at the outlet. Right at 2 lbs after excess stuff cut off.

    I'm going to bet that if you are carrying 2 lbs of whiskey you aren't doing real "serious" days of hiking, so I wouldn't blow too much money on a true UL pack until you get more into it.

    David Chenault
    BPL Member


    Locale: Queen City, MT

    Craig, I think the Z55 is pretty good for your current use. There are a few packs out there which are lighter, tougher and will probably carry the weight as well or better, but they are pricey.

    If you want a new pack, and especially if you begin doing trips with more hours per day hiking and a bit less sausage (3 pounds per person, how many days was that?!) and whiskey, I'd suggest the following:

    -Paradox Unaweep in VX42
    -HMG 3400 or 4400 in full 150D cuben hybrid
    -Stone Glacier Solo

    Craig J.
    BPL Member


    Locale: Mid-Atlantic

    Does the weight rating on packs reflect the comfort of carrying them or the ability of the seams to hold what you're carrying? I could probably cut a few pounds of sausage from my load and get it to 30-35, but I'm wondering if that's going to leave me feeling worse at the end of a 12 mile walk across open desert on a 95 degree day if I have something like a Golite Jam 50 or a ZPacks Arc Blast 52 (that would be considered as a frame pack, right?) or if my whiskey is going to break through the bottom of the pack and left for the lizards.

    "I'm not in the bettin' business." -Rick Perry, Governor of the Great State of Tejas.

    Craig J.
    BPL Member


    Locale: Mid-Atlantic

    I'll look at those.

    Dena Kelley
    BPL Member


    Locale: Eagle River, Alaska

    Ultralight, probably not, but lighter than your Gregory most definitely. I use a Granite Gear Vapor Trail and my typical loadout is between 25-30 lbs and it hauls it very comfortably. It's about 32 oz.

    John G
    BPL Member


    Locale: Mid-Atlantic via Upstate NY

    You asked if you'll be feeling worse after a 12 mile trek across the desert with 35 lbs. The answer is "yes – a significant amount".

    Ultralight packs are best for 20-25 lb loads.

    The packs designed to carry more weight have thicker padding in the hip belt and shoulder straps, a wider hip belt, a lumbar pad (which keeps the hip belt from sliding down) stiffer stays, and thicker fabric (so the seams won't rip out carrying higher weights).

    My opinion is that if you are willing to carry 4-6 lbs of food per meal, then your priority is on having a good time – and an extra 2 pounds to prevent sore shoulders is worth it. Especially if you are hiking multiple days.

    J Mag


    I wouldn't trust a pack with just a plastic sheet as a frame for loads of 30 lbs or more… Hence the recommendation of the flash 45. Full aluminum stays. I just don't see the reason to make the sacrifice for the same weight pack. YMMV of course.

    To be fair my only HDPE framesheet pack is my talon 22 and I've never had more than 10 lbs in that.

    Like I said earlier, I would not want to drop big money (cuben fiber pack? come on now) in his position. Either keep your current pack or pick up something cheap (like the… wait for it… flash 45).

    Justin Baker
    BPL Member


    Locale: Santa Rosa, CA

    I would get two packs, a smaller frameless pack for short/light trips and a large framed pack for longer/heavier trips.

    Valerie E


    Locale: Grand Canyon State

    Most Ultralight backpacks are made to be part of a UL SYSTEM, where all the elements in your kit have been reduced to a bare minimum of NEEDS, not wants, and where all the basics are each (in and of themselves) very lightweight.

    Your backpacking style will not lend itself very well to a UL backpack because those packs are simply not built for that type of weight.

    There are a few — extremely expensive (i.e., over $500) — UL backpacks that can carry heavy loads, but unless you are planning to backpack a LOT, they are probably not worth it.

    Derek M.
    BPL Member


    Locale: Southern California

    Craig, I'm kind of in the same position as you… I don't have a super heavy base weight (15lbs-ish) but it's also not exactly anywhere near as light as many of the serious ULers around here. I also take as much weight out of my wife's pack as possible and prefer to not skimp on food, so I kind of doubt I'll ever be able to go full on UL.

    I'm not exactly a 2 pounds of sausage per day kind of guy, but I certainly can relate to your food choices… One of the best parts about backpacking, IMO, is being able to work up some true hunger and then satisfying that with all the delicious food we take for granted that's all around us on a daily basis.

    Anyway, back to packs…

    There aren't any sub 2lb. packs that I know of that will transfer 40-45 pounds of gear to your hips very effectively. You will have more luck in the 2.5 – 3lb. range though.

    You might try the Six Moon Designs Fusion 65 pack (39 oz), which I've only ever demoed in the store, but which transferred 40lbs. of soft bag weights to my hips quite marvelously. The pack seems like a really nice design, and I'm considering purchasing one myself.

    On the lighter (but more expensive) end of the spectrum, you could try a Hyperlite Mountain Gear pack like the 3400 Southwest pack (32 oz), which I also found to be able to transfer weight well while trying it on in the store.

    At the very least you might try lightening your current Z55 as much as possible. For instance, if you don't use the lid then you can cut off the pack's sewn in lid straps. That'll save a few ounces right there. Cut off everything you don't use and you could probably shave 4 ounces or so off. That's not great, but it's something…

    James Marco
    BPL Member


    Locale: Finger Lakes

    Well, 45 pounds, maximum load, is a lot of weight. I personally haven't carried that kind of weight in about 30 years. Even on my long unsipported trips my maximum loads are always less than 30pounds for 3 weeks out.

    I usually carry an 8 or 12oz bottle of scotch. One of those luxuries I really enjoy at night is a cup of hot cocoa with a shot of scotch. Especially when rain is closing in. Anyway, theoreticallly, light weight starts at 10-20 pounds of base weight. With a 15 pound base load, you are certainly looking at lightweight. Regardless of food, fuel and water.

    Are you carrying food for everyone? 15 lbs of sausage, 4 lbs of tortillas, 2 lbs of cheese and 3 lbs of miscellaneous junk food? For 5 people? An easy way to figure what is OK for packing weights is to figure about 2 to 2.5 pounds per day per person for food. I usually carry between 1.2 and 1.75 pounds per day. On long trips, I pare this down to 1.2 pounds per day. But, my older metabolism only needs about 2500C per day. I might loose a few pounds, I *can* afford it. One way to cut down food is to package food in daily baggies. After a few outings, you will know if you took enough. If you carry food out, that is a huge waste. Better to be slightly short than to carry food out. I finished a two week trip out with 2 enrgy bars and a candy bar. That would have been lunch, but I was picked up at 1300.

    Water, there is not a lot you can do. Depending on your exact conditions, you will need between 1/2 and 2 gallons(or more) per day. You can get buy on 2 cups per day for a day or two, but you will be thirsty. Alcohol will act like a diuretic, flushing water out of you. So, if you drink a lot, you will need more. You cannot controll this, it is one of the side effects of enjoying an evening. If there is none on the trail, then you *have* to carry it. It doesn't matter if you carry fresh fruit, veggies and other "wet" foods, you need the water.

    The good thing is that water is fairly dense. A few 1 gallon platty style bags will squish around pretty well in your pack. It won't take up a lot of space for it's weight. Mark every watering hole on you map, though usually trails will go from one to the next. Get current conditions and status reports about water. You only need water between watering holes. It doesn't make sense to carry it from one to another. I plan on 2 liters for each camp, one at night, one in the morning. And another for on the trail. But will vary by the person and the environment. This is minimum, not usefull for deserts or hot weather.

    For ultralight packing, there are several that will fit the bill. I use a Gossamer Gear MiniPosa for longer trips. The Gorilla is about the same size. Both will cary 30 pounds. A little more when you start. Shoulder straps can be anoying with heavy loads, and the MiniPosa has better straps. But, this is obsolete. The Mariposa is bigger, but will not handle much heavier loads. All ultralight gear will be a trade off in durability and weight. Generally speaking, with a 30 pound load, I would look at a internal framed pack. Most external frames will add about 8-12 ouces in frame. Good for support, bad for weight.

    You have to take care of UL gear. You cannot drop it, you set it down. You pick a relativly clear spot to set it on. Even then, you can plan on a few repairs over ten years. Nope, you cannot sit on it, or drag it up mountains. Some of the heavier packs might work better. The Z55 you mention is heavy. It is well over 3.5 pounds. The gorilla is more like 22oz or 1#8 or so (depending on options) or less than half that weight. But, it is not as durable. Your Z55 will be around long after the Gorilla has died. You will always carry the extra weight for that durability. The ULA Circuit will handle 30 pounds and is fairly durable. (You can overload it at the start of a trip by 5 pounds or so.) SMD, Granite Gear, and ZPacks make some that will handle 30 pounds. None will be as durable as the Gregory, though. All will save you a 1.5-2 pounds of weight, depending on the size.

    So, getting back to your origonal question, yes, you can certainly use a UL pack. There is a large variety of sub 2-pound (32oz) packs out there. Look for one with some sort of internal frame.

    Jake S


    Hauling lots of water sucks, but the thing to remember is it disappears off your back. Sometimes when doing 3-4 day unsupported hikes, I end up doing double the mileage on the last day that I did on the first day because my pack is almost 12 lbs lighter!

    So if your load is a mater of water weight, you might want to ask: what can I bear for that first day?

    Plenty of PCT through hikers carry frameless packs with them through the dry spells, although plenty carry 2lb packs with a light frame, too.

    Note: food weight doesn't disappear–got to pack that out.

    Craig J.
    BPL Member


    Locale: Mid-Atlantic

    Good Morning all,

    Thank you for all the advice so far. Sounds like the UL packs are probably not going to comfortably carry what I usually want to have with me, but I might find something that is lighter than my current pack. I'll definitely check out the models suggested and keep an eye on the Gear Swap page. Maybe 2 packs is a solution. Anyway, thanks again.


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