2-3 lb pack for AT / ultra light

4:59 p.m. on April 21, 2015 (EDT)
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I'd like some recommendations on an ultra light pack for hiking the AT.  Perhaps 35-40 lbs capacity max, waterproof/resistant (to cut down on weight required for a water proof bag), and fairly durable.

I'm a bigger guy (5'10" 220 lbs) so a pack that's fitted for a bigger person would be the best I think. 

I've only long distance hiked with military gear (ALICE packs and the new MOLLE pack) which tends to be 9lbs + and not exactly designed for comfort!



12:33 a.m. on April 22, 2015 (EDT)
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There are a lot of gear reviews here, plus on hiker sites like Whiteblaze,  Sectionhiker, BackpackingLight, or Backpacking.net. Lightweight packs are often made by smaller gear makers so don't expect to find them at a store or website like REI. The best way to get suggestions in my opinion would be to ask on sites that focus on long distance hiking like Whiteblaze, which I mentioned above.

2:55 a.m. on April 22, 2015 (EDT)
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Do you have a budget in mind? There are lots of options out there, but it can range from 90-500 depending. IMO i would forgoe getting a waterproof pack, and instead use a liner and or a pack cover. This will vastly open up the options.

3:03 a.m. on April 22, 2015 (EDT)
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Get thee to an outdoor store and try on lots and lots of packs. A backpack is all about fit, so what I might recommend because it works for me could be the exact wrong pack for you.

In addition, when you say 'ultralight' you are entering a realm of equipment that often is not found in retail stores, especially in the category of backpacks, instead they are sold directly by cottage manufacturers. For those, if you don't know anyone who owns one that you can borrow to try on, the best thing is to read up to narrow to some that sound like they might be right then order them all, try them on at home, and return all but the one you want to keep -- you'll pay some shipping charges that way but it's the only way to see these first-hand.

'Ultralight' packs typically fall into the 1-2.25 pound range, with most very close to 2 lbs. At 3lbs you are out of the 'ultralight' category.

You don't need a waterproof backpack, you can use a much lighter waterproof pack liner to protect the things that can't get wet (sleeping bag, clothes).

5:13 a.m. on April 22, 2015 (EDT)
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These are the most common the last few years on the AT in that range... 

ULA Circuit

ULA Catalyist

Granite Gear VC 60

Osprey Atmos 50 ( The older models the new AG series are heavier)

You really don't need more than a 50 liter pack if your going light..JR said is completely true ultra light is different than what you think...Research all you can about the subject go to backpackinglight.com for that..Whiteblaze is good for research also that's about it...get your torso measured and do your research on the pack that appeals to you..Cottage you going to have to buy online or an outfitter that sells that brand.Their are some  that carry cottage packs.. BtW their isn't any AT thru Hiker that doesn't line their pack with a trash compactor bag..Its that wet..That includes people with cuben packs..

9:39 a.m. on April 22, 2015 (EDT)
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All sound advice! The one thing I'd add is that you're not going to get a bag water resistant enough to avoid the use of a waterproof liner. A trash compactor bag or similarly UL stuff sack weights ounces. Making the entire pack water proof enough to avoid the use of such products essentially means creating a drybag!

1:26 p.m. on April 22, 2015 (EDT)
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ULA and Granite Gear are two of the more popular players in this space.  both sell backpacks that weigh 3 pounds or less and can handle 40 pounds.

Another company to consider is Boreas.  some models have a light aluminum frame, others just a frame sheet.  a tad heavier than the ones above (3 pounds more or less), but comfortable and well-designed. 

ultimately, you have to figure out what fits you best and feels OK with the gear you plan to carry.  any of these is going to feel awesome after what you're used to. 

1:59 p.m. on April 22, 2015 (EDT)
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Another one to throw into the loop would be the Osprey Exos 58. Lightweight, but also has stays so that it'll be able to take a heavier haul. It even has a removable head if you wanted to shed a few more ounces (top then covered by Flap Jacket). I've enjoyed mine over the past year.

Like JR said, it's important to try them on and this is especially true of more lightweight (or frameless) packs to see how the load carries. Best of luck, Joe!

5:30 p.m. on April 22, 2015 (EDT)
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Look at this site's reviews for the Osprey EXOS 58 pack. I have one and love it. It's the most comfortable pack I've ever used. Reasonable price and durability and a great guarantee.

I'm a Fun Hog and hiking in comfort is a big part of backpacking fun. The EXOS 58 has that comfort. 

6:16 p.m. on April 22, 2015 (EDT)
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Wow - thanks for all the replies!

Tom D - I'm doing a good deal of reading on whiteblaze.net; it's a great forum.  I started to look through the reviews here but needed a bit of "fine tuning" to tailor my search more.

TheRambler - I figure perhaps $400 would be the max but I'd be happier with around $200.  Good to know about the waterproofing as others have pointed out.

JRinGeorgia - I've got one outfitter here that has some packs (Half Moon Outfitters in Savannah) - I plan on heading over there to get measured and try out some off the shelf offerings.

Thanks for educating me about the ultra light subcategory.  I didn't realize how far pack technology has come such that 2.5 lbs is not really considered ultra light.

Also, good water proofing advice.  I need to rethink this.  My only experience with waterproofing bags / liners is the heavy military "WP" bags.

denis daly - I appreciate the specific models you recommended.  My local supplier (Half Moon Outfitters) has Osprey stuff in stock so I can get a base line feel of what's out there.

Seth Levy  - You know, I've never heard of a trash compactor bag but it seems like I'm going to have to look into some!

andrew f.  - I'll be sure to check out ULA, Granite Gear, and Boreas.  From looking at their web sites initially, these look promising.  Would any of these be considered "cottage"?  Just curious. 

Daniel Oates & 300winmag - Thanks for the specific recommendations; I'll give them a look!





9:14 p.m. on April 22, 2015 (EDT)
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Seth, trash compactor bags are great. You can find them in most any supermarket and probably most discount stores. I have used them in winter as waste bags because they are unlikely to break. They are light, but much stronger than a regular trash bag. I don't even know anyone who actually has a trash compactor, but they are sold at places like Lowes or Home Depot. The bags all seem to be around the same size.

I would consider ULA and Boreas (which I've never heard of before now) cottage gear companies, but Granite Gear is bigger as far as I know.

11:10 a.m. on April 23, 2015 (EDT)
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I didn't see anyone say this, but even if your pack is fairly waterproof, you still need waterproof liners because you may need to put wet stuff in the pack and so need to protect the dry stuff from the wet stuff.

7:42 p.m. on April 24, 2015 (EDT)
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I think someone mentioned this above but take a lot of time and try them all out. This is a very personal decision. I tried to replace my Gregory Z55 at over 3 lbs with a slightly lighter bag and ended up coming full circle back to it. Even tried a friends GG and bought the Osprey Exos, and while I recognize the excellent quality of both brands and packs I returned both due to personal quirks. I have lower back issues, so the Z55 lumbar pad just fit better for me even though it is slightly heavier. I won't recommend the Z55 over the other excellent suggestions here...just using an example of how individual the fit and decision can be. Sometimes other factors play into it besides weight. Good luck and enjoy the search...I never stop looking it seems.

3:45 a.m. on May 8, 2015 (EDT)
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Joe What ya Get? or are you still hunting the ONE Down still...

2:18 p.m. on May 8, 2015 (EDT)
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I'm currently torn between the ULA and Exos 58.  As some have mentioned, I know either will be much more comfortable than what I'm used to.  I don't have a way to test these other than ordering and sending back. 

After spending more time on whiteblaze.net I've been leaning towards just ordering the ULA Circuit and giving it a try.  Many others have had success with it for AT hiking.

Once I get off my duff and make a decision, I'll be sure to post a review / follow up.



5:50 p.m. on May 8, 2015 (EDT)
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Joe your member location say's Georgia...Mountain Crossings in Blairsville carries both ULA and Osprey..The biggest benefit of MC is every sales associate and the owners have thru hiked..This may be an option for you..BTW I own 2 ULA packs and they work for me...But a pack has to work for you...

12:46 a.m. on May 9, 2015 (EDT)
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last weekend, i did a nice hike with my 15 year old daughter.  photos in the beginner area.  definitely not a through hike - a solid 9-10 mile loop, vertical gain about 2500.  however, interesting, she carried a small pack (Deuter Pace 36), I carried a Boreas Lost Coast 45. Neither loaded anywhere close to capacity, she was about 12 pounds, i had about 18. a couple that was in our general vicinity throughout - started and finished around the same time - had one ALICE pack, first time i had really checked one out. That thing had to weigh a ton, but it can probably (un)comfortably carry 50 pounds in a pinch. the woman toted it the final couple of miles and didn't look psyched.  

2:40 a.m. on May 14, 2015 (EDT)
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Re: 2-3 lb pack for AT / ultra light (OSPREY)

I'm 5' 10", 185 lbs. and I really like my Ospey EXOS 58.

Even though a size Medium (58 liters)  fits better I got a size Large (60 liters) B/C I want as little weight on my shoulders as possible due to two herniated discs. 

This pack is light but VERY comfortable compared to my old REI Cruise UL 60 pack.

9:16 p.m. on May 21, 2015 (EDT)
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outdoorgearlab.com is the Consumer Reports of gear.  I'm a big fan.  They review many packs.

Personally I'm old-school ultralight - G4

11:35 p.m. on May 21, 2015 (EDT)
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Seth (and Tom), the best place we have found for trash compactor bags is (GASP!) WalMart. Good quality and cheap (relatively) price. Barbara and I have used them as standard "dry bags" for years. And bear bags, before the bears learned how to get at bear bag hangs. They do seal the odor in pretty well.

2:52 a.m. on May 22, 2015 (EDT)
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Eric, Not sure I follow your reasoning. Did you get the bigger pack because it sits more on the waistbelt?

9:12 p.m. on July 10, 2015 (EDT)
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Here's a long term update.  My wife and I will be traveling to do some short hikes in these areas:


Brasstown Bald

Dukes Creek Falls

Neels Gap (Mountain Crossings)

Amicalola Falls


As such, I'll get to try out some packs as Denis suggested.  If the ULA fits well, I'm likely going to get one.

In fact, I just arranged for my shuttle to do a Springer to Neels Gap section hike on the 21st - I've been busy studying the map and guidebook but have a few final gear selections to pin down.

11:46 p.m. on July 10, 2015 (EDT)
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I am not an ultralighter. But the guy who is director of our Scout leader High Adventure Training Course is. He is a real fanatic (he denies this) and has tried out a number of the cottage packs. His whole family has UL packs and tents (himself and wife, 2 sons and 3 daughters) His favorite, which he has used on several hikes of the John Muir Trail (latest  hike of the trail was under 10 days) and in his transect of Gates of the Arctic (Brooks Range) with his 2 sons.

For his "heavier" loads, he uses the Zpacks 60 liter Cuben fiber pack, the Arc Blast Ultralight. His loads are max about 30 pounds including food (they had a couple of food drops by float plane).

While the Zpacks are pretty well made (I have a Zpacks 3-person tent, which I reviewed here on Trailspace a few months back), they do have a "home-made" look, not the finished-off appearance of an Osprey or Gregory. OTOH, the Zpacks 60 liter is 1/3 the weight of a 60 liter Osprey. And, per his demonstrations, the pack is adjustale for a wide range of sizes.

One problem I found with the Cuben tent (actually not the tent, but the stuff sack) is that a sharp object can puncture taut Cuben. I note also that a lot of the cottage makers only state that their packs will last the length of a thru-hike (the 2000 or so miles of the ATC or PCT, where the heavier-duty, but still fairly light Gregory, Osprey, et al will last for a number of years. My old Dana Designs (at 8 pounds empty) has lasted me close to 20 years now, including expeditions to Denali, Antarctica, and multiple Andes trips.

If you are travelling light in other aspects (sleeping gear, tent/tarp/hammock, stove, food, clothing) a UL pack may serve you well.

BUT, the cottage UL packs are very expensive (especially made of Cuben), about $300 plus various accessories you might want, like a pouch to go on the shoulderstrap to hold a small camera.

5:56 a.m. on July 11, 2015 (EDT)
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Nice plan Joe...This will give you an idea of what to expect..BTW if anyone tells you Virginia is Flat their dead wrong..You make good mileage only because your in trail shape and use to it by the time you get here...I left out the Arc Blast but Bill is correct it has been used and still is by Ultralight hikers...I would suggest bring a small note pad and pen and take notes on what you use or don't so you know what to eliminate...Again when you hit Neel Gap ask the staff all your questions and have them go through a shake down..You be ahead of the curve..By all means have fun and enjoy it...

6:34 p.m. on October 2, 2015 (EDT)
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The GossamerGear Gorilla 40 is a great pack.  Really light weight with plenty of features and a removable back-pad / sit-pad.

Also, one of my friends uses a zPacks Arc Blast that he really likes, but it's a bit on the pricy side for the features offered if you ask me.

11:34 a.m. on October 4, 2015 (EDT)
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I looked up the ULA site at Denis' suggestion. I recognize the designs from recent meetings with through hikers on the PCT.  They are very popular and I can see why.

9:25 p.m. on October 4, 2015 (EDT)
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Great discussion, and while I haven't thru hiked the AT I have hiked some longer trails Like the Benton Macaye, Foothills, & parts of the Palmetto Trail using UL gear.

I also like to do 3 day off trail trips with UL gear.

I have tried several packs and gear combinations for this and in talking with others I find the topic is very subjective.

Other than getting a pack that fits you well, I think to some degree there are two weights to consider, the actual weght of the pack itself, and how much it's faults, lack of features, and in some cases its flimsiness, weigh on your mind. A mental burden, if you will.

This doesn't seem to bother some people, but if I find something annoying it gets worse with every step I take until I sometimes dream of setting gear on fire but can't because I need it to get back home.

I have used an ULA Circuit and liked it a lot, although I don't own one myself.

I own and use a Granite Gear VC60 and use an inflatable frame sheet with it, it came with a plastic frame sheet that worked well.

I find that once I get over 25 lbs load I prefer a pack with stays and will sometimes go back to using my lightweight VauDe with adjustable harness & aluminum stays.

The frameless UL packs tend to "barrel" if you over pack them and that has always bugged me, but I manage to keep my tormented mind in check by remembering how light the pack is.

As already mentioned repeatedly, the ability to try on different packs really helps, but it isn't always possible.

+1 on the Trash Compactor bags, I generally carry two, one as a liner and one for separating dirty, wet gear / clothing from the rest of my gear.

I wish you all the best on your hike, and look forward to some photos. 

9:56 a.m. on October 5, 2015 (EDT)
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I am not one to push packs on people..I just tell them what I see the most of on the trail..I did see something on Social Media and I was waiting for it about the new Osprey's..Besides being heavier failures are happening..A long trail hiker has his fail on his hike..It put it the way I would with a garentee..It's nice to have but you expect the product to perform while your hiking...He's looking for a new pack now to continue his hikes..The same packs I said were also said to him by other hikers..He did have the chance to compare his pack to another older Osprey and his conclusion was better materials and parts....If your really going UL and being a UL Hiker and getting your base down and all your weight Brett right also look into Gossamer Gear....

7:25 p.m. on October 6, 2015 (EDT)
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I saw all the new traffic on this post so I figured I'd better post an update!

I ended up going with the Osprey Exos 58 because the ULA just didn't fit me as well - even though I liked its features better.  I had one of the pros at Mountain Crossings help me figure out my sizing. 

The ULA model which was a close fit was a tad bit long such that the upper support curled over a little near my neck.  The fellow said it wouldn't feel too bad in the store, but over time it would really wear on the back of my neck, especially on the uphill.  From what I could tell, he seemed spot on so I went with the better fitting (for me) Exos 58.

I've logged about 45 miles with the Exos and find it to be a great improvement over my old military pack.  No problems so far and I've been careful to handle it delicately as I was advised that some of the ultra light packs can get torn up from being jerked around when taking off/putting on.

Overall, I'm happy with the Exos and appreciate all the advice that led me to it (and Mountain Crossings!).

1:18 p.m. on October 7, 2015 (EDT)
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Great to hear !

I'm glad you got it worked out Joe.

3:12 p.m. on October 7, 2015 (EDT)
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I have heard nothing but great feedback on the Exos...enjoy.

5:53 a.m. on October 8, 2015 (EDT)
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That's great to hear you got the right pack that will work for you....Have a great Hike and enjoy...:)

4:31 p.m. on October 8, 2015 (EDT)
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not advocating that you beat the heck out of your backpack, but it can probably survive being taken on and off for years, unless it is overloaded well beyond the weight it was designed to carry.  

2:58 a.m. on October 10, 2015 (EDT)
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I have used an ULA Circuit and liked it a lot, although I don't own one myself.

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