Tuesday, July 27, 2010


This post is all about ultra-light backpacks.

(Don't you just love this picture?  I couldn't resist posting it here!)

There are many backpacking websites that use the words ‘ultra light’ and ‘ultra lite’ when describing backpacks but, to qualify as an ultra-light backpack for this post, I am only including those that weigh 1kg / 2.2lbs and under. 
To my mind, anything over 1kg /2.2lbs is not ultralight!

Most camino pilgrims only need to carry their clothing and toiletries.  They don't need a heavy duty, steel framed, army-type backpack unless they are planning to camp along the way. After all, medieval pilgrims carried their stuff in a sack or a bundle over their shoulder - so surely we can manage with a diddly-little backpack!

New generation backpacks are made of ultra-lightweight, rip-stop fabrics (like the Gossamer Gear Murmer pictured here) and have features like foam backing for comfort and rigidity, hip belts that can be stuffed with socks or towels, and are stripped of extraneous extras like ice-pole hooks, ski fittings etc. 

Some people say that weight doesn't matter - that comfort is the most important thing and that if you have a pack with a good, strong, waist belt that takes all the weight on your hips you'll be fine.
That is OK for big, strong people who can carry heavy weights on their hips. It makes a huge difference if you are a  small person like me, 5'3" / 160cm tall, 55kg, with fairly severe osteoporosis.  I can't carry heavy weights on my hips or my back.  Other people have back problems or other reasons why they can't carry heavy packs. 
Comfort is important, but for me, weight is a top priority too and I am very happy with my 575g OMM 32L ultra-lightpack which holds all my clothing, toiletries, papers, extra shoes and has space for extra food when necessary.  Fully packed, my OMM never weighs more than 5kg or 6kg. 
Obviously, if you walk in winter you will need more clothes – probably heavier too – so you might need a larger capacity backpack but you can still choose a lightweight model rather than a heavier pack.  When you find the right pack it will become a part of your body and after a few days of carrying it, you won't even know that it is there - like a snail's shell!

Find a pack that really fits well:
Some packs have models for men and for women.  Women's packs are generally lighter, smaller and come in great colours!
  • A good fit is essential. Packs come in different torso lengths and if you're buying online, measure the length of your torso from the base of your neck to the end of the spine (level with your hip bones).
  • Check all the specs carefully before hitting the ‘Buy Now’ button. Many websites will give you the sizes – S, M, L, XL – as well as the torso length of their packs.
  • Most specs for ultra-light packs will also give recommended maximum weight to carry. If you intend carrying 12kg – don’t buy a pack that recommends a max of 9kg.
(Osprey - with ventilation (all 3 sizes are under 1kg)
  • Read the reviews, check out other websites that test backpacks to ascertain the comfort ratings.
  • As some packs don’t include the weight in the specs, take a digital scale with you when you go shopping so that you can weigh the pack before you buy. Call or email the online manufacturer to ascertain the gross weight of the pack before buying.  They might advertise the pack as 'Ultra Lite' when, in fact, it weighs almost 2kg empty.
  • Packs with inner frames and those that offer back ventilation will weigh more than most ultra lght packs.
Ultra-light backpacks:
Nobody beats the Gossamer Gear range for ultra-light packs. 
The Murmur is for loads of 9 kg (20 lbs) or less, and for trips of 1 000 miles or up to 50 trail days. This is a one-size-fits-most pack and weighs in at a paltry 212g (7.5 oz). The Murmur has side pockets, side compression straps, a pad holder pocket, an adjustable sternum strap and a minimal hydration bladder shelf.
The Gossamer Gear Gorilla is a sturdier pack that comes in three sizes that all weigh under 700g. Small: 22.7 oz. (644 g.) Medium: 23.2 oz. (658 g.) Large: 24.2 oz. (686 g.)

 Terra Nova:  http://www.terra-nova.co.uk/

The Laser isn’t bad at 526g (476g without the foam back pad). It sports a full length water resistant zip, hip storage, chest strap with whistle, side compression and multiple gear attachment points and loops. What it lacks is extra mesh compartments and a top pocket which are always useful.
Granite Gear:   
The Virga weighs 540g but is very basic, has very few pockets and no lid.
The Vapor Trail and Vapor KI each weigh 1kg

OMM : http://www.theomm.com/ClassicMarathon32L.html
The Classic OMM 32L has a lean weight of 575g when the ski pole loops and extra cords are removed, and weighs 770g with all fixtures. This is my pack and I love it! It has a lid pocket, large mesh on the front, mesh bottle pockets, compression straps, sternum strap, zip pockets on the waist belt and two large compartments inside.
The lean weight of the OMM 35Lt is   1 040g but strips down to 675g by removing the Multi Sport Compressor, axe/ski fittings, Duo-Mat™ and side pockets (one time removable without impacting on strength or guarantee). I would leave the side pockets and be happy with a pack that weighs under 750g.

GoLite : http://www.golite.com/Product/proddetail.aspx?p=PA5951&s=2
The 43L Golite Jam 2008 weighs 620g / 1 lb 6 oz.
The 36L GoLite Peak weighs 745g / 1 lb 10 oz
The Jam weighs 785g / 1 lb 11 oz.

The Lowe Alpine Mountain Marathon 32L, 760 g
32L Alpine AirZone ND 32 . This little pack just makes it at 1kg / 2.2lbs
It is one of the few ultra-light packs that has a breathable back maximising airflow and an easy access zippered front pocket.

ULA - OHM pack: 
39L - 640g   $175
A very basic pack with side pockets and top pocket.

Raid 20 - 400g
Raid 38  - 650g
Bariloche 20 : 600 grs
Bariloche 35 : 700 grs
Bariloche 50 : 800 grs
Other packs that have been recommended on various forums but didn’t make my list of ultra-light packs because they are all over 1kg include:

Circuit by ULA:   http://www.ula-equipment.com/circuit.asp
Just over the 1kg but with good features and up to 42L capacity.

Lowe Alpine Hyperlite 1.1kg and 1.3kg

Gregory Jade 50 from 1.3kg

Osprey Talon and Kestrel from 1.3kg

Deuter womens Futura Pro 34 litre pack. 1.6kg

For keeping your pack weight down, have a look at this post:

And, if you don't want to wear a pack, or can't carry one, try a hiking and backpack trolley with special harness:
"I bought the Carrix as I could no longer carry a backpack. This means that when the going is to steep, or the rocks too big or too loose, I cannot put the sac and Carrix on my back. Accordingly, where the guide book says the Camino stage is unsuitable for cyclists and they should take to the road, so do I, walking on the left towards the approaching traffic."  http://carrix.ch.tripod.com/