Lightweight backpacks weigh less than three pounds. This is my standard. I just made it up, because there are plenty of good packs under three pounds for almost all types of trips. My own pack is a GoLite Breeze. It weighs just 13 ounces and has a capacity of about 2900 cubic inches (plus the extension collar). It is more comfortable than any frame pack I’ve had, especially since I don’t carry more than 16 or 17 pounds in it.
The mesh outer pockets are a great idea for lightweight backpacks. I have often stuffed my wet tarp in the large one in the morning, where it easy to get out to dry in the sun later. I’ve had the pack for years, and I’ve used it on two trips to Ecuador (from rain forest to 20,600 feet), as well as in the Rockies, the Smokies, and here in Michigan. It’s still in one piece, and if packed right, it qualifies as carry-on when I fly (I don’t check luggage).
My next lightweight backpack may be the tougher GoLite Gust, which weighs 20 ounces. I just finished reading seven reviews, and all of them praised the pack. One reviewer carried it for the weekend with a 27-pound load, so lightweight backpacks don’t have to be light-duty. At the bottom of the page you’ll find a couple examples of what’s available in lightweight backpacks, with complete descriptions.
Note: These products come and go, so check out my 2011 updates here:
Lightweight Backpacking Equipment
Frame-Less Lightweight Backpacks
Most lightweight backpacks don’t have frames. I use a sleeping pad for a frame, as is often recommended. You can use a cheap closed-cell pad if you cut it across, halfway through the foam, on opposite sides. Then you can accordion it into a three layer thick (2 cuts)or four layer thick (3 cuts) back-padding frame. Just put the pad in the pack first, then load everything in behind it.
Other Lightweight Options
There are plenty of lightweight backpacks you can buy, but there are also other alternatives. I’ve experimented with an old aluminum pack frame and large duffel bag, creating a full-suspension pack that weighs only two pounds. It carried loads well in the mountains of Montana, but it wasn’t the most
convenient pack to use. It was nice to have the frame, though, in case I had to carry my wife out of the wilderness. The 8-ounce duffel works okay as a backpack by itself too. Any other experimenters out there?
The Lightest Ultralight Backpacks covers really light packs. One new model weighs under four ounces.
What Is Lightweight Backpacking? answers that question “How light do you have to go to call it lightweight?,” plus has tips on how to keep it light.
Cheap Backpacks : A couple ways to buy them cheap or make them cheap.