Welcome! Ultralight backpacking is my passion, and keeping up on new technologies, gear, and techniques relevant to UL backpacking is what floats my boat. I'm always looking for the lightest, most functional gear to improve a lightweight or ultralight backpacking kit, and report my impressions and field testing results here. For hikers wanting to keep up on the latest and greatest ultralight backpacking gear, this is a good place to hang out. Also, there is a lot of information here (and on our informational website Southwest Ultralight Backpacking) on useful techniques and backcountry etiquette -- food for thought for hikers wanting to lighten their load and their impacts.

My goal for Ultralight Insights is to understand, test, and report on new technologies and gear of interest to lightweight and ultralight backpackers. It's a passion after all, so we just plain enjoy talking about it. I hope readers will add their own wisdom and comments, respond to my questions, ask their own questions, and correct me if I get something wrong. Happy hiking! Will

Monday, August 5, 2013

Highlights of the Summer 2013 Outdoor Retailer Trade Show: Lightweight Backpacks

By Will Rietveld and Janet Reichl
Note to readers: My complete coverage of the summer 2013 OR Show, exclusive of shelters and backpacks, is at www.gossamergear.com (click on Blog, then Buzz).
As with shelters, backpacks from the larger manufacturers continue to get lighter as newer, lighter, and stronger fabrics and other materials are incorporated. In this article I summarize the lightest ones suitable for lightweight backpacking.
Several years ago a “lightweight” internal frame backpack was anything with 50 to 60 liters of volume weighing less than 4 pounds; now we define it as anything under 3 pounds. And more and more packs are approaching 2 pounds.
Note: Weights provided are manufacturer weights; accuracy can vary, I did not weigh the packs. All packs will be available in spring 2013 unless stated otherwise.

The South Col OutDry 70 and BMG 105 are Mountain Hardwear’s First Waterproof Backpacks to Hit the Market
At the winter 2013 OR show Mountain Hardwear announced that they will be introducing a new line of waterproof backpacks with an OutDry membrane bonded to the interior of the pack. The South Col 70 liter pack will be the first arrival in spring 2013. Only the main compartment is waterproof; the top and front pockets are not. The weight is 3 pounds 14 ounces for the South Col and 4 pounds 11 ounces (both a bit heavy) for the BMG, however they are nicely designed full-featured packs. The membrane adds only about 2 ounces to the weight of the pack. MSRPs are $300 for the South Col and $360 for the BMG. Obviously these packs are outside our weight limit; the primary significance here is the waterproof technology.

Salomon Synapse Flow 45 AW Has Dynamic Shoulder Straps and Integrated Rain Cover
The Flow 45 is the largest of Salomon’s new “Adventure Hike” line of backpacks, which feature connected shoulder straps that expand and contract with your movements and an integrated rain cover. The AW means “All Weather”. Features include a U-frame, free-motion shoulder straps, zippered top pocket, mesh side and front pockets, airmesh hipbelt with pockets, trekking pole stowage, and integrated rain cover. The Flow 45 weighs 1 pound 15.4 ounces and costs $160. The Flow 30 weighs 1 pound 13.6 ounces and costs $145.

Granite Gear Introduces the Redesigned Virga 2 Frameless Backpack
The popular Granite Gear Virga is back as the redesigned Virga 2, and at 19 ounces its 2 ounces lighter than its predecessor. Volume ranges from 50 to 58 liters depending on torso size (Short, Regular, Long). Features include a padded hipbelt, large stretch nylon side and front pockets, a rolltop closure, and internal hydration sleeve. MSRP is $140.

The Frameless Mountainsmith Haze 50 LTR is Well-Designed and Under 2 pounds
At 1 pound 15 ounces the frameless Haze 50 is well designed with two handy vertical front pockets; MSRP is $130.

REI Flash 45 Internal Frame Backpack Weighs Just Over 2-Pounds and Costs Only $129
I’m really excited about this one! The Flash 45 has a lightweight aluminum and Delrin frame that is solidly anchored to the hipbelt, weighs 2 pounds 2 ounces, is full-featured, and value priced at $129. The volume is just right for a backpacker at the upper end of UL or lower end of LW, carrying a load of 20-25 pounds. A larger version is the Flash 62 which weighs 2 pounds 14 ounces and costs $189. And at the lower end are the Flash 18 and 22 day packs. The Flash 22 has outside mesh pockets and a top lid, while the Flash 18 doesn’t.

Redesigned Osprey Exos Packs are Lighter and Better
The new Exos packs lose the old orange and while colors which were getting a bit tiresome. The new packs are much sleeker. A 38 liter size will be added (2 pounds 2 ounces, $160), along with a 48 liter model (formerly 46 liters) @ 2 pounds 5 ounces and $190, and a 58 liter model @ 2 pounds 6 ounces and $220. The Exos packs have been favorites with LW backpackers, and the new versions should prove to be even more popular. With a capable full-featured 2+ pound internal frame pack like the Exos, why would anyone want to carry a 4+ pound backpack?

Klymit Introduces Two Lightweight Backpacks: The Motion 35 and 60
Klymit, the innovative sleeping pad people, is introducing two backpacks that utilize their Air Frame inflatable framesheet. The Motion 35 (1 pound 8 ounces, $150) is a panel loader with a zippered front pocket, two side pockets, and three compression straps per side. The Motion 60 (2 pounds 13 ounces, $180) is a top loader with both an Air Frame and tubular aluminum frame, attached top lid with pocket, two side pockets and zippered front pocket, four compression straps per side, and hipbelt pockets. They are made of a Cuben Fiber/ripstop nylon laminate, which may change in the production model. Both packs have a well padded hipbelt with four tightening straps to wrap the hipbelt around your hips.

Vargo Outdoors UL Titanium External Frame Backpack
Vargo Outdoors is reviving the external frame backpack with their innovative titanium pack. It’s a work in progress, with a target weight of 2 pounds and MSRP of $300. It will be available with either a Cuben Fiber or nylon bag with a 35 liter volume. Features include a solidly supportive lumbar pad, pack bag and hipbelt pockets, and top and side compression straps. Entry is via a zippered top opening.


  1. There is truly a lot to learn from this site, thanks for this blog.


  2. I like the "The South Col OutDry 70 and BMG 105 are Mountain Hardwear’s First waterproof backpacks to Hit the Market"