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7 Most Durable Lightweight Backpacks of 2018

7 most durable backpacks

Ultralight and lightweight backpacks have become a lot tougher and harder to rip up over the past few years. The widespread use of Dyneema Composite Fabrics (formerly called cuben fiber), XPac, and high tenacity nylon has ushered in a new era of durable sub-3-pound backpacks that can withstand the abuse of multiple thru-hikes, bushwhacking, canyoneering, and winter hiking and still come back for more. While you will pay a premium for a backpack that is both lightweight and durable, it’s worth the investment since your backpack is the one piece of gear that can’t fail.

Here’s my go-to list of the most durable lightweight and ultralight backpacks available today. Go ahead, run these packs through your favorite backpack torture test. I’m pretty sure you’ll be impressed with their durability under fire.

1. Hyperlite Mountain Gear Southwest 2400 Backpack

(40L) is a bomber ultralight backpack that weighs 30 ounces. Made with special DCR/Polyester laminate for durability, it’s tough-skinned and effectively waterproof. There’s also no mesh on the backpack and all of the pockets on the hip belt, side water bottle pockets, and front stash pocket are hard-faced with 210D Dyneema X grid-stop. Sized for ultralight backpacking, the 2400 is also available in 3400 (55L) and 4400 (72L) sizes for gear-intensive trips. Available in white and black, the black-colored packs are made with a thicker DCF/Polyester laminate and more durable, with a slight weight penalty.

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2. Sierra Designs Flex Capacitor 40-60L Backpack

 is a top-loading, minimalist backpack with a unique top lid and two side water bottle pockets. Weighing 42 oz, its signature feature are volume adjustment straps that let you shrink or expand its capacity from 40L to 60L. This is complemented by a stiff but lightweight frame that makes it possible to haul 50 lbs loads, far exceeding those that can be carried by similarly sized ultralight or internal frame backpacks. Solid hip belt pockets and reinforced mesh water bottle pockets resist tearing, while the 420 denier nylon base resists abrasion in mountainous terrain.

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3. Seek Outside Gila 3500 Backpack

is a 3500 cubic inch (57 L) ultralight-style roll top backpack with an external frame capable of hauling very heavy loads that blow other lightweight packs out of the water. Weighing 42 ounces, it’s made with a durable waterproof laminate called XPac that’s similar to DCF but less expensive to work with. The adjustable-torso length external frame behaves a lot like a ventilated backpack, keeping your shirt dry in hot weather. The solid side pockets and reinforced front mesh stash pocket provide an impressive amount of external storage, while a wide hip belt provides excellent support.

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4. Elemental Horizons Kalais XT Backpack

is a roll top backpack with an adjustable torso length. Weighing 41 oz, it’s made with XPac and 210 Dyeenma X Gridstop. It has solid hip belt pockets and side pockets for extra durability with a Dyneema X reinforced  stash pocket in the front. Wide compression webbing and oversized buckles add to the pack’s durability. The hip belt pockets are optional and removable, which is a good way to avoid destroying them if you have to push through a lot of heavy brush.

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5. Superior Wilderness Designs Long Haul 50

is an 29 ounce roll top style backpack made with XPac. It has solid hip belt and side pockets for added durability, with a tough front mesh stash pocket (the mesh can be replaced with a solid XPac pocket as a customization option.) The shoulder straps and hip belt are made with Dyneema X grid stop which has been reinforced with XPac for added durability. SWD is also one of the few lightweight pack makers to provide S-shaped shoulder straps, which are suitable for men and women alike.

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6. Katabatic Gear Onni V40-50L Backpack

is a 32 oz roll-top backpack made with an XPac body, Cordura Spandex side pockets, and a heavy duty mesh stash pocket. It has a single aluminum stay and ventilated back panel for comfort. Cordura hip belt pockets are available as an option. The side compression straps are as tough as the rest of the pack and with clip-style buckles so you can easily attach gear to the sides of the pack.

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7. ULA Circuit Backpack

is a 68L roll top style ultralight backpack that weighs 41 oz. The pack body and side pockets are made with 400 denier (high-tenacity) Robic nylon, with a heavy duty mesh front stash pocket. The multi-part frame includes an aluminum stay, dense foam, and a carbon fiber hoop for comfort and optimal load transfer. The Circuit comes with a wide interchangeable hip belt for optimal sizing including large, hard-faced hip belt pockets. Male and female-specific shoulder straps are also available as an option at time of purpose.

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Comparison Table

Here’s a list of popular packs that shows what fabrics they’re made with. The ones at the top of the list are the 7 most durable listed above. Take a look at the fabrics used in the other packs in this table and how they compare.

Make and ModelVolumeWeightMaterialsPrice
40L30 ozDyneema Composite Fabrics$310
60L42 oz100d and 420d Nylon$200
57L42 ozXPac$339
49L41 ozXPac$360
50L29 ozXPac$275
50L32 ozXPac$275
68L41 oz400d Robic Nylon$235
40L30.6 oz70d and 100d Robic Nylon$215
60L32.7 oz70d, 100d, 200d Robic Nylon$225
48L40 oz100d, 210d High Tenacity Nylon$190
48L42 oz100d, 210d High Tenacity Nylon$200
55L21 ozDyneema Composite Fabrics$325
58L16 oz210 Reinforced Dyneema X Grid$215
60L36.7 oz210d High Tenacity Nylon$200

What Makes a Lightweight Backpack Durable?

I’ve always been a bit obsessed with the durability of lightweight and ultralight backpacks because I destroyed so many of them back in the days when they were made with less durable fabrics like silnylon. While most pack manufacturers have moved on to more durable materials and fabrics like Dyneema Composite Fabrics (formerly cuben fiber), XPac, and high denier Robic or Dyneema X nylon, the overall durability of a multi-day backpack can’t be determined solely by the material used to make the body of a pack.

If you do careful analysis of backpack failure points, you’ll find that they fail in a number of common areas.

  • Abraded base fabric
  • Ripped side and front mesh pockets
  • Abraded hip belt pockets
  • Torn shoulder strap or hip belt anchors
  • Broken buckles
  • Zipper failure
  • Torn attachment points, including compression strap anchors
  • Worn out frame stay slots

While the use of durable fabrics and materials helps address issues of abrasion, it’s a slippery slope because tougher fabrics tend to be heavier or higher in cost, making a pack that uses them potentially less attractive to buyers.

If you want a lightweight (sub 3 pound) backpack that is going to last for a long time without a lot of pampering, it’s best to aim for packs that are:

  • Overbuilt with bigger buckles and wide webbing straps
  • Reinforced shoulder straps and hip belt wings
  • Eliminate or limit the amount of mesh they use
  • Have streamlined roll-top style designs
  • Minimize their use of zippers
  • Use standard hardware that owners can replace without sewing.

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16 comments

  1. This body, constructed of highly abradable soft and squishy stuff, has over the years suffered multiple failures at attachment points of ligaments and bones while being whacked and punctured by hostile bushes and has also been subjected to numerous surgical repair attempts. However, during those decades, the hip belt wings have become highly reinforced. The body has dragged itself, kicking, screaming (and usually groaning) to the realization that there are still many awesome places it can hobble to on trail while suffering quite a bit less abuse. Unfortunately, the lone functioning but greatly underused neuron, in its worn and dented enclosure, doesn’t always pay attention to the input coming from below and is still prone to deciding on left turns when the trail goes right.

  2. Like Philip, I shredded a few packs in the early 2000’s – fabric too light, sewing too flimsy, internal frame prone to buckling. There’s a fine line between wonderfully light and awfully fragile. I’m glad most manufacturers are moving toward less fragile, especially since some cottage companies had “you bought it, it’s yours” return and repair policies.

    But don’t buy a tougher and heavier pack than you really need. Mainstream manufacturers and big box stores still sell plenty of five pound super-tough packs for people who are convinced they’ll climb Everest without oxygen soon after their first overnight trip.

    If you can get your weight down, which requires lightweight gear *and* good skills, a silnylon pack might be a good choice for well-maintained trails. Also, don’t spend a lot extra for a DCF pack for extra toughness, if a less-expensive pack meets your needs.

    Finally – a pack must fit well, and that’s not a function of durability. If it’s uncomfortable, you won’t use it. Then it doesn’t matter how light, tough, or roomy it is. I love my HMG Windrider 2400 because it’s the best-fitting pack I’ve owned in decades. Durability just comes along for the ride.

  3. I’m surprised Granite Gear’s Crown 2 isn’t on your list.

  4. I have used the MyTrailCo Backpack Light 70 for 2 years now. It has been very durable. Dyneema X material is showing practically no wear. It is also only 34 ounces for 70 liters. It was also very reasonably priced. Maybe it should make the list.

  5. I always find it interesting that the least known bags & equipment are always in the $300.00 range..so I won’t buy one..

  6. Any thoughts on the spectra/gripstop version of zpacks arc blast / zpacks arc haul? My understanding is the fabric should be closer to xpac in durability, at a couple oz weight penalty. The side pockets are also gripstop not mesh.

  7. Would you consider the Gossamer Gear Silverback to be a step down in durability compared to the 7 backpacks you mentioned? I really like the set-up of the Silverback with a few exceptions, most important of which is the top lid. I don’t like it. I ed Gossamer Gear and they told me they are redesigning the Silverback and the new version is expected to be available this fall. I asked what changes were being made, and was told that they are changing the top closure of the main compartment and the fabrics used. I was hoping they might switch to the top closure that the Gorilla and Mariposa have, but was told only that the closure will be unique to the Silverback. I’d love it if they changed it to a roll-top closure. We’ll see, though. I noticed on the new 2018 version of the Gorilla that the side compression straps now have quick-release buckles, so I’m hoping that this change will be made on the Silverback too, as it’d make it easier to strap snowshoes to the sides of the pack.

    • Yep – it’s 210 robic putting it in the same class as an Gregory Optic, Osprey Exos, and Granite Gear Crown2 packs
      I was told that the Silverback was going to be a roll top too, but was hoping it would ship earlier this year.
      It’s not a bad pack, but I switched to HMG packs from Gossamer Gear packs because they’re so much more durable and haven’t ever looked back.

  8. I’d add Osprey EXOS series backpacks but they are not new in 2018 so i can understand why they are not mentioned.

    My EXPS 58 is THE most comfortable backpack I’ve ever used and that includes my very nice (if very heavy) Dana Designs Terraplane.

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