Going Lighter: First Step Targets 2 — Packs

Packs drive me mad and I can rant about them for hours. many of the packs from mainstream manufacturers are way too heavy. This is because they are sold on features. You may think features might be useful but weight on the back really makes a difference, especially when you are walking in hot weather. These clever features do not make for more comfort, well not automatically.

I used to have a wonderful Osprey pack. It had a capacity of 70 litres and it weighed, empty, 3 kilograms. I was mad. Not only was this 2 kilograms heavier than needed but the problem with 70 litres is that there is a tendency to use it. This means you fill it with things you don’t need and these weigh a lot when added together.

So, a lightweight approach to packs mixes basic weight and pack capacity!


For a basic backpacking trip where you are only carrying supplies for three or four days you don’t need a lot of capacity. I would reckon 50 litres would be a good place to start and I doubt there is much point is going for more. However, longer trips might require greater capacity but this does not mean relying on heavy designs.

Resist the temptation to buy one pack for every eventuality. If for some reason you need an expedition pack then plan for that separately. Focus on what you will be using most often.


Pack with lighter loads do not need heavy frames to carry well. Many very good packs have no internal frames at all. You add extra stiffness to the pack by using a sleeping pad in the back or using a foam pad that comes with the pack.

Some of the lightweight specialists do use innovative frame designs but these should not add too much weight. For example, ULA packs feature several designs that use a very light carbon loop in the back which distributes weight but is very light. Other small manufacturers use their own lightweight and effective systems.


These can make a difference. There are very light fabrics but some of these do compromise durability. However, there is no need to go for anything heavier than a material like Dyneema. Dyneema is very light but has a thread running through it that is used in bullet-proofed vests!

Starting Guides

There are lots of lightweight specialists producing great packs and you will need to shop around, and ask around, before making your choice.

But here is a guide using the Golite range, which is now easily available over the web

The Golite Peak is has a conservatively rated capacity of 40 litres. The large size (see below) weighs less than 800 grams and has a capacity of 14 kilograms. You shouldn’t have to carry more than this!

The Golite Jam is based on a similar design but has a little more capacity. of about 50 litres. It is heavier at 900 grams for the large size. I reckon this would do for the vast majority of hikers.

The Golite Pinnacle is a very popular pack and has a volume of about 75 litres but still weighs less than 1 kilogram. This is an expedition pack which sholud suit all your needs. But I would be looking at the Jam-type capacity.


Most lightweight packs do not have top lids. this may seem odd but you won’t miss them. Top lid pockets take too much weight and can effect balance. Simple roll top lids are fine.

Pockets are more important. Lightweight but large side pockets are very useful when on the move. When looking at reviews look to see how easy these are to use while you are actually walking. Small pockets on the hip belt are great for carrying a compass, GPS and so on. Most packs will come with a copious front pocket for wet gear and so on. This is really where the feature list shouts stop!

My Packs

Just to give you an idea.

My main pack — used on TGO Challenges and so on — is a ULA Conduit pack. It’s volume (including pockets) is about 50 litres but the main pack volume is about 35 litres. The pack weighs about 500 grams. It can carry up to 11 kilograms. This is a frameless pack. At about weight capacity you notice what you are carrying but it is still comfortable.

My heavy pack is the ULA Catalyst. This weighs 1.2 kilograms and is a real load carrier which can cope with up to 18 kilograms or so although its most comfortable at about 10. I only use this now when I’m really not sure of resupply and am carrying a lot of food.

Just for interest I also use an old ULA Relay pack with a capacity of about 25 litres and a weight of about 300 grams. This can cope with overnighters using a lightweight shelter.

Buying on the net

You should really consider this. Stores are often bad places to buy packs. These days they carry less and less stock and may not have your back size in stock, but — and I’ve seen a bit of this — there is a temptation to palm yourself off with something that is the wrong size.

Even the big stores use the web these days so you should feel happy about it. Specialist lightweight retailers are superb to deal with and will give you great advice.


Consider those manufactures who require you to measure your back length. This may seem odd but out in the field you will want something that is comfortable!

These days mainstream manufacturers are getting into lighter gear but the specialist manufacturers sell packs that are designed by hikers and have been developed with the help and support of many of those who spend a lotof time in the hills.

Put on a pack designed by a backpacker and you can tell the difference!


  1. Get the contents light enough and the pack design becomes almost irrelevant. Also, with a light pack, you can avoid a sweaty back (and prickly heat after a few days) by one-shouldering, something I was doing well before a certain book came out.

    When you are one-shouldering the only thing you need from the pack is that there should not be much of it – maybe just somewhere to put your trekking poles.

  2. I own and use a Peak Andy. 14k is way beyond its comfort limit. It is flawed in its design for long trips. The extension collar is too short and once you load it up it is hard to get it rolled over to seal out the rain. The hip-belt is not that good a well for loads above 6 -7k would be my view.

    New Jam is very good and you are right to recommend it. I gave my my old one away as the shoulder straps where it’s failing. New design has addressed that. A friend used the new jam on a trip I just did. Top pack. Should defiantly be where folks need to look first. Good series you are doing Andy. I look forward to reading more.

    • Thanks for the feedback on the Peak Martin. Confirms my view that the Jam is a very good value for money, general purpose pack.

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