Shelters, sleeping bags, and backpacks, aside from representing the “big 3” in backpacking, also represent the products with the most new innovation and changes in recent years. Until the lightweight backpacking movement took hold, I carried an 8-pound Gregory backpack. The suspension was great, it was extremely durable, and it held pretty much everything except my car. And, it was unbearably heavy. It was so heavy, in fact, that I was miserable. My legs, knees, and back always hurt and I almost always didn’t get very far or move very quickly. I think I would have won a gold medal in sweating too if it were an Olympic event. Aside from the fact that it was killing my body and ruining my experience, the reality was that it was also very unsafe. Sporting a load of 40-60 pounds ensured that any misstep would leave me face down or hurt. Fortunately, lightweight manufacturers have saved you and I from this problem by revamping gear which ultimately serves the same function, it just happens to be lighter.
Although Gregory, Osprey, The North Face, Mountain Hardwear, etc. all continue to offer very bombproof and comfortable packs, the reality is they are overly heavy, overly big, and end up hurting your backpacking experience more than helping it. Now, instead of carrying an 8-pound pack, I have found plenty of comfort and support in packs which weigh anywhere from about 13oz made of SilNylon to 2 pounds made of extremely durable ripstop fabric.
To me, lighter packs make all the difference in the world and small things like having hip belt pockets to access my compass, snacks, maps, etc. are really convenient. Lighter packs are also often water resistant because of their fabric and waterproofness can be virtually guaranteed with something as simple as an internal trash compactor bag instead of a pack cover or multiple interior compression sacks. With these options, crossing a stream won’t be so treacherous and no doubt going further, faster will be a real possibility. Many lightweight backpackers even often shed additional ounces by removing unwanted straps or buckles, or even the hip belt.
Some packs which have really peaked my experience include those made by Ultralight Equipment (http://www.ula-equipment.com/), Golite (http://www.golite.com/), and Six Moon Designs (http://www.sixmoondesigns.com/). McHale Packs (http://www.mchalepacks.com/) are known to be equally competent and offer custom options. Granite Gear (http://www.granitegear.com/) is a favorite amongst lightweight backpackers and offer a unique middle zipper to ease access to gear. All of these options are under 2 pounds.
For those looking to go lighter, and even break the one pound barrier, some manufactures offer a variety of SilNylon and even Cuben Fiber packs which are the lightest in the industry. These manufacturers include Gossamer Gear (http://www.gossamergear.com/), Mountain Laurel Designs (http://www.mountainlaureldesigns.com/), Z Packs (http://www.zpacks.com/), and Cilo Gear (http://www.cilogear/ ) to name a few. An unconventional but lightweight choice is offered by Luxury Lite (http://www.luxurylite.com).
Choosing a backpack is like choosing any other piece of gear which should be driven by experience, environment, competency, and budget. The mainstream manufactures are slowly catching up, but they aren’t there yet so I can’t recommend even the lightest offered by these guys.