No matter what your use case for a backpack, be it something for work, school, travel, or a weekend getaway -- having something that is lightweight is always an important feature to look for.
The demand for lightweight backpacks derives from a few trends; how the digitization of our lives has allowed us to carry fewer objects around and how our changing work lifestyles have given way to more professionals carrying backpacks to and from work.
What Makes a Bag Lightweight?
A lightweight backpack gets its lightweight properties first and foremost from the materials and their construction. Many are made of technical non-woven materials like Nylon, or high-tech innovations like Dyneema (Dyneema is the world’s strongest fiber, the premium brand for Ultra-High Molecular Weight Polyethylene).
Nylon is a woven fabric like Polyester, that is easy to carry because of its light, but durable nature. The strength of a woven fabric is measured by its denier count -- the main unit of measurement. Fabrics that have high denier count are thicker and more durable. Fabrics with a low denier count are softer, thinner, and silky (think a bedsheet). The denier count is particularly useful to know when evaluating a backpack’s weight since most heavy-duty backpacks are above 420D and can be upwards of 500+ denier.
When looking for a lightweight backpack that uses real leather, it’s best to choose a backpack that isn't 100% leather all around, as leather can get quite heavy. This might look like a backpack that has leather trims, or is made up of a combination of materials like nylon and leather.
With a mix of materials like leather and nylon, you can still have certain parts of the bag constructed with leather to give off a more refined look, like the handles, shoulder straps, and interior trims. It's the best of both worlds -- the elegance of leather, but without the heavyweight of a full leather backpack. If a full leather backpack is more of a preference, then opting for a vegan leather backpack might be an option, since vegan leather is synthetically made and can be designed to be lighter than its real leather counterparts.
Another component of a backpack that can add or subtract to its weight is the straps and back panel. Typically instead of stiff foam or a stabilizer board made of polyethylene (which can’t bend or be compressed), many minimal backpacks instead use spacer mesh and low-density foam (more commonly known as memory foam). The end result is a backpack that optimizes for comfort and support without the bulk.
What features can make a backpack lightweight?
A lightweight backpack is not intended for holding heavy items or filling to max capacity, its lightweight properties are designed for a convenient comfortable option for regular, everyday use. Though the features of a lightweight backpack may vary depending on its use case (e.g. a laptop compartment for work), there are some commonalities with how a bag is made that can add to its lightweight nature.
Common hardware features found in more outdoor bags like sternum straps or additional support straps aren’t found in as many lightweight backpacks for everyday use since they add weight without much functionality for their use case. The number of compartments and webbing used in the compartments is also fewer. Typically, a bag that is lightweight will only have one or two compartments, to allow for fewer zippers, pockets, hardware, and material use; all of which contribute to a backpack’s weight.
With lightweight materials, it’s useful to have the weight of the bag closer and higher up against the body, which is often achieved via compression straps on the side and load lifters on top of the bag. In terms of volume, lightweight backpacks tend to be approximately 10-20 liters in volume, with 16-20 liters seeming like an ideal size; not too big or small, but just enough to serve its purpose.
The materials used are an important place to start when considering what kind of a backpack to go for as lightweight backpacks are a great way to literally "lighten the load."