Custom and made-to-order backpacks are commonly found in places like Portland, Oregon, and Seattle, Washington — places that offer the ideal blend of urban convenience and access to the outdoors. Michigan might not come to mind as readily, but it’s there that Superior Wilderness Designs, a two-person operation, crafts its ultralight bags for backpacking and adventuring.
Small-scale makers are common in the ultralight backpack space — without them, it might not exist — but SWD has found a unique sweet spot that aligns high-end materials with approachable price points. A long distance 50-liter backpack made of durable and waterproof X-Pac material, a pack that’s suitable for long-distance thru-hiking, costs $275 and weighs just 25 ounces. A comparably-sized backpack from Hyperlite Mountain Gear, another ultralight-focused company, costs $345 and weighs 32 ounces while a popular non-ultralight 50-liter backpack from Osprey costs $240 but weighs over 64 ounces (four pounds).
SWD also stands out in that it offers a long menu of customization options that can be applied to the various base backpacks that it makes. These range from extra pockets in different positions that are made of varying materials to functional features that might be crucial for particular users, like an internal bladder sleeve or bottom straps for securing sleeping pads. Each of these carries an additional cost of $5-$15, but they allow you to create a backpack specifically-suited to your needs that’s guaranteed to be best-in-class when it comes to weight and durability.