Mountain Laurel Designs Burn 38L Review

I tested the Mountain Laurel Designs Burn pack and this is my verdict.

October 20, 2023
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Mountain Laurel Designs calls the Burn the “Original UL Backpack” for a reason: its combination of comfort, durability, volume, and versatility make it a well-rounded choice for any weight-conscious hiker. It’s not recommended for beginners, but most hikers familiar with long-trail practices should appreciate this pack for its simplicity and strength.

Product Overview

Mountain Laurel Designs Burn 38L

Price: $245-$397

mountain laurel designs burn 38l

✅ Ultralight

✅ Sturdy

✅ Comfortable

✅ Customizable


❌ Pricey

❌ Long delivery time


  • Weight: 16.5oz base pack
  • Volume: 38L / 2300 CI
  • Main Pack Volume: 25L / 1500 CI
  • Load Range: 20-25 lb. / 9-12 kg
  • Materials/Colors: 2023 Ultra 200/100 (available in Gray); UltraGrid 200d RipStop (available in Black Beauty, Red Chili, and Avocado)
  • Includes: 10″ of black 1/8″ bungee cord for optional bungee lacing/compressing/gear strapping and 2 mini cord clips and 3 cord locks

The Burn is an ultralight pack made by Mountain Laurel Designs (MLD), a popular ultralight (UL) cottage gear company. MLD has dubbed it the “Fastest Known Time (FKT) record-setter”. I didn’t set an FKT with it, but I did test it over about 3,000 miles.

MLD has consistently churned out high-quality thru-hiking gear for 20+ years because they know what hikers need. Don’t overthink this one – the MLD Burn gets two thumbs up from me.

For other ultralight backpack reviews, read our post on the best ultralight backpacks.

Performance Test Results

MLD burn 38L performance score graph

How We Tested:

I originally purchased my MLD Burn in preparation for my 2022 CDT thru-hike. It was my first truly UL pack and after hiking the CDT in 99 days, I won’t be looking back. Since then, I’ve taken it on numerous weekend trips in the Pacific Northwest anywhere from 20-75 miles in length.

Learn what other UL gear is compatible with it by checking out my gear list here.

hiker using mld burn 38l backpack

Weight: 9/10

Although the base model of the MLD burn weighs a meager 16.5oz, the weight of the pack can get heavier quickly depending on add-ons and fabric. With its current attachments, my pack is mostly worn at around 24.8oz. That’s accounting for the sternum strap, external bungee cord, and three pockets (one hip, one shoulder, and one water bottle shoulder).

No complaints. The convenience and extra volume those attachments provide have been worth their weight. You can reduce the weight further by removing additional features.

mld burn 38l close-up features

The base model of MLD Burn 38L pack weighs 16.5oz.

Volume: 10/10

If you’re interested in ultralight backpacks, then your gear list should already be light enough to fit comfortably in a sub-40L backpack. Savvy hikers should always purchase their backpack last to ensure it suits the needs of their gear list and not the other way around.

The 38L the Burn provides should be more than enough for most UL hikers on three-season excursions, depending on length. The rollable top extends surprisingly high and can accommodate a standard bear canister in an upright position. I regularly carried up to six days' worth of food on the CDT in an Ursack without issue.

hiker using mld burn 38l backpack

The bungee comes in handy for the occasional bag of chips or sandwich you’ve packed in from town and plan on eating that day. Keep in mind the side pockets are snug. They can accommodate two 1L smart water bottles side-by-side but will have issues with wider water bottles.

However, if you’re transitioning from a 45L+ backpack, 38L will take some getting used to. Larger volume items, like a two-person tent (yes, even a Duplex) can eat up excess space. Pack thoughtfully and leave your stuff-sacks at home.

mld burn 38l close-up features

The Burn's 38-liter volume is likely sufficient for most UL hikers on three-season expeditions.

Fabric: 8/10

I own the Avocado UltraGrid model of this pack. The UltraGrid is water resistant enough for most 3-season trips, even in the Pacific Northwest. I had no issues with the inside of my backpack over the entire CDT either (no CDT thru-hike is complete without its fair share of thunderstorms).

The UltraWeave version looks to be even more water-resistant. Any perceivable weaknesses in the pack could have been remedied with a pack liner or by strapping a foam pad atop.

The fabric is also durable. I’ve only poked two holes in my Burn over 3K miles — one in the kangaroo pouch from climbing under a nasty blowdown, and one in a side pocket from barbed wire in New Mexico. One of the side pockets even survived direct contact with 95% DEET bug spray. While the material feels less sturdy than before, it shows no signs of slowing down.

mld burn 38l close up features

The Avocado UltraGrid model, which is water-resistant and durable, was used during my CDT thru-hike without any issues.

Customization: 10/10

Like many boutique UL companies, MLD offers the option to make small variations and add-on features to your pack. Besides pack size and fabric, buyers can also choose to purchase additional shoulder and hipbelt pockets ($18 per unit). A bungee cord is also included, but whether you want to take advantage of the pack’s 12 bungee cord loops is up to you.

Hikers who want to get real UL have further DIY options from here: they can choose to hike without the sternum strap (0.5 oz). If their loads are light enough, some hikers might remove the hipbelt altogether.

The downside to the flexibility this pack provides is that there can be a learning curve when configuring your set-up. Simplicity and self-reliance are two of MLD’s driving principles, so it stands to reason that there isn’t much instruction included when deciding which features you’ll need or not. The adventure is up to you and your hiking style. However, it might take some experimenting before you get things dialed in.

mld burn 38l close-up features

Comfort: 7/10

The Burn is a simple backpack. It rides lower than popular internal frame packs with suspension systems. Imagine a lower-riding fit, reminiscent of the Jansport-style backpack you used to use in grade school. Its comfortable load range is 20-25 lbs, although it can carry more than that.

The hip belt and sternum strap help take the load off your shoulders but don’t depend on them too much: any hiker interested in the Burn should already have a light enough gear list where this shouldn’t be an issue. With that said, its shoulder straps and hip belt are quite comfortable and feel sturdy relative to the rest of the pack.

Because there’s no suspension system to keep the fabric of the pack directly off your back, expect poor airflow and a sweaty shirt. Also, be mindful of how you pack the inside. Any hard or pointy objects not aligned inside can protrude and dig into your back as you hike.

mld burn 38l close-up features

The pack lacks a suspension system, causing poor airflow and sweating.

Price: 7/10

The base model of the Burn retails on MLD’s website at $245 per unit. Changes like add-ons and fabric can quickly bring its pre-tax cost to almost $400, so approach your purchase thoughtfully.

Gear is only as effective as the hiker wielding it. There are more affordable backpacks with similar volume capabilities and weight available commercially. However, if you’re dedicated to a UL-style hiking set-up and are far enough in the hobby for ounces to matter, the Burn is a great value.

After 3K miles, my burn has no signs of slowing down, whereas other, more affordable packs I’ve owned in the past will show signs of wear at only 500.

hiker using mld burn 38l backpack

The Burn is a great value for UL-style hiking, with no signs of wear after 3K miles.

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Joseph Gonzalez photo

About Joseph Gonzalez

Joseph is a hiking and adventure travel writer who has thru-hiked thousands of miles of long-distance trails. When he’s not walking across the country he can be found paddling or foraging with his cat in the Pacific Northwest. @mr.overhill 

About Greenbelly

After thru-hiking the Appalachian Trail, Chris Cage created Greenbelly to provide fast, filling and balanced meals to backpackers. Chris also wrote How to Hike the Appalachian Trail.

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