TOP 13 Best Backpacks for a Thru-Hike of the Appalachian Trail Reviewed 2020

Thinking of hiking the Appalachian trail?

Your backpack could end up being the most important piece of gear you take.

This article lists 13 of the best backpacks for the Appalachian Trail in 2020 so you won’t have to look far to find the right pack for your thru-hike.

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TOP 13 Best Backpacks for the Appalachian Trail 2020

Osprey Men’s Exos 58 Backpack

Review: Osprey are known for making some of the best hiking packs on the market. They are designed to be lightweight, comfortable and durable, all key factors in a good hiking backpack.

The Osprey Exos 58 is a highly popular pack for traversing the AT and a solid option for thru-hiking.

It comes in a smaller 48 L version which could be a good option if you want to shave off some more weight. But the 58 version results in more versatility as it can still be under-packed when you want to carry less, with space for extra food on resupply days.

Designed to comfortably carry 20-40 lbs, the Exos holds true to Osprey’s style of well-padded and very comfortable packs while being relatively minimalist.

Pros

  • At 2.7 lbs this is a lightweight pack from Osprey.
  • 100D High tenacity nylon is strong and durable.
  • 3D mesh back panel provides optimum ventilation and breathability.
  • Plenty of pockets and compartments for optimum gear organization.
  • Comes with the excellent Osprey guarantee.

Cons

  • Rain-cover not included.
  • Exterior mesh pockets could be more durable.

Takeaway

If the popularity of this pack on the AT is anything to go by, you can’t go wrong with choosing this pack as your hiking companion.

Well designed, supportive, lightweight and comfortable, the Exos could be the best thru-hike backpack 2020.

Osprey Men’s Atmos 65 AG Backpack

Review: The Atmos 65 is a 65L pack with a base weight of 4.56 lbs so it’s not a super lightweight pack, but it’s designed to carry a 30-50 lbs load which is definitely the most you’d want to be carrying.

It has a comfortable mesh suspension that uses Osprey’s antigravity technology to make it feel like you’re carrying less than you are. Whether this works in practice will be a matter of individual opinion but it’s a nice idea!

Pros

  • Multiple external pockets to keep items accessible.
  • Durable enough to hold up under the demands hiking day after day.
  • Removable top lid can make for a lighter pack if you choose.
  • Hydration system compatible.
  • Zippered hip belt pockets.
  • Three harness sizes available.

Cons

  • The hip straps can be a bit long and will have to be secured up and out of the way if you don’t need the extra length.
  • A little heavy.

Takeaway

This is a durable pack that can hold a decent amount of weight. While it is not an ultralight pack, it is still one of the best backpacks for Appalachian trail thru-hiking.

Sierra Designs Men’s Flex Capacitor Backpack

Review: This is a highly versatile pack which can expand and contract depending on your load requirements.

Through simply releasing a couple of straps and buckles the capacity can expand from 40 L to 60 L while easily handling a heavy load and remaining comfortable.

Weighing in at 2 lbs 9 oz with the S/M hip belt and 2 lbs 11 oz with the M/L belt, this is also a very lightweight pack making it ideal for keeping the weight down on the trail.

Pros

  • 100 D Ripstop Nylon is water resistant and very durable.
  • Comfortably able to carry 35-50 lbs, this pack will definitely handle all long thru-hike requirements.
  • Plenty of pockets and compartments will make it easy to keep your gear stored for easy access. There is even a drink bottle pouch on one of the shoulder straps.
  • EVA foam hip belt and shoulder straps are comfortable and lightweight.

Cons

  • Top compartment can’t really be used when the main compartment is full.

Takeaway

This is a very high quality, lightweight and comfortable pack that is versatile enough to fulfill all of your needs, making it easily one of the best thru-hiking backpacks.

Mountainsmith Men’s Scream 55 Hiking Backpack

Review: Though at first appearing to be less conventional in design, some thought has been given to making this pack both very light and very comfortable.

Despite having a capacity of 55L, claiming to carry up to 45 lbs and having an internal frame, this pack remains a mere 2 lbs 13 oz and is very comfortable.

Pros

  • Affordable.
  • Foam waist belt has zip pockets for convenient storage of small snacks and valuables.
  • 100D Ripstop Nylon is very strong and durable.
  • The back panel is designed for maximum ventilation and comfort with ridged EVA foam.
  • Extendable roll-top closure allows for more flexibility in the size of the load you want to carry.
  • Hydration sleeve is compatible with bladders of up to 3L for convenient water storage.

Cons

  • Shoulder straps are fixed so less adjustable than other packs but does include load lifters which may make up for this.

Takeaway

While this pack is less well known in the world of backpacking, it definitely should not be overlooked.

It is very affordable, light, durable and comfortable.

Osprey Men’s Levity 60 Backpack

Review: It’s hard to get away from these Osprey packs! They are just so reliable and hard to beat.

And, now that ultralight hiking is becoming more popular, being seen by some as the only way to go, it makes sense that Osprey would be starting to introduce its own range of ultralight packs.

The Levity is the latest Men’s ultralight pack to be released by Osprey (the Lumina is the women’s version).

Essentially a lighter version of the Exos, weighing in at just 1 lb 13 oz, the Levity is an ideal ultralight thru-hiking backpack.

Pros

  • 210 D Nylon fabric technology in high-wear areas to increase durability without adding weight.
  • Silicone impregnated nylon (Cordura Silnylon) over the body of the pack is very light and water-resistant.
  • Lightwire suspension frame redirects the weight from your shoulders to the highly comfortable Exoform harness and hip belt.
  • Airspeed back panel ensures maximum ventilation and comfort.

Cons

  • Load range is 10 – 30 lbs. Any more than this and it’ll be uncomfortable.
  • It remains to be seen how durable the main compartment fabric of this pack will be.

Takeaway

A reliable lightweight option for AT thru-hikers who want to take the ultralight approach.

Gregory Mountain Products Men’s Baltoro 65 Backpack

Review: Designed for heavy loads, the Baltoro 65 is fitted with a heavy duty suspension and padding, which while making for a comfortable experience, also means it’s pretty heavy (nearly 5 lbs).

Though many would like to be moving away from heavier packs like this for thru-hiking, it is likely to be a lot more durable than the lighter packs on this list, and much more comfortable when carrying heavier loads after resupplying.

Pros

  • 210 D Nylon is extremely strong and durable.
  • Comes with an integrated rain cover.
  • Has more pockets that you would know how to fill and generally excellent gear organization.
  • 3D Air hip belt and shoulder harness maximizes breathability.
  • Aluminum internal frame keeps the load over your center of gravity and prevents the pack from collapsing against your spine when loaded.

Cons

  • At 4 lbs. 15 oz., this is a heavy pack for thru-hiking by today’s standards, and may be too heavy depending on your preferences.

Takeaway

Likely to be too heavy for most thru-hikers, it may suit you if you’re looking to complete the AT over a slightly longer time period and want to carry more gear than the ultralight movement would have you packing.

JanSport Men’s Katahdin 50L Backpack

Review: This is an affordable entry-level hiking pack that isn’t packed with features, but its durability, simple design and light weight could make it a favorite for the minimalist thru-hikers out there, or section hikers sticking to the summer months.

It has comfortable padded straps, durable buckles on the waist strap as well as an adjustable torso length so you can play around with the suspension until you get something that works for you.

Pros

  • Good durability.
  • Adjustable torso length.
  • Lightweight – 2 lbs 1 oz.
  • Affordable.
  • Hydration system compatible.

Cons

  • No sleeping bag compartment or hip belt pockets.
  • Not suitable for heavy loads (upwards of 30 lbs).

Takeaway

This pack is on the small side and would work well for a smaller person and those hiking in warmer months.

It’s also one of the least expensive packs around, while still maintaining durability.

Osprey Women’s Aura 65 AG Backpack

Review: One thing Osprey is great for, is gender-specific backpacks. This backpack was designed to meet the specific needs women have when thru-hiking and contoured to fit the dimensions of the female form.

It’s not quite as light as it could be at 4 lbs 2 oz but it can comfortably carry 30-50 lb of gear before becoming uncomfortable. The back is mesh lined for breathability and the waist belt is adjustable to accommodate different hip measurements.

It also has a system for carrying hiking poles that makes them easy to access.

Pros

  • Anti-gravity suspension system.
  • Lightwire frame allows air to pass between you and the pack by creating a small open space.
  • Front and side stretch pockets for easy access to whatever you put in there, makes it easy to plan your day.
  • Zippered sleeping bag compartment.

Cons

  • Ordering the correct size can be challenging. Pay careful attention to how Osprey measures their packs so you get the correct size.

Takeaway

This is one of the best packs for women thru-hiking the Appalachian trail.

Granite Gear Women’s Crown 2 60 Backpack

Review: This is another backpack with a women’s specific fit making it more comfortable for carrying over long distances.

But it’s also super versatile as its lid and frame sheet can be removed bringing its overall weight down from an already lightweight 2.2 lbs to just 1.7 lbs if you want to go ultralight.

It can comfortably carry up to 35 lbs with nicely padded shoulder straps, ventilated back panel and fully adjustable hip belt with zippered pockets.

Pros

  • Lid can be removed for a lighter base weight.
  • Fully adjustable padded hip belt.
  • Hydration system compatible.
  • Front and side compression straps.

Cons

  • Only two different torso sizes available.

Takeaway

This is a lightweight and reasonably priced backpack that can be altered for a lighter base weight if you want to convert to ultralight.

Gregory Mountain Products Women’s Octal 55 Backpack

Review: A solid mid-range, internal framed pack with comfortable suspension, the Octal 55 weighs in at a lightweight 2.4 lbs making it a great choice for thru-hikers.

Dual density foam in the hip and shoulder straps keep this pack comfortable despite being lightweight while AeroSpan suspension technology uses body mapping to minimize hot spots and provide maximum moisture wicking ventilation.

Pros

  • Custom fitted rain cover is included.
  • Aluminum internal frame maintains structural support.
  • Huge front mesh panel is ideal for stuffing extra clothing.
  • Lots of pockets, including a hydration bladder sleeve.

Cons

  • No pockets on hip belt or shoulder straps.

Takeaway

A very comfortable, lightweight pack that easily copes with a 25 lbs load while remaining supportive.

This women’s specific pack is ideal for long thru-hikes like the AT.

Deuter Women’s Aircontact Lite 40+10 Backpack

Review: This a versatile mid-range pack that could be considered a good option for thru-hiking owing to its flexibility in volume.

While its base volume is 40L, the extendable pack collar adds an extra 10L if needed.

Ergonomically designed, this 3 lbs 11 oz pack is designed to be comfortable, with a fully adjustable harness and optimum weight distribution.

In particular, it is very successful at transferring the weight from your shoulders to hips.

Pros

  • The fully adjustable harness allows for customizable fit while the open cell, hollow-chamber foam make for a very happy, moisture-free back.
  • Easy access zip at the bottom of the pack for sleeping bag storage.
  • Hydration system compatible.
  • Side straps compress pack volume for a more centered load.
  • Many loops and hooks for external gear storage along with dual stretch, zipped mesh pockets on the hip belts.

Cons

  • The exterior loops are only designed for items like hiking poles which makes it difficult to attach something larger like a bedroll.

Takeaway

This is an underrepresented pack when it comes to finding a good backpack for thru-hiking. Though it could be lighter, this is a solid option for a trail like the AT.

The North Face Women’s Banchee 65 Backpack

Review: The North Face Banchee 65 appears to be more of a minimalist pack in terms of design, but actually has an impressive 8 external pockets.

It’s a lightweight, sleek and very comfortable pack with an impressive internal capacity.

And, despite its lightweight design, this pack remains comfortable and capable of carrying a 30 – 35 lbs load.

The weight transfer is efficient and effective, making it easy to bear the brunt of the load on your hips while the pack stays balanced and secure.

Pros

  • Reasonably lightweight (3 lbs 9 oz).
  • Durable 210 D Ripstop Weave Nylon.
  • Spacious 65 L capacity with just the right amount of pockets for gear organization.
  • Hydration system compatible.

Cons

  • Doesn’t come with a rain cover.
  • Slightly less shoulder padding than would be ideal for when carrying heavier loads.

Takeaway

Due to its incredible balance of light weight and large volume while also being durable, this is probably the best lightweight thru-hiking backpack.

Once the rain cover is purchased, there’s nothing stopping you from hitting the trail.

Kelty Women’s Coyote 70 Backpack

Review: Though it’s designed for shorter trips into the backcountry, there’s no reason why (provided the heavier base weight doesn’t bother you) this can’t be a great, affordable option for a longer trail like the AT.

Inexpensive, durable, and comfortable, this pack is versatile and convenient to use with easily expandable volume and a separate sleeping bag compartment.

The single aluminum stay is lightweight, strong and supportive while the harness is custom-designed to fit the female form.

Pros

  • The floating lid allows for easy expansion or compression of pack volume.
  • Includes a sleeping bag compartment and plenty of easy-access pockets.
  • Load lifter straps and lumbar support make sure the weight is well balanced and not putting any excessive strain on any parts of your body.
  • Hydration system compatible.

Cons

  • 4 lbs 13 oz is at the heavy end of the scale.

Takeaway

This pack is an affordable option which aside from being a little heavy, ticks all of the boxes for an ideal thru-hike backpack.

How to Choose the Best Backpack for Appalachian Trail Thru-hiking?

man with large backpack hiking early at morning

Pack Weight

Your pack will be one of the heaviest, and most necessary items you carry, so you need to choose carefully.

But, your pack is also an item where you can easily shave some weight.

Those who have lighter packs put less stress on their bodies and are more efficient, enabling them to hike the same distance in less time.

Because the Appalachian trail has resupply points every 3 to 6 days, you should not have to pack as much food and other supplies as you would on other thru-hike trails.

It is common for new hikers to begin to ditch gear in the first week and wish they had chosen lighter packs.

Backpack Frame

The vast majority of backpackers successfully thru-hiking the Appalachian trail do so using internal frame packs.

Those who start with external frames often switch to internal frames at some point.

Those who use frameless packs usually have ultralight gear.

You don’t want to waste money and resources by switching packs, so consider your options realistically and carefully.

Pack Durability

The Appalachian Trail includes a variety of terrain and you will find yourself climbing boulders, using branches, tree limbs and roots to ascend and descend, encounter wet weather and possibly freezing conditions.

While an inexpensive hiking pack saves money up front, a pack that gets damaged or torn will need repair or replacement and can end up costing more over the span of the hike.

The best backpack for Appalachian trail thru-hiking is one that will last the nearly 2,200 miles without needing repair or replacement.

two persons going to winter camping with backpacks

Weather

In recent years, the trail has been warmer, which may mean you can pack lighter, but this has led to water being somewhat less abundant.

So you need to consider how you will stay hydrated and how much water you will need for food.

Most folks who thru-hike, head north on the trail starting in Georgia and finishing in Maine.

This allows them to follow the warm weather as they head north. It also means that if they plan their trip right they may be able to get away with packing lighter, needing fewer layers and using a summer sleeping bag for some of the trip.

As summer nears and weather warms up, you may be able to shed extra clothing and cold weather supplies.

The best backpack for hiking the Appalachian trail is one that is light enough to be comfortable, but roomy enough to carry necessities like water and supplies for colder weather.

Hauling Food

The Appalachian Trail has many re-supply points and you should only need to carry around three days to six days’ worth of food with you in your pack at one time.

Over packing is the number one mistake made by novice thru-hikers and the Appalachian trail has conditions that make it easier to carry less.

In the event you do forget something or decide you want to pick up supplies, you should reach an outfitter about every 7 to 14 days. By hauling less, you will have a lighter, more comfortable pack, and you will not need a huge pack.

The best backpack for Appalachian trail thru-hiking is the smallest one you can carry while still packing the necessities.

Adjustability

The pack should be able to adjust to you and your capacity needs. Many hikers lose weight while on the thru-hike so the adjustment straps need to be comfortable and adjustable.

Appetites also change and hikers find they want to carry more food so being able to expand the pack might be something you want to do.

At some point you may also want to decrease the capacity so a pack with compression straps and other size adjustments will help.

Budget

Of course, the budget is going to come into play too. But I’m going to get real with you here, if you’re serious about hiking the AT and not quitting part way through, investing in a good backpack is going to be some of the best spend dollars of the whole trail.

You’re already spending potentially thousands of dollars, especially if you take into account time not working/earning.

So, take my advice, spend the money on a best hiking backpack you can afford, you won’t regret it.

hiker passes Appalachian Trail blaze in forest

FAQ

What size backpack do I need for the Appalachian Trail?

This depends on what you’re carrying and how bulky your gear is. If you have top of the line, ultralight gear, you could get away with a 40L backpack, although 50L is probably more common.

If you have more conventional gear, you’ll likely need around 65L capacity. Keep in mind you also have to carry food and water!

How do you pack a backpack for the Appalachian Trail?

Packing your backpack for the Appalachian Trail is actually similar to any other multi-day backpacking trip.

You don’t actually want to be carrying any extra clothes with you, rather, washing them by hand when they start to stiffen!

The lighter your pack, the happier you’ll be (provided you have all the basics for comfort and safety).

What is the best backpack for the Appalachian Trail?

Depending on whether you want to go ultralight or just light, Osprey’s Levity/Lumina or Exos/Aura are the best option for thru-hiking the AT.

How much should your pack weigh on the Appalachian Trail?

The short answer is: as little as possible! The longer answer is: the average base weight (all gear excluding food and water) for hikers on the AT when surveyed is about 20 lbs.

Adding food and water could cause this to increase significantly on resupply days depending on what you buy.

How can I lighten my pack weight?

You can lighten your pack weight by choosing a lightweight pack (less than 3 lbs), lightweight tent, lightweight sleeping bag, and lightweight sleeping pad.

This will be pricey but worth it. After that, it’s a case of being a minimalist in what you pack.

For example, 3 pairs of briefs means you’ll always have the pair you’re wearing, a clean, dry pair on hand to change into, and a wet pair hanging on your pack that you just washed!

Choosing good quality clothing from top outdoor brands is the best way to ensure performance and durability for the whole trail.

Do I need a bear canister on the AT?

Currently, there are only a couple of places where a bear canister is required on the AT, and you can avoid these by camping either before or after.

So, no, a bear canister is not required on the AT. But, more hikers are starting to consider using them for a number of reasons that I won’t go into here.

Summary

That concludes our list of the best backpacks for the Appalachian Trail 2020. There are so many options to choose from on the market today that can make it overwhelming and hard to choose.

But all of the packs on this list are from good quality, reputable outdoor brands, so any of these packs will be a great choice.

At the end of the day, for choosing your best thru-hike backpack for 2020, it comes down to how much weight you’re willing to carry, how much you want to spend, and which pack fits your body shape the best.

I hope you’ve enjoyed reading through this list.

Be sure to subscribe for more useful articles and be sure to comment if you’ve tried any of the packs on this list!