Best Backpacks for a Thru-Hike of the Appalachian Trail & TOP 15 Reviews 2019

The Appalachian trail, conceived nearly century ago, is one of the longest thru-hikes available in North America, spanning 2,190 miles and 14 US States with extensions that go through Canada, Greenland, Europe and on to Morocco.

Upwards of three million hikers visit the trail making it one of the most popular trails also.

If you have set your sights on thru-hiking the longest hiking only trail in the world, one of your most important companions will be the backpack you carry.

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Backpacks for Thru-Hiking

My Rating

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Osprey Men’s Atmos 65 AG Backpack5 out of 5 starsbuy from amazon button
Gregory Mountain Products Men’s Baltoro Backpack4.8 out of 5 starsbuy from amazon button
Sierra Designs Men’s Flex Capacitor Backpack4.5 out of 5 starsbuy from amazon button
Osprey Women’s Aura 65 AG Backpack5 out of 5 starsbuy from amazon button
Kelty Women’s Coyote 65 Hiking Backpack4.8 out of 5 starsbuy from amazon button

What Features Should I Focus on when Choosing the Best Backpack for Appalachian Trail thru-hiking?

Hikers on trail

Pack Weight

Your pack will be one of the heaviest, and most necessary items you carry. Choose carefully.

Your pack is one 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.

hiking trail

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 packs and gear.

You don’ 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.

hiking trail and mountains

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 trips.

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.

TOP 8 Best Men’s Backpacks for the Appalachian Trail 2019

Osprey Men’s Atmos 65 AG Backpack

This pack for men, in size medium, has a 3,967 cubic square inch capacity and weighs 4 lbs 6 oz.

The pack has very comfortable mesh suspension, angled water pockets to easily access your water, and a myriad of other pockets, including the front mesh pocket Osprey packs are known for.

This pack has a sleeping bag compartment built into the bottom of the pack. This pack has a sternum strap, bottom straps to hold a sleeping pad or bag, or whatever.

PROS

  • Many outside pockets to keep items accessible.
  • Durable enough to hold up under the demands hiking day after day.

CONS

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

CONCLUSION

This is a durable pack that can hold a decent amount of weight and goes for all seasons.

While it is not an ultralight pack, it is still one of the best backpack for Appalachian trail thru-hiking.

Boreas Men’s Buttermilks 55 Internal Frame Backpack

This ultralight backpack is 3 lbs with the frame and 2lbs 2oz without. It has a 3326 cubic square inch capacity.

The pack is coated with UTS silicone to stand up to any weather conditions. The suspension has good ventilation thanks to a foam back panel that is designed to move air behind your back.

The compression cables are diagonal and follow reinforced seams that pull weight up onto the hip suspension. Hip belt has generous size zippered pockets for very easy access while hiking.

PROS

  • Includes rain cover.
  • The bag can compress to fit the contents.
  • Flexible and scalable, frame can be removed to shave weight.

CONS

  • Main compartment only opens from the top.

CONCLUSION

An attractively designed ultralight pack with clean lines, hidden pockets and straps and discreet, useful features that add utility without adding weight.

Without the frame this is one of the best backpacks for Appalachian trail thru-hike we know of.

JanSport Men’s Katahdin 50L Backpack

Made from 600D Polyester, this pack holds 3050 cubic square inches and weighs 3 lbs 10 oz.

This pack allows you to thread a hydration tube thru either side and has several easy access outside pockets.

Netted elasticized side pocket for an extra water bottle or cargo. Comfortable padded straps, durable buckles on the waist strap.

PROS

  • Durable pack by manufacturer with a good reputation for quality.

CONS

  • No sleeping bag compartment.
  • A lighter bag can be attached with the straps on the bottom.

CONCLUSION

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

This pack is also one of the least expensive packs around, while still maintaining durability.

Osprey Men’s Exos 58 Backpack

A highly popular pack for traversing the AT, the Osprey Exos 58 is another 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 18-25 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 very 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 of optimum gear organization.
  • Comes with the excellent Osprey guarantee.

CONS

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

CONCLUSION

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 2019.

Sierra Designs Men’s Flex Capacitor Backpack

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.

PROS

  • 100 D Ripstop Nylon is water resistant and very durable.
  • 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 a very lightweight pack making it ideal for keeping the weight down on the trail.
  • 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 ever 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.

CONCLUSION

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

Mountainsmith Men’s Scream 55 Hiking Backpack

Though at first appearing to be less conventional in design, some thought has been given into 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

  • This pack is good value for money, being one of the most affordable on this list.
  • The high density 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 3 litres 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.

CONCLUSION

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

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 to the 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 so means you really need to be dedicated at keeping your base weight low for this pack to work for you as the more weight you add, the more uncomfortable you will become!
  • It remains to be seen how durable the main compartment fabric of this pack will be.

CONCLUSION

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

Gregory Mountain Products Men’s Baltoro 65 Backpack

Designed for heavy loads, the Baltoro 65 is fitted with a heavy duty suspension and padding.

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.

CONCLUSION

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.

TOP 7 Best Appalachian Trail Backpacks for Women 2019

Osprey Women’s Aura 65 AG Backpack

This pack, in size S, has a 3,783 cubic square inch capacity and weighs 4 lbs 2 oz. This backpack was designed to meet the specific needs women have when thru-hiking and contoured to fit the dimensions of the female form.

The torso length of the pack is completely adjustable, the back is mesh lined for breathability and the waist belt is adjustable to accommodate different hip measurements.

This pack has a system for carrying hiking poles that makes them easy to access.

PROS

  • 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.

CONCLUSION

This is one of the best packs for women thru-hiking the Appalachian trail, especially if you are petite.

Gregory Mountain Products Women’s Z 55 Backpack

This pack has a 3,417 cubic square inch capacity and weighs 3 lbs 15 oz. This pack has great airflow across the back thanks to an internal frame and built-in rain cover.

The stitching is high quality to withstand the demands of hiking daily for several months. Top pocket is zippered, removable and has a place to secure your keys. Holds up to 40 lbs.

This bag has a unique main pocket that opens from the center of the bag, more like a suitcase would open then a backpack.

PROS

  • Very light weight bag, well structured, especially considering its light weight.
  • Contoured and padded shoulder straps.
  • Hip and sternum straps.
  • The pack has many organizational features including several zippered pouches outside.

CONS

  • No built in sleeping bag storage.

CONCLUSION

This is a great pack for hiking the Appalachian Trail if you are an ultra light style hiker.

Granite Gear Women’s Crown VC 60 Backpack

This ultralight backpack weighs 2 lbs 2 oz and has a 3660 cubic square inch capacity.

The pack has an adjustable sternum strap and small elastic pockets on the straps to hold bills or small items.

The design is very minimal and has an adjustable hip strap. There are two strong thin straps on top to hold a sleeping bag or pad.

The bag can be made smaller using compression straps and the top rolls down and clips to the side of the bag.

Large stretch pocket on the face of the backpack is convenient for easy access to items needed while hiking. The pack has a hydration hook to hold a hydration bladder.

PROS

  • Made to be lightweight, with a minimalist design.
  • Comfortable ‘vapor current’ suspension system with breathable raised cross hatch padding with a HDPE plastic sheet frame that spans from the bottom edge to the top of the padding.

CONS

  • No top lid, lid can be purchased separately.
  • Not a huge amount of extra outside pockets, but it does have tool hooks.

CONCLUSION

Great compact ultralight backpack that is comfortable to wear without any extras that add weight.

Gregory Mountain Products Women’s Octal 55 Backpack

A solid mid-range, internal framed pack with comfortable suspension, the Octal 55 is essentially a lighter weight version of the Z 55, coming in at a light 2.4 lbs.

This is a backpack for the thru-hiker who wants to further minimize their base weight in order to cover more distance over a shorter time frame.

PROS

  • Custom fitted rain cover is included.
  • Dual density foam in the hip and shoulder straps keep this pack comfortable despite being lightweight.
  • Aluminium internal frame maintains structural support.
  • AeroSpan suspension technology uses body mapping to minimize hot spots and provide maximum moisture wicking ventilation.
  • Huge front mesh panel is ideal for stuffing extra clothing.
  • Lots of pockets, including a hydration bladder sleeve.

CONS

  • No pockets on shoulder straps and pockets on hip straps are minimal so you really need to take your pack off each time you want to access anything.

CONCLUSION

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

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 full 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 bed roll.

CONCLUSION

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

This is more of a minimalist pack in terms of design, weight and the number of external pockets, loops and hooks.

But, this makes for a light weight, sleek and effective pack while still having an impressive internal capacity.

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

  • Very lightweight (3.6 lbs).
  • Durable 210 D Ripstop Weave Nylon.
  • Spacious 65 L capacity with just the right amount of pockets for gear organization without going into overkill.
  • Hydration system compatible.

CONS

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

CONCLUSION

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 65 Backpack

Though its 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.

CONCLUSION

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

Summary

That concludes our list of the best backpacks for the Appalachian Trail. 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 2019, 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!

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