Hikers Best Backpack for the Appalachian Trail Thru Hike Adventure

Thru-hiking can be an extremely difficult task to complete, even for an experienced hiker. You must be physically and mentally capable of surviving for very long distances, thousands of miles and months of hiking. It’s no simple task.

Every hiker needs a reliable, durable, and comfortable backpack when experiencing the 2190 miles of the incredible Appalachian Trail, especially when they want to thru-hike it! You need to carry everything you need without struggling to take a step, falling over because of that enormous pack or leaving stuff at home because you can’t carry it.

You want a pack that doesn’t dig into your back, shoulders, and chest after an hour or two on the trail. And most of all, you want to be organized, comfortable, and forget about your gear so you can soak up the fantastic experience of being out there on the trail.

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Yep, your backpack is pretty darn important!

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That’s why we’ve put together this detailed buying guide. We’ll take you through what you need to look for when buying your backpack for the Appalachian Trail and then share our six favorite hiking backpacks that will be perfect for the job.

How to choose the best backpack for thru-hiking the A.T.?

The Appalachian Trail thru-hike sign

There are several factors you need to take into consideration before you part with your hard-earned money and invest in a hiking backpack.

How heavy is the backpack?

The best backpacks for long-distance hiking all weigh under 3 pounds when you buy them. Starting with the least amount of weight on your back will help you hike faster and will allow you to add little items to your bag as you progress on the trail without it making too big of a difference. Long hiking trails usually have little shops or cafés alongside them occasionally, so it’s likely that you’ll pick up either a souvenir or snacks for the trip.

You’re going to be spending hours on your feet every day, so every ounce that you’re carrying will make a massive difference to how you feel. Like most people hiking the A.T., you’ll probably want to ditch much of what you’re taking as you go through your trip anyway, so start smart.

One great way to reduce this is to opt for a lightweight backpack that doesn’t compromise on space so you can pack in the value instead of struggling to carry the bag itself. Bear in mind everything that you will need to take, including a tent, camping gear, a stove, waterproof clothing, cooking equipment, etc. and chose a lighter backpack.

How durable is the backpack?

Don’t be tempted to save money for your trip by buying the cheapest backpack available because you’ll likely end up causing yourself no end of stress (and potentially extra expense) along the way. Choose a pack that is durable and easy to repair.

That doesn’t mean you need to break the bank with one of the high-end options out there, but instead, assess the specifications and make your choices accordingly. Don’t skip this – it will make a massive difference to your experience of the trail and will save no end of stress and hassle in the long term. There’s no way you want to find a gaping hole in your pack when you’re out there on the trail.

And remember, thru-hiking the Trail takes time. You’re going to be out there in the great outdoors for months at a time, and so your backpack is going to be pushed to its limits. Not only will you have the changing weather conditions and temperatures to contend with, but you’ll also find no end of branches for your pack to snag on rocks to help wear away the fabric and other hazards.

backpackers in winter

Frameless packs or with an internal frame?

You don’t have to use a backpack with a frame, but it will undoubtedly help stabilize your gear and make your hiking trip more comfortable. If you do choose to use one, we recommend you opt for an internal frame. These help you stay more balanced on your feet, which is especially handy when you’re hiking more challenging sections of the Appalachian Trail, and they’re more compact than backpacks with external frames.  You’ll also avoid the chances of getting caught on branches and other hazards too.

Is it easily adjustable?

The secret to enjoying a comfortable hike depends on your ability to adjust your backpack to fit your unique body shape, so be sure that the pack you choose offers you this option. Look for bags with a hip belt, shoulder straps, lift-loader straps, and a sternum strap that you can adjust whenever needed. Harnesses and hip belts are two very important features to look at in a hiking backpack.

Make sure that it’s going to be not only comfortable but functional. The suspension straps help support the weight you’re carrying and keeps it secure on your back. It needs to be of good quality; you wouldn’t want a suspension strap to break while scaling the Appalachian Mountains, just like you wouldn’t want your back to be thrown out the first 100 miles of the trip.

2 hikers on the trail

Is it big enough for your needs?

Hiking backpacks come in a wide variety of sizes, so it’s vital to choose on that is big enough to carry everything you need without being too huge that it’s impossible to handle. Smaller is almost always better. A backpack capacity of around 50 liters is usually best for the Appalachian Trail.

Bear in mind everything you want to take with you on the trip, not forgetting to consider the approximate amount of food you want to carry. You should aim to stop off to resupply every 7-14 days on the trail so you can minimize the amount you need to take. Learn how to hike the Appalachian Trail in Sections here.

Best lightweight backpacks for thru-hiking the A.T.

1. Osprey Men’s Atmos 65 AG Backpack

It has everything you need in a pack for this type of hiking. Backpacking isn’t usually an extremely strenuous activity; it’s just a lot of walking and sometimes camping. It’s one of the most popular types of hiking right now because of how enjoyable it is. People like to backpack on paths that have amazing views and vast landscapes that are very pleasing to look at, so don’t ruin the relaxation with the wrong type of backpack.

Here is a look at the bag, this is the Unity Blue color, but it also comes in Rigby Red or Abyss Grey. You can get it in 3 different sizes on Amazon-small, medium, or large. The small size (62L) is best because it’s less weight to carry, but if you are very tall, then get medium or large so that it fits correctly compared to the length of your torso.

Below is a table showing the dimensions and specifications of each size and the prices of each.

Osprey Packs Osprey Pack Atmos Ag 65 Backpack, Unity Blue, Large
Backpack SizesVolumeDimensions (in.)Weight (lbs.)
Small3783 inᶟ / 62L32.28 x 15.35 x 16.144.48
Medium3967 inᶟ / 65L34.25 x 15.35 x 16.144.56
Large4150 inᶟ / 68L36.22 x 15.35 x 16.144.64

Water Reservoir

Internal Reservoir

Internal Reservoir

Easy access to hydrating fluid is the most important feature you want to look for in a backpacking bag. Lots of walking depletes your hydration faster than anything else. Not all backpacks have a specially designed pocket for a water sleeve, that is why the Osprey Atmos AG 65 is the best bag to get for your money because it has one. It’s not the cheapest bag out there, as it’s priced at just under the $300 mark (size small) on Amazon, but it is most definitely worth spending the money on it.

There was a lot of thought put into the making of the backpack, and it paid off because almost every customer review of it is entirely positive. You can read more about the reviews of this product at the bottom of this article-even though there’s not much to see because of how little is wrong with the bag itself, according to customers. If you decide to buy a cheaper backpack, you’re most likely sacrificing one or some essential features that you would otherwise come to love in this bag.

Holding Straps for Trekking Poles

Asmos 65

Compression Straps

Sometimes you will use trekking poles to help you climb steep hills along the way, but when you’re walking on flat ground and no longer need to use them, a holding spot or elastic strap on the side of the backpack will help you to carry them around easily.

Lugging around trekking poles is not very fun. The Osprey Atmos has a place to hold them, and it works well according to the reviews made by other people who have used the backpack.

Specifications and Special Features

Backpacks explicitly made for a backpacking trip, like this one, include specially designed features for that type of ultralight hiking. This backpack, for example, has a built-in hydration reservoir sleeve that holds up to 3L of liquid, which is great for backpacking because hydration is vital when it comes to the amount of cardio you will be doing.

It also has an anti-gravity suspension system, a LightWire-tensioned, full peripheral frame that comfortably transfers pack load, which makes the backpack feel much lighter than it is. It features a fit-on-the-fly adjustable harness and hip belt that conform to your body, making it less noticeable that you have a backpack on. The main idea of this ultralight gear is to make your backpacking trip as enjoyable and efficient as possible without feeling the strain of heavy loads.

 

The designer wanted it to feel weightless and unnoticeable for the user. It also has dual access stretch mesh side pockets, which make it easy and convenient for you to reach for smaller items or gear and your water bottle so that you don’t have to waste time stopping on the trail.

It also features:

 

  • 210D high tenacity nylon (accent)
    Atmos 65 backpack

    Fit On The Fly

  • 420HD nylon packcloth (bottom)
  • Stow-on-the-go trekking pole attachment
  • Adjustable harness
  • Adjustable hip belt
  • Removable floating top lid with dual zippered pockets
Atmos 65 Backpack

Dual Side Pockets

Atmos 65 Backpack

Hipbelt Pocket

 

 

 

 

 

Product manual available here.

Customer Comments

It was very highly-rated amongst customers who previously bought the backpack and hardly any complaints. According to those customers, this backpack fits best compared to other various brands that they’ve tried. It’s well-ventilated, and the netted support system that is in between your back and the bag itself makes it very comfortable to wear while hiking. You can easily access your water.

They also complimented the vast set of storage pockets, big and small, because of how easy it was to organize their gear and other essential items. A little detail that bothered, but did not turn away, some customers was that the zippers on some pockets are slightly hard to open one-handed, which they said was irritating but did not change how much they loved the experience of using this bag. Another problem is that it doesn’t come with a bladder from Osprey for the water reservoir spot in the bag.

In Conclusion

If you’re planning on taking a backpacking trip soon, you need to find a backpack that suits your every need. The less amount of hassle it causes you, the better. Other hikers that have tried multiple different packs rate the Osprey Atmos AG 65 as one of the best packs on this list.

It features lightweight material and mesh fabric for good ventilation, which also makes it an extremely comfortable backpacking pack to wear. You won’t find much wrong with this bag at all. It even comes with a built-in hydration reservoir for convenience. It’s very functional.

Please refer to Osprey 65 owner’s manual for information on product features, use, maintenance, customer service, and warranty.

2. Granite Gear Crown 2 backpack

The Granite Gear is the most highly rated backpack across almost all outdoor gear websites.

Granite Gear Crown2 60L Backpack - Women's Flint/Midnight Blue Short

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For Fitting & Sizing Instructions, please click here.

The Granite Gear Crown 2 has lots of valuable qualities. This backpack is the highest rated for thru-hiking. It comes in two colors, Fatigue/dried sage or Flint/midnight blue and also has the option for different sizes, small and regular for varying torso lengths. The inside of the pack has the dimensions 23.5” x 13” x 8”.

It also features:

  • Ventilation channels and durable laminated mesh to assist in the ventilation of heat and moisture.
  • Dual-density shoulder harness with load-lifter straps and removable sternum strap.
  • Dual large hip belt pockets with DWR treated zippers.
  • V.C. (Vapor Current) mark 2 Frame with 35lb (15kg) load rating
  • Dual-density shoulder harness with load-lifter straps and removable sternum strap
  • Re-Fit fully adjustable (from 26 – 42in), dual-density hip belt
  • Dual large hip belt pockets with DWR treated zippers
  • Roll-top main compartment opening with centered dual strap and singular buckle for quick access and easy compression
  • The removable lid has a compartment with DWR treated zipper
  • Hydration port & internal hydration sleeve
  • Large side stretch woven pockets
  • Stretch mesh front pocket
  • Side and front compression straps
  • 100D High-tenacity nylon with NeverWet liquid repelling treatment
  • 210D High-tenacity ripstop nylon with NeverWet liquid repelling treatment

Customer Reviews

Out of the three backpacks, the product with the best reviews was, by far, the Granite Gear Crown 2. Majority reviewers gave top ratings, and frankly, it was hard to find a single bad review or comment about the backpack at all, on Amazon or on GraniteGear’s main website.

One of the hikers took the Granite Gear for a 2,000-mile test run and gave a very positive review about it. Customers praised the adaptability of the backpack above all else.

3. Osprey Levity 60L Backpack

The Osprey Levity has multiple compression cords around the fabric side pockets and the internal main compartment to help keep everything secure. It has a fixed top lid with a zippered pocket, and a bellowed front pocket to primarily store rain gear in. The top lid also has cord loop attachment points for external gear attachment. One of the features that are included in this backpack, that is not on the Granite Gear is an integrated safety whistle on the sternum strap in case of emergency situations.

Osprey Levity 60 Parallax Silver Black L

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For Fitting & Sizing Instructions, please click here.

Dimensions:

  • Small (57L) – 26.38” x 15.75” x 12.99”
  • Medium (60L) – 28.35” x 15.75” x 12.99”
  • Large (63L) – 30.31” x 15.75” x 12.99”

Made out of 30D Cordura Silnylon Ripstop fabric in the color, Parallax Silver.

Features:

  • Fixed top lid with zippered pocket for organizing smaller items
  • Bellowed front fabric pocket stores rain gear for easy access when skies darken, or wet gear after the downpour stops
  • Dual access fabric side pockets for water bottles or smaller items with removable InsideOut compression cord
  • Internal main compartment compression strap
  • Top lid cord loop attachment points for external gear attachment
  • Sternum strap with integrated safety whistle

Customer Reviews

Customers who used this product had virtually no problems using it and said that it is very reliable for hiking. Many of them praised the bag’s adjustable suspension system and the large size of the main compartment. The hip belt is adjustable, like the suspension, and is very comfortable, but unfortunately, it does not have pockets on it.

Another complaint was about the lack of expandability and stretchiness of the outer, side pockets because not all sized bottles and containers fit correctly. The Osprey Levity has just a few minor features that were a problem to customers, but even those were a matter of opinion. The overall function and quality of the backpack are exceptional.

4. Sierra Designs Flex Capacitor 40L-60L Hiking Pack

The award-winning Flex Capacitor is perfect for hikers who are looking for a hiking backpack with fully adjustable capacity and a streamlined, minimalist design.

The internal aluminum frame is exceptionally well-designed and boosts the comfort and strength of the entire pack, even if you’re carrying a heavy load. It also features very soft and comfortable EVA foam hip belt, shoulder straps, and raised lumbar and scapula pads to help spread that load.

Featuring two spacious zip pockets on the hip belt plus pockets where you can store your water bottle for easy access and a vast amount of storage space inside, this pack is perfect for hikers who want affordable comfort.

5. WASING 55L Internal Frame Backpack

If you love your backpack to speak your personality with colors like bright pink, blue, yellow, and green and you want comfort at an extremely affordable price, consider buying the Wasing 55L. Although it’s very inexpensive, it doesn’t compromise on quality, offering durability and comfort with plenty of storage space for your hiking gear.

Featuring a fully adjustable aluminum frame for added strength and comfort, it’s also water-resistant, offers excellent ventilation for your back, and weighs just 3lb. It’s the perfect budget backpack for thru-hiking the Appalachian Trail.

6. Kelty Women’s Coyote 60 Hiking Backpack

This gorgeous yet functional women’s backpack combines everything you’d ever need in a high-performing Appalachian Trail backpack. Available in both 60 and 70-liter versions, it boasts the trademarked PerfectFit system plus plenty of padding, which allows this backpack to adjust perfectly to your unique body shape and size.

Carefully designed for carrying heavier loads, it also includes a range of handy zippered pockets where you can store everything from your sleeping bag to your water bottle or lip balm to help you stay perfectly organized.

You can even convert that top lid to a separate bag if you need a smaller bag! Perfect!

7. Gregory Mountain Women’s Octal 55 Backpack

Simplicity, comfort, and excellent ventilation is the name of the game with this beautiful ultra-lightweight backpack from Gregory Mountain.

Just like the other backpacks in their range, it combines excellent design features. They are moisture-wicking back panel, ultralight aluminum internal frame, and a right hip strap that cradles your body and helps you carry everything you need along the Appalachian Trail.

At just 2.4 lb, this is the lightest backpack on our list, and perhaps one of the most comfortable. It also features a removable lid, a customized rain cover, secure water bottle storage, a handy place to store your sunglasses, or other small items and precisely the right number of gear loops for your trip.

8. TETON Sports Scout 3400 Internal Frame Backpack

This best-selling backpack is incredibly affordable, boasts a fantastic amount of storage, and it’s durable enough to use for months at a time.

Great for teenagers and adults alike, the backpack is fully adjustable, very comfortable, and perfectly sized for those trail pros who know what it’s always better to travel light.

It also includes a great sleeping bag storage compartment, an integrated rain cover, and plenty of side pockets, gear loops, and compression straps. We love it!

No matter what your budget, tastes, or requirements, the perfect backpack for thru-hiking the Appalachian Trail are out there. Check out the suggestions on our list, and you’ll soon find your ideal hiking companion.

Don’t forget other aspects of the thru-hike preparation, like getting your body in great shape. You can read how to train for the Appalachian Trail here.

 

1 Comment
  1. I have been following a family on YouTube and all of them hiked the trail – including a backpack with a baby in the back! They have 6 kids and all of them had to carry back packs. Truely amazing how they were able to hike it in just over 5 months. I wondered what types of backpacks they were using – It would make sense to have one that has a frame inside to help with making sure everything is packed well 🙂

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