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 huge pack or leaving stuff at home because you just can’t carry it.
You want a backpack 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 just forget about your gear so you can soak up the amazing experience of being out there on the trail.
Yep, your backpack is pretty darn important!
That’s why we’ve put together this detailed buying guide. We’ll explain exactly 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 Appalachian Trail
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?
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 Appalachian Trail, you’ll probably want to ditch much of what you’re carrying 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 carry 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 backpack 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 Appalachian 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.
Does it use an internal frame?
You don’t have to use a backpack with a frame, but it will certainly 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 difficult 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 backpack you choose offers you this option. Look for backpacks with a hip belt, shoulder straps, lift-loader straps and a sternum strap that you can adjust whenever needed.
Is it big enough for your needs?
Hiking backpacks come in a wide variety of sizes so it’s important to choose on that is big enough to carry everything you need without being too huge that it’s impossible to carry. 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 carry.
Best lightweight backpacks for thru-hiking the Appalachian Trail
The Atmos 65 is one of the best backpacks you’ll ever find for longer hiking trips. Boasting a cleverly-designed anti-gravity system, it balances perfectly across your body to make your pack feel lighter and more comfortable.
Fully adjustable and offering a variety of handy zippered compartments like a sleeping back pocket, floating top lid and zippered hip belt pockets, it has everything you need to enjoy an awesome hiking trip, including space for a 3-liter hydration bladder. You can choose from three stylish colors and three sizes to fit every torso size.
Weight: 6.2 lb.
Capacity: 65 liters
Color: Unity blue, Rigby Red, Gray
Size: Small, medium, large
Pros: Comfortable for longer trips. Great for those with back problems. Internal hydration system
Cons: The price. No frame.
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 extremely 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 huge amount of storage space inside, this pack is perfect for hikers who want affordable comfort.
Weight: 2.56 lb.
Capacity: 40-60 liters
Color: Jet gray
Size: XS/S, S/M
Pros: Affordable, minimalist.
Cons: Could do with a few more external storage pockets.
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 great ventilation for your back and weighs just 3lb. It’s the perfect budget backpack for thru-hiking the Appalachian Trail.
Weight: 2.98 lb.
Capacity: 55 liters
Color: Dark blue/ pink/ green/ yellow
Pros: Great pack at an affordable price
Cons: Hip belt pockets are very small
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!
Weight: 4 lb. 10 oz.
Capacity: 60 liters
Color: Grey with pink trim
Pros: Well designed, great color
Cons: Customer service isn’t the best.
Simplicity, comfort and great 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 great design features like a moisture-wicking back panel, ultralight aluminum internal frame and a great hip strap which 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, easy water bottle storage, a handy place to store your sunglasses or other small items and exactly the right number of gear loops for your trip.
Weight: 2.4 lb.
Capacity: 55 liters
Color: Frost gray, Monarch Blue
Sizes: Extra small, small, medium
Dimensions: 26″ x 12.5″ x 11″
Pros: Great support, very lightweight
Cons: Fabric is slightly stiff
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 that 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!
Weight: 4.5 lb.
Capacity: 55 liters
Color: Mecca Orange, Hunter Green, Tan
Dimensions: 30″ x 17″ x 12″
Pros: Affordable yet high quality, great basic backpack.
Cons: The side water pockets are small, not ideal for taller people.
No matter what your budget, tastes or requirements, the perfect backpack for thru-hiking the Appalachian Trail is out there. Check out the suggestions on our list and you’ll soon find your perfect hiking companion.