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10 Best Thru-Hiking Backpacks of 2023

10 Best Thru-hiking Backpacks

What are the best backpacks for thru-hiking? A thru-hiking pack needs to be comfortable, durable, and have enough capacity to hold the gear needed to live on the trail for up to six months at a time, as well as long food and water carries.

Make / ModelTotal VolumeWeightMaterial
Osprey Exos Pro 5555L34.6 oz / 981gUHMWPE Nylon Ripstop
Gossamer Gear Mariposa 6060L30.5 oz / 865gRobic Nylon
Hyperlite Mountain Gear Southwest 5565L31.7 oz / 899gDCF
Zpacks Arc Haul Ultra 6060L2.4 oz / 606gUltra
Waymark Gear Lite 5050L39 oz / 1106gECOPAK
ULA Circuit 6868L36.6 oz / 1038gNylon or XPac
Gossamer Gear G4-2042L25 oz / 709gNylon
SWD Long Haul 5060L32.6 oz / 924gECOPAK
Osprey Atmos AG 6565L72 oz / 2041gNylon
Mountain Laurel Designs Prophet 4848L17 oz / 482gNylon

There’s no “perfect” backpack for thru-hiking, and no one-size-fits-all. What it comes down to is understanding the type of hiker you are (camp comfort, ultralight, or somewhere in the middle) and what matters most to you. Is it weight savings? Organization? Padding? For the most part, our recommendations for a thru-hiking backpack are:

  • between 50 and 65 liters in volume
  • can comfortably carry at least 25 pounds of gear, water, and food
  • have the organization options and durability necessary for an extended thru-hike.

Our picks include brands and models that range from more padded to ultralight and simplified. We’ve also answered some questions below the listings to help you choose the best backpack for your hike.

1. Osprey Exos Pro 55/Eja Pro 55 Backpack

Osprey Exos Pro 55
The Osprey Packs Exos Pro 55 is a new ultralight version of the famed Osprey Exos Backpack, a longtime thru-hiker favorite, but weighs nearly one pound less. Weighing 2 lbs 2.6 oz fully configured, the Exos Pro 55 has a ventilated mesh back panel, an adjustable torso length, and rigid perimeter frame that makes it good for hauling heavier loads up to 25-30 pounds. The floating top lid can be removed if not needed, dropping the pack weight to 2 lbs even. Ultralight details and back ventilation make the Exos Pro 55 an ideal backpack for hiking in hot or humid conditions.  A women’s model is available called the Osprey Eja Pro 55.

Shop at REIShop at Osprey

10. Mountain Laurel Designs Prophet 48L

Mountain Laurel Designs Prophet 48
The Mountain Laurel Designs Prophet 48 weighs only 17 ounces and is about as simple a thru-hiking pack as you can get while still having external pockets and a hip belt. It is frameless, so we recommend a maximum 10-pound base weight (minus food, water, and fuel) for anyone looking to carry this pack. A simple roll-top closure, front open pocket, and reinforced base are all intended for traveling fast and light through the backcountry. This pack is simple and doesn’t have any more padding or support than it needs. It has a minimal hip belt, and some hikers might miss the hip belt pockets and extra padding around the waist. The Mountain Laurel Designs Prophet 48L has a recommended weight limit of 25 pounds.

View at M.L.D.

Thru-Hiking Backpack Selection Criteria

There are a lot of backpacks out there. We chose a variety to suit hikers of all experience levels, needs, and gear preferences. When shopping, keep in mind that some of the smaller brands listed might have a long lead time on custom packs if they don’t have stock models available. Larger brands (Osprey, Hyperlite Mountain Gear, Gossamer Gear) will usually have most models in stock. If you want a custom pack from a cottage brand, just plan ahead.

Here are a few tips for choosing the best thru-hiking pack for yourself.

Organization and convenience

This takes accessibility and pockets into consideration. Being able to organize your pack to your preferences makes life a lot easier on the trail. If you’re happy using a variety of pack pods and stuff sacks for your smaller items, you will be set with a simpler pack that doesn’t have a lot of external and internal pockets. If you’d rather keep your small and easy-access items on hand, choose a pack with a shoulder pocket, good hip belt pockets, and even a zippered top lid like the Exos. When you try the pack on or take it for a shakedown, see if you can reach your water bottles without taking the pack off and if it’s easy to adjust on the go.

Load limit

The urge to go low-capacity or ultralight is tempting. Some of the trendiest packs forgo hip belts and even internal frames. If you have a sub-10-pound base weight and never have to carry more than 25 lbs total, you can confidently go in the direction of an ultralight pack. Most people will fall somewhere in the middle, like the Gossamer Gear Mariposa or Hyperlite Mountain Gear 3400 Southwest. We’ve included the recommended load limit, but keep in mind every hiker’s comfort level is different. In our experience, some brands can be “generous” in their load recommendations and hikers might find their maximum recommendations to be too heavy for the pack.

Durability and weatherproofing

Extended backpacking trips take a toll on packs, from buckle failures to abrasion to mesh tearing. The packs we included on this list are all durable, but be aware that stretchier mesh pockets (like the Gossamer Gear G4-20) are more prone to tearing than the non-stretch, hefty pockets on a pack like the Hyperlite Mountain Gear 3400 Southwest. DCF is also waterproof and abrasion-resistant, but you’ll be paying a premium for that pack material as opposed to something like Cordura or Robic nylon. XPac is a waterproof fabric that is more abrasion resistant than DCF and less expensive, but the pack markers who use it don’t seal the seams like the manufacturers who use DCF. If your pack isn’t waterproof, we recommend a pack liner (see our favorites).

Fit

This one should go without saying, but be sure the fit and convenience of a pack works for you. A small discomfort, like shoulder straps sitting too low, will be exacerbated over thousands of miles. Additionally, consider what you’re going to want to do while hiking. Can you reach your water bottles without taking the pack off. If you can’t try the pack on in a store, take it on a test hike once you receive it, and always be aware of different sizing specifications across the different brands. You might be a medium torso in one brand and a small in another.

Ventilation

Some hikers don’t mind having the pack sit right up against their backs, others will prefer a suspended mesh. Packs like the Hyperlite Mountain Gear models sit flush against your back, while models like the Osprey Exos or Zpacks Arc Haul Ultra have a mesh suspension system for ventilation. On an extended thru-hike you’ll be wearing this pack in a variety of climates and temperature ranges, but if you have to hike in humid weather like on the AT, we’d recommend going with a ventilated frame.

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About the author

Kate "Sprouts" Washington has thru-hiked long distance trails in New Zealand, Canada, and the Pacific Northwest. A midwife, she lives in the Seattle Area and enjoys backpacking with her "tramily" and dogs on weekends.

4 comments

  1. For what its worth, I saw one of those Lite-AF packs last summer The pack was absolutely gorgeous, really neat
    psychedelic pattern. The owner liked the pack very much. Happy hiking

  2. I think that to give space for resupply days the Mountain Laurel Designs Exodus 58 is preferred over the Prophet 48, but’s that’s just my opinion. I’ve carried both and now the Exodus 58 is my go to bag for section hiking and maybe someday for a thru hike. With a loaded pack weight of 26 or less there is no need for a frame or stays.

  3. This might help somebody. I own 8 popular ultralight packs fit for thru hiking, all sized
    medium. I,m at the bottom end of the medium range.The Gossamer Gear G4-20 is the
    most comfortable for me and I love the design.

  4. I section hiked the continental divide in Colorado and used mystery ranch stein 55.A great solid backpack that never had to worry about.

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