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 / Model
|Osprey Exos Pro 55
|34.6 oz / 981g
|UHMWPE Nylon Ripstop
|Gossamer Gear Mariposa 60
|30.5 oz / 865g
|Hyperlite Mountain Gear Southwest 55
|31.7 oz / 899g
|Zpacks Arc Haul Ultra 60
|2.4 oz / 606g
|Waymark Gear Lite 50
|39 oz / 1106g
|ULA Circuit 68
|36.6 oz / 1038g
|Nylon or XPac
|Gossamer Gear G4-20
|25 oz / 709g
|SWD Long Haul 50
|32.6 oz / 924g
|Osprey Atmos AG 65
|72 oz / 2041g
|Mountain Laurel Designs Prophet 48
|17 oz / 482g
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
|Shop at REI
|Shop at Osprey
10. Mountain Laurel Designs Prophet 48L
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.
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).
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.
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.SectionHiker is reader-supported. We only make money if you purchase a product through our affiliate links. Help us continue to test and write unsponsored and independent gear reviews, beginner FAQs, and free hiking guides.