I have been traveling and backpacking a lot for the past 12 years and I have been receiving a lot of questions about the travel equipment I use. I decided to answer these questions one by one and start with some of the best thru-hiking backpacks I came across (I regularly update this article). Backpacks are perhaps the single most important piece of equipment that can make every trip easier/harder. All of the products on this list have been used either by me or people that I personally know. None of these short reviews are biased and I as you will be able to see, I will talk about both, the pros and the cons of each product.
Why Would You Trust Me?
I spent most of the last 12 years traveling the world. I have worked and lived in 3 different continents and visited 35 countries. I’ve taken most of these journeys alone and I know what a good backpack can mean for a trip. I also met a lot of travelers on the road and heard their experience regarding this topic. Some of them also tested some of these products and provided a lot of useful information for this guide.
How Did I Choose The Best Thru-Hiking Backpacks?
There are billions of types and styles of backpacks out there and it’s impossible to cover all in one article. According to me, a travel backpack isn’t just a backpack with which you can spend a few days out in the wilderness. The best thru-hiking backpacks should be weather-proof as much as possible, be lightweight, and have as few heavy-duty materials as possible, lockable zippers that would make it difficult for any potential thieves and multiple compartments that will allow you to organize your stuff and access your things on the fly.
Osprey Aura AG 65 (Women) / Atmos AG 65 (Men)
Design & Fit: I was struck by its sleek design and how it managed to look both sturdy and stylish. The Aura AG 65 and Atmos AG 65 boast an Anti-Gravity (AG) suspension system, praised for evenly distributing weight. The design smartly integrates organized compartments, which users find incredibly helpful for packing.
Comfort: A common sentiment is the exceptional comfort. Once I adjusted it properly, the 25-pound load felt practically weightless. The breathability of the mesh back panel is a highlight, particularly appreciated during long hikes. Adjustable harness and hip belt are often mentioned as key to its comfort.
Durability & Weatherproofing: Durability is a standout feature. I’ve taken it on countless trips, and it’s still going strong. Made with high-quality nylon, these are one of the best thru-hiking backpacks, designed to endure rough trails and harsh weather, a fact that many users have attested to.
Cons: However, the Aura/Atmos AG 65 isn’t without its drawbacks. Some users find them a bit on the heavier side, especially when compared to ultralight models. The price can be steep for casual hikers. Moreover, the numerous straps and adjustments, while great for customization, can be overwhelming, as noted by a few users.
Mountain Laurel Designs Prophet 48
Design & Fit: I was amazed at how light it felt when I pulled the Mountain Laurel Designs Prophet 48 from the box, highlighting the backpack’s surprising lightness. The Prophet is a classic frameless backpack, known for its ample main compartment and the option to insert a foam pad for added structure. It fits snugly against my shoulders, and the slightly curved side panels make it super comfortable.
Comfort: For a 17-ounce frameless pack, users rave about its well-padded hip belt and shoulder straps. The shoulder straps are as comfortable as some of my full-size packs, emphasizing the unexpected comfort from such a light pack. However, some have noted that the shoulder straps can be wider than preferred, potentially causing discomfort on longer treks.
Storage & Features: The Prophet offers generous storage, with one user describing how they packed it: Main compartment lined with a compactor bag, side pockets for water bottles, and a back mesh pocket for my tarp-tent. Users appreciate the deep side pockets, roll-top closure with a Y-strap, and the external organization options.
Durability & Weatherproofing: While specific comments on the Prophet’s durability were less frequent, the overall consensus in the ultralight backpacking community is that Mountain Laurel Designs produces durable gear, and the Prophet is no exception. It’s designed to handle the rigors of extended backpacking trips.
Cons: Okay, the Prophet 48 is light and all, but here’s the rub: the frameless design isn’t everyone’s cup of tea, especially with heavier loads. It’s like, you need a black belt in packing skills to get it right. Plus, those wide shoulder straps? They can be a bit much, kinda dig into you on longer treks. And, let’s talk water bottles – the pockets are a stretch, literally. You need to be a bit of a contortionist to reach them without taking off the pack
TETON Sports Mountain Adventurer 4000
Design & Fit: Next on our list of the best thru-hiking backpacks, we have the TETON Sports Mountain Adventurer 4000; I still can’t get over how light it was for a 40L pack. It’s frameless, but you can add an aluminum stay for structure. The fit is snug, perfect for my hiking style. I particularly like how the side panels curve, providing a comfortable fit against my shoulders. It feels like the pack is part of me when I’m moving.
Comfort: Comfort is a big win with this pack. Even though it’s frameless, the hip belt and shoulder straps are surprisingly padded, making it comfortable for carrying loads up to 30 pounds. I’ve done a couple of long treks with it, and it’s been really comfy. The downside? The shoulder straps are a bit stiff initially, but they get better with use.
Storage & Features: The pockets on this pack are a standout. They’re huge, perfect for long water carries or stuffing in extra gear. The side pockets can easily hold large water bottles, and I’ve crammed layers, snacks, and dog leashes in there too. And I can access everything without taking the pack off, which is super handy on the trail.
Durability & Weatherproofing: I’ve taken this pack through some rough terrain, and it’s held up like a champ. The Dyneema fabric is not only lightweight but also incredibly tough. It’s water-resistant too, which is great for unexpected downpours. After several trips, it still looks almost new.
Cons: The Southwest 2400? Love the minimalism, but the white fabric? It’s a dirt magnet, though it does make a great canvas for trail memories. Waterproof? Mostly, but not fully. So, think twice before ditching the pack cover. And the load capacity, I mean, they say 40 pounds, but it’s pushing it. Also, the hip belt is a bit on the slim side, so if you’re into bulkier belts, this might not sit right with you. Not to mention, the back ventilation is… let’s just say you’ll get to know what ‘sweaty back’ really means
Osprey Aether 55
Design & Fit: When I first got the Aether 55, its light weight was a pleasant surprise. I was a bit skeptical about how such a light pack (for having a frame) would handle loads, but it exceeded my expectations. It’s packed with features like a floating lid with pockets, stretch mesh side pockets, a front stretch mesh pocket, and even an ice axe attachment. The adjustability of the pack was impressive – resizing was a breeze with the moveable plastic wafers.
Comfort: The comfort of the Exos 58 is remarkable, considering its ultralight nature. The “spongy” feeling of the AirSpeed 3D tensioned back panel and the shoulder straps’ dense, springy foam provided an extremely comfortable ride. The tensioned back panel maintained a great gap between my back and the pack, making it one of the most breathable suspensions I’ve tried. The pack’s suspension system followed my torso movements well, even if with a bit of resistance, which I thought was a fair trade for the comfort and carrying capacity it offers.
Storage & Features: The storage capabilities are generous, with dual access stretch mesh side pockets that easily swallowed 1.5L bottles and tent poles – with room to spare. The front elasticized, shove-it-style pocket was super versatile for items needing quick access. The trekking pole attachment system seemed a bit complicated, and I preferred using the side compression straps for my poles.
Durability & Weatherproofing: The pack’s ventilation is excellent, making it a great choice for summer hiking. I appreciated the lighter colored fabric strips that improve visibility inside the main compartment. However, I found it a bit difficult to attach accessory pockets to the shoulder straps and hip belt. The Z-style side compression straps were a bit awkward with bulky gear, but the distribution of gear loops around the pack made it easy to rig up a custom compression system.
Cons: Now, the Exos 58, it’s a classic, right? But it’s not without its quirks. The shoulder straps are great but try attaching anything to them – it’s a struggle. And those side pockets, getting stuff out while wearing the pack is like trying to solve a Rubik’s cube blindfolded. The Z-style side compression straps? More like Zzz-style, if you get what I mean. They’re just awkward with bulkier items. Oh, and if you’re a minimalist or a thru-hiker, this pack might feel a bit overdone for your taste.
Design & Fit: This list of the best thru-hiking backpacks couldn’t be complete without Kelty Glendale (85-105). Weighing just over a pound, it’s incredibly light for a 60L pack. The user-adjustable frame that lets you set the depth of the ventilation curvature and torso length is a game-changer. It allows for a personalized fit that I haven’t seen in many other packs.
Comfort: Carrying comfort in this pack is something else. I packed it with around 30 pounds for a backpacking loop, and it felt great. The wide, padded shoulder straps and stiff frame distribute the load effectively, placing most of the weight on the hips. The V-style hipbelt is a standout, allowing each strap to adjust independently. However, I did feel some discomfort at the upper end of the torso range, as the buckles on the back panel dug into my shoulder blades.
Storage & Features: The 60-liter capacity easily accommodated five days’ worth of gear. I particularly liked the roll-top closure, which is expandable depending on the load. The front mesh pocket was large enough for essentials like a rain shell and snacks, and the side pockets, while a bit tight for larger water bottles, were handy.
Durability: In terms of durability, the pack’s Ultra fabric, more resistant to abrasion than Dyneema DCF, impresses me. I’ve hiked through some rough terrain with this pack, and it shows no signs of wear. The interior polyurethane coating and taped seams make it highly water-resistant, which was reassuring during unexpected downpours.
Cons: One downside is the lack of hip belt pockets and internal organization. As someone used to more fully-featured packs, I missed those handy compartments. Also, the price is steep, but considering its durability and comfort, it could be a worthy investment for serious hikers.
Granite Gear Blaze 60L
Design & Fit: Next on our list of the best thru-hiking backpacks, we have Granite Gear Blaze 60L. It’s not the lightest ultralight bag, but it’s a durable workhorse. Its main compartment is huge, and the lack of a million pockets and zippers actually works in its favor. It forces you to be organized, which I’ve come to appreciate.
Comfort: On the comfort front, this pack really delivers. With a carrying capacity rated up to 35 pounds, it performs best with a 20 to 30-pound load. The big hip pockets are a bonus – you can stuff a lot in there. Plus, ULA’s “double-buckle” system on the hip belt allows for precise tightening, giving a snug, comfortable fit.
Storage & Features: The main compartment is spacious enough to fit a bear canister, and the extension collar comes in handy for long food carries or winter gear. The roll-top closure is a bit of a learning curve, but once you get the hang of it, it’s efficient. The back mesh pocket is perfect for wet items or things you need quick access to.
Durability: Durability is where the Circuit really shines. The Robic 400 nylon is tough, tear- and abrasion-resistant, and I can vouch for its water resistance. The Circuit is built to last, enduring multiple thru-hikes and rough conditions.
Cons: However, it’s not without its drawbacks. The side pockets, while deep, have an open front design that makes storing smaller items risky. And while the pack is lightweight, it’s still a few ounces heavier than some ultralight options, which might be a concern for weight-conscious hikers.
Osprey Renn 50L
Design & Fit: What kind of list of the best thru-hiking backpacks would this be without at least one Osprey backpack? This one is designed for those who love ultralight backpacking without compromising on structural integrity. The suspension system seems complex for such a light pack, but it works wonders. It’s got a good blend of pockets – two on the sides and a big one at the back. Perfect for stashing everything from water bottles to camera gear.
Comfort: Now, the comfort part is subjective, but I found it pretty cozy. The suspended mesh back panel is a lifesaver for airflow, especially when I’m out on long hikes. My friend, who uses the Gossamer Gear Gorilla, couldn’t stop talking about how sweaty his back was compared to mine. I had no sweat issues, thanks to that awesome ventilation.
Storage & Features: Storage is ample but straightforward. The main compartment, with its cinch cord, is roomy for essentials, and the top lid is perfect for items I don’t need to access all the time. Side pockets are a hit for quick grabs like my phone and snacks. The only thing I miss is the hip pockets – they were so convenient for stashing smaller items.
Durability: As for durability, the Levity has a sturdy aluminum frame that provides enough structure for light to medium loads. I’ve taken it on several trips, and it’s held up really well. I did find, however, that the pack sways a bit with heavier loads. When I was navigating over burned-out trees on a trail, the sway was noticeable, despite tweaking the fit.
Cons: Speaking of cons, the biggest letdown for me was the absence of hip pockets. I’m used to having easy access to snacks and my phone, and not having these pockets was a bummer. The pack’s comfort limit seems to be around 30 pounds, and I did feel the strain when I had to carry more weight. For ultralight backpacking, it’s spot on, but when you start packing more, you might feel the limitations.
Granite Gear Crown2 60L
Design & Fit: Speaking of some of the best thru-hiking backpacks, we can’t forget about Granite’s Gear Crown2 60L. It’s an ultralight pack that doesn’t skimp on storage. The design is sleek and the fabric, though thin, feels sturdy. The pack’s adaptability really shines through, especially with the optional top lid that can double as a fanny pack.
Comfort: I was pleasantly surprised by the comfort. Even for an ultralight pack, the Crown2 60L provides impressive cushioning. The hip belt and shoulder straps are generously padded, which is a rare find in minimalist setups. However, I did experience some hotspots above my tailbone after extended use.
Storage & Features: The Crown2 60L excels in storage and features. The side pockets are larger than most, allowing me to stash extra water bottles or even a small fly rod. The top lid pocket is perfect for quick access items. I also appreciate the Re-Fit fully adjustable hip belt, though it can be snug for smaller waist sizes.
Durability: In terms of durability, this pack is impressive. Granite Gear uses high-tenacity nylon, ensuring longevity. I’ve stuffed it to the brim with a bear bin and other gear, and it’s held up without any issues. I expect it to last for several seasons with reasonable use.
Cons: The main drawback I noticed is the weight distribution. When fully loaded, especially near the 35-pound mark, the pack tends to sag a bit. This could be a concern for those planning to carry heavier loads. Additionally, the thin materials, while contributing to its lightness, might require more careful handling compared to more robust packs.
Mountainsmith Scream 55 (Men)/ Scream 50 (Women)
Design & Fit: The Scream 55 is all about balancing lightweight design with functionality and this makes it one of the best thru-hiking backpacks. It’s a mid-size, frameless backpack, mainly constructed of Robic fabric, which is super promising for weather resistance and durability, especially considering its weight. I find its 50L capacity just right for most weekend trips, and the roll-top closure provides some neat vertical compression.
Comfort: For a backpack without a frame, the Scream 55 is surprisingly comfy. The back panel with corrugated 1/4″ Evazote foam and a removable Plastizote sheet does a decent job, even if it’s not on par with framed counterparts. The hip belt and S-curve shoulder straps are cushy enough, made of 3D-spacer-mesh-lined foam.
Storage & Features: Storage-wise, it’s pretty generous. The main compartment alone offers significant room, and I love the additional pockets for organizing gear. The two vertical tube-style pockets are great for oblong objects, and the hip-belt pockets are perfectly sized for snacks or a smartphone.
Durability: Given its lightweight build, the durability of the Scream 55 is commendable. The use of 610D Cordura at the bottom adds an extra layer of abrasion resistance. However, it’s important to note that being frameless limits its load capacity – Mountainsmith puts it at a 45lbs comfort limit, which is a bit optimistic in my experience.
Cons: The pack could benefit from removable stays for added flexibility in load carrying. Ventilation isn’t its strongest suit, and the lack of a rain cover might be a drawback for some. The load-lifters are nearly useless, and while the pack is affordable and durable, it lacks some features that are often expected in a backpack.
Deuter Air Contact Lite 70+10
Design & Fit: Right off the bat, the Air Contact Lite 70+10 strikes you with its balance of size and weight. “It’s surprisingly lightweight for its capacity,” I thought when I first picked it up. The adjustable torso length is a huge plus – it means you can get the fit just right, whether you’re tall or short. The fact that it can transform into a smaller pack for shorter trips is a brilliant touch. “Fully adjustable and versatile,” as one user described it.
Comfort: Comfort-wise, this pack nails it. The well-padded shoulder straps and hip belt feel great, even when it’s loaded up. “The load feels lighter than it actually is,” I found, especially with the adjustable VariQuik frame that allows for fine-tuning the fit. The back ventilation pads are a game-changer on hot days – no more sweat-soaked back!
Storage & Features: Storage is another area where this pack excels. The main compartment is roomy, and the additional 10-liter top compartment is genius. “It’s like having an extra bag when you need it,” I realized. Plus, the little zippered pouch on the waist belt? Perfect for those tiny items you need to grab quickly.
Durability: In terms of durability, the pack’s construction is solid. “Tough as nails,” a user noted. However, I noticed that some of the plastic fasteners are a bit delicate. They haven’t broken yet, but I treat them gently, just in case.
Cons: The pack’s not without its downsides. At 6 lb 6 oz, it’s one of the heavier models out there. “A bit on the heavier side, but you get comfort in return,” is how I’d sum it up. The ventilation, while decent, could be better – the ample padding does mean less breathability.
Maelstrom Camping 50L
Design & Fit: When I first checked out the Maelstrom Camping 50L, its versatility caught my eye. It’s a daypack that’s adaptable for a range of activities, from day hikes to commuting which in my honest opinion makes it one of the best thru-hiking backpacks. The design offers a good balance of space and features, like a dedicated hydration sleeve and well-thought-out pockets. For me, the women-specific design really stands out, ensuring the pack sits just right, reducing fatigue.
Comfort: The comfort level of this pack is impressive. The FreeFloat™ back panel and CrossFlo™ hipbelt work wonders in distributing weight evenly, making long hikes more bearable. I found the shoulder straps and hip belt to be particularly comfortable, offering great support and helping transfer weight from my shoulders to my hips.
Storage & Features: Storage-wise, it’s quite spacious. The main compartment holds everything I need for a full day out, and the external pockets are super handy for items I need quick access to. I also appreciate the hydration compatibility – staying hydrated on the go is a breeze with this pack.
Durability: Durability is where this pack shines. It’s made with high-quality materials and can withstand the rigors of outdoor adventures. I’ve taken it through dense woods and rocky terrains, and it’s held up incredibly well. The nylon material is not only robust but also lightweight, a perfect combo for long treks.
Cons: However, it’s not without its drawbacks. While the back panel is designed for ventilation, I did notice my back getting sweaty on warmer days. And when caught in a heavy downpour, I experienced some moisture seeping in. So, for unpredictable weather, packing essentials in waterproof bags or adding a rain cover might be wise.
Deuter Speed Lite 25
Design & Fit: I was quite amazed at how light the Speed Lite 25 felt right out of the box. The 100-denier ripstop nylon gives it a sturdy feel without the weight. It’s got this honeycombed foam and mesh back panel that’s comfortable and doesn’t cut into my back. The U-shaped zipper design for the main compartment is a neat touch – makes grabbing stuff a lot easier.
Comfort: I’ve used the Speed Lite 24 for everything from steep hill repeats to fastpacking, and it’s surprisingly comfortable for its spartan weight. The flexible nature of the pack, combined with the contoured, padded shoulder straps, makes carrying loads between 15 to 20 pounds feel almost effortless. The unpadded hip belt, surprisingly, remains comfortable even with heavier loads.
Storage & Features: This pack really shines when it comes to storage. The main compartment is spacious enough for all my day-hiking essentials. The elastic mesh inner compartment is perfect for holding a three-liter bladder. The front stuff pocket, though, could do with a bit more elasticity – it gets a bit tight when the main compartment is fully packed.
Durability: The 100-denier high-tenacity fabric used throughout is tougher than it looks. It’s endured quite a bit of abuse on my hikes, and yet it’s lighter than other fabrics I’ve encountered. The twin side compression straps are a nice touch, but I noticed they can get overwhelmed if you’re carrying something like skis and the pack isn’t fully loaded.
Cons: My main gripe would be the top pocket – it could be a tad deeper. Also, the hipbelt pockets are on the smaller side. I found that while I could ski tour or snowshoe with this daypack, it lacks some features I consider essential in a touring pack, like a separate avalanche gear pocket.
Nomatic Travel Pack
Design & Fit: The first time I slung the Nomatic on my back, it struck me how versatile and well-structured it was. It’s like this daypack morphs to fit different needs – from day hikes to commuting. The dimensions are just right for my frame, and at 1.04 kg, it’s not a burden. The top-loading main compartment and the array of pockets including hipbelt pockets, mesh side pockets, and a front shove-it pocket make organization smooth sailing.
Comfort: The FreeFloat™ suspension with its ventilated back panel and padded shoulder straps feels great and makes the weight distribution evened out, keeping me cool and comfortable even on longer hikes. The CrossFlo™ CM hipbelt is a nice touch, providing additional support.
Durability: Built with recycled, bluesign®-approved ripstop nylon, this pack can sure take a good beating (personally tested, of course). Whether it’s everyday use or rugged outdoor adventures, the Traverse 32 stands up to the challenge.
Storage & Features: With a 32-liter capacity, packing everything I need is easy. I just love the hydration compatibility- it’s a real game changer on longer treks and I also appreciate the well-organized pockets – especially the zippered top pocket perfect for keeping small items.
Cons: If I have to choose some cons, I’d say it’s not the lightest option out there, and while I’m okay with the weight, minimalist hikers might find it a bit much. Also, I’ve noticed the internal organization could be better – it lacks dividers or pouches, which can be limiting when trying to separate gear.
High Sierra Pathway
Last but not least, we round up this list of the best thru-hiking backpacks with the High Sierra Pathway.
Design & Fit: When I first got my hands on it, I couldn’t believe how light it was. It’s a frameless backpack, but you have the option to add a frame stay. This feature significantly improves load handling. “The frame stay slots into the hip belt maximizing load transfer and has internal stiffeners to prevent buckling under heavier loads,” is a point many have appreciated. The pack is designed to carry 30-35 pounds comfortably.
Comfort: The comfort of the Mariposa 60 is notable, even when loaded down. Its suspension system and the internal aluminum stay that inserts into the hipbelt do wonders. I was able to adjust the load-lifter straps and hipbelt easily, ensuring the pack never felt like it was pulling on my shoulders. “It’s surprisingly comfortable, even when loaded down,” is a sentiment echoed by many users.
Storage & Features: The organization and storage capabilities are fantastic. With seven exterior pockets, the Mariposa makes it easy to access gear on the go. The side pockets are perfect for a tent and trekking poles, while the stretch mesh pocket can accommodate a wet rainfly. “The voluminous stretch-mesh front stuff pocket swallows a wet rainfly and shell,” a reviewer pointed out. The pack also features a removable back panel, which doubles as a sit cushion.
Durability: Durability is a strong point for the Mariposa 60. “The 100-denier and 200-denier Robic nylon pack fabric can survive serious abuse,” as noted in reviews. However, the stretch-mesh front pocket is its Achilles’ heel, as it’s more prone to wear and tear compared to the rest of the backpack.
Cons: The Mariposa 60 has a few drawbacks. While it is light on side compression straps and external attachment points, it compensates with webbing loops around the pack. These loops allow you to create your own compression or attachment points, which can be a bit fiddly. Some have also noted the backpanel is prone to bunching, which can be uncomfortable, but it is removable to reduce weight.
This backpack has a state of the art design with thoughtfully distributed wet and dry pockets and other solutions to help you stay as organized as possible. There’s a front pocket where you can keep smaller items and the backpack also features a patented cry compartment! Finally, the bottom is PVC coated in case of coming across a rough surface. If you like this bag, also check out this article featuring the best dry bags.
These are, in my opinion, the best thru-hiking backpacks in their perspective category. If you’re planning a new camping adventure soon, you might want to check out these one-man tents for backpackers. Did you use any of them? Do you have some other suggestions? Let me know in the comments.
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