Best Thru Hiking Backpacks of 2017
As backpacking gear gets lighter and hikers more savvy with their base weight, the pack trend has followed suit… or perhaps led the charge.We sifted through the current offerings—from the biggest brands to the cottage industry manufacturers, and found the following packs to stand out above the rest. Check out our list of best backpacks for thru-hikers here.
While heavily padded / featured packs still dominate large retailer shelves, the thru-hiker trend is migrating towards ultralight, minimalist packs. It’s not uncommon to see thru-hikers begin their journey with a heavier pack and wind up paring down their gear enough for a simpler, lighter, and sometimes frameless option. If going frameless / minimal is your goal, being realistic about total pack weight is critical. Many of these packs come with modification options which will alter the weight and price by varying degrees.
In no particular order, here are our pack picks for 2017.
Osprey Exos 58
Weight: 2.6 pounds
Capacity: 58 liters
Category: Mid-to-lightweight internal-frame pack with mesh suspension and optimal organization
Hikers carrying between 18-25 pounds, looking for a comfortable, highly convenient pack without all the bells and whistles (and weight) of a more heavily padded bag. Also available as a 48L.
Mesh suspension backing, plenty of pockets for easy organization, drawstring top, removable brain, Osprey’s incredible warranty. One of the most popular packs on the AT.
Osprey is known for luxurious, ultra-padded packs, and the Exos is a step towards lightweight trend while holding true to Osprey’s reputation for comfort and convenience. The “brain” is removable, and the pack comes with a clever flip-down “FlapJacket” that can buckle over the drawstring top. The organization in this pack sets it apart from other lighter-weight options. It has two hip-belt pockets, two mesh water bottle pockets, a stretchy mesh pocket on the outside of the pack, pouches on the shoulder straps, and the brain comes with two zippered pockets. Osprey states the carrying capacity is 30 pounds, but many hikers might find this to be too heavy to comfortably carry with the Exos’s thinner pads and straps, which can be rough and cause chafing. The pack has excellent weight distribution, easily organized with nine exterior pockets, very comfortable for a lighter-weight option, easy to adjust on the go, all pockets are easily accessible while hiking. We did notice that the mesh on the exterior pockets tears easily, which is something the company will likely address in future model updates.
Granite Gear Crown VC 60
Weight: 2.1 pounds
Capacity: 60 liters
Category: Lightweight internal-frame pack with moldable padding and select features
Hikers carrying between between 18-30 pounds, looking for a streamlined, high-volume pack with comfortable padding.
Removable internal frame, moldable padding on the hip-belt and shoulder straps, multiple compression straps for attaching gear, optional lid that can be removed to save weight.
It’s hard to believe that a pack this comfortable weighs barely over two pounds. Granite Gear’s team has done an exceptional job engineering a lightweight pack that has many conveniences of more featured packs, while keeping the construction durable and the material weight down. This pack has extremely ergonomic hip and shoulder padding, especially for such a light pack. Contouring on the padded back panel lets sweaty backs breathe, and also cuts down on weight, and the low-profile “Vapor Current”frame is removable for outings with lighter loads. It has has roll-top access for the main compartment, and does not have zippered outside pockets, or hip-belt pockets. Brain and zippered hip-belt pockets are available to purchase separately. Without them, organization can be a hassle for hikers who like compartmentalizing their gear. The mesh side pockets can be tight, making them tough to maneuver bottles in on the go, and there were reports of some zipper malfunctions and mesh tearing, which will likely be addressed in future models. The Granite Gear team says this pack can comfortably carry up to 35 pounds, but we recommend the base weight be on the lower side.
Gossamer Gear Mariposa
Weight: 2 pounds
Capacity: 60 liters
Price: $215 with standard options
Category: Removable internal frame, UL pack with select features
Hikers looking to lighten their load (base weight no more than 20 pounds) but aren’t light enough to commit to a frameless UL pack.
Options for removable hip belt, straps, pads, and more modifications
Gossamer Gear makes a great product, and the Mariposa is an ideal pack for those who are close to, but not quite, ultralight. This pack is full of features, including seven external pockets, an aluminum stay, and a multi-function, removable foam back pad for added structure and support. The foam pad (called a “SitLight pad”), functions as a supplemental sleeping pad for hikers who choose to not carry a full-length sleeping pad. The Mariposa carries 25-30 lb. more comfortably than many packs of similar weight, which is optimal for hikers with a changing base weight based on terrain and conditions throughout an extended hike. This pack is possibly the most comfortable pack for moderate load weights, and is a great option for hikers who can’t commit to an ultralight load. Easy to access water-bottle side pocket. Different hip belt sizes helps achieve an optimal fit. If you’re striving for the most UL possible setup, this pack comes in a little heavier than others, and there are no color variation options.
ZPacks Arc Blast
Weight: 1.3 pounds
Capacity: 55 liters
Price: $325 with standard options
Category: Ultralight, minimalist pack with patented external support frame
Ultralight thru-hikers looking for a minimalist pack, carrying a base weight of 15 pounds or less.
Roomy side pockets, mesh front pocket, proprietary external “flex arc” frame for airflow and support, rolltop closure
This pack is a great option for UL hikers who still want some support in their pack. The “arc” refers to their external structure, which increases air flow against the hiker’s back while aiding in support. The hipbelt pockets have plenty of room, and the pack construction is highly water resistant, eliminating most use for a pack cover or insert. Be aware that the “arc” can be difficult to bend enough to maximize air flow. It’s a durable frame though, so don’t be scared to really work to get the right shape. Like many packs out there (and on this list) the mesh on the outer pocket has a tendency to tear easily. Keeping softer items in contact with the mesh will extend its lifespan, and we’ve seen instances of a support rod puncturing the top of the pack. The pack’s comfort maxes out at around 25 pounds, so hikers should plan to carry less than that in total weight. Customer service with ZPacks is top notch though, so if carriers of this pack encounter durability issues, they’ll be taken care of.
Weight: 2.5 pounds
Capacity: 68 liters
Price: $235 with standard options
Category: Lightweight, pared-down pack with a foam internal frame insert.
Weight-conscious thru-hikers with a base weight of 15 pounds or less, looking for a comfortable minimalist pack.
Four-point articulated hip-belt, large front mesh pocket, roomy hip-belt pockets, compressible roll-top closure, durable compression straps, removable accessories
This is a classic thru-hiking pack from a trusted ultralight, cottage-industry brand. The Circuit has a maximum recommended weight of 35 pounds, but if you’re carrying this pack, we’d recommend less than that. A single aluminum stay and a dense foam insert take the place of a traditional internal frame, which leaves hikers comfortable while saving the weight of a traditional frame. The capacity in this pack is a good size for PCT hikers who need to carry a bear canister, and the Cordura fabric will takes thousands of mile of abuse. This pack does have fewer pockets than other packs of a similar weight, which could be a hassle for thru-hikers looking to organize their smaller gear, but the pockets it does feature are large, durable, and well-placed. The large mesh outer pocket holds wet and quick-access gear, the water bottle pockets are well-placed and easy to access, and the hip-belt pockets hold a phone and snacks. The articulated hip-belt does a stand-out job keeping the weight where you want it. Sweaty hikers beware, the back padding doesn’t allow for adequate ventilation in excessive humidity.
Osprey Aura (women’s) or Atmos (men’s)
Weight: 3.75 lbs (Aura) 4.4 lbs (Atmos)
Capacity: 50L (Aura) 65L (Atmos)
Price: $230 (Aura) $260 (Atmos)
Category: Classic internal-frame pack with many features
Hikers carrying up to 40 pounds looking for a classic, comfortable pack with many features.
“Anti-gravity” mesh suspension system, zippered bottom for sleeping bag, removable sleeping pad straps, hydration sleeve with hose port, removable brain with two outside-access zippered pockets. Multiple outer straps and bungee tie-offs for poles and gear.
The fourth generation of Aura and Atmos packs are some of the most wearable packs on the market, and a popular choice for long-distance trekkers looking to comfortably balance a heavier load. With a plethora of outside pockets (seven on the Aura, nine on the Atmos) and Osprey’s suspension system, comfort and organization are no problem. The on-the-go adjustments are infinite and easy to access, whether you want more weight on your hips, shoulders, or adjusting for climbing/descending steep terrain. The pack is well designed, with a removable brain featuring dual pockets for easy organization and access. The Aura is designed to carry loads up to 40 pounds, and a little heavier with the Atmos. The top lids can be extended for oversized loads. The main compartment is accessed from the top, and features an internal compression strap. Comfort is king with these packs, but the tradeoff is a heavier base weight.
Hyperlite Mountain Gear 3400 Windrider
Weight: 2 pounds
Capacity: 55 liters
Category: Minimalist pack with removable internal support
The weight-conscious thru-hiker carrying a maximum 15-pound base weight, looking for a streamlined, durable pack without extra ounces or features.
Closed-cell foam hip belts, large mesh outer pocket, external compression straps, waterproof Dyneema composite fabric, internal hydration sleeve with hose port. Removable aluminum stays.
This pack was designed with one purpose in mind: To get your gear from Point A to Point B without anything unnecessary. It’s durable, simple, and doesn’t have more features than necessary. It does have a roll top with Velcro closure, side compression straps to secure your load, and an external pocket for added organization. The side pockets are highly durable and reinforced, and the mesh outer pocket is a mainstay for ultralight packs, as it allows for more organization without added weight. The side water bottle pockets can be difficult to maneuver bottles in and out of on the go, which might be an annoyance for some hikers, and the rear mesh pockets are smaller than other UL packs. The internal frame is removable for outings with lighter loads.
Mountain Laurel Designs Burn
Weight: 13 ounces
Capacity: 38 liters
Category: Ultralight, minimalist, frameless pack
Extremely ultralight hikers with minimal base weights, carrying a maximum load of 20 pounds
Tough-as-nails Dyneema construction with reinforced bottom, mesh side pockets hold a 2L hydration bladder, sternum strap and hip belt for load transfer, over-the-top compression strap and roll-top.
One of the ultimate packs for fast-and-light UL backpackers, the Burn 38 strips the pack down to the bare bones—even the Dyneema hip belt is unpadded. The shoulder straps have a half-inch of foam padding, and the ergonomic S-shape fits more comfortably than past iterations of this model. This brand specializes in ultralight gear that won’t break down, and wearers know this pack is good for thousands of hard-earned miles. Bungee loops for additional gear and compression straps make gear more easily accessible, and will help keep the load tightened down. The durability has been thought down to the very last detail: the forward-facing edge of pockets are reinforced for instances of bushwhacking, and help prevent snags and tears. Our favorite features on this pack include the curved side panels that transfer pack load closer to the back, providing comfort with no suspension system, and the slanted mesh side pockets that make water bottle accessibility a breeze. Although the hip belt is wide enough to distribute weight well, users with a little more hip might long for a padded option.
Pa’lante Simple Pack
Weight: 11.9 ounces
Capacity: 40 liters
Category: Incredibly minimal, frameless UL pack with no hipbelt
Experienced ultralight hikers with a base weight under 10 pounds, and who rarely carry more than 19 pounds total.
Large mesh outer pocket, mesh side pockets, and bottom pocket, roll-top closure
The name says it all—this is a very simple pack. The Cuben Simple is for the experienced ultralight, probably fast-packing hiker who has their pack list and gear pared down to the most minimal and lightest options out there. At little more than the body of a school bag (albeit with advanced construction and fabric technology) this 40-liter pack has a roll-top closure and is highly water resistant, but be aware that the zippers and seams are not sealed. This pack does not have a hip belt, so all of the weight will be loaded on your shoulders. For experienced ultralight hikers with very total low weights, this shouldn’t be an issue. This pack does fit a bear canister, and a video on their website shows how to pack a BV450. The main limiting factor with this pack is the extremely lightweight load limit.
Superior Wilderness Designs Long Haul-50L
Weight: 2 pounds
Capacity: 50 liters
Category: Lightweight, internal-frame pack
The thru-hiker looking for a simple pack, carrying a middle-of-the-road base weight, with no more than 25-30 pounds total.
Removable internal frame (contoured aluminum stays), large mesh external pocket and bungee cords, reinforced bottom, sized to fit a bear canister.
A newcomer on the ultralight, cottage-industry pack scene, Superior Wilderness Designs has brought innovative ideas and construction to their collection of packs. Many of the stock features can be removed from the pack, including the internal suspension system, making it into an 18-ounce pack for hikers looking to shed ounces. The pack design was honed during the creator’s PCT thru-hike, and the pack is ideal for hikers who’s load weight varies through the hike, and who would need to finagle a bear canister.
Special thanks to Caet Cash, Tom Willard, Rocky Pearson, Kira Thornley, and Dylan Tonkin for their additional input.
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