Top Backpacks on the Appalachian Trail: 2023 Thru-Hiker Survey
Each year here at The Trek, we ask long-distance hikers on the Appalachian Trail (AT) about the backpack they used during their thru-hikes. In this post, we’ll dive into everything about backpacks – including hikers’ base weights, capacity choices, and level of satisfaction with their packs. As always, we’ll go over the top brands and models hikers’ used this year.
We had a total of 409 responses this year. Thank you to everyone who filled out the survey! The data was collected from October through November of 2023 through our survey, which was marketed using our social media platforms, Backpacker Radio, and TheTrek.co. Some responses from previous years were removed, and obvious mistakes in start and end dates were adjusted. No obvious duplicates were found.
Internal frame backpacks have been the most popular option for backpacks for some time now. The number of hikers using frameless packs has been slowly growing in recent years, but this year it actually dropped from 19 percent last year to 16 percent. Very few hikers use external frame packs.
The majority of hikers (87 percent) were satisfied with their backpack choice, leaving 13 percent unsatisfied with their choice. Almost half (46 percent) were very satisfied with their pack.
Multiple hikers complained about the lack of waterproofing on their packs, or that the pack they chose was not big enough and was uncomfortable during long carries. Lack of durability was another common complaint. Here are some comments from those who were dissatisfied with their packs (lightly edited for readability):
“I wish I had taken a waterproof pack instead. Using a drybag-style liner kept my things dry (trash bags and nylofume kept tearing), but any time it rained, my pack seemed to absorb and retain a substantial amount of water (and get noticeably heavier)!”
“I probably carried too much weight for the pack I had.”
“Please don’t over-fill your pack. If you go over the recommended weight for the pack itself, the pack will break over time and fall apart mid-trail.”
“Had to trash the pack at the end of my thru. It was falling apart, and I had to sew it several times toward the end. I would definitely choose a waterproof pack next time. This pack held onto a lot of water.”
“Zpacks was breaking down by the end of the trail.”
“Gossamer Gear Mariposa failed twice. Swapped to the Big Agnes, which eventually failed and was uncomfortable. Finished the last 800ish miles in the Atmos, which was by far the best bag until it failed (less severely) in the 100 Mile Wilderness.”
Most hikers this year completed their hike with the same pack they started with. A quarter switched their pack at some point during their hike, while 5 percent replaced their pack with the same model. Some of these may have been a warranty replacement from the manufacturer.
Almost half of all hikers had a backpack with a capacity between 55 and 64 liters. That was the leading range by a huge amount, particularly with thru-hikers. For thru-hikers, the backpack capacities ranged from 10 – 75 liters. For section hikers, the range was 26 – 80 liters.
We asked hikers what their base weight (the weight of all their gear minus worn items and consumables such as water and food) was at the beginning and end of their hikes.
Across all hikers surveyed, the most common range of starting base weights was 15 – 20 pounds, with 35 percent of thru-hikers and 30 percent of section hikers falling in that range. Meanwhile, the 10 – 25-pound range encompasses about three-quarters of all hikers.
The numbers for thru-hikers look very similar to last year, but a larger percentage of section hikers have shifted towards lighter starting base weights this year. Thru-hikers’ starting base weights this year ranged from 5 to 50 pounds with an average of 20.9 pounds. For section hikers, the range was 7 – 40 pounds with an average of 19.9 pounds.
The median starting base weight for all hikers was 20 pounds.
By the end of the hike, many hikers had lowered their base weight. The average base weight of thru-hikers’ packs went down from an average starting weight of 20.9 pounds to 17.2 pounds by the end of their hikes. Similarly, the upper range dropped from 50 to 43 pounds, while the lower end of the range stayed at 5 pounds. The median also dropped from 20 to 17 pounds.
Each year, hikers tend to lighten up over the course of their hike. This suggests that it would be useful for future hikers to lighten their packs as much as possible before they begin their hikes.
Top Brands and Models
Finally, we asked hikers about the brands and models of the backpacks they used on trail. Osprey remained the top brand, as it has been in years past. However, the top model has changed this year with the Exos/Eja losing its number one spot to the Gossamer Gear Mariposa. Below is the table for the top brands, followed by the top three overall models for this year.
|Hyperlite Mountain Gear
First Place – Gossamer Gear Mariposa (34)
Second Place – Osprey Exos/Eja (32)
Third Place – Hyperlite Mountain Gear Southwest (30)
|Gossamer Gear Mariposa
|Hyperlite Mountain Gear Southwest
|Zpacks Arc Haul
|Hyperlite Mountain Gear Windrider
|Gossamer Gear Gorilla
- Internal frame backpacks are used by the majority of hikers, while 16 percent of hikers used frameless backpacks, and hardly any hikers used external frame backpacks.
- 87 percent of hikers were satisfied with their packs. Lack of durability, too-small volume, and lack of waterproofing contributed the most to dissatisfaction.
- 30 percent of hikers switched packs at some point, with most switching to a different model.
- The most common capacity for backpacks was 55 – 64 liters for both section and thru-hikers.
- While section and thru-hikers started their hikes with similar average base weights, thru-hikers had a lower average base weight at the end of their hikes, dropping from 20.9 to 17.2 pounds.
- Trying to lower base weight to 20 pounds or less is a good rule of thumb for those planning a thru-hike.
- Osprey once again was the most popular brand, but the Gossamer Gear Mariposa took the top overall backpack model. The Ospey Exos/Eja and Hyperlite Mountain Gear Southwest were the second and third place models respectively.
More From the Appalachian Trail Thru-Hiker Survey
- 2023 Thru-Hiker Survey: General Information Part 1
- 2023 Thru-Hiker Survey: General Information Part 2
- 2023 Thru-Hiker Survey: Top Footwear on the AT
- 2023 Thru-Hiker Survey: Top Tents and Shelters on the AT
- 2023 Thru-Hiker Survey: Top Sleeping Bags, Quilts, and Pads on the AT
- The Appalachian Trail Thru-Hiker Survey: All Years
Congratulations to all the Appalachian Trail hikers this year — and a huge thank you to all of you who took the time to fill out the survey! The next install of the survey will cover stoves, filters, and all the remaining gear questions – there were many additional gear choices added to the survey this year. To stay up to date on the latest survey posts, make sure to subscribe to our newsletter.
Featured image: Graphic design by Chris Helm.
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