top of page

Best Backpacks for thru-hiking and Backpacking

For over a decade I have used all sorts of different backpacks, ranging from an external frame freighter size pack on the Pacific Crest Trail to a fastpacking setup for a four-pound baseweight on the John Muir Trail. In the eleven years since that first pack to the most recent record-setting run on the JMT, I have been through a number of backpacks and tests numerous more, so I wanted to put together a piece based solely on experience that should offer the pros and cons of another of backpacking and thru-hiking options.

The features on a backpack are important, and deciding which ones work best for you can improve your hike, but the backpack’s fit is an even bigger factor in loving or hating a pack. A good start is to measure your true torso size and try on several different options to see what fits you best. But, beyond the individual fit, here are the backpacks that work best for thru-hiking the John Muir Trail, Pacific Crest Trail, Continental Divide Trail, and Appalachian Trail or for a weekend backpacking trip.

  1. Overall Choice: Hyperlite Mountain Gear 3400 Southwest Pack

  2. Best Value For Thru-hiking Gossamer Gear Mariposa

  3. Best Value Ultralight Option: Gossamer Gear G4-20

  4. Budget Option: Granite Gear Crown 2

  5. Best Suspension and carrying for 30+ pounds: Osprey Exos

  6. Durable and Lightweight: Waymark Gear Co EVLV

  7. Ultralight with good capacity: ZPacks Arc Blast 55

  8. The Most Customizable: LiteAF Curve X40


  1. Constructed with high-quality Dyneema when compared to others

  2. The durability can last through multiple thru-hikes

  3. Comfortable design

  4. simple stowing with back pocket


  1. Expensive

  2. Water bottles can be hard to grab from the side pockets

  3. The simple design has no brain or interior pockets

Hyperlite Mountain Gear makes some of the most expensive backpacks in the industry, but their durability is worth it. The construction, fabric, and waterproofing, warrant the price tag, and it is a piece of gear that should last thousands of miles. Mine alone has been put through more than a thru-hike. The design’s simplicity and limited fail points make it a very ideal backpack to depend on.

The Dyneema that Hyperlite uses feels thicker, more durable, and more dependable than competing brands. The straps, pockets, and elastic also have a quality feel to them that is tangible. The downsides of Hyperlite backpacks are the price tag and the limited pockets for organizing and gear storage. Also, with the interior storage design, a Hyperlite Mountain Gear Pack needs to be packed well to avoid a hard-sided bear can pressing your back again.


  1. Most Affordable for the quality

  2. Enough pockets to effectively organize gear

  3. Great mesh for back pocket storage

  4. Padded and comfortable belt and straps


  1. Not 100% waterproof

  2. Takes getting used to loading and packing with multiple pocket options

Gossamer Gear is a time-tested ultralight backpacking company in an industry that has exploded with newcomers. The brand always has an inventory and continues to innovate and add products to the line. They have some ultralight options coming out, and a great sizing system that helps their “Stock Packs” fit well for each individual backpacker and thru-hiker.

The backpacks are not completely waterproof and use robic nylon, yet the packs hold up well and protect gear, especially when paired with a lightweight backpack liner.


  1. Affordable and easy

  2. Great suspension for carrying heavier loads

  3. Foam and components are comfortable

  4. Easy to pack with multiple straps and pockets


  1. Heavy and more features than most hikers need

  2. Extra straps and pockets that are difficult to use

Osprey packs are affordable and easy to find. They are likely at your local REI and in stock, making them easy to buy. The Exos is the perfect starter backpack. It is durable, comfortable, and fairly easy to pack. The main complaints are with the overengineered strap and pocket systems as well as the higher weight than competitors. This is mitigated with the great suspension system, but does not lighten the weight only making it carry a bit nicer. This is a perfect first backpack and can be versatile for hiking and backpacking on trails ranging from overnights to long thru-hikes. Keep an eye out for sales because this backpack frequently drops in price.


  1. Great value backpack

  2. Great external pockets and mesh

  3. A borderline ultralight backpack that packs and carries well

  4. Hip belt pockets are exceptionally comfortable, usable, and efficient


  1. The frameless design is harder to pack than other Gossamer Gear backpacks

  2. Difficult to pack with a bear can

  3. Not waterproof

The G4-20 is the best value backpack for fastpacking and having an ultralight backpacking setup. It combines the best features of the Kumo from Gossamer Gear with the Mariposa to create a good middle-tier backpack with a compact 42-liter capacity. It has great versatility in the different-sized side pockets that can hold anything, from a tent to a water bottle. The mesh, elastic, and straps are all quality and can withstand the rigors of backpacking long distances and on rugged terrain.


  1. Durable and Affordable with above-average features

  2. Extremely weatherproof with great rolltop design

  3. Custom made in the USA


  1. Does not carry big loads well

  2. Longer lead times than other backpacks

The Waymark EVLV uses ECOPAK, a fabric very similar to Xpac. It is more durable than Dyneema and tougher than Robic Nylon. It also is fairly light considering the quality. Waymark uses block coloring and customization of the packs, and one can easily be customized through its website. really holds up well throughout the ruggedness of a thru-hike or many backpacking trips. Other key features are the water-tight roll-top closure, ice axe loops, and trekking pole loops. If being ultralight is the goal, this is a great backpack, although loading it with more than a ten-pound base weight is not recommended.

Granite Gear Crown2 60 Backpack Review


  1. Affordable with good durability at the price

  2. Multiple pockets externally make accessing gear easy

  3. The simple padded back is unexpectedly comfortably


  1. Buckles are everywhere and they are tiny, and most are useless

  2. Noticeably cheaper design than other backpacks

  3. Not completely weatherproof

A time-test company with a good pack that is affordable yet has the capacity to carry a more luxurious gear setup. At 60 liters, this pack can handle just about anything you want to take on an overnight backpacking trip, a section hike, or a longer thru-hike.

The drawbacks of the Granite Gear Crown2 60 are the fabric is not fully weatherproof, and the design has many extra features that aren’t necessarily useful. Buckles are everywhere on this pack. The lack of a back mesh pocket makes external storage a little more complicated. But there is nothing comparable and durable at this price.


  1. Incredibly lightweight yet comfortable

  2. Fairly weatherproof

  3. Simple and well-reviewed design


  1. No hip belt pockets

  2. Back mesh can snag things like tent stakes

  3. Z packs stitching varies in quality

  4. Expensive

At an incredible 21 ounces for a 55-liter pack, this is a great design that even has a lightweight frame. It was designed for use in the Appalachian Mountains but is also suitable for the Pacific Crest Trail.

The use of carbon fiber does make the pack the most expensive on the list. The lack of hip belt pockets can make this a deal-breaker for thru-hikers. Durability can be a bit of an issue with this pack, but if ultralight, performance, and comfort are all major priorities this is a great option.


  1. Large capacity makes for easy stowing of any amount of gear

  2. Great price for an ultralight pack

  3. Very durable, expect to get many thousands of miles out of it


  1. Bulky and wider design

  2. Features that aren’t necessary

  3. Heavy considering maximum load rating

The best-selling and most popular pack in the ULA inventory. ULA is one of the original cottage brand ultralight companies and their backpacks have stood the test of time. It is still a popular brand but lacks some of the innovation and design of others on the list.

The Circuit is wider and has a few features that are uncommon and less useful than they once were. For example, the elastic on the back over the top of the mesh pocket. Even so, many hikers have gotten the entire triple crown out of this one backpack. We would expect a 2.6-pound pack to be rated for more than 35 pounds, which is one of the drawbacks of this option This is a great pack if diving into the deep end of UL gear.


  1. Lightweight design that carries well

  2. Completely weatherproof

  3. Slim design rides well


  1. Difficult to pack comfortably, especially with a bear canister

  2. Flimsy outside pockets

  3. Shows wear quickly

A relatively new company for the list, but one that is exploding onto the scene with great colors and immaculate construction. LiteAF backpacks are built with flare and are immediately recognizable on the PCT. The backpacks are constructed using printed dyneema and are completely waterproof.

LiteAF Curve X40L backpack review for hiking and backpacking the pacific crest trail
bottom of page