Stoned Boners May 14 2013 in Wrightwood

Backpack Choices for a Thru-hike

Here is a run-down of all the popular backpacks on the Pacific Crest Trail (PCT). Also included are a couple pack comparison charts for you, looking at a range of the most common and reasonable packs for normal people. I hope this helps your selection. Please correct any mistakes or omissions in the comments below.

Index

Common Packs
Outliers
Other Ideas
Considerations
55-60L Comparison Chart
65-70L Comparison Chart

Common Backpacks of the PCT

Here is a list of packs that would fall in the expected range seen on average PCT thru-hikers. One sees these being carried happily and successfully on trail, every day.

Outliers

These are seen on trail, but they are worn by ultra-ultralight folks who carry a lot less and move faster. Be very careful selecting a frameless backpack unless you’re sure you know what you’re doing.

Other Ideas

  • Elemental Horizons – Aquila (frame) or Kalais (frameless)
  • Six Moon Designs – Fusion (frame)
  • Gabe Grayum‘s packs – Sexy handmade packs
  • Exped – The Lightning series looks promising
  • Terra Nova – If you’re in the UK or Europe this might be a good option for you!
  • Black Diamond, Marmot, Mountain Smith, Mountain Hardware, Deuter, Arc’teryx, Gregory, North Face, Kelty – proceed with caution, these are probably not built with thru-hiking in mind. Most these packs weigh >3.5lbs in the size range you’ll need. Save the weight for food and water.
  • GoLite – Jam. Definitely not built with thru-hiking in mind, and Go-Lite is out of business. Avoid.

Considerations

  • My quick, down-and-dirty advice? Get a pack very similar to the ULA Circuit. But, no really…
  • Choose your pack volume accordingly. Usually after you can fit eveyrthing in it, consider how much food you can fit in. A bundle approximately 14″ x 9″ x 9″ would simulate a good 5/6-day food bag. Can you fit in a bear canister (BV 500) or will you be tying it on top of the bag? Because nobody is quite sure if Ursacks are condoned in California’s bear areas yet, especially not the patrolling rangers. They will fine likely you if there’s any doubt and you don’t have the appropriate bear cannister.
  • Think about ultimate pack weight. If your loaded pack consistently weighs more than about 25-30lbs, your pack should probably have a frame. This will keep you MUCH more comfortable, because a frame helps support and distribute weight. Until you reach the Sierras you will most likely be carrying 5-6 liters of water at a time, and that itself is 11-13 pounds.
  • If you can, have more than one person fit your backpack before purchasing. Visit two REI locations or two separate reputable gear shops and have two separate people fit you. Do they agree? No? That’s likely. In that case, is your pack height adjustable? Can it be warranteed along trail? Will you have money to buy a new one? Are you ready for some severe chafing? What does your gut tell you? Go with that.
  • In the same line of thought: take time before your long hike to get to know your backpack intimately. What tips does the manufacturer recommend for packing it, putting the pack on, and taking it off? What are its special features? How do they work? You might be shocked how many hikers I’ve met who have been hiking uncomfortably for hundreds of miles and had no idea how to adjust their backpack to sit correctly. It’s not just something you “throw on” and expect to work.
  • Remember you will probably lose a lot of weight. Does your hip belt shrink down enough for when your waist loses a few inches? Osprey bags have adjustable hip belts that bottom out for many some people. ULA packs have replaceable hip belts. Other packs will fit most people but probably don’t have the beloved hip belt pockets.
  • You don’t have to have features like back mesh, hip belt pockets, hydration pouch, or brain, but some people love these features and wouldn’t hike without them. Indulge yourself if you need to!
  • Remember this ultra-lightweight (UL) backpacking rule of thumb:

The more space you have in your pack, the more you are tempted to carry.

55-60 Liter Backpack Comparisons

  HMG 3400 Windrider Granite Gear Blaze 60 REI Flash 58 (women’s medium) ZPacks Arc Blast 60
PRICE $310 $239.95 $189 $289
VOLUME/CAPACITY
(cubic inches/liters)
3400/55L 3660/60L 3539/58L 3650/60L
MAX CARRY WEIGHT 20-40lbs 40lbs 30-45lbs 30lbs
PACK WEIGHT 32 oz 46 oz 46 oz 17 oz
HAS FRAME? REMOVABLE YES YES ADJUSTABLE
HYDRATION COMPATIBLE YES YES YES YES
HIP BELT HAS POCKETS YES NO YES NO
HAS BRAIN? NO NO YES NO
BONUSES! – It’s a sexy bag
– Seam-sealed & water resistant!
– Back panel incorporates molded foam and stretch mesh
– Adjustable torso
– REI product, easy warrantee on trail
– Back panel has ventilation channels and a central breezeway to keep you cool
– REI product, easy warrantee on trail
– Super lightweight, adjustable frame
– Simple and minimalist

65-70 Liter Backpack Comparisons

  ULA Circuit Osprey Atmos 65 (large) Gossamer Gear Mariposa (large) Mountain Laurel Designs Ark
PRICE $225 $249.95 $240 $205
VOLUME/CAPACITY
(cubic inches/liters)
4200/68L 4150/68L 4244/69.5L total 4400/72L
MAX CARRY WEIGHT 35lbs 40lbs 35lbs 25lbs (for comfort)
PACK WEIGHT 41 oz 58 oz 29.1 oz 20 oz
HAS FRAME? REMOVABLE YES REMOVABLE NO
HYDRATION COMPATIBLE YES YES YES OPTIONAL (add $12)
HIP BELT HAS POCKETS YES YES YES OPTIONAL (add $12)
HAS BRAIN? NO YES NO OPTIONAL (add $30)
BONUSES! – Great customer service
– Adjustable back frame
– Exchangeable hip belt
– Easily washable
– Cool colors
– Suspended mesh back panel
– Adjustable torso and hip
– Sleeping bag compartment
– REI product, easy warrantee on trail
– Lots of pockets!
– Exchangeable hip belt
– Options are nice
– Simple and minimalist
– Smaller version available (Exodus)

*Disclaimer: I am not sponsored and I purchase all my own gear or obtain it in trade. I do not review gear in exchange for free gear or cash. I am just opinionated. I am experienced with PCT-specific packs and gear — having sold fitted and sold gear to hikers (and assisted hikers as a volunteer) along the PCT for several years. I also hike a lot. I might have seen it all.