The sole purpose of your backpack is carry your gear and supplies comfortably. That’s all. Keep that in mind when selecting a pack. Overbuilt packs are the norm at most sporting goods stores. Many backpacks found in stores weigh more – when empty – than all of some PCT thru-hikers’ gear combined.
Lightweight materials are sturdier than they look. Your backpack doesn’t need to be bombproof. You’re going to a national scenic trail. You are not going to war. You aren’t going out to bushwack through the Amazon or build a trail through the Sierras. You are going out for a stroll along the PCT. Choose your pack accordingly.
You may want to choose your backpack after you’ve chosen most of your other gear. That way you’ll know about how much volume your pack will need, and you’ll have some idea of how much weight your pack will need to support. Then you can go buy the lightest and smallest pack that meets your needs.
The average thru-hiker has some kind of frame built into their pack. Ultralight hikers carry such a light load that they can often get by with a frameless backpack, but most hikers prefer a backpack with internal frame support. If you think you’ll be carrying 30 pounds or more (including food and water) on a regular basis then you should consider using a backpack with an internal frame.
Hip packs are packs supported solely by your hips. They have no shoulder straps. Though they come in all different sizes, hip packs generally have very limited volume. Hikers who use only hip packs must reduce their gear volume substantially, and resupply more often. These are very uncommon on the trail.
Has the information above changed? Know something other hikers should know? Leave a comment below.