For hiking the Appalachian Trails essential to have a backpack that is sturdy, fits properly, holds all your essentials, and weighs as little as possible.
Earl Shaffer, the first Appalachian Trail thru-hiker, did it right. He carried very little on his back. However, he was a hardcore outdoorsman and carried the bare minimum.
Thankfully, technological innovations have made it easier for the common man or woman to go light on the trail. That said, the backpack will be one of the heaviest and most expensive pieces of equipment you’ll carry on the through hike. It’s important to do your research on it.
Most thru-hikers use a lightweight backpack with a hip belt that can hold around 30 lbs of weight. The weight of your backpack will fluctuate during your trip as you will send home cold weather clothing. Your backpack will probably be a little heavy starting out and lighten up within a few months. As a goal, try to keep the total weight, including food and water, around 30 lbs or less.
Another good guideline is to keep the maximum backpack weight to 25% of your body weight. For instance, a 100lb person can safely carry a 25lb pack. Here’s the formula below:
[Maximum Backpack Weight = Your weight X .25]
Before purchasing a backpack, consider 3 things about it:
- Weight of the backpack
The fit of the backpack is critical for a thru-hiker. Simply put, it should fit well and feel good on your back.
Make sure the backpack fits your torso length. Check out the specs on the manufacturer’s websites which will tell you how they measure torso length.
It’s a good idea to research some backpacks online first, then go to an outfitter and try them on for size and comfort. Additionally, people at outfitters are very helpful in finding your size. Also, outfitters usually have sandbags that you can place inside it to simulate the weight of your gear.
A warning about outfitters: Sometimes sales people try to talk you into larger or popular brands of backpacks. These backpacks look nice but are usually heavy.
When trying on the backpack, consider these points:
- The hip belt should sit on your hipbones
- The lower portion of the pack should sit comfortably on your lower back.
- The top of the pack should touch your shoulders.
- There should be no gap between your back and the backpack. Some backpacks have a nice ventilation where the backpack is curved out so that it doesn’t touch your back. A gap here is fine.
Make adjustments to the straps to fit the backpack more snugly around your back. Start by tightening the straps in this order:
- Hip belt
- Side shoulder straps
- Top load lifters
- Sternum strap
- Side stabilizer straps
Fidget around with straps if need be to make final adjustments.
Weight and Volume
A good goal weight for the backpack itself is around 3 lbs. A good goal volume is around 3,000 in³. Ultralight backpackers go smaller than these numbers. Choose what will work for you and your gear.
Check out different manufacturer’s websites for specifications. Here are some examples of reputable backpack companies:
- Many hikers can’t decide whether to buy the pack first or all of their gear first. If you buy your backpack first, the size of it will dictate how much gear you can fit in it.
- Streamline your backpack. Avoid letting things dangle from around it. Everything should be secured.
- The outer pockets are good for storing things you might need throughout the day like your toilet paper, water bottles, camp shoes, rain coat, guidebook, water filter, and snacks.
- A hip belt with pockets is very handy. You can put your camera, Aquamira drops, or a granola bar in it.
- For more information about Earl Shaffer, visit <The Smithsonian Documents Gallery>.