I apologize for these not being all complete and fully fleshed out, these take time when you don’t hire someone to spam out Amazon lists and I am working to make them the best resource on the web. Hopefully, soon they will be live.
Finding quality gear that is at a decent price point is a challenging task, the best budget backpacks I present below I believe can survive the 2000+ miles of a long-distance thru-hike like any of the triple crown trails.
The focus has to be on nylon construction as the more expensive fabrics all lead to massive costs, and if you are looking at a budget backpack, your other gear is more than likely budget-priced, which tends to compress less.
My goal in this will be not to provide any backpack that is over $250 and nothing that is under 50 liters in space. This way, you can go a little smaller if you have more compact gear while maintaining your budget approach.
Thru-Hiking Backpacking Requirements
When considering a budget backpack, there are a few key features to look for:
A budget backpack should be made from as light a material as possible with the majority being nylon due to the relative inexpensiveness of the fabric and ease to sew and manufacture.
Budget backpacks are designed with cost and functionality in mind. They can be loaded with pockets and loops or can go the more minimal route with fewer pockets and compartments.
They will tend to be more than two pounds when empty and can often be compressed down to a small size when not in use.
For most, you will need around a 50+ liter capacity, but some go as low as 30-35 liters. This is typically sufficient for carrying everything you need for the 3-7 day town to town visits you get on a thru-hike.
Most budget backpacks are made from nylon fabric, but newer materials are coming that are lighter and more durable like ULTRA which is taking the thru-hiking world by storm.
Most budget backpacks will either offer a traditional brain or have a roll-top enclosure that is lighter and more versatile in fitting a more comprehensive range of gear inside.
Padded shoulder straps are critical for comfort on those long days on the trail. Many budget backpacks will have bigger and heavier straps to save weight but some companies are now making lighter weight padding that still provides good comfort.
Additional Considerations When Choosing a Backpack for Your Thru-Hike
When thinking about grabbing a budget backpack, you want to make sure that it will fit all of your gear, and that it is going to be comfortable for numerous continual days.
Then you will have lots of individual pieces that may be specific to your thru-hike or part of personal preferences.
For most, including myself, comfort is key when choosing a backpack. If it is not comfortable, you will likely be miserable within the first few days. I prefer shoulder straps that are well-padded and have load lifters to adjust them so that I can tweak the fit.
There are many sizes within packs from short to tall and many in between. It is important that you get a pack that fits your torso length well. If the pack is too long or short then it will not fit correctly and be uncomfortable.
How well the fabric defends against water and how well were seams managed will also play a role in deciding which backpack is best for you. If you are hiking in an area with a lot of rain, or even if you just want extra peace of mind, you may want to consider getting a pack with good waterproofing or a solid liner.
How well the fabric will last will matter when you rough it for 5-6 months. If you are constantly having to stop and fix up holes or replace gear, then it will cut into your hiking time and enjoyment.
I prefer packs with high-quality materials like Dyneema and Ultra because they are performance-based and durable.
Do you care for pockets, lots of straps, hip belts, or other parts? If so, you will want to look at the different designs and find something that meets your needs.
For some, a simple roll-top backpack will suffice, but others may want or need more organization in their pack.
If you have gear that you need to access frequently or are worried about losing small items, then you may want to consider a pack with more compartments and pockets.
You are trying to find the pack with internal liters at the lowest weight. This is the number you want to focus on when choosing a pack because it will help you understand what kind of gear you can bring along.
Gear Fit in Your Backpack
How does your gear fit? Some people like to lay everything horizontally, while others just toss it in.
I tend to organize my gear in a horizontal method which means I need something deep and wide enough to ensure everything fits laying flat.
I don’t want horizontal tents or similar items.