Best Thru-Hiking Backpacks of 2024

Best Thru-Hiking Backpacks: Backpacker in scenic snowy mountains with an ultralight backpack

In this post, we'll take a look at:

Taking on a thru-hike demands the right ultralight backpack to comfortably haul gear mile after endless mile.

While minimizing weight is key for extended treks, you still need adequate volume of at least 45 liters paired with a dialed-in fit and features.

In this post, we showcase the top 5 best thru-hiking backpacks for 2024, based on durability, carrying comfort, storage space, and extreme lightness.

These ultralight backpacks strike the ideal balance of cargo capacity, featherweight design, adjustable harness and belts, weather resistance, and specialized organization.

Let’s get started.

What Are the Best Thru-Hiking Backpacks?

  1. Most Ultralight: Zpacks Arc Haul Ultra 50L (1lb 4.7oz/589g)
  2. Best Overall: Six Moon Designs Swift V Rucksack (2lb 0.1oz/910g)
  3. Best Value: Exped Lightning 60 (2lb 8.49oz/1148g)
  4. Most Comfortable: Hyperlite Mountain Gear Southwest 55 (1lb 15.6oz/896g)
  5. Budget Option: Granite Gear Virga3 55 (1lb 12oz/794g)

1. Most Ultralight
Zpacks Arc Haul Ultra 50L

Zpacks Arc Haul Ultra 50L

Key Specs

Weight: 1lb 4.7 ounces (589 grams)
Capacity: 50L
Material: Ultra 100; 200
Price: $$$


✅ Ultralight

✅ Customization options available


❌ Learning curve to adjustment

The Zpacks Arc Haul Ultra is an ultralight backpack designed for thru-hikes and extended journeys between resupplies. Weighing under 2 pounds, its robust construction and comfortable carry make it well-suited for hauling multi-day loads.

The Arc Haul Ultra utilizes Zpacks’ Ultra 200 fabric, which features a Dyneema composite face for extreme tear resistance and waterproof PU backing. This enhances durability while keeping weight down. The signature carbon fiber frame provides structure for heavier loads while allowing airflow along the back panel.

The adjustable shoulder straps, interchangeable hip belt, and array of add-on options allow customization for an ideal fit. Some users note a learning curve in properly tuning the Arc Haul Ultra for maximum comfort. However, once dialed in, it effectively transfers weight to the hips while keeping your back cool and dry.

The cavernous 50L capacity has ample space for 4-5 days of food and gear. Stretchy mesh pockets, side bottle pockets, and a roll top closure provide accessible storage and compression. Attachment points and removable accessory straps add versatility.

For ultralight backpackers tackling thru-hikes requiring extended time between resupply points, the Arc Haul Ultra provides a robust yet lightweight carrying solution.

2. Best Overall
Six Moon Designs Swift V Rucksack

Six Moon Designs Swift V Rucksack

Key Specs

Weight: 2lb 0.1 ounces (910 grams)
Capacity: 49L
Material: robic nylon
Price: $$


✅ Good customization options

✅ Great weight distribution


❌ None

As an affordable variant of the popular Swift X, the Swift V delivers outstanding bang for the buck. Its modular design allows easy conversion between framed and frameless configurations to suit any trip.

Upgrades like the adjustable torso length enhance customized comfort on varied body types. Well-placed storage pockets provide secure, accessible gear placement.

Durable materials and lightweight compression cords maintain a streamlined yet load-capable design. Padded straps and pockets distribute weight evenly over tiring miles.

Extensive adjustability from hipbelt to yoke allows dialing in an ideal fit. We praise its comfort carrying heavy loads at swift paces, affirming Six Moon’s reputation for optimized suspension.

At a very reasonable price point, new owners can’t go wrong with this do-it-all pack. Both budget and performance-focused travelers will love its simplicity, versatility and quality exceeding the cost.

3. Best Value
Exped Lightning 60

Exped Lightning 60

Key Specs

Weight: 2lb 8.49 ounces (1148 grams)
Capacity: 60L
Material: 210D HMPE ripstop nylon
Price: $$


✅ Male and female versions available

✅ Good quality


❌ Relatively heavy

❌ Some usability issues

For lightweight trips, the Lightning 60 delivers efficient performance. Its roll-top closure maximizes weather protection while allowing flexible capacity. Compression systems and attachment points securely organize additional gear.

During testing, I found the simplified design encourages light, nimble carrying. Breathable materials and minimal contact points kept my back comfortable all day.

My primary gripes centered around excess strap length requiring trimming and small hip pockets limiting quick access storage. Load stability also suffered somewhat with bulkier loads over 30 pounds.

Nevertheless, for its affordable price, this pack serves travelers pursuing simple and light adventures well.

When movement and weather-readiness matter most, the Lightning 60 brings dependable attributes to the table. With a few tweaks, it could be better optimized for varied needs.

4. Most Comfortable
Hyperlite Mountain Gear Southwest 55

Hyperlite Mountain Gear Southwest 55

Key Specs

Weight: 1lb 15.6 ounces (896 grams)
Capacity: 55L
Material: DCH50; DCH150
Price: $$$


✅ Adaptable for every situation

✅ Comfortable adjustments


❌ Water-resistant but not waterproof

The Southwest 55 shines as a versatile ultralight pack with its adaptable roll-top design. Its ability to shrink down matches well with fluctuating resupply schedules in the backcountry.

Built from rugged DCH50 or DCH50 fabrics (depending on the color).

We had the DCH50 version, which proved durable on the trail while maintaining impressive weight savings. Adjustable compression straps and a flat bottom ensured stable, secure loads.

While simple and lightweight, it’s worth noting this model provides water resistance, not full protection. Using a dry sack inside adds an extra barrier against potential seepage in downpours.

We can praise its well-padded, conveniently positioned hipbelt pockets. However, those with thin frames found heavier loads over 40lbs caused discomfort. Lighter pack weights maximize comfort.

Overall, the Southwest 55 performs wonderfully for varied missions when resupply points allow trimmed cargo.

5. Budget Option
Granite Gear Virga3 55

Granite Gear Virga3 55

Key Specs

Weight: 1lb 12 ounces (793 grams)
Capacity: 55L
Material: robic nylon (100D; 210D)
Price: $


✅ Large pockets

✅ Adjustable hip belt


❌ You need a pad to stiffen the bag

Granite Gear makes an impressive stride in inclusivity with the Virga3 series. The Virga3 55 specifically stands out with adjustable features to fit a wide range of bodies comfortably into the ultralight experience.

Constructed robustly from durables nylons, this pack forgoes traditional frame elements for an innovative load-bearing design supported by a sleeping pad. While pad use is worthwhile to note, the lighter approach expands the realm of what’s possible.

Key user-focused additions like the adjustable Re-Fit hip belt and dual pockets enhance practicality. Its roll-top access, bottle sleeves, and reasonable stripped weight also earn high marks.

While pad dependence is an essential consideration, the Virga3 55 overall succeeds in meaningfully furthering access to ultralight backpacking. It’s a great budget option.

How to Choose the Best Backpack for Thru-Hiking

Finding the right ultralight backpack for your thru-hiking journey is super important to make sure you have a comfy and enjoyable time on the trail.

As hikers nowadays want to carry less weight without giving up on useful features, here are some easy tips to help you pick the perfect ultralight backpack:

Start with Your Gear

First, gather all your ultralight hiking gear, like your tent, sleeping bag, stove, clothes, and other must-haves. This helps you know how much space and weight your backpack needs to carry your stuff comfortably.

Think about Fit

Make sure the backpack fits you well. Look for ones with adjustable straps and belts so you can customize it to your body shape. Trying out different sizes and adjustments will help you find the most comfortable fit.

Check Comfort Features

Even though ultralight backpacks are simple, they should still be comfy to wear. Look for ones with padded straps and belts to prevent soreness on long hikes. Also, consider ones with breathable backs to keep you cool and comfy.

Think about Waterproofing

Depending on where you hike, you might need a waterproof backpack. Look for ones made from water-resistant materials or ones that come with a rain cover. This will keep your gear dry if it rains.

Set Your Budget

Decide how much you want to spend on your backpack. There are lots of affordable options out there that still work great. Just make sure you get one that’s good value for money and fits your needs.

Looking for a smaller backpack? Check out our post on 30-45L backpacks.


How to choose the best thru-hiking backpack?

Choosing the best thru-hiking backpack involves considering key factors such as weight, durability, and comfort. Look for packs made from lightweight and durable materials with ample ventilation to keep you cool during long treks. Ensure the backpack has enough compartments and pockets for organizing your gear efficiently, including essentials like a tent, sleeping bag, and cooking equipment. Additionally, prioritize features like adjustable straps and padded hip belts to ensure a comfortable fit, allowing you to enjoy your outdoor adventures without discomfort.

How much volume should a thru-hiking backpack have?

For a thru-hiking backpack, it’s essential to consider how much stuff you’ll need to carry. Most thru-hikers find backpacks between 45 and 65 liters work well for holding all their gear without being too bulky. However, it’s crucial not to choose a backpack that’s too big, as it could tempt you to pack unnecessary items. On the flip side, a backpack that’s too small might not fit all your essentials comfortably. So, aim for a size that strikes a balance between having enough space for your gear and not being too large or heavy to carry.

Is a 50l backpack big enough for PCT?

Yes, a 50-liter backpack can be suitable for hiking the Pacific Crest Trail (PCT), especially considering that most PCT hikers carry packs with main volumes ranging from 40 to 65 liters. While some hikers may opt for larger packs, particularly in the Sierra where additional gear may be necessary, many find that a 50-liter pack provides adequate space for essential gear while still keeping weight manageable. It’s essential to pack thoughtfully, prioritizing lightweight and compact items to maximize space and minimize strain on the trail.

Spread the word →

Why you should trust us

At Hikinglite, we're all about helping you hit the trails with lightweight and ultralight outdoor gear that won't weigh you down. Our crew of content creators? Real outdoor enthusiasts who've logged countless miles on the trails.

Leading the pack is our editor-in-chief, Alex Jardine – an ultralight evangelist who's hiked over 10,000 trail miles across the globe. He's basically a walking outdoor encyclopedia. This dude loves testing out the latest and greatest products, so you can trust his recommendations are always well-informed and reliable.

We treat all our suggestions like advice from close trail buddies. No fluff, just real insights from folks who live and breathe the outdoor life.

Have any questions?

More Insights

Suscribe to Our Newsletter

Stay smartly informed with our weekly newsletter

Follow us

hikinglite logo white
© 2024 Hikinglite - All rights reserved

Subscribe to our newsletter

Subscribe now to stay ahead of the pack with the most up-to-date outdoor content.