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  • Writer's pictureSuperior Wilderness

Which pack for which trail? (AT, PCT or CDT)

Updated: Apr 21, 2019

Aspiring thru-hikers frequently ask for our feedback on which type of pack they should purchase for their upcoming thru-hike (size, structure, and modifications). While much of the decision lies within one’s own personal preference and experience, we do have some suggestions (or at least a handful of factors to consider) depending on which trail you are attempting to complete. For the sake of this article, our suggestions will only be for those attempting the Appalachian Trail, Pacific Crest Trail, or Continental Divide Trail. 

The Appalachian Trail’s 2,181 miles rank it as the longest continuously marked footpath in the world. Stretching from Springer Mountain Georgia to Mount Katahdin in Maine, the AT is a grueling physical challenge noted for its long days, stark elevation changes, and social trail experiences. Factors to consider when picking a pack? Of the three trails, the AT has the most access to water and the highest frequency of towns and resupplies (usually 2-3 days between). This means that you won’t necessarily need to carry extended amounts of food or water, and carrying less consumables decreases your total pack weight (the weight of your pack and everything in it). Ultimately this means that it is easier for AT thru-hikers to lean towards bringing smaller or frameless packs. The quality, comfort, and function of a frameless pack is predicated on its ability carry lower weights (20-25lbs max), and the frequency of water and resupplies mean that ultralight backpackers won’t need to worry as much about sacrificing a packs utility for a desire to eat or drink. The AT is also a fairly rainy trail, making a DCF pack a good option.

The Pacific Crest Trail is a 2,653 mile trail that stretches from Mexico to Canada. Known for its scenic beauty and diverse terrain and ecosystems, SWD founders Brandon and Ashley found inspiration for designing their packs while hiking the PCT in 2016. Factors to consider when picking a pack? Unlike the AT, the PCT has stretches of trail that are devoid of water or potential resupplies. Certain sections require you to carry water for up to 2 days, while other sections require you to carry up to 10 days of food. During these periods, it is important to have a pack that can handle the increased weight. With increased food and water weight, we typically suggest that PCT hikers choose 40L-50L packs with suspension. Certainly frameless packs are viable (and are frequently used as well), but for those uncertain of what to pick, we recommend a slightly larger suspension pack. Other things to consider? While in the Sierra’s, hikers will also need to carry winter gear and a bear canister. More weight to factor in!

While very much its own trail, the advice we have for the Continental Divide Trail is very similar to the suggestions we have for the PCT. Slightly longer than the PCT, the CDT’s 2700-3100 miles are rugged, isolated, beautiful, and usually reserved for experienced hikers. Factors to consider when picking a pack? Due to the long distances between water and resupplies, we typically suggest that aspiring thru-hikers go with 40L-50L packs with suspension. The CDT typically sees more rain than the PCT, and while DCF packs are great for any hike, we’d especially recommend them for the CDT for the extra bit of waterproofing they provide.

At the end of the day, your pack is your personal preference. If you are in doubt, or are losing sleep over the decision, we simply suggest that you increase the size of your pack and choose suspension. Have extra space? Just roll the top down :)

Have thoughts, questions or suggestions? Shoot us an email at

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