Selecting a Pack for the Appalachian Trail

Though selecting a pack to hike the Appalachian Trail is a personal preference, it is important to select a quality pack that is light, properly fitted, and one that will endure the length of your hike. Carrying a pack that is not properly fitted or having a load that is not balanced leads to hiker exhaustion and possible injury. Thus, it is crucial that you do your homework and take your time in finding the right pack for you.

External vs. Internal Frame

One important decision you will have to make is whether to go for an external frame or an internal frame. External frames have a harnass attached to one side of the frame and an equipment bag on the other. The frames are typically made of aluminum or a composite material. The advantage of an external frame is that in warm weather hiking, cool air circulates between the equipment bag and the hiker's back. These appeal to hikers hiking in warm weather and on well-maintained trails. However, external frames ride high on a hiker's back, thus occassionally catch on branches from low-hanging trees. In comparison, internal frames have an internal simple frame, and the carrying harnass is attached directly to the equipment pack. The internal frame appeals to cross-country hikers and hikers hiking high elevations.

Fitting an Internal Frame

When fitting an internal frame, the pack size must agree with the hiker's body measurement. Measure your torso and select the correctly sized pack. Once you have the correct size, follow the manufacturer's instructions to adjust the pack to your torso size. Next, loosen all straps and load the pack with the intended weight you'll be carrying on your hike. After putting it on, adjust the straps in the following order:

1) The hip or waist belt: should rest on the hip bone and the straps should tighten as must as possible.

2) The shoulder straps: should be adjusted to the correct height for your torso length. They should fit snugly against the body, and the top of the shoulder strap harnass should be close to the base of your neck near the largest backbone at the top of your spine.

3) The load lifting straps: adjust the load. Pulling on these places the load closer to your center of gravity but more weight on your shoulders. Loosening them places more weight on your hips.

4) The sternum straps: should be adjusted so they are at the center of your breast bone and a few inches below your collar bone.

5) The compression straps: on the hip belt should be tightened to prevent swaying.

Fitting an External Frame

Size is very important in choosing an externally framed pack. The pack must fit your torso and not flop on the back. The shoulder straps should give some room for adjustment. The hipbelt should fit your waist, and there should be some extra material as well. When you think you have the right fit, fill the bag with approximately the same weight you'll be carrying on your hike and give it a test drive. How does it feel?

Quality of Construction

Double-stitched seams and zippers help with durability. Because nylon is smoother and doesn't corrode as easily as metal, you want to try to get a pack with nylon zippers. You also want to check out the fasteners that hold the frame together. Metal rods and pins with split rings are pretty reliable, though you want to bring spares as they can catch on branches from time to time.

About the Author Steve Burge:
Steve Burge was the original founder of AppalachianTrail.com. He was a teacher for many years before starting a web development firm.
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So, I met this guy named Mark. A potential thru-hiker from Detroit. I will forget Mark someday, but I will always remember his 64-pound pack.

Published Jan 2, 2013.