I will be doing a thru-hike of the AT this summer of undetermined length, depending on a myriad of variables. But I no longer have my old pack, which would have been about twelve years old anyway. I am trying to walk a balance between cost (as I am having to equip myself from basically scratch), utility (since I know the only chance I have to maximize my enjoyment is with the proper equipment) and comfort (I'm only going until my back, feet or knees wear out).
I'm looking at two packs that basically bookend what I think I can spend: A Gregory Shasta 5000 at $259 on the high end and a Kelty Red Cloud 5000 ct at $130 on the low end. All things being equal I obviously go with the Kelty, but all things aren't equal and I am sure some of the differences will not make themselves apparent in the showroom of an outfitter.
Does anyone have any comments on either these two packs or more importantly on packs in general in terms of good compromises between quality, features, comfort and cost? Any insight will be especially appreciated.