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Group Tests and Best Buys

Best Mountain Daypacks Reviewed 2016

We've tested 22 of the best mountain walking and climbing daypacks to help you decide which one will work best for you.

We’ve picked out more than 20 of the best mountain walking – and a few climbing – daypacks with capacities of roughly 25-35 litres. That should be enough to carry everything you need for a day on the hill including spare clothing, food, emergency equipment and water.

Designs vary from ventilated, trampoline-style packs intended to cope better with hot conditions, through to simple, more streamlined climbing-type packs. Some have loads of easily accessible pockets, which are great to stowing things on the move. Others are more minimalist in design. But it all depends on your personal preferences.

Also important are build quality and durability – tough but light fabrics and thorough construction all help here – and how comfortable and supportive the pack feels. That’s less crucial with daypacks then larger rucksacks, but still important and we’d suggest trying before buying to make sure a particular pack suits your physique.

Finally, very few packs are waterproof – the fabrics often are, but seams aren’t taped so will leak eventually. Because of this many packs are supplied with fold-away rain covers which will keep the worst of the rain off, but we’d always suggest using a waterproof liner bag in wetter conditions.

You can simply scroll through the packs or jump straight to your favourite brands via the links below.

Arc’teryxBergansBerghausBoreasCamelbakFjällrävenForce TenGregory PacksHaglöfsHighlanderLowe AlpineMilletMillicanMontaneMountain HardwearOspreyPatagoniaThuleVangoVauDeNigor

Verdict – Our Best Buys

Arc’teryx Kea 37: £160 / 1630g

Review

Anecdotally, Arc’teryx packs are the choice of many outdoor industry insiders and the Kea 37 – previously known as the Kata – shows exactly why. For starters, the pack has a reassuring bombproof feel with a thermo-moulded back pad and aluminium stave system that gives an instantly supportive and sublimely comfortable carry as it nestles into the curve of your back.

The well-designed hip-belt plays a reassuring back-up role, which along with the higher than average capacity means it can do double duty as a light-ish backpacking sac. The back pad resists sweaty sogginess too, which is great on hotter days, though it’s not as cool as trampoline-style vented packs.

Pockets are thoroughly thought out too with a huge kangaroo front pouch with central zip ideal for stowing wet shell clothing away from other kit or simply carrying stuff you need fast access to. The Kea is hydration compatible, but has no separate reservoir sleeve, so it simply sits in the main pack compartment.

If you’re a winter bunny, you’ll like the neat ‘one-handed’ P’ax ice axe attachment system which allows you, with practice, to remove an ice tool without taking off your pack.

The pack lacks an integral rain cover, if you want one of those and the super solid build is rejected in a super solid price, but if you’re after a well-designed and superbly-made, medium-capacity all-round mountain pack that promises to last for years, this could be your ideal match in the daypack dating firmament.

Pros

Outstanding build quality, great comfort and support, loads of pockets, cunning design features, extra capacity means light packing is feasible, neat one-handed ice-axe carrying system. Should last for years.

Cons

Not cheap, no separate hydration sleeve, slightly weighty, no rain cover.

More info: www.arcteryx.com.

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Bergans of Norway Skarstind 32: £89 / 870g

Review

This is the first pack we’ve used from Bergans of Norway and it has a lot of good points: it’s impressively light, neatly made and has plenty of pockets, plus the trampoline-type back system is comfortable and helps to keep you cool in warmer weather. We also like the floating lid, which is unusual on a pack of this type and means you can, if necessary, overfill  the pack slightly on big days when you need to carry a little more.

The air-gap’s narrow enough to stop the pack levering away from your back when fully loaded too. Unfortunately, as with the similarly designed original Osprey Stratos, we found the steel tube perimeter frame had a tendency to dig into our lower back at fin level.

It’s a hard one to call as those with a different body shape might not encounter the same issue – a little more padding in the hip-belt might sort it out too – but we’d suggest you try the pack carefully before buying to make sure it’s not a problem for you.

Our other very minor gripe is with the hydration tube which exits on the righthand side only and the lack of an actual sleeve for the reservoir which we prefer.

Overall, if it fits your back, the Skarstind 32 is a neat, lightweight, ventilated daypack with plenty of stowage that works well on summer day walks.

Pros

Decently light, well ventilated and supportive back system, plenty of stash pocket options, floating lid arrangement unusual on a pack of this type, nicely made.

Cons

Perimeter frame wasn’t comfortable for our particular proportions, hydration tube exits right-side only, ice axe carriage a little flimsy, but fine with poles. No rain cover.

More info: catalog.bergans.eu.

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Berghaus Freeflow 30: £85 / 1280g

Review

Berghaus has been making Freeflow packs for years now, so you’d expect the current version to be decently developed and it is. One the years, large sections of the suspended trampoline-style mesh have been carved away to the point where there now seems to be more air than mesh against the back.

On top of that, the pack carries very well to the point where you wouldn’t know it didn’t have a conventional back system. The Biofit adjustable back length is unusual on a pack of this capacity, but if you have a longer or shorter back than average, its a real boon and also very easy to adjust on the hoof if, for some reason, you need to lend your pack to someone with different proportions. If you’re merely ‘average’ it doesn’t really add anything, but nor does it get in the way or increase weight or bulk.

Otherwise, as you’d expect, it’s a well-developed pack with plenty of pockets, including a big-zipped front one and side stash options along with the usual complement of lid storage. Talking of which it feels quite large for a ’30-litre’ pack meaning it may even stretch to the odd overnighter if you travel light.

Our only real criticism is the way the foam lumbar and shoulder pads soak up moisture when things get hot and sweaty. We’d rather have  less absorbent materials in body contact points. Other than that it’s a well-developed, excellently ventilated pack that carries really well and has the bonus of that adjustable back length system for the too tall and too small.

Pros

Comfortable, stable carry, plenty of back ventilation, numerous pockets, adjustable back length, well thought through features generally, integral rain cover. Simple pole/axe loops.

Cons

Foam lumbar and shoulder pads can get soggy, hydration system exits right only.

More info: www.berghaus.com.

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Boreas Muir Woods 30: £90 / 980g

Review

Straight out of San Fransisco, the Muir Woods 30 is a uniquely quirky, but surprisingly functional mountain all-rounder that’s as much at home scrambling or even climbing as it is on non-technical day walks. The unusual, streamlined-styling hides a host of handy pockets including twin belt, side-stash and ‘lid’ ones, but the pack profile means they’re nicely tucked away.

We also like the huge zipped, full-panel opening that gives comprehensive access to the main compartment and makes it easy to find things in a hurry. We’re also big fans of the way the pack carries. Boreas says the Z-Foam back suspension system is borrowed from its larger packs and it really does work particularly when loads go up, if you’re carrying a full rack and ropes for example.

The non-absorbent Z-Foan back pad doesn’t absorb water, but still gives reasonable ventilation making it a good carry in hotter conditions and the perimeter frame and supportive hip-belt keep things super stable. It’s more taut and toned than cushy, but we like it that way.

When things get technical there’s a simple gear loop on one side and hidden daisy chains let you add accessories of your choice, in winter that might include some improvised ice-axe loops. That aside, the Muir Woods 30 is an unusual, versatile, mountain walking and scrambling all-rounder that’s ideal for all-year, all-round use, though if you climb regularly, you’ll still want a more specialised technical pack.

Pros

Versatility, supportive, non-absorbent, non-absorbent, comfortable back system, streamlined shape, full panel access to main compartment, gear loop, plenty of pockets. General build quality is high.

Cons

You’ll need to improvise ice-axe loops if you want them. No rain cover.

More info: www.boreasgear.com.

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Camelbak Pursuit 24: £140 / 1310g

Review

Camelbak is best know for its excellent hydration systems and market-leading mountain biking packs, but less so for walking kit. The Pursuit’s an interesting one, the science is sound, siting your heavy hydration reservoir low down at lumbar level with access through a zipped opening which allows the lumbar pad to open up for easy refills on the move and the carry is mostly comfortable, though the prominent padded, lumbar pad feels a little obtrusive at first.

Nor can we fault the build quality or multiple pocket options including adventure race-style mesh stash front and side options. What we didn’t like is that as with the Berghaus Freeflow, the lumbar pad can get soggy and the pack is both slightly heavy and expensive given the 24-litre capacity.

We do like Camelbak’s hydration systems though and, like we said, siting the water low down is good science and contributes to a decent carry.

Pros

Good quality hydration reservoir included, good build quality and a comfortable carry, plenty of pocket options, reservoir easily removable thanks to separate compartment accessed via the lumbar pad.

Cons

Weighty for its capacity, foam pads can get soggy on hot days, prominent lumbar pad is an acquired taste.

More info: www.camelbak.com.

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Fjällräven Kaipak 38: £150 / 1830g

Review

The Kaipak 38 isn’t quite as charmingly, self-consciously ‘retro’ as the Millican pack also tested here, but it definitely has a solid, traditional look and feel in a good way. It feels solid too, 1830g is a fair whack even given that the 38-litre capacity means it can potentially double up as a weekend light-packing sac.

The waxed G1000 fabric continues the traditional theme too, being the closest thing you’ll find to olde worlde canvas, but don’t be taken in by the looks. The pack still has some thoroughly modern attributes like a big, zipped front pocket for stashing of larger stuff and side mesh ones for the smaller bits and bobs, plus handy belt straps.

The lid is extendable so you can overload the pack without things going horribly wrong and there’s a hydration sleeve too along with an integrated stuff-sac in bright, UN Blue. You also get axe loops, pole loops and side compression straps.

It carries well too in a solid, no-nonsense way with plenty of support from the braced frame sheet and padding from the, well, padding. There’s even a little ventilation thanks to the curve of the sheet and the blockiness of the foam padding.

Overall it means that you’re not sacrificing performance for some sort of retro chic experience. It’s not light and it’s not super innovative, but it carries well and should still be doing the job a long way down the line thanks to that tough fabric and solid build.

Pros

Solid build, reassuringly tough feeling G1000 fabric, reinforced, double nylon base, lots of pockets, beguiling retro feel, big enough for weekend packing and a comfortable carry with it.

Cons

Solid equates to slightly heavy and a little expensive.

More info: www.fjallraven.co.uk.

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Force Ten Alpine 35: £90 / 960g

Review

Anyone who started their outdoor career camped in a Force 10 ridge tent will immediately recognise that bright orange colour, but there’s more to the tough-feeling Nylon fabric than meets the eye, the main seams are all taped for added water resistance and the interesting flip-top opening sports chunky water resistant zips too. All of which makes good sense for a pack that’s as likely to see action in Scotland or the Lakes as it is in the Alps.

We’d still use a liner for reassurance, but our pack survived several wet days quite happily – note that the non-taped seams are closest to the back and out of the obvious firing line. The overall design is simple: think tapered bag with minimal, thermo-moulded foam back panel and you won’t go far wrong, but we found the carry to be quite reasonable and the pay-off is an impressively light pack.

With heavier loads, you’ll just have to suffer a little, but that’s climbing packs for you and mostly it’s surprisingly comfortable given the low-tech back system. Also on the climbing front, there are plenty of attachment points for additional webbing and shock cord and the pack comes with additional compression straps, elastic cords and ski-straps so you can customise things to suit. You can also remove the simple webbing waist belt for harness use or tuck it away into a custom-made sleeve.

All good for climbing and scrambling, but slightly compromised for more general use, thanks to the relative paucity of pockets compared to more walking-orientated packs and the lack of a dedicated hydration pocket and exit port, though you can improvise easily enough using the two-ended main zip.

If you’re okay with that, there’s no reason why you shouldn’t use it as an occasional general mountain pack and take advantage of its impressive weather resistance, but its main strengths are for more technical use.

Pros

Light, impressively tough, very water resistant, sleek profile ideal for technical climbing and mountaineering use, thermo-moulded back panel sheds snow and doesn’t absorb sweat.

Cons

Basic back system, just the one lid pocket plus one internal sleeve pocket, lacks designed hydration system compatibility.

More info: www.force-ten.co.uk.

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Gregory Packs Zulu 35: £110 / 1380g

Review

It may not matter to you, but the Zulu 35 is one of the prettiest packs on test with a really finished, high tech, modern look and sleek styling. It is, for want of a better word, ‘designed’ with plenty of interesting features. Among these is a main compartment that you can access either via a conventional top-opening lid or via a zipped front-opening which lurks beneath the huge front stash pocket and integral rain cover compartment.

There are other pockets too: deep side stash bottle-type ones, inside and outside lid ones and two on the well padded hip-belt. Like we said, it’s not minimalist, but you’re never going to be short of somewhere to stow, say, a compact camera. In fact you may go a little mad deciding…

For all that, the pack still manages to look sleek. None of which would matter if it didn’t carry well, but Gregory’s low profile, ventilated back system does and excellent, supportive job with a narrow air gap that means it carries like a well-balanced conventional pack.

The suspended mesh is backed up by a metal X-frame with  lavishly paddedcontact points. The lumbar area does take a little initial getting used to, but switching back to a less supportive pack makes you realise just what a good job it does giving a bit of a Rolls Royce ride compared to more spartan packs. Last but but not least pole and axe loops are present and correct as is a hydration pocket with central tube port.

Overall a really nice pack from a top US brand that’s been slightly overshadowed by Osprey in recent years, but is right up with the best.

Pros

General finish, construction and all-round pack panache, loads of pockets, easy access to main compartment by two routes, comfortable and stable all-day carry.

Cons

Not one for minimalists, prominent lumbar pad feels odd initially.

More info: www.gregorypacks.com.

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Haglöfs Roc Helios 25: £90 / 590g

Review

The Roc Helios has the rare capacity to polarise opinion anywhere from ‘brilliant’ to ‘ good god, what is that thing’? The crackly, high-tech X 07 Dimension Polyant X-Pac™ fabric is light and strong, but most obviously, it’s white. On British hills you feel a little like an arctic hare on a snow-free Kinder plateau.

Put that to one side though, and you’re left with an interesting exercise in minimalism. Access to the 25-litre main compartment is via a zip-open, foam back panel. The idea is that you can pop off the shoulder straps, swing the pack round on its waist belt and open it up without taking if off fully.

It’s a neat idea in more benign conditions, but it’s a little ‘all or nothing’ and it would be easy, in Scotland say, to get a pack full of spindrift or even spill the contents down the crag, but of course you don’t have to use it in that mode and you can employ a little common sense too.

Put the opening to one side and you’re left with a surprisingly comfortable, minimalist mountain pack complete with room-strap, compression come storage shock cord attachments and twin ice-axe loops. It’s hydration compatible too in the sense that there’s a sleeve for a reservoir. There’s also a small side pocket – and we mean small – where you could store, say, a wallet or phone and a couple of energy bars.

In other words, it won’y suit you if you’re a fan of multiple stash pockets. In all honesty, we reckon something like an Osprey Mutant or Millet Triolet is a more practical technical choice, but if arctic hares are your thing, and you like a bit of ostentatious minimalism, the Helios, erm, rocs.

Pros

Properly light, deceptively tough fabric, some interesting ideas, easy access without removing pack, surprisingly comfortable.

Cons

White fabric not for the shy or those who lose packs in blizzard conditions, access system a little ‘all or nothing’.

More info: www.haglofs.com.

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Highlander Cascade 28L: £49.99 / 1250g

Review

At a smidgeon under £50 the Cascade is less than half the price of some of the packs we’ve looked at and, not surprisingly, that’s reflected in a basic, but still sturdy feel. It has a trampoline-style vented back system, though the mesh is plastic coated rather than plain fabric and like more expensive alternatives, there are plenty of stash, lid and hip-belt pockets to choose from along with pole and axe loops.

There’s even a basic gear loop on one side and the base has a zip-away, integrated rain cover in brightest orange. There’s a hydration sleeve too. All of which is impressive and thorough, but where the pack does lose out is in fit and carry.

It’s quite short, which means it has to sit low to allow you to use the padded hip-belt correctly, so the pack sits a little oddly plus there are no top tensioner straps, so you can’t adjust the way the pack sits relative to the shoulder yoke. It’s certainly not unusable, but it does emphasise the benefits of spending a little more.

That said, if you’re on a budget, the Highlander and similar affordable packs are surprisingly well specced and a definite step up from a mass market, urban-styled casual pack.

Pros

Reasonable price and weight, decent spec on paper, not overly heavy, sturdy feel.

Cons

Basic carry, no top-tensioner shoulder straps.

More info: www.highlander-outdoor.com.

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Lowe Alpine AirZone Hike 30: £80 / 1270g

Review

Lowe Alpine’s AirZone was one of the original ventilated pack systems and its shows – the brand’s trampoline-style mesh back has been evolved and refined over the years with a narrower gap, less mesh and ultimately a better carry. Add in the adaptive shoulder and hip-belt, which work with a wide range of body shapes and carefully chosen foam padding and you have a pack that simply carries very, very well.

It’s also quite effective in hot weather. No ventilated pack will keep you perfectly vented and cool, but it all helps.

The rest of the AirZone Hike isn’t bad either. Main seams are triple stitched and bound and fabrics are carefully selected after being tested in house. And then there are the pockets, lots of them. Lid pockets, belt pockets, a big front stash pocket and, if you can’t decide between zipped side-pockets and elasticated stash ones, no problem, you can have both…

Yes really. You also get Lowe Alpine’s simply but effective trekking pole carrying system – the tips locate in moulded plastic gibbons for speedy and secure stowing, a hydration sleeve  and an integral rain cover.

Overall it’s one of the best ventilated hiking and walking packs out there designed and finished with understated quality and polish and an effective, no-nonsense performer particularly in warmer conditions.

Pros

Excellent ventilated back system, comfortable carry, a zillion pocket choices, effective pole carrying mechanism, bombproof build quality.

Cons

Zipped side-pockets look a little old fashioned, but there are other options in the range.

More info: lowealpine.com.

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Millet ProLighter 30: £100 / 1020g

Review

Not to be confused with UK outdoor store Millets, Millet is a French alpine-orientated brand that’s used by the Chamonix guides no less and is a common sight in the French Alps. We’ve had one of the special edition Trilogy versions of the ProLighter 30 on the go for a couple of years now and it’s an excellent, streamlined technical mountain pack that’s useable in the UK as well as on Mont Blanc and the likes.

It’s decently light at just 1020g, but careful fabric selection and design means that it doesn’t feel fragile and is a surprisingly comfortable and supportive carry even with the slim, harness-friendly waist belt. High wear areas like the base and ice-tool contact zones user tougher materials other areas are lighter.

There are no fripperies, just what you need in the mountains: a rope strap, twin axe loops with movable top loops to cater for different handle shapes, a single lid-pocket with a glove-friendly zip-pull and a single main compartment with hydration sleeve.

Nothing fancy, but all done with the air of a company that knows exactly what it’s up to. If you’re Alps bound or simply looking for a no-frills mountaineering pack, it could be bob on.

Pros

Light, tough, streamlined and neatly adaptable, surprisingly comfortable and supportive, good build quality, tres chic.

Cons

Minimalist approach not ideal for more general use.

More info: www.millet-mountain.com.

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Millican Frazer The Rucksack 32L: £125 / 1300g

Review

Okay, so it’s a styling exercise right? Except that for all the quirkiness and feel-good retro vibe, and neat, unexpected anodised metal buckles and multiple surprise pockets and compartments, Frazer the Rucksack turns out to be surprisingly effective in real world use.

That paraffin wax-impregnated ‘Bionic Canvas’ for example, turns out to be respectably tough and weather resistant, the plethora of metal buckles are secure, neat and nigh-on indestructible and, most important of all, Frazer carries like a  proper daypack – the shoulder straps even have a Lowe Alpine-style adaptive fit thing going on.

There are practical touches too like ice axe loops, yes really, a reflective strip and a hydration sleeve no less. But Frazer can be urban too. Inside there’s a neat little organiser with pockets for, say, a phone and wallet and – we like this – an external zip gives access to a sleeved pocket where you could store a book, map or even a small tablet and access it without having to open the main pack. Genius…

Would we buy it for technical mountaineering use? No. But if you want a lovely, quirkily-styled daypack you could use equally well for walking in the hills or day-to-day in town, give Frazer a call. And don’t forget your sense of whimsy.

Finally, although Millican is Lakes based, the packs themselves are made in Vietnam, something they share with Osprey no less.

Pros

Proper feel good vibe, tough, durable recycled fabrics, lovely attention to detail with secret pockets and lots of them, ace retro styling, rather more usable than you might think and always entertaining.

Cons

Nothing really unless you’re missing a sense of the whimsical.

More info: www.homeofmillican.com.

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Montane Women’s Yayara 32: £85 / 940g

Review

The original men’s Medusa was Montane’s ‘one pack to do it all’ design aimed at folk who walk, scramble and climb, but want a single pack that’ll work for all those. The Yayara is essentially the women’s-specific version of that pack, which means it’s shorter – 41cm in the back pad length versus 51 cm for the men’s – and slightly wider at the hip, some 21cm in the lower back pad versus 20cm for the men’s, but with a hip-belt that’s around 8cm shorter from pad to pad.

Finally, the tops of the shoulder straps are around 10mm closer spaced on the Yayara and the shoulder straps themselves are both shorter in length and a different shape for better boob clearance. In a nutshell, the Yayara caters better for shorter female back lengths in particular as well as other women’s physiological differences.

Whether it works for you depends on whether it fits your particular body proportions, if you’re a woman with a longer back, you may be happier with a Medusa, and likewise, shorter men could look at the Yayara.

The rest of the pack is the same familiar blent of ingenuity and functionality. It’s light and the non-absorbent thermo-moulded foam back pad used across the Montane pack range, works well all year round shedding snow in the winter and not sponging up sweat in the summer.

There’s no frame sheet or staves in there so you do sometimes have to pack carefully and with heavier loads – a full climbing rack and rope for example – it can feel a little unstructured. Mostly though it carries very well. It’s also impressively featured – for walking use there are low-profile side stash-pockets and lid ones plus a single belt pocket, for more technical stuff, there’s a gear loop on the other side of the belt, a rope strap up top and neat, tuck-away axe loops.

And whatever you’re doing, you benefit from the neat lid  ‘Buddy Pocket’, which faces backwards so your mate can get into it on the move without your head getting in the way, the neat, quick release chest strap buckle – pull a tab to undo – the easy-opening main pack cord and the ingenious hydration tube clip on the righthand shoulder strap.

We’re planning a back-to-back comparison of men’s and women’s version shortly, but like the Medusa, the Yayara’s a cracking lightweight, all-mountain pack for women who like to mix things up, without compromising overmuch for either walking or climbing use.

Pros

Light, comfortable, multiple pockets, thermo-moulded back pad works well all year, neat design touches including the ‘Buddy Pocket’ and one-handed chest strap buckle. Great to see the women’s version get all the same features as the men’s.

Cons

Back system lacks structure to cope with heavier loads of climbing kit for example.

More info: www.montane.co.uk.

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Mountain Hardwear Rainshadow 26 OutDry Backpack: £85 / 700g

Review

The smaller of two new OutDry-proofed Rainshadow packs from MHW – there’s also a 36-litre option with wider hip-belt and more stowage space – the Rainshadow

26 is a simple, functional lightweight pack in its own right, but its trump card is that in normal use, it’s effectively waterproof.

The main body is fully proofed using a membrane the covers all seams and stitch lines. It’s a brilliant technology and far easier than taping or welding seams. The bag’s not fully submersible as it has a top access zip, but thanks to a nicely-shaped, serious storm-flap, we’ve found it functionally waterproof in normal walking use.

MHW developed and tested it using a rain room. We can’t guarantee that it’ll stay completely watertight in full-on deluge situations, but so far we’re highly impressed and it would be our first choice for a wet UK day walk. The hydration sleeve sits behind the simple back system and allows easy access without opening the pack and there are three stash pockets where you can store sundries or wet kit to avoid contaminating what’s nice and dry inside the pack itself.

You also get compression straps – the lower one has thumb-loops for use on the move, handy as your hydration reservoir empties – and simple but effective axe loops. There’s a quasi-lid pocket on the outside too as well as an internal zipped one for your more vulnerably valuables – its soft lined to protect phones and shades from scratches too.

If we were going to be really critical, we’d point out that the back pad is a little firm against the back if you combine it with an overfilled and barreling or Osprey-type reservoir with a hard plate, but with a more conservative approach, it’s fine.

Yes, you could just use a pack liner or a dry-bag, but it’s refreshing to just be able to stick, say, spare clothing inside a pack on a wet day and know that it’ll stay dry barring complete submersion. Add in all-round, general, lightweight competence and we reckon Mountain Hardwear is onto a UK winner.

Pros

Seriously water resistant, very light, separate hydration sleeve, easy access stash pockets front and sides, surprisingly comfortable.

Cons

Could that main zip be a weak point in deluge conditions, firm back-pad used with overfilled hydration reservoir.

More info: www.mountainhardwear.eu.

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Osprey Kestrel 28: £100 / 1190g

Review

Osprey’s on a decade-long roll when it comes to pack excellence and the latest Kestrel 28 all-round, all-year walking pack is really hard to fault. It looks clean and sleek in a modern way, but more importantly, every detail seems to have been thought through: there are pockets in abundance, three quick stash ones, a lid one and two, super-accessible hip belt pocket big enough for a compact camera, some lightweight gloves or the odd trail snack.

The side-pockets are deep enough to hold a tall Nalgene-type bottle securely, though you can’t remove it with the pack in situ, but a separate hydration sleeve sits between the Airspace back panel and the main pack body – you can refill it without needing to part empty your pack, which is always a bonus.

That back system – vented, ridged foam under spacer mesh backed up with a stiffening board works well too, it gives a little extra venting in summer, but does soak up sweat or rain like a sponge, together with the carefully crafted shoulder and hip straps, it manages a Goldilocks combination of comfort and support that’s hard to fault.

You also get Osprey’s unique Stow-on-the-Go trekking pole stowage system, which means you can tuck your poles securely away without removing your pack if you don’t need them and a simple, but effective single ice-axe loop out back. Or should that be front. There’s an integral rain cover too.

Overall the Kestrel’s a really difficult pack to fault. It’s beautifully made and designed and does everything you need it to. For all-year walking use, it’s very, very hard to beat.

Pros

Top notch build quality, comfort and support, loads of storage pockets, excellent pole-stowing system, it even looks good in a fresh, modern way.

Cons

Nothing really.

More info: www.ospreyeurope.com.

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Osprey Mutant 28: £90 / 1020g

Review

The smaller of Osprey’s two climbing packs – big brother is 38 litres and has a conventional lid format – the Mutant 28 is a light, sleek bag that’s brilliant adapted for technical use, but also could also do double duty for mountain walking if necessary.

The basics are spot on. The snow-repellent reversed mesh back panel is comfortable and supportive, the hip-belt with its minimalist but present fins is more supportive than you might think, but doesn’t foul a harness and the zig-zag compression straps do a good job when the pack’s part filled.

For climbers, general sleekness, simplicity and toughness is complemented by neat features including fold-out helmet carrier – a sort of net that holds the lid on top of the pack – and rope carrier, neat loops on the hip-belt  and simple, effective axe loops which use a new, anodised aluminium bar to hold the axe heads in place.

The top opening is a simple zip-top affair, saving bulk and weight over a conventional lid, but there’s still a handy quasi lid-pocket that’s big enough for a headtorch, snackage and the odd incidental item. The main downsides for non-technical use are simply the lack of easily accessible pockets, there’s nowhere to stash incidentals on the go other than the top pocket and, arguably, the absence of an integrated rain cover.

It’s not a pack we’d buy just for walking, but it works okay in that mode and the streamlined shape and lack of pockets are a boon on scrambles. But if you’re a climber looking for a minimalist daypack for summer, winter and alpine use with light to medium loads, it’s a cracking pack that scores bonus points for that helmet net, carries really well and looks great with it.

Pros

Sleek, light, comfortable and supportive, comprehensive, comprehensive zig-zag compression system, minimal hip-belt, genius helmet carrier, snow-hating spacer mesh, neat ice-tool loops, tough but light build.

Cons

Lacks easy access pockets, no rain-cover, erm…

More info: www.ospreyeurope.com.

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Patagonia Ascensionist 35: £120 / 930g

Review

Patagonia’s Ascensionist packs – there are also 25 and 45-liter versions – is an unashamedly focussed, lightweight technical mountain pack complete with some innovative features. It’s impressively light for its capacity at 930g, but you can also strip out the aluminium stay frame and minimalist hip-belt to save even more take the weight down to around 800g.

Of course you could use it for walking or light packing, but really it would be a waste. Stuff we like include the all fabric back – essentially the whole think is a big bag with straps on and some stiffening – the interesting top opening which give lid-like functionality with reduced complexity and also doubles as a quasi-compression system and the side opening lid pocket zip which reduces the likelihood of spills.

Otherwise things are classically minimal with an interesting hip belt that’s either completely removable or can be reduced to a webbing strap, by stripping off two sliding foam pads, which also carry gear loops.

For all the pack’s minimalism, it actually carries surprisingly well, at least with the aluminium frame in place, settling neatly into the contours of your back. We reckon it’ll go down well with fans of minimalist climbing packs, but for more general use, it would be wasted.

We also missed any sort of hydration system exit port – you can clip a reservoir to a handy loop inside, but there’s nowhere for a tube to exit – and we’d question how durable the lightweight fabric will prove to be with long term abuse – Dyneema would up the strength,but also up the price tag.

Pros

Extremely light, innovative top opening and features, side-opening lid pocket, more comfortable than you’d think, can be stripped down further to save even more weight, most of what you need, none of what you don’t.

Cons

Minimalist, no hydration sleeve or even a tube exit port. How durable is that lightweight fabric in the longer term?

More info: www.patagonia.com.

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Thule Stir 35: £95 / 1030g

Review

Chances are you know Swedish company Thule for its roof racks and associate car accessories, but the brand also produces various outdoor products including a range of three Stir hiking packs with the 35-litre version being the largest.

It’s a quirky, slightly industrial barrel-shaped beast complete with an adjustable back system based on Velcro-fixed pads and an odd fold-over top-opening configuration that looks worryingly vulnerable to rain ingress. Fortunately there’s an integrated rain cover that toggles in place and covers the top half of the pack, with the bottom section apparently waterproof.

There’s also a next to back side-zipped opening to the main compartment if you want fast entry. There’s no lack of pockets including two solid fabrics side ones, two belt pockets – you can remove the belt in seconds if you want, each half is simply Velcro in place, so don’t lose it – and a shoulder strap one plus a cavernous front pocket that will fill with water if it’s left unprotected in the rain.

It’s by no means an awful pack, but you could buy better for the same price and lose the niggles from a core outdoor brand.

Pros

Light, partially waterproof, reasonably comfortable, interesting top opening, side, shoulder, front and hip-belt pockets, adjustable back length.

Cons

Lack of a lid pocket alternative, odd top opening system makes rain cover a necessity in the wet.

More info: www.thule.com.

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Vango Boulder 35: £40 / 1280g

Review

A non-nonsense walking pack at an attractive price, the Boulder 35 isn’t as polished as competitors at twice the price or more, but does a creditable all-round job. We were impressed with the quality fabrics Vango has used, the comprehensive spec and a decently comfortable carry.

The back system, is slightly basic despite the ‘AirForce’ label, but the combination of mesh, a central channel and two fat foam longitudinal pads backed up with a stiff board or plate, works well enough with light to medium loads. That foam does soak up sweat though making it a little cold and clammy in really hot conditions.

Ideally we’d have liked taller side stash pockets and a quick release buckle on the compression strap for easier securing of bottles and bulkier bite valves don’t always thread through the shoulder-strap D-rings, but mostly we’re just impressed with how much you do get for your money. A great value, entry level daypack.

Pros

Impressive fabrics and comprehensive spec including hydration compatibility, axe and pole loops, compression system and lid shock cord attachment.

Cons

Basic back system, limited side-pockets, bulkier hydration bite valves won’t fit through shoulder strap ‘D” guide, foam padding soaks up water

More info: www.vango.co.uk.

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VauDe Brenta 30: £85 / 1100g

Review

VauDe’s latest Brenta is really hard to fault. Not only is it a formidably well-designed pack with more features than  a Sunday newspaper – remember them? – it also has an excellent and uniquely adjustable, trampoline-style ventilated back system.

The latter allows you to tweak the length of the shoulder straps to suit your height/back length simply by unfastening a Velcro-held strap and pulling, but it also has an easy-to-use mechanism to adjust the tension of the suspended mesh to optimise carrying comfort.

It all works surprisingly well and means you can micro-tweak the feel of the pack according to your personal preferences and the weight of your load. Ratchet it up for a firmer feel and a bigger air-gap or slack things off with lighter loads.

The rest of the back system’s good too with narrow, but comfortably padded shoulder straps and a wrap-around waist-belt with integral pockets. Neither of these soak up too much sweat either and dry fast in warm conditions.

The actual pack ticks all the feature boxes with front and side stretch mesh stash pockets, lid pockets inside and out and those handy belt pockets too, but there are some nice additional touches. For example, the webbing straps have elastic loops or plastic brackets to minimise flapping, the side compressions straps feature quick-release buckles so you can stick stuff under them more easily and a central strap can be attached either under the lid for additional compression or just above the main stash pocket for easier adjustment.

Finally there are simply webbing and shock-corded loops for both poles and axes and while it’s very definitely not a climbing pack, it’s nice to know that you can carry a pair of ice-tools if needed.

Overall a really well-developed, ventilated day-pack with sleek looks and unique adjustability that’s really hard to fault.

Pros

Unique adjustability for back system, good fit and support/comfort, plenty of pockets, tethered straps, build quality, quick release compression strap buckles, neat looks and sleek profile.

Cons

Nothing really.

More info: www.vaude.com.

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Nigor Moyo (26L): €99 / 330g

Review

There are lighter packs out there than the Nigor Moyo believe it or not, but they tend to made from flimsy-feeling siliconised Nylon that promises all the longevity of a may fly. The Moyo, by contrast, is 26-litres worth of distinctive ultra-tough, Dyneema fabric – ‘Twice as strong as KEVLAR® and ten times as strong as steel at its weight’ says Nigor. It’s a fabric usually reserved for hard-charging climbing packs.

Other than that, the Moyo is pretty much a structureless bag with a zip-open top, three mesh stash pockets on the outside, one on the inside and minimal space mesh straps with a webbing waist belt and torso strap. Oh, and a shock-cord accessory attachment system.

As with other spartan packs of this type, it demands that the user travels light and packs carefully. That might mean using a sleeping or sit mat to add cushioning to the back system, or a hydration reservoir – though that loses its resilience as it empties – or even just making sure softer items are against the back section.

It’s down to you and, with care, you can produce quite a comfortable carry. What you can’t do is simply chuck things in at random and expect the pack to be comfortable. There’s no lid or lid pocket, so the three stash ones are welcome and handy – they’ll happily take a water bottle, some gloves, the odd bar and so on and you can stick a shell jacket under the shock cord too.

Another huge plus of the structureless bag approach is that you can simply roll the Moyo up and stick it into the lid of a larger pack for travelling use or even, if you’re a big peak mountaineer, as a minimal summit pack. It also makes a very useful impromptu shopping bag…

The only tweaks we’d make would maybe be a hanging strap inside the pack to match the hydration tube outlet and hold the reservoir in place and maybe even a lightweight sleeve that could also house a light, foam pad if you wanted. We chucked in a cut-down piece of dense foam sleeping mat, which, for the sake of a few extra tens of grammes, made the pack significantly more comfortable and useable on those days when you’re packing additional padding anyway.

With care the Moyo can be surprisingly comfortable and useable with light to medium loads with the bonus of significant weight and bulk savings and in what promises to be a deceptively durable package. It won’t appeal to everyone, but if minimalism and weight-saving is your bag then, well, the Moyo might just be your bag too.

Pros

Stupidly light, made from very tough Dyneema fabric, deceptive amounts of stash stowage, rolls down to minimal size, funky Dyneema looks, hydration system compatible.

Cons

Carefully packing and kit selection needed, zero support and minimal comfort, could use a strap or hook to secure a reservoir.

More info: www.nigor.eu.

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Verdict – Our Best Buys

Virtually all the packs we tested do a decent job of carrying your kit for a day on the hill and, as ever, we’d recommend trying for fit before buying, but we’ve picked out a few of our favourites in different categories to help you narrow down your choice.

All-Round Hill And Mountain Walking Use

If you’re after a pack for mostly walking use and don’t anticipate getting involved in any technical mountaineering, our number one pick would be the excellent Osprey Kestrel 28- it’s neatly designed and made, carries exceptionally well all year round and has all the features you could possibly want.

The other all-rounder we’d consider, is the Arc’teryx Kea 37, a slightly larger, weekend-capable pack with a great mix of bombproof construction and an outstanding carry. It’s pricey, but a really impressive pack.

Ventilated Packs

There’s plenty of competition in the ventilated pack market aimed squarely at summer walkers and Berghaus, Lowe Alpine and Osprey with its Atmos – not tested here – all produce impressive trampoline-style packs with suspended mesh back systems, but the one we’d opt for here is the  VauDe Brenta 30 for its all-round competence and uniquely adjustable back system.

All Mountain Packs

If you’re after a single pack for a mix of walking, scrambling and occasional mountaineering use we have two favourites. One is the unusual Boreas Muir Wood 30 which manages to cram a whole lot functionality into a supportive and distinctive package. The other is Montane’s Women’s Yayara 32 – or if you’re a guy, the Medusa, a light but competent mash-up of technical and walking features in a well thought-out design.

An honourable mention to the Mountain Hardwear Rainshadow 26, which excels in the sort of wet conditions that we Brits take for granted thanks to its waterproof OutDry technology.

Technical Climbing Packs

For all-round, year-round use, we’d opt for the Osprey Mutant 28, a slick, light all-rounder with some genius features or possibly it’s big brother the Mutant 38. Climbing minimalists though will love the Patagonia Ascensionist 35 for its stripped-down spartan design.

And for Brits, don’t discount the highly water resistant Force Ten Alpine 35 – a sleek mountain pack with taped seams and an iconic orange colour scheme.

Alternative Packs

Finally, some of the more alternative packs we looked at are simply brilliant in their own way. We loved the whimsical quirkiness of Millican’s Frazer The Rucksack with its mix of canvas-style fabric and entertaining mash-up of retro look and modern features.

Fjällräven’s Kaipak 38 uses similar fabrics, but in a more conventional guise and is a super solid, competent pack. Meanwhile the Nigor Moyo

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