There’s a backpack for every activity, here we test the best backpacks for backpacking, hut-to-hut walks or weekend overnights.
Backpacking is a loosely defined term and can mean anything from walks of two days to those beyond a month, so therefore, backpacking packs will come in a variety of sizes. In this roundup, we include the trekking options from 35 litres to 60-litre in volume.
The size depends on your needs of course. If you’re trekking between huts or hostels, especially in warmer weather, a 35-litre backpack will be plenty. The 35L packs reviewed below were perfect for a hostel-to-hostel walk in the Brecon Beacons for example.
Related: Best Hiking Daypacks Reviewed
Ultralight backpackers – the type who chop off half their toothbrush – will also stick to around 35L for longer trips with a tarp or tent outer.
For those who like backpacking with a bit more comfort, or in colder months when you need a heftier sleeping bag, something between 35 and 55 litres should be right. Anywhere beyond that and frankly, you’ve got too much stuff for an enjoyable multi-day trekking trip. Then, anything over 55L should suit anyone heading into areas of wilderness for long periods of time – when there’s little chance of resupplying and you have to carry everything you need in with you.
What Is The Best Backpack For Backpacking?
Once you’ve decided on the size, the next consideration, and the one that you should prioritise above all else, is the comfort. The backpack is going to essentially be your home for a few days; it’s going to get heavy, it’s going to get annoying. It must be comfortable. And the only way to test that is to try it on.
The elements you need to look out for are how it fits your back. Pack it with the equipment you’ll be taking, make sure all the straps are done up – the hipbelt of course, and also the sternum strap across the chest – they all make a surprising difference to fit and weight distribution. Make sure there are no bits that poke you or have the potential to be sore, and that you feel your movement isn’t impeded.
Access is perhaps the next most important thing to think about. Larger packs (45-55L) benefit from an access point at the side or bottom, rather than just the top. The lid too needs to be easy to access and open. Pockets are increasingly scarce on pack models these days – I’m not a fan of superfluous features – but one or two of them are useful to keep wet clothes or food separate and the like.
One of the key things to consider is the type of back system. Is the back flat and padded (how padded is it?) or is there a trampoline mesh ventilation? The latter have a number of obvious benefits but some drawbacks, you can read more about that in our ventilated packs buyer’s guide.
Backpacks are rarely waterproof, although all will have some kind of water-resistant treatment and the fabric will stand up to a fair amount. Several come with rain covers. These are of limited use in very bad wind and rain it’s much better to pack your items in dry bags within the pack first.
This bag will also go through quite a lot. It’ll be thrown down on rocky ground, swung up on one strap, pulled and yanked. It needs to be well built. We’re confident these here will last well.
For more info on the above, check out our in-depth buyer’s guide to backpacking backpacks which was composed by record-breaking long-distance trekker James Forrest.
Best Backpacking Backpacks 2021
- Lowe Alpine Airzone Pro 35:45 – Best Backpacking Backpack
- Fjällräven Keb 52
- Osprey Kestrel 58
- Ortlieb ATrack ST
- Mammut Trion Spine 35
- Osprey Archeon 45
- Lowepro Powder BP 500
- Lowe Alpine Altus 42:47
- Sierra Designs Flex Capacitor
- Gregory Paragon 58
BEST BUY: Lowe Alpine Airzone
Key attributes: Excellent back system, good feature-set
Best for: Hut-to-hut trekking and weekend wild camps.
Our gear testers loved this backpack from Lowe Alpine. The back system, which is made from a seamless mesh, really is excellent. Lowe Alpine have gone for maximum comfort and ventilation with it. At all points of contact across the back and hips there’s a suspended knitted nylon which has a body-mapped weave density to provide differing levels of ventilation, cushioning and support, depending on where each is needed.
This Air Zone panel leaves as much as three inches of space between the main body of the pack and the middle of your back, resulting in a massive gap for airflow. There’s still a slight bit of suspension at the lumbar, but most of the space is filled with a comfy foam padding that feels very ergonomic. There’s then modest padding right around the hipbelt and around and the shoulder straps too, the latter of which use a 3D-style mesh for ventilation.