Best Backpacks For Hiking Reviewed | Top 9 - Outdoors Magic

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Best Backpacks For Hiking Reviewed | Top 9

Hiking Backpacks come in a range of capacities and designs. Here's how to find the best one for your trekking adventure

There’s a backpack for every activity, here we test the best for hut-to-hut walks or multi-day trekking.

Trekking is a loosely defined term and can mean anything from walks of a day or two to those beyond a month, so therefore, hiking packs will come in a variety of sizes. In this roundup, we include the best backpacks 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 our 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 this size 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.

How To Find The Best Backpack For Hiking

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.

Best Backpacks For Hiking

Here are the packs we’ve reviewed. To jump to each one, simply click on the links.

Best Of The Bunch

Fjällräven Abisko Hike 35 (Best in Test)

Price: £140
Weight: 1400g

Fjällräven Abisko Hike 35 looks, at first glance at least, like a traditional backpack. However, a few smart features and characteristics set it apart. The first thing to notice is the material. It’s made from Fjällräven’s G-1000, a hardwearing blend of recycled polyester and organic cotton. The fabric comes pre-waxed for water resistance, but it can be re-waxed to make it even more water resistant. It also feels lovely and soft.

The main compartment is accessed through the top, but I loved the side opening zip that allows access down to the bottom. There’s a large zipped pocket at the front, suitable perhaps for a waterproof jacket. There are pockets too on the inside and outside of the adjustable lid. A side pocket comfortably holds a water bottle for easy access. It has the usual compression straps, and loops for trekking poles yet remains tidy.

On the back, it’s comfortable, with no noticeable hotspots in my tests. The lightweight straps are comfortable. The back panel is pretty solid, but this worked in its advantage. I used this backpack on a winter hostel-to-hostel walk in the Brecon Beacons and found the size and features perfect as I wasn’t carrying a tent or sleeping bags. This size would also work for ultra lightweight backpackers. There are lighter bags for 35 litres, but it’s clearly very well made, and those neat features make it a favourite.

I like the side entrance zip and the large front pocket. It’s also tidy without too many straps flapping around.

It’s not the lightest pack.

Montane Halogen 33

Price: £90
Weight: 880g

Impressively light, effortlessly comfortable, and pleasingly minimal Montane’s Halogen 33 is a winning backpack. It is designed for long winter days on the mountain or lighter overnight trips, perhaps staying in huts or bivvying. For full camping kit, you’d need something more substantial.

It is designed to be as versatile as possible, and that includes crossing seasons. So what we’ve got is the tough ‘RAPTOR Geo’ fabric that stands up to tough weather conditions, as well as a ventilated back system for summer. The material has a Durable Water Repellant (DWR) treatment too and the interior has a waterproof lining.

It’s a slimline ‘Alpine’ style pack, with less of the annoying straps and flaps that some backpacks have. Another consequence of this slim backpack is that there is almost no restriction in movement at all. The flexible back helps because it moves with the body.

Other features include pockets on the hipbelts, a brilliantly-named ‘baguette pocket’ that is a long stretchy pocket either side, great for stuffing, well, stuff. There is also a stowable attachment for walking poles or an ice axe. The lid has a pocket on the top and underneath. On the back, it’s comfortable, although we found it hangs quite low down. It didn’t affect comfort though.

A good price for a versatile all-season backpack. Allows free movement. Lightweight.

Seemed to hang quite low at the back, but not uncomfortably.

Patagonia Nine Trails 36L

Price: £160
Weight: 1357g

At first glance, this looks like another backpack-by-numbers, but once you start packing it, a number of quirky features become apparent. Plus there are several construction elements that set the Nine Trails apart from other backpacks, not least of all the use of Cordura material for the main body, an exceptionally strong fabric. It should last for years.

It’s not waterproof but has a PU finish and a DWR treatment meaning water will fall off it. This is the 36-litre version of the backpack designed, as Patagonia says, for ‘extra-long days and minimalist overnight missions’. I’d say that’s accurate. However, the Nine Trails does seem larger than many of the similar-billed backpacks.

Once loaded, the padded bottom of the backpack is square, meaning it often stands up without too much trouble, an elegant feature; bags that regularly fall over can become an annoyance. Another appealing feature is the long zip access point down the side, providing access to the seat of the pack. It’s a two-way zip so you can open it from the bottom too (it’s characteristics like these that set backpacks apart).

The back system is pretty stiff but very comfortable, and the whole pack moves well with the body. A lot of thought seems to have gone into the ventilating back system, but we’re never sure how effective it is. It’s especially comfortable which is the main thing.

At the front is a large stretch pocket for throwing in wet clothes or shoes; however, the main closure buckles are also attached within in the pocket. Although the straps poke out the top, it can become a minor irritant when you need to fish them out. Another niggle is that the buckles on the compression straps are the same size as the main straps, and I occasionally got them confused. However, these are minor in an otherwise fantastically made and well-designed pack. Available in two sizes: small/medium and large/extra large.

The square, padded bottom stands upright. Well constructed with a long-lasting fabric.

The main straps buckles are in a fiddly position. Not the lightest.

Jack Wolfskin Highland Trail XT 60

Price: £180
Weight: 2220g

Jack Wolfskin’s Highland Trail XT 60 is designed for multi-day backpacking trips where you’ll be carrying your tent and food with you. At 60 litres, and expandable for another five litres, it’s not for ultra-light backpackers, but for those who either like to carry plenty of kit for comfortable nights or who are venturing deep into wilderness for long periods.

Once a backpack goes over around 30 litres, access points become more and more necessary. Jack Wolfskin’s Highland Trail XT 60 has them in abundance.

It’s classic top-loading rucksack with two separate compartments. We like the long zip at the side that curves around towards the bottom of the backpack allowing easy access. There’s a separate section at the bottom for wet clothes and the like, but it can be opened up to one big compartment. There’s another large pocket at the front. The lid has a pocket on the outside and underside, and there are mesh pockets either side, plus a zipped map pocket on the side. Although we would have liked them deeper.

Other features include ice-axe straps, walking pole stows and compression straps around the side and the bottom. For us, it’s a little overkill on the straps: minimalist it isn’t.

The fit can be adjusted for your back reasonably quickly, but the cushioning always felt a little odd to me – not uncomfortable, just different! Definitely worth trying on in the shop. The fabric seems very durable, but overall it’s quite a heavy pack.

Seems durable, good access to the main compartment.

Lots of flapping straps and the back cushioning felt a little odd. Heavy.

Salewa Alptrek 50

Price: £145
Weight: 1800g

Salewa is a company born in the Alps, and since 1955 it’s been known for making backpacks. No pressure then. The Alptrek 50 (+5) is undeniably alpine in its style, in that it has a slim profile. It’s designed for multi-day alpine treks and has features including trekking or ice axe attachments and a rope fastener. Somewhat traditional, but then things get a bit more curious. It’s a top loading pack and has a zipped access point at the bottom – as you would hope for a 50-litre pack. Then there are two huge zipped pockets on either side that extend the entire length of the backpack. Big enough for tent poles, or perhaps wet clothes.

The pockets require two zips. It’s not something I’ve seen before, but I can certainly see the advantage, especially if you’ve planned your packing well. A minor niggle is that opening the zips on the side pockets and the lower access zip means you need to undo the compression straps.

The back system is simple, well padded and very comfortable. I didn’t experience any hotspots – no complaints at all. This is a well-constructed pack that I’d enjoy using on long-distance treks.

I like the zipped side pockets, and it’s also comfortable over long distances.
Having to undo compression straps to access pocket. Not a biggie.

Gregory Optic 48

Price: £185
Weight: 1120g

One of the categories that backpacks tend to fall into is how the back is constructed. The first is usually a stiff but flexible piece of plastic that moves with the back. The second is a stiffer frame that curves away from the back allowing a good amount of ventilation.

Gregory’s Optic 48 falls into the latter category. There are pros and cons of both of them. The frame offers a lot of ventilation and spreads the weight well, but the wire frame eats into the backpack’s main space and getting things out of the bottom can be trickier. Gregory’s Optic 48 back does carve into the main space a fair bit and would benefit from an access point towards the bottom. As for the fit, well, when it is the right size, it’s comfortable.

The suspension system noticeably dissipates weight, helped by the sprung lumbar pad. But be sure to try this one out and get the right fit. My men’s version came in a medium and large. I also like the fact the frame could be removed if you wanted to strip the weight.

It has a couple of prominent features. Firstly the floating lid is removable, making it more versatile for different length trips. Secondly, you can reach the water bottle when stowed (a rare feature!), and I liked the large stretch mesh pocket at the front. There’s even a quick stow sunglasses point on the harness.

An extra thing to note is that it comes with a rain cover.

When it fits, it’s very comfortable. The suspension and lumbar pad spread the load effectively.

Some may not like the wire back system. Would benefit from an opening at the bottom.

Thule AllTrail 35

Price: £120
Weight: 1260g

Thule’s designers make smart luggage and packs. The details tend to be really well thought out and genuinely useful. Thule tend not to fall into the trap of solving a problem when there really isn’t one.

The AllTrail 35 is designed to be a multi-activity pack, a versatile load bearer. The 35-litre size is just right for long winter day walks and lightweight hut-to-hut walks when you’re not carrying a tent. And in true Thule style, it’s not quite like anything else we’ve tested. The main difference is the opening that is zipped across the back and top of the bag. The zips extend about halfway down the side of the bag, allowing it to open right up.

Inside are two mesh pockets, one for smaller valuables and another to hide away dirty underwear (or something). The compression straps close over the zip which is a little niggle.

The back system is a thin, barely noticeable frame, and the bag sits snugly against the back. The back length can also be adjusted very easily. QAs you’re walking, it moves well with the body without any obstruction. The wide hipbelt is comfortable and will take off a decent load when heavy.

Wide zipped opening with easy access. Easy to organise gear. Very comfortable.

A minor niggle, but the compression straps fasten over the main zip.

Millican Fraser The Rucksack 32L

Price: £145
Weight: 1300g

Millican is a company based in the Lake District that makes beautiful, classic looking backpacks but with thoroughly modern features. Fraser the Rucksack 32L is one of the smallest rucksacks here and is best suited to long day walks or a short hut-to-hut jaunt in summer. That said, it’s quite spacious.

The opening is wider than most here, and it’s quite stunted allowing easy access to the bottom. There’s a drawstring closure with a fold-down lid. I was concerned that the rain would enter, but it’s pretty well protected. The ‘Bionic Canvas’ helps too. It’s not 100 per cent waterproof (none of the bags here are), but it stands up to most deluges.

The real advantage of the material is its strength, and combined with the careful construction, this should last for years (I’ve have had one for years actually). The features are minimal with two large side pockets that can either be used with a flip lid or not. There’s a hidden zip pocket in one. There is another, well hidden, small stash pocket in the back and accessed from the outside, and pockets in the hip belt.

It’s comfortable on – I wore it for a couple of days trekking in Iceland and found it wonderful. The removable hipbelt does take some of the weight, but it’s not designed as it would be for heavier loads. A lovely bag that will last.

Durable material and very well constructed. Comfortable.

Really just designed for day walks.

Osprey Kestrel 58

Price: £150
Weight: 1760g

Osprey has been one of the leaders in backpacks and luggage since it launched in California in 1974. Today, the company produce dozens of versions. The Kestrel 58 is designed for long-distance backpacking. You should be able to fit everything you need in here for a good week or two on the trail with full camping equipment.

Longer periods on the trail mean that the planning of your packing needs to get pretty good. The Kestrel, and the Kyte which is the pack designed specifically for women, has an abundance of features that make organisation simple. There’s the traditional top lid, but almost the whole bag can be zipped  open in a big U shape. There’s also a separately accessed section at the bottom. A removable divider separates it from the main compartment.

We also like the large pocket at the front which is made from a durable material. There are two large side pockets, plus the usual trekking pole attachments and compression straps.

It’s brilliantly comfortable too, really good. There are two sizes so make sure you get the right length, but none of our testers had any issues with it.

A well designed, solidly-made backpack for long trails.

Well designed, very comfortable, large front opening. Fairly light.

No separate sleeve for a hydration bladder.

Lowe Alpine Altus

Brand new for 2019, the Altus is a pack from Lowe Alpine that should be ideal for medium-sized trekking adventures, the kind where you might be off for one single overnight trip, or going from hut-to-hut on a trail.

Despite getting the opportunity to try it out during a day trip in the Alps at the end of last summer I haven’t been able to properly test it out over some mileage. Still, in that short testing period it definitely came across as a quality pack, and I think it’ll be one to watch out for. So that’s why I’ve included it in this round-up. We’ll update this with a more comprehensive assessment soon. – Will Renwick, OM Editor.

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