There’s a backpack for every activity, here we test the best for hut-to-hut walks or multi-day walks.
Trekking is a loosely defined term. It can mean anything from walks of a day or two to those beyond a month, so therefore, trekking packs will come in a variety of size. In this roundup, we include backpacks from 35 litres to 60-litre in volume.
What Size Backpack Do I Need?
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.
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. The iPad will have to stay at home! 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.
Fitting a Backpack
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. We’d always recommend trying it on in the shop and, most importantly, with weight in it. If you’re buying it online, make sure you can return it if it’s not to your liking.
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.
Backpack Features To Look Out For
Then it’s time to consider the features and build quality. 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. Over a couple of days, you’ll begin to get into a system of packing that is most efficient.
Nor do I like straps flapping everywhere. They are inevitable when you need to be adjusting the fit continuously, but I prefer them at a minimum. Most of the packs here are compatible with a hydration bladder. They are bought separately and will fit down a little sleeve against the back. There’ll be a little hole for the drinking tube to poke through.
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.
And a final packing tip: pack first for what you’ll need during the day, but also ensure that the heaviest items are around the middle.
There’s an impressive selection of packs here, it’s just finding one that suits your needs best.
Best Backpacks For Hiking
Here are the packs we’ve reviewed. To jump to each one, simply click on the links.
- Osprey Kestrel 58
- Millican Fraser the Rucksack 32L
- Thule Alltrail 35
- Gregory Optic 48
- Jack Wolfskin Highland Trail XT 60
- Patagonia Nine Trails 36L
- Montane Halogen 33
Best Of The Bunch
Fjällräven Abisko Hike 35 (Best in Test)
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
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
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
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
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
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.