Best Backpacks For Hiking 2021 - Outdoors Magic

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Best Backpacks For Hiking 2021

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

Backpacking is a loosely defined term and can mean anything from walks of two days to those beyond a month, so therefore, backpacking packs for hiking 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.

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 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.

OM testers Joy and Giles trialling two packs from Osprey. Photo: Chris Johnson

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 Backpacks For Hiking 2021

Here’s the list of the best trekking backpacks we’ve come across following our extensive testing and reviewing throughout the mountains of the UK.

  • Lowe Alpine Cholatse 42:47 – Best Backpacking Backpack
  • Fjällräven Keb 52
  • Osprey Kestrel 58
  • Ortlieb ATrack ST
  • Mammut Trion Spine 35
  • Osprey Archeon 45
  • Lowepro Powder BP 500
  • Arc’teryx Aerios 30
  • Sierra Designs Flex Capacitor
  • Gregory Paragon 58

 

BEST BUY: Lowe Alpine Cholatse 42:47

Price: £140
Weight: 1.77kg
Key attributes: Excellent carry comfort, feature-packed
Best for: Summer wild camps, hut-to-hut trekking, winter day hikes

Lowe Alpine’s Cholatse 42:27 is a tough old bag. With its high denier ripstop nylon throughout, you don’t need to worry about it ripping on a stray branch, that’s for sure.

What we really love about it, however, is its versatility. It’s the kind of pack that’s ideal for weekend wild camps or hut-to-hut treks, but then it’ll also serve well as a day pack – whether that’s in winter or summer.

The carry system involves a thermo-moulded back pad, slightly raised mesh, soft foams across the hipbelt and shoulders and a supportive PU sponge lumbar. There’s also around 6 inches of length variation, giving you the potential for what’s pretty much a custom fit. This coupled with the sliding back panel, harness adjustment and forward pull hipbelt, makes for a backpack that can be tweaked for a real custom fit. When you’re working with different volumes, you’ve also got adjustment straps across the bag to help it grow or shrink depending on the load you’re carrying.

As for access to the main compartment, you can either dive in through the drawcord sealed top, or you can open up the buckles and big U-zip across the front of the pack to have duffle bag-like access, thus saving you having to dig around for items. There’s plenty of pocket space too, including a large overlid one, an underlid pocket, the stretchy zipped pockets on the hipbelt, the stash pocket and more.

Other useful details include tip grippers for trekking poles, an ice axe head locker, a little key clip, an emergency whistle on the sternum, reflective details, daisy chain loops that you could, say, hang your climbing gear on and then stowed at the base you’ve got a waterproof cover.

Full Specifications

High-denier ripstop nylon / stretch mesh side pockets / thermo-moulded back pad / supportive PU sponge lumbar in the hipbelt and shoulders / drawcord sealed top lid access / duffle bag-like access / hipbelt pockets / water bladder pouch / big stash pocket / multiple size options / men’s and women’s options / adjustment straps / sliding back panel /tip grippers / ice axe head locker / key clip / emergency whistle / reflective details / daisy chain loops / rain cover.

Selected for the Outdoor 100 2021/22. Read our full Lowe Alpine Cholatse review.

Get the latest price at:
rab.equipment

 

Fjällräven Keb 52

Price: £265
Weight: 2260g

The Keb 52 from Fjällräven is a real thing of beauty. The eco-friendly G1000 provides excellent water resistance, on top of long term durability. You’ve then got the Bergshell fabric which is made from recycled nylon to further boost the Keb’s eco credentials. A final eco note for the Keb is the use of a wooden frame which, according to Fjällräven, reduces CO2 emissions during the bag’s production by 90%.

Photo: Chris Johnson
Photo: Chris Johnson

This unique wooden frame is easily adjusted to suit a variety of back lengths, whilst also providing padding and a touch of ventilation. This is all required for when you’re using the pack to its full 52 litre potential. It’s this size that make the Keb 52 the ideal pack for hiking the West Highland Way, or just weekend camping trips.

There are open side pockets for a water bottle or other small items you need access to quickly, two fairly sizeable zipped pockets on the hipbelt which provide a decent amount of weather protection, one big U-shaped pocket on the front, and then a zipped overlid pocket and small underlid one that stores the detachable rain cover.

Full Specifications

Durable G-1000 HeavyDuty Eco S / recycled polyester and organic cotton / base and sides in waterproof Bergshell fabric made from recycled nylon / unique wooden frame reduces CO2 emissions by 90% / attachment points for skis and ice axes/poles

Selected for the Outdoor 100 2019/20 – read our full Fjällräven Keb 52 Backpack review

Get the latest price at:
fjallraven.co.uk

Osprey Kestrel 48

Price: £150
Weight: 1760g

The Kestrel and women’s specific Kyte series of backpacks have become Osprey’s most popular models for hiking. Available in a range of capacities from 36 – 68 litres, meaning that they’ll be a model to fit the activities you’re planning. The size we’ve included in this top 10 is the Kestrel 58 – the kind of size you’d want for hiking a long-distance trail with – say, the Pennine Way, or even the Pacific Crest Trail.

Photo: Chris Johnson
Photo: Chris Johnson

As you’d expect from a pack this size, there’s a big compartment with different access points to aid finding that bit of tucked away gear that little bit easier. These include a toggled drawstring entry at the top, a zip that opens up the entire base, and then a long U-shaped zip across the whole of its front. It’s a floating lid design so there’s also that added volume up top for those really big loads.

Full Specifications

AirScape backpanel / integrated & detachable raincover / U-Zip suitcase opening on front panel / stow-on-the-go trekking pole attachment / PowerMesh dual access water-bottle pockets / front shove-it pocket

Selected for the Outdoor 100 2019/20 – Here’s our full Osprey Kestrel 58 review

Get the latest price at:
webtogs.com

 

Ortlieb Atrack 35

Price: £177
Weight: 1560g

The Ortlieb Atrack 35 is a fully waterproof backpack ideally suited towards activities where you’re planning on taking a soaking, whether that be in rivers, lakes, oceans or just on hilltops: Trekkers, bikepackers, ski-tourers, kayakers and packrafters, arguably for the first time ever, have a backpack they can all genuinely rally behind.

Photo: Chris Johnson
Photo: Chris Johnson

A long waterproof zip is located on the back of the pack opens the bag up like a duffel, allowing you to get a look inside before picking out what’s needed. Internally, there are four zippered pockets on the Atrack while on the outside there are two net pockets perfectly suited for water bottle storage.

The adjustable back panel is simple, but effective, and means that no matter your height you’ll be able to create a setup that feels compatible.

Full Specifications

Tear resistant nylon fabric / 4 zippered inside pockets / adjustable back panel / ergonomic shoulder straps / two outside net pockets / daisy chains on the front / 4 compression belts

Selected for the Outdoor 100 2019/20 – Here’s our full Ortlieb ATrack ST review

Get the latest price at:
ortlieb.com

 

Mammut Trion Spine 35

Price: £250
Weight: 2120g

The focus on the all new Trion Spine 35 from Mammut is in its carrying stability whilst moving through complex climbing and scrambling terrain. Mountaineering packs without much in the way of carrying stability sometimes feel like they rock side to side, leading to the feeling that it’s pulling you off the wall, or conversely it can make your movement feel completely restricted.

Photo: Chris Johnson
Photo: Chris Johnson

Mammut’s Active Spine technology looks to combat this unwanted instability and discomfort through the use of a lightweight rod that connects two pivot points located near the shoulders and on the waist.

A large U shaped opening similar to that of a duffel means that you’ll be able to organise and retrieve all of your kit with the pack fully opened up, rather than the classic situation of blindly diving into your pack via the top hood to reach your gear.

Full Specifications

Mammut Connect / Active Spine Technology supports a natural gait / suspension system can be adjusted / 2-layer EVA back padding / hip belt and shoulder straps with stretch fabric cover / 2 ice axe attachments / trekking pole carrier

Selected for the Outdoor 100 2019/20 – Here’s our full Mammut Trion Spine 35 review

Get the latest price at:
mammut.com

 

Osprey Archeon 45

Price: £220
Weight: 2.2kg

Osprey describes the Archeon 45 pack as a versatile backpacking, travel, cragging and day hiking load carrier. It certainly has enough features to fulfil all of those uses, and the 45-litre capacity swallows everything from climbing gear to travel accessories.

What’s more, there are a bunch of eco efforts on display by the popular pack makers here, with recycled materials utilised as well as a deliberate absence of any environmentally harmful PFCs.

Though the Archeon has visual echoes of those trusty old rucksacks from the 1960s and 70s, it incorporates plenty of the features you expect from a modern pack. That includes an adjustable and ventilated mesh back panel, a detachable rain cover (which is also made from recycled materials), dual access stretch side pockets, an internal mesh pocket and twin zipped hipbelt pockets. It’s also compatible with hydration systems thanks to an internal reservoir sleeve.

Full Specifications

Available in men’s and women’s fits / sizes: S/M and L/XL / three colours / PFC-free DWR coating / 100% recycled fabrics / adjustable AirScape backpanel / floating lid / also available in smaller and larger capacities.

Selected for our Green Gear Guide – read our full Osprey Archeon 45 review.

Get the latest price at:
ospreyeurope.com

 

Lowepro Powder BP 500

Price: £310
Weight: 2400g

Photography and videography kit needs to be taken seriously. It’s worth a pretty penny and time in the outdoors can put a lot of stress on it. This is where camera specific hiking and climbing packs come in to safely transport your equipment around the mountains. The Powder Backpack from Lowepro offers up a dreamy balance of lightweight performance with secure, reassuring, camera carry; all wrapped up in the body of an alpine backpack. It’ll take your pro-level DSLR, with attached grip, plus two-four lenses. On top of this, it’s also capable of carrying a full size tripod.

Photo: Chris Johnson
Photo: Chris Johnson

Aside from all this carrying power, there is a main compartment that is dedicated towards non-camera storage, where you’ve got enough room to hold gear for an overnight summer camping trip.

As well as the supreme weight-to-padding balance, the secure / hidden access to the camera compartment, and the versatile space it provides, it’s also well worth mentioning that the Powder Backpack from Lowepro comes with a cover that will effectively protect your gear from rain, snow, dust and sand.

Full Specifications

Fits Standard DSLR and Pro Mirrorless cameras and lenses / 50% of interior dedicated to non-camera storage / ski and snowboard carry system / dedicated slat pocket holds up to 15-inch laptop

Selected for the Outdoor 100 2019/20 – Here’s our full Lowepro Powder Backpack review

Get the latest price at:
lowepro.com

 

Arc’teryx Aerios 30

Price: £160
Weight: 900g

The Aerios 30L is an ultralight pack designed to serve day hikes right throughout the year, but it also has the capability to stretch to overnighters too. It’s made from an incredibly tough ripstop nylon with durable Cordura threads. The main fabric is additionally waterproof and there’s a liquid crystal polymer mesh too. We wouldn’t say the whole bag is waterproof though, as the seams and zips might let in some water if there’s non-stop rain all day.

The pack’s supported by an S-shaped internal frame-sheet and this can be removed with a bit of fiddling around if you want to strip the weight back even further. Against your back, there’s an Aeroform pack panel that’s essentially foam padding with a slightly raised mesh. Indents and ridges across this panel bring some nice ventilation to proceedings.

As we’ve come to expect from Arc’teryx, there’s plenty to talk about on the features front. There’s an immense amount of pockets to choose from here but our favourites are the stretchy mesh pocket on the hipbelt, the handy zipped pocket on the body of the bag for bulky gloves or other small items and the two large mesh pockets with cord-controlled volume adjustment on the sides. These could easily fit a roll mat, crampons and even some solo tents, basically expanding the capacity of this pack far beyond the stated 30 litres.

Full Specifications

Ripstop nylon / Cordura threads / liquid crystal polymer mesh / waterproof fabric / best-like harness system / wide panels / double sternum bungee / S-shaped internal frame sheet / Aeroform back panel / multiple pocket options / loops and toggles throughout / main top compartment / tall version available.

Selected for the Outdoor 100 2021/22. Read our full Arc’teryx Aerios 30 review.

Get the latest price at:
arcteryx.com

 

Sierra Designs Flex Capacitor 40L-60L

Price: £165
Weight: 1200g

Sierra Designs Flex Capacitor 40L-60L is a pack designed by none other than Andrew Skurka. In case you’ve not heard of him, he’s basically King of the Backpackers over in the States. As its name suggests, this thing flexes, with six compression straps and a big gusset across the front that allow the carrier to switch it from a 40L to a 60L and cater for all the sizes in-between as well. There are a bunch of other useful materials and features too.

The main fabric used throughout the bag is a 100D and 420D ripstop nylon/polyester. This is certainly durable enough to withstand the demands of life on the trail. It’s also got an impressive water resistance to it. Bear in mind it isn’t waterproof though; this coupled with the potential flashpoint at the top zip, means you’d be sensible to use dry bags for your kit inside.

Lots of pockets. There are two stretch mesh ones on the sides which can each easily take a water bottle and can be used while you’re on the move, then there are two other stretchy pockets on the shoulder straps which are handy for keeping something like your phone or GPS. The hipbelt has two large zipped pockets either side of it and finally, you also have one small zipped pocket on the lid which is only really big enough to take items like a map, guidebook or phone.

Bear in mind that the torso comes in multiple sizes – and the hipbelt comes in different sizes too.

Full Specifications

Expandable 40-60L volume (volume varies between sizes) / 2 torso sizes (non-adjustable) / 4 hip belt sizes / U-shaped top access zipper / Zippered stash pocket on lid / removable reservoir sleeve / shoulder strap water bottle pocket / stretch mesh side water bottle pockets / two hip belt pockets / compression straps / ice axe/trekking pole loop / body fabric: 100D Nylon-Poly Ripstop / secondary Fabric: 420D Nylon Oxford.

Selected for the Outdoor 100 2020/21 – read our full Sierra Designs Flex Capacitor review

Get the latest price at:
webtogs.com

Gregory Paragon 58

Price: £160
Weight: 1600g

The Gregory Paragon 58 has been designed to be used over long distances in different weather conditions. Over these long distances, you want airflow on your back – this is where Gregory have hit the nail on the head. The Matrix ventilation system on the Paragon 58 has to be one of the best examples of spot on ventilation. Its foam structure is surrounded by a breathable mesh which channels cool air where you need it, and allows moisture to escape. You’ll be thankful for this feature when you’re trekking about in hot conditions.

A fully adjustable shoulder harness and hipbelt that actively adapts to different shapes gives a great level of comfort, with an ideal fit. As a consequence of this, load balance is maintained with the Paragon 58. Whilst we’re speaking of comfort, a quick shout-out for the innovative internal wire frame (made of aluminium alloy) which effectively channels the load to the strongest part of your spinal column (aka ‘the lumbar region’). Twisting and turning in-sync with the wearer, the frame helps to keep things stable.

Full Specifications

Aerolon adjustable torso / matrix breathable backpanel / gription lumbar pad / die-cut dual density shoulder harness / sternum strap with hydration clip / sunglass QuickStow system on shoulder harness for quick, secure / scratch-free access to your shades.

Selected for the Outdoor 100 2019/20 – Here’s our full Gregory Paragon 58 review

Get the latest price at:
webtogs.com

Other Hiking Backpacks We’ve Rated In 2021

Vaude Assymetric 52+8 Backpack

Price: £160
Weight: 1.60kg

In recent years, Vaude have made a huge push into using recycled materials and this, the Vaude Assymetric backpack, is an excellent example of their brilliant efforts.

Not only does it use a PFC-free durable water repellent treatment but a large proportion of the pack is made from recycled plastic bottles. The second face fabric, for instance, is made from 50% recycled polyester and then there’s a recycled PU coating featured throughout. It’s not flimsy either. These materials all feel quite light but they’re still durable enough for the demands of life on the trail.

The internal frame is tennis racquet shaped – wider at the top of the pack and narrow at the bottom – to channel weight from the shoulders down to the hips and it can actually be removed if you’re being really strict with your gram count, bringing the pack’s weight down from 1600g to about 1300g – firmly in ultralight territory then. The sliding sternum strap is also removable, as well as the floating top lid.

The main compartment can be accessed underneath the floating top lid, through the base or via a big U-shaped zip across the front of the pack. There’s also a zipped internal divider at the base so you can keep your sleeping equipment separate from the rest of your kit. Other pockets include one overlid compartment with a large internal mesh pocket and key clip, one long pocket on the front of the pack that you can just about stuff a light waterproof jacket inside, two on the hipbelt and two stretchy side pockets.

The daisy chain webbing on the front gives the potential to clip extra gear onto this if you want to. You also have two bungees for trekking poles, plus one single loop to hold the tips of your poles or the head of an ice axe.

Selected for the Green Gear Guide 2021. Read our full Vaude Assymetric review.

Get the latest price at:
vaude.com

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.

Get the latest price at:
webtogs.com

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.

Get the latest price at:
eu.patagonia.com

 

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.

Get the latest price at:
thule.com

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.

Get the latest price at:
blackleaf.com

 

 

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