Backpacking packs for hiking will come in a variety of sizes. In this roundup, we include the trekking options from 28 litres to 60 litres 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. Some will even go as low as 28-litres – see the Rab Aeon Ultra in this list if that’s your bag.
For those who like backpacking with a bit more comfort, or in colder months when you need a heftier sleeping bag and sleeping mat, 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 Hiking Backpack for Backpacking and Trekking?
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.
Our Team’s Best Hiking Backpacks for 2023
Here’s the list of the best hiking and trekking backpacks we’ve come across following our extensive testing and reviewing throughout the mountains of the UK.
Best Overall Backpacking Backpack: Lowe Alpine Cholatse
Best Ultralight Backpack: Rab Aeon Ultra 28L
Best Backpack for Big Loads: Arc’teryx Bora 65
Best Waterproof Backpack: Ortlieb Atrack 35
Best Value Backpack: Sierra Designs Flex Capacitor
Best Overall Backpacking Backpack
Lowe Alpine Cholatse 42:47
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.