Large Rucksacks

With larger rucksacks it’s not just about long-haul voyages: larger packs are also good for family days out, when you’re packing picnic materials plus a bunch of coats and jumpers that (with any luck) you might not even need during the day. Our buyers guide highlights some of the key things to consider when looking for the best larger capacity rucksack.

 

WHAT TO LOOK FOR

CAPACITY

How much can it carry, and where do you put it? Some packs have one vast compartment, others as many as eight, including tiny hidden cubbyholes. Having more storage areas spreads the weight and makes it easier to find things in a hurry (assuming you can remember where you put them, of course).

OPENING

Most larger packs use a buckle-closing lid and a drawcord to close the main compartment, rather than zips as used on smaller packs. This makes it easier to open the pack wide and stuff in bulky items. Some packs also allow zipped access to the main compartment from the bottom or front of the pack.

POCKETS

There should be side pockets for flask or bottle, and there are usually pockets in the lid. Hip-belt pockets help you access a phone or GPS easily without taking the pack off, and you may find a stretchy flap on the front for quick stashing.

BACK SYSTEM

At this size, most packs offer a suspended system which pushes the load away from your back, dispersing the weight and allowing air to circulate, preventing your back from getting sweaty. Some walkers feel that this affects their balance, however, and may prefer a simple padded back.

HYDRATION

Almost all these packs have space for a hydration system. When trying them on, ask if the store can provide you with a full reservoir so you can see how it affects the weight and storage.

HARNESS

Shoulder straps should be well padded to prevent rubbing, but also have a degree of breathability to stop moisture buildup. Most packs have a fixed harness with straps for adjustability, but some offer a sliding harness which can expand or contract to give a perfect fit for your height.

WET STUFF

Some larger packs have ‘basement’ compartments for storing shoes or wet gear. Often the dividing panel can be removed if you just want to extend the main compartment.

 

THE KNOWLEDGE

THE EXPANDABLES

Many of these packs claim to be expandable; always check whether this means just some extra hidden pockets or a fully expandable pack – which usually means a floating lid which can be lifted up while you unfurl the bag to its fullest height, or a sack-like interior which rolls out when needed.

EEK! IT RIPPED!

Seam seal tape works best as it’s waterproof, but duct tape should serve. Clean the tear inside and out, dry it and fill the pack so the fabric is at full stretch. Cut tape into a circle (to prevent it snagging and pulling off) and lay over exterior of tear. Empty the pack and apply another circle of tape to the interior. Should be good to go.

WHAT SIZE?

Many of these packs are sold in several lengths (and some come in a range of capacities, if you like the style but need something smaller/bigger). A good gear store will check your back length before selling you one. Alternatively, Osprey provide a handy Pack Sizer app which uses your phone’s camera to match you to one of their rucksacks.

Compact Rucksacks

The humble racksack has come a long way since someone first had the bright idea of fixing two straps to a sack and slinging it over their shoulders. We expect more from a daypack these days, but the essential requirement is the same. They must comfortably carry all the necessities of walking life, whatever the weather. In summer this means plenty of water, sun protection, and more often than not, waterproofs.  Aside from capacity, what makes one backpack different from another? It really is a case of horses for courses (or rather packs for backs), some are featured-packed and fully adjustable, while others are trimmed down to the bare essentials. Then there are those which find a happy balance. Comfort, fit, durability, weight and stability are all things to consider when buying a rucksack, not to mention an array of features too. So whatever your needs, our buyers guide should ensure you get the best compact rucksack.

 

WHAT TO LOOK FOR

SMART STORAGE

Versatile storage lets you pack efficiently, organising your kit into the extra pockets and pouches, with the essentials close at hand. Stretchy pouches are great for stowing unwanted layers and some rucksacks have extra zips for getting at things stored at the bottom. Most packs also include a pouch for a hydration system (bladder), keeping the weight of the water close to the back. Likewise, most designs have loops for walking poles.

STABILITY & BALANCE

A stable, balanced pack is more comfortable to wear and most packs include straps for optimising fit and stability. A hip belt takes weight off the upper back, while a sternum (chest) strap ensures the shoulder straps sit comfortably on the shoulders. Compression straps keep the contents of a pack compact and close to the back, while load lifters let you move this weight closer or further from the upper back. 

HARNESS

For optimum comfort, a pack should sit stably on your back, with the padded hip belt and shoulder straps hugging your body, spreading the weight between the upper and lower back. Ask if you can try on a weighted pack in store to get a real feel for fit, cushioning and stability. 

BACK SYSTEM

A back system like this uses grooves and gaps in mesh-covered foam padding to allow airflow. Keeping weight flat to the back, the load is spread more efficiently across the flexible panel. Some packs use a concave frame or panel to suspend a mesh, creating a better ventilated air space. However, this pushes the load away from the back and can infringe on internal space.

WEATHERPROOFING

Few rucksacks are truly waterproof – it’s tricky to seal up every seam and opening – but most are water resistant and many come with a waterproof raincover. These aren’t totally foolproof however. A squally downpour will inevitably find a way inside, usually through the open gap between back and pack. Many prefer using a waterproof drysack or drybags to line the inside of their rucksack.

FINE-TUNED FIT

For a closer fitting harness, some rucksacks come in different back lengths. Most packs are unisex, but some models are optimised for women. Female-fit packs accommodate the hips, bust and narrower shoulders for a more comfortable and stable fit, but many women prefer unisex designs.

TOP TIPS

  • Hip belt pockets are great for snacks, wallets and phones.
  • Zips give quick and easy access, but a drawcord and lid combo is more durable and weather resistant.
  • Some chest straps include a safety whistle.

Soft Shell Trousers

With colder months coming, it’s time to swap the light, flappy, insect-repellent trousers of summer for something a bit more resilient. In this guide we’ll consider the whole range of options for autumn and winter walking. You’ll find a range of approaches from sleek soft shell to super-toughened combat pants. All of them are windproof and water-repellent: they won’t all keep your legs dry in persistent rain, but they will hold off a shower and dry out sharpish afterwards. And some of them are very surprisingly light. Obviously everyone’s legs are different and trousers tend to be the hardest product in which to get an accurate fit given the idiosyncrasies of leg, waist, rear defensive padding and muscle structure. Our buyers guide will help you find the best softshell walking trousers for your outdoor adventures.

 

WHAT TO LOOK FOR

 

WATER RESISTANCE

Most of these pairs will hold off light rain thanks to a DWR finish (Durable Water Repellent). They won’t keep you as dry as a full pair of waterproof overtrousers, but they should stop your legs from getting too cold and wet, and dry out quickly afterwards. Plus they’re less faffy and more stylish than the dreaded overtrousers anyway.

WARMTH

A few of these pairs come with a warm inner lining for deep-winter walks. Just make sure they can also cool down when you need them to – a zipped vent down the side can help with that. 

STRETCH

The stretchier the face fabric, the more it will move with your legs, allowing them to flex more freely on steep ascents. Stretch tends to add cost, but is almost always worth the investment.

REINFORCEMENT

Look for toughened sections around the knees, seat and ankles, which will help you tackle rocky or prickly sections of your walks with confidence. You can be just as grateful for reinforced hems in the brambles of the New Forest as you can on the crags of Cumbria.

ANKLE CUFF

Trousers for winter are usually designed to close tightly over the tops of your boots, so they are often tapered and use a fastener (either a Velcro strap or buttons) to seal out water, mud and wind. This tends to cut down on their social chic.

SIZING

Most pairs come in Short, Regular and Long leg as well as the usual waist sizes – but we do find curious discrepancies between waist measurements. Some 34s are generous on Nick; some make him feel he needs to diet badly. Again – try before you buy.

FIT

Standard walking trousers tend to have quite a loose, relaxed fit, but these winter pairs are sharper, leaner and more fitted. This means that trying them first is very important before you buy – even if it’s a pair we love.

POCKETS

Most winter trousers skimp
on pockets to minimise the risk of water ingress. Most have very shallow hip pockets; a few offer cargo pockets, but make sure you can seal them effectively in a downpour.

 

ADVICE

 

CARGO QUANDARY

If there’s a cargo pocket, question what you’d put in it, and how safe it would be in there. On soft shell trousers, the cargo pockets are hardly ever big enough for a map, and they can also be too big for a GPS or phone. Also make sure the zip is securely water-resistant. 

STICKY STUFF

Scandi brands like Bergans and Didriksons are very fond of these things: sticky strips  around the hem which stick to the top of your boot and seal out nastiness. Very handy if you hate flappy trouser bottoms, and great for retaining warmth on cold days.

HATE WET LEGS?

If you’re a committed all-weather walker (or you’re planning on walking a long-distance path on set dates), it’s worth paying more for trousers that are fully waterproof, rather than having to dig out and pull on overtrousers when the clouds build. The  Nikwax Analogy fabric  used by Páramo can feel odd against your skin – but by golly it does the job.

Fabric Walking Boots

Fabric walking boots are traditionally seen as lighter, nimbler, comfier and cooler than their leather counterparts – in short, they’re nicer to wear in spring and summer. That’s still fine and logical, but most walkers will happily wear fabric boots even in deep midwinter, when by instinct you might normally want to reach for leather. It all depends what type of fabric boot you go for, of course, but some of them are truly year-round investments, as resilient through snow and sludge as over parched soil, mountain rock and sandy beaches. Leather boots will still score highly for firmness, support and (as a general rule) longevity – but when you want something that’ll carry you fleet-footed into new adventures, these are the things to consider when buying the best fabric walking boots consider.

FIT

The most important consideration. Every foot is different, so we don’t usually review boots based on how they happened to fit us. We’d also never recommend buying online untried – always try them on to see how they fit in three key areas: the toe, the Achilles tendon and the upper. If it pinches any of these, be cautious.

ANKLE

High-collared boots offer more support, especially if you’re on rock-hopping terrain where an ankle can easily turn. Lower-cut boots (often called ‘mids’) have less support but also weigh less and leave you more free to control your moves, if you’re very sure-footed.

WATERPROOFING

All the boots we tested include a waterproof/breathable membrane. Gore-Tex is still the market leader; you may also find other marques like eVent or OutDry. Or the bootmaker may use their own technology, usually to save weight, reduce cost or improve breathability.

TOE-BOX

A sturdier toe with toughened rubber bumpers will serve you better on higher, rockier ground. Lighter boots that minimise toe protection work better for lower country footpaths.

INSOLE

A soft, squishy insole is very comfy and perfect for low-level walks, especially if you have podiatric issues. A harder insole works better on rock and is less likely to make your foot overheat.

FLEX

Fabric boots are generally softer and more flexible than leather, meaning they are adaptable over a range of terrains. But flexibility often means less in the way of protection and support. As a general rule, the higher you climb, the stiffer your boot should be.

LACING

Look for a locking eyelet – an extra runner that is usually placed further down the body of the boot than the rest. This helps secure the laces firmly. Just be careful that the eyelets, and the pressure-points where the bow rests, do not sit on top of a tender bone or tendon.

OUTSOLE

A flatter outsole allows your foot to roll naturally, generally making for a smoother ride. A more pronounced arch and aggressive heel will bite harder into the ground for firmer traction. The tread pattern affects how the boot grips the terrain: see panel on Lugs over page.

 

SIX STEPS TO A PERFECT WALKING BOOT FIT

 

1 GET THINKING

Think about the when, where and how often you’ll be wearing them. Mountains usually demand a stiffer boot; if you’re staying low, look for greater flexibility. 

2 GET MEASURED

All feet are different, and so are the lasts (foot shapes) used by boot makers. By measuring length, width and volume, a fitter can show you the boots which best match your feet.

3 GET FITTED

If the size is right but there’s too much volume, you can improve the fit using volume reducers, heel lifts and podiatric insoles. Thicker socks can help fill out any excess space too.

4 GET TOUGH

Don’t pussyfoot around when trying on boots. Walk naturally, just as you would on a rough path. See how they feel on a gradient, feeling for toe-pinching and heel-rubbing niggles.

5 GET LACED

Laces should be taut enough to hold your foot firmly inside the boot, but you can ease pressure by locking off tension with a surgeon’s knot (watch a demo video atwww.animated knots.com)

6 GET READY

Most fabric boots are good to go from the box, but by breaking them in slowly (around the house, for instance), your boots will stretch and supple up ahead of that first trip out.

TOP TIP: TAKE THE HEAT

Go boot-shopping in the  afternoon,  when your feet have had time to swell with heat and activity. This means you’ll get a much  truer indication  of how well a shoe will fit you when you’re walking.

TOP TIP: CLEAN AND PREEN

Aftercare is everything when it comes to fabric boots. After cleaning, an all-over douse with a fabric boot reproofer such as  Nikwax Fabric Proof  (£4.50, www.nikwax.co.uk) or  Fabsil Footwear Proofer  (£4.99, www.grangers.co.uk), and a dab with a clean cloth, should see them right for another day.