Test of the best: 30-35 litre rucksacks reviewed

POCKETS
At least one external zipped pocket is useful for guidebooks, maps and GPS receivers, but some people like more and others can tolerate less. Stretch pockets without zips are commonly placed on the front of the rucksack and these are ideal for stowing waterproof jackets between showers. Pockets on the hipbelt are ideal for snacks and GPS receivers. Lid pockets are great for guidebooks, sunglasses or suncream.

SNOW LOCK EXTENSION
Located under the lid and attached to the body of the main compartment this extension of material provides additional protection for your kit. It will have a drawcord closure so you can close the top of the main compartment independently of the lid to ensure it is well protected from the elements. 

WAND POCKETS
Originally designed for avalanche probes or ‘wands’, these pockets on the side of a rucksack are often made of stretchy, mesh fabrics and are ideal for stashing the ends of trekking poles, as well as smaller items including water bottles or snacks.

MAIN COMPARTMENT ENTRY
The entry to the main compartment may be a conventional lid with a buckle or a zipped closure. There are pros and cons of both designs, with lids having the advantage that there are no zips to break, you can overstuff the bag and the lid often has an excellent pocket for smaller items such as maps and guidebooks.

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HIPBELT
This is designed to carry most of the load if the pack is heavy, but when carrying lighter loads it may only be used to ensure stability of the pack. Either way, it should fit snugly around your hips while being comfortable and easy to adjust. Look for some foam padding for maximum comfort.

VENTILATED BACK SYSTEM
So that you don’t get too sweaty, many rucksacks have mesh panels that hold the sack away from your body to increase airflow and reduce the horrid, clammy sensation that you get wearing some rucksacks. The greater the airflow across the back, the less sticky you will feel.

COMPRESSION STRAPS
These are on the sides of some rucksacks and allow you to compress the body of the sack to help stabilise the load. They are also useful for stashing items onto the side of the sack, such as trekking poles and waterproof jackets.

SHOULDER STRAPS
The shoulder straps take some of the weight, but they need to be carefully contoured and padded to make them comfortable. As we are all different shapes it is important to try them for size, fit and comfort before parting with cash.

HYDRATION POCKET
If you like to use a hydration bladder with a feeder hose to drink from rather than a bottle, then look for a pack with a pocket for the hydration bladder inside. All the sacks featured here can accommodate a hydration system.


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Highlander Rocky 35+5 £58

  • Capacity 35-40 litres
  • Back size one size (unisex)
  • Weight 1413g

IT'S GOOD The price tag is extremely competitive and notice that this is also a slightly larger capacity than some higher-priced rucksacks. While it’s not the lightest on test here, it is not the heaviest either. It even gets a trampoline-style back system to hold the sack away from your body and this creates masses of airflow to help reduce clamminess while wearing it. There is a supportive hipbelt and the back system is stiff enough for heavy loads. The main compartment has a conventional lid, and you also get a front zipped pocket, a pair of zipped side pockets and compression straps with quick-release buckles that work well with the mesh wand pockets. For most hillwalkers the Highlander Rocky has all the features you need. 

HOWEVER There are drawbacks as, firstly, it only comes in a unisex design with no women’s specific option – and no back length options, either. Also, there are no top tensioners on the shoulder straps, so there is less adjustment to get just the right fit. The shoulder straps are also less well contoured and less softly padded compared to others here, so comfort is not the absolute best. So, all in all, the Rocky is one to try before buying for sure. It is not the lightest, either, but you can remove the 69g raincover which comes with it if you want to save weight.

VERDICT Outstanding value for money and while not the absolute best in terms of fit, if this does fit you then it is a great option for most hillwalkers.

  • Features 5/5
  • Fit 3/5
  • Comfort 4/5
  • In use 4/5
  • Value for money 5/5
  • OVERALL SCORE: 84%

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Regatta Blackfell II 35 £70

  • Capacity 35 litres
  • Back size one size (unisex)
  • Weight 1253g

IT'S GOOD The low price tag is instantly impressive here – and it also has a reasonable weight (note that it is a 35-litre design as some lighter packs have a smaller capacity). The back system is a trampoline design, too, with a mesh panel holding the pack away from the body for maximum airflow. The body has a main compartment with a zipped opening and there is an additional zipped pocket near the top of the main compartment. You get mesh side wand pockets, as well as compression straps. So, all the basics are here, and there is even a removable 63g raincover. It works pretty well, too, for normal hillwalking.

HOWEVER There are a few drawbacks. Firstly, it only comes in one size – there’s no women’s specific option – and there’s no back length adjustment either. It’s not quite as comfy as higher-priced designs, so you do need to try this before buying. Also, you are getting a zipped opening to the main compartment rather than a buckled lid, and while both styles have their pros and cons not everyone will want a zipped opening. The small zipped pocket provided is quite small but at least it does just about take an OS map. There are no other pockets, though. Side compression straps do allow poles to be strapped to the sides, but quick-release buckles are much easier to use.

VERDICT If you like a zipped opening and find this fits, then it’s a great value-for-money option but higher-priced packs do have design benefits

  • Features 4/5
  • Fit 3/5
  • Comfort 4/5
  • In use 3/5
  • Value for money 5/5
  • OVERALL SCORE 76%

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Lowe Alpine Aeon 35 / Aeon ND33 £95

  • Capacity 35 litres (men's Aeon 35) / 33 litres (women's Aeon ND33)
  • Back size M-L, L-XL (men's Aeon 35) / one size (women's Aeon ND33)
  • Weight 912g (men's M-L)

IT'S GOOD This new pack for March 2018 is very light and has a slightly bigger capacity than some heavier and higher-priced rucksacks. The back system is lightly stiffened with cutaway sections and a mesh covering to allow some limited airflow. This comes in back length options but, in addition, you can raise or lower the shoulder straps on Velcro fastenings. On the body this pack tends to hug and mould to your body better than most. There is a simple one compartment design for your gear, with a single buckle lid that has a good pocket. The side compression straps and mesh wand pockets work well and there is a large, side zipped mesh front stash pocket for wet items. 

HOWEVER The back doesn’t provide the airflow that others offer, so it’s slightly more sweaty in warmer weather. Also, the back is not as stiff as others so you have to pack it a little more carefully to prevent items digging in. The back system is generally not as supportive for heavier loads than others on test here, so comfort reduces as the load increases. I like single buckle lids but there isn’t a deep snowlock extension to the main compartment so a little more care is needed when packing. Some people will love the design, while others will want everything it lacks.

VERDICT Light and ideal for hillwalking with careful packing and if you don’t want max airflow for warmer weather.

  • Features 4/5
  • Fit 5/5
  • Comfort 4/5
  • In use 4/5
  • Value for money 4/5
  • OVERALL SCORE 84%

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Lightwave Fastpack 30 £100

  • Capacity 30 litres
  • Back size one size (unisex)
  • Weight 958g

IT'S GOOD Like many Lightwave packs this is a stripped-down design to save weight but it still has the essential features hillwalkers need. So you get a robust construction with all the seams on the body and lid being either taped or welded to prevent water creeping into the compartments. The back panel is a firm, closed cell foam which doesn’t soak up water as easily as other packs. The back, hipbelt and shoulder straps are stiffer than lighter designs, too, so this can be used for loads up to around 7-10kg, and there are mesh side pockets that are very deep. This is great if you like more stripped-down designs and want a lighter rucksack with more water resistance. 

HOWEVER The stripped-down design lacks many features. Firstly, it only comes in one size, with no women’s option, so you need to carefully check the fit. Also there is less airflow across the back than others tested, so it is a little more sweaty than them. I like the mesh side pockets but compression straps with quick-release buckles would be a good addition for stowing items, such as wet waterproofs or trekking poles, to the pack more easily. This is a rare pack in not having pockets on the hipbelt, and also the lid only has one big external pocket rather than an additional smaller pocket that many others have. 

VERDICT A relatively light pack that has stripped-down features and a more water-resistant design, but you may miss some of those nice-to-have features. 

  • Features 4/5
  • Fit 3/5
  • Comfort 4/5
  • In use 4/5
  • Value for money 4/5
  • OVERALL SCORE 76%

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Vaude Brenta 30 / Maremma 32 £100

  • Capacity 30 litres (men's Brenta 30) / 32 litres (women's Maremma 32)
  • Back size one size adjustable on both
  • Weight 1108g (men's)

IT'S GOOD The men’s and women’s packs both benefit from a Aeroflex back system that allows excellent airflow across the back. The shoulder straps and hipbelt are perforated for yet more airflow, and you can adjust the shoulder straps to lengthen or shorten the back length. The main compartment is top entry with a fixed lid that has a large pocket. Plus there’s a front zip opening and mesh wand pockets on the pack sides, as well as quick-release buckles on the compression straps (men’s Brenta only) for easy stowage of trekking poles. A big, front stash pocket is great for waterproofs between showers.

HOWEVER The women’s Maremma 32 does not get the compression straps, wand pockets and big front stash pocket, but instead gets big side pockets and you can still attach trekking poles with the dedicated straps. If you want to save weight then it’s possible to get lighter packs although the difference is relatively small. The weight does include a 73g raincover, which you can remove. You can get slightly lower-priced packs, too, and although they don’t quite have the benefits that this pack offers they would suit the needs of many walkers, for sure. So there is really not a lot wrong here for most hillwalkers in search of a comfortable pack.

VERDICT A great general-purpose hillwalking rucksack with only small benefits available in other packs.

  • Features 5/5
  • Fit 5/5
  • Comfort 5/5
  • In use 5/5
  • Value for money 4/5
  • OVERALL SCORE 96%

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Gregory Zulu 30 / Jade 28 £100

  • Capacity 30 litres (men's Zulu 30); 28 litres (women's Jade 28)
  • Back size M and L (men's Zulu 30) / S and M (women's Jade 28)
  • Weight 1257g (men's M)

IT'S GOOD The Zulu and Jade packs are very popular and come in various sizes. These 30 and 28-litre versions have a zipped closure to the main compartment rather than the buckle lid of the Zulu 35 and Jade 33. The back systems are the same, though, with a CrossFlo back system providing lots of airflow as well as very good stiffness and padding for stability and comfort when carrying heavier loads. Both the men’s and women’s styles come in two back lengths. The body has a zipped main opening with a zipped and very large front pocket that’s great for maps. The side compression straps have quick-release buckles and you get stretch wand pockets as well as a stretch front pocket.

HOWEVER This isn’t the lightest option available and you don’t get a raincover for that weight, or the additional pockets and compartments of some other heavier packs. However, it’s able to carry loads up to 14kg in more comfort than others. For my money I’d prefer the buckle lid of the Zulu 35/Jade 33 style rather than a zipped opening. Otherwise it’s an excellent pack and it’s hard not to like it if you prefer zipped openings. You can spend less cash if you can tolerate a less supportive back system and don’t need such great airflow.

VERDICT Excellent if you prefer a zipped opening and a supportive back system, but lighter packs are available with buckle lids.

  • Features 5/5
  • Fit 5/5
  • Com0fort 5/5
  • In use 4/5
  • Value for money 4/5
  • OVERALL SCORE 92%

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Osprey Stratos 34 / Sirrus 36 £110/120

  • Capacity 34 litres (men's Stratos 34)/36 litres (women's Sirrus 36)
  • Back size adjustable S/M and M/L (men's Stratos 34); adjustable S/M (women's Sirrus 36)
  • Weight 1426g (men's M/L)

IT'S GOOD The Airspeed back system allows excellent airflow and this pack is very comfy around the hipbelt area, too, as the mesh from the back extends into these areas. You can adjust shoulder straps to lengthen the back system, and this pack supports a bigger load better than others. The load-carrying compartments favour those who like zipped pockets and openings as there is no buckle lid, just a zip closure to the main compartment of the rucksack. But you also get a zipped top pocket, front pocket and base compartment, plus a zipped pocket for a raincover. There are mesh wand pockets and quick-release compression straps, too.

HOWEVER This pack is quite heavy when compared to others due to the stiffer and more supportive back system, the number of zipped pockets, the included 83g raincover, its large capacity and the use of heavy duty, durable materials. Then there’s the question of whether you prefer a main compartment with conventional buckle lids or zipped openings. There’s a lot to consider here at the slightly higher price tag (£110 Stratos, £120 Sirrus) than the others. So, do you really need those benefits?

VERDICT Great pack if you like zipped openings and a more supportive back system, but lighter and lower-priced packs offer most of what many hillwalkers will need.

  • Features 5/5
  • Fit 5/5
  • Comfort 5/5
  • In use 4/5
  • Value for money 3/5
  • OVERALL SCORE 88%

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Deuter Futura 30 / Futura 28SL £115

  • Capacity 30 litres (men's Futura 30); 28 litres (women's Futura SL28)
  • Back size one size adjustable (men's Futura 30) / one size (women's Futura SL28)
  • Weight 1507g (men's)

IT'S GOOD This is a new 2018 version of the popular Futura range but now with a whole new Aircomfort Sensic back system that allows more ventilation and a closer, more comfortable fit – particularly around the hips. There is still lots of support in the back system, so it’s ideal for heavier loads. The body has a main compartment with a zip-out divider so you can create a base compartment with an external zipped entry. You also get side wand pockets with quick-release compression straps, a stretch front stash pocket and a fixed-buckle lid with external and internal pockets. The materials feel a little more robust than some lighter packs.

HOWEVER It’s heavy compared to others although it does include a removable 73g raincover. It has no back length adjustment and only comes in one size, while others have more size options. There is no snow lock extension to the main compartment either, which is fine if you close the lid properly and don’t overfill the bag, but if you are more lax in your packing, like me, then you may miss that feature. Finally, the price tag is high compared to other packs that may even offer more capacity or additional back length options. 

VERDICT The 2018 version of the Futura is comfortable, strong and stable, but it’s also heavy, pricy and lacks an extended snow lock closure and back length options.

  • Features 4/5
  • Fit 4/5
  • Comfort 5/5
  • In use 4/5
  • Value for money 3/5
  • OVERALL SCORE 80%

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Ferrino Dry-Hike 32 £125

  • Capacity 32 litres
  • Back size one size (men's)
  • Weight 1512g

IT'S GOOD Most rucksacks leak through the seams, but this one has the seams of the main compartment sealed to lock out water and uses OutDry technology, which bonds a waterproof layer to the main fabric. You also get a roll-top closure to the main compartment under the more conventional buckle lid. I like the drawcord to the main compartment so you don’t need to roll the top when using the fixed normal lid. The lid has good pockets and the body has compression straps with quick-release buckles and there are mesh wand pockets. The back system uses a trampoline mesh design to allow plenty of airflow across the back and the hipbelt is supportive.

HOWEVER There is no women’s option, no back length options, it’s a little heavy and you don’t get a front stretch stash pocket or a lower compartment for wet waterproofs. In a normal rucksack you would have a loose waterproof rucksack liner inside the main compartment so you could put wet items into the main compartment but outside the waterproof liner. In this pack you cannot do that, unless you add another waterproof liner which defeats the object of having a waterproof rucksack in the first place. The price is high, too. So with the cost and weight drawbacks you are going to have to really value that waterproof construction.

VERDICT The waterproof main compartment sets this apart, but its value is questionable when weight, price and fit options are also considered. 

  • Features 5/5
  • Fit 3/5
  • Comfort 5/5
  • In use 4/5
  • Value for money 3/5
  • OVERALL SCORE 80%

CAMELBAK Sequoia 18 Rucksack Review

The Sequoia boasts a dizzying array of features, all weaved together into one exceedingly practical package. The higher price reflects the fact it’s designed around (and comes with) a 3L water reservoir, which slides neatly into its own compartment at the back, so it can be taken in and out without emptying the main compartment. The Sequoia is a master of compartmentalisation – it has pockets dotted everywhere, and they’re all welcome additions, especially the flap at the front which allows quick stowage for a map or a soggy jacket. The back system is just as sophisticated, with three mesh ‘ventilation pods’ which cushion and move with the back; the benefit of choosing ‘women’s-specific’ is really obvious with this pack. Some might say all the gizmos are a bit over the top, but when it’s this comfy, you won’t turn it down.

Target Price £120

Specification

 M/W: Women’s

Men’s version: Fourteener

Capacity: 18L

Weight: 980g

Extra pockets: 5

Back system: NV Hike (padded airflow)

Contact: 0116 234 4646, www.camelbak.com

Verdict

Flawless design, first class comfort: the women’s fit makes a difference.

Review from Country Walking magazine. 

Fjällräven Kaipak 28 Rucksack Review

To handle a Fjällräven product is like holding a finely cut precious stone – its materials are luxurious, every aspect is crafted with the utmost care, and it will last forever. The classy Kaipak focuses on old-fashioned comfort and durability rather than bells, whistles and toggles. The padded back moulds naturally and comfortably to the torso while the slim design and compression straps mean the weight is always pulled close to the body, stabilising heavy loads. Made from tough G-1000 HeavyDutyEco material, it’s designed to withstand the elements, with the pockets protected by storm flaps and the main compartment by the lid. A rain cover is one of the few modern concessions, but for all its simple charm, it would be good to see some mod cons, like a hydration pouch and padded hip belt.

Target Price £110

Specification

M/W: Unisex

Capacity: 28L

Weight: 1050g

Extra pockets: 3 (top, inner, front)

Back system: Padded mesh

Contact: 02392 528711, www.fjallraven.co.uk

Verdict 

Elegant, comfortable and durable, but avoid if you use hydration systems.

Review from Country Walking magazine

Osprey Kestral 28 Rucksack Review

This is a pleasure to wear. I say ‘wear’ rather than just carry, because the fit is unrivalled. It represents the right balance of comfort, flexible storage and walker-friendly features for demanding days. It’s available in two back lengths, with a generously padded, body-hugging hip belt and shoulder straps, easily adjusted on the go, while the AirScape back system keeps your back well ventilated. And it’s full of clever ideas. For example, its bladder storage bay is in the back-system, not the main compartment; this disperses the weight evenly and maximises storage space in the main bag. There are two pockets in the lid, handy hip pockets and stretchy mesh panels, plus a raincover stowed in the bottom. With a fixed lid and compression straps, the Kestrel feels stable, even with awkward loads.

Target Price £100

Specification 

M/W: Unisex

Capacity: 28L

Weight: 1024g

Extra pockets: 4 (lid x2, belt x2)

Back system: AirScape (mesh airflow)

Contact: 01202 946444, www.ospreyeurope.com

Verdict

Versatile design and ingenious details make this an impeccable daypack.

Review from Country Walking magazine

Black Diamond Bolt 24 Rucksack Review

The Bolt is an excellent all-rounder. It’s comfortable, easy to adjust for fit and stability, and boasts some ingenious features. Opening up the lid, main access is via a secure drawcord, but there’s a handy side zip if you need quick access. There are plenty of extra storage options including a lid pocket, a hip pocket and a generous expanding panel at the front, plus clever side pouches that fold out to take bigger water bottles. Available in two back lengths, it’s easy to fine tune the fit and a flexible internal frame gives the pack some reassuring shape and stability with bulkier loads. It’s not immediately obvious what some straps do, or why the one for the lid needs to be so long and flappy, but apart from making the overall design busier, they don’t seem to be doing anything wrong.

Target Price £90

Specification 

M/W: Unisex

Capacity: 24L

Weight: 940g

Extra pockets: 2 (lid, belt)

Back system: OpenAir (mesh airflow)

Contact: 01572 772436, www.blackdiamondequipment.com

Verdict 

Slick design with fittings and features to match – a quality piece of kit. 

Review from Country Walking magazine.

 

Deuter Futura 28 Rucksack Review

Built for comfort and designed just for walkers (without unwanted ice axe bindings), the Futura is a solid daypack with a complement of user-friendly features. A light ‘twin frame’ suspended back system creates a concave space between pack and back, allowing the flow of cool air, but barely intruding on the internal space. As with some larger trekking packs, you can access the main compartment from the bottom (useful for getting at that much-needed waterproof), and with a zip-in divider you can separate wet kit. There’s an extra front pocket, an internal pouch for a hydration system and a raincover too. While amply padded, the short hip fins don’t hug the waist as much as I’d like, but otherwise the pack feels stable and is easy to adjust for fit and weight balance, helped by four compression straps.

Target Price £85

Specification

M/W: Unisex

Women’s version: Futura 24 SL

Capacity: 28L

Weight: 1180g

Extra pockets: 1/2

Back system: Aircomfort Flexlite (suspended)

Contact: 0191 296 0212, www.deutergb.co.uk

Verdict 

All the right features combined to keep your back cool and your kit organised.

Gregory Sula 24 Rucksack Review

This is a finely balanced backpack and one of the few products on test to boast a suspended back system. A tightly sprung mesh creates an inch of space between the pack and the body – a ‘Goldilocks’ distance where the load is close enough to keep you balanced,but allows air to circulate freely. Being a women’s specific fit, the hip belt is well-padded and the shoulder straps are thoughtfully curved, allowing ease of movement around the arms and shoulders. There is little which hasn’t been thought of: it’s compatible with hydration systems, the zips are covered with storm flaps, there are elasticated bands to stop straps flapping around in the wind, and there are even straps underneath the pack to secure a jacket. It might be a little too fussy for some, but it’s hard to fault this pack. 

Target Price £80

Specification 

M/W: Women’s

Unisex version: Salvo

Capacity: 24L

Weight: 1010g

Extra pockets: 4 (front, inner, belt x 2)

Back system: Freespan (suspended)

Contact: 01539 624040, eu.gregorypacks.com

Verdict 

A pack which ticks all the boxes. Functional, practical and balanced.

Review from Country Walking magazine.

Montane Cobra 25 Rucksack Review

The Cobra proves simple design can go a long way. It’s tough yet light and stripped down to the basics in places, but there are a few innovative features to boot. It’s the little things that make a difference though. By angling the main zip towards your back, it’s easier to root around inside when the pack’s off. Unlike others on test, the grooved foam Comfort Back Pad is lined with a finer mesh to reduce abrasion against waterproofs, but while it provides some ventilation, it doesn’t feel quite as cool in hot, sticky conditions. The back panel is very flexible, allowing great freedom of movement, but it didn’t feel as comfortable or stable with lumpier loads. A versatile daypack, the Cobra is fully adjustable, with attachments for walking poles too, however the odd clip and fixture are a tad fiddly to use. 

Target Price £75

Specification

M/W: Unisex

Women’s version: Habu 22

Capacity: 25L Weight: 870g Extra pockets: 3

Back system: Comfort Back Pad (padded airflow)

Contact: 01670 522300, www.montane.co.uk

Verdict

 A neat daypack built for durability. A good price for a premium product.

Review from Country Walking magazine.

Patagonia Petrolia 28 Rucksack Review

The Petrolia is a dream for those who can’t leave things at home. The main compartment is cavernous, accessed via a wide top-opening zip which opens in the shape of a broad smile. You can fit most things you’d ever need for a day trip in here; the only trouble is the pack’s compression straps aren’t sufficient to keep its shape. I found it unbalanced and a strain on my back when fully loaded, especially given there is no full hip belt. There is a separate pouch at the back for a hydration reservoir, which ensures its weight is closest to the body – although the fiddly tube port means it takes a few minutes of swearing to get it set up. The back doesn’t offer much support or padding either. Without a frame, it’s a relatively lightweight pack, working better when stuffed with spare layers rather than heavily laden. 

Target Price £65

Specification  

M/W: Unisex

Capacity: 28L

Weight: 779g

Extra pockets: 3 (top, open flap, hydration reservoir/laptop)

Back system: Air-Flow (padded)

Contact: 0800 0260 055, www.patagonia.com

Verdict 

A spacious pack with ample storage, but not suitable for heavy loads.

 

Berghaus Remote 20 Rucksack Review

The Remote 20 is a lesson in the value of simple design. At a mere 500g, it’s significantly lighter than most of its rivals, yet still covers all of the essentials with assurance. The back system uses sturdy but comfy padding, resting naturally against the back while still letting air circulate. I was impressed by how stable and balanced the Remote was, even when fully loaded. Being light, it’s perfect for hasty adventures and hot hikes, and the lack of a full hip belt isn’t missed. Over longer days, you might start to miss some storage space – there is one very useful extra pocket for a map or other knick-knacks at the front and a mesh organiser inside, but nothing secure for glasses or a purse. An internal pouch fits smaller hydration systems, but then if you’re travelling light, a 2 litre bladder will be more than adequate.

Target Price £50

Specification  

M/W: Unisex

Capacity: 20L

Weight: 500g  

Extra pockets: 1 (front) + internal organisers

Back system: Berghaus Flow (padded airflow)

Contact: 0345 607 2477, www.berghaus.com

Verdict 

Small, light and perfectly formed. A well-balanced pack at a great price.

Review from Country Walking magazine

Jack Wolfskin EDS Dynamic Pro 48 Rucksack Review

This maverick pack does its own thing in its own unique, slightly baffling way. To get into it, you first have to unclip four buckles to peel away an outer layer. Inside, you won’t find your standard toggled compartment but an inbuilt dry-bag, rolled up and fastened by yet another buckle. Between the outer layer and the main compartment, two pouches offer space for an extra layer or two, but nothing more as everything will just fall out once the outer layer is lowered. Accessing anything in this pack is something of an ordeal, though it is unquestionably watertight and saves you flapping around with waterproof covers. The fit is highly customisable, with the hip and back systems adjustable to suit your height, though it’s still not ideal for shorter walkers. The back is supported by a stiff frame, which gives great support and bears the weight of the load perfectly well, although the lower back lacks sufficient padding to make the frame comfy. Target Price £120.

Specification

Weight: 1.8kg

Capacity: 48L

Extra pockets: 3 (front, top + hydration system pocket)

Back system: EDS (padded)

Contact: 0207 836 5118, www.jack-wolfskin.co.uk

Verdict 

PROS: Waterproof, customisable back system, supportive frame.

CONS: Difficult access to main storage area, insufficient padding.

Comfort: 2/5

Stability: 4/5

Features: 3/5

Ventilation: 3/5

Review from Country Walking magazine. 

Black Diamond Onyx 55 Rucksack Review

The big sell here is the pivoting hip-belt which (with the use of an allen key that comes with it) can be adjusted to allow the whole pack to move with your gait, thus reducing the risk of friction sores on your hips and back. At first I found the belt shifted the weight onto a single hip with every step. But once I’d tightened the pivoting device (an operation requiring both patience and dexterity), the shift in weight distribution was much more natural and efficient. For people who suffer with sore hips and back on long hikes, this is a genuinely useful feature, though those who just want a stable load might find it superfluous. The floating lid means you can stuff the pack to overflowing point and still secure it, and there is also a front access zip. But ease of access is compromised by the zips themselves: the watertight taping makes them frustratingly tough to operate, turning what should be a great feature into an obstructive one. Target Price £150.

Specification 

Weight: 2kg

Capacity: 55L

Extra pockets: 8 (2 x top, 4 x front, 2 x belt)

Back system: Suspension and padding

Contact: 01572 772436, www.blackdiamondequipment.com

Verdict

PROS: Innovative pivoting back system, floating lid, waterproof zips.

CONS: Fiddly adjustments required to achieve good fit, zips tough to use.

Comfort: 3/5

Stability: 4/5

Features: 3/5

Ventilation: 4/5

Best for: Those needing a solution to hip and back problems on big treks.

Review from Country Walking magazine.

Osprey Atmos AG 50 Racksack Review

For a multi-day walk where you need the kitchen sink, this is your pack. The AG stands for ‘anti-gravity’ and relates to the back system, which is designed to lift the load right away from your torso. The pack hovers a good four inches away from my back and I rarely feel its presence at all, even though it’s nudging 2kg when empty. And despite the concave back panel, there’s very little loss of storage space. The hip-fins are so stiff that you have to prise them apart like lobster claws to put it on, and I find they then put slightly too much pressure on my hip-bones, so make sure you try the two sizes (medium and large) to make sure you get the perfect back length. You get plenty of pockets and a basement for wet stuff, with a divider that can be unhooked if you just want to pile everything in the main section. And if you don’t need quite so much stuff, you can remove the lid and use a hidden extra flap to cover the load. For really big walks, it’s very hard to beat this. Target Price £150.

Specification 

Weight: 1994g

Capacity: 50L

Pockets: 5 (2x lid, 2x side, front)

Back system: Osprey AG (suspended)

Contact: 01202 946444, www.ospreyeurope.com

Verdict 

PROS: Fully featured, supports huge loads easily, firm support.

CONS: Hip-fins may apply excessive pressure on hips.

Comfort: 4/5

Stability: 5/5

Features: 4/5

Ventilation:  5/5

Best for: Multi-day walks when you need a washbag and changes of clothes.

Review from Country Walking magazine.

Deuter ACT Trail Pro 38SL Rack Review

The ACT Trail Pro is a mid-size pack
with heavyweight credentials, and it comes with all the precise engineering we expect from Deuter. It is far more comfortable than a burdensome load has any right to be: the back is padded with body-hugging foam cushions and both the shoulder straps and hip belt come with a significant smattering of spongy softness. Wearing this pack is like being hugged by a benign bear. The cuddly feeling is helped along by how well the pack stabilises and bears a heavy load. As it’s slightly smaller than many of the other packs on test, it doesn’t have as many storage options, but it does feature a useful wet laundry space at the front, a zipped side pocket and a front zip to the main compartment. There are holes in the shoulder straps to encourage ventilation and the foam back has a gap down the middle for air to flow through, though I didn’t feel this made much of an impact on hot days. Target Price £120.

Specification

Weight: 1511g

Capacity: 38L

Extra pockets: 6 (2 x top, side, front, 2 x belt)

Air system: aircontact (padded)

Contact: 0191 296 0212, www.deutergb.co.uk

Verdict

PROS: Comfort, stability and made with high quality, durable materials.

CONS: The back system can overheat if tackling really challenging terrain. 

Comfort: 5/5

Stability: 5/5

Features: 4/5

Ventilation: 3/5

 Best for: Winter trips when more space is needed for extra layers.

Review from Country Walking magazine

Vango Boulder 45 Rucksack Review

45L, £45 – you can’t say much fairer than that, which is why you don’t find many discounts for this one. Despite its capacity, it’s noticeably smaller than most of the packs in this test because it has a simple padded back system, with no suspension system to impinge on storage space. But it still holds the same amount of kit as a larger 45L pack with suspension system: mine easily holds a waterproof, a fleece, a soft shell and a biggish lunch. Plus it has no adverse effect on your balance, and it’s very light at 1115g. The downside is that heat management isn’t so good, and my back got a trifle damp on hot ascents. There’s just one main compartment, two side-pockets and two in the lid, and the compression straps squeeze the pack down snugly when it isn’t full. If you’re not doing major hill-climbs, this will see you right; it would be perfect for a less demanding trail like the Thames Path, where its ample storage and good weight distribution can really shine. Target price £45.

SPECIFICATION

Weight: 1115g

Capacity: 45L

Pockets: 4 (2x top, 2x side)

Back system: Air Force (padded)

Contact: 01475 746000, www.vango.co.uk

Verdict

PROS: Simple storage, not too fussy, good hip-fin support.

CONS: Back system not as effective on hill-climbs with a full load.

Comfort: 3/5

Stability: 3/5

Features: 3/5

Ventilation: 3/5

Best for: Family walks and easier trails without too much up and down.

Review from Country Walking

GREGORY Zulu 40 Rucksack Review

The Zulu is awash with good ideas. First of all it comes in two different lengths, medium and large. It’s packed with cute features for storage and weight dispersal, including a stretchy panel on the front which can hold anything from an OS map to a light fleece. And there’s a concealed arch-shaped zip which allows you to open the main section like a suitcase and find what you need easily. The trouble is I’m not sure how well all these ideas combine. The front of the pack is so complex that it all becomes a bit fiddly, with the front panel, the arch zip and a secret compartment holding the raincover all lying on top of each other. Thus I’m occasionally unsure where to find what I’m looking for. But it is brilliantly stable, and the hip-belt and mesh back-system combine neatly in a firm embrace. I particularly like the lumbar support padding at the bottom of the pack – firm enough to give you a decent little massage but without letting you overheat. Target Price £115.

SPECIFICATION

Weight: 1406g

Capacity: 40L

Pockets: 8 (2x lid, 2x side, 2x hip-belt, 2x front)

Back system: Suspended

Contact: 01572 772511, www.gregorypacks.com

Verdict

PROS: Comfy back-system, very stable, plenty of features.

CONS: Front panel a little over-designed for easy access.

Comfort: 5/5

Stability: 4/5

Features: 3/5

Ventilation: 4/5

Best for: Big day-walks and the occasional overnight stopover.

Review from Country Walking magazine.

VAUDE Brenta 50 Rucksack Review

There are many reasons to like the Brenta: it’s lightweight, the hip belt is wide and comfortable, and it’s a good fit for those short of stature, despite being a unisex pack. The lightness comes from its simplicity: there are very few extra pockets, though there is a front zip which allows access to the main compartment. It places a real premium on ventilation: the shoulder straps are studded with holes to encourage air to flow, and there’s a good suspended back system that’s held away by a layer of mesh. Unlike some models which use the same method, Vaude ensure the weight of the pack isn’t pushed so far away as to be destabilising. In fact, the Brenta is one of the most stable and secure packs on test. However, the back system’s mesh divider isn’t taut enough to hold the pack completely off the back, and I found that it was largely ineffective – I could even feel the lump of plastic behind the mesh pressing against my back. Target Price £90.

SPECIFICATION

Weight: 1322kg

Capacity: 50L

Extra pockets: 3 (top, front, belt)

Back system: Aeroflex (suspended)

Contact: 01665 510660, www.vaude.com

VERDICT

PROS: Lightweight, stable and excellent at bearing weight over the hips.

CONS: Poor back system and very few extra features.

Comfort: 3/5

Stability: 5/5

Features: 3/5

Ventilation: 3/5

Best for: Fast and light multi-day trips where every gram matters.

Review from Country Walking magazine.