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.


Highlander.jpg

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%

Lightwave Fastpack 50 (2012)

Lightwave’s Fastpack range of rucksacks is designed for winter trips or lightweight weekend backpacking trips, and they benefit from being much lighter than the average 50 litre rucksack (this is 1162g). Also when compared to other 50 litre packs they are larger too, so you may actually feel the Fastpack 40 is big enough for your needs at just £100 and 1100g. The Fastback 50 is more water-resistant than most too, as the seams on the body and lid are either welded or taped to keep water out. The back system is simpler than many, with just a moulded back panel with internal aluminium stays providing support and load transfer to the hipbelt, which is moulded to fit around the hips. The back system is close-fitting and stable, but it is not quite as comfortable as more elaborate back systems on higher-priced packs. The body of the sack has compression straps, which can be cinched in to stabilise the load, but the wand pockets are quite baggy and not as durable as those on other packs I suspect. The lid gets a big pocket and has twin buckles, but there are no additional pockets or means of stashing jackets on the Lightwave Fastpack 50.

Weight 1162g
Capacity 50 litres
Compartments 1
External zipped pockets 1
Wand pocket yes
Compression straps yes
Men’s back lengths 52cm
Women’s back lengths none
Website www.lightwave.uk.com

 

Verdict

The Lightwave Fastpack 50 is a light sack with a higher volume than its 50 litre capacity suggests. Generally speaking this is a great option for overnight hill and mountain walking, but others are better for scrambling and mountaineering.

Review by Graham Thompson
First published in Trail magazine October 2012


Lightwave Fastpack 50 2011

Weighing in at just 1100g, the Lightwave Fastpack 50 is the lightest sack we looked at – and yet it has a capacity of 50 litres, making it bigger than most on test.
The majority of the weight saving comes from the simplicity of its design, which you’ll either love or hate. You get a fairly simple back system with foam padding and some large holes in the hipbelt to stop it getting too sweaty, but you don’t get the fancy airflow or adjustable back systems of other rucksacks. The body is very simple too, with one main compartment with a hydration pocket, some stretch wand pockets and side compression straps with quick-release buckles.
This all works well, and the Lightwave Fastpack 50 will suit those who prefer a more functional, simple design. The lid has a nice big pocket and – as it’s not a floating design – there’s no risk of water leaking into the main compartment. I love this sack for its weight and simple stripped-down functional design, but it won’t suit everyone.

Price £115
Weight 1100g
Capacity 50 litres
Internal compartments 1
External pockets 1
Wand pockets yes
Hydration pocket yes
Ice axe loops 2
Back lengths 1
Floating lid no
Women’s option no
Contact +33 (0)965 274858; www.lightwave.uk.com

Features 4
Design/build 5
Comfort 4
Performance 5
Value 4
Overall 4

Verdict
The Lightwave Fastpack 50 is a superb price and weight for a 50-litre sack, and if you like one compartment for your gear rather than lots of pockets, it’s ideal.

Review by Graham Thompson
First published in Trail magazine September 2011


Lightwave Ultrahike 60 2011

At just 1250g, the Lightwave Ultrahike 60 is the lightest pack we looked at by some way, and with welded and taped seams it offers a higher level of waterproofing than the others in the test. It sports a simple, stripped-down design to cut both weight and faff, and will appeal to anyone who values minimalism in their outdoor kit.

Design
The overriding ethos of the Ultrahike is simplicity, cutting down on any superfluous features that add weight. So you only get one external zipped pocket in the lid, and two large mesh pockets on the side. There is a hydration pocket inside, but the usual compression straps are replaced by cord webbing on either side of the pack – they pull tight to fulfil the same function. You also get pole/axe attachment loops and a large haul loop. The back system is likewise simple and offers minimal adjustment, made from EVA foam and mouldable aluminium stays. The hipbelt is rather radical, though, with large holes that fit around your hip bones to reduce weight. Finally, you get a handy elasticated bungee cord on the lid, and many seams are welded or sealed, making the pack the most weather-resistant here.

On the hill
Although the Lightwave Ultrahike 60’s back system is simple, don’t let this fool you into thinking that it can’t carry a heavy load in comfort. I found it handled nearly 20kg with no problem at all, effectively transferring that weight to my hips for a very comfortable carry. It did however feel more restrictive than others here, and not as well vented. However, the greatest bonus of this pack remains its unbelievably low weight. It’s over half a kilo lighter than some here and yet is made from tough fabric and is built like a tank. The taped and welded seams led to a really high degree of water resistance so I got away without a rain cover, although since it’s not fully waterproof I did still need a rucksack liner as usual to ensure my kit stayed dry. The top lid pocket was large, easily accessible and didn’t leak much thanks to the water-resistant zip, and I found the bungee cord on top useful for the quick stash of small jackets (although I would have liked one on the front, where there are attachment points for it). The side compression cords worked well, but would have worked better for attaching things if they had either been made of bungee, or had been the more normal quick-release straps and buckles found on other packs here. Finally, those mesh pockets were great for my map.

Made in Far East
Weight 1250g
Capacity 60 litres
Backlengths available M2 & M3 (50cm & 55cm)
Materials 420d Dynatech fabric on back panel and structural areas; 300d micro-ripstop polyester on main front areas; 40d ripstop nylon internal fabrics
Stockist details (01286) 873520; www.lightwave.uk.com
Stockists in the UK 25

The Lightwave Ultrahike 60 is incredibly lightweight; a clean and simple design; large and easy to pack; comfortably carries weight for such a simple back system; highly water-resistant; useful bungee cord on lid; effective compression system. But it has limited pockets; back system not very adjustable; not the cheapest. It’s a great pack that offers a comfortable carry and will easily be the top choice in this test for the lightweight walker. However, others might want a more adjustable back system and more pockets.

Review by Ben Winston
First published in Trail magazine June 2011




Lightwave Fastpack 40 2010

If you were looking for one pack to cover everything from day walks to multi-day trips, you wouldn’t go far wrong with the Lightwave Fastpack 40. At just 1160g it’s light enough to warrant its name and it has sufficient capacity to swallow overnight gear and let you carry it in comfort. The material used here is lighter than others on test, and although I have put crampon spikes through the snow-lid in the past, the overall feel is sufficiently durable and tough. There are no hip pockets but you do get a deep lid pocket and well-angled mesh pockets at the side so you can stash and access water bottles easily. It has enough flexibility to work on day walks and multiday trips all year round (thanks to the ice axe loops) and it’s remarkably comfortable. But Lightwave (like its sister brand Crux) uses long poles to keep shape in the back, which tended to restrict my head movement when scrambling or climbing, especially when wearing a helmet. I have removed these poles from my Crux AK37 and would be inclined to experiment with this pack as well. I needed the chest strap to keep the shoulder straps comfortably in place.

Capacity 40 litres
Fabric 300d mini-ripstop polyester,
420d nylon
Features two 8.5mm 7001-T6 alloy tube frames; prebent, moulded foam back panel; airmesh body-contact fabric; combination welded and taped seams; ice axe loops; lid pocket bungee; welded seams
Weight 1160g
Made in Far East
Stores in the UK 30

Without a doubt the Lightwave Fastpack 40 is one of the packs I would be most happy using. It is light, practical and very comfortable, and it will cover 85 per cent of what I do on the hill. I rated it as ‘Best Value’ in our test.

Review by Matt Swaine
First published in Trail magazine September 2010


Lightwave Fastpack 50 2008

For my money this rucksack provides pretty much everything that most hill-walkers will want. It weighs in at a respectable 1165g. The material is a little lighter than others, but it’s still good and tough. The seams are welded and taped to make them waterproof, so there is less need for a waterproof liner. There is a good snow-lock on the main compartment to further keep out the elements. The lid is a conventional design with a good deep pocket in the top. The back system is pretty basic with just a padded foam panel. It works great though if you are content with a simpler design. The hip fins are unusual, as they have cut-away areas to reduce weight and improve the fit. The body has a set of compression straps to stabilise the load as well as stretch wand pockets to make stowing trekking poles a breeze. But some sacks offer more airflow around the back, while others use tougher fabrics. Others have a lot more pockets and features too. If you are short on cash, then there are lower-priced options available. A single-lock closure on the lid would be even better in my view.

Capacity 40 litres
Fabric 300d mini-ripstop polyester, 420d nylon on wear areas
Features padded back system;
top tensioning straps, external and internal lid pocket, wand pockets, compression straps, twin ice axe/pole attachment points
Weight 1165g
Made in China
Stores in the UK 30
Verdict
A simple, effective, clutter-free option, which is ideal for those who want a sack that carries well and performs superbly on the hill without frills. We rated is as ‘best in test’.

Review by Graham Thompson
First published in Trail magazine October 2008