The problem with a humongous 70L rucksack is that you’ll inevitably end up filling it to the brim, just because you can. Two pillows for my wild camp – why not? Three sets of spare clothing? Might as well. Another six-pack of Snickers just to be safe? It’d be rude not to.
While your comfort levels at night will be luxurious, if not hedonistic, the overall result of such an approach will be a back-achingly heavy load. It will slow you down, cripple your joints and hinder the hiking experience. Instead, a 50-litre pack size hits a sweet spot. They're voluminous enough for all of your three-season backpacking kit and equipment, but small enough to discourage over-packing.
A high-quality 50-litre backpack will be light, supportive, durable and feature-rich. Padded, contoured shoulder straps and wraparound hip fins will deliver a comfortable carrying experience. Meanwhile the back panel – featuring perforated foam or mesh suspension – will improve airflow and minimise sweating. Usually an internal frame, made from aluminium or carbon stays combined with a plastic frame sheet, will provide stiffness and structure. Thus, transferring the load effectively to the hips, while a myriad of pockets, compartments, straps and toggles will complete the design.
Ultimately a 50L backpack is all about striking a fine compromise between lightness, durability, comfort and capacity. An ideal middle ground where you can carry enough kit to be comfortable and safe in the hills overnight, without feeling like you’re carrying the kitchen sink up an infuriatingly steep mountain. Here are the best 50-litre rucksacks for your wild camping and backpacking adventures.
Key features to look for in a 50-60 litre rucksack
Back system: A ventilated back panel maximises airflow. Some systems use mesh suspension to hold the pack away from your back, which helps to stop you from getting sweaty. Others employ channels or vents interspersed with padded areas for enhanced comfort. More technical trekking packs tend to keep the weight close to your body for better stability and load transfer. Read our detailed guide on
Harness: The shoulder straps, hipbelt and chest strap form the harness, which is key to carrying comfort and load stability. Look for padded, contoured straps and a supportive hipbelt. Your hips should take most of the weight. Many harnesses also feature perforated foam or mesh to improve ventilation.
Function and design: Mountaineering packs generally have a slim, long shape, with minimalist external features and a close-to-the-body fit – a no-nonsense design that’s ideal for technical activities in winter. Hiking packs tend to be slightly wider, with side pockets, intricate features and high-tech back systems.
Main compartment: Access is usually via a lid with a buckle, though some use a roll-top closure. A roll-top saves weight and is very weatherproof, but a lid usually offers more storage. Floating lids attach to the pack via adjustable webbing straps. This allows you to ‘overstuff’ the top of the pack to carry extra supplies.
Extra compartments and access: Many packs have a bottom compartment, separated from the main section via a zipped divider. Some also offer access to the main compartment via a side or front zip.
External pockets: A front stretch pocket is useful for stowing extra layers. Side pockets are good for water bottles. Hipbelt pockets are handy for snacks and tech devices, as is a lid or top pocket.
Compression straps: Most packs have compression straps or cords to cinch in the load for added stability. They can also be used to carry extra gear on the outside of the pack or underneath the lid.
The best 50-60 litre rucksacks reviewed
Gregory Focal 48
Verdict: A solid all-rounder with a well-designed back system and good features – but it’s worth trying before buying.
Pros: Superb load transfer, comfortable, good durability-lightness balance
Cons: Slightly unusual fit might not suit everyone
We tested the Gregory Focal 48 on a three-day, 107km hike from Saltburn-by-the-Sea to Flamborough Head on the Cleveland Way National Trail, and it performed admirably. It delivered a comfy carrying experience, providing top-notch suspension and load transfer.
We’d credit this success to the huge amount of technology in the pack’s FreeFloat harness: a ventilated mesh back panel atop a perimeter aluminium frame (with fibreglass cross-stay), combined with a body-hugging ComfortCradle hipbelt and nicely contoured shoulder straps. Or, in simpler terms, a clever back system that helps minimise the strain on your back and improve the overall hiking experience.
The carrying experience is light and airy, yet with good stability, ventilation and a close-to-the-body sensation. At 1271g (including raincover) the pack hits a nice sweet spot between weight and durability, and you also get first-rate features including a removable lid, front mesh pocket, and good-sized hipbelt pockets.
If we’re being fussy
The aluminium frame might not suit everyone – it feels a tad like an old-school external frame. The gentle curve to this frame takes a bit of getting used to, and the pack sits quite high at the back of your neck. Some may prefer more padding on the shoulder straps, hipbelt and at the lower back.
Weight 1271g | Volume 48 litres | Sizes Medium, large; Women’s Facet 45 small, large
Lowe Alpine Sirac 50L
Verdict: A sturdy workhorse of a pack at an excellent price and with a traditional design – but it’s heavy and bulky.
Pros: Great value, good for heavy loads, durable, lots of features
Cons: Relatively heavy, a bit cumbersome to wear
New for 2022, Lowe Alpine’s Sirac range of packs is available in 40L, 50L and 65L sizes, in both men’s and women’s versions, targeting the beginner market with a competitive price-point and fuss-free design. Indeed, you get a lot of bang for your buck here, particularly with the Sirac 50L.
It’s a pretty hefty, burly pack, made from strong materials and designed for heavy loads. The back system – Lowe Alpine’s high-tech-looking Air Contour X system featuring suspended mesh, EVA foam and a lattice-style panel with a spring steel sub-frame – feels solid and stable, with decent flex and ventilation too, while the padded shoulder straps and beefy hip fins do their job competently.
You get loads of useful features – including sleeping bag compartment, integrated raincover, external lid pocket, two side bottle pockets (with on-the-job access) and two good-sized floating hipbelt pockets. And all of this in an affordable option.
If we’re being fussy
At 1780g, it’s pretty heavy for a 50L pack (over 1kg heavier than Atom Packs’ The Atom+ EP50) and it can feel rather clunky and cumbersome in use. Some of the hardwear and materials feel slightly on the cheap end of the spectrum, due to the affordable price-point.
Weight 1780g | Volume 50 litres | Sizes Medium-large, Large-XL, women’s specific (all adjustable)
Osprey Talon 55
Verdict: A feature-rich, well-designed, solid all-rounder of a backpack from a top brand – but it’s not exceptionally exciting or innovative.
Pros: Many volumes in the range, breathable, excellent back system, sustainable
Cons: Arguably too many straps and toggles
While other backpacks might polarise opinion, the Talon 55 feels like a really safe bet.
Osprey’s Talon range, which comes in a whopping nine sizes from 6L up to 55L, as well as several female-specific Tempest versions, is a long-standing and ever-popular product line, with a stellar reputation. The Talon 55 features an AirScape back system – a tight mesh web atop ridged EVA foam panels and a lightweight peripheral frame – combined with a wraparound harness and hipbelt. This ensures a close-to-the-body carrying experience, stable load distribution, and decent ventilation courtesy of airflow channels.
You also get a top-loading main compartment, two side pockets, stretch mesh stash pocket, internal key clip attachment, removable sleeping pad straps, hydration reservoir sleeve, dual-zippered hip pockets, and attachment points for ice axes and trekking poles. The pack is made from Bluesign-approved, recycled, high-tenacity, 100-denier and 210-denier nylon with a PFC-free DWR coating.
If we’re being fussy
Some may find the carrying experience a little stiff and rigid. The zipper on the top lid pocket would be better if it was wider, and overall Osprey has possibly over-engineered this pack. Do you really need so many straps, toggles, pockets and features?
Weight 1464g | Volume 55 litres | Sizes Small-medium, Large-XL; Women’s Tempest 50 XS-small, medium-large
Sierra Designs Flex Capacitor 40-60L
Verdict: An innovative and unique pack with an expandable volume and distinctive Y-shaped frame – but it won’t suit everyone.
Pros: Very adaptable volume, good for heavy loads, breathable
Cons: Curved-backed system won’t be for all
With its quirky Back To The Future-inspired name, the Sierra Designs Flex Capacitor is a suitably quirky backpack, with an innovative design and eye-catching look.
Its USP is the use of a double fold of material on the front of the pack which – when combined with a series of cinch cords – enables the pack’s circumference to expand or contract between 40L and 60L. Other packs have expandable volumes, but they almost always work vertically – the result is an unwieldily tall load. There is no such problem with the Flex Capacitor.
Two torso lengths and two hipbelt sizes fine-tune the fit, while the Y-shaped, curved suspension system – with DAC aluminium stays and three chunky foam panels – provides a strong, supportive harness suitable for heavier loads. The curve creates a gap between back and pack, which is good for ventilation.
You also get seven pockets, a removable hydration bladder sleeve, and a large U-shaped zippered top opening.
If we’re being fussy
The U-shaped top opening may be vulnerable to water ingress in very wet conditions. The curved shape of the back system will polarise opinion slightly – for some, it might feel like the pack is levering away from your back, altering your centre of gravity. There is no big front stash pocket.
Weight 1190g | Volume 40-60 litres | Sizes Small-medium, medium-large
Salewa Alptrek 55+10
Verdict: A feature-rich, stable and comfortable trekking pack with an alpine design – but it’s heavy and expensive.
Pros: All the features, a superb back system for multi-day treks, comfortable
Cons: Heaviest on the test, expensive, small sleeping bag compartment
This alpine-style trekking pack has all the features you could wish for. You get an integrated raincover, lower sleeping bag compartment, front stash pocket, two side stretch pockets, detachable floating lid (with zippered compartment), bungee cords, ice axe and trekking pole attachments, rope fastener, hydration bladder compatibility, side compression straps, internal valuables pocket, daisy chain webbing, sleeping mat straps, 10L vertical volume expansion, and dual access (front and top) to the main compartment.
The best feature, however, is the Dry Back Custom back system – EVA foam pads atop a stiffened frame sheet and two aluminium stays – which delivers top carrying comfort, particularly for slightly heavier multi-day loads.
There is good structure, stability and ventilation to the back system, the shaped hip fins (with zippered pockets) hug your figure nicely, and Salewa’s split shoulder straps (which have a panel of fabric cut out) are airy yet snug.
If we’re being fussy
At a surprising 1850g, this is the heaviest pack on test. The side bottle pockets aren’t accessible on-the-go, and the bottom sleeping bag compartment could do with being a bit bigger. It’s pretty expensive and the tall, thin alpine-style won’t suit everyone’s preferences.
Weight 1850g | Volume 55 litres | Sizes One size (adjustable); Women’s Alptrek 50+10
Atom Packs The Atom+ EP50
Verdict: A wonderfully lightweight pack with excellent trail-ready features – but it might polarise opinion.
Pros: Incredibly lightweight, good load transfer, tough fabrics, excellent pockets
Cons: Very expensive, not suitable for heavy loads, so-so breathability
While bigger brands remain wedded to traditional backpack styles and designs, Atom Packs is a market disruptor with a far more cutting-edge, forward-thinking approach.
Giving a British twist to the US ‘thru-hiking’ movement, the Keswick-based cottage business makes ultralight, highly customisable backpacks with well thought out features, tailored sizing options, and a fine balance between weight, durability, comfort and structure.
The off-the-shelf The Atom+ EP50 weighs just 750g (that’s 1100g lighter than Salewa’s Alptrek 55+10). It delivers a close-to-the-body carrying experience that’s so comfy and light-touch you almost forget it’s on. Load transfer is good, courtesy of the removable carbon fibre hooped frame (55g) and foam pad (15g). The materials used (EcoPak EPX200, 210-denier Robic Extreema, Dyneema mesh and 500-denier textured nylon) feel tough enough for extended trail abuse, despite being light.
Our favourite features are the shoulder strap bottle pockets, on-the-move accessible side pockets, and huge stretchy stuff pocket.
If we’re being fussy
The price is rather sky-high. The ultralight construction isn’t suited to heavier loads over 13.5kg, some will prefer more stiffness and structure to the back system. And ventilation isn’t particularly strong. “Extreme demand” means you may experience wait times for your order to be dispatched.
Weight 750g | Volume 50 litres | Sizes Small, medium, large, extra-large
Rucksack care and maintenance
Hot, sweaty weather, damp weather, and a lot of use in a season can leave a rucksack a bit gross. Leaving your rucksack in such a state accelerates its degradation and wear. To clean and care for your rucksack is pleasantly easy. It also saves you money in the long run.
To find out all you need to know about rucksack care and cleaning, head to our guide.