The best backpacking rucksacks reviewed (2022)

Big rucksacks need to tick many boxes to perform well. We explain what these 'must-haves' are and recommend our top-rated tried and tested 50+ litre backpacking rucksacks.

Eight of the best backpacking rucksacks reviewed (2021)

by Trail magazine |

The ultimate multi-day rucksacks swallow all your gear with ease; yet feel stable, comfortable and virtually weightless. They are also well-ventilated. It’s a lot to ask, and only a few manage pull it off. To help you find these 50+ litre champion rucksack, we've created this handy round-up guide to the best out there right now.

Key features to look for in a large rucksack

Capacity: For a big walk (days or even weeks) you’ll need 50-65 litres. Manufacturers calculate volume by filling a pack with 20mm plastic balls, then placing them in a volumetric cylinder for measurement. Most brands include the pockets, while others maximise volume by unrolling storm collars and roll-top closures.

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.

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.

Trekking pole attachments: Virtually all backpacking rucksacks have external webbing or bungee cord loops to attach trekking poles and/or ice axes.

Further reading

Read our detailed guide on choosing the right pack for further help.

Learn all you need to know about caring for your rucksack.

Don't need a huge pack? Read our article on the best tested 40-50 litre packs.

Just so you know, while we may receive a commission or other compensation from the links on this page, we never allow this to influence product selections.

The best 50+ litre rucksacks

Deuter Aircontact Lite 50+10 £155

Deuter Aircontact Lite 50+10 £155
(+) Comfortable, capable, plenty of features, good value (-) No raincover, not as rugged as some

When it comes to large packs, a few elements seem to have become preferred design features, as they work well on the trail. The Aircontact Lite has them all. Floating lid with inner and outer pockets? Check. Roomy main compartment with double drawcord collar? Of course. Separate bottom compartment with zipped divider? Naturally. Practical side, front and hipbelt pockets? All present and correct. Hydration compatibility? Tick. Adjustable, padded harness? Yes indeed.

The pack itself is built around an aluminium alloy X-frame with a top bar stay and a rigid plastic framesheet. The back panel has a central channel for airflow alongside soft, padded foam sections with mesh overlays. It carries well and is comfortable. The pack is well-built and the fabrics are pretty tough too, though it’s not quite as rugged as some. And despite the Aircontact Lite name, at 1.75kg, it’s a welterweight rather than a featherweight.

But in terms of price, features, overall design and carrying comfort, this pack does everything pretty well.

Weight 1.75kg | Sizes One size (adjustable) | Main fabric PU-coated 600D polyester, 100HT ripstop nylon | Pockets 7 | Raincover No | Women’s version Aircontact Lite SL 50+10

Verdict

A well-built, roomy and feature-heavy pack with a tried and tested design for trekking and backpacking.

Features 4/5 | Fit 4/5 | Weight 4/5 | Performance 4/5 | Value 5/5

Overall score: 84%

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Lowe Alpine Cholatse ND50:55 £155

Lowe Alpine Cholatse ND50:55 £155
(+) Comfortable, capable, plenty of features, great value (-) Weight starting to creep up

Lowe Alpine founder Greg Lowe was a genuine pioneer in rucksack design. He developed the first internally framed rucksack and ergonomically contoured shoulder straps. Both innovations are now common in backpacking rucksacks.

The women’s-specific Cholatse ND50:55 employs a rigid perimeter frame made of a shaped aluminium alloy bar, plus a cushioned, supportive harness that is carefully sculpted to suit the female frame. In conjunction with the padded, wraparound hipbelt and adjustable Air Contour+ back panel, it makes for an extremely comfortable pack that carries well, while balancing airflow and load stability. It boasts twin hipbelt pockets, large side pockets, inner and outer lid pockets, and a front ‘shove-it’ pocket with an additional zipped section.

The main compartment has a hydration sleeve and port, a double drawcord collar and secondary access via a U-shaped zip. The extending lid has a rear baffle and a top compression strap that allows you to stow a sleeping mat or tent. The pack is tough and weatherproof too, with a stowaway raincover. In fact, you get an impressive amount for your money here, making it cracking value.

Weight 1.77kg | Sizes One size (adjustable) | Main fabric PU-coated 600D polyester, 100HT ripstop nylon | Pockets 8 | Raincover Yes | Men’s version Cholatse 52:57

Verdict

Versatile and well priced, this is the ideal all-purpose, all-weather pack for multi-day adventures.

Features 5/5 | Fit 4/5 | Weight 4/5 | Performance 4/5 | Value 5/5

Overall score: 88%

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Mammut Ducan Spine 50-60 £165

Mammut Ducan Spine 50-60 £165
(+) Lightweight, well-ventilated, capable load-carrier, innovative features (-) Lightly padded harness, delicate mesh pockets, fixed back length

This lightweight trekking pack employs the same ‘Active Spine’ tech as Mammut’s mountain-focused Trion Spine 50 (awarded Trail Best in Test last year). This double-pivoting system works with the low-profile, ventilated shoulder straps and hipbelt. The hourglass-shaped back panel supports the shoulders and lower lumbar but also holds the pack slightly away from your back for great ventilation. It’s attached to a robust tubular alloy frame for load-carrying rigidity.

A little more harness padding would aid comfort when fully loaded. This pack also lacks the quick-adjust back system of the Trion Spine. This saves weight but unless your back length is 18in or thereabouts, you’ll struggle to get a great fit. However, there is a women’s version with a back length of 16in.

We particularly like the single-pull compression system and roll-top design. This has a wide mouth opening with a secondary zipper in addition to the drybag-style buckle. A central zip makes it easy to get to the main compartment, and there’s a zipped bottom compartment too. There’s also a removable waterproof pouch that attaches inside, on the hipbelt or on the chest.

Weight 1.53kg | Sizes One size (fixed) | Main fabric 100D nylon-polyester blend with 210D nylon base | Pockets 7 | Raincover Yes | Women’s version Yes

Verdict

A great choice for multi-day trips, balancing innovative features with solid load-carrying capability.

Features 5/5 | Fit 3/5 | Weight 4/5 | Performance 4/5 | Value 4/5

Overall score: 80%

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Jack Wolfskin Highland Trail 55 £175

Jack Wolfskin Highland Trail 55 £175
(+) Comfortable, robust, plenty of features (-) Relatively heavy

Incorporating all the design elements you’d expect from a fully-featured trekking pack, the Highland Trail 55 is a versatile trail buddy. The internal X-frame and adjustable back system are near-identical to Deuter’s Aircontact Lite pack, delivering similar carrying comfort, good airflow, and plenty of padding for shoulders and lower back.

The two German brands share a common approach when it comes to design. Both have main and bottom compartments, floating lids and plenty of additional storage options. The Jack Wolfskin has a few useful extras though. First there’s U-shaped front access to the main compartment for added convenience, plus a zipped front pocket with an inner sleeve that is a good place to slot a map or guidebook. The outer lid pocket opens wide, and the right-hand hipbelt pocket has an expanding bottom, so it can be used as a water bottle holster. The pack is tough and weatherproof too, with a stowaway raincover.

The robust fabrics and extra features do add weight, and this pack is 2kg+ empty. It’s also priced a little higher than comparable models like the Deuter and Lowe Alpine.

Weight 2.2kg | Sizes One size (adjustable) | Main fabric 280D ripstop nylon body and 300D ripstop polyester base, polyester lining PU-coated 600D polyester, 100HT ripstop nylon | Pockets 8 | Raincover Yes | Women’s version Highland Trail 45 Women

Verdict

A classic trekking pack that is well suited to a whole gamut of backpacking adventures.

Features 5/5 | Fit 4/5 | Weight 3/5 | Performance 4/5 | Value 4/5

Overall score: 80%

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Montane Naukan 60 £180

Montane Naukan 60 £180
(+) Lightweight, roomy (-) Lightly padded harness, not the toughest fabric, no hipbelt pockets

If you’re looking to drop trail weight before your next long-distance walk, the Naukan 60’s excellent volume-to-weight ratio makes it well worth considering, as it’ll swallow 60 litres of kit but weighs less than a kilo.

The sturdy internal tubular alloy frame is more than capable of lugging heavier loads, but the adjustable harness is optimised for ventilation and freedom of movement over plush comfort. So, with too much weight you might start to feel pressure from the shoulder straps and hipbelt. However, the foam and mesh back panel offers decent airflow, while the roomy main compartment is easy to load.

There’s a hydration port plus an internal hanging strap for a water reservoir too, though no separate sleeve. The two side pockets can be reached while wearing the bag, and you also get two larger angled front pockets. Hipbelt pockets have been sacrificed though. An outer lid pocket is accessed via an unusual centre zip.

Whether you like these unconventional design details will largely depend on your hiking style. But if you’re aiming to beat the averages on trails like the Pennine Way or the Coast to Coast, this streamlined pack will be the perfect companion.

Weight 0.9kg | Sizes One size (adjustable) | Main fabric Raptor Diamond 70D nylon with UHMWPE fibrePU-coated 600D polyester, 100HT ripstop nylon | Pockets 5 | Raincover No | Women’s version No

Verdict

A good option for ‘fast and light’ backpackers looking for a low-profile load-lugger.

Features 3/5 | Fit 4/5 | Weight 4/5 | Performance 4/5 | Value 3/5

Overall score: 76%

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Gregory Katmai 55 £210

Gregory Katmai 55 £210
(+) Capable load-carrier, loads of pockets, superb ventilation, eco-conscious build (-) Slightly heavy

This deluxe pack has a veritable arsenal of different features. But the Katmai’s biggest plus is its ability to handle heavy loads with ease. The sturdy internal steel alloy frame has a fibreglass cross-stay that helps to prevent the pack from ‘barreling’ when fully laden. The adjustable harness has pivoting shoulder straps and a one-piece wraparound hipbelt, offering plenty of support and stability with some flex too. It transfers the load extremely well, while the plush padding eliminates pressure points.

The trampoline-style back panel feels airy and is treated with Polygiene to keep your pack (and back) fresher for longer. It’s also more eco-friendly than most, using a PFC-free DWR and recycled fabrics. The result is a 28% reduction in the pack’s carbon footprint.

Some might find the Katmai slightly over-engineered. The steel frame, suspended mesh back panel, chunky harness and plethora of pockets also add weight, though this pack is still lighter than the Jack Wolfskin and Osprey models on test. But if your top priorities are storage and optimum carrying comfort, you’ll love the Katmai.

Weight 2.12kg | Sizes S/M or M/L (plus adjustable back) | Main fabric 210D nylon with PFC-free DWR (40% recycled content) and 420D nylon with PFC-free DWR (45% recycled content) | Pockets 9 | Raincover Yes | Women’s version Kalmia 50

Verdict

Great choice for extended trips – a deluxe gear-hauler for warm climates, big days and heavy loads.

Features 5/5 | Fit 5/5 | Weight 3/5 | Performance 5/5 | Value 4/5

Overall score: 88%

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Atom Packs Mo 50 £250

Atom Packs Mo 50 £250
(+) Lightweight, versatile, practical, hard as nails, customisable (-) Relatively simple back system, not cheap

The lightest pack here, the Mo 50 is over 1.5kg lighter than the Osprey Ariel Plus 60. It’s an innovative design from Atom Packs, which turns out fully customisable packs from its Lake District workshop – allowing you to select your preferred back length, hipbelt size, materials, number of pockets and even colours.

The Mo is rugged enough to take extended trail abuse, with burly side pockets that won’t snag on tree branches. There’s also a tough stretch front pocket that will take a set of waterproofs, so this pack carries more than its nominal 50 litres. The lidless roll-top design gives you a roomy main compartment, which can be fastened drybag-style or cinched down via side compression straps. Other features include a handy stretch shoulder pocket for a phone or GPS unit and a top Y-strap for stowing a sleeping mat or tent.

The harness and back system balance low weight with comfort and stability, consisting of a plastic frame sheet stiffened with a single central removable alloy stay, overlaid with closed cell foam. The harness has padded, contoured shoulder straps with load-lifters, plus a supportive hipbelt, with optional zipped pockets and four-way adjustment.

Weight 0.85kg | Sizes S-XL torso, XS-XL hipbeltsize (adjustable) | Main fabric 210D Robic Extreema (or VX07 or VX21 XPAC) | Pockets Up to 7 | Raincover No | Women’s version No

Verdict

A great lightweight choice, offering far more than most ultralight rivals for practicality and durability.

Features 4/5 | Fit 5/5 | Weight 5/5 | Performance 4/5 | Value 3/5

Overall score: 84%

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Osprey Ariel Plus 60 £250

Osprey Ariel Plus 60 £250
(+) Robust, extremely capable, plenty of features (-) Heavy, not cheap

This is a serious pack. In fact, with its array of features and robust build, we’re verging from backpacking rucksack to full-on expedition pack. And few manufacturers pay as much attention to fit as Osprey.

There are dedicated men’s and women’s models (the men’s is the Aether Plus 60), with two sizes for each. The back length is also adjustable. But you can further fine-tune fit, as the ‘fit-on-the-fly’ shoulder straps and hipbelt can be extended to suit. This ensures a close and comfy carry even with a full load, with plenty of padding at pressure points like the collar and hips.

The Airscape back panel doesn’t offer quite the same ventilation as a suspended back system, but balances airflow with load-carrying stability. Even on technical terrain, the pack feels evenly weighted.

The Ariel Plus offers main and bottom compartments (with front zipped access to the main body as well as via the lid), a multitude of pockets and plenty of webbing to lash additional kit to the front or bottom of the pack. The removable lid even converts into a day- or summit pack. In fact, you can use the pack in lidless format with the stowaway top flap, which cuts 367g off the total weight.

Weight 2.4kg | Sizes X/S or M/L (plus adjustable back) | Main fabric 420D High Tenacity Bluesign nylon | Pockets 8 | Raincover Yes | Women’s version Aether Plus 60

Verdict

Tough, extremely well-built and a highly capable gear-hauler – a hefty pack that’s up to expedition use.

Features 5/5 | Fit 5/5 | Weight 3/5 | Performance 5/5 | Value 3/5

Overall score: 84%

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