Buying guide: hiking rucksacks

There’s much more to buying hillwalking packs than picking the right size and weight. Finding the right one for you takes in all kinds of factors, so here are all the key considerations to help you spend your money wisely.

Buying guide: hiking rucksacks

by Trail magazine |

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Whether you're carrying the bare minimum of supplies for a short walk on a beautiful summer's day, or shouldering everything you'll need to live and sleep for multiple nights in the mountains, the chances are that your pockets won't be enough to hold it all.

What you need is a means of transporting all your kit that will hold and protect your gear and won't put too much extra strain on you. In short, you need a good hiking rucksack.

There are loads of excellent walking backpacks available, but first you need to know what you want and what you're looking for. From capacity and back systems to pockets and weatherproofing, this guide will help take the load off.

Choose by activity

Walking rucksack categories are often split into trekking, backpacking and mountaineering. Trekking daypacks vary in size from around 15-45 litres and are designed for everything from summer hikes to scrambling routes and winter mountain days. Backpacking and expedition bags have a large capacity, plus lots of features to help you carry and access everything you need for multi-day trips. Mountaineering packs tend to be more stripped back in terms of features to keep them light and simple.

Pick the right capacity

What capacity do you really need? Buy too big and you’ll fill it with unnecessary junk; go too small and you’ll end up leaving stuff behind. Here’s a rough guide to the size you need for specific types of walk…

■ 15-25 litres Fast or superlight hillwalk.

■ 25-35 litres Shorter hikes in spring, summer or autumn.

■ 35-45 litres Longer mountain walks, scrambling & mountaineering.

■ 45-55 litres Winter mountains, lightweight wild camps, hut-to-hut trips.

■ 55-75 litres Camping expeditions, long-distance trails.

■ 75+ litres Epic expeditions!

Measure yourself

As well as different capacity sizes, some packs also come in different fit sizes or back lengths. We’re all different, and although many packs come with adjustable back lengths, start by measuring yourself and make sure you try it on when you buy.

Don’t be bewildered by back systems

You’ve got a few options with back systems. Either go for a padded foam-type design that fits snugly against your back, a channelled back system that ventilates hot air away from your back, or a suspended mesh system that lifts the whole bag clean away from your back. This is purely personal choice, so try a few and see what works best for you.

Keep your gear organised

The choices are almost endless when it comes to different types of pack openings, compartments and pockets. If you just want to chuck all your gear inside and forget about it while you walk, go for a single compartment with a drawstring and buckled closure. But if you like dividing your kit up and accessing it on the go, look for a pack with multiple compartments, pockets and zipped entry points. You can get them on the front or side of the pack, and sometimes even at the rear.

Man and woman on mountain packing rucksacks

Weatherproof your kit

Very few hiking rucksacks are fully waterproof, which means they’ll withstand a bit of rain but when it’s really chucking down the water will get through. Try to find a pack that comes with a detachable raincover (often stashed in a small pocket at the base of the pack) or order yourself some good waterproof dry-bags to protect your kit inside.

How to care for your rucksack

Stowing & stashing

Big side pockets, compression straps, trekking pole loops and ice axe attachments are great if you like stowing gear on the outside of your pack to access in transit. Hipbelt pockets are also useful for stashing things so you can grab them without taking the rucksack off, but check you can actually reach them.

Comfort is key

You’ll be carrying your pack a long way and filling it with a lot of weight, so it needs to be comfy. Look for padded shoulder straps that fit snugly, and a hipbelt that sits on your hips (not waist) to take most of the weight. Before you buy, load it up with weight in the shop and walk around with it to make sure you’re happy.

Top hiking rucksacks:

Deuter Guide 34+ rucksack

Deuter Guide 34+

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The well-designed alpine backpack guarantees absolute robustness, a snug fit and maximum control on demanding tours.

Deuter Guide 32+ SL rucksack

Deuter Guide 32+ SL rucksack

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The well-designed alpine backpack guarantees absolute robustness, a snug fit and maximum control on demanding tours.

Deuter Futura Pro 34 SL rucksack

Deuter Futura Pro 34 SL rucksack

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The Futura Pro SL, which is designed to fit the female anatomy, was developed for multi-day tours where comfort must not be lacking.

Deuter Futura Pro 36 rucksack

Deuter Futura Pro 36 rucksack

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The Futura Pro, thought out in every detail, was developed for multi-day tours where comfort must not be lacking.

Deuter Trail Pro 36 rucksack

Deuter Trail Pro 36 rucksack

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A brand new pro for multi-day excursions and equipment intense outings: the Trail Pro is a super technical pack providing top carrying comfort with its compact, yet comfortable fit.

Deuter Trail Pro 34 SL rucksack

Deuter Trail Pro 34 SL rucksack

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The professional among the hiking backpacks can carry everything needed for a multi-day tour.

Deuter Speedlite 24 SL rucksack

Deuter Speedlite 24 SL rucksack

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The Speed Lite provides great carrying comfort and pleasant ventilation for athletic tours or alpine adventures in challenging terrain thanks to its new Lite Air contact back system.

Deuter Speedlite 22 rucksack

Deuter Speedlite 22 rucksack

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The Speed Lite provides great carrying comfort and pleasant ventilation for athletic tours or alpine adventures in challenging terrain thanks to its new Lite Air contact back system.

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