The humble racksack has come a long way since someone first had the bright idea of fixing two straps to a sack and slinging it over their shoulders. We expect more from a daypack these days, but the essential requirement is the same. They must comfortably carry all the necessities of walking life, whatever the weather. In summer this means plenty of water, sun protection, and more often than not, waterproofs. Aside from capacity, what makes one backpack different from another? It really is a case of horses for courses (or rather packs for backs), some are featured-packed and fully adjustable, while others are trimmed down to the bare essentials. Then there are those which find a happy balance. Comfort, fit, durability, weight and stability are all things to consider when buying a rucksack, not to mention an array of features too. So whatever your needs, our buyers guide should ensure you get the best compact rucksack.
WHAT TO LOOK FOR
Versatile storage lets you pack efficiently, organising your kit into the extra pockets and pouches, with the essentials close at hand. Stretchy pouches are great for stowing unwanted layers and some rucksacks have extra zips for getting at things stored at the bottom. Most packs also include a pouch for a hydration system (bladder), keeping the weight of the water close to the back. Likewise, most designs have loops for walking poles.
STABILITY & BALANCE
A stable, balanced pack is more comfortable to wear and most packs include straps for optimising fit and stability. A hip belt takes weight off the upper back, while a sternum (chest) strap ensures the shoulder straps sit comfortably on the shoulders. Compression straps keep the contents of a pack compact and close to the back, while load lifters let you move this weight closer or further from the upper back.
For optimum comfort, a pack should sit stably on your back, with the padded hip belt and shoulder straps hugging your body, spreading the weight between the upper and lower back. Ask if you can try on a weighted pack in store to get a real feel for fit, cushioning and stability.
A back system like this uses grooves and gaps in mesh-covered foam padding to allow airflow. Keeping weight flat to the back, the load is spread more efficiently across the flexible panel. Some packs use a concave frame or panel to suspend a mesh, creating a better ventilated air space. However, this pushes the load away from the back and can infringe on internal space.
Few rucksacks are truly waterproof – it’s tricky to seal up every seam and opening – but most are water resistant and many come with a waterproof raincover. These aren’t totally foolproof however. A squally downpour will inevitably find a way inside, usually through the open gap between back and pack. Many prefer using a waterproof drysack or drybags to line the inside of their rucksack.
For a closer fitting harness, some rucksacks come in different back lengths. Most packs are unisex, but some models are optimised for women. Female-fit packs accommodate the hips, bust and narrower shoulders for a more comfortable and stable fit, but many women prefer unisex designs.
Hip belt pockets are great for snacks, wallets and phones.
Zips give quick and easy access, but a drawcord and lid combo is more durable and weather resistant.
Some chest straps include a safety whistle.