Welcome to T3's guide to the best hiking backpacks for the modern adventurer. Once upon a time, the best hiking backpacks were great big, robust things, made from canvas and steel, with helpful leather straps for affixing muskets and machetes. That positively Victorian state of affairs lasted for quite some time, and only in the last few decades have modern materials arrived to save the day. Today's best hiking backpacks weigh in at a fraction of those old beasts, and without sacrificing any of that durability (in fact, they'll probably last longer).
Don't let choosing your rucksack be an afterthought. While you might be focusing on picking up the best backpacking tent for your trip, or making sure you've got the best hiking boots for the terrain you're tackling, if your rucksack is wrong, it can ruin an otherwise meticulously planned expedition.
The key trick is not to fall into that Victorian trap of taking the kitchen sink along with you for a day hike in the New Forest – light is right, and smaller rucksacks tend to be lighter than big ones. That said, planning ahead is also important. It's better to have a top-quality rucksack that suits you all year round, rather than four cheap ones in slightly different sizes and levels of discomfort, clogging up your cupboard.
Finally, and really most importantly, check that whichever rucksack you choose fits your back and body shape before setting off on a major expedition. Load it up in the shop or at home, wear it to work or whatever suits – many rucksacks have adjustable back supports, and most come in different lengths, so there will be one that fits you to a tee (here's how to fit a backpack properly, all those straps are throwing you!).
The best hiking backpack: Our expert pick
- The big secret in picking the best rucksack for whatever trip you plan is to pick the smallest you can get away with. This is a rarefied art – you'll see experienced alpine guides out for the day with the tiniest rucksack you can imagine, and bronze DoE trainees carrying their entire wardrobe – you want to be the former not the latter. That said, don't be tempted to 'go ultralight' just for the sake of bravado, and end up in Scottish winter with a shopping bag.
- Our top bag of the moment has to be the Berghaus Fast Hike 32, because it is absolutely all about that fine balance. It's very light indeed, and mid-sized, so will be perfect for pretty much anything short of a lengthy expedition, or a winter adventure that requires lots of hardware. For everything else though, this is superlight and feature-packed.
The best hiking backpacks: what to look for
Hiking is all things to all people, so getting the right balance between weight, size and robustness is key, especially for something you’ll be wearing on your back for many days in total. Modern materials mean that ye olde steel frame rucksacks are broadly unnecessary, unless you're in training and want to carry the extra weight. Here are some things to look for when choosing the best hiking backpack for you:
Arguably the most important starting point. How much do you really need to carry? Summer rambling along the coast requires a different set of kit to winter wild camping, but don’t get carried away and buy a giant windsock of a thing that needs an SAS team to carry once filled.
Check and check again that the rucksack fits your back well. Most makes have different back sizes available, so try a few on with both a light load and a heavy one (most shops have weight bags for this). If there's a hip belt, this should rest on the top of your hip bones, and adjust to a comfortable tightness – this can transfer a lot of weight from your shoulders to your hips, so don't underestimate the importance of a well-fitting hip belt. And of course, none of this is any good if the straps aren't adjusted correctly: here's how to fit a backpack.
Walk around and move naturally to see if anything rubs or feels weird. By all means try the super-techno suspended mesh solutions to getting a sweaty back, but rest assured after a long day with a heavy rucksack, your back will be sweaty, so don't prioritise them over a really good fit.
Lighter is nearly always better, and that often means the minimum of random bells and whistles, which all add weight. Don't be afraid to cut off straps and fastenings you know you'll never use.
Pockets and straps
Think about what you'll need to carry, and how accessible you'll need it to be. Streamlined designs might look smart, but when you're having to unpack the whole thing to access your torch in the middle of the evening, pockets start to look more appealing.
Which materials perform the best?
Modern hiking backpacks are made from whatever fabric you desire, from dyneema and kevlar to canvas and steel. Just remember there is usually a compromise somewhere in materials, but also that simple, tried and tested materials are unlikely to let you down, whereas that experimental new kevlar weave might delaminate in strong sunlight.
Although DWR coatings are helpful to avoid fabric wetting out and adding weight, covers and special 'waterproof' closures tend to not work in actual outdoor weather, so are best ignored.
Remember, the real ultralight hiking backpacks on the market will wear out pretty fast, so it's probably wise to pick a slightly more robust model with durable materials. But, again, your planned use is the key to choosing the right blend of weight versus durability.
The best hiking backpack to buy now
First off the bat, let's be clear – the Berghaus Fast Hike 32 is no big load carrier. Wannabe Amundsens should avoid. However, almost everyone else should be interested, as this is a bit of a smasher – very, very light, but a decent size for most excursions. It's even strippable for extreme lightness, should an extra 100grams really make the difference (it probably won't, but nice to have the option).
Essentially what Berghaus has done here is produce a rucksack with the high-end alpine features of an extreme sports rucksack, but at a sensible price point and without using kevlar or graphene, to save a few grams. In short, you could buy a more expensive bag, but it'll be no better for the job, and if you buy a cheaper one it'll weigh a ton – this is a bit of a sweet spot.
A 32l capacity is plenty for summer rambles, more serious single-day hikes, and perfectly good for hut-to-hut adventures in the alps. You'll get your commute cycle kit in it too, and it's small enough not to cause a fuss around town, as well as fitting in an overhead locker if needs be.
Obviously there's a hip belt, hydration sleeve, side bottle pockets and a soft flask front harness pocket to boot. And it's suitable for both men and women, too. In short, a hiking backpack that's ideal for almost all occasions.
The Arc'teryx Alpha AR is a classic rucksack design, originally born out of the needs of dedicated climbers, but the result is an all-rounder in many respects. That climbing heritage gives you a very slim profile, just as useful on the North face of the Petit Dru as the District line, as well as loads of attachment points. These might seem unnecessary for everyday life, but the axe loops are just as useful for holding hiking poles as they are for technical leashless ice tools.
The main thing you're getting here is premium wear-resistance, which means this pack will last for decades. Arc'teryx have got all technical here, building the rucksack body from a 'liquid crystal polymer ripstop grid' incorporated in a 'high tenacity nylon fabric', which certainly sounds tough as nails. There's a removable top lid and back framesheet if you need to cut weight, as well as a superb strap/hip belt combo that are near-indestructible but comfortable on long days too. If you need a reliable daysack that'll last till you get too old and doddery to use it, this is a top choice.
A more traditional hiking rucksack design, the Snow Peak Active Backpack Type 01 ONE boasts a decent 43 litre capacity, more than enough for multiple days on the trail, hut-to-hut excursions and short camping jaunts. The two separate areas of storage help keep the contents organised, one accessible from the top, one via a zipped rear section, and with an outer of water-resistant nylon it'll shrug off all but the heaviest downpours.
The super-wide hip belt should soak up much of the load-carrying work, and also has zipped pockets for trail essentials – handy for a soft flask and snacks to keep you fuelled on the go. On the downside, this is a heavier bag than we'd like (just under 2kg for the bag alone), and the price point is on the high side. However, if you're looking for that traditional dual-storage area hiking rucksack in tasteful tactical black, this is well worth checking out.
The Berghaus Alpine 45 keeps things simple, as well as the costs down, making it a strong contender in our best hiking backpack ranking. With a 45 litre capacity you’ve plenty of space for any adventure, but not enough to be tempted into taking the kitchen sink along. Neat side compression straps keep the clean lines intact even when in use, with plenty of additional attachment points for poles, skis, tents and a reflective bungee for that extra layer you’ve just taken off.
A simple roll-top enclosure will keep the worst of the weather at bay, and is easily managed wearing gloves, while the back support is removable if shaving those extra grams is a priority. Low-profile straps and a slim-line hip belt reduce faff to the minimum without reducing comfort, and there’s even a small zipped pocket for essentials too. In short, there's everything you need here for a great day out, and nothing you don't. Sounds good to us…
The Mountain Warehouse Ventura is our best hiking backpack for those on a tight budget. Let's say you've just come out of uni and you're looking to go travelling; the likelihood is that you're not going to have tons of cash to spare. Suitable for camping, travelling and festivals, this is a great value hiking backpack that will become your trusty sidekick whenever it’s time to explore the outdoors. It features an airflow back to keep things cool, a compartment for a hydration pack, and compression straps to ensure it remains comfortable as you stride. There's also a rain cover if the heavens happen to open mid-hike.
The Arc'teryx Bora rucksack has seen a few iterations, and if you spend any time outside you’ll see a few go by. This is because it is comfortable to wear—that massive hip belt takes the strain of even big loads, and at 50 litres this multi-day bag can handle whatever you want to throw at it. Multiple lid pockets help keep stuff organised (daytime items and snacks on the outside, car keys and head torch on the inside, for example), as well as an easy -access full-length zip leave very little else to be desired. OK so the weight is a little chunky at 2.18kg, but it's nothing to get upset about. Ultimately, this close second in our best hiking backpacks buyer’s guide will last you years.
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Vango has great history in the hiking backpack line, and this is no exception. At 45 litres, the F10 HUT 45 is on the smaller end of the best hiking backpacks, but it’s perfectly usable for hiking weekends away – the major benefit being you won't be tempted to take that extra jumper or spare camp stove. Indeed, at a reasonable total weight of 1.84kg you’ve really got it all here, with full zip access, daisy chain, hydration compatibility, side pockets, axe/pole attachments, and even a rain cover that you could leave at home to save weight during the dry season. Overall, Vango's offering is a decent hiking backpack available for a solid price, and is one that'll serve you well for many years.
The Mammut Lithium Crest packs in all the features you could possibly want, as well as a few new ones, but without breaking your back or your wallet. Weighing in at a mere 1.7kg, the Lithium sports daisy chains, loops for a mat, three side and front pockets, and axe and pole attachments. It's also hydration system compatible and incorporates a raincover. The back length is easily adjustable, which is helpful if you’re wearing bulkier clothes in the winter, or if you’re sharing one heavy rucksack between a mixed party to make faster progress. There’s plenty of space here for days worth of stuff, and with a separately accessible bottom compartment you have a fighting chance of being able to find things easily.
Berghaus are pretty reliable when it comes to outdoor gear and the Berghaus Ridgeway Rucksack doesn't disappoint. There’s plenty of space to store your items, plus compartments for water bottles, snacks and maps. You can expand the side pockets out to give yourself an additional 10L of capacity, while the adjustable BIOFIT back system helps to ensure the backpack is comfortable to wear, no matter your size or shape. If rain makes an unwelcome appearance, there’s also a foldaway cover that you can take out when required.