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A great backpack is an essential for hikes of any shape or size. Whether you’re in the market for a compact rucksack for casual walks or a big behemoth of a bag that you can take trekking, you’ll need to choose something reliable, tough and comfortable – like one of our favourite nine rated hiking backpacks for men and women.
Are you after a daypack or multi-day use?
The main factor to keep in mind when shopping for a new hiking backpack is size. Backpacks are measured by the capacity they hold in litres – usually a 15l-30l backpack is called a daysack or daypack, which as the name suggests holds the kit you need for one day’s walking adventure.
A bag with a capacity of 40-50 litres is suitable for multi-day use such as a two-day hike or a wild camping trip. Rucksacks with a capacity of 60-100 litres are suitable for backpackers or anyone on a big trekking adventure who needs to carry all of their kit as they hike.
What features should I look for?
Backpacks are usually either top loading (an opening at the top, which is more watertight and best for hikers) or front loading (these are easier to pack and unpack, ideal for backpackers).
Other useful features to look out for include easy-to-access zipped inner and outer pockets for valuables and mesh pockets for water bottles, plus compression straps for cinching a bag down to make it more compact.
If you’re off travelling you may want to pick a model with a removable mini rucksack, so you have a smaller daysack to use on day hikes.
Making it weatherproof – and waterproof
Most backpacks aren’t fully waterproof – we recommend picking a pack with a removable raincover you can pull out if a storm approaches, or a pack made with water resistant material, which can usually withstand light rainfall. You can also pack your belongings in a dry sack inside your rucksack to keep them watertight.
Backpacks can be unisex or aimed specifically at men or women. When picking a smaller daysack we’ve found after testing many models that unisex packs usually perform just as well as gender-specific designs.
If you’re in the market for a bigger pack for multi-day adventures you may find a gender-specific pack more comfortable, as they have differently placed hip and shoulder straps as well as larger or smaller back frames.
Montane Mezzo 16 backpack
Key specs – Gender: Men; Capacity: 16 litres; Material: grid ripstop nylon; Weight: 430g; Raincover: no; Colour options: 3
Like to travel light? The smallest pack in our round-up is ideal for adventures where you don’t need to carry much kit, such as summer day hikes.
The back and shoulder straps of the Mezzo are very breathable, making this a great choice for hot weather.
This pack may be small and streamlined but it still boasts plenty of useful design features, including a wide front pocket you can stash clothing or maps into on the go, easily adjusted chest and waist straps, walking pole attachment points, zipped inner pockets and a mesh bottle pocket.
Jack Wolfskin Ecoloader 24 backpack
Key specs – Gender: Unisex; Capacity: 24 litres; Material: ripstop polyester; Weight: 870g; Raincover: yes; Colour options: 4
Have you vowed to make more planet-friendly purchases this year? Jack Wolfskin’s Ecoloader is a very sustainable daypack indeed, made with 100% recycled materials and using no less than 18 plastic bottles.
Even the foam in the straps and back padding is innovative, made from a material derived from algae.
At 24 litres the Ecoloader is our favourite size for a hiking daysack and we loved how simple it was to pack and unpack on test, thanks to two wide zips offering easy access. Unlike many smaller daypacks, it also includes a good raincover.
Vango Ozone 30 backpack
Key specs – Gender: Unisex; Capacity: 30 litres; Material: ripstop nylon; Weight: 900g; Raincover: Yes; Colour options: 1
There’s not much we don’t like about Vango’s Ozone 30, and we’d give it a gold star if we could.
It’s pleasingly lightweight at 900g but still feels like great quality, and the tough ripstop nylon it’s constructed with will happily withstand being chucked about out in the elements.
The wide mesh back panel and shoulder straps were the most breathable we tested overall, ideal if you’re off to hike in hot climates, and a raincover is included in case the weather does turn stormy.
Handy pockets including a lid pocket, hip belt pocket, bottle pockets and front pocket take all your kit for a day’s adventure with ease. Top marks
Colombia Essential Explorer 20 backpack
Key specs – Gender: Unisex; Capacity: 20 litres; Material: polyester; Weight: 700g; Raincover: no; Colour options: 2
This sleek and lightweight backpack is a great choice for everyday walking adventures.
The roll top closure is ideal for keeping your kit safe and dry, but does take a little longer to open and close than a zip-top bag.
We like that the Essential Explorer’s hip belt is removable, as you often won’t need it for shorter hikes with a lighter load.
This functional bag works well as a carry-on for travelling or for the commute as well as for walking, and it’s well priced at under £40.
Arc’Teryx Brize 25 backpack
Key specs – Gender: Unisex; Capacity: 25 litres; Material: nylon; Weight: 905g; Raincover: no; Colour options: 3
Of all the rucksacks we tested we reckon the Brize 25 is, Goldilocks-style, just right for day hiking trips.
It’s roomy enough to carry lunch, outdoor kit and spare warm clothing, and there are multiple handy pockets, including a zipped lid pocket for stashing valuables and two generously sized bottle pockets to hold liquids.
The shoulder straps are well padded and feel comfortable even on all-day hikes – there’s no hip belt, but you shouldn’t need one if you’re sticking to single day walks. The Brize also works well as carry-on bag for travelling.
Osprey Sylva/Syncro 20 backpack
Key specs – Gender: Women and Men; Capacity: 20 litres; Material: nylon; Weight: 900g; Raincover: yes; Colour options: 1
Osprey’s packs are always gender-specific designs, making the brand a good choice if you find bags tailored to men or women tend to fit you best.
The Sylva and Syncro are ideal for hikers who also want an all-rounder of a daypack that they can take cycling, travelling, SUP-ing or climbing without a fuss.
Like all Osprey packs, there’s good attention to detail here, such as an attachment for your bike helmet and a zipped pocket designed for sunglasses.
Our only criticisms? We’d have preferred roomier bottle pockets, and the colourway available for women is a pale grey that does look dirty over time.
Decathlon Trekking Travel 50g Backpack
Key specs – Gender: Men; Capacity: 50 litres; Material: Polyester; Weight: 2.3kg; Raincover: No; Colour options: 1
This generously sized pack is aimed at men but works well as a unisex rucksack.
It’s just about small enough to work as a daypack but we prefer using it for two-day hikes, or for taking abroad as a travelling backpack that you can still take on walks when you get to your destination.
The detachable shoulder bag and the padlock-able pockets make this design perfect for travellers, and the tough outer material of the pack will still look good after years of hiking adventures.
Our only objection is that the Trekking Travel pack is on the heavy side, although the wide, well-designed hip straps help mitigate that.
Sierra Designs Flex Capacitor 40-60 backpack
Key specs – Gender: Unisex; Capacity: 40-60 litres; Material: ripstop nylon; Weight: 1.2kg; Raincover: no; Colour options: 1
This clever pack from Sierra Designs is a bit of a size chameleon. Irreverently named for the flux capacitor from Back To The Future, this rucksack can be expanded from 40 litre to 60 litre capacity by quickly adjusting a few straps, taking it from a large daysack to a proper backpacking pack that’s ready to go trekking.
In any size variation, it’s also a highly comfortable pack, even when you’re shouldering a heavy load. We also love the wide zip-around top lid.
If you want just one hiking pack to rule all kinds of trekking trip, this might well be it.
Regatta Highton 45 backpack
Key specs – Gender: Unisex; Capacity: 45 litres; Material: ripstop polyester; Weight: 2.2kg; Raincover: Yes; Colour options: 1
If you’re heading out on your first weekend hike or wild camping trip, have signed up for the Duke of Edinburgh award or just want a no-nonsense large pack for well under £100, Regatta’s Highton is a great choice.
Stand-out features include the stretchy front pocket for stashing clothing or maps and the mesh-lined hip belt and back panel, which are breathable enough to work for hiking in warm weather.
The generously sized zipped lid pocket is perfect for stashing snacks and valuables to grab on the go.