Best hiking backpacks UK 2023: rucksacks for day hikes or camping from Osprey, Vango, Jack Wolfskin

Rugged hiking bags ideal for day hikes or camping holidaysRugged hiking bags ideal for day hikes or camping holidays
Rugged hiking bags ideal for day hikes or camping holidays | Rugged hiking bags ideal for day hikes or camping holidays

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Our expert-reviewed comfortable hiking backpacks and day packs are perfect for carrying heavy loads and hiking gear

A great backpack is an essential for hikes of any length - be it a jaunty day trip up a mountain, or a multi-day holiday walking across forests and countryside.

Whether you’re in the market for a day backpacker/day pack - that is, 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 rated hiking backpacks for men and women.

Best hiking back packs and day packs at a glance

Are you after a daypack or a comfortable pack for 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. Day trips are fabulous for those who love to see the great outdoors and sleep in their own bed at day’s end - you may wish to start with few day trips if you’re new to hiking.

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.

If you’re off on a multi-day hike, you’ll likely be carrying a sleeping bag, a sleeping mat, and you’ll require side pockets that allow rain covers, trekking poles and drinking bottles.

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.

If it’s a larger bag, it’s useful to have one with a waist belt, which can help with weight distribution. A top compartment to store items you’ll need at a moment’s notice, such as a waterproof jacket, is extremely useful.

These days, the top of the line hiking backpacks have sophisticated suspension systems to ensure the weight of your hiking gear is evenly distributed - the best backpacks can make 20 kilos feel like nothing at all. Osprey is particularly good at this miracle of back-packing engineering.

Making it weatherproof - and waterproof

Most backpacks aren’t fully waterproof – we recommend picking a pack with a removable rain cover 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.

Get kitted out for your hiking and backpacking adventures.

We have detailed guides to the best backpacking tents for your adventures here. Want to steady your stride? These are the best walking poles for hiking.

Keep it comfy with the best camping folding chairs, and sleep on the best air beds around, as listed here. And keep things illuminated with a great camping head torch.

Jack Wolfskin Jwp Ultralight Pack

Key specs – Gender: Unisex; Capacity: 24 litres; Material: ripstop polyester; Weight: 190g; Raincover: yes

Have you vowed to make more planet-friendly purchases this year? Jack Wolfskin’s Ultralight Pack is a very sustainable daypack indeed, made with 100% recycled materials.

Even the foam in the straps and back padding is innovative, made from a material derived from algae. 

At 24 litres the Ultralight is our favourite size for a hiking daysack and we loved how simple it was to pack and unpack on test.. It is, as the name suggests, superlight, ideal for comfortable hiking, and it’s shoulder straps are comfy and easy to adjust.

The elasticated bungee cord at the front is ideal for compressing the contents, if you need to reduce volume, or we found it ideal for lashing wet items to our pack when we didn’t want to pack them with dry items.

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

Osprey Aether 70

Key specs – Gender: Male; Capacity: 70litres; Material: high tenacity bluesign nylon; Weight: 2.6kg; Raincover: yes

Please note they sell a women’s version of the Osprey Aether here.

The Osprey Aether 70 may be heavy, yes, but as hiking backpacks go it punches above that somewhat considerable weight.

It sits at the cutting edge of large-load back packs for multi-terrain trips. While the capacity of the Aether is a whopping 70 litres, it’s suspension system means that weight will be exquisitely well distributed.

Fit can be tailored to back length - the easily adjustable back panel means you can mould it perfectly. Shoulder straps are expertly padded and the back panel gives great support. The piece de resistance is the heat mouldable Isoform hip belt system - it ensures great support and helps the weight feel like nothing at all.

The pack is also clever in terms of what it allows you to carry - there are straps that allow you to attach ice axes and trekking poles, for example.

The features of this pack go on and on - the pocket systems are well-designed, and the top lid converts into a daypack - it’s our favourite multi-day hiking back pack by a (easy to walk) mile.

It isn’t cheap, but get a lot of pack for your money.

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.

Columbia Unisex Lightweight Packable 21L Backpack

Key specs – Gender: Unisex; Capacity: 21 litres; Material: polyester; Weight: 700g; Raincover: no; Colour options: 2

This sleek and lightweight backpack is a great choice for everyday walking adventures. 

This lightweight ripstop backpack packs into an interior accessory pocket. Take it with you collapsed for easy transport and unfold when you need it.

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 £25 

Arc’Teryx Mantis 26 backpack

Key specs – Gender: Unisex; Capacity: 26 litres; Material: nylon; Weight: 840g; Raincover: no

Of all the rucksacks we tested we reckon the Mantis 26 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 Mantis 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. 

The Women’s pack, Sylva, is linked above in the Buy Now button - buy the Syncro here

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. 

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. 

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