Backpack buyers guide
Before you head out and buy your next hiking backpack, read our buyers guide to help you find one that's right for you.
The sweet spot for day hikes is around 20-30 litres, shorter walk in the summer? A pack as small as 12 litres will probably do. For scrambling and climbing you may need to carry more kit so increase the capacity to around 40 litres. This should give you enough space for the 10 Essentials, climbing gear, some food and drink, and a few extras.
Backpacks either come in one size or a range of size options, from small to XL. Some of the more feature rich daypacks will have an adjustable torso length, ensuring you can tweak the backpack to your size. Refer to the manufacturer’s website for specifics on how to measure and choose the right backpack size for you.
When you're trying on a backpack make sure you do up the sternum strap and hipbelt and check that the shape feels right on your body. It helps if there's a bit of weight in the pack to get a better feel for real world use.
A good daypack will come with a hip belt and sternum strap as a minimum. This ensures that the pack stays stable on your back when you're walking. A well designed back system will transfer some of the load away from your shoulders to the stronger core of your body via the hipbelt.
Check the back panel for ventilation as this will be important on hot, sweaty hikes. Most packs will have some kind of foam with channels cut out for air to move. Some more technical backpacks have a suspended trampoline back panel. This keeps the pack completely clear of your back, allowing for excellent ventilation.
Side compression straps help to snug everything in place inside the backpack so it doesn’t swing around as you walk, and load lifters will help you to correctly balance the weight on your back.
Consider a hydration sleeve to be a minimum requirement, although for short and simple walks a simple water bottle is often the easiest option, so make sure you have side pockets that can hold a bottle and are easy to access.
Internally it’s handy to have multiple storage options, split into pockets and compartments so you can organise your gear.
Some of the more comfortable and stable backpacks have a bit of structure to them, whether aluminium stays or a semi rigid back panel. Trampoline mesh back panels are brilliant for temperature regulation, allowing air to flow freely around the back and can also be very comfortable to wear, but on a daypack they take up vital space inside and make the pack an awkward shape internally.
Padding on the shoulder straps is vital but can also be very welcome on the hipbelt, although it’s a fine balance between having lots of padding and the bag becoming too heavy and cumbersome.
Now you've got the lowdown on finding the best backpack for your needs check out our list below to find some great options at every price point.
Montane Azote 25
The Azote 25 is a 25-litre daypack that’s described by Montane as their most functional, go-anywhere, do-anything daypack.
We would say that’s true, but it’s ideally suited to hiking. First up, the back system is one of the most comfortable on test. It features a proper hipbelt that wraps around the waist and, unusually for a daypack has a handy zipped pocket on each side. The wings of the hipbelt are wide and well-cushioned with little cut-outs to relieve pressure.
The back panel features mesh covered high density foam with deep cut outs for optimal ventilation making it airy and comfortable on long walks. The mesh covered shoulder straps are wide and have ample cushioning, with all this protection you can really load the Azote 25 up and still have a comfortable carrying experience.
On trail the Azote 25 is stable thanks to a mix of excellent adjusters and anatomical shaping. The sternum strap clips on one handed and is elasticated to account for natural movement in the chest. The back panel is adjustable, which is perfect for someone like me who has a particularly long back. There are no instructions on how to make the adjustment, and the fact that it adjusts at all could easily be missed, but with a bit of investigation it’s easy to work and successfully adjusts the length of the back from short through to long.
A hydration bladder can be conveniently placed in-between the back panel and lining of the bag, which doesn’t take too much space away from the main compartment or adversely affect comfort.
The main compartment opens with a u-shaped zip which extends right down the bag, allowing easy access to kit at the bottom. We would have expected to see a small, zipped pocket here but it’s just one big compartment.
There is, however, a zipped pocket on the top of the bag for small items and the two stretch side pockets are big enough for a Nalgene bottle. The front kangaroo pocket is stretchy enough to hold a waterproof jacket and has an extra layer of security to hold the jacket in place by means of a simple clip.
Overall, this is one of the best backpacks for walking. It’s comfortable, practical, and durable and has a few added benefits over other backpacks that make it a particularly compelling buy.
Fjallravan Abisko Hike 35
This backpack could equally go into our list of best backpacking packs. Its sturdy build means it can take some weight and act as a solid daypack or light overnighter. Fjallraven’s tough G1000 outer fabric lends the bag durability as well as a unique aesthetic, and the aluminium stays and reinforced back panel allow the Abisko to be loaded up with lightweight camping kit while still feeling stable on the back. The hipbelt feels perfectly anatomical, hugging the waist without any discomfort. Like the shoulder straps it doesn’t feature any pockets, making the whole front of the pack as you wear it bereft of quick access storage for things like energy gels.
Storage elsewhere is just right though, there is a single side pocket for a drinks bottle and pockets both sides of the floating lid. One additional front pocket rounds off the gear organisation potential, which for a bag of this size is plenty, and reduces endless hunting through unnecessarily numerous pockets.
Access to the main compartment is through a top drawstring, best used for packing and the side zip which runs the length of the bag is the preferred option when you’re on the trail.
The sum of all these parts is a somewhat perfectly formed daypack which can be utilised as a lightweight overnight pack too.
Osprey Talon Pro 20
The Talon Pro 20 is possibly all the backpack you will ever need for fast and furious day hiking and cycling, and it better be with such an eye watering price tag. If you’re just gently rambling with a sandwich and thermos in your bag then forget the Talon Pro 20, this is optimised for serious day hiking where you want to be able to engage legs and go up hill and down dale mile after fast paced mile without any issues.
About as fully featured as day packs get the Talon Pro 20 features a fantastic array of pockets and attachment points, which are all very useful. These include two hipbelt pockets, two stretch shoulder strap pockets and the usual stretch side and front pockets. The internal compartment isn’t bent out of shape by a trampoline mesh back panel leaving plenty of space to store gear, and the main access zip, although panel loading gives you plenty of opening angle to easily get at gear in the depths. Your hydration bladder is externally positioned so as not to get in the way of, or leak all over kit in the main compartment.
The Airscape back panel looks high tech and works incredibly well. It’s airy, comfortable and stable and combines with the fantastic hipbelt and comfortable shoulder straps to create an overall excellent carry system.
To put the icing on the cake the Talon Pro 20 is made of seriously durable but lightweight materials, so despite being one of the most fully featured daypacks it is possible to buy, it tips the scales at only 900g.
A seriously excellent backpack for serious hiking.
Lowe Alpine Airzone Active 22
As daypacks go, Lowe Alpines Airzone Active 22 has everything you need but manages to maintain relative simplicity.
The combination of Airzone back panel and aluminium stays is tried and tested and allows you to carry a full load in comfort, with the weight easily transferred down to the hipbelt if that’s how you like to set your backpack up.
We found the hipbelt to be a strange affair though, with its stubby wings that don’t wrap around your waist, leading into standard webbing straps for the most part. This feels uncomfortable at first with the space for your back to nestle in between the hipbelt wings particularly narrow.
Aside from that though storage is great – it’s simple but intuitive. The main compartment contains a zipped mesh pocket inside for small items, there is a top zipped pocket, a large front stretch pocket and two side stretch pockets. We like hipbelt pockets, even on daypacks and the Airzone Active does not have any, which is the only omission in an otherwise fully featured storage setup.
Neat touches include an integrated raincover and rubberised walking pole attachments, the Airzone Active can also take a 3l hydration bladder in a dedicated sleeve inside the main compartment.
This is a proper hiking backpack for long days of walking in comfort, you get used to the strange hipbelt set up, but we wish it was just slightly better.
Berghaus Remote 20
The Remote 20 has a headline grabbing price tag a lot lower than most of its closest competitors, like the Salomon Out Day at £90 RRP.
For this paltry sum you get a reasonable pack for day hiking if your aspirations aren't too high. There are a decent range of storage options in the pack itself, including the usual stretch side water bottle pockets, a main compartment complete with hydration sleeve and map compatible front and sunglasses compatible top pockets.
These are all pretty unremarkable holes for gear but do the job you would expect them to, the trekking pole loops are a very handy addition too.
Comfort in the shoulder straps is okay and it’s the same story on the back panel. The Remote 20 doesn’t transfer weight down to the hips particularly well but with the low loads expected to be carried, that’s no big deal.
Salomon Out Day 20+4
We reviewed this exact same pack previously and it won our round up of best daypacks, we were therefore interested to see if it could withstand the test of time against stiff competition. And it doesn’t disappoint. This is one of the most immediately comfortable and ergonomically satisfying daypacks I’ve worn, everything has been designed with thought and is well-conceived.
The back system is excellent and the shoulder straps, despite being only very stingily cushioned are surprisingly adept at sitting there without rubbing your shoulders to pieces. With a heavy load inside, the Out Day transfers weight to the hips like you would expect a much bigger multi day backpack to do, this further elevates carrying comfort.
Storage is excellent, the pack is long and thin and the drawstring top loader is complimented by twin side zips so you can easily gather up bits from right at the bottom without a problem. Unusually for most packs in this class the Out Day is equipped with two hip belt pockets JUST big enough to stow sunglasses in and other vital components.
The Out Day leans on Salomon’s trail running heritage adding a soft bottle compatible sleeve in the shoulder strap and zipped stretch mesh pocket the other side but the side water bottle pockets are stingy at best, a ‘Nalgene’ most definitely will not fit in these.
Only just pipped to the post of ed's choice by the Talon Pro 20.
Columbia Essential Explorer 20
This backpack surprised us with its capability based on an initial look. The Essential Explorer 20 is a seriously floppy backpack with absolutely no form or structure to it, which would usually result in something only really good for carrying a bit of shopping in. Load it up and put it on your back though and it feels pretty much as good as the rest of the options on this page.
We found the ‘one size’ fit a little small for a tall and lanky frame, and this means that the webbing strap hip belt keeps rising up the torso while walking. Other than that, comfort is excellent despite minimal padding on any of the straps or back panel.
The roll top drybag style set up is wonderfully simple and the lack of pockets is a feature rather than an omission. This pack is meant to have stuff chucked in it and to haul said stuff without fuss. There is a hydration sleeve and front zipped pocket though, so a little gear organisation is possible. There’s also a tool loop and daisy chains for a bit of on bag stowage.
The Essential Explorer 20 isn’t the most accomplished hiking backpack, but it is a decent multi use option that has the benefit of rolling up neatly for packing into a suitcase.
Aquapac Waterproof backpack, 25L
There is something reassuring about this backpack, perhaps it's the fact that it’s waterproof, but more likely it has to do with its simple nature and solid build quality.
Our sample was sent without the back panel so there is no structure to speak of, but the pack was still surprisingly comfortable to use.
The hipbelt is functional but awkward thanks to being a simple webbing strap which has nothing anatomical about it whatsoever, other than that we have no real comfort qualms.
There is loads of space inside the 25L version of the Aquapac backpack, a 32L version is available if you need more. The internal additional yellow dry bag needs some explaining as to what the function is, and if you're not a regular on the water it might not actually be that useful, but a dry bag inside a dry bag is still great if you need to separate wet kit from dry. Talking of dry bag, the taped seams and roll closure do a sterling job of keeping the damp out whether you’re cycling, kayaking or hiking.
In addition to the internal storage there are two massive stretch side pockets capable of swallowing big water bottles. We’re not sure what the carabiner is for, but it looks cool and adds to the surfer vibe.
Vaude Brenta 30
An update to the original Brenta brings with it a fresh new look and improved gear access. The Brenta 30 is one of the most accomplished daypacks going, perfect for hiking needs. Yes, it’s more expensive than others but this is a daypack with features normally found on multi-day packs.
The trampoline mesh back system is both incredibly comfortable and breathable thanks to a big gap between the back panel and your back for airflow. You can adjust the back to get a more precise fit for your particular back length too which is a real bonus for regular day hikes. The shoulder and hipbelt straps are anatomically correct so wrap neatly around the contours of the body, providing a perfect carry system even with a heavy load. Cushioning on both is sufficient for daypack loads and there’s a hipbelt pocket to help with gear organisation.
Storage and access to kit is excellent, with a top loading main entrance and zipped u-shape opening giving access to kit in the depths of the bag. There are also three big stretch mesh pockets, one on either side and one at the front for rain gear as well as the usual pockets on the lid and of course the big main compartment, altogether making for an absolutely ideal backpack for a day walking on the hills.