Hard tested best backpacks for travel consumer reports 2020. A good carry-on backpack doesn’t get in your way when you’re on the go, but a great pack should feel like a home away from home.
The pack on my back is aching. The straps seems to cut me like a knife. So sang the Stone Rose in their 1989 trance-pop epic, Fool’s Gold, proving that with the right amount of genius, even a rucksack review can be elevated to high art.
But it also proves how important a good rucksack is. It’s not just about how much stuff your rucksack can store. It’s about comfort: how it disperses the weight of the load, how stable it is, and how it balances the dual requirements of padding (so the straps don’t, in fact, cut you like a knife) and ventilation (so they don’t cause you to overheat either).
And then, it’s about refinement: the little extras. Easy-access pockets for storing small stuff you might need quickly; a rain cover to see off the worst of a downpour; a built-in whistle for emergencies.
(On the other hand, you might be one of those walkers who just wants a rucksack to be nice and simple, without the added bells and whistles; we can understand that too.)
So in this test we are looking at lower capacity rucksacks (15-30L): perfect for year-round day-walks, family walks and (at the larger end of the spectrum) weekend or three-day hikes.
Take a look at these options, choose the one that suits your needs, and you need never again suffer.
We’ve chosen 12 rucksacks which should be widely available in the UK at the time of going to press, both online and in stores. The packs range from 15 litres to 30 litres capacity; we’ll look at 30-60L packs later in the year.
Most of the packs are unisex, it has variant designs for each gender. We don’t pick an overall winner as everyone is looking for something different and no single option will suit every walker. But we have picked a Tester’s Choice they particularly liked, and chosen a Best Value option too.
Best Backpacks For Travel
- Best for Cycling: Regatta Stamford 25L Backpack
- Best For Carry-On: Lowe Alpine Tensor 15 Backpack
- Best Backpacks for Work: Berghaus Remote 20 Rucksack Review
- Best for Outdoor Adventure: MOUNTAIN Warehouse Inca 18L Backpack
- Best for Traveling with a Laptop: Kathmandu Trailhead 25L Pack
- Best for Hiking: Deuter AC Lite 18L Hiking Backpack
- Best Commuter Backpack: Vaude Jura 18 Hiking Backpack
- Best Women’s Backpack for Travel Carry-on: Gregory Maya 16 Running Backpack Review
- Best Backback for School: Salomon Out Day 20+4 W Backpack Review
- Best Backpack for college: Arcteryx Brize 25 Backpack
- Best for Traveling with Pets: Fjällräven Ulvo 23 Backpack Review
- Best for Outdoor Photography: Osprey Manta 24 Pack Review
Best Backpacking Backpacks For Travel
#1. Regatta Stamford 25L Backpack
Retro-style packs are getting more and more common, and the logic behind them is simple: for the consumer, the vintage styling looks cool and classy in a slightly hipster way, and for the brand.
It subtly says “Hey, we’ve been around for years making stuff like this, so you can trust us.” And although based on old designs, most retro packs include modern-day twists; in this case it’s the soft padded back system and the fabric, which is recycled polyester trying to look like old-school canvas.
What we get is a light, capacious work-and-play pack with an S-clip lid fastening and an underlying zip, with a generous lid pocket and a light blue interior to help you find stuff quickly. The laptop pocket makes it clear this is aimed at urban rural crossover, but the ‘country casual’ look means it’s at home in fields and woods too.
That said, this is not the most practical of packs: the fabric is so soft that the whole pack is floppy, and there is neither chest belt nor waist belt to anchor it properly. Regatta’s Survivor and Brize ranges offer a lot more form and functionality, but this is a fun pack for commuting and gentle strolls.
- Weight: 471g
- Back system: Single panel with foam padding
- Extra pockets: 3
- Sweetly vintage looks
- Laptop storage
- Easy access
- Structure is weak and floppy
- Not practical for challenging walks
Verdict: Best for Commuting, plus everyday strolls in parks, fields and woodland.
Best Daypack for Men
#2. Lowe Alpine Tensor 15 Backpack
Lowe’s flagship range for day walks is the AirZone, which comes in variants from 20L up to 50L. We’ve reviewed and loved them many times so we’re happy to suggest that the Airzone Z 20 should be in anyone’s thoughts when choosing a compact daypack.
But this time we looked at their lighter, breezier, cheaper Tensor, which comes in 5, 10, 15, 20 and 23L versions. These are built for fast hiking, running and cycling, as defined by their smaller size, lighter weight and single-panel back system.
For many walkers, the Tensor might well be all they need. This one stores a waterproof, a mid-layer, hat, gloves, some lunch, a map, compass and the car keys, and that might be all you ever want to take. Its slimline V-shape means it feels streamlined, while the chest and waist straps keep it secure.
The side pockets are tiny though; it’s a struggle to get anything other than the slimmest of flasks into them. And although it’s set up to take a hydration system, it eats up so much storage that you can barely fit anything else in. Great for quick hikes with just the basics; for anything more demanding, stick with AirZone.
- Weight: 437G
- Back system: AirContour (single ventilated panel)
- Extra pockets: 4
- Excellent value
- Suited to multi-activity
- Not enough storage for more serious walks
- Tiny side pockets
Verdict: Best for light, fast hiking and scrambling, plus cycling and running.
Best for Short Trips
#3. Berghaus Remote 20 Rucksack Review
The Remote 20 is small but thoughtfully designed, ideal for summer days marching across the fells. It’s also one of the lightest on test, thanks largely to a simple mesh-covered, ridged foam back system which sits directly against your body.
While it does allow some ventilation I found that I could get a little sweaty on strenuous walks in milder conditions. It’s not shaped either, so it feels less secure at the shoulders and base but the flexibility of the foam means that, with some adjustments from the sternum strap and waist belt, it feels stable enough for a day walking on moderate terrain.
For a unisex pack, it also fits surprisingly well across my narrow shoulders. It’s unfussy, with two zipped outer pockets: a small padded one roomy enough for glasses or phone and larger one ideal for a map plus one or two other small items.
I was happy to find a key clip in the inner zipped pocket and could just about extract a water bottle from the stretchy mesh side pockets without taking the bag off. Altogether, the features, weight, and price make this a great value pack.
- Weight: 598g
- Back system: Single mesh/foam panel
- Extra pockets: 5
- Sensible array of pockets
- Great value.
- Lacks stability on rocky ground
Verdict: Best for Hill walking in fine conditions.
Best Backpack for Urban Photography
#4. MOUNTAIN Warehouse Inca 18L Backpack
This is one of the lightest packs in our test (the Lowe Alpine is lighter) and although the RRP is £60, it’s normally on sale for less than £30, making it quite the steal. It’s also one of the smallest, so it’s great for days when the weather is fine or for low-level walks but less suited to trips that might require you to carry more than the basics. I
t’s another with a mesh-covered, ridged-foam back which sits quite close to your body. I found that without careful packing it could feel lumpy and pressed in a little uncomfortably on my lower back but with some adjustment felt relatively secure.
The sternum strap and hip belt help with that, though I’d like it to fit more closely over the shoulders. It’s pretty well featured with a walking pole attachment on either side and a big stretchy mesh outer pocket, great for shoving a raincoat into between showers.
There’s a little zipped pocket on top too but that’s it, no inner pocket and no key clip. All in all, for the price, this is a good little pack and won’t weigh you down on jaunts across the hills – a benefit that will only grow as the year gets warmer.
- Weight: 475g
- Back system: Single ventilated panel
- Extra pockets: 4
- Great value
- Some good features
- Not the most comfortable
- No inner pocket.
Verdict: Best for Fair-weather walks over easier ground.
Best Backpack for Fishing
#5. Kathmandu Trailhead 25L Pack
The contrast between this big, tough beast and the feathery Lowe Alpine Tensor couldn’t be clearer. This is a hard-wearing pack designed for long days – and very much built to last.
Its main fabric is an abrasion-resistant Cordura which feels like tough old canvas and means the pack weighs in at a meaty 975g.
And its capacity is huge, because it uses a foam padded back system rather than a suspended system, meaning there’s no loss of space and your centre of gravity stays where it wants to be.
The downsides are the weight and the heat; ploughing up a hillside with this on, I definitely feel the sweat building up, and the stiffness and heaviness are very noticeable.
And yet, I’ve absolutely loved using this pack. It sits firm and straight, doesn’t bounce about, distributes its load perfectly, and swallows a lot more stuff than many other packs with a claimed capacity of 25L.
It switches to commuting nicely too, as the hydration system pouch easily holds a laptop. And I’m pretty sure, given its supremely abrasion resistant fabric, that this pack will be happily intact in ten years’ time.
- Weight: 975g
- Back system: Air Pod (foam pads with channels)
- Extra pockets: 4
- Huge capacity
- Super-tough fabric
- Large side pockets
- Built to last
- Back system struggles to ventilate on tough climbs
Verdict: Best for Day walks where you want to take a lot; the odd over-nighter too.
Best Waterproof Backpack
#6. Deuter AC Lite 18L Hiking Backpack
The AC Lite is a sleek, no-nonsense pack with a single clip closure that makes accessing it super quick and easy. Other than the stretchy mesh ones on the sides, there are only two pockets, in and outside the lid.
The outer has a key clip and is large enough for a few small items and will just about take a map, if you’re not afraid to bend it. The inner one is slightly smaller and good for valuables.
There’s a single walking pole attachment, a detachable rain cover zipped into the bottom, a reflective strip to secure your drinking tube and that’s pretty much it for outer features.
The back system and overall structure of the pack though, are very good. It’s built around a lightweight steel frame with tensioned mesh to hold the bulk of the pack away from your body, allowing air to flow and I found that any sweatiness from uphill trudging quickly dissipated.
It also allows for some quite rough packing. With padding around the hips and shoulders, I found it comfortable and secure even while moving over quite rocky terrain. I missed some top tensioning straps to refine the fit, but that’s a minor quibble.
- Weight: 880g
- Back system: AirContact suspended system
- Extra pockets: 4
- Robust materials
- Back system
- No large outer pocket
Verdict: Best for Day hikes, especially in the hills.
#7. Vaude Jura 18 Hiking Backpack
Here’s a fantastic compact daypack that gets pretty much everything right. Light, trim and unfussy, with clean lines but high spec.
It’s ideal for almost any day walk, but it’s especially good on hills, where its perfectly distributed weight and neatly ventilated back system really come into their own.
I mentioned clean lines; part of that is down to the fact that there are no compression straps: a good thing if you don’t like the way they obstruct zip access and flap about if undone, but it means the pack can be quite floppy if you haven’t maxed out its storage.
Also there are no pockets on the hip-belt, which I might expect on a pack of this spec. But there’s so much to love: the rigid lines through the lid which keep it nice and stable (especially if you’ve filled the capacious lid pocket).
The suspended back system which holds the load away from your back without impinging on storage too much. A decent rain cover and walking pole attachments. The Jura also comes in 20, 24, 25, 30 and 32L versions if you want a bit more space, but I think this one is a perfect size for most of the basics you’d ever take on a day walk.
- Weight: 852g
- Back system: Aeroflex 3D suspended system
- Extra pockets: 3
- Plenty of storage
- Great back system
- Lacks compression straps (but this may be a plus for some walkers)
Verdict: Best for Pretty much any day walk, but especially good on hills.
#8. Gregory Maya 16 Running Backpack Review
The Maya (men’s Miwok) may not have a huge capacity but it offers so many extra features you barely notice it. Especially impressive is the adjustable back system which, along with the top tensioning straps and movable sternum strap, allow for a very precise fit.
It hugs the body, feeling neat, stable and secure enough for some quite adventurous scrambling and more fleet-footedness on the hills. The back system is mesh-covered foam, this time perforated and notched to improve air flow and padded at the edges for comfort.
I didn’t notice any excess sweatiness. There are the standard stretchy mesh side pockets plus zipped pockets on the hip belt, which is also lightly padded.
The mesh front pocket is a decent size, although not quite big enough for an OS map, and there’s a soft-lined top pocket for phone or glasses, and an internal pocket with key clip.
The hydration pocket has its own zip opening compartment, making it easy to access and organise. There’s a pole attachment loop and a sunglasses holder on the shoulder strap, emphasising that this one is really made for fair-weather adventures.
- Weight: 800g
- Back system: Vent panel with mesh
- Extra pockets: 7
- Highly adjustable fit
- Comfortable on the go
- Plenty of features
- Front pocket is slightly too small to neatly take a map
Verdict: Best for Fine-weather walks over challenging terrain.
#9. Salomon Out Day 20+4 W Backpack Review
This capacious but lightweight pack has plenty of technical features. The straps are thinner and operate in a slightly different way to most but can be easily tweaked to a close fit, from shoulder to waist, once you get used to them.
This snugness comes also thanks to the female specific harness, inspired by Salomon’s established trail running line. The padded shoulder straps curve inwards and don’t slip off, even without the sternum strap.
It fit me perfectly allowing a full range of movement while remaining very stable. The lightness of the fabric meant that I never felt unduly sweaty either.
There are a few unique features on this pack, one being a long side zip, which allows you to access the lower part of the pack without unloading everything on top. This was brilliant on a blustery slope, when my gloves had slipped to the bottom of the bag.
There’s also a large zipped mesh front pocket, a small zipped pocket on the lid and an array on the hip-belt and shoulder straps. One is designed for a small flask with straw that I’m not sure many walkers will use – but it’s excellent for holding a bag of M&Ms.
- Weight: 656g
- Back system: Foam padding with channels
- Extra pockets: 10
- Handy zip to access the basement
- Adjusting can be a bit complicated until you get used to it
Verdict: Best for Fast and agile movement on any terrain.
#10. Arcteryx Brize 25 Backpack
Simple and tough, the Brize 25 has more than enough capacity for the extra warm layers required on frostier days.
That comes almost entirely from the main compartment though, with only one zipped outer pocket on the lid, which admittedly is large enough to – with a bit of rough encouragement – accept a map.
I found one of the two side pockets a better place for it. Interestingly, the pack zips open backwards, which, with the additional protection of a baffle, helps it resist the rain.
The fabric is tough enough to hold out most showers anyway, and across the board everything on this pack feels robust and high-quality.
The padding on the shoulder straps is a little stiff and bulky, and overall, the fit didn’t feel quite so secure when scrambling or negotiating very rocky ground. I found myself reaching for some top tensioning straps more than once, only to find they weren’t there.
The foam back system is simple but I hiked up hill and down valley without much clamminess at all. The end result is a stripped-back, hard wearing and good quality pack, well suited to hiking and travel.
- Weight: 882g
- Back system: Ventilated foam panel
- Extra pockets: 4
- Robust materials
- Sleek design
- Only one outer pocket
- Expensive for what it actually offers
Verdict: Best for Street-to-summit versatility.
#11. Fjällräven Ulvo 23 Backpack Review
Fjällräven’s daypacks range from the omnipresent commuter/schoolbag Kånken (£85) to the more technical Abisko Hike (£120 for 15L) and Keb Hike (£185 for 20L).
But this is a nice halfway house: a tough, robust but beautifully put together pack that serves perfectly as either commuter carrier (with laptop pouch) or simple day-hiking pack.
Its first big selling point is its new Bergshell nylon fabric, which is abrasion-resistant and as good as waterproof. It definitely stands up to a squally shower, although there’s no protection on the zip so the interior will always be somewhat vulnerable.
The clean, unobstructed zip gives instant access to the interior, whose pearl colouring means you can easily find what you’re looking for.
There’s also a smaller compartment on the front panel which is a) still a really good size for maps or even a light fleece and b) well placed to keep the load nice and even.
There’s no waist strap, but the chest strap holds the load together nicely, and while the soft mesh on the back panel isn’t as effective as some, it still keeps me reasonably well ventilated, even on stiff, sustained climbs.
- Weight: 702g
- Back system: Ventilated mesh padding
- Extra pockets: 3
- Waterproof fabric
- Good storage
- Highly adaptable
- Lack of waist strap means it’s not suited to harder walks
Verdict: Best for A tough, humid commute followed by an escape into the woods.
#12. Osprey Manta 24 Pack Review
When it comes to packing a ton of features into a small rucksack, Osprey take some beating. So when they announced the new Manta (women’s Mira 22) as their ‘First Class’ hiking pack, we had to take a look.
For many walkers, Osprey’s Stratos/Sirrus and Talon/ Tempest ranges are the definitive daypacks; in essence Manta and Mira are the best of both, with no mod con left out.
They’re sold with one of Osprey’s 2.5L Hydraulic hydration systems included (and it’s properly integrated. A magnetic latch to connect it to the chest strap, meaning the hose will not flap around).
The adjustable AirSpeed trampoline back system from the Stratos and a host of hidey-hole pockets and stow-on-the-go pole storage. It all comes together with great success.
Weight distribution, stability, ventilation and storage are all as good as the Stratos, which is to say, just about perfect, but with too many strappy bits for some tastes.
Yes, you could buy a £100 Stratos 25L and a £30 Hydraulic reservoir for less, but if you want top-end luxury with every possible feature, this may be the pack for you.
- Weight: 1651g (incl hydration system)
- Back system: AirSpeed suspended
- Extra pockets: 5
- Great back system
- Superb comfort
- Every possible feature
- Some will find it too fussy and over complicated
Verdict: Best for Walkers who don’t want to compromise on features. Like, at all.
Things To Look for
Smaller packs tend to use simple zip closure rather than lid-with buckle. Some zips allow the entire frontage of the pack to be opened up, allowing instant access to the whole of the main compartment. But the longer the zip, the greater the risk of water ingress.
Although nice and light for summer, a compact pack is actually even more useful in winter, because then you’re more likely to wear your warm and waterproof gear than carry it, meaning you need less storage space. But check the pack can be neatly compressed down (using its straps) when it’s not full.
The main compartment of a decent 18L pack should take a waterproof, a mid-layer, a first aid kit and some snacks. If you want to take extra items (hats, gloves, waterproof trousers) try a 20-22L pack. And if you walk with a young family, a 25-30L pack should carry all of the above plus extra snacks, drinks and a cuddly toy too.
Look for a decent-sized storage pocket at the top or on the front panel, to store small things you might need quickly. Stretchy bottle pockets on the sides are always handy, as are hip-belt pockets (although smaller packs may not offer the latter).
Most of the packs in this test have internal space for a hydration reservoir. The clue is usually a symbol (or the word H2O) which shows where the hose hole is. Check the hole is big enough for the hose to fit through, and check how the reservoir is supported within the pack – you don’t want it to mess up the weight distribution or flop about.
Shoulder straps should be well padded to prevent rubbing. But there’s always a trade-off between cushioned comfort and trapped heat; it’s worth looking at leaner, more ventilated straps that will keep you cool on the go. Always looks for a waist belt and chest-strap to spread the weight evenly and keep the whole thing stable on the go.
How your pack deals with heat and air is crucial if you want to avoid a sweaty back.
Back Systems Explained
Back systems go by different names but there are essentially three types.
- Padded / Mesh: The simplest option. A single back panel with mesh or foam padding, usually with channels between the pads to direct hot air away from your back. Pros: Maximises your storage, doesn’t affect your balance because the load is close to your back, usually cheaper. Cons: Not as effective at ventilation, less stable structure.
Good example: Regatta Stamford.
- Vent Panel: A more sophisticated option: a single panel with ridges and holes providing ventilation. Often used on lighter packs designed for fast hiking. Pros: Good ventilation withou impinging on storage space. Cons: Not as comfy as option 1 or as well ventilated as option 3. Good example: Lowe Alpine Tensor.
- Suspended: Sometimes called concave or trampoline. A vented panel sits on your back while the load is pushed right away from you, allowing air to circulate freely. Pros: The best ventilation. Cons: Can affect your centre of gravity; reduces storage space in the pack. Good example: Deuter AC Lite.
Should I trust the rain cover?
All but the smallest rucksacks tend to come with a raincover these days. Do they work? Well, they might keep the worst of the rain out but there’s no way they make a rucksack fully waterproof. If rain is forecast, many walkers prefer to line the interior with a large dry-bag (consider Sea to Summit or Osprey) or just a bin liner, either of which is more likely to keep the contents drier. Also check where the raincover is stored (top, middle or – most often – bottom) as this may affect weight distribution.
The Big Bag of Water
Most packs above 15L offer space and fittings for a hydration system. These are great for on-the-go refreshment, but bear in mind you can’t monitor how much is left without looking in the pack. And check where the reservoir sits within the pack and how it might affect the weight distribution and storage capacity when full. Some packs, such as the Osprey Manta and those by Camelbak and Platypus, come with a reservoir included – usually for a premium price of course.
Packs for Women
The majority of daypacks are conceived as unisex, but specialist rucksack brands like Deuter, Lowe Alpine and Osprey usually make separate male and female versions of their most popular ranges. Their women-specific packs tend to be shorter and narrower, and thus have a slightly lower capacity than the men’s counterpart, with S-shaped shoulder straps that are designed to fit round the bust.
The Joy of the Hip Belt
In higher-spec rucksacks the hip belt plays a vital part in transferring the weight off your shoulders, in tandem with the main harness. Good, chunky hip fins help disperse the weight and keep the load stable (and may include some lumbar support too). And they may also include a handy pocket – usually the only one you can reach while wearing the pack. Just check that the hip fins aren’t too rigid for your liking; if too stiff, they may hurt your hips.