If you’re going to be hiking and mountaineering (or even going on a walking weekend in the Lake District), you need a hiking backpack you can truly rely on. The issue is, if you’re not a full-time adventurer, it can be hard to sift through the technical details and the myriad options on offer to find the one which is best for you. So, in order to find the best hiking backpacks to suit any hiker’s needs, we approached ten bona fide explorers and adventurers — from survivalists to archaeologists, Arctic photographers to Everest mountaineers — and asked them to recommend the backpacks they trust enough to take with them.
One of the first things we learned is that the type of pack you want depends totally on size, which itself depends on the type of adventure you’re planning. While hiking backpacks come in a whole host of sizes, for ease, we’ve split them into three categories: small (under 20 litres), medium (20 to 40 litres), and large (40 litres or more), with corresponding details on the types of expedition each one suits. Below, you’ll find 14 hiking backpacks — and one hiking bum bag — across ten categories, including the best hiking backpack for carrying a camera, the best hiking backpack for extreme sports, and the best hiking backpack for hiking with young children.
Best overall hiking backpack
At around 30 litres, a medium hiking backpack offers more space than a smaller hydration backpack, but isn’t necessarily designed for more than one-night stays. That said, the right medium backpack (or “day pack”) is probably the most versatile hiking bag you’ll find — a perfect example being Osprey’s Hikelite, recommended by two of our experts. “It’s been my go-to backpack for almost three years now, and I’ve used it for everything from overnight woodland camping trips through to big mountain summits in Scotland,” says Camping With Style’s Shell Robshaw-Bryan. “It’s the ideal size for day hikes and is big enough for extra layers, lunch, maps, and much more.”
Another keen user of the Hikelite is Dwayne Fields, explorer, naturalist, and co-founder of the WeTwo Foundation. Fields used the bag on a fundraising expedition where he walked the length of mainland Britain, a journey of over 1,300 kilometres “in almost every imaginable weather condition.” “Although this bag is designed as a day pack, I found it very useful,” Fields says. “On cold, wet days, the large, elasticated side pockets meant I could securely store my snacks and drinks and still have easy access to them without removing my gloves.”
Fields also praises the single-clip lid, allowing easy access to dry clothes or waterproofs without other items falling out, as well as the mesh-back system which allowed sufficient airflow during days covering over 30 kilometres on foot. “Out of all of my backpacks I would say this one gets the most use, due to its convenient size,” he says. While Robshaw-Bryan opts for the 26-litre option, Fields recommends the 32-litre Hikelite “to anyone going on a slightly longer walk and needing to take more gear.”
Best small hiking backpack
Mini and small hiking backpacks are best suited to short trips out, for extreme sports, or for times when all you need is to store minimal kit and benefit from built-in hydration. The eight-litre Thule Uptake, for example, is built for cycling — but with a hands-free hose and a cooling foam-back harness, it’s useful elsewhere too. “It’s my go-to pack for mountain sports,” says Robshaw-Bryan, who takes the pack snowboarding. “The smaller size means it doesn’t interfere with using chairlifts, but there’s plenty of space in there for all of your vitals — plus it’s cleverly designed to make it easy to hydrate on the go.”
If you’re looking for something slightly bigger, inov-8’s Adventure Lite pack has almost double the space without too much of an increase in size. “It’s perfect for moving fast and light in the mountains,” says adventurer, hiker, and author James Forrest, who praises the pack’s “ultralight” and “comfy” feel. “There’s just enough space for my gear, snacks, drinks, and waterproofs, and the large stretchy mesh pocket is really handy. It’s my go-to pack or adventurous day hikes.”
Best large hiking backpacks
Robshaw-Bryan says that Osprey packs are “amazing quality” and offer “decades of service,” so it’s no surprise that our experts’ favourite large hiking backpack also comes from the American heritage brand. Adventurer and conservationist Holly Budge swears by Osprey packs, having used the 65-litre Ariel to successfully summit Mount Everest.
“I climbed Everest as a two-man team, which meant my pack was heavy,” Budge says. “This backpack gave me lots of support through the waist strap, making the weight more manageable. It endured extreme heat, wind, and snow but didn’t let me down.” Budge is also a fan of the bag’s “well-placed” pockets and extendable lid, as well as its general versatility. “It even doubled as a pillow when I had to wait out a storm for a night at 8,300 meters on my descent,” she says.
Another adventurer who praises the Ariel for its versatility is explorer and survivalist Ness Knight, who says it’s big enough for wild camping while still being adequately small to be practical over rough terrain. “It caters for a kaleidoscope of adventures, including ice-axe holders and walking pole holders, plus compartments for separating wet and dry clothes and boots if you need,” Knight says. “I’ve used it for multiday solo hikes in Scotland, through dense forests on the hunt for the perfect hammock camp, up mountains to find bivvy locations to sleep under the stars, and along rugged coastlines with breathtaking vistas.”
While the Ariel is specifically designed for women, Osprey does offer a dedicated men’s equivalent in the Aether. However, if you’re looking for a more tried-and-tested men’s pack, Berghaus’s Ridgeway model gets two glowing recommendations from adventure athletes the Turner Twins. “It’s the perfect pack for longer hikes, campaign trips, and expeditions,” says Hugo Turner, who relied on the pack when he and brother Ross climbed Russia’s 5,642-meter Mount Elbrus. “It’s got super-supportive adjustable back padding, multiple pockets, side mesh for quick-stashing and useful hip pockets for endless snacking.”
Best heavy-duty hiking backpacks
For extreme expeditions where tougher kit is needed, seasoned adventurer Will Copestake has long been using the Crux AK70. “There are absolutely zero bells and whistles — it’s a Kevlar sack with external tie-down straps and a zippered floating hood,” he says. “That said, it’s lightweight, unbelievably comfortable despite zero padding, and, frankly, invincible.” With the AK70 in tow, Copestake has climbed all 282 Munro mountains and all 222 Corbett mountains, and weathered four Patagonian seasons.
“It’s been thrown 400 meters off a cliff, stuffed with snow for tent anchors, crammed in a salt kayak, and dragged up just about everything I’ve dragged myself up,” Copestake says. “It will fit up to six days of food and kit no bother, a week if packing extra under the floating hood.” And while it doesn’t come cheap, the AK70 benefits from a level of durability that makes it well worth the cost. “I bought it as a student in 2012, and it’s still going,” Copestake says. “If I could own one pack for the rest of my life it would be this — and probably will be.”
If you’re looking for a heavy-duty hiking backpack with a less hefty price tag, Fields recommends the Fjellpulken Xpack as a good alternative. “I’ve had it for over ten years,” he says. “I love it for so many reasons, mainly because it was right there on my back as I walked across the Arctic bound for the magnetic North Pole.” For three weeks, Fields carried everything he needed for short-term survival in the Xpack, “through some of the harshest conditions on the planet.” He praises its wide opening compartment, its broad and supportive shoulder straps, plus its great weather protection. “It’s been a great companion for many walks over the past decade and its robust build means that I still trust it to this day,” he says. “I can never be accused for not putting this bag through its paces!”
Best waterproof hiking backpacks
In conditions where they know they’ll be getting wet, two of our expert adventurers trust Finisterre’s waterproof Drift. “It was great for water-housing and for keeping exploration gear bone-dry while exploring the gorges of South Africa,” says adventure photographer Lucia Griggi. It’s also recommended by wildlife biologist and filmmaker Lizzie Daly, who praises its comfortability, its size, and its 100 percent recycled credentials. “It’s a backpack that I know will perform well, from a very environmentally conscious brand,” says Daly. “A lot of my time is spent on the coast, on a boat, wading through a river, or in the pouring rain, so my bag must be fully waterproof and durable. That’s why this one is top of my list.”
At a lower price point, Ness Knight trusts the “very affordable” and “extremely durable” Aquapac Heavyweight to keep her belongings dry in waterlogged conditions. “I’ve used Aquapac for nearly a decade now, and always come back to them for outfitting my water-based adventures,” she says. “These backpacks have been submersed more times than I can count, seen me through near-hypothermia on the river while tornadoes touched down all around me in a wild electrical storm, and stood up to many short ocean explorations along the raw and remote Scottish coastlines, battered by salt water and tempestuous weather.” If that isn’t enough to prove its durability, Knight also wore the Heavyweight as she stand-up-paddleboarded over 1,000 miles down the Missouri River, then cycled 2,000 miles across the USA.
Best hiking backpack for capacity
When taking a backpack out on an expedition, space is just as important as durability — especially in a day pack. For Holly Budge, the most spacious medium hiking backpack on offer is another Osprey product, the Tempest. “I love this pack because it’s versatile and compact, but it’s like Doctor Who’s TARDIS inside,” she says. “It fits a large amount of stuff in it and all the different compartments make equipment easy to access wherever you are.” Budge used the pack while day- and night-patrolling with an all-female wildlife ranger team in Africa. “It got put through its paces with sweltering heat, dust storms, and spiky undergrowth, but it’s still going strong,” she says.
For an equally spacious backpack on the larger end of the spectrum, James Forrest swears by Gossamer Gear’s Mariposa model. “The weight-to-space ratio is incredible,” he says. “A 60-litre capacity for 814g is perhaps unbeatable.” Forrest used the pack on a 14-day expedition up all 214 of the Wainwright mountains in the Lake District, where he benefited from its “highly customisable” elements and supportive frame. “It’s an all-round gear-hauling workhorse,” he says. “For multiday trips when carrying camping kit and food, it’s a reliable choice.”
Best hiking backpack for parents
If you’re hoping to hike with a baby or toddler in tow, the right backpack is everything. For Mary-Ann Ochota, adventurer, archaeologist, and author of Secret Britain, that perfect pack is another from Osprey — the aptly named Poco. “It isn’t a cheap piece of kit, but it’s an astonishingly well-designed one,” she says. “You can get your littlest one out on the trails from around seven months until they’re some 18kg, and it’s got space for all your — or their — stuff, too.” Ochota utilised the pack during a five-day expedition along the St. Cuthbert’s Way on the Anglo-Scottish borders with her mum and her 9-month-old son, Cole. “On our final day we walked across the sands to Lindisfarne Island following the pilgrim route, and it was magical,” she says. “Three generations, one big adventure!”
Best hiking backpack for photographers
“Often for my trips I need a bag that is both versatile and suitable for carrying lots of filming gear,” says Lizzie Daly. Her go-to is the ProTactic BP, a “small, compact” bag which she says is perfect for travelling internationally but also for taking on hikes when in the field. “It fits a surprising amount of kit in, and it has additional pockets for my camera batteries, binoculars, and even room for nature guides in the lid,” she says. Will Copestake is another Lowepro fan, describing its bags as “great, tough, and well-designed.”
Best hiking bum bag
On shorter walks when even a smaller backpack feels like an unnecessary burden, Ochota swears by Montane’s Featherlite waist pack. “When you want to hike unencumbered but still carry the essentials, you can’t beat one of these,” she says. “It has a six-litre capacity, multiple pockets, and space for two full-sized water bottles, and somehow you don’t even look silly wearing it.” According to Ochota, it’s perfect for everything from a whole day of mountain running to “a dog walk in the local country park with the kids.”
Best everyday backpack (which you can also take hiking)
“Firstly, of course this isn’t a hiking backpack,” says Robshaw-Bryan. “But I’ve had mine for two years now and love it.” If you can look past its nontechnical credentials, Robshaw-Bryan says the Kånken is actually a perfect crossover backpack for those who are serious about hiking but also want something stylish to wear day-to-day. “It’s so versatile and is ideal for everyday urban use, but it also serves a dual purpose and will take you with ease on unplanned countryside walks,” she says. It comes in a range of colours and several carrying options, with a padded base and a durable, water-resistant exterior.
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