The Ultimate Guide to the Best Backpacks
Whether you’re an intrepid adventurer or just a fan of occasional holidays, everyone can benefit from a good quality backpack. From huge, rugged rucksacks that will take you across the world for 6 months to simple, stylish daypacks that carry your essentials, there’s a lot of choices out there.
Choosing a backpack can be a daunting task when you’re not sure exactly what you’re looking for. Size, capacity, pockets, lids and straps all vary between backpacks, and depending on what kind of travel or activity you’re purchasing a bag for, you’re going to be looking for a variety of different features.
We wouldn’t be able to call ourselves Backpacker Boy with a clear conscience if we didn’t have a section of our blog dedicated to the bags that have given us our name. So here’s our ultimate backpack buying guide, complete with everything you need to know before choosing a backpack.
Where to Buy a Backpack
Where you choose to buy a backpack will depend on your experience, knowledge and familiarity with buying this kind of bag. All kinds of styles and brands are available in shops and online, and where you choose to make a purchase will come down to several factors.
First, if you don’t have any idea about where to start choosing a backpack to buy, you might benefit from going into a shop and talking to someone who works there. Staff in outdoor equipment stores are very knowledgeable about the products they offer and will be able to advise on the best size, style and brand to go for.
You might also be better off buying a backpack in person if you’re unsure of the right size bag to choose. Trying on different rucksacks helps give a good idea of the best size for you, and you can’t do this when shopping online.
However, the range of different options available is much larger when you’re shopping online, and if you’re after a specific brand or style, you’re more likely to get exactly what you want online. If you’ve purchased backpacks before and know what kind of size and features you’re looking for, buying one online is the faster option and gives you more freedom with style and design.
Backpack Buying Guide
Before we get into making recommendations of some of the best backpacks that are out there at the moment, here’s a quick guide to what you should consider before making a purchase.
Your height, strength and what you’re planning on using the backpack for will all dictate the size of the bag you end up choosing. Backpacks are measured in litres, with the smallest options usually around 10-15L and the largest going up to around 85L.
If you’re a short person then realistically, you’re not going to be able to carry a ginormous backpack without a lot of difficulties. Equally, if you’re not particularly strong or suffering from any physical injuries or impairments, you’re going to want to choose a smaller backpack that is easier to handle.
Consider how much luggage or equipment you are planning to carry in your backpack, and then what size of bag is going to be best for fitting all of this. Many backpacks come with guidelines of the items they can carry, which will help if this is your first proper backpack purchase.
The weight of a new backpack is important for two reasons. The first is that it needs to be a comfortable weight for you to carry, which is why many people decide to test how a backpack feels on their shoulders and hips before they buy it.
The other is that, if you’re planning on taking your backpack on a plane, you’ll need to factor in luggage limitations. This is particularly important if you are planning on purchasing a rucksack to be your carry-on luggage.
The material that a backpack is made out of is a key factor to consider when making a purchase. The last thing you want in the middle of your travels is for the only luggage you have to fall apart, so the strength and durability of the fabric is extremely important. In most cases, it’s much better to pay more money for a backpack that is made out of higher quality material, as you know it’s going to last longer.
Whether a backpack is waterproof may also be a key consideration if you’re buying the bag intending to do a lot of hiking or camping. Whilst some backpacks are made of waterproof material, others only have a rain cover or aren’t waterproof at all, so think about the purpose of your rucksack and whether it needs to be weather resistant.
Finally, you should ensure that the backpack you are buying is actually comfortable to wear. If you’re just choosing a daypack then this isn’t the most important thing to consider, but if you’re going to be walking for hours with a heavy rucksack on your back, you want it to be as comfortable as possible.
This is where buying backpacks in person has an advantage. If you can try on the backpack and make sure it fits your body well and is going to be comfortable to wear for long periods, you’ll guarantee that you choose a bag that you’re going to find easy to wear.
If you’re choosing a backpack for travel, something you might want to consider is how many different compartments you need. If you’re just looking for a bag to use during the day then this isn’t as essential, but if you’re going to be carrying all of your belongings around in a backpack then you might want to have a variety of compartments to keep certain items and separate and make it easier to find things in a hurry.
The majority of backpacks that are made nowadays have an internal frame, which means that the main structural support of the bag is built into the material. A couple of rucksacks still have external frames, but in general, you want to avoid buying one of these unless you’re really going for a retro look, as internal frame backpacks are much sturdier and more comfortable to wear.
Backpacks that are designed for longer wear and more heavy-duty loads tend to have padding in the back, shoulder straps and hip belt. Whilst this can sometimes make the bag feel bulkier, if you are going to be wearing your backpack for long periods of time then you want to choose one that has a good amount of padding, as this will make it much more comfortable.
What Kind of Backpack Should I Get?
Backpacks come in all different shapes and sizes, and many of them have special features that make them better suited to certain kinds of travel or expeditions. We’ve split our list of the best backpacks into several different categories to make it easier to find what you are looking for.
The Best Backpacking Backpacks
Backpacking is the type of travel that was named after the humble backpack. If you’re going to be exploring the world for a long time with nothing but the bag slung over your shoulders, you’re going to need a rucksack that is strong, sturdy, comfortable and can carry everything you need to take with you.
Salkan is a relatively new backpack brand that is paving the way forward with an innovative concept for its product. Their Backpacker model is an ideal choice for backpackers who want a bag that is going to do everything you need it to along with a couple of special features that are certainly something to brag about to the friends you make around the world.
The Backpacker is a 55l rucksack that also comes with a detachable 20l daypack that you can use for daytime exploring and then hook to either the front or the back of the main backpack when you’re on the move. With weatherproof fabric, a flight and rain cover, a laundry sling and a laptop sleeve along with numerous other side pockets and straps, this is a bag that delivers on literally every front.
Not only is Salkan an indie backpack brand with impressive environmentally conscious values, but they also have an exclusive community of backpack owners who get lifetime discounts, a hand-numbered bag and early access to all new products.
Have we mentioned that you can also personalise your backpack and strap colours? What’s not to love?!
The Travel Backpack Original by Wayks
If you’re looking for another indie backpack retailer, Wayks are an excellent choice. The Berlin-based brand produces a range of different rucksacks and other bags, but their Travel Backpack Original is their best option if you’re looking for a great all-rounder for your next backpacking holiday.
The Travel Backpack Original is a 3-in-1 design, carrying everything from 7 – 45L. With 13 different sections to store your belongings and several different detachable options, it’s a very versatile model that has sturdy chest and hip straps for when it’s fully loaded but also folds down into a comfortable, compact rucksack.
The highlight of this backpack for travelling is that it is made from fully recycled materials. Not only are you supporting an independent business, but you’re also being good to the planet whilst you’re doing it.
Osprey Aether Plus 60
Osprey is a pretty well-known backpacking equipment brand, and their range of different size rucksacks and daysacks is vast. One of their models that comes highly recommended for backpacking however is the Aether Plus 60; a men’s 60L backpack that is great for all kinds of expeditions.
Osprey also does an almost identical female version called the Airel Plus 60.
The Aether Plus comes in three different colours, is lightweight and has a close-to-the-body design that makes carrying heavier loads much easier. There’s a removable top lid that converts into a daypack, a protective rain cover and plenty of additional straps for carrying sleeping bags, walking poles and even ice axes.
Whilst the sustainability of this model isn’t as impressive as the two we have listed above, it is made out of bluesign®-approved high-tenacity nylon and PFC-free DWR. If you’re looking for a classic, reliable backpack then this makes an excellent choice.
Osprey Atmos AG 65 Pack
The next option in our backpack buying guide is another model from Osprey; this time more suited for trips in warmer countries. The Osprey Atmos AG 65 Pack is a 65L, ventilated model that is marketed as a men’s rucksack, with the women’s version sold under the name Aura AG 65.
The Atmos’ unique feature is its patented AntiGravity™ back system, which includes the world’s very first ventilated hip belt to help keep you cool when trekking through hot and sunny climates. The design of the rucksack means that even heavy loads do not put a lot of strain on your back, which is ideal for backpacking adventures when you’re carrying all your equipment for long periods of time over a range of terrain.
Other features include a range of different straps for equipment, twin-zippered front pockets, mesh side pockets, a detachable rain cover and an internal hydration sleeve. It’s the best choice for backpackers who are planning on getting as far off the beaten track as possible and need a bag that can keep up with them.
The Best Backpacks for Long Trips
Whether you’re planning on disappearing into the mountains for a month or are just looking for a bag to take on your interrailing holiday, backpacks are the best choice when you’re going on long trips. Here are some of the best travel backpacks for when you need to carry enough items to last a long time.
Berghaus Trailhead 65
Berghaus are an incredibly reliable backpack company, and their Berghaus Trailhead 65 is an excellent option for travellers who are planning longer trips. With a 65L capacity, there is a huge amount of space to store all of your belongings and a variety of different inside pockets and sections that will keep everything separate.
The design of the backpack includes a customisable BIOFIT™ back system which is very well padded and has adjustable straps that can be altered to fit every body. It’s a great value for money option that comes in two different colours and is an excellent choice if you’re looking for a rucksack that will carry a lot of luggage without any fuss.
Osprey Farpoint 55 Trek
The name of this backpack suggests that it is best suited to walking and trekking, and whilst this is certainly true it’s also a fantastic option for any traveller who is planning long-term travel or will be living out of their rucksack for a couple of months. Designed with ‘wanderlust wanderers’ in mind, the Osprey Farpoint 55 Trek is a 55L bag that makes use of an adjustable, trampoline suspended mesh back system to make wearing it for long periods of time as comfortable as possible, especially in warmer climates.
The women’s equivalent is the Fairview Trek 50.
There’s enough room for everything in this travel backpack, with hidden security pockets, zippered hip belt pockets and sleeping pad straps that can be removed. The zippers on the bag are lockable, and there’s a 2-in-1 Aircover that acts as a protective cover when the bag is in transit, but also turns into a rain cover if the weather takes a turn.
If you’re looking for a backpack that was specifically designed for long-haul travel or extensive trekking, this ticks all the boxes.
REI Co-op Trailbreak 60
REI is a backpack and outdoor adventure cooperative brand that sells gear from plenty of other brands as well as their own. Their Co-op Trailbreak 60 is one of their largest backpacks that has been designed to adapt to all kinds of adventure and travel, making it a brilliant choice for long trips.
This 60L rucksack has a strong, internal frame and padded straps and hip belt to make walking with it as comfortable as possible. There’s a large top compartment for the main bulk of your belongings, and then a separate sleeping bag compartment that is easy to access without having to unpack or disturb the rest of the things you are carrying.
The Trailbreak 60 is designed to last, made out of sturdy, bluesign®-approved nylon which is also a sustainable material. It also has an adjustable back and strap system, so if you pass it down to a friend or family member you don’t need to worry about handing over a backpack that won’t fit.
The Best Cabin Backpack
If you spend a lot of your time on planes, or even travelling on trains that require your luggage to be stored overhead, a cabin backpack is one of the best purchases you can make. There are hundreds of different models out there, all with different features and unique selling points, but we’ve narrowed down the selection to some of the best carry-on backpacks for all kinds of journeys.
Peak Design 45L Backpack
Peak Design’s Travel Backpack was created with versatility in mind, making it a brilliant choice for anyone looking for a backpack that can be easily stored in overhead compartments but then is functional for the rest of their trip. It’s a lightweight bag that is still very durable and can hold up to 45L, with zippered internal pockets that keep items separate from each other and in place whilst travelling.
The backpack meets international carry-on standards when it is compressed down into its 35L size, but has an extra 10L of expansion if you need to carry more. With side pockets, lockable zips, weatherproof fabric and external carry straps which can be attached or removed when needed, The Travel Backpack 45L is a superior choice if you’re after a rucksack that does far more than a regular carry-on bag.
Osprey Farpoint 40
The Osprey Farpoint 40 comes recommended as one of the best backpacks for hostelers or keen travellers, thanks to the fact that it fits within EU carry-on dimensions. This 40L bag is incredibly lightweight and designed so that it can be carried on your back but packed and accessed like a suitcase, which is ideal when you need to get to your belongings quickly.
Size and weight are this backpack’s most impressive features, but it also comes with a padded laptop sleeve to protect your tablet or computer, compact handles on the top and sides, and several mesh pockets. It’s a brilliant budget option if you’re looking for something reliable and sturdy when you’re going to be travelling on a lot of planes or trains.
Craghoppers Kiwi Classic Backpack 22L
If you’re looking for a really compact cabin bag then the Craghoppers Kiwi Classic Backpack is a brilliant choice. It’s not a particularly large bag – the rucksack only holds 22L – but it’s enough for a day-long hike or a weekend away and easily meets all carry-on regulations or can be stowed in overhead compartments on trains and coaches.
The Craghoppers Kiwi Classic is made of recycled polyester collected from old water bottles and is totally waterproof, which makes it ideal for hiking or travelling in all kinds of weather conditions. There’s a handy, padded laptop sleeve for up to 15” devices, side pockets, and a key clip as well as an internal zippered pocket for keeping your valuables secure.
It’s also a really budget-friendly option, so is ideal if you need a sturdy, reliable rucksack without having to fork out a lot.
Knomo Thurloe Backpack
If you’re looking for a backpack that will fit and protect a laptop or tablet whilst you’re travelling, the Thurloe Laptop Backpack from Knomo is our top recommendation. Whilst not designed for trekking or adventurous travel like many of the others on our list, this is a stylish, sturdy and comfortable backpack that can carry devices up to 15” in its protective compartment and comes with a ton of other features that makes it a great choice for business travellers looking for a backpack to take on flights.
The straps of this backpack are padded for maximum comfort, and the back features breathable mesh to help keep you cool in transit. There are a range of different pockets and compartments to keep all your personal items, and the fabric is entirely waterproof so all your valuables will be protected even if the backpack gets wet.
There’s also a trolley sleeve on the back of the backpack, so you can easily fasten it to a suitcase whilst you’re travelling to make carrying all your luggage even easier.
The Best Hiking Backpacks
Backpacks are the best option for luggage when you’re hiking. Depending on the length of your trip, you’ll need varying capacities and comfort features from a backpack, so we’ve rounded up a good selection of different options for the best walking rucksacks.
Patagonia Ascensionist Pack 35L
Patagonia is one of the world’s best known outdoor clothing and equipment brands, and their Ascensionist Pack is a brilliant option for a hiking and climbing backpack. Coming in both a 35L and a 55L option, it’s designed to be small enough to climb quite rugged terrain but large enough to carry everything you’ll need when you’re trekking through all kinds of landscapes.
The Ascensionist Pack comes with a range of different features, including several different straps and pockets for carrying climbing tools. The framesheet is also removable if you want to make the bag even lighter, and inside there are several different pockets to help organise your belongings.
Mammut Trion Spine 50L
Mammut is an adventure clothing and equipment brand that produced the Trion Spine 50L to be the ultimate hiking backpack for their customers looking for a bag that they can bring with them on all kinds of challenging journeys. Carrying up to 50L, the design of this backpack distributes the weight as evenly as possible to make climbing and trekking easy, no matter the load on your back.
The features of this backpack are perfect for particularly intrepid explorers, with a trekking pole carrier, ice axe attachments, a rope strap, and gear loops on the hip belt. Inside there are compartments to store other, valuable equipment along with space to carry a hydration system for more adventurous hikers who need hands-free access to water.
Fjällräven Kaipak 28L
Fjällräven is perhaps most famous for its Kånken rucksacks, but the brand also produces a range of sturdier backpacks that are perfect for hiking. The Kaipak 28 is a sturdy backpack designed specifically for trekking, available in five different colours with classic features like equipment straps, inner compartments and a snow lock.
The Kaipak 28 doesn’t have the most complex back support system, but the straps are padded and the hip strap can be detached if you’re using the backpack for shorter walks. The fabric is pretty waterproof as well as being made from recycled and sustainable materials, and you can further waterproof the bag if you’re going to be out and about in the elements for a long time.
Overall, it’s a simple and stylish choice that is great for backpackers who want to support an environmentally conscious business.
The Best Lightweight Backpack for Travel
Whilst having sturdy backpacks with lots of additional pockets and features can be brilliant for many scenarios, sometimes you’re just looking for a backpack that is as lightweight as possible for ease of movement and minimal interference when you’re hiking, climbing or travelling. The final section of our backpack guide focuses on the best lightweight backpacks for travel, with options that will suit everyone’s preferences.
Columbia Unisex Essential Explorer 20L
The Columbia Unisex Essential Explorer is a classic lightweight backpack that has all the features you could need from a simple, small rucksack. It’s ideal for day trips and shorter walks that don’t require a lot of equipment, and despite its small size, you get a hip belt and sternum strap that make carrying it incredibly comfortable.
Made from 100% polyester, this is a very lightweight backpack that has mesh shoulder straps that are designed to keep you cool during use. The bag closes with a roll-top fastening and is compatible with hydration systems if you need to carry a water supply with you.
Patagonia Ultralight Blackhole 20L
Patagonia’s Blackhole backpacks are one of their best selling models, and the Ultralight Blackhole is a fantastic option for those looking for particularly lightweight bags. It’s quite a small rucksack that is top-loading with an additional zipper pocket, but has the outstanding feature of being able to roll up itself and pack into a small carry pouch, which makes it a fantastic backpack for bringing with you on trips.
The fabric of the backpack is lightweight but sturdy, and also has the bonus of being made from 100% recycled fabric. It carries 20L when fully packed, and has a daisy chain loop on the front which allows you to attach other items for ease of carrying everything in one place.
Fjällräven High Coast Rolltop Backpack 26L
Our final recommendation is another from Fjällräven; their High Coast Rolltop Backpack which can hold up to 26L. Weighing only 475g when empty, it’s a very lightweight model made of waterproof, recycled nylon that comes in four different colours and has comfortable shoulder straps as well as a detachable hip and sternum strap to make it easy to wear for long periods of time.
This backpack closes with a roll top, and there is a separate inside pocket for storing valuable or smaller items. It’s a brilliant, larger option if you’re looking for light backpacks that will carry quite a lot of items inside, with additional side pockets for anything you need to keep close to hand.
How much does a backpack cost?
Backpacks come in a range of different prices depending on the quality, the material, the size and the brand that you are buying a backpack from. Whilst large, cheap backpacks are available in many places for under £50, most high-quality, long-lasting products will be somewhere between £100-£200, with certain models costing even more than that.
It may seem like a lot of money to spend, but when you’re choosing a backpack that costs a lot of money you can be sure that it is going to last you a really long time and stand up to a variety of weather and travel conditions. With the majority of backpacks you get what you pay for, so be wary of any that seem unusually cheap but make claims to be high-quality.
Many backpackers suggest doing your research and deciding on a brand or bag you’d like to buy, and then waiting until a seasonal sale to get some money off the original price.
What size backpack is best for travelling?
The best size travelling backpack will depend on the length of the trip you are planning on going on. In general however, a 15-30l backpack is considered to be a good size for day trips, 30-40l is ideal for weekend breaks or short holidays, and 50-60l backpacks are best if you’re going to be travelling for a long time.
What are the loops on my backpack for?
There is a wide range of different loops on the outside of a backpack that are there to carry a variety of equipment, hold items in place or connect to other pieces of luggage.
Most backpacks have side compression straps on the right and left sides, which can be used either to compress the volume of the bag or to connect bulky items like tents or shoes to it.
Shoulder strap loops are used to attach small items like water bottles, phones or GPS systems to the shoulder straps of your rucksack for easy access. Similarly, hip belt loops are there to carry small items at your waist.
Most larger backpacks have rear loops at the bottom of the bag which can be used to attach sleeping bags or camping mats to the rucksack.
Where should a backpack sit on your back?
The proper way to wear a backpack is with the bulk of the bag sitting two inches below your shoulders. Ideally, a backpack should end at your waist level and never sit less than two inches above your hips.
You can adjust how a backpack sits on your back by tightening and loosening the straps. Ensure that the pack is flush against your back and that the waist and chest straps are tight so that the weight of the bag is evenly distributed.
What is the difference between a rucksack and a backpack?
Most people use the terms rucksack and backpack interchangeably, and whilst this does make sense, there are actually a couple of technical differences between the two. All rucksacks are backpacks, but not all backpacks are rucksacks.
A backpack, as the name suggests, is a back that is carried on the back. The term actually refers to the kinds of simple bags that most people use to carry around school or work equipment which don’t often have many additional pockets or straps.
A rucksack traditionally describes a military-style backpack that is equipped to carry and withstand a lot more than a simple backpack, and comes from the German words for ‘back’ and ‘bag’.
Despite the semantics, the two terms are used interchangeably by brands, and when choosing the best backpack you should not be put off by whether it is described as a ‘rucksack’ or ‘backpack’.
Backpacks are an incredibly versatile luggage option and have been used by everyone from adventurous mountaineers to urban commuters. The range of different backpacks out there is vast, and with so many different designs for different situations, choosing a backpack by trying to sort through reviews and recommendations can still leave you with a very long list of options.
Our comprehensive guide has done all of the hard work for you by listing the top-rated backpacks for a range of different occasions. Happy travelling!
If you’d like to read more of our backpack guides, check out the following pages below: