If you’ve ever been hiking, you’ll probably have some inkling why it’s important to choose the right backpack.
First and foremost, your pack has an impact on your body that’s measurable in terms of both immediate comfort and lasting physical effects, particularly on the wearer’s posture. There is also the safe and dry accommodation of your belongings to consider.
In this article, we’ll review nine of the best men’s, women’s and unisex bags on the market– but first, let’s run through a couple of frequently asked questions to help inform your choice.
What makes a great-fitting backpack?
Finding a good-fitting backpack is all about matching a backpack to your body. Some hikers are looking for lots of room, while others prefer a light and streamlined load. Some like to take most of the weight on their shoulders, while others prefer to take the strain on their waist or chest. The key, in any case, is to try a few options. Be sure to play around with the tightness of their straps to find your ideal fit.
Why are there men’s, women’s and unisex backpacks?
There can be legitimate reasons behind backpacks being made gender-specific, such as the different torso lengths and weight distribution preferences of the average wearer. However, it’s common for men to wear women’s packs or vice versa, and a growing number of packs are now made unisex. We’ve included bags marketed as men’s, women’s and unisex in this article, but don’t get too hung up on these distinctions.
How should I pick a pack?
Besides the consideration of a comfortable fit, you’ll also need to think about what you’re going to use your backpack for. Some bags are built for long trips, while others like daypacks are suitable only for shorter hikes. Cotswold Outdoor have excellent guidance to offer on this subject.
Fjällräven – Kaipak 38
Best for: Superb quality
Fashionable they may be, but Fjällräven build serious functionality into their beautifully crafted backpacks. The Kaipak 38, made with G-1000 HeavyDuty Eco fabric, is both comfortable and hard-wearing, and can be made extra-durable with a coating of Greenland Wax (£9, sold separately).
Its design is simple and effective, with a large main compartment, stuff pockets on the sides, a large vertical pocket on the back and a hood attached with straps to the main body of the bag.
The zip pocket on the underside of the upper section is perfectly passport-sized – an invitation to take the Kaipak on your far-flung travels.
Comes with a lovely, blue waterproof cover for extra protection on rainy days. A truly fantastic backpack that will see you through many seasons and explorations.
From £137 | Amazon | Buy it now
Deuter – Futura 30
Best for: comfort
One of the best-looking backpacks of the bunch also happens to be one of the best-performing. The Futura’s straps are the comfiest we’ve tested, thanks particularly to the height-adjustable sternum strap, which helps find your body’s ideal fit.
We love the SOS detail on the inside, which shows how to signal for help if stranded on a mountain. Not only is this an interesting touch – it could come in handy if you ever find yourself in a pinch, whether that’s in the British countryside or on a via ferrata climb.
£115 | Deuter | Buy it now
Gregory – Zulu 40
Best for: clever storage and travelling
We’re sure the Zulu 40 could be the Tardis in disguise. It’s like several sizes of backpack in-one, with numerous storage sections that be opened up and used, or closed and neatly folded away, as you see fit. This gives it a versatility that goes beyond its peers.
The catch mechanism on the drawstring – like many other elements of the Zulu – is extremely clever. We’re also big fans of its fastenings, tightening straps and waist strop, all of which are a cinch to use.
Another standout feature is the rigid structure on the wearer-side of the bag, which helps it keep its shape however you’re using us. And to top it all off, it’s one of the comfiest trekking backpacks we’ve come across.
From £102 | Amazon | Buy it now
Mountain Warehouse – Inca 80L
Best for: camping expeditions
The first thing we noticed about the Inca is that it’s impressively light for a bag big enough to carry a solo camping expedition’s worth of gear.
It’s not as luxuriously soft on the shoulders as some rival options, but the waist straps are very well padded – a blessing for the heavily laden. So long as you take your time to adjust the height-adjustable shoulder straps to suit your frame – and in our experience, this does take a while – you’ll find the Inca an excellent addition to your long-distance trekking inventory.
£84.99 | Mountain Warehouse | Buy it now *On sale now, originally £169.99
Patagonia – Nine Trails
Here’s a characteristically lovely-looking backpack from stateside brand Patagonia. The Nine Tails is small but perfectly formed, with a 20L capacity that’s well suited to shorter day hikes and makes for an excellent travel backpack.
We particularly like the stuff pockets on the back and sides of this bag – they’ve got a bit of give to them, perfect for gripping water bottles and the like.
As a certified B Corp, Patagonia has proven itself to uphold high ethical business standards, so we can heartily recommend this bag to those who want to leave the world they’re hiking through in good shape.
£110 | Patagonia | Buy it now
Outdoor Research – Dry Summit Pack LT
Best for: taking your essentials on short, intense walks
A backpack so light, you might well forget you’re wearing it.
The Dry Summit pack is every bit as well executed as it is simple. There are just two compartments – one very roomy main one, and an outer zip pocket on the back. It’s fully waterproof, so there’s no need for a cover.
It doesn’t offer much as far as organisational features are concerned, but it couldn’t be more convenient for carrying the essentials over challenging terrain or even just through the airport.
Comes with a lifetime guarantee.
£50.95 | Alloutdoor | Buy it now
Berghaus – Fast Hike 45
Best for: a lightweight design with high carrying capacity
We think it’s quite a feat of textile engineering that the Fast Hike 45 can provide such a range of convenient storage options, despite weighing so little. Besides a spacious main compartment, there are several external pockets to hold whatever you need to hand.
It gets smarter. Five of the Fast Hike’s components are removable, meaning you can tailor it to the requirements of each trip. We’ll admit it took us a while to suss out how to detach and reattach them, but we found this a very useful feature when we’d gotten the hang of it. Ideal for hikes where equipment is needed but bulk needs to be avoided.
£75.99 | Very | Buy it now
Berghaus – Wilderness 60 + 15
Best for: comfortably carrying heavy loads
Capacity: Up to 75L
Here’s another interesting and innovative option from Berghaus. We found the Wilderness especially helpful when it comes to finding the right fit. Using its adjustable back system, you can slide the shoulder straps up and down to find a level that suits you.
At its full extent it’s extremely roomy – though you can shrink it down by fastening all the clasps and tightening the straps.
With myriad compartments and a good level of comfort, this would make a great choice for backpacking holidays, multi-day hikes and traveling.
£129.56 | Cotswold Outdoor | Buy it now
Mountain Warehouse – Ventura 40L
Best for: great value
Need a practical backpack at a reasonable price? This one could fit the bill.
The Ventura has an interesting design with three vertical outer compartments across the back – ideal for organising your load. It doesn’t feel as plush as some of the other packs we’ve tested, and on that basis, we’d say it’s probably best used for cold weather hikes where you’ll be wearing it over plenty of comfy layers.
The Ventura’s roomy bottom compartment is just the right size for a lightweight sleeping bag (we doubt you’ll be taking a bulky one on a hike).
£42.99 | Mountain Warehouse | Buy it now
Gregory – Sula 28
Best for: finding a supremely comfortable fit
Of the many positives we could point out about this backpack, perhaps the best is its flexibility in terms of finding a comfy fit, with straps adjustable at both the bottom and on the shoulder. The mesh structure across the back keeps it rigid and cool on the back, and its soft, broad hip straps are extremely comfy. Open mesh pocket at the back allow for easy access to whatever you need on the go.
Like the Gregory Zulu, the Sula has lots of great details, including the bright orange rain-cover kept in an inner pouch, and the strap-front sunglasses “quickstow” loop. It’s also quite a looker, from its mineral green colourway to the subtle wavy pattern inside the main compartment.
£100 | Gregory | Buy it now
Eagle Creek – Wayfinder 30L
Best for: taking tech to document your trip
If you plan on taking a camera, laptop or tablet on your travels to record the journey, we can heartily recommend the Wayfinder 30L. Its tech-friendly features include a laptop compartment (up to 17 inch), hidden tech compartment and a ducted rain jacket stash pocket to keep wet things apart from your devices (rain jacket sold separately).
Niftily, its PVB water-resistant coating is made with materials from shattered car windshields.
Perfect for day hikes, including your walk to work.
£77 | Amazon | Buy it now
After much carrying of stuff and adjusting of straps, we’ve decided on the Fjällräven Kaipak as our ES Best Top Pick. It’s comfy, capacious, and suitable for use on all sorts of hikes. The Eagle Creek Wayfinger would make an excellent alternative for mixed everyday and day-hiking use.
ES Best product reviews are unbiased, independent advice you can trust. On some occasions, we earn revenue if you click the links and buy the products, but we never allow this to bias our coverage. The reviews are compiled through a mix of expert opinion and real-world testing.
Follow us on