Good air flow around your back will help to reduce sweat, while a sturdy frame will transfer weight and maintain the shape and stability of the pack. See which system suits you: some designs hold the pack away from your body, but the shape could restrict how it is packed.
A zip provides quick and easy access, but a top-loading design with drawstrings and compression closure straps is more weather-tight and allows more flexibility with volume.
Side and hipbelt pockets are convenient for stashing snacks, water bottles, cameras and maps without having to remove your pack. A pocket in the lid is useful for a headtorch, gloves and hat. Valuables are best stored inside, in a zip pocket near the top. Some packs also have side pockets that can be compressed flat.
The hips are much better at supporting weight than the shoulders and back. This usually makes a chunkier hipbelt – rather than a thin one – more comfortable, especially with heavier loads.
These are ideal for stowing walking poles, ice axes and monopods without having to open your pack.
If your pack is only partially loaded, compression straps will batten down any excess fabric and help secure the contents.
To find the best pack for your needs, it’s worth trying a range on. Shoulder the pack and adjust the straps to fit. Any pack will feel comfortable when it’s empty, so make sure you load it up with a realistic amount of weight. Does anything dig in to your back? Can you move easily? Most of the load should be carried on the hips, and the pack should hug your back.
Packs are not usually waterproof, so some come with a separate elasticated rain cover. Alternatively, a waterproof rucksack liner is a good addition.
Most self-respecting packs provide a pocket for a reservoir with a hole for the pipe, to allow hands-free drinking on the move. All the rucksacks featured here are hydration-compatible, with the exception of the Regatta.
Double stitching, tough fabrics, quality zips and reinforced areas are all signs of a hard-wearing pack, but these features can add weight.