Gear on test: Packs & poles

Whether it’s a trusty daypack for shorter walks or a fully featured multi-day model, the right rucksack should be a joy to use, say Jen and Sim Benson. Topped off with a pair of walking poles for extra stability, day or long-distance hikes will be a breeze.


Buyers' tips

Top of the list of considerations when choosing a pack are its size – in litres, determined by how much you want to carry – and how well it fits.

When trying on rucksacks, it’s a good idea to load them up – outdoor shops will happily help with this. It’s amazing how different a pack feels when it’s weighted compared with being empty. Fully adjust the straps and waist/hip belt, looking for a snug fit with no gaps. Smaller packs usually have a waist belt, with the majority of weight carried on the shoulders, while larger packs concentrate weight on the pelvis through the use of a hip belt.

Some rucksacks have an adjustable back system, which is a really useful feature if it’s going to be used by several different people, but they can be fiddly and add extra weight. Otherwise, many brands offer sized packs to ensure a perfect, individual fit.

Designs targeted at women usually have a shorter back length and narrower shoulder straps. They may not suit all women, though, particularly if you’re tall, so it’s well worth trying on a few before you commit.

Other features to consider are external pockets for easy access on the go and, with larger packs, zipped access through the side or base to make packing and finding items easier. Some also feature a sprung back system for extra airflow, a good choice for warmer weather walking.


Women's pick graphic

Millican Fraser the Rucksack 32L 

£155, 1385g (opens in new window)

Keswick-based Millican combines old-school looks with up-to-date features. The canvas is 100% post-consumer recycled polyester, PFC-free and bluesign approved, with leather trim. The buckles are lightweight, durable aluminium. There are large side pockets and zipped pockets on the waist belt, while the padded harness and back offer comfort. 

Verdict Despite being fairly heavy, this rucksack is a good all-rounder.

Montane Women’s Azote 30L 

£100, 890g (opens in new window)

The size and design of this pack mean it’s versatile enough for use as a day pack or overnighter. Storage includes stretch pockets front and sides, and zipped pockets on the lid and waist belt. Compression straps and an adjustable, padded harness and back system combine for comfort and stability. Available in women’s and unisex fit models. Made with recycled content.

Verdict It’s not PFC-free and there are lots of buckles and straps, but this is a comfortable pack with plenty of storage and adjustment.

Berghaus Women’s Trailhead 65L

£110, 1765g (opens in new window)

A classic larger pack for weekends away or Duke of Edinburgh trips. Women’s specific fit with padded, pre-curved hip belt carries weight well, with a fully adjustable back system. Zipped pockets on the hip belt and lid and stretch side pockets. Main compartment is accessed from the top or base. Waterproof cover included. 

Verdict Lacking on sustainability credentials and a little heavy and unwieldy in use, but it’s still a good-value, well-featured pack. Better suited to shorter trips.

Klӓttermusen Fjörm 18L

£100, 450g (opens in new window)

Designed for fast and light trekking, this waterproof unisex pack is tough and minimalist, yet comfortable. It has a security pocket, large stretch mesh stuff pockets, pole loops and a drawcord and metal fastener for quick closure. Recycled, PFC (per- and poly-fluorinated) free and reinforced with super-strong Kevlar.

Verdict Tough, lightweight, a pleasure to use and has excellent eco-credentials. May be too stripped-down for some.

Deuter AC Lite SL 21L

£80, 890g  (opens in new window)

It has a lightweight, flexible sprung steel frame with a mesh back panel and padded lumbar support. A long front zip for easy access, and stretch and zipped side pockets. Helmet and pole attachment points, waterproof cover and hydration sleeve. 

Verdict Well-vented pack, ideal for warm-weather walking. The women’s/SL model may not suit taller women.


Fjӓllrӓven Abisko Friluft 45L

£185, 1540g (opens in new window)

Made from durable G-1000 (65% recycled polyester/35% organic cotton) fabric, this pack looks great and is a joy to use. The aluminium frame has a breathable sprung mesh back panel. Padded straps and a wide, padded hip belt offer superb comfort. Storage includes side bottle pockets, zip pockets on the belt, lid and front, and an easy-access full-zip main compartment. PFC-free. A handy waterproof cover is included and can be weatherproofed using Greenland Wax.

Verdict A responsibly produced lifelong adventure companion. Also available as a 35L model.


Men's pick graphic

Vaude Brenta 30L

£120, 1160g (opens in new window)

Made from recycled polyester with a reinforced nylon base, this mid-sized pack feels light and comfortable thanks to an adjustable Aeroflex back system and ventilated shoulder and hip belt padding. The large, zipped lid pocket has integrated compartments and there’s also front zipped access to the pack, stretch stash pockets and a rain cover. PFC-free and made to Fair Wear standards. 

Verdict Versatile, light and comfortable; great features and ethical credentials.

Gregory Katmai 65L

£230, 2210g, size M/L (opens in new window)

This multi-day pack has a range of well-placed storage options, including 10 pockets and zipped access to the side and base of the main pack. The suspended Freefloat back system moves with you as you walk, and has ventilated padding. Two back sizes – unisex and women’s. PFC-free and made with durable, recycled nylon. 

Verdict Although quite heavy and (justifiably) expensive, it is a clever design, offering excellent comfort and stability, combined with eco-friendly materials.

Alpkit Orion 45L 

£64.99, 1035g (opens in new window)

Designed for mountaineering, this pack is lightweight and streamlined. Five compression straps stabilise the load and allow extra kit to be strapped on. The stiffened back and padded straps carry weight comfortably. Zipped lid pockets. Durable PFC-free nylon. 

Verdict A good-value pack, it has plastic buckles and no length adjustment. Size and style well suited to winter walking or occasional lightweight multi-day trips.

Osprey Archeon 30L

£180, 1700g (opens in new window)

Superbly designed and built, this tough, well-featured pack carries weight really well. Made from 100% recycled nylon canvas, it is PFC-free and finished with durable YKK zips and metal buckles. The AirScape back system is supportive, breathable and fully adjustable. There’s a long front zip to allow easy access to kit, a zipped lid, stretch side pockets and a rain cover.

Verdict A well-made and well-featured pack. Durable, carries weight well, easy and enjoyable to use. Heavy and fairly expensive but built to last.

Lowe Alpine AirZone Active 22L

£70, 735g (opens in new window)

This lightweight daypack offers excellent comfort for carrying lighter loads. The straightforward design and tough nylon fabric should last for many years. The Airzone back system provides ventilation. There are side compression straps, zipped internal and external pockets, stretch front and side pockets and a rain cover. PFC-free and produced to Fair Wear standards. 

Verdict Simple, tough and well made. A good choice for lighter loads and shorter walks. Minimalist waist belt not as comfortable as some on test. 

Jack Wolfskin Crosstrail LT 24L

£85, 905g (opens in new window)

A good range of zipped and stretch pockets offer easy organisation and access. The sprung mesh back system allows plenty of airflow, while the combination of a longer length and wide, supportive hip belt makes this a great choice for carrying heavier loads. PFC-free and a bluesign product.

Verdict A great choice for day walks, active outdoor adventures or commuting, although the longer back length may not suit all wearers. 


Gregory Arrio 24L

£80 770g  (opens in new window) 

+ The new Arrio range is available in 18L, 30L or the 24L version we tested, all of which have similar features. Made from a durable Nylon, they’re reinforced at the base and weatherproofed with a PFC-free DWR treatment. The FreeSpan suspended back system and ventilated shoulder straps offer a cool, comfortable, protective carry. Minimalist waist and sternum straps help keep the pack stable and offer enough support for size of the pack. The lid flap includes internal and external zip pockets, the main pack has two external zipped pockets and a single stretch side pocket that carries a water bottle. Hydration system compatible.    

- The waterproof rain cover is stored inside the lid pocket, meaning it can’t be put away away wet and valuables can’t be stored in the only internal zipped security pocket – we’d prefer a dedicated base pocket. 

Verdict A comfortable pack that looks stylish, has a good selection of pockets, does a good job to keep you cool and carries well. A good choice for day hikes.

Picture Helio 18L

£59.95 405g (opens in new window)

+ This great looking, sustainably made pack is lightweight and simple but still has all the features needed for a shorter walk or daily commute. The padded back and supportive shoulder straps offer all-day comfort with a light to medium load, while webbing chest and waist belts add stability when required. Picture is a B-Corp-certified brand, and this pack is 100% recycled polyester certified by the Global Recycling Standard, finished with a PFC free water-repellent treatment. It features a classic lid design with a small but handy zip pocket, stretch side pockets that fit a water bottle, and a large front zip pocket that fits a map. It’s good value as well.

- The lightweight design and minimal waist strap means it struggles with heavy loads.

Verdict Stylish, functional, good value and ethically produced, a great choice for shorter walks and everyday use.

Patagonia Altvia Pack 28L

£130 780g (opens in new window)

+ New from Patagonia, this pack combines a fuss-free, classic design with lightweight technical materials and design, so it’s ideal for moving quickly and comfortably on long days on the trails. Available in two back sizes to ensure a great fit, it’s comfortable and stable even with a fairly heavy load. The fabric is a durable recycled Nylon treated with PFC-free water repellent, while the single buckle lid design is easy to use and has a useful zip pocket. The lid straps and side compression ensure versatile stability with any size load. The wide, breathable hip belt is supportive with zipped pockets, while a large front compartment, two side stretch pockets and an internal zipped security pocket offer lots of options for storage. This pack is hydration system compatible and includes a handy waterproof cover tucked away in a base pocket.

- The ventilated back system offers a little less breathability than a fully suspended design, but it also keeps the weight down and increases stability.

Verdict A lightweight, sustainably made day pack with cleverly designed features. Ideal for everything from commuting to fast and light adventures.

Black Diamond Nitro 22

£105 905g (opens in new window)

+ This low-profile pack is designed to remain comfortable and stable even on the most technical terrain. Its slim design allows excellent freedom of movement, reducing the likelihood of catching on rocks and foliage on narrow trails and scrambles. The long back length places the majority of the load comfortably through the hip belt – both this and the shoulder straps are low profile but supportive with Swingarm technology that moves with you as you walk. Access to the main pack is via a full-length zip rather than a lid. Additional features include side compression straps, a deep front stash pocket, zipped top and hipbelt pockets and smaller stretch side pockets.

- The long back length may not suit everyone, so try before you buy.

Verdict A well-designed comfortable and stable daypack, ideal for walking or scrambling on technical terrain. Also great for climbing, skiing, mountain biking and everyday use.

Aquapac 25L Lightweight Waterproof Backpack

£75 635g (opens in new window)

+ Basically a tough, roll-top dry bag with a padded back and shoulder straps attached, this pack is great for canoe adventures, carrying electronic kit in weather-affected places, or anything else where keeping your kit dry is essential. Despite its specialist nature, it’s fairly comfortable to carry and features two large stretch mesh side pockets (not waterproof) as well as a removable internal dry pocket for organising wet and dry kit.

- Less comfortable and stable than most other packs on test.

Verdict Durable and extremely waterproof – a great choice for watersports and wet weather commutes – but less comfortable and versatile than those designed specifically for walking.

Haglofs L.I.M. 35

£110 950g (opens in new window)

+ The LIM (Less Is More) series from Haglofs is designed to be light and technical while still offering comfort, features and responsible manufacture production. The Airback system features a lightweight sprung metal frame and a tight mesh panel to maintain a wide gap between the back and the pack allowing cooling air to circulate. This innovative back system combines with a wide hip-belt and stiff shoulder straps to carry weight efficiently and comfortably. There’s a handy zipped lid and hip pockets plus two water bottle-sized stretch side pockets. Made from Bluesign approved Nylon treated with a PFC-free water repellent.

- Billed as ultra-light but actually a fairly average weight for the size.

Verdict Well-made and comfortable to use: a great choice for warm weather day walks and lightweight multi-day trips.

Osprey Hikelite 32L

£90 775g (opens in new window)

+ The Hikelite is designed to offer everything you need for all-day walking, combined with Osprey’s outstanding build quality, at an affordable price. The suspended ‘AirSpeed’ mesh back system and ventilated shoulder straps are comfortable and breathable, keeping you cooler in hot weather. The 32L version features a traditional top lid with internal and external zip pockets, while the 26L and 18L versions have zip access. The main pack has stretch side pockets, both of which fit a water bottle, as well as a front zipped pocket, side compression straps and a hydration sleeve. The waterproof rain cover stashes in the base of the pack.

- The unisex design doesn’t offer the same size options or the length adjustment of other packs in the Osprey range. The hip belt is a simple nylon strap, which isn’t as comfortable as a padded belt when walking with a heavy pack.

Verdict A good value pack that’s well suited to day walks in warmer weather. Lots of great features and should last for years.

Salewa Alp Mate 26L

£85 915g (opens in new window)

+ A classic daypack designed for fast and light hiking and mountain tours the Alp Mate is very comfortable and carries weight really well. The suspended back system features a split back pad for maximum ventilation and both the shoulder straps and waist belt are also ventilated. The pack has a single buckle lid closure, zipped top pocket, stretch side pockets and a full-length vertical zip for easy access to the main pack. Side compression straps keep a range of different sized loads stable and allow easy storage of axes or walking poles. Made from hard-wearing Nylon, its manufacture is Fair Wear Foundation certified.

- The addition of a least one zipped harness or waist belt pocket would allow easy access to kit or food on the move.

Verdict A tough and fairly lightweight technical daypack that’s particularly good in warmer weather and for carrying heavier loads.  

Walking poles

Mountain King SuperTrekker Speedlock 

£81, 510g (opens in new window)

68cm folded, 137cm full extension. Durable, lightweight aluminium poles with a metal lever lock and an extended hand grip. Made in Britain.


Komperdell Carbon Expedition FXP4 Compact Vario Poles

£149.95, 480g (opens in new window)

39.5cm folded, 128cm full extension. A lightweight, compact carbon fibre pole with a button-operated Z-fold mechanism for a smaller pack size.


Leki Legacy Poles

£65, 550g (opens in new window)

69.5cm folded, 145.5cm full extension. Tough aluminium poles with secure lever-lock clasps and an ergonomically shaped handle. Suited to taller walkers.


Komperdell Hikemaster Powerlock Poles

£89.95, 520g (opens in new window)

64cm folded, 141cm full extension. Premium aluminium poles with full metal lever-lock clasps and a slim but comfortable padded handle.


Robens Grasmere T7

£46, 580g (opens in new window)

67cm folded, 135cm full extension. A great-value aluminium walking pole with secure lever-lock clasps, extended handle and anti-shock system. 


Black Diamond Trail Cork Trekking Poles

£85, 490g (opens in new window)

62cm folded, 140cm full extension. Lightweight aluminium poles with lever-lock clasps, extended handles and comfortable 100% natural cork grips.

Our experts 


Sim Benson is an outdoor author and photographer with an environmental science background. He is a kit expert with over 15 years working, testing and reviewing in the outdoor industry. 

Jen Benson is an outdoor adventure photographer and writer with an MSc in sport & exercise medicine. Jen is happiest when she is outdoors, and is passionate about exploring Britain’s wild places on foot.