Whether you’re looking to venture deep into the great outdoors or just want a practical backpack for everyday use, the vast amount of choice on the market can make it difficult to find the best backpack for the job.
That’s why we’ve taken the time to test and review a range of models. We’ve whittled our selection down to the very best backpacks you can buy right now, ranging from small, everyday packs designed for commuting and fast-paced outdoor adventures to much larger hiking models ideal for multi-day hikes in the backcountry.
Remember, though, when it comes to backpacks, one size definitely does not fit all. Just as you don’t need a bag with a huge capacity just for the daily commute, don’t assume that every bag will be comfy for every person. This is why we’ve also included some female-specific bags (which are also better suited to those with narrower shoulders). And if you just want an affordable option, there’s a bag here at a price to suit every pocket.
You’ll find our guide to buying the best backpack just below. If you just want to start browsing, then scroll past the buying guide and you’ll find options that will be perfect for commuting, running, hiking, photography and even carry-on luggage.
How to choose the best backpack for you
What size do I need?
Backpacks are measured according to how much they can hold in litres. Roughly speaking, a daysack holds 15 to 30l, a mid-sized backpack holds 30 to 50l and a multi-day backpacking bag holds 50l and more. If you’re an outdoors-loving soul who adventures abroad every weekend, you might want to have one of each size but if you’re only going to splash out on one, it’s worth thinking about where and when you’ll use your new backpack.
- Daysacks are ideal for the daily commute, as well as for walking and other activities where you don’t want to be hampered by weight, such as running and cycling.
- Mid-sized backpacks are the best bet for backpackers and travellers who need to carry clothing, or for sports where you need to lug a lot of kit about, such as climbing.
- Larger backpacks are best-suited for multi-day hikers carrying their life – usually including a tent and a sleeping bag – on their back. Larger packs often list their capacity as XX+XX litres. This means space is distributed in two separate compartments, or that the bag has a removable mini rucksack.
What features do I need to look out for?
- Buying a backpack for the daily commute: A laptop sleeve will likely rank highly among the features you’ll want to look out for, along with plenty of pockets for keeping your phone, keys and other valuables where you can easily find them. Picking a bag with deep water-bottle pockets on the sides is a good idea, although if you’re using it for running or cycling you might also consider one that lets you use a hydration system.
- Heading out into the great outdoors: Whether you’re walking, running or cycling, you might also think about choosing a weatherproof model. Frustratingly, most rucksacks aren’t fully waterproof but are usually labelled showerproof or water-resistant instead. This means their outer shell will stand up to a shower while more extreme weather could render your belongings a sodden mess. If you don’t go for a waterproof model, make sure you pick a bag with an integrated rain cover you can whip out in a big storm.
- How do you access the storage: Backpacks are either top-loading (with an opening at the top, usually covered by a flap), which is more water-tight and best for hiking; or front-loading (with a zip on the front), which makes it easier to pack and remove items, and is better for travelling.
- Pick a bag that fits you: It’s a good idea to try on bags in person so you can check it fits you properly. Padded, breathable mesh straps for your shoulders, hips and chest are a must if you’re travelling over long distances, and larger bags often have built-in metal or plastic frames to distribute the load against your back. Compression straps are also useful for cinching down your load to make it more compact.
Best backpacks for the commute
1. Osprey Nebula and Nova: The best all-round commuter daysack for men and women
Price: £80 | Buy now from Amazon
Principally designed for commuting but capable of taking a lot more than the urban hustle in its stride, the Osprey Nebula is among the best bags of its type. It’s stuffed with padded slots and pouches for all your laptop, tablet and smartphone storage needs, yet capacious enough to hold up to 34l of gear for a day out on the trails.
With deep, stretchy water bottle pockets on either side and a stretchy pouch at the rear to stuff your waterproof jacket or bike helmet in, this is truly the MacGyver of multipurpose backpacks. The wide straps are comfortable and it will also shrug off the odd shower or two, although you may want to avoid using it in torrential downpours as there’s no built-in rain cover and the cable port at the top isn’t sealed against the elements.
The Nebula is aimed at men, and while we find it works as a unisex pack, women may find the female-specific Nova version more comfortable.
Capacity: 34l (also available in 33l as the Nova); Waterproof: Shower-proof (no rain cover); Access: Top-loading
2. Fjällräven Kånken 13in backpack: Best small commuter backpack
Price: From £83 | Buy now from Amazon
The Fjällräven Kånken 13in differs from the company’s popular regular Kånken in that it has a separate zippable compartment for a laptop on its reverse and a slightly smaller overall capacity (13l versus 16l). With its boxy, front-loading design, this iconic bag makes it easy to fit in everything you need for a day and its carry handles are perfect for holding it on a busy bus or train.
The only catch is that its side pockets aren’t big enough for anything larger than a 500ml water bottle and the straps don’t fit broader shoulders particularly well. If that’s a problem for you, there are also 15in and 17in version with 18l and 20l capacities respectively.
Read our full review of the Fjällräven Kånken 13in
Capacity: 13l (also available in 18l and 20l); Waterproof: Water-repellent; Access: Front-loading
3. Chrome Urban Ex Roll-top 28l: The best backpack for cycling to work
Price: £130 | Buy now from Alpinetrek
There’s nothing worse than setting out on a bike ride only for the heavens to open within minutes but, thanks to the Urban Ex Roll-top’s fully waterproof design, you can be sure that valuables and clothes remain perfectly dry. Its 28l capacity and laptop slot mean there’s plenty of room for work essentials, too.
There are no external pockets for water bottles but the only other major downside to the design is that the lower half of the bag can bunch up a little when not snugly packed. Using the roll-top isn’t too much of a fiddle, though, and there’s a handy zip-up compartment that makes accessing smaller items faster when the main compartment is closed. Should you need somewhere to attach heavier items, such as a bicycle D lock, you can hang it from the bag’s rather strange-looking loops. There are also handy reflective strips to keep you seen on the road.
Capacity: 28l (also available in 18l); Waterproof: Yes; Access: Roll-top, top-loading
Buy now from Alpinetrek
4. Dakine Urbn Mission 23l: An excellent, lightweight commuting backpack
Price: £49 | Buy now from Dressinn
Dakine describes the Urbn Mission as a “skateboard-friendly pack for the urban commute”, and although we can’t say we’ve ever used its horizontal straps to carry a skateboard, it excels at striking that elusive balance between capacity and portability. There’s a surplus of useful pockets – including a laptop compartment – and enough room that we never felt that we were pushing the pack to its limit.
Comfort-wise, the Urbn Mission naturally sits off the upper back a little, but its highly adjustable straps guaranteed a comfy fit. Our only concern is that the rear cushioning can be itchy when new and tends to trap heat – not great for summer months. As well as using it on our commute, we took Dakine’s trendy rucksack on a trip to Sweden, where it handled Stockholm sightseeing and canoeing with equal aptitude. In short, it’s a jack-of-all-trades rucksack that won’t cost a bomb.
Capacity: 23l; Waterproof: No; Access: Top-loading
Buy now from Dressinn
5. The North Face Surge Backpack: Best backpack for running to work
Price: From £88 | Buy now from Amazon
Running to work can save you a fortune on fares, keep you fit and even get you there faster (honestly, the joy of overtaking a traffic jam on foot…). The North Face Surge is roomier than most trail-running packs and more close-fitting than most standard commuter backpacks, making it ideal for running all your work gear to the office.
It looks sleek enough to take to meetings, and its dedicated fleece-lined compartments will keep your phone, tablet and laptop secure. But beneath that businesslike exterior lies a beautifully-constructed suspension system that keeps the pack supported, and easy-to-adjust straps that stop it bouncing around while you’re on the move.
At 31l, it’s larger than many distance-running packs, which is good news if you want to cram in a pair of shoes. But it may be too large for longer runs or smaller bodies.
Key specs – Capacity: 31l; Waterproof: Water-repellent only; Access: Top-loading
Best backpacks for travel
6. Dakine Split Adventure 38l: The best weekender backpack
Price: £116 | Buy now from Amazon
No bag we’ve tested is better suited for long weekend trips than the Dakine Split Adventure 38l. Too big for a day trip but too small for a whole week, the Split is exactly the right size for a two or three-night excursion. Our R2R Ink variant is made from a blend of cotton and Cordura nylon coated in a water-resistant finish and it has compartments galore.
There’s a padded laptop sleeve behind the main compartment, a sunglasses pouch at the top and a spacious easy-access front pocket. Inside the main compartment are two large zipped mesh pockets and there are buckled straps on the back panel for keeping shirts flat and wrinkle-free. Packing is a breeze as the main compartment has a zipper that runs along three sides of the pack. We wish the side pockets were bigger, but, other than that, this is the perfect weekender.
Key specs – Capacity: 38l: Waterproof: No; Weight: 998g; Access: Top and-front-loading
7. Lowepro ProTactic 350 AW II: Best daypack for photographers
Price: From £149 | Buy now from Amazon
Keep all your camera kit safe and close at hand with this pack from pro photography specialist Lowepro. The outer shell is tough and solid-feeling but really light, and we found it far more comfortable than lugging around our DSLR in a shoulder bag.
Once all the Velcro dividers are in place, there’s not a huge amount of room inside – you’ll certainly want another bag if you’re travelling. But the dividers are vital for cushioning and separating specific bits of kit such as lenses, flashes, a tripod and even a drone, which are all kept easy to reach via multiple zipped access points. The main opening is worn against your back for security and the pack includes an all-weather cover to keep out rain, dust and sand.
Key specs – Capacity: 16l; Waterproof: Water-repellent shell with optional waterproof cover; Access: Top and side-loading
8. Chrome Industries Macheto Travelpack: Best backpack for take-on luggage
Price: £159 | Buy now from Alpinetrek
Its boxy design resembles a suitcase more than a backpack – and that’s arguably what makes the Macheto Travelpack such a great travel companion. It’s not only highly durable (it’s guaranteed for life), but thanks to the softshell design and 34 x 25 x 46cm dimensions, it fits easily into the overhead lockers on any plane.
Its design is well thought out for short breaks, too. Laptop access is quick and easy via the main back pocket; there’s a zippable pocket for books, magazines and other essentials on the front; and another smaller one for stashing your passport and travel documents. Inside, the Macheto splits into two main zippable compartments and, if you need more space after buying too much in duty-free, it’s expandable, too.
The Macheto Travelpack is available in black and the “Ranger” green variant pictured.
Key specs – Capacity: 42-48l; Waterproof: No; Weight: 1.8kg
Buy now from Alpinetrek
Best backpacks for hiking
9. Osprey Hikelite 18: The best daysack for outdoor adventures
Price: £63 | Buy now from Amazon
Osprey is famous for its well-made rucksacks and the company’s Hikelite is a chip off the old block. It’s incredibly light yet beautifully well-made and crams in a huge variety of features. Just like larger, more serious packs, it has a rigid frame and a “trampoline suspended” mesh back to keep sweat at bay.
Wide, breathable straps do the same for your shoulders and cushion the load effectively, too. There’s a rain cover for extra protection against the elements and the bag’s narrow profile means the Hikelite 18 is just as good for running or cycling as it is for hiking; and if you need extra space, there’s a 26l version with more capacity. The negatives? Not many, but the selection of pockets isn’t hugely generous: all you get is an internal one for your water bladder, an external one at the top for keys and smaller items, plus two stretchy “power mesh” water bottle pockets on either side.
Key specs – Capacity: 18l (also available in 26l); Waterproof: Yes (with rain cover); Weight: 670g
10. Berghaus Freeflow 30: Best-value hiking daysack
Price: £48 | Buy now from Amazon
You’ll struggle to find a more practical daysack than the Berghaus Freeflow 30 at this price. Its standout feature is undoubtedly its curved back and suspension system, which maximises airflow and stops your back becoming sweaty in hot conditions. Although the solid, curved rear stops you from being able to fold the Freeflow 30 away, it also distributes the load in such a way that a proportion of the weight is supported by your hips – not your shoulders – making it an excellent choice for long days in the hills.
As you’d expect from any good hiking backpack, there’s a sleeve for a hydration reservoir and the Freeflow 30 also has loops for attaching a pair of walking poles. There’s also an integrated rain cover so you can ensure your gear stays safe and dry, should you be caught in a torrential downpour. What makes it stand out compared to its rivals is that it comes with Berghaus’ standard lifetime guarantee. This is a backpack you can put through its paces time and time again, and Berghaus is confident it will never let you down.
Key specs – Capacity: 30l (also available in 20l, 25l, 35l and 40l): Waterproof: Rain cover; Weight: 1.1kg; Access: Top-loading
11. Mountain Warehouse Ventura: The best budget mid-sized backpack
Price: From £45 | Buy now from Amazon
A well-designed, versatile backpack for a pocket-friendly price. Mountain Warehouse’s Ventura is simple and straightforward but still ticks all our boxes: it holds 40l of gear – enough for a multi-day hike or for travelling light – has comfy hip and chest straps to help distribute weight and has an effective rain cover, plenty of pockets and hydration compatibility.
It’s also the right size to qualify as a carry-on on most airlines. Any downsides? It’s heavier than some of the more expensive 40l models on the market. If you want something bigger than the Ventura for hiking in the backcountry but want to keep it cheap, Mountain Warehouse’s similar Traveller 60+20l pack is £60.
Key specs – Capacity: 40l: Waterproof: Rain cover; Weight: 1.2kg; Access: Top and front-loading
12. Osprey Kestrel and Osprey Kyte: The best hiking backpacks for men and women
Price: From £123 | Buy now from Amazon
With multiple capacities available from 38l to 68l, the superb Osprey Kestrel (for men) and Kyte (for women) let hikers choose which size they want based on the length of their expedition. We tried the 58l Kestrel on a four-day hiking and camping trip and were thoroughly impressed by its overall comfort and impressive range of technical features.
Like most larger hiking packs, the Kestrel can be loaded from the front and top. This makes getting at your belongings quick and easy, and should you need to stash your sleeping bag or a pair of shoes, there’s also a separate bottom compartment on larger models. There’s no steel frame adjustment, sadly, but the torso length can still be adjusted using a Velcro panel at the rear. The generous dual mesh side pockets each fit two 1l water bottles with ease and there are handy pockets on the hip belt for storing valuables. Although it’s pricey, the Osprey Kestrel still delivers plenty of bang for your buck.
Key specs – Capacity: 38-68l; Waterproof: Rain cover; Weight: 1.54kg-1.78kg; Access: Top and-front-loading
13. Deuter Vario: The best backpack for female (and male) multi-day hikers
Price: £175 | Buy now from Alpinetrek
Deuter’s backpacks are designed with a specifically male or female fit, and the piece de resistance of the women’s Vario is its adjustable steel frame, designed for smaller backs. The frame is easy to fit to your body and coupled with a highly breathable mesh so you don’t overheat on long trail walks. This cherry-red number is also packed with technical features, including myriad pockets, loops for ice axes and hiking poles, reflectors for night hiking, compression straps and a separate 10l compartment, ideal for storing dirty clothing or a small sleeping bag. A brilliant all-rounder, built to last.
Key specs – Capacity: 45+10l; Waterproof: Rain cover; Weight: 2.2kg; Access: Front-loading
Buy now from Alpinetrek