From a practical point of view, rucksacks are brilliant – at home and on tour!

Using the full length of your back they provide great storage, while leaving your hands free and not adding to your overall width.

But many people are put off rucksacks by bad experiences, such as bags that flop around, don’t stay where they should, or leave you with back ache, yet this is simply poor design – usually because the rucksack is a budget model.

You’ll be amazed how effortlessly you’ll be able to transport even comparatively heavy loads for hours at a time with a good rucksack – the secret is in the rucksack’s shape and strapping system.

Well-designed models are shaped so that the weight of the bag and its contents are transferred downwards, usually to the lowest point of your back.

What we are looking for

Comfort and stability were the first things we considered in our tests, with the help of some set weights and loading.

We also considered the bags’ own weights related to their capacities and sizes.

Next we moved onto extra features. Most rucksacks are splashproof rather than fully waterproof, so waterproof storm covers are necessary to guarantee keeping the bag’s contents dry in all conditions.

Compression straps are another must-have in our opinion. These side-mounted straps effectively crush the bag together, which is useful when it’s only half loaded for keeping the contents snugly in place.

Loops for walking poles are another essential for serious walkers. And bags that are hydration pack-ready mean that the rucksack can easily be fitted with drink tubes and pouches.

Finally we appraised the compartment layout of each model – generally, the more varying sized compartments there are, the better.


Easycamp AirGo 25 – four stars

  • Price: £33.98
  • Capacity: 25 litres

Easycamp has recently revamped its AirGo range, so make sure the model you’re buying is the bright and breezy version shown here, rather than its black, slightly sombre predecessor.

Ultimately, we can sum this up as a hobby-priced rucksack with many of the features usually reserved for professional bags, such as a mesh back system to prevent heat build-up.

The bag locates well, too, thanks to hip and sternum straps.

Compression straps, stick loops, and even compatibility with drinking bladders makes this bag our pick of the cheapies.

Thule Versant 50 Litres – five stars

Practical Caravan Editor’s Choice

  • Price: £146.41
  • Capacity: 50 litres

One aspect of this bag really stands out: innovation.

Forget, for instance, loading everything from the top. A U-shaped zip allows the rear to open fully – almost like a small suitcase.

Another brainwave is Thule’s Versa-Click system, which allows all manner of pockets and holders to be clipped to the wide hip belt – perfect for phones and wallets.

A final bonus is the waterproof Stormguard sheet, which covers the top three quarters of the bag and stashes into a lower pocket.

Don’t worry about the lower quarter either: a waterproof liner keeps the contents dry, even if you place the bag on a damp surface.

Buy the Thule Versant 50 Litres here from Amazon

Thule Versant Ladies’ 50 Litres – five stars

Practical Caravan Editor’s Choice

  • Price: £146.41
  • Capacity: 50 litres

Much of what was said about the men’s version of the Versant applies equally to the women’s.

Thule really has played the innovation card well, producing a rucksack that’s nicely made, extremely comfortable, and addresses many of the foibles that afflict traditional models.

And while it may seem quaint to have gendered versions of very similar bags, we can understand Thule’s logic.

With plenty of adjustment in the torso and hip belts, the Versant is an incredibly comfortable bag, even when heavily laden.

Slight tweaks, to fully tailor the design to typical male/female body shapes, simply helps maximise comfort.

Buy the Thule Versant Ladies’ 50 Litres here from Amazon

Karrimor Airspace 25 – four stars

  • Price: £32
  • Capacity: 25 litres

A slightly cheaper alternative to Easycamp’s AirGo 25, and one that actually has a more durable feel to it.

In other ways, though, both bags are similar. Both punch above their weight in terms of the features offered for their respective prices.

Unfortunately for the Airspace, the AirGo does this better. So while the Airspace offers a rain cover, compression straps and compatibility with most hydration systems, there’s nowhere to easily stash walking poles.

And the Easycamp’s chest strap makes it the better choice when fully loaded.

Vango Trail 35 – four stars

  • Price: £23.91
  • Capacity: 35 litres

The Trail 35 has been around for some years, but has benefited from a recent makeover.

And in many ways it’s the polar opposite of the Easycamp and Karrimor offerings.

On paper, it doesn’t seem to have a huge amount going for it: no waterproof cover, no walking pole holders, and you can forget about compression straps.

In fact the only advanced feature is readiness for use with hydration packs.

But at 660g, this is a lightweight and comfortable bag with a good array of compartments and a foolproof strap system.

Buy the Vango Trail 35 here from Amazon

Berghaus Freeflow 25 – three stars

  • Price: £80
  • Capacity: 25 litres

A premium-quality sack from leading brand Berghaus, and actually the most comfortable one here – even slightly pipping the brilliant Thules.

The bag’s strongly curved rear makes all the difference. As well as keeping the rear of the bag away from your back, thus avoiding uncomfortable heat build-up, the shape also means that the weight of the bag and its contents lands firmly on your hips rather than higher up.

And while the Freeflow doesn’t have the same plethora of clever design tweaks as the Thules, it’s certainly feature-laden: dual compression straps, plenty of compartments, rain cover included and hydration pack-ready.

Buy the Berghaus Freeflow 25 here from Berghaus

Vango Ventis Air 25 – three stars

  • Price: £39
  • Capacity: 25 litres

Vango’s second offering is almost twice the price of its first, so it’s no surprise to find a somewhat higher specification.

Perhaps the most noticeable improvement is better comfort and positional stability.

Although this rucksack is hardly a rival to the Berghaus Freeflow, its shape and belt arrangement do a similarly good job of transmitting loads downwards.

But the structure adds to the bag’s weight which, at 1.1kg, is pretty hefty for its size.

Vango includes a rain cover – high visibility, no less – and we like the Thule-style small pockets built into the wide hip belt.

They’re perfect for gadgets and they’re easily accessed with the rucksack in position.

Buy the Vango Ventis Air 25 here from Amazon

Berghaus Twenty Four Seven Plus – two stars

  • Price: £40
  • Capacity: 25 litres

Effectively a Berghaus-on-a-budget rucksack, there’s plenty here to keep fans of the brand happy.

It’s obvious, for instance, that the lower price hasn’t impacted on quality – the firm still offers its lifetime guarantee.

And plenty of strap adjustments, including height adjustment for the chest strap, make this a bag that can easily be tweaked for maximum comfort.

Its low weight, of just under half a kilogram, is an immediate bonus, too. But for £40 there’s no rain cover, compression straps have been omitted and even the compartment arrangement is somewhat sparse.

Buy the Berghaus Twenty Four Seven Plus here from Berghaus

Gelert Conway 25 Litres – two stars

  • Price: £12.99
  • Capacity: 25 litres

The cheapest rucksack here by some margin, and our immediate conclusion is that it’s far better to spend just a few quid more to get a bag of the Vango Trail’s calibre.

Yes, it’s a nicely made piece of kit, but there are just two padded shoulder straps – which means the shoulders and higher spinal region take the brunt of the weight.

Little thought has been given to provide ventilation between the rear of the bag and the wearer’s back, either. In short, this isn’t a comfortable rucksack for long days out with a heavy load.

Understandably, for the price, there are few extras: no rain cover, stick loops or suitable compartments for hydration packs.

Buy the Gelert Conway 25 Litres here from Amazon

STM Banks Laptop Backpack – three stars

  • Price: £84.95
  • Capacity: 18 litres

The sleek styling of STM’s offering is very different when compared to the rest of the rucksacks we’ve tested, with far more focus on a metropolitan lifestyle than hiking.

That doesn’t mean that it isn’t cleverly designed, though. Where some people are looking for hydration systems, this backpack has a clever cable system to keep everything tidy when you’re charging on-the-go.

It is specifically designed to accommodate a 15” laptop, with quilted lining to cushion devices from any bumps, which it does very well.

The compartmentalisation means that phones, wallets and keys are kept tidy and easy to find, although it does make it less flexible or adept at carrying chunkier items.

There is a detachable pouch that is great for grabbing things quickly, without the worry that it might drop to the floor.

You could even use it separately if you go out for the evening and don’t want to take your whole rucksack.

The two bottle pockets either side are ideal for keeping 500ml bottles handy, and the cross-body strap keeps the backpack stable, while the load weight sits quite low on the back.

Buy the STM Banks Laptop Backpack here from Amazon