Damian Hall Reviews Daypacks for Walking

Five backpacks for day-hikes on long-distance trails – Damian Hall

If you’re getting your luggage transported for you on your walking holiday, do you really need a backpack? Almost always, the answer should be yes.

How else will you carry those egg sandwiches? Plus you should almost certainly carry a spare layer in the UK’s changeable climate, such as a lightweight waterproof jacket. You’d be wise to carry a bottle of water and some calories, too. Many of us are also married to our phones and there’s a real justification in having it with you, like in emergencies, such as checking if the pub will be open when you get to the next village. A map and/or guidebook, a compass, a whistle and an emergency blanket are also wise choices, especially in hillier, more remote places.

That should be enough for most scenarios – a colder day may tempt you into packing a hat, gloves and a second spare layer, and perhaps some extra food too – but there can also be peril in packing too much. A heavier load slows you down, meaning you’re out on the trails for longer and things like blisters or running out of fuel are more likely to happen. So consider whether you really need to bring that picnic blanket and laptop with you.

What to look for

Comfort is everything. A badly fitting daypack could lead to chafes, bad posture and lots of whingeing (and no one likes whingeing), so it’s an item well worth trying on in the shop – ideally with some weight in it. In most cases the more adjustable a pack is – i.e. the more straps and buckles it has – the more it can be customised to fit your unique physique, though some less sophisticated packs can just feel right anyway. Try it on and play about with it.

Worn correctly, the belt strap, rather than the shoulder straps, should support most of the weight on your hips, so ensure it feels comfortable and supportive. That said, those shoulder straps need to be comfortable too; padded perhaps but not so broad they’ll restrict movement, and not so thin they’ll cut into your shoulders. However, nowadays most packs are very comfy.

Capacity wise, in summer as little as five litres (5L) may be enough space – incidentally, if a pack name has a number in it, as several do here, it usually corresponds to the litres of capacity. For a daypack to be useful year-round however, look for a size more along the lines of 10-25L.

The pack's weight when empty is important too – you will be carrying it as well as its contents, so the lighter the pack, the less work for your muscles.

It may seem like it, but your pack almost definitely won’t be waterproof. Some will come with an additional waterproof cover, but these often get blown off or stolen by pesky brambles. It’s better to buy a separate dry bag, or several bags, to use inside your pack to keep kit dry.

Gear manufacturers have also belatedly noticed that women have different body types to men and started making some kit accordingly. Women’s packs will often have a shorter torso range, narrower shoulders and alternative hip belts. Some packs are also branded unisex.

Additional things to consider

Pockets: Features such as pockets are an individual thing. The fewer pockets there are, the harder it is to find things and you’ll need to rummage through your socks and egg sarnies to locate your avocado. But the more pockets you have, the, er, harder it is to find things, because you can’t remember which pocket you put it in. It’s also annoying to have to take your pack off to grab a water bottle, phone or snack, so the more you can access on the go, the happier you’re likely to be.

Hydration options: Every pack is hydration bladder comparable, whether it claims to be or not – there’s nothing stopping you from sticking the hose out of the main compartment. But if you prefer a water bottle, is there somewhere it can be accessed without pack removal? If not, you probably won’t drink as much as you need to.

Chest strap: Though not as crucial as a belt strap, it's still very useful for making the pack stable and aiding good posture. They’re usually adjustable, too.

Back airflow: Back ‘systems’ are getting increasingly sophisticated and some (like the Osprey, Vaude and to a lesser extent the Berghaus options below) are designed to be pushed away from your body, letting air through so you don’t get so sweaty. However, these packs usually have an internal frame which can make them more rigid and heavy.

Compression straps: These can look superfluous, but they come in handy when your pack is only half full, stopping everything from bouncing about (which isn’t good for your egg sandwiches).

Lids: A full lid on the pack will make it that bit more rain resistant, as zips can be a point of vulnerability.

Whistles: All the packs reviewed here, except the Vaude Brenta, come with this useful emergency item attached.

Colours: These packs here all come in a range of usually tasteful colours, bar the OMM Ultra (it’s a tasteful colour, but it’s the only option).

These packs were tested in the Cotswolds, the Pennines, the Lake District and the French Alps.

Hadrian's Wall Path in Spring: Hadrian's Way1. Osprey Stratos 24

Price: £80
Weight: 1.1kg
Women’s version? Yes (the Sirrus 24)

Calling the Osprey Stratos 24 feature-rich is like saying there are some nice views in the Lake District: something of an understatement. It has straps, buckles, zips and flaps everywhere, including a secret pocket for a waterproof cover (included) that after six months of use I only just discovered this very moment (I love a secret pocket, um, even if it’s so secret I don’t find it).

The back system provides a clear airway between pack and back and it’s very comfortable overall, with well-padded shoulder straps. You can also stow your trekking poles without removing it, too.

All this comes at a cost however and the pack is fairly heavy and bulky. When wearing this on a busy train for example, I tended to bump into people without realising – hopefully not a problem in the hills. It’s the most breathable back system here, but that’s the pay off.

Neatly, you can use an Osprey app to select the right fit, which is fun and accurate.

When I need to carry a bit more kit, I find myself reaching for this one for my cycle commutes.

Pros: Excellent back system, excellent features.
Cons: Heavy, bulky and rigid.
Verdict: You know you’ve got a pack on, but it’s worth it for the features.
Star rating: 9 (out of 10)

Hadrian's Wall Path in Spring: Hadrian's Way2. Vaude Brenta 25

Price: £80
Weight: 1080g
Women’s version? Yes (the Maremma 26 or 32)

On the surface, Vaude’s Brenta 25 is very similar to the Osprey Stratos. There’s a similar sophisticated back system and reams of useful features, such as compression, stretchy mesh side pockets, rain cover, pole attachments, hydration bladder sleeve – all like the Stratos. But it has a trick up its sleeve. The back system is adjustable, so you can have it flat to your back, or bent out for airflow; a top piece of wizardry.

The other main differences are a draw cord and lid at the top, for good weather protection, and the large front stretch pocket, which is handy for removed layers, maps and half-finished egg sandwiches.

The Osprey feels more commuter-friendly, but the Vaude is marginally more mountain ready.

Pros: Excellent back system, excellent features.
Cons: Heavy and rigid.
Verdict: An excellent, flexible, feature-packed option.
Star rating: 8

Hadrian's Wall Path in Spring: Hadrian's Way3. Berghaus Light 15 Rucksack

Price: £50
Weight: 488g
Women’s version? No

The Berghaus Light 15 Rucksack is lightweight, simple and compact, ideal for fastpacking types (those who might use it for running and walking). Two mesh side pockets suit water bottles, poles or gloves, and a large internal zipped pocket is perfect for valuables. The fast-access water bottle (included), located at the bottom of the pack, is a neat touch. The back system is comfortable and effective with a barely noticeable, flexible frame forcing a gap for airflow, without the rigidity of the Osprey and Vaude options, and it remains stable on the back, too.

I used this on 2015’s Long Distance Walkers Association 100 in Lancashire, as well as numerous local walks, runs and cycle commutes in the Cotswolds, and it’s been superb. It’s the one I grab first for weekend strolls and picnics with my kids.

Pros: Lightweight, comfy, compact, and an effective back system.
Cons: Some may want more features and capacity.
Verdict: An excellent lightweight option.
Star rating: 8

Hadrian's Wall Path in Spring: Hadrian's Way4. Salomon Agile 12 Set

Price: £80
Weight: 380g
Women’s version? Yes

Salomon are renowned for producing lightweight kit, and like the Berghaus option this is designed with the fastpacker or runner in mind, but it works equally well for hiking. It’s impressively light (380g for 12L) and pleasingly breathable, while excellent stretch-fit technology means the pack moves with, rather than against, your body. Even when full, it doesn't feel rigid or uncomfortable. It has a more flexible, and almost unnoticeable, feeling than all the others here.

A big double-zip means contents are easy to find, pack and unpack, and the internal pocket and another pocket on the hip belt are good for valuables. It's also pole compatible, has more loops and straps than I knew what to do with and has an insulation sleeve for a bladder hose.

The external side pockets don’t feel particularly safe, but they are fine for gloves or hat.

Pros: Lightweight, super-comfy and moves with the body.
Cons: Small capacity and could have better pockets.
Verdict: A very comfortable, excellent lightweight option that suits hiking, fastpacking, cycling and running.
Star rating: 9

Hadrian's Wall Path in Spring: Hadrian's Way5. OMM Ultra 12

Price: £50
Weight: 350g
Women’s version? No

Aimed primarily at mountain marathon runners, this lightweight, fuss-free pack is another good option, especially for summer yomps.

A small zipped pocket on the back fits a wallet or smartphone, while mesh pockets at the sides would fit some water bottles. The design positions the weight in the small of the back and a patent-pending chassis keeps it secure to the body, regardless of the wearer’s movement.

It doesn’t have the comfort features of some packs here, but as it won’t be holding so much weight there’s little need for them. It can be even lighter thanks to the removable back padding, that could double as a picnic mat.

I came to really like the stripped-down nature of the pack and I find myself reaching for it more readily than the others, for run commutes especially, in spite of – or perhaps because of – its simplicity.

However, some reflective strips peeled off almost straight away.

Pros: Compact, lightweight and fuss-free.
Cons: Small capacity and limited features.
Verdict: An enticing summer option for faster movers.
Star rating: 7 (but 9 for runners)

Originally published 31/03/16

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