For multi-day treks you’ll need a large volume rucksack to carry your gear and camping kit comfortably.
1) Exped lightning 60 £130, exped.com
If you’re a backpacker who cuts labels from your kit and drills holes in your toothbrush to save weight, you’ll love this featherweight pack. It weighs just 1.15kg, which is less than half its rivals on this page, and if you’re on a lengthy trek, your knees and ankles will welcome the chance to save a kilo every footstep.
Features have naturally been cut to save weight – there’s no lid, just a roll top, and there are only two open side pouches alongside a useful pocket on each of the hip fins. This works if you have the discipline to keep your kit organised inside in drybags; otherwise you risk a major muddle by day two of your expedition, emptying the pack to find what you need.
In terms of carrying; the back length has impressive adjustability to suit different height hikers and the densely padded hip fins proved comfortable on a trek along Hadrian’s Wall with full backpacking kit.
We would, however, have appreciated more padding on the shoulder straps when just wearing a baselayer (it was less of an issue when wearing an extra layer). Keeping the features to a minimum means relying on the water-repellent fabric to protect your kit (a rain cover costs an extra £16.50), but when trekking through squally showers and cloud-covered hills, the Lightning kept our kit dry.
Verdict: An exceptionally light pack at a very keen price, but few features demand rigorous organisation of your kit.
2) Greogry Baltoro 65, £215, gregorypacks.com
This richly featured pack is the antithesis of the Exped Lightning, offering a vast array of pockets and practical design ideas for a commensurate gain in weight. It comes in three frame sizes (small, medium and large), which means less individual adjustment on each pack; the large was very big indeed so try before you buy.
At 2.65kg it weighs more than two-and-ahalf times the Exped, and the pay-off for the extra burden includes a twin pocket lid (that also detaches to act as a bumbag), a zipped front pocket, twin side pockets and twin hip belt pockets. Top, side and bottom access to the main compartment makes finding your kit easy, and a good rain cover keeps your kit dry when the heavens open.
Inside, there are even shoulder straps stitched to the sleeve for a hydration bladder so it can detach and serve as a temporary daypack to carry gubbins onto a flight while the main pack is in the aircraft hold. Where the extra weight works best to its advantage, however, is in the straps and back system, with an excellent no-slip lumbar support and generous padding on the hip fins and shoulder straps.
If you have to carry a heavy load, this would be the most comfortable pack to take.
Verdict: With so many clever ways to sort your kit, this is ideal for lengthy expeditions, but it’s weight means it’s better suited to heavier loads.
3) Black Diamond Mercury 65 £180, eu.blackdiamondequipment.com
Switching packs mid-expedition to carry the Mercury proved a revelation thanks to its harness and hipbelt. The shoulder straps are linked to each other by a cable, so when one lengthens the other shortens, while the hip fins have a ball-and-socket pivot at the base of the spine so they pivot with every step.
The combination of these two systems delivers tremendous freedom of movement and a more natural gait, especially on uneven terrain. One tester found the sensation unsettling, but the consensus was in favour of the more fluid, better-balanced walking.
There’s no adjustability to the length of the back system, however, so it’s important to try before you buy in order to work out whether the medium or large frame size fits better (there’s also the women-specific Onyx). The top and front openings to the main compartment make gear finding easy, and there’s a large front pocket and good-sized pockets on the sides and hipbelts.
It’s also reassuring to see stormsealed zips as an extra defence against the rain. At just over 2kg, it’s a litre of water heavier than the Exped and 500g lighter than the Gregory, a Goldilocks midway position that seems to offer the ideal compromise. And when the temperature rises the wide channel between the back panel and grooved padding helps to stop your back getting too sweaty.
Verdict: Proved to be the comfiest pack to carry, and with useful storage is hugely practical for backpacking trips.