GROUP TEST: Trekking & Expedition Packs 50-70 Litres

added 04/Sep/2017, see all Blue Ice, Deuter, Arc'teryx, Lightwave, Lowe Alpine, Osprey, Exped, Berghaus, Crux, Salewa, Macpac, Vango or Fjallraven news & reviews
Reviewed by UKC/UKH Gear
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Whether it's a weekend or a month away, rucksacks with a volume in the range of 50-70 litres should cover most of your overnight needs. The models on test here range from smaller packs best suited to short trips, through to fully featured and supportive trekking packs designed for mountains of food and gear. With a couple of exceptions these are neither climbing, nor ultralight backpacking specialists, but aimed more at general use - be that wild camping, a classic trek, alpine hut-to-hut tours, or a walk-in to a remote base camp.

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Packs montage

Trekking packs are relatively elaborate, so we've judged them on a number of criteria: load carrying support and comfort; ventilation; pack weight versus capacity and durability; and additional features (such as pockets, zipped entries and compression straps). Since different models will suit different uses, we have not awarded a best in test.

Nb: While features on some models can be stripped to cut weight, the weights quoted here are for the full package.

The detail can be found below - we'll start with the summary table:

Overall summary

Make and model

Ratings

Gregory

Paragon 68

Price: £175

Capacity: 68L

Weight: 1.9kg

Best in Test Highly Recommended Large, 14 kb

Paragon 68 prod shot, 133 kb

Pros: It's lightweight for its large capacity and full feature set, and with a comfy well-vented feel. Considering all this the price is very fair.

Cons: Others will be more durable.

Rating

4.5 / 5

Blue Ice

Yeti 50

Price: £135

Capacity: 50L

Weight: 1.3kg

Blue Ice Yeti 50 prod shot, 99 kb

Pros: Light, simple, tough, good for climbing, and affordably priced.

Cons: The fixed back length, minimal padding and lack of ventilation don't make it a very comfy load carrier.

Rating

3 / 5

Deuter

Aircontact Pro 60+15

Price: £210

Capacity: 75L (max)

Weight: 3.4kg

Aircontact Pro prod shot, 145 kb

Pros: It has a really superb build quality, large capacity, full feature set, and lots of support and comfort for heavy load carrying.

Cons: The price is fair for the quality on offer, but its extremely high weight costs it a highly recommended.

Rating

4 / 5

Crux

AX50

Price: £179

Capacity: 50L

Weight: 1.14kg

AX50 prod shot, 44 kb

Pros: Light, simple, tough and good for climbing.

Cons: The fixed back length, poor ventilation and minimal cushioning don't help with load carrying comfort. Comparatively pricey for what you get.

Rating

3 / 5

Vango

Pinnacle 60+10

Price: £110

Capacity: 70L (max)

Weight: 2.7kg

Best in Test Good Value Large, 10 kb

Pinnacle 60 prod shot, 117 kb

Pros: A large capacity and plenty of features, and all for an unrivalled price

Cons: Not the greatest build quality, and there are some niggles with comfort and load stabilisation. It's very heavy too.

Rating

3 / 5

Arc'teryx

Bora AR50

Price: £380

Capacity: 50L

Weight: 2.2kg

Best in Test Highly Recommended Large, 14 kb

Bora Ar 50 prod shot, 44 kb

Pros: Weatherproof, bombproof, and boasting a genuinely innovative back system that offers loads of comfort and support.

Cons: Cough, splutter, are they charging nearly £400 for a pack? It's not light, either.

Rating

4 / 5

Lightwave

Ultrahike 60

Price: £179

Capacity: 60L

Weight: 1.2kg

Best in Test Highly Recommended Large, 14 kb

Ultrahike 60 prod shot, 43 kb

Pros: Superlight yet still reasonably well padded and supportive, and highly weatherproof too, this is the one for minimalist backpackers.

Cons: Fixed back length and no ventilation, so it's a sweaty ride in hot weather.

Rating

4 / 5

Fjallraven

Kaipak 58

Price: £215

Capacity: 58L

Weight: 2.3kg

Best in Test Highly Recommended Large, 14 kb

Kaipak 58 prod shot, 32 kb

Pros: Tough and well made, with a simple functional feel.

Cons: It's heavy for its capacity, and pricey too. And the dowdy design and colours won't be everyone's cuppa.

Rating

4 / 5

Berghaus

Wilderness 65+15

Price: £145

Capacity: 80L (absolute max)

Weight: 2kg

Wilderness 65 prod shot, 208 kb

Pros: Well ventilated, plenty of features, not too heavy for its size, and reasonably priced.

Cons: Neither the highest quality feel, nor the most comfortable load carrier.

Rating

3.5 / 5

Lowe Alpine

Cerro Torre 65:85

Price: £200

Capacity: 85L (max)

Weight: 2.9kg

Best in Test Highly Recommended Large, 14 kb

Cerro Torre prod shot, 83 kb

Pros: A huge capacity, rugged build, full feature set and supportive ride all justify the price tag.

Cons: Not a very well vented pack, and it sure is heavy.

Rating

4 / 5

Macpac

Cascade 65

Price: £280

Capacity: 65L

Weight: 2.5kg

Best in Test Highly Recommended Large, 14 kb

Cascade prod shot, 45 kb

Pros: A pack built for hard use, and supportive with big loads, the Cascade should offer years of reliable service.

Cons: Heavy for its capacity, and very expensive too.

Rating

4 / 5

Osprey

Aether AG 60

Price: £190

Capacity: 60L

Weight: 2.4kg

Best in Test Highly Recommended Large, 14 kb

Aether 60 prod shot, 54 kb

Pros: This pack stands out for superb levels of comfort and support, and unrivalled ventilation, coupled with a full feature set. For all this, the price is fair.

Cons: It's not as light as you'd hope, yet not as burly as some packs of similar weight.

Rating

4.5 / 5

Exped

Thunder 70

Price: £160

Capacity: 70L

Weight: 1.7kg

Exped Thunder prod shot, 62 kb

Pros: A very large capacity at a surprisingly modest weight - and reasonably priced too.

Cons: Too many compromises have been made to achieve that low weight. The structure and padding simply don't feel up to the loads you'd carry in a pack this big.

Rating

3 / 5

Salewa

Cammino 60+10

Price: £135

Capacity: 70L (max)

Weight: 1.7kg

Best in Test Good Value Large, 10 kb

Cammino prod shot, 129 kb

Pros: A simple and no-nonsense design with a sturdy feel, decent breathability, a low weight and a fair price.

Cons: We're not sold on the hipbelt, it's small for its stated capacity, and other packs have a more structured and supportive feel for the heaviest loads.

Rating

3.5 / 5

Gregory Paragon 68 £175

The Paragon 68 does a great job of saving weight without sacrificing functionality. For a very bearable 1.9kg (size L) you get a large capacity; a well-padded, well-vented, supportive and adjustable back system; and a full set of trekking pack features. For the quality the price is good too, but on the debit side it may not be as durable as some heavier rivals.

The Paragon 68 is light, well ventilated and a super comfy load carrier , 192 kb
The Paragon 68 is light, well ventilated and a super comfy load carrier
© Dan Bailey

Weight, fabric and durability

Using both 210 denier and 100 denier nylon, the fabric on the Paragon 68 is some of the lightest in this review, and helps account for the low overall pack weight. The thicker, ripstop, fabric is used in areas that receive higher wear, while the base is double-layered for extra durability. Buckles and other components are light but high quality, and the overall standard of workmanship is good too. However, while it is more than tough enough for general hiking, particularly if you keep the loads on the lighter side, this pack does not match the bombproof feel of heavier rivals, and as such it would not be our first choice for longer trips in the toughest conditions.

Back system and carrying comfort

An internal wire frame provides structure. It's lighter-gauge than the thick aluminium stays found on most of the beefier rucksacks on test, and this gives the pack a bit of give which helps it move a little with the body - no bad thing for comfort over a long day. However a sturdier frame would offer more substantial support for heavier loads. Padding on the Paragon is both luxurious and airy. Raised a little from the bag to allow some airflow, the lumbar pad and back panel form a single piece. There's plenty of cushioning for the lower back, then a honeycomb of mesh and cut-out holes all the way up the back for maximum ventilation. For hot weather use few packs in this review can beat it, but creating this airspace does shift the load marginally backwards away from the wearer's centre of gravity, something you might feasibly notice when climbing or scrambling.

With no straps or buckles, back length adjustment is a doddle, a padded shoulder piece that slides on the aluminium frame and secures behind the back panel with robust velcro pads. A range of about 10cm gives you of scope to fine-tune the length, and with two sizes of pack available the Paragon ought to be a decent fit for most users. Padding on the shoulder straps is comparatively deep and spongy. Some might prefer shallower yet firmer cushioning for a lower profile fit around the shoulders, but despite being unnecessarily bulky these straps are so well honeycombed with ventilating holes that they manage to feel very unsweaty.

The hipbelt is an elaborate design, with plastic-reinforced wings for structure and a clever telescoping length adjustment inside the padding that will help it fit users of different girths (it's hard to explain, but works well). Cushioning is deep but firm, with a stretchy mesh cover that prevents it feeling too sweaty. Hugging the hips closely without creating uncomfy pressure points, the belt does a great job of transferring weight off the shoulders and onto your legs.

Gregory back, 201 kb

Gregory front, 107 kb

Capacity, pockets and features

For longer trips the Paragon's 68 litres is a useful size, room for several days' worth of supplies on top of the usual gear. For additional capacity, a floating lid allows for a bit of over-packing, and should you need to fit a bulky item across the top, then the under-lid compression strap is a good place to secure it. To help keep contents organised and accessible the Paragon 68 has a zipped bottom entry and internal clip-in divider, so that your tent or wet stuff can be kept separate from the rest. This medium-gauge YKK zip is reasonably sturdy, but since it's not water resistant, and the elasticated zip flap provides only partial protection in the wind, it's not likely to be 100% rain proof on a stormy day in the British hills. To help counter this, a rain cover is provided in its own little zipped pocket - but of course these are of limited use in the wind too.

Despite its low weight, the Paragon 68 does not skimp on features. Two zipped pockets provide lid-top storage; the larger of the two is a decent size for hat, gloves etc while the smaller pocket features a key clip. Neither have water resistant zips, so they do risk leaking a bit in heavy rain. With a large elastic front sleeve, plus a spacious stretch mesh sleeve on each side, there are plenty of places to stash a shell or water bottle: for smaller items, meanwhile, you get a zipped pocket on each side of the hipbelt. Made from a narrow webbing to save weight, compression straps at the sides, base and top of the pack do a reasonable job of compressing a small load, though as a notably wide pack - particularly at the top - it is hard to collapse a half-full Paragon quite as neatly as some narrower models. It works best with a large load. If stashing something bulky onto the Paragon 68, your best will be the longer (and removable) bottom straps. The side straps are a tad short for big rollmats, but on the plus side their plastic retainers are a neat solution to flappy spare tail. A number of webbing loops give you further gear strapping options; there's also a quirky little sunglasses stash on one shoulder strap.

With only a single ice axe retainer, the Paragon 68 is clearly aimed more at hiking than climbing or expedition use; it would have done no harm to provide two. We do appreciate the addition of a small daypack though. Hanging inside, and doubling as a water bladder sleeve, this ultra-minimalist pack would be great for lightweight detours from a backpacking journey, or a quick summit from your high camp.

Gregory say:

You'd expect a pack this light, with this kind of capacity to be stripped of anything close to comfort or convenience. The Paragon 68 is the exception, tearing up the trail with lightweight, ventilated ease thanks to Aerolon suspension, and offering deluxe features you'd be hard-pressed to find anywhere else within this weight class. Looks like your long weekend plans just got a little lighter and a lot more comfortable.

  • Capacity: 68 litres
  • Weight: 1.9kg (size M/L - our measure)
  • Stripped weight: 1.51kg
  • Back length: S/M 38.1cm - 48.3cm; M/L 45.7cm - 55.9cm
  • Fabric: 210D cryptorip nylon & 100D high-tenacity nylon
  • Back system: Aerolon Suspension, lightweight alu chassis
  • Reservoir sleeve doubles as removable Sidekick Daypack (122g)
  • Matrix foam back panel with breathable mesh
  • Integrated raincover doubles as accessory pocket
  • Quick-adjust back height and hipbelt; hipbelt pockets move with the adjustment to maintain easy access
  • Lumbar pad has soft-moulded silicon pads to grip well for enhanced load transfer and energy savings
  • 3D shoulder harness and hipbelt with dual-density EVA foam construction
  • Sunglasses stash on shoulder harness
  • Front stretch stuff pocket
  • 2 zipped hipbelt pockets
  • 2 stretch-mesh side pockets
  • Removable bottom straps can be used to attach mat, or as a hipbelt on removable daypack
  • Floating top pocket with an additional zipped pocket
  • Reinforced, dual-layer bottom panel

For more info see eu.gregorypacks.com

Paragon 68 prod shot, 133 kb

Blue Ice Yeti 50L £135

This little pack from Chamonix brand Blue Ice is geared more towards mountaineering than trekking, with a basic back system and a stripped-back feature set to cut weight and clutter. Judged as an out-and-out trekking pack it's not comfy or supportive enough for bigger loads. That said, many walkers also like the simplicity of a climbing pack, so whether you're taking on an alpine face, a classic hut-to-hut tour or a more demanding UK mountain walk, this tough and well-balanced pack should do the business. Unless you're a practised minimalist, its 50 litre capacity best suits overnight quickies rather than weeks in the wild.

The Yeti is a compact bag for overnights, or a spacious day pack - you decide , 158 kb
The Yeti is a compact bag for overnights, or a spacious day pack - you decide
© Alex Berry

Weight, fabric and durability

Partly because of its smaller size, and in part thanks to its simple design, the Yeti is one of the lightest packs in this review at 1.3kg. Nonetheless, the 210 denier ripstop cordura used on most of the bag is really tough stuff, well suited to the rigours of climbing and scrambling. Add to that a base made of ultra-thick 420 denier cordura, and a high overall build quality, and you've got a pack that should withstand lots of hard use. A PU coating inside and DWR finish on the outside add weather resistance too - enough to shrug off snow and ice, though for use in the rain it's worth noting that the seams are not taped.

Back system and carrying comfort

Coming in only one size, with no length adjustment, the Yeti 50L will either fit you or not. Our 183cm-tall reviewer finds the back length insufficient, but shorter testers have got on fine.

Two narrow aluminium stays form the basis of the back system. These can be removed and re-shaped to fit, or left out to reduce weight. A padded sheet adds extra structure, and protects your back from pointy pack contents. This is extremely firm - you could say hard - and a very basic flat shape that doesn't readily adapt to the curves of the back; yet it's not uncomfortable. Lateral channels offer a bit of token air flow, but with a lot of pack in contact with your back, and no absorbent mesh of any sort, the result is a sweaty Yeti in hot weather. For alpine and winter use, the advantage of this non-absorbent foam is that it doesn't trap tons of snow, while the shallow depth of the padding helps bring the weight in close to your centre of gravity. Summer backpacking would not be the Yeti's chief forte, but snowy mountains certainly are.

The back may be hard and unabsorbent, but in contrast the shoulder straps feature soft, deep padding and plenty of sweat absorbing mesh. Our reviewer did not find them an ideal fit - there's a bit of digging in at the ribs - but these broad straps do have a robust and supportive feel with a heavy pack, and they are shaped to allow free arm movement when climbing. In keeping with the Yeti's no-nonsense design, the hipbelt is pretty basic, in essence a simple webbing strap with added foam fins. The width of the padding seems excessive; thinner but firmer and better-sculpted fins would have been better. On the plus side it is not sewn fixed to the pack and so does allow a bit of rotational movement that mirrors the movement of the hips. Judged as a hipbelt on a climbing pack, it's OK; but compared the more elaborate hipbelts on the trekking-oriented packs on test, it's not as effective at shifting weight onto your hips. If you're counting grams, the belt can be stripped.

Though robust, the Yeti is no beast of burden, and for long days with heavier loads it doesn't match the support and comfort of more structured and padded rucksacks. If you want a large capacity climbing pack, this is a good one; but it would be unfair to judge it for what it's not!

Blue Ice Yeti back, 162 kb

Blue Ice Yeti front, 159 kb

Capacity, pockets and features

At 50 litres the Yeti might not have enough capacity for extended journeys, but it's certainly big enough for overnight trips to alpine huts, a night or two of lightweight camping, an alpine bivvy, or a minimalist backpacker with a disciplined approach to packing. To accommodate bulky items up top, the lid can be raised; a rope retaining strap is provided underneath too. To help reduce clutter the lid straps are sewn high on the body of the bag. But they're too high, so that when the pack is half-full you cannot pull the lid down far enough to stop it flopping about; 10cm lower would have made the difference. Weight savers can remove the lid altogether, and if you do so then the drawstring provides a secure and largely weathertight closure to the pack. Interestingly, the lid and stripped-out hipbelt combine to create a large bum bag, which you could use for an ultralight summit trip from a high camp.

No secondary zipped entry is provided, and for a pack this small none are needed. You do however get a little zipped sleeve on the front; a spacious lid-top zipped pocket; an under-lid security pocket; and a zipped pocket on one side of the belt. None feature water-resistant zips, which is worth remembering when you're out in rainy Britain; there's no key clip either, which is a feature we always want.

The side compression straps do their main job well, squeezing a half-full pack tight to keep things neat and stable. While long enough to hold skis, they sadly don't have sufficient length for a bulky rollmat. No wand sleeves are provided, something that's handy if you're stashing poles on the sides. You'd hope a climbing pack would hold axes well, and the Yeti's elastic loops and pick holding sleeve are robust, secure and easy to use. A sleeve for a hydration bladder is provided; so too are two internal gear loops for keeping climbing hardwear organised. Features-wise, that's your lot - and this minimalism is what the Yeti is all about.

Blue Ice say:

The Yeti 50L features all you need for your serious multi-day alpine climbs and demanding treks. Its thermoformed ergonomic modular back panel and the padded hip belt provide excellent comfort and great stability, even when you carry heavy loads. With a minimalist design, the Yeti 50L is nevertheless very well equipped, with two lateral compression straps to carry your skis, snowboard or any other oversized gear, a rope holder under the lid and two internal gear loops help you stay organized. The top lid has two pockets to safely store your keys, wallet or small valuables. Additionally, it is removable from the pack, which allows you to use it independently as a lumbar pack when climbing, attached to your harness. Gram-counting alpinists can strip the Yeti 50L of all its accessories, transforming it into one of the lightest - yet toughest - packs in its category.

  • Capacity: 50 litres
  • Weight: 1.3kg (our measure)
  • Stripped weight: 900g
  • Back length: one size, no adjustment
  • Fabric: 210 denier rip-stop CORDURA® and 420 denier ballistic CORDURA® both with PU coating and DWR finish, Lining: 100 denier high-tenacity nylon
  • Back system: Thermoformed ergonomic back panel with removable and customizable aluminium stays
  • Removable top lid with two pockets (internal and external), Top lid functions as a lumbar pack when attached to a harness or to the removable waist belt
  • Quick-release skirt opening system allowing to pack to be used without its top lid
  • Shoulder stabilizer straps
  • Lateral compression straps to carry skis/snowboard
  • Removable padded hip belt zippered pocket
  • External zippered pocket
  • Two gear loops inside pack
  • Hydration bladder pocket
  • Rope holder under the top lid
  • Dual ice toolers

For more info see blueice.com

Blue Ice Yeti 50 prod shot, 100 kb

Deuter Aircontact Pro 60+15 litres £210

This big gear-hungry beast is the heaviest on test by some margin, and this is the only reason we haven't awarded it highly recommended. The weight will instantly put some users off; but if your load is massive, you won't find a more comfortable or supportive pack than the Aircontact Pro. The price tag reflects the high build quality of a pack that's made to take years of hard use.

At its full 60+15 capacity it's quite a behemoth, 138 kb
At its full 60+15 capacity it's quite a behemoth
© Dan Bailey

Weight, fabric and durability

At nearly 3.5kg before you've even put anything in it, the Aircontact Pro is around twice the weight of some of the other high spec trekking packs in this review. For weight-conscious minimalists that is likely to be a deal breaker, and even for less focused users there are going to be times when all its padding, structure and sheer weight just seems way too much. But don't write it off just yet. Aside from its features, which are many, the materials used have a large part to pay in this weight. With a micro ripstop pattern and waterproof PU coating, its 330 denier nylon is seriously tough stuff, while the base is even thicker and tougher still; we've yet to make a mark on it. The back system is built on the most substantial frame of any in this review; and all components are high quality. Fundamentally, this pack feels engineered rather than just stitched together. Deuter don't do minimalist, but instead go all out for comfort, load carrying support and the sort of build quality that suggests years of reliable service.

Back system and carrying comfort

The Aircontact Pro's heavily structured, deeply padded and highly engineered back system reflects Deuter's more is more ethos. With both a stiffened sheet and a substantial aluminium frame, the back system is more rigid and supportive than almost any other on test. "The VariFlex system and aluminium stays form the core of the carrying system, which combines stability, efficient load transfer, perfect load control and incredible flexibility" they say, and in use the pivoting 'VariFlex' hipbelt is indeed superb, moving with the hips as you walk and very effectively transferring weight off your shoulders. The depth of cushioning on the hipbelt is extreme, but though it looks excessive this multi-layered stiffened foam does a great job of spreading the load evenly, without creating niggly pressure points. Padding elsewhere is generous too, with a deep lumbar cushion, a secondary foam sheet to protect the back from the adjustment buckle, a very comfy pad behind the shoulder blades, and deeper than average cushioning on the shoulder straps. The effect is like being cuddled; but with free rotation at the hips and shoulder straps, this bulky harness manages not to feel at all restrictive. With a mesh lining, the hollow 'Aircontact' foam is surprisingly unsweaty too, and along with a decent air flow across the small of the back the net result is a bag that manages to be both remarkably well cushioned yet bearable in hot weather.

Only one size of pack is available (with a shorter version for women), but with a large range of adjustability the Aircontact Pro should fit most users. The mechanism is robust, easy to operate and satisfyingly well engineered, the shoulder section sliding smoothly on the aluminium frame to give you a perfect faff-free fit. The shoulder harness is well shaped for a close, unrestrictive fit, and the sternum strap adjusts on a slider so you can minutely fine tune its height.

Of course all this comes with that mega weight penalty. Can Deuter justify bucking the ultralight trend? Though initially sceptical, we were won over on the course of a winter overnight mountain journey laden with hardwear, warm stuff and gear for camping and photography. The weight was challenging and the Munros many, yet the comfort and load carrying stability on offer from this mighty pack did a great job of mitigating any unhappiness. If your load is minimal, the Aircontact Pro is not the rucksack for you: however, if you are already heavily laden (think base camp walk-in with several days' supplies) then the extra pack weight is forgivable, since you won't find a more reliable workhorse. This will be the ideal pack for some, but at this weight it's a purchase you'd have to consider carefully.

Deuter back, 191 kb

Deuter front, 195 kb

Capacity, pockets and features

This 60+15 version is a big beast, with sufficient capacity for most users: but if you really want to go large, an Aircontact Pro 70+15 is also available. Accessing gear becomes more of an issue the bigger your pack gets, so to that end Deuter have provided a bottom zipped entry with an internal zipped subdivider, and also a huge zip-around front flap which opens the main body right up. These chunky YKK zips have a reliable feel, but neither are water resistant. Lightly stiffened storm flaps should keep some weather at bay, but in common with most of the packs on test these zipped entries are not going to be fully waterproof once subjected to horizontal British rain. The extra 15 litres of pack capacity is achieved by raising the floating lid, which comes up a long way to accommodate bulky extras like a tent. Additionally, some extra capacity can be gained by using the zipped bellows pockets (again, non-water-resistant zips). A part-stretchy sleeve on the front of the pack gives you somewhere accessible to keep a jacket or water bottle, while a robust wand pocket on each side seems the best place to stash poles. On the belt, you get one small zipped pocket - enough for a bag of sweets and a compass. Up-top, the zipped lid pocket is medium-roomy, and though on the plus side it has a key clip, on the minus its (non water-resistant) wraparound zip opens so wide that you risk spilling the contents unless you're careful. A zipped under-lid pocket is also provided. A nice touch is the inclusion of a small daypack - handy if you're doing quick detours from a long distance trail.

For a gear carrying behemoth, the side straps are a bit of a disappointment, not being quite long enough to hold very bulky rollmats and such. They do a good job of compressing and stabilising the pack when half loaded, however. On the other hand, the bottom compression straps are longer, for those who don't mid stashing big rolls of stuff horizontally (we're not a fan - it makes for an awkwardly wide load). A handful of lashing points allow other options for strapping bulky objects. Twin axe retainers and a stow-away rain cover complete the feature set.

Deuter say:

There's room for absolutely everything in here. The spacious pros are heavy-duty tools offering outstanding weight transfer and a smart construction. The load hauling packs are perfect for long, equipment intense treks – whether you plan to bring your tent, stove or your camera equipment to the Australian outback or to remote paths in Iceland. The new stepless adjustable VariFit-Slide back system ensures the perfect fit for any back length – for women in the SL version.

  • Capacity: 60 + 15 litres
  • Weight: 3.4kg (our measure)
  • Back length: one pack size, with large size range
  • For women: Aircontact Pro 60+15 SL
  • Fabric: Deuter Micro Rip 6.6, 330D Nylon blended fabric
  • Back system: Varifit
  • Variflex pivoting hipbelt
  • Light daypack included
  • External side bellows pockets
  • Two lid pockets
  • Front stretch pocket
  • Hip pocket
  • Floating lid offers additional space
  • Bottom zip entry
  • Front zip entry
  • Compatible with 3 litre hydration bladder
  • Wand pockets
  • 2 ice axe / pole attachment

For more info see deuter.com

Aircontact Pro prod shot, 145 kb

Crux AX 50 £179

Along with the Blue Ice Yeti, the Crux AX50 is something of an outlier in this review, being smaller, lighter and more climbing-oriented than most of the other packs. Crux are best known for making high quality alpine gear and the AX50 could very well be an excellent alpine or Scottish winter climbing pack, but does it also work as a trekking sack? In short: yes - and within limits, it works very well. However it's not built for multi day loads, and the price does seem quite high for the simplicity of the pack you're getting.

It's a simple climbing-oriented design, 150 kb
It's a simple climbing-oriented design
© Toby Archer

Weight, fabric and durability

At 1.14kg (size regular) the AX50 is light. For ultimate minimalists the waistbelt, frame and floating lid can also be removed to give you a stripped down weight below one kilo. Yes it's smaller than the big load carriers on review here, but the AX50's low weight is also to a great extent due to the fabric used: 15% Dyneema / 85% Cordura at a weight of 150g/m². It feels light and thin, but with its ripstop pattern has so far proven to be very tough, shrugging off gritstone scrambles with ease – no surprise considering the component materials. The frame is two titanium rods, light and strong (and of course anything made of titanium is cool, just look at an SR71 spy plane!), reinforced with a light plastic sheet that gives load carrying support without making the pack feel rigid, and protects your back from pointy objects packed inside.

Back system and carrying comfort

The back system is very simple, with no sculpting or varied depth on the foam back panel to account for the contours of your back. It's worth noting, too, that the back length is fixed, so it's important you try the AX50 in a shop before buying. Two back sizes are available, Regular (for users up to 180cm tall) and Large. You get no fancy 'air mesh', grooved air channels or similar, but that also means that for alpine or winter use there's nothing to catch and hold snow. Our reviewer found it no more or less sweaty than other similar rucksacks with a stripped-back, climbing-oriented design - which is to say, it's clearly less well vented than some of the more elaborate back systems, but this needn't be a deal breaker if simplicity is your bag. It's noticeably sweaty in hot weather, sure, but of course this is much less of an issue in colder conditions. Padding on the shoulder straps and hipbelt is fairly shallow by the standards of a trekking pack, but with a good firmness it feels supportive rather than spongy. Both the straps and the belt are cut with a radical set of curves, which help fit them around the shape of the body without limiting arm movement. With the frame and padded hip belt, we found the AX50 perfectly comfy when carrying medium loads, like a weekend's bivvy kit, water and some additional gear for scrambling. The pack isn't big enough to take massive multi-day loads, and neither is the back system and padding designed to cope with that. But a pack that is reasonably comfy with a full Scottish mixed rack, rope, tools, crampons and other winter sundries, can certainly take a weekend's backpacking equipment too.

Crux back, 144 kb

Crux front, 133 kb

Capacity, pockets and features

As stated, 50 litres is small for a classic trekking pack, but as gear has become progressively lighter and attitudes changed, it is bigger than many ultralight packs designed for "thru-hikers". As it is, we found the AX50 worked very well for weekend backpacking in the UK hills, including when carry a solo tent, rather than just a bivvy bag. If you want to push its capacity, the floating lid can be raised a long way to accommodate a large load on top (a rope, a rollmat etc); on the other hand, when you're out with a half load the side compression works very well to keep the pack neat, while the lid can be pulled a long way down if you double its webbing straps through the front daisychains.

The bag is one single compartment and has very few features, something that will either be in its favour or not, depending on your personal preference. There is a zipped lid pocket, a bit smaller than you might expect, the lid being oddly much narrower than the main body of the pack (see photos). You also get a tiny security pocket on the inside of the lid; unfortunately there's no key clip in either lid pocket, which is a small but annoying omission. The pack has dual tool holders, wand pockets and ski slot holders big enough to take all but the fattest of modern powder skis. the AX50 does not offer any kind of external stretchy mesh sleeves, as found on more walking-oriented packs these days, which limits your options for quickly stashing things like water bottles and wet jackets on the outside of the bag. On the plus side though, the side compression straps are light narrow-gauge webbing, with a quick release buckle at the top and plenty of tail, thus allowing bulky foam mats, trekking poles or skis to be attached easily. The waist belt buckle is a clever metal design which is nice and light, low profile and essentially unbreakable. Additional features include: daisychains for extra external storage capacity; a huge easily-grabbed carry handle; and a sleeve for a water bag.

Crux say:

The AX50 has every necessary feature that is required from an all-round big mountain or alpine sack. It weighs just over a kilo and does so without any compromise in toughness and durability. It'll handle every piece of abuse you can throw at it. As with the AX45, the AX50 takes the existing AK carrying system that has been modified to allow the hip-belt to be removable.

  • Capacity: 50 litres
  • Weight: 1.14kg size Reg (our measure)
  • Back length: Regular or Large
  • Fabric:15% Dyneema / 85 % Cordura, 150 g/m², ripstop
  • Back system: aluminium stays and plastic framesheet
  • External lid pocket
  • Security pocket on inside of lid
  • Floating removable lid
  • Side compression straps – quick and easy to fit or remove
  • Oversized back haul loop – easy to grab and clip
  • Top compression strap
  • Dual drawcord closure system on extension sleeve
  • 3mm Tendon drawcord – can be used as emergency rap anchors
  • 40mm webbing waist belt with removable hip belt
  • Internal sleeve for hydration bladder
  • Two ice-axe holders
  • Wand pockets
  • Reinforced, double-layer base panel

For more info see crux.uk.com

AX50 prod shot, 45 kb

Vango Pinnacle 60+10 £110

It may not be the most refined in terms of fit and materials, and boy it's heavy, but for a fully featured trekking pack at an affordable budget, it's hard to argue with the Pinnacle 60. If you can live with the niggles, you get a fair bit for your money here.

photo
The Pinnacle as an oversized crag pack
© Dan Bailey

photo
Not the most refined, but it's a great price
© Dan Bailey

Weight, fabric and durability

At 2.7kg, the Pinnacle 60+10 is among the heaviest models on test. Given its size, and the range of features, this isn't entirely surprising. Other packs offer as much for less weight, but to do so requires premium materials with a price tag to match. Keeping things affordable here inevitably means a compromise has been made on heavier materials. The Pinnacle is made from a combination of 420 denier and 600 denier polyester. This sounds plenty, and it certainly feels fit for purpose; but it's worth pointing out that nylon - as used on most of the packs in this review - is significantly stronger than polyester. For the price, the standard of workmanship is reasonable, but the Pinnacle does not match the build quality of the best, and seems unlikely to last as long. For really rough use, others would be better.

Back system and carrying comfort

A pair of aluminium stays give the Pinnacle its structure, backed by a robust full-length plastic framesheet. This is fairly rigid, offering plenty of support for heavy loads. Only one size is available, but with an adjustable back length with at least 15cm of play, it ought to fit a good range of users. As a rough guide our 183cm-tall reviewer is near the upper end of the range. Adjustment is via a webbing strap, which is simple enough although not as easily operated while wearing the pack as Vango suggest.

The shoulder straps are well shaped to allow free arm movement, but the padding is deep and soft, which makes them feel quite bulky - something firmer and thinner would have been preferable. The harness connects to a plastic sheet, cushioned down each side to leave an air gap up the spine. We think this is a poor design, since the edges of the plastic sheet are unpadded, and can dig into the back as you walk along. Worse, the point that the harness and plate meet is very low, leaving a lot of unsupported strap over your shoulder. This means lateral movement, and as a result the only way to stabilise the load and stop it flopping as your body twists from side to side is to pull all the straps in as tight as humanly possible. At the base of your back the lumbar pad is deep and comfy, but the hipbelt is only mediocre, with no structure and lots of very basic spongy padding. The tensioning system for pulling the load into the belt is only partially effective, and not very robust. However tight you force it there's too much movement between the hipbelt and the pack, and not enough weight transfer onto the hips. As a carrying experience, in short, the Pinnacle is a bit spongy and imprecise.

In terms of ventilation, there's a fair amount of air flow around the back - all the unpadded areas - while the foam is honeycombed for breathability - albeit not as effectively as some of the pricier models. It may not be the coolest pack on test, but having tried it on a hot day we were pleasantly surprised. For the price, the Pinnacle is well vented.

Vango Pinnacle back, 200 kb

Vango Pinnacle front, 207 kb

Capacity, pockets and features

The Pinnacle is a neat shape overall, neither too broad at the bottom nor so long and thin that it feels top heavy; however we don't like the base, which is too sloped to stand the pack up on. Its basic capacity of 60 litres is a good size for a multi-day trip, while if you need it the additional 10 litres of volume can be gained by employing the floating lid. This is shaped to provide a weathertight seal over the pack even when raised, while the top tensioner strap helps keep your tall tower of gear neat and secure. Unusually, Vango have not provided a bottom entry or internal compartment, opting instead for a huge front opening - double full-length side zips and a velcro seal at the top, which can be undone to afford access to virtually the entire pack contents. The velcro is strong and unlikely to open by mistake, but we have concerns about the long term durability of the non-branded zips, which are put under a lot of strain if you try to fasten them over a full sack. As with all the other packs on test with side zips - to be fair, most a lot more expensive than the Pinnacle - water resistant zips have not been used, and the storm flaps on offer would be inadequate in a proper Scottish wind-and-rain-feast.

If you're out with only a partially loaded pack, the side compression straps leave something to be desired - particularly the top pair, the design of which makes it impossible to tighten them beyond a certain point. These webbing straps do not run very smoothly, and are not quite long enough to hold a bulky rollmat. On the other hand, they do have elastic loops to neaten any spare tail, which is more than can be said for some higher priced rivals. Storage is more effective on the base, with a pair of straps long enough to hold a camping mat or tent bag, while two daisychains on the front provide additional lash-on options.

Extra pockets are legion: a very roomy zipped lid pocket (with a key clip - bonus); a zipped under-lid valuables pocket; a large sleeve on the front (not stretchy, so of limited use when the pack is bulging full); side stretch sleeves just deep enough to hold a 1 litre bottle; and a pair of zipped bellows pockets on the sides of sufficient size for lightweight shells and other layers. A pair of axe loops and a water bladder sleeve (weirdly low down the inside of the pack) complete the feature set.

Vango say:

Part of our Vango Trekking collection of Rucksacks, the Pinnacle 60+10 is ideal for those who are heading out on longer excursions. The Pinnacle offers outstanding performance and fit due to the new A1 back system. Designed for fast and easy adjustment this back system allows you to customise fit with one hand, in one single movement, whilst still wearing the pack. A pack designed for year-round trekking, the front opening section guarantees that you will be able to get to all of your belongings even in a small trekking tent.

  • Capacity: 60+10 litres
  • Weight: 2.7kg (our measure)
  • Back length: adjustable, but only one size of pack available
  • Fabric: Excel® 100D and 100D Honeycomb Polyester
  • Back system: A1 Single Adjust Back System
  • Daisy chain allows accessory attachment
  • Detachable rain cover included in base of pack
  • Duraflex buckles
  • Ergonomic hip belt with zipped pockets
  • Expansion side zip pockets - slim profile pack with extra storage capacity when required
  • Extendable gaiter
  • Floating lid
  • Front stash pocket
  • Pro-weave side pockets
  • Top lid with zip pocket
  • Ice Axe/Walking Pole Attachments
  • Zip access to main compartment
  • Reflective Points aid visibility in poor weather or at night

For more info see vango.co.uk

Pinnacle 60 prod shot, 117 kb

Arc'teryx Bora AR 50 £380

Let's start with the glaringly obvious - that eye watering price! You could buy two high spec rucksacks for that, with change. Arc'teryx point out that the cost reflects the R&D that went into the Bora, and this is more than just marketing hype. This is a strikingly innovative pack, from the Thermo-moulded framesheet to the radical moving hipbelt; and yes, in use it does make a difference. Super-tough materials and an uncluttered exterior complete what is undoubtedly the coolest pack in this review. But can we just mention the price one more time...?

As a smaller pack, the Bora AR 50 is a good size for one or two nights out , 245 kb
As a smaller pack, the Bora AR 50 is a good size for one or two nights out
© Dan Bailey

Weight, fabric and durability

Mixing panels of 420 denier and 630 denier ripstop nylon, the Bora is unbelievably tough. This is super-thick stuff, and you could probably throw it off a mountain with minimal effect - except who'd do that to a £400 bag? OK, that's the last time we raise it. Even the entry gaiter is double thickness for durability, while the standard of workmanship and quality of all the components are absolutely first rate. A water resistant "AC²" fabric is used on the areas most exposed to rain, and it's worth noting that all the seams in the lid and front pocket are taped, making them effectively weatherproof. The back is highly structured, there are moving parts involved, and you get a huge amount of padding in the harness and hipbelt. All this adds up to quite a heavy pack for its limited capacity.

Back system and carrying comfort

You can't fail to notice the quirky back system; we've never seen anything like it. Combining a pair of light gauge aluminium stays with a full-length Thermo-moulded framesheet, the back is highly structured, creating a more or less rigid platform that offers maximum support for load carrying, gives the pack a neat and stable shape and completely protects you from any jabby contents. This sheet really is hard, with almost no flex. That might seem a weird thing to put on your back, and it is, and yet its contoured shape and the depth of the padding prevent any contact with your body.

Instead of the standard sliding adjustment, the shoulder straps secure direct to the framesheet via a system of (very strong) plastic pegs and holes. This allows you to position them on a grid, adjusting for width between the shoulders as well as back length - smart. The straps themselves are sculpted to provide a large pad behind the shoulder blade, with a nicely curved shape to fit around the body without limiting the arms, and a pronounced taper towards the chest - the bit on many straps that can be too broad and bulky.

Now comes the hipbelt, the icing on the Bora's highly engineered cake. Mounted on a sliding pivot, this can both rotate and move up and down, an elaborate device that cleverly accommodates the wide range of bending and stretching that the torso and hips undergo as you walk through uneven terrain. In use the effect is easily felt; bend to the side and the hipbelt remains firmly in place even as the pack leans with your upper body. You might think that all this movement would lead to an unstable ride, but on the contrary the Bora is extremely well balanced. The free, unrestricted feel makes a difference to comfort, in particular over a long hard day. Will it absolutely revolutionise your experience of backpacking? Probably not. Does it justify the price tag? That's your call. But there's no denying it works. This all feels very robust, but we are talking plastic pegs and plastic moving parts. Only time - and hard use - will tell if the back system has a lifespan to match the fabrics.

Running full width to serve the dual purpose of belt and lumbar pad, the hipbelt itself is incredibly broad, and covered to great depth with super-soft padding. It looks a bit much, but in use the cushioning hugs your hips to give a close, fitted feel, and you can really feel the weight shifting from shoulders to legs. Despite appearances the padding on both belt and harness is highly breathable, while the large area in no direct contact with your back makes for a lot of air flow. Hot weather is no issue.

Arc'teryx back, 154 kb

Arcteryx front, 91 kb

Capacity, pockets and features

At only 50 litres capacity, the Bora 50's weight:space ratio is not great. A 63 litre version is also available, and since the back system is clearly geared to carrying heavy loads, and assuming that much of the pack weight is taken up by the Bora's unique engineering, we think this would actually be a more logical option for many users. The smaller version that we've been testing is best suited to shorter trips of a night or two.

A zippered side entry is provided, and on a mere 50 litre pack this seems like overkill (another feature that would make more sense in the larger size). In common with all side zips in this review, it's not water resistant, and the storm flap is not really adequate if it's windy as well as rainy. This rather undermines the good work Arc'teryx have done elsewhere with water resistance. Up top there's a usefully capacious lid pocket, and good news is that the zip here actually is waterproof. Underneath is a zipped valuables pocket. But why does neither have a key clip? To make space on top for a rollmat or rope, the lid can be raised a long way, while minimalists might prefer to remove it altogether - it clips off in seconds, and the skirt underneath can be pulled secure and almost weathertight with a one-handed drawstring closure.

An additional large front 'kangaroo' pocket is provided, which is good for spare clothing, and secures with both a water resistant zip and a (slightly redundant?) popper. You also get a stretch sleeve on each side, deep enough - but barely - for a 1 litre bottle. Little stretchy pockets (unzippered) are sewn into the hipbelt too. Twin compression straps do their main job reasonably well, and if you like using them to strap on big rolls then they're long enough to do so. For that purpose, Arc'teryx also provide a couple of little daisychains, and a pair of axe loops.

Arc'teryx say:

Designed for 2-3 day trips, the Bora AR 50 backpack leverages hybrid materials and advanced hipbelt technology. The RotoGlide™ hipbelt rotates side-to-side and glides up and down for a more natural stride that reduces chafing and improves balance. GridLock™ shoulder straps adjust both in width and height for a precision fit. The highly durable pack body is made from 420d and 630d nylon fabrics, and is capped with weatherproof AC² fabric in areas exposed to rain or snow.

  • Capacity: 50 litres
  • Weight: 2.2kg (size R - our measure)
  • Back length men: Reg 45.5 - 53cm; Tall 50.5 - 58cm
  • Back length women (Bora AR49): Reg 40.5 - 48cm; Tall 45.5 - 54cm
  • Fabric: 420D & 630D nylon
  • Back system: GridLock™ shoulder strap adjustment system & RotoGlide™ hipbelt
  • Thermo-molded Tegris® frame sheet and aluminum stays
  • Weatherproof & durable construction
  • Kangaroo pocket
  • Mesh hipbelt pockets
  • Side pockets can carry 1L bottles or trekking poles
  • Hybrid materials mapping uses weatherproof AC² fabric in areas of high exposure to rain or snow
  • RotoGlide™ hipbelt reduces chafing by adjusting to changes in back length
  • Ventilated back panel
  • Lid closure with two buckles
  • Top loading with side access zips
  • Removable/ extendable top lid with zippered compartment
  • Two ice axe loops

For more info see arcteryx.com

Bora Ar 50 prod shot, 44 kb

Lightwave Ultrahike 60 £179

With its stripped-back design, the Ultrahike offers a useful 60 litre capacity for the sort of modest weight that you might expect more from a daypack. For medium loads it's a comfortable carry, and its weatherproof zip and taped seams are an obvious advantage for UK use; downsides are a fixed back length and minimal ventilation.

The Ultrahike 60 is a superb option for the weight conscious, 181 kb
The Ultrahike 60 is a superb option for the weight conscious
© Dan Bailey

Weight, fabric and durability

Outside the specialist ultralight cottage industry niche, you won't find many mainstream mid-sized trekking packs as light as 1.2kg, so Lightwave have done well. Compromises have been made to get there though, particularly in the back system and feature set (see below). Materials play a part too. A strategic mix of 420 denier and 300 denier ripstop fabric gives the Ultrahike durability where it's most needed while saving weight overall. For its lightness the fabric seems pretty tough, though all things being relative we would not advise subjecting it to regular beatings. It's best treated as a lightweight hiker rather than a roughty-toughty expedition pack. A tissue-thin 40 denier ripstop nylon is used on the drawstring skirt, and though we've not yet managed to damage our review sample, it's part of the sack we'd treat with a bit of care. For use in rainy old Britain, one huge advantage that the Ultrahike has over every other pack in this test is weather-proofing. All the seams, bar the back area, are either welded or taped, making this pack, if not fully waterproof then at least highly water resistant. For reasons of cost and practicality pack seams are not routinely taped, so hats off to Lightwave here.

Back system and carrying comfort

A fixed back length cuts down on clutter and weight, and this sets the Ultrahike apart from the adjustable trekking-oriented packs in this review. However it is as a result particularly important to try it on before buying since there's no way to customise the fit. Two sizes are available: M2 for people between 167-180 cm tall; and M3 for anyone between 180-193 cm.

Lightwave recommend a load of 12-18kg for the Ultrahike, and in our experience that seems about right: sure, you could carry more, but fundamentally this is a lightweight pack with a harness and frame to match, and as such it offers less support than the big beasts in this review. The frame, narrow aluminium tubing, is sturdy for its minimal weight, though on the downside because there's no additional framesheet it is possible to feel the tubing digging into your back if you bend right forward (OK, not something you do that often when hiking).

Made from a single piece of moulded EVA foam, the padded back panel runs full length. It's a narrow strip, and the foam is a shallow depth, but it cushions just where you need it and the foam is good and dense. A slightly sunken area in the small of the back is its only concession to ventilation, so although the soft-touch fabric does a reasonable job of wicking, this is not an airy feeling carry, and in warmer weather in particular you do end up with a big wet sweat patch. For this reason we prefer to use the Ultrahike in cooler conditions.

The shoulder straps are cut with radical curves, giving them a close fit without remotely limiting arm movement. Padding is fairly dense, and not too deep, which helps with the precise feel; but with no mesh or ventilating cut-outs, these wide straps can get a bit sweaty on a hot day. Down at the hips, the belt is an unusual split design. Minimising bulk while maximising air flow, this is the one area of the pack that's cooler than pretty much any other in the review. With an ergonomic shape and multiple adjustment points, this split belt fits the hips like a dream, and does a good job of taking some of the strain off your upper body. Though it's sewn fixed with no built-in pivot, a fair bit of rotational movement still takes place between the pack and the belt, which makes for a very comfortable unrestricted carry.

Lightwave back, 128 kb

Lightwave front, 130 kb

Capacity, pockets and features

Though it'd be tight for bigger multi-day loads, 60 litres is a useful size for a couple of nights out - all the more so as camping gear and clothing gets lighter and more packable every year. To keep things simple, the Ultrahike has a fixed-height lid, which can't be raised to expand the capacity. This is arguably a shame, as it would increase the flexibility for a very modest additional weight. Also conspicuously absent are an internal subdivider, side and bottom entry zips. Some users will find this limiting, while for others these will seem sensible omissions that help keep the pack light and uncluttered, and eliminate the risk of rain entering through the zips. There are no right answers here; it's a matter of preference. Up top, the over-lid pocket is of sufficient size for all the little bits and bobs you might need quick access to. Since a lid gets a lot of weather, we love the water resistant zip and taped seams. It's unfortunate though that an under-lid pocket and a key clip are not provided, because when they are available we routinely use both these features.

Instead of the usual two webbing straps, side compression is an interesting cord arrangement. Zigzagging through multiple attachment points, this is highly effective at stabilising and collapsing a part-full pack - arguably one of the best compression systems in this review. Its secondary function, strapping on rollmats and the like, works well too, though this thin cord does not give quite the impression of durability that you get from a good thick bit of webbing. For extra storage, you also get some less obviously useful elastic webbing on top of the lid.

Features-wise, there's not a lot else to say, which is clearly how Lightwave wanted it. Stretchy wand pockets big enough for a 1 litre bottle - check; hydration bladder pouch - yep; two axe/pole attachment points - absolutely. Simplicity is the watchword.

Lightwave say:

The Ultrahike is an ultra-lightweight, mid-volume backpack that is ideal for 3–7 day backpacking trips. At 1.25 kg, it is exceptionally light for a rucksack with such a comfortable carry, weighing 500–700 g less than most other backpacks with comparable back systems. It has a fixed back length, available in two sizes.

All the seams on the main body and lid are either welded or taped, which means the Ultrahike 60 has excellent weather resistance and is ideal for use in wet conditions. (For technical reasons the seams attaching the back panel cannot be sealed but are largely protected from the weather by the wearer's own back.)

  • Capacity: 60 litres
  • Weight: 1.2kg (size M2 - our measure)
  • Fixed back length M2 (50 cm); M3 (55 cm)
  • Fabric: 420d Dynatech fabric on back panel and structural areas; 300d micro-ripstop polyester on main front areas
  • Back system: 8mm pre-curved 7001-T6 aluminium frame & single-piece EVA foam back panel
  • Watertight external lid pocket
  • Internal sleeve for hydration bladder
  • 2 x ice-axe/walking-pole holders
  • Stash side pockets made from stretch-mesh
  • Side-compression system
  • Watertight construction
  • Dual-element stiffened hip-belt with double adjustment
  • Soft-touch, moisture-wicking, fast-drying fabric on body contact areas

For more info see lightwave.uk.com

Ultrahike 60 prod shot, 44 kb

Fjallraven Kaipak 58 £215

This is a heavyweight hiking pack from a Swedish manufacturer that has built a brand on simplicity and reliability. Rather like the Landrover Defender of packs, it has traditional styling and chooses build quality over features – but with a robust price tag too.

The Kaipak 58, a good size for a weekend and built to take hard knocks, 244 kb
The Kaipak 58, a good size for a weekend and built to take hard knocks
© Richard Prideaux

Weight, fabric and durability

The Kaipak 58 is primarily made from the Fjallraven G-1000 HeavyDuty Eco fabric, a polyamide that has been used on their bags and parts of the Fjallraven clothing range for several years. They claim that it is "almost impossible to wear out" and so far our reviewer's use of this pack in the mountains of North Wales seems to support that claim. It has been dragged over rocks, thrown on top of vehicles and pushed through dense woodland and brambles with barely a scratch. It can also be waterproofed using the Fjallraven Greenland wax – a messy but fun process. An area of double thickness nylon gives further protection to the base. It has to be said that by comparison to many of the packs in this review, the Kaipak 58's volume-to-weight ratio is not impressive. However we think the weight, 2.3kg, is excusable given the burly materials used and that even the logo is a patch of leather stitched to the lid. Our reviewer was expecting it to be closer to 3kg given his previous experience of Fjallraven clothing.

There is a general feeling of solidity to this pack, with chunky buckles and clips that have a secure and positive 'click' when engaged. The zips run free without snags and are just about big enough to be used with mittens on.

Back system and carrying comfort

With internal aluminium supports, the Kaipak 58 is certainly a comfortable pack to wear all day carrying big loads, and our reviewer has occasionally forgotten he was wearing it - often a good sign!

There is only one back length available, and for our reviewer's 188cm height it was a little on the short side. He's a bit of a weird shape overall anyway (100cm waist, 125cm chest) and there was more than enough adjustment in the shoulder and waist straps to accommodate his unusual body profile - and keep the pack secure whilst scrambling or moving over rough ground.

The waist belt is fixed, with no built-in rotation. Its adjustment straps at the front and behind the hips, and the foam and webbing of the belt give quite a secure and solid feel – we were more than happy on Grade 1 scrambling terrain in the wet with a camping-weight pack. There is enough padding on the waist and shoulders for them not to be noticed, but it doesn't seem excessive. The shoulder foam is slightly contoured and cut for a male fit. A female-fit version of the Kaipak 58 is also available, with a shorter back length and more curve in the shoulder straps.

There is enough padding on the waist and shoulders for them not to be noticed, but it doesn't seem excessive. For one overnight trip with clients the overall 'wet' weight of the pack (including food, water and camera kit) was around 17kg and our reviewer was not left wanting more foam between the straps and my body. The adjustment for both the waist and shoulders stays in place once set, which is more than can be said for many packs on the market.

Foam behind the shoulders and either side of the spine keeps the back of the pack away from the body, but with no other ventilation system employed. Since much of the back is un-cushioned, air can flow freely elsewhere. Overall the amount of ventilation on the Kaipak 58 is about middle of the road in this review, maybe not the ideal choice for warm climates but better for the Cairngorms, Carneddau or Kolmården in winter.

Fjallraven back, 98 kb

Fjallraven front, 218 kb

Capacity, pockets and features

The quoted 58 litre capacity seems accurate and we can easily fit enough gear for a couple of nights out in and on the pack. The main compartment is one big space, with a zipped lower access for tent retrieval etc. A long and narrow zipped pocket runs along the front of the pack, small pouches on the waist belt and another couple of storage pouches in the lid complete the set.

A conventional double drawstring closure to the main compartment can be further secured by a top strap, which serves the dual purpose; of top compression and somewhere to stash a rope or a jacket without going into the main void of the pack.

Netted wand pockets sit either side under compression straps, and can just about accommodate a small rolled mat. Small axe loops are found at the top of the lower zipped compartment. As this is a Swedish pack the axe could either be ice or felling and they are a bit limited in size; you would struggle to attach technical winter gear to it, but a walking axe paired with poles and snowshoes would all be manageable.

A hydration bladder pouch and retaining clip are inside, with an exit hole from the pack leading to the securing straps on the right shoulder strap. A rain cover is also supplied.

Fjallraven say:

Simple, robust trekking backpack for shorter and longer overnight trips, all year round. Made from G-1000 HeavyDuty Eco in recycled polyester and organic cotton, a durable fabric which can be reproofed with Greenland Wax. The hipbelt has two pockets.The backpack is top loaded and has a spacious main compartment with snow lock.The top lid can be raised and has two pockets. A zippered pocket at the front holds rain gear and the like, and there are two side pockets. There is also an extra opening at the bottom of the pack for easy assess to contents. Compression straps, whistle on chest strap and base made from durable polyamide.

  • Capacity: 58 litres
  • Weight: 2.3kg (our measure)
  • Back length: fixed
  • Sizes: men's and women's models
  • Fabric: 500D 100% Polyamide, G-1000® HeavyDuty Eco: 65% polyester, 35% cotton
  • Back system: aluminium stays
  • Rain cover included

For more info see fjallraven.co.uk

Kaipak 58 prod shot, 33 kb

Berghaus Wilderness 65+15 £145

This is a workmanlike model that offers nothing particularly flash or innovative, and arguably lacks both the support and the premium feel of the higher priced packs in this review. But all the features are here, the simple carrying system is well vented, the back size range is wide, and the price fairly competitive.

The Wilderness 65+15 has quite a basic feel, but it does the job at a decent price, 207 kb
The Wilderness 65+15 has quite a basic feel, but it does the job at a decent price
© Dan Bailey

Weight, fabric and durability

At just 2kg the Wilderness 65 is really pretty light for its capacity. It hasn't sacrificed features to get there, but the fabric - texturised nylon with a ripstop pattern only in some places - doesn't quite have the tough or absolute quality feel of higher priced rivals. While the build standard should prove adequate for most users, if you were on an extended trip somewhere particularly rigorous we are not convinced that this would prove the most durable of the packs on test.

Back system and carrying comfort

The pack is built around a flexible plastic framesheet, reinforced with a single bar up the middle. It's not the most complex or the sturdiest of frames. Partly because it's sewn into the body of the pack only at top and bottom, and essentially separate from the bag elsewhere, we don't feel it is as supportive as a fully internal frame, so while the Wilderness 65 is more than up to a basic overnight load it would not be our first choice for a heavier multiday mission, or for carting tons of climbing gear to a basecamp.

Back length adjustment is a very simple and smooth-running webbing, which slides on the external part of the frame (hence why the framesheet is separate from the pack). There's nothing complicated or fiddly about this Biofit System, and that is very much an advantage. We love the size range too, which gives a good 30cm+ of play. This is a lot more than most of the packs on test, which explains why Berghaus offer the Wilderness 65 in only one size (albeit in both men's and women's fit). Our 183cm reviewer is near the upper end of the size range, so much taller users may not find it a perfect fit.

The pre-curved, well-padded and substantial belt fits the front of the hips closely, but less so at the back. It does however manage to take some weight from the shoulders. With no rotation it doesn't move with the body, which does make for a less fine-tuned and comfortable feel over the course of a long walk. On the back of the pack Berghaus have put padding only where strictly needed, in the lumbar area and at the shoulder blades, while the rest is completely uncushioned. Because most of your back is not in contact it's a very well ventilated pack, something it has achieved without elaborate channelling or mesh. Less is more in this case, and the Wilderness 65 is a great summer option as a result. It is not the most luxurious-feeling pack however, and the padding is perhaps a little spartan for heavier loads and longer distances. Take the shoulder straps, for instance, which our reviewer found cut into the chest after a long day.

Berghaus back, 146 kb

Berghaus front, 144 kb

Capacity, pockets and features

Its stated basic capacity is 65 litres, but pack volume does not seem to be an exact science, and we'd say it is marginally less spacious than, for instance, the Cerro Torre in non-extended mode. Instead of a floating lid, which can be useful for accommodating roll mats, ropes and such, the Wilderness 65+15's extra 15 litres are found in very spacious but arguably less versatile side bellows pockets. These offer plenty of room for jackets, shells and the like; but you're a wide load when full.

The main bag can be subdivided with a zip, and entry to it is either through the top, via a very large zipped flap in the front, or into the base through another wide-opening zipped flap. These YKK zips feel chunky and durable but they are not waterproof, and the storm flaps provided are not going to be a match for Welsh rain or Scottish wind. On the plus side, it's easy to keep your kit well organised and everything close to hand. An integrated rain cover helps keep water out, though these are not everyone's preference.

Up top, the over-lid pocket is a good size for loose nicknacks; but again we can't help noting its non-waterproof zip and rather lacklustre storm flap. A key clip is provided, an odd design that's not confidence inspiring. Beneath the lid is the standard smaller zipped valuables pocket. We've already mentioned the side bellows pockets, but we'll do so again - they are big, though not remotely waterproof. In addition there are mesh sleeves on each side, with enough room for a 1 litre bottle. Berghaus have provided a roomy zipped pocket on each side of the hipbelt too; you're not short of storage choices with the Wilderness 65+15.

Side compression straps are a reasonable length for bulky roll mats, though they do slightly obscure the bellows and mesh pockets. Additional features include: a single carry loop; a rain cover concealed in its own little pocket on the base; a water bladder sleeve; various lashing points; and twin ice axe loops, which help boost the pack's winter mountain credentials.

Berghaus say:

The pinnacle of the Berghaus backpacking range. Utilising the Berghaus BIOFIT back system, it allows ...increased comfort for the user. This is further improved by the pre-curved hipbelt, which gives added support as well as pockets for storage of essentials. The large capacity makes the Wilderness 65+15 rucksack perfect for multiday trips, where you may need to carry everything with you. Side expansion panels and a front panel that fully unzips, allows you to organise your gear as efficiently as possible.

  • Capacity: 65+15 litres
  • Weight: 2kg (our measure)
  • Back length: one size for men, one for women, with a very large size range
  • Fabric: texturised nylon
  • Back system: Biofit
  • The 65 litre volume pack is large enough to pack all the gear you need for a multiday adventure in the backcountry - a further 15 litres is achieved with the two expansion side pockets
  • Get easy instant access to your kit and pack more effectively with the zipped front panel to the main compartment
  • A comfortable fit is ensured with the easily adjustable BIOFIT™ back system, top tension straps, height adjustable chest strap, pre-curved hipbelt and large padded straps
  • Organise all your kit with the multitude of pockets and attachment points, including, base compartment with bivi divider, top lid pocket, zipped hipbelt pockets, zipped internal lid pockets and walking pole attachment points
  • Stay hydrated on your adventures – the Wilderness features and hydration system compatible pocket

Wilderness 65 prod shot, 208 kb

For more info see berghaus.com

Lowe Alpine Cerro Torre 65:85 £200

This gear-guzzling titan is Lowe's classic trekking pack, a tough well-featured rucksack with 30 years of evolution in its design. Neither light nor cheap, but it's certainly comfy and durable for bigger loads, and fully specced for expedition or winter use. The high weight nearly cost it a highly recommended rating, but we felt the rest of the pack made up for it.

The Cerro Torre is a spacious and sturdy load carrier, 242 kb
The Cerro Torre is a spacious and sturdy load carrier
© Dan Bailey

Weight, fabric and durability

Lowe Alpine's TriShield is a heavy duty PU-coated nylon with a ripstop pattern for added toughness. Quality components and a good level of workmanship make this a durable pack that should offer years of reliable service. Of course this comes with a weight penalty - 2.9kg for the regular size puts the Cerro Torre near the top of the weight table in this review. But for the features and sturdiness on offer, perhaps that's not unreasonable - especially given its gargantuan maximum carrying capacity?

Back system and carrying comfort

An internal wire frame and stiff plastic back plate give structure to the Cerro Torre, which is rated as a comfy carry for loads of up to 25kg (about as much as you can humanly carry up hills, in other words). Lowe Alpine's Axiom 7 back system is very easy to adjust - simply pull a webbing tab to release it and the shoulder straps can then be slid up or down on the wire frame. Our 183cm-tall tester is at the upper end of the Regular back length, but with two sizes available for men and an additional women's version, the Cerro Torre should fit most adults.

Cushioning is firm, with deep foam on the hipbelt, shoulder straps and in the lumbar area. The back pad is ridged for ventilation, and though there are certainly far better vented designs we've found it reasonable thanks to these deep channels. However the padding itself does not fare well in our highly scientific "breathe-through" test, and for this reason the Cerro Torre is not top of our list for hot weather use. Furthermore, the padding arrangement on the upper back may not suit everyone. Each shoulder strap runs separately on the Axiom 7 back system, and the shape of the padding at the sliding end does not offer maximum cushioning for the shoulder blades. After a full day out, our reviewer found it digging in a little here. Though it may well soften over time, a more substantial upper back piece might have been better than these two separate shoulder straps. The straps themselves are well sculpted for fit and free arm movement, and the chest strap has three height settings.

As you'd hope from a high capacity pack, a very substantial hipbelt on the Cerro Torre helps transfer weight from your shoulders very effectively. Being free to rotate slightly to accommodate the movement of your body, it's a comfy, uber-padded belt well suited to long hard miles. Held in place with strong velcro and buckles, the belt can be removed should you want to strip things down.

Lowe back, 169 kb

Lowe front, 164 kb

Capacity, pockets and features

At its standard 65 litre capacity the Cerro Torre is already a big beast, and with a lid that can be raised a very long way to accommodate much larger or awkwardly shaped loads, plus expanding side pockets, it unfolds to a massive 85 litres. As a result the Cerro Torre 65:85 is the most spacious pack on review, easily enough for a multi-day trekking trip, or for transporting all your kit to the Alps. If you are really out there however, carrying a week or more's food on top of gear, say, then you might prefer the gargantuan 75:100 model - if you can physically carry it.

The main body of the pack is subdivided with a zip-out floor, and can be accessed via the lid, by a large mid-height zip, or via a zipped bottom entry. These YKK zips are reassuringly tough, and clearly make gear organising and access easier, but though protected to an extent by flaps they remain a point of potential leakage in wet and windy weather. To compensate Lowe Alpine provide an integral rain cover stowed in its own bottom pocket: not everyone is a fan of these of course.

Pockets are legion on the Cerro Torre: a shallow sleeve (with waterproof zip, and big enough for a map) on the front of the pack; two stretch mesh side sleeves with enough space for a 1 litre bottle; a large expanding zipped pocket on either side of the pack (each enough for a fleece or shell, but with non-waterproof zips); a large zipped pocket on each fin of the hipbelt (space for hat, light gloves etc); a very generous over-lid zipped pocket (non-waterproof zip); and a smaller under-lid valuables pocket. A key clip is provided in the lid, and cleverly it can be threaded into either of the lid pockets - we prefer keeping our keys out of the way under the lid. With this many storage options, everything you need for the day can be kept in easy reach, though you can easily forget which of the many pockets your jelly babies are hiding in.

You'd hope that a pack this large could also compress neatly, for the many times when you are not running at full capacity, and the Cerro Torre duly obliges, with a very effective set of compression straps. These are not long enough to double as storage for anything bulky, but a set of straps on the base will - just about - take a rollmat.

Additional features include: two ice axe retainers (which can be tucked away when not needed); four tough lashing points; a hydration bladder sleeve; two well-placed carry handles; and 'Tip Grippers', little plastic retainers for the jabby end of trekking poles. In short, Lowe Alpine have thought of pretty much everything.

Lowe Alpine say:

When you're planning a multi-day walk or long backpacking trip you need to trust that your backpack will see you through. The Cerro Torre earns that trust by combining a large carrying capacity with super durable components and abrasion resistant TriShield® coated fabric.

  • Capacity: 65-85 litres
  • Weight: 2.9kg (size R - our measure)
  • Back length men: R 43.2-55.9cm; L 48.2-60.9cm
  • Back length women: 38-50.8cm
  • Fabric: Lightweight Trishield® GRID fabric
  • Back system: Axiom 7
  • Load-lifting handle
  • Strong lash points
  • Front pocket
  • Hipbelt pockets for easy access storage
  • Stretch water-bottle side pockets
  • Raincover
  • 2 compartments with zip-out divider
  • SOS panel
  • Key clip
  • Secure internal lid zipper pocket
  • Accessory straps
  • Stowable ice axe loops
  • Inside / outside lower compression

For more info see lowealpine.com

Cerro Torre prod shot, 83 kb

Macpac Cascade 65 £280

While the Cascade is far heavier than the modern ultralight packs, such strong, comfy and very hard wearing bigger rucksacks will still be the right choice for many backpackers. This beast is made for mega loads, and plenty of abuse. It should last for years - and given its high price tag, it had better! We really like it, but the combination of weight and price loses it a highly recommended rating.

Macpac Cascade 65 - being built like a brick outhouse is a positive advantage for many users, 164 kb
Macpac Cascade 65 - being built like a brick outhouse is a positive advantage for many users
© Toby Archer

Weight, fabric and durability

The Cascade is a proper a "old school" trekking (or, as the Kiwis say, "tramping") pack. There is no getting away from it, compared to modern, ultralight packs for ultralight backpackers, the Cascade is a bit of a brick at 2.5kg (size 2). But we compliment people for their toughness and strength as being "brick hard", or "built like a brick privy", and the same is true for the Cascade.

Macpac are still using their famously tough and water resistant AzTec material – a poly-cotton that has a nice, natural feel to it and will remind older users of the time when rucksacks were made of canvas. As if that wasn't already tougher than most packs, here they've also added a base of 840 denier nylon, for maximum abrasion resistance where it's most needed. Our reviewer bought a Macpac made of AzTec in 1995 and sold it on to someone 17 years later – and that guy is still using it. That pack got used a huge amount around the world. AzTec is tough stuff, and we think this new Cascade should be similarly hardwearing. Having been treated with a blend of resins and wax, this fabric is also very water resistant: the idea is that in wet conditions the cotton component will swell to fill any spaces in the weave.

Back system and carrying comfort

Two flat aluminium struts form the basis of the frame, joined by a tube across the top of the pack for rigidity. It's a robust frame from which to hang a lot of weight - just what you want in a large trekking pack. The back system, called "Liberator", is adjustable within a range by sliding the straps up and down the aluminium struts, although you still have to measure your back size to choose which of the possible sizes (four for men; three for women) will suit you best. Once you're in the right size ballpark, the firm but not overly wide shoulder straps can move up and down controlled by a central webbing strap to allow you personalise the fit. The hipbelt is interesting: there is less padding all the way round than on many older designs of pack, but the padding over the hips – the outer edges of the pelvis – is firm and plentiful. This seems to be where the padding needs to be, and in our experience the Cascade is a comfortable carry with loads of around 15kg, with easily enough padding and structure to suggest that it'd be able to cope with a lot more weight than that too. The waist belt is held in by velcro and is removable with some struggle. It rotates relatively freely, moving with the hips for greater comfort.

Padding is pretty generous on the Cascade 65, with a deep lumbar cushion, and two strips of foam running all the way up either side of the spine; it is porous for sweat absorption, and of course you do get an airspace up the middle of the back. Nevertheless, it is arguably rather less well vented than some packs - fine for your average New Zealand mountain tramp, or Scottish long distance trail, but maybe not the best choice if you're hiking somewhere hotter.

Macpac back, 105 kb

Macpac front, 116 kb

Capacity, pockets and features

The pack can be configured with a separate base compartment, but the divider is zipped and we generally prefer to use the bag as a single compartment. The lid pocket is huge and swallows lots of gear, with another small security pocket under the lid. The Cascade also has a pocket under the front panel of the pack. We found this perfect for stuffing waterproofs meaning they can be donned and stowed when needed without opening the main pack. It also has stretchy wand pockets that Macpac say they have sized to fit water bottles.

When fully loaded up to its generous 65 litre capacity, the Cascade is a big rucksack, clearly designed for multiday adventures where you need to carry all your food, fuel and equipment. It wouldn't be completely out of place on expedition use, having two ice axe loops, although our reviewer found that the top of the frame of the pack made putting his head back and looking up difficult, particularly when wearing a helmet - so it's not the best for pure mountaineering. The Macpac Cascade will excel in situations similar to the tough conditions of the New Zealand forests and mountains when carrying medium to heavy loads, so we suspect it would also acquit itself well for multi-day trips in the Scottish Highlands.

Macpac say:

The Cascade 65 hiking pack is a classic tramping pack that's accompanied explorers all around the world. It has a clean and functional design and is constructed with legendary Eco AzTec® Canvas Fabric providing weather resistance and durability. It features a Liberator™ Harness for comfort and superior load carrying performance, along with an optional bungee overload system and dual ice axe attachments. It's also hydration compatible and includes two stretch mesh bottle pockets.

  • Capacity: 65 litres
  • Weight: 2.5kg (size 2 - our measure)
  • Back length men: 32-39cm; 37-44cm; 42-49cm or 47-54cm
  • Back length women: 32-39cm; 34-42cm or 39-47cm
  • Fabric: Eco AzTec® Canvas; base fabric 840d Nylon
  • Back system: Liberator
  • Clean and functional classic hiking pack
  • Liberator™ harness for better load carry performance
  • Base compartment divider
  • Under lid pocket
  • Zippered front pocket
  • Optional bungee overlid system
  • Dual ice axe attachments
  • Hydration compatible
  • Stretch mesh bottle pockets

For more info see macpac.co.nz

Cascade prod shot, 45 kb

Osprey Aether AG 60 £190

Osprey are known for innovative and comfortable packs, and the Aether AG is certainly that, with a striking mesh back that offers class-leading levels of ventilation and more support than you might imagine. Capacity is spot on for general use, and the feature set fully comprehensive, but weighing in at 2.4kg this is not a particularly lightweight option, while other models may have the edge in terms of durability.

A generous 60 litre capacity, with plenty of external storage options too , 190 kb
A generous 60 litre capacity, with plenty of external storage options too
© Dan Bailey

Weight, fabric and durability

In this test, the Aether AG's nearest rival is the Gregory Paragon 68 - a larger pack that also manages to weigh 500g less by using slightly less durable materials. You could go lighter, and you can certainly find tougher, but with its 210 denier Nylon Dobby and High Tenacity Nylon on the body, and a base in 500D Nylon Packcloth, the Aether strikes what, for most users, will be a sensible balance of lightness versus toughness. It is well built, but with the sheer number of details and features on the exterior of this pack, and bearing in mind that the back system relies heavily on mesh, for the very hardest uses this would not be our fist choice of pack. A lightweight frame and minimalist padding also help save weight, so despite its size and comprehensive feature set the Aether AG 60 is a bearable - albeit not hugely light - 2.4kg (size L). Minimalists might consider this overkill, but for the majority of backpackers the comfort and load carrying support on offer here more than justify its weight.

Back system and carrying comfort

Rather than classic aluminium stays, the Aether is built around a lighter wire frame that runs around the entire edge. This has some flex in order to feel forgiving on the back, but still offers a lot of support when carrying full loads. The Aether's comfortable load range of 15-27kg is spot on for a trekking pack of this sort of capacity, and easily covers you for camping gear, multiple days' worth of food and even winter hardwear should you need it. In terms of sheer weight carrying, we'd probably fail before the Aether did.

The pack comes in two sizes, with an adjustable harness to fine tune the length - size M 46-53cm (women's S 40-48 cm) and L 51-58cm (women's M 46-53cm). As a rough indication of sizing, our 183cm-tall reviewer is about mid range in size Large. Adjustment is quick and easy, relying simply on a big velcro pad to hold the shoulder harness in place. The straps are sculpted to feel unrestrictive, and are notable for the varying depth of padding provided - very deep and soft across the top of the shoulders, but minimalist over the chest. This gives you cushioning where it's most needed, combined with a close, low-profile feel elsewhere - the best of both worlds. With a profusion of mesh and honeycombs of holes in the foam cushioning, the shoulder pads are so well vented that you can actually breathe through them (really, we've tried). This ultra-ventilated feel continues in the back, which in essence forms a single seamless stretchy mesh panel extending from the top of the back down to the lumbar area and hips. Bending into the contours of your back, this feels supportive without limiting the flex and twist of the torso. With very little cushioning in contact with your back, and space for air to flow freely, the Aether 60 is the coolest, least sweaty pack in this review, and our number one choice for hot weather. On the downside, this airspace does shift your centre of gravity a little backwards, a concern when scrambling with the pack fully loaded perhaps, though for most uses not enough to notice.

The hipbelt is similarly innovative. With deep-yet-firm padding and a tough plastic panel inside, the belt hugs the hips aggressively to offer a really close and supportive fit that works extremely well at transferring the load onto your legs. Straight out of the box, the fit feels almost too grabby around the hips, but with heat sensitive foam (similar to a memory foam mattress) it will mould itself to the user's body over time. If you feared a belt this substantial and structured would be hot, think again: just like the shoulder straps, it is highly breathable.

Osprey back, 168 kb

Osprey front, 126 kb

Capacity, pockets and features

The Aether AG is available in a number of sizes to suit everything from long weekends to multi-week missions: for men 60, 70 and 85 litre versions; for women the equivalent (the Aerial AG) in 55 or 65 litres. The Aether 60's volume of 60 litres (63 litres, size Large) is plenty for all but the longest trips, and in practise seems generous compared to the number on paper. Pack shape is tall and thin, a slimline body that feels unobtrusive on your back and offers free arm movement; the downside is that the height slightly impedes the back of your head when looking straight up.

Main access via the lid is supplemented with a bottom zipped entry (and optional internal divider) and a side zip. Some users will like the convenience these offer, while for others they may seem redundant - particularly perhaps the side entry. Since it's likely to see more abuse, the bottom zip is heavier gauge for durability. But neither are water resistant zips, and though storm flaps are provided, in common with the other packs on test these are not enough to keep out the worst British mountain weather. To mitigate for this a waterproof cover is provided, living in its own pocket on the lid: as ever though, these are of limited use in high wind.

The elastic-sided main lid forms a neat seal around the top of the pack, and features two external zipped pockets; the larger of these is a good size for gloves, hat etc, while the smaller holds the pack cover. Under the lid is a mesh valuables pocket with integral key clip. With a bit of fiddling the floating lid can be raised a fair way to make room for a bulky roll, though the skirt of the pack does not extend as far up as some, which is why the Aether does not claim an extendable volume. For lightweight trips, the main lid can be entirely removed. Underneath is a secondary lid, the so-called FlapJaket, a low profile pocket-free flap that forms part of the drawcord closure. It's the sort of clever touch for which Osprey are known. Extra storage comprises: a large front stretch pocket (big enough for a jacket); deep stretch sleeves on each side (easily big enough for a 1 litre bottle); and a spacious zipped pocket on both winds of the hipbelt.

With a total of six compression straps - two on each side and a pair on the front of the pack - the Aether can be very effectively squeezed down and stabilised with only a half load inside. The side straps are a touch short for a bulky rollmat (fine for skis or poles), but the front pair have slightly more capacity. In addition, Osprey have provided a pair of removable 'sleeping pad straps' near the base, though to use them makes you a cumbersome wide load. None of the webbing features any kind of retainer for spare tails, so the Aether does look quite a strappy pack with lots of dangly bits.

Additional features include: twin axe retainers; a 'stow on the go' trekking pole attachment on one shoulder (we're not sold); a whistle on the sternum strap; and a water bladder sleeve hidden outside the pack behind the back padding.

Osprey say:

Aether AG is designed for multi-day backpacking and carrying significant loads. The backsystem combines the comfort and ventilation of Osprey's multi-award-winning AG AntiGravity™ backsystem with the custom-mouldable fit of Osprey's next generation IsoForm™ hipbelt. A sprung mesh lumbar area, combined with stiff load bars integrated into the harness allows for impressive load transfer through the large muscle groups in the legs, enabling an even and comfortable backpacking experience.

Organisation and accessibility are key during long adventures. The lid not only has multiple pockets but is also removable, offering great versatility. The top of the pack remains protected without the lid thanks to the deployable FlapJacket™ top cover.

  • Capacity: 60 litres
  • Weight: 2.4kg (size L - our measure)
  • Back length men: M 46-53cm; L 51-58cm
  • Back length women (Aerial AG): S 40-48 cm; M 46-53cm
  • Fabric: 210D nylon with 500D nylon base
  • Back system: Adjustable AG AntiGravity™ 3D suspended mesh
  • Base zip entry
  • Pre-curved IsoForm™ CM moldable hipbelt
  • FlapJacket™ top cover for use without lid
  • Integrated & detachable raincover
  • Internal key attachment clip
  • Light weight peripheral frame
  • Removable sleeping pad straps
  • Removable top lid with dual compartments
  • Side compression straps
  • Zippered side access point
  • Sleeping bag base compartment with internal divider
  • Sternum strap with emergency whistle
  • Stow-on-the-Go™ trekking pole attachment
  • StraightJacket™ compression
  • Stretch front pocket
  • Stretch mesh side pockets with InsideOut™ compression
  • Twin ice axe loops
  • Twin zippered hip belt pockets

For more info see ospreyeurope.com

Aether 60 prod shot, 54 kb

Exped Thunder 70 £160

With lightweight materials and a stripped-down design, the Thunder 70 has a really good weight-to-volume ratio. Yet behind the bare bones exterior there's a surprise, a full-frontal opening that gives total access to the interior for the ultimate in easy gear retrieval. However the dearth of back padding may be a turnoff for some. And fundamentally, given the weight of a 70 litre load, have Exped sacrificed too much structure and support in order to keep the pack itself light?

The Thunder 70 has a huge capacity for its weight, but minimal padding, 209 kb
The Thunder 70 has a huge capacity for its weight, but minimal padding
© Dan Bailey

Weight, fabric and durability

Given its large capacity, an overall weight of 1.7kg seems more than reasonable, and this suggests that the Thunder 70 would be a good choice for backpackers keen to minimise their base weight while still having the option of a large capacity. The nylon fabric is a sensible 210 denier, strong but still pretty light, with a ripstop pattern for extra toughness, and a PU coating to help keep the rain out. Build quality is impeccable; however the unstructured back and general lightweight feel do not scream bombproof, so if you're after a pack for years of the toughest use then this would not be our first suggestion. We'll say more about this below.

Back system and carrying comfort

Exped's recommended load limit for the Thunder 70 is 24kg, but since this is the least structured pack in this review, and not generously padded, that sounds ambitious to us. Its barely-there back system would be effective for lesser loads, but it just doesn't feel adequate for a pack this large. A Thunder 50 is also available, a size that would be more suited to this design. A single aluminium stay up the middle of the back provides the only structure, with a little cross-piece at the top to anchor the shoulder straps. Exped say this allows unhindered hip and torso movement, and they have a point. But this lack of structure makes it feel like your back is doing more of the work of lifting, and also allows a heavy pack to flop around more than we'd like. You can easily bend the single stay while it's still fitted in the pack; the whole arrangement doesn't inspire confidence. To be positive, length adjustment is quick and easy, the shoulder straps simply sliding up and down the stay, and the size range is impressively large, so the Thunder should fit the majority of adults.

Padding on the shoulder straps is deep across the top of the shoulders, where you most want cushioning, then shallower over the front of the chest for a closer, less bulky fit around the 'moobs' (or, indeed, boobs). However the foam is pretty soft, and with the strain of a very heavy load it's not all that comfortable. It's not hugely breathable either, so we don't think the Thunder is the best in hot weather despite the amount of open space across the back. An unusually pronounced curve on the shoulder straps helps with the fitted feel, without restricting arm movement. The chest strap operates on a slider, so you can set it at any height you like. Functioning as a single piece, the padding at the top of the shoulder straps gives just the right amount of protection to the shoulder blades without being excessively bulky. We're less convinced by the lumbar pad though, which has a blocky shape that doesn't sit nicely into the small of the back. Though this pad is deep, it doesn't quite cover the back length adjustment buckle - something you notice when bending forward.

The Thunder is notable for the complete lack of padding or frame sheet across most of the back. This helps keep it light and airy, but gives you no protection against pointy objects in your load, something we've discovered the hard way; careful packing is required. On the plus side the hipbelt is pretty effective, with deep-but-firm padding and a sculpted shape that closely hugs the body and does a good job of taking some of the weight off the shoulders. Since it functions, effectively, as a separate piece, the hipbelt has a degree of rotation which helps match the movement of your body. Should you wish (though we never would on a 70 litre pack), both the belt and the metal stay (for what that is worth) can be stripped off.

Exped back, 116 kb

Exped front, 130 kb

Capacity, pockets and features

At 70 litres, the Thunder 70 has one of the largest capacities of the packs on review. It's too big for its own frame, as we've said, but luckily it can be squeezed down very effectively with its two side compression straps, so smaller loads of around 50-60 litres can be neatly carried.

The main point of access is via a lid, which has elasticated sides for a good close fit over the pack. Fastening is via metal hooks and sewn-in daisychains, which serve the dual function of lashing points for attaching large external loads. This hook-and-loop system is both more durable than conventional plastic buckles, and de-clutters the front of the pack. The tails of all the webbing straps on the Thunder can be rolled away and secured with sewn-in velcro loops, a neat solution to the usual flapping tail issue. Instead of the usual bottom entry zip, the Thunder boasts a huge front entry, a flap that zips on both sides and secures at the top with velcro. For quick access to one side of the pack, just open one zip; for complete duffel bag-style entry, unzip the whole thing and fold it back to reveal pretty much the entire contents. If you like being ultra organised then this is very clever. However, being less organised types, in the past we've never once wished we could unzip our entire rucksack, and now we can we're still not sure we ever would. It is an obvious security issue in transit, while for UK hill use it's worth noting that the zips are not water resistant, and even the sturdy protective flaps that Exped have provided here would be insufficient on a windy, rainy day. On balance we'd prefer a simpler bottom entry, or indeed the ultimate simplicity of no secondary entry at all.

Additional storage comprises: a large over-lid pocket (with a non-waterproof zip and a big but not very secure key clip); a good-sized under-lid valuables pocket; two side stretch pockets large enough for a 1 litre bottle; a front stretch sleeve that'll hold a wet jacket; and a fairly tight stretchy zipped pocket on each side of the hipbelt. You also get a hydration pocket, and twin ice axe retainers. For a pack that's relatively light, this seems a comprehensive set of features.

Exped say:

Thunder is a trekking pack with a superb weight to volume/feature ratio. The suspension system is quickly length adjustable and provides excellent fit, torso mobility and weight transfer. Three access options to the main compartment (top, front and side loading) allow simple packing and unpacking. A large front and two side stretch pockets offer additional storage space. A floating lid with inner and outer pockets and adjustable side compression straps increase carrying capacity for extended trips and expeditions.

  • Capacity: 70 litres
  • Weight: 1.7kg (our measure)
  • Back length: 41 - 58 cm
  • Fabric: 210D HMPE ripstop nylon, PU coated, 1500mm water column
  • Back system: Single alu stay
  • Load limit: 24kg
  • Water Resistance: Water repellent treated
  • Top, front and side loading
  • Intended use: Expedition/Trekking/Backpacking
  • Warranty: 5 years

For more info see exped.com

Exped Thunder prod shot, 62 kb

Salewa Cammino 60+10 £135

The Cammino 60 combines an unfussy feel with good old fashioned sturdiness to give you an understated but reliable work horse. There's nothing remarkable here, but sometimes you just want kit that quietly goes about its job. And for a pack of this quality the price is very impressive.

The Cammino 60+10 is nothing flash, but a good tough pack for mountain use , 180 kb
The Cammino 60+10 is nothing flash, but a good tough pack for mountain use
© Martin McKenna

Weight, fabric and durability

There is some confusion in the literature as to whether the Cammino's 210 denier fabric is nylon or polyester; the former is stronger, and tends to be the material of choice for premium packs. We can't tell, but this texturised fabric certainly feels thick and strong, and in use so far we've failed to put a mark on it. The frame and harness are basic and tough, all the plastic components of a high quality, and the general standard of the build feels very good. The Cammino is certainly made to take some knocks, yet by not trying to do anything too flash Salewa have managed to keep the weight down to a very respectable 1.7kg.

Back system and carrying comfort

A pair of aluminium stays form the basis of the structure, with a crosspiece at the top to anchor the harness. There's no frame sheet, so the overall feel is not as rigid as some, but this basic frame does certainly provide enough support for medium/heavy loads. Length adjustment is a simple hook-and-daisychain arrangement that's lightweight, low profile and unfussy, with the harness sliding on the external stays to offer a fine tuned fit with a range of about 10-15cm. Only one size of pack is available, and at the upper end of the adjustment our 183cm tall reviewer finds the back length a bit short; the Cammino 60 is definitely not for large people.

The shoulder straps are nicely curved for a close but unrestrictive fit, and the padding of a decent depth and firmness for support without feeling too spongy. There are airier packs, but with its breathable foam lining, the straps on the Cammino still don't get excessively sweaty in hot weather. A long strip of padding on each side of the spine comfortably cushions the shoulder blades. With an air gap up the middle and across the lower back, the venting feels very effective without recourse to any elaborate mesh, and without creating so much space that it pushes the centre of gravity back and makes the pack feel unbalanced. It's all pleasingly simple.

Down at the hips, the belt has a body-hugging pre-curved shape, and a nice taper in the foam so it's not too bulky at the front. It's notable for having no lumbar pad; instead you just get two padded wings, with a channel in between. This is presumably designed with ventilation in mind, and also to allow the hip fins a fractional rotation so that they can move with the hips without need for any elaborate pivot. Both these things are achieved; yet we are still unconvinced. On a standard back system the lumbar pad has an important function, both supporting the lower back and helping transfer weight from the pack onto the hips. Without it, we just don't think the Cammino's hipbelt does as good a job as it could. For lesser loads it's no big deal, but if you're packed to capacity it's noticeable.

Salewa back 2, 116 kb

Salewa front, 99 kb

Capacity, pockets and features

Speaking of capacity, the Cammino's basic 60 litres feels less generous than some; this is not a particularly big pack, and as such we'd say it's better suited to long weekends than whole weeks away. A smaller size is good in the sense that it makes it harder to overload that hipbelt! To boost the volume by 10 litres (or so) the floating lid can be raised a fair way, though not as far as some. However, the lipped shape of the lid, and the lack of a top tensioner strap, make it difficult to accommodate something bulky like a rollmat or a rope. The top zipped pocket is a generous size, though on the downside the zip is unlikely to be weathertight for long. Underneath is a valuables pocket. Neither have a key clip – a small, but key omission in our book.

A bottom entry zip is provided, coupled with an internal clip-in divider to help keep the contents organised and accessible. This zip is not water resistant – none of them seem to be in this review – but the storm flap that Salewa have added fits a little tighter than some, which offers a bit more reassurance on a day of wind and rain. There's no side zipped entry, which we think is a point in the Cammino's favour, but instead you get a bellows pocket on each side. Again the zips are not water resistant, and in this case the storm flaps are much looser and less likely to keep the elements out. We don't much like these pockets, as they take up a lot of space for their limited capacity. Another zipped pocket is built into the front of the pack. Covering a very large area, but at no great depth, it would hold a map or a lightweight shell, but its usefulness does seem limited by its shallowness; and though it's partially concealed by fabric, that zip would not keep out Welsh rain all day. Here's where the integrated rain cover comes in, a glaring yellow affair stowed in its own wee pocket on the base. For stashing your water bottle on the go, you also get stretchy wand pockets on each side.

Unusually, the Cammino has only one compression strap on each side, and as a result it's not possible to reduce and stabilise a half load quite as effectively as packs with more compression. These straps are long enough for skis or poles, but you'd struggle to fit a rollmat here. For that, you can use a pair of longer straps at the base. For further external storage, four webbing loops give you places to add extra straps or bungy.

It's not often these days that you find a pack without a water bladder sleeve, but the Cammino manages to confound expectations. Fans of sucky tubes will regret the lack. As for additional features, a single axe loop is your lot. Perhaps this somewhat limits the Cammino's winter mountaineering use, but it's not something to lose sleep over.

Salewa say:

Designed for extended, multi-day alpine treks where you need to take more with you, the Cammino 60+10 is a comfortable trekking pack made of lightweight, very abrasion-resistant nylon with a fully-adjustable carrying system and generous capacity of 60 litres.

As the updated version of our best-selling trekking pack, it features our easy-adjust Custom-Fit carrying system with an adjustable back length plus anatomically-shaped, padded shoulder straps and hipbelt for an individualised fit. In addition, load lifter straps ensure optimal back fit over long distances, while the pre-shaped hipfin guarantees a snug fit and good load transfer to your hips. Large storage pockets provide plenty of room for spare clothing or your tent poles and there's a separate front compartment. For quick and easy access to important items en route, the on-the-go pockets are easy to reach without having to remove the pack from your back.

  • Capacity: 60 + 10 litres
  • Weight: 1.7kg (our measure)
  • Fabric: 210D polyester (we think)
  • Back system: aluminium stays with a hook-and-webbing adjustment

For more info see salewa.com

Cammino prod shot, 129 kb

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