Gear review: Day packs – 2024

With so many packs on the market it can be hard to choose. One of the main differences between them is the back system. Either a suspended system (sometimes called a trampoline system), which is cooler as it holds the pack away from the body but can feel less stable and have less packable space, or a contact back which does what it says on the tin and feels more stable but is sweatier, or some hybrid combination of the two.

Design and comfort of shoulder and hip and chest belts as well as back length are important, especially if you are very tall or have a small frame. Whether it opens just at the top or all the way down one or both sides will change how you pack; compression straps are useful as are a range of pockets and how easy they are to access.

Most of the day packs in this review feature built-in raincovers. Personally I like these, but others prefer to use a waterproof lining and not bother with a cover that blocks pockets and can flap in windy conditions. Almost all have compartments for hydration bladders, attachment loops for walking poles, some have reflective strips and whistles (though I found many of these are so quiet they’re next to useless). Durability of the fabric and construction as well as the amount of recycled materials and lifetime repair options are also useful things to consider as well as the price of course. Many of the packs featured below can be found cheaper than the given RRP. Weights are for the size tested and include the weight of any raincover supplied.

Exped Summit Hike 25

RRP: £85
Weight: 715g

A long asymmetrical zip gives good access to this pack. The semi-rigid back holds its shape even when half empty and it’s been reasonably comfortable to wear, although it’s not the coolest pack as there’s no airflow between the pack and your back. The compartment for a hydration bladder is huge, meaning it could also be useful for carrying a laptop in town; the velcro loop makes it compatible with all bladder types. The two mesh side pockets will take wide 1lt nalgene bottles easily and the mesh is robust and tightly woven. The top pocket is generous as is the underside zipped security pocket which has a key holder.

Shoulder straps are minimally padded but the cut is good especially for smaller and female frames; the chest strap is easily adjusted up and down and once adjusted stays in place. The hip belt is a basic thin webbing strap – I’d prefer something a bit more substantial but this will suit those who pack light or don’t use a hip belt as it can be removed. There are two mesh pockets on the shoulder straps, one with an elasticated top which can take most GPS units but it’s a bit tight to use for items you need all the time, the other one has a vertical zip which combined with the stretchy mesh works better.

Elasticated loops on the shoulder straps are well placed to fix a bladder hose and there are additional carrabiner loops down the back useful for bike lights and clipping items as well as loops for walking poles or possibly one ice axe. The outer fabric is recycled, PFC-free and bluesign certified and seems very tough. Glow in the dark toggles on the zips may help you be seen at night on roads but they are quite small. Overall this pack is lightweight and represents very good value for money.

Available in 2 colours, 1 backlength

Berghaus Freeflow 24l

RRP: £150
Weight: 1320g

A hybrid back system combines a suspended mesh which keeps most of the pack off your back with a large lumbar pad to add comfort and support for the lower back. This seems to work well, it has proved reasonably comfortable and cool although the substantial frame does add to the weight of the pack.

There are a couple of features that work really well – the big side pockets are lower at the back making it really easy to access water bottles on the move, and due to the back frame and wide opening top zip, the bag keeps its shape; it’s easy to pack and to access items. Compression straps help keep loads stable. The only disadvantage of this design is that the main zip and the zipped top pocket have no protection from the elements, although there is a built-in raincover housed underneath the main body.

Instead of a mesh outside pocket, adjustable bungy cord does the job of holding waterproofs, spare clothes, helmet etc although some will prefer the added security of a pocket. The pockets on the well-padded hip belt are generous and there are further good-sized mesh pockets on the shoulder straps. The hydration bladder compartment is very large although the hole to feed the tube through is on one side rather than the middle of the back. The loop system for holding walking poles works well, there are small reflective details, and a built-in whistle. The fabric seems robust, is 100% recycled and has a PFC-free membrane to help water repellency and comes with the Berghaus promise of free lifetime repairs (you pay postage, T&Cs apply).

Available in 2 colours, 1 backlength

Salewa Alp Mate 26

Price: £90
Weight: 995g

The Alp Mate has a fully suspended back system, keeping you cool in hotter conditions by allowing plenty of ventilation, and it keeps the stiff back panel that gives the pack its shape well away from your back. Beyond that there is a pleasing simplicity to the rest of the design, though the pack seems a little smaller than you’d expect for the stated 26l capacity compared to some of the others on test. There is a little less padding on both the shoulders and the hip belt compared to some of the other packs in this review, though I think it is fine for this size of pack, and it does help keep the weight reasonable.

There’s a good sized top pocket with a key loop, two mesh side pockets (with quite substantial mesh), and a large hydration pocket (with opening to one side). There’s also a rain cover which is stowed in a bottom pocket. Two loops allowing for stowing of ice-axes or poles. The conventional lid comes well over the main body of the pack, and fixes in place with a single buckle – which I quite liked as it reduces the hassle of opening and closing. There’s also a long zip down the the length of the pack which makes access even easier. The price is reasonable and I think the Alp Mate is a solid choice.

Available in three colours, one size.

Jack Wolfskin Prelight Vent 20

Price: £150
Weight: 910g

The Prelight Vent has a long and narrow shape, tapered towards the bottom – a good design for scrambling as there is little to get snagged on the rocks; the polyamide body feels suitably robust too. There’s a suspended pack with a mesh panel and plenty of space for airflow – I found it very comfortable to wear when working hard in recent warm conditions; both the hipbelt and the shoulders are well-padded.

There are two mesh side pockets, and a fairly small pocket in the lid. There are two further zipped pockets in the hipbelt – a decent size though not quite big enough to fit a smartphone. The lid clips closed at the side closest to your back – the opposite way to most packs, and has quite a small overlap, so you need to be careful to ensure the pack is fully covered by it. However, there’s a drawcord with a generous internal snow lock / valance to keep your stuff stowed safely inside. There’s a hydration pocket, and a velcro loop to secure at the top. The pack also has a zip down half of the front for easy access and packing. There are two ice-axe / pole loops, with the top ends secured with velcro loops – these are removable and could be lost. There’s a rain cover which is stowed in the base. In use, this is a comfortable and practical pack for mountain use.

Available in three colours; one size.

Fjallraven Abisko Hike

RRP: £205
Weight: 1530g

Heavier than most of the other packs on test, the Abisko Hike 35 is also one of the largest and most rugged. The recycled polyamide fabric feels very robust, as is the construction, with features such as reinforced bottoms to the two mesh side pockets which should mean the pack lasts a very long time (as it should at this price). As well as coming in 2 sizes the back length is adjustable which combined with a very wide hip belt and well-padded shoulder straps, compression straps and an aluminium frame make it a comfortable wear. The back panel has three mesh pads allowing some airflow.

A really useful feature is the side zip allowing access to the huge main compartment in addition to the drawstring top opening. The large hydration bladder holder works well although the tube exit is only to one side. There is a good sized zipped pocket in the detachable top lid and an internal security pocket (there’s another smaller one on the side of the main body) which also contains the, slightly voluminous, rain cover which is not attached so could blow away when putting it on in windy conditions. The top has bungy cord useful for stowing waterproofs and there’s a loop for poles and/or axe but no bungy or mesh pocket on the front. However the side pockets are large, easily taking a 1l nalgene bottle and they have drawstring tighteners. Expensive but designed for year-round use (there’s a snow lock to keep snow out, ice axe stow point, and large capacity) and it should last a long time.

Available in 3 colours, 2 sizes (S/M, M/L)

Camelbak Octane 22

RRP: £170 (includes 2l hydration bladder)
Weight: 695g (excluding bladder)

With plenty of features taken from running packs and vests this is a close-fitting compact and lightweight pack for fast and light walking which works well even when filled to capacity. The solid back panel is made from flexible ridged foam covered in mesh to allow limited airflow in the gaps.

The shoulder straps look more like a running vest with wide pockets, adjustable chest strap, useable whistle, and 2 very handy clips to keep hydration tube in place. The hydration bladder has it’s own separate compartment so no fighting with other items to get it in and out. Internally there are loads of mesh pockets including one zipped one and two large mesh side pockets for bottles and a mesh pocket on the front for a waterproof. 2 sets of pole attachment points, reflective logo, and well-fitting fully-elasticated hi-vis rain cover. The pack works best worn close to the body to allow weight to be taken by the hip belt. It should really suit those who want to combine a bit of running and walking while carrying a decent amount of kit.

2 colours, 1 size

Gregory Citro 24

RRP: £125
Weight: 965g

The mesh back suspended from an alloy frame works really well to keep air moving and combined with the padded hip belt (with good sized zipped pockets), compression straps, reasonably padded shoulder straps with adjustable chest strap (complete with seemingly obligatory near-useless whistle) make this pack from Gregory a comfortable option.

Other features we liked were the stretchy mesh front pocket – useful for waterproofs, good sized zipped top pocket, and wide opening top zip to the main body. Whilst the compartment for the hydration bladder is large, the clip to hold a bladder in place only works with Gregory’s 3D Hydro system so other bladders may slump in a half empty pack. The side pockets are made from robust mesh and large enough for wide 1l bottles. There is one pole/axe attachment loop and closure. The raincover is well designed but takes up most of the top pocket although there is also an internal security pocket. Overall a decent, well designed pack for the price.

Available in 3 colours, 1 size.

Lowe Alpine Ultra 26l

RRP: £140
Weight : 745g

There are two features that set this pack apart – its light weight and the back system that keeps the pack off your back and cool all day. A tight mesh stretches from the minimal metal frame to keep a good space and therefore airflow between the main pack and the wearer’s back – this seems to work well and makes the pack comfortable.

Other features are well thought out: good sized hipbelt pockets (one zipped and one in stretchy mesh perfect for tissues etc), highly padded shoulder straps, space for a 3 litre water bladder, attachment points for stowing walking poles, and side compression straps. I particularly like the large mesh front pocket, good for easy access for waterproofs or storing wet gear, the stretchy mesh extends to 2 side pockets which will easily accommodate 1l bottles each.

The fabric is made from recycled fishing nets and whilst there is reassuring reinforcement at abrasion points I worry that the mesh side pockets will eventually get worn if tightly stretched all the time. The only real downside for me is the lack of a top zipped pocket for quick access to sunglasses, snacks etc (there is however a good size internal security pocket instead). Whilst the simple drawcord and clip top access is quick and easy to use, it’s hard to do up tightly enough to stop water getting in during prolonged rain – this is a pack to use a lightweight inner or raincover with. However the low weight and comfort mean it’s a good contender for summer outings and is large enough for minimal gear multi-day bivi or bothy trips.

Available in 2 colours, one back length 48cm/19″

Jack Wolfskin 3D Prelight Rise 35

RRP: £340
Weight: 985g

Jack Wolfskin claims a revolutionary 3D printed design which promises a low pack weight and more efficient weight carrying so that you can go further and be less tired. There are certainly a lot of interesting features here but also a few downsides, together with an eye-watering price tag. The pack differs from most in that it is wider at the top, tapering towards the bottom. The solid back panel is held well off the back by four pads – these are quite hard and whilst Paul found the pack extremely comfortable even when fully loaded with winter gear, much shorter Helen found the lower lumbar pads dug into her lower back.

Airflow is good and even though the pack is designed to be worn close to the body it is not overly hot. The wide hip belts have good ventilation gaps and useful stretchy mesh zipped pockets and the shoulder straps are comfortable with adjustable chest strap with whistle. The internal capacity is large with additional single, generous zipped pocket on the top and two big stretchy mesh side pockets which will take bigger bottles. Compression straps are easy to adjust but the buckle which secures the lid once the drawstring is done up is fiddly to use with cold hands.

A unique feature is the removable integral dry bag liner, held in place with velcro tabs, it really does keep contents dry in all weathers. Two pole/axe stow loops at the bottom are used with velcro loops higher up which are only fixed to the pack by velcro so can be lost without care – we also managed to break one loop using it to secure snowshoes, there is a stronger plastic lower loop which would be better for hard use or perfect for a bike light. Designed to be used year round it includes a RECCO reflector which can help rescuers locate avalanche victims. The 100% recycled material is very tough, bluesign certified, and the construction seems really robust so we’d expect it to last a long time and it’s versatile enough to be used all year. This is the only pack in the test that is effectively waterproof with the liner, but it’s still hard to justify spending quite so much more.

Available in 1 colour, 1 size.

Patagonia Terravia 28l

RRP: £140
Weight: 790g

Although very lightweight, there has been no compromise on materials on this pack. Made from 100% recycled nylon the main fabric is very tough and shrugs water off so well you almost don’t need the built-in raincover. “Almost” because access to the main pack is via a quick open/close drawstring and then the lid which features a handy, large zipped pocket, pulls down and is secured with a buckle strap from the bottom, this seals the back well unless it is very full and then I’d want the raincover to ensure no water gets in.

The large open front pocket is great for waterproofs and the two stretchy mesh side pockets are good for water bottles although a tight fit for wider bottles. There’s a large internal zipped security pocket, pouch for up to 3l hydration bladder which can be secured with a velcro fastening which fits all models of bladder, there’s also a useful toggle to secure a hydration tube to one shoulder strap.

The comfortable hipbelt has two zipped mesh pockets. The shoulder straps feel a little flimsy but they have proved comfortable, with plenty of adjustment points for the chest strap (no whistle) and they allow some ventilation. A solid back panel has a cut away section and mesh covering to allow some airflow although I still found it was close to your back and fairly warm. If using the pack less than half full the back can be pulled out of shape by having the lid done up too tightly but it’s comfortable when adjusted properly.

Available in 3 colours, 3 sizes (S, M, L)

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