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The best rucksacks: Action Packed
Our gear expert Paul Hart puts four of the best rucksacks to the test on the
hiking trails of Dartmoor
Words by Paul Hart; video by Chris Stone & Ju Zhang
12:10AM BST 23 Oct 2013

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I've carried heavy loads up mountains and for long distances over the frozen
wastes of the Arctic and the Antarctic. I’ve learned that unless you have a
well fitting rucksack, life is going to become pretty intolerable pretty
quickly - carrying even a limited weight in a badly fitting rucksack for a
few hours can turn a pleasant day of trekking into a really miserable
experience. A rucksack that feels great when you put it on can soon become
really uncomfortable when you have loaded it up with all your kit for even a
short trek or overnight camp activity. Everybody is different and what fits
one person really well can cause someone else real problems.

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Whenever you choose a rucksack, make sure you try it on fully loaded with a
weight representative of what you expect to carry in the rucksack. Make sure
the back length is correct for you and that the waist belt sits properly on
your hips without pushing the weight off your shoulders. Shoulder and hip
supports need to work together to distribute the load properly.

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To take lots of kit and equipment you need a big rucksack that is likely to be
70Ltrs or more in capacity, but for normal days out trekking and for wild
camping expeditions, I’d recommend a 50Ltr rucksack. This will give you the
versatility to carry what you need without enticing you to overload the bag
with kit to the point where the weight makes life a challenge.

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I regularly use 50-litre rucksacks for days out with the children, where I
commonly end up carrying the majority of their kit. A 50-litre rucksack
should give you room for all your needs and also be designed so that it
gives comfort for a prolonged period.

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Paul Hart

The criteria

I asked manufacturers to provide rucksacks that they thought would be suitable
for people to use over a wide range of activities; from trekking through to
wild camping trips in environments ranging from Dartmoor and Scotland,
through to the Alps. I told them that I was interested in the greatest
multi-functionality for the rucksacks so that if I wanted to take them
skiing or climbing I wouldn’t have to invest in alternative rucksacks. The
rucksacks should be big enough for a day or two of camping, but that they
could be reduced in size using compression straps to make them suitable for
a long day walking in the hills or skiing in the mountains.

There are a lot of things that contribute to a good rucksack but the number
one factor is comfort. Having plenty of pockets, separate to the main
compartment, in which to store smaller bits of kit and things like food and
water is a useful feature. The ability to get in and out of the main
compartment without having to open the sack to the worst of the elements is
an advantage. Quick access pockets on the waist strap that can store items
you might need while walking means that you don’t have to keep taking the
rucksack off.

Water resistance and robustness are essential considerations, particularly as
zips can fail and if this means the structural integrity of the rucksack is
compromised while you are out on a long trek, it can be a real problem.

Dakine Poacher 45
Price : £145
Details: dakine.com

Although a little smaller than the other packs tested, this rucksack coped
with getting the 15kg of kit into it without any problems. It has multiple
pockets including a small one on the waist strap. There is access into the
main compartment through a double zip mechanism on the back of the rucksack.
This means no one can get kit out for you while it is on your back, but it
does allow easy access to the bottom rather than having to go all the way
down from the top opening.

This is designed as a ski/snowboard sack so it is a little heavier than the
others because of its more robust construction. It is well padded and really
comfortable as long as you have the right back length. No integral rain
cover was the only down point, but other than that it is as good on Dartmoor
as it is on Alpine slopes.

The verdict

A really good rucksack that I really liked. If I was doing a winter activity
in the Alps this would get my vote.

Overall 5
Comfort & fit 4
Storage 4
Robustness 3
Water resistance 4

Arc’teryx Altra 50
Price: £180
Details: arcteryx.com

A very impressive rucksack in all respects despite it being somewhat
unconventional. It doesn’t have much padding on the straps and back, but I
was pleasantly surprised at how comfortable it felt when loaded with 15kg.
The benefit of the lack of padding is that the rucksack itself is very
light. It doesn’t have an adjustable back so you have to get the back length
right when you buy it. It has two zips that allow you to get directly into
the main pack without having to go in from the top, which is useful as
someone else can get your kit without you taking the pack off (although this
could be a drawback in some areas of the world)!

There are plenty of pockets but it doesn’t have pockets on the waist belt and
instead has an alternative configuration called 'wingman’ pockets that you
are supposed to be able to access one handed with the pack still on. I found
these a bit fiddly at first but they are useful. The biggest failing of the
sack is that it doesn’t have a rain cover and after many hours of walking in
deluging rain, I opened the top pockets to find them full of water.

One of the most important features is the 'pear’ shaped design which holds the
pack close to the body. This minimizes load movement and backward pull which
provides for extended comfort and energy efficient movement under weight.

The verdict

If you ensure you get the right back fit you will find this a great rucksack.
However, it is expensive compared to the other sacks tested. For
multi-functional capability it is highly versatile and while I probably
wouldn’t use if for climbing it does meet the other criteria.

Overall 4
Comfort & fit 5
Storage 4
Robustness 5
Water resistance 2

Watch: Arc'teryx Altra 50 review

Vango Canyon 50
Price: £60
Details: vango.co.uk

A basic rucksack in every respect, but one that performed well overall. It is
lightweight and comes with an integral rain cover. It has an internal
security pocket and an external top pocket, but other than that no
additional pockets. The back length Is non-adjustable so you need to buy the
right length at outset.

There is no ability to get into the rucksack except via the top but the lid
does have extension straps to allow it to lift up to accommodate extra gear.
When loaded, the sack was reasonably comfortable but was the least
comfortable of those tested. Interestingly, the waist belt comes off for
when loads are very light.

The rucksack is quite versatile and I used it for some bouldering across the
tors of Dartmoor. For the very reasonable price it is actually a very good
rucksack. Although not able to match the functional capability of the other
rucksacks I would recommend this to those on a limited budget. It would do
equally well in the role of a ski-sac or as a climbing sack for days out in
the hils.

The verdict

The rucksack did all that was asked of it without being too flashy. It could
do with a few more pockets but if I had to equip youngsters with a
functional rucksack that didn’t cost too much, this would get my vote.

Overall 4
Comfort & fit 3
Storage 2
Robustness 3
Water resistance 4

Watch: Vango Canyon 50 review

Berghaus Bioflex 50
Price: £120
Details: berghaus.com

This rucksack has a fully adjustable back sizing system that allows you to
tailor its back length to your own requirements and this worked well.
Although there is ample padding on the straps, in certain instances the
lower frame did cause some pressure against my back although it didn’t cause
any problems when carrying the 15kg test weight.

There were two waist strap pockets, but these were of a mesh variety, which
meant they were open to the elements. Other pockets included a "kangaroo
pouch" and this allowed access into the main compartment. There are a
couple of other pockets and the strapping system to compress the rucksack
works well. With an integral rain cover the rucksack was pretty well
protected from the elements.

I found this a highly versatile rucksack that could be used across a range of
activities which included skiing and climbing. Berghaus claims the active
movement waist belt reduces the effort required to carry the rucksack while
improving comfort. I have to say I didn’t find that it made that much
difference but the rucksack was very comfortable overall. The biggest plus
is being able to alter the back length to exactly what is right for you.

The verdict

Overall, this was the best of the rucksacks I tested. It just pips the
Arc’Teryx and the Dakine because it is fully adjustable and has better
padding. It is a really good buy at the price.

Overall 5
Comfort & fit 4
Storage 4
Robustness 3
Water resistance 4

Watch: Berghaus Bioflex 50 review


Packed: the best waterproof jackets
Packed: the best tents

About Paul Hart
Few travellers put more demands on their kit than Paul Hart, a former Royal
Navy lieutenant commander. Having served with the Royal Marines and the
Paratroopers and led expeditions in the world’s toughest environments, he
has joined Telegraph Travel to bring more than 30 years of adventure
experience to bear on everything from boots and backpacks to tents and
technology. For more of Paul's gear and kit reviews, click

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