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5 of the best rucksacks for overnight camping and trekking use

11:23 29th May 2013 By Jacob Thrall
Backpacking in Utah 1972 style. Note the teeny-tiny shorts to maximise lunge-depth and tan potential. Photo: US NAtional Archive via Flickr

Backpacking in Utah 1972 style. Note the teeny-tiny shorts to maximise lunge-depth and tan potential.
Photo: US National Archive via Flickr

A good overnight pack naturally takes various forms: if the stuff you take with you is very small and light, you won’t need a very big bag to put it in. If you tend to be a bit more old school and/or you tend take the kitchen sink with you, it’ll need to be bigger.

Broadly speaking then, the overnight pack tends to range – in litres – from the high 30s to the mid 50s. Any smaller and really, you’re in daysack territory and you’ll probably be pushed for space. Much larger and you could find you’re carrying more weight than you need, especially if you fall into the classic “I’ve got lots of space so I’ll fill it” trap.

Historically this has been a bit of a wasteland for the rucksack shopper. They’ve always been there if you knew where to look, but mostly you’d find daysacks up to about 35 litres, multi-day trekking packs from 60 litres and up, and not much choice in the middle. As gear gets smaller and lighter though, the mid-sized pack is more popular, and there are some pretty rich pickings for overnighters nowadays.


Podsac Black Ice


Podsacs Black Ice

No-frills, super-tough. If it was bigger, you could use it as a bomb shelter.

Volume: 50 litres (varies according to back size) + 12 litres with snow-baffle extended



Pod tend to make climbers’ bags, by and large, rather than all-round backpacking and hillwalking packs. Although this means they don’t often feature on the radar of people outside the climbing world, they are nevertheless of exceptional quality and well worth a look – especially if you expect your kit to get some major abuse.

The Black Ice is conceived as an alpine and climbing pack par-excellence, which has the effect of making it very simple and astonishingly tough. That means you won’t find big pockets or a base-compartment with a removable divider, which for some people will be a deal-breaker. What it also means though is you’ll find the main body of the bag has enough space for your overnight gear, and it will put up with an immense amount of punishment.

Osprey Atmos/Aura

The techy do it all

Atmos 50 (Mens)/Aura 50 (Womens)

Techy as techy can be. Loads of features designed to take care of every little niggle.

Volume: 50 litres (varies according to back size)



Osprey tend to do things a bit differently. Granted, a rucksack is a bag for putting things in, possibly with various pockets and attachment points, fitted with shoulder straps and a belt. Within that basic framework though, Osprey relentlessly fiddle, finding innovative new ways to do things.

The Atmos and Aura packs are built around Osprey’s AirSpeed back: their techy version of the “trampoline” style air-cooled backs which you’ll find on packs from various manufacturers. A mesh panel stretched across a frame is the only bit that’s in contact with your back, the bag itself being held slightly clear of you so air can circulate and you don’t get too sweaty. Osprey’s version of it allows the bag still to flex with you as you move though, as well as being adjustable for length and having an adjustably sized hipbelt.

Loads of pockets and pouches allow you to stow your odds and sods, and like classic backpacking sacks, there’s a bottom section with a removable divider, ideal for a sleeping bag. There’s masses more detail than that, but suffice it to say: there’s a thing to hang onto your walking poles for a minute as you cross a stile, and you can decide whether to thread the compression straps under or over the stretchy mesh pockets. Not a pack for the minimalist!

Terra Nova Laser 35 Pack

The Terra Nova Laser 35 could quite comfortably be called ultralight.

Terra Nova
Laser 35

Stripped down pack for the ultralight enthusiast

Volume: 35 Litres



Terra Nova’s extraordinarily lightweight racing tents have borne the name ”Laser” for a while, and now there’s a bag with a similar philosophy to share the iconic moniker.

A growing number of backpackers have decided that ultralight is not just for runners: if you carry loads of weight then you’ll be knackered and miserable, so there’s no point going out in the hills in the first place. It’s a good point. To achieve such a low weight but still be useable, the Laser is stripped of many excess features. Even the side compression straps have been replaced with cords to shed extra weight. To be honest though, if you can fit all your kit in it and you’re a lot less fatigued by the weight of your pack, do you really need lots of bells and whistles? Saying that, the Laser does actually have a whistle…

If you’re a bit dubious about the size and the minimal back system, then consider what you’re going to put in it. If you’re going to embrace the lightweight philosophy when buying a bag, then it really makes sense to do so with the rest of your equipment too. Once you do that, you’ll probably find you don’t need anything bigger than 35 litres.


Berghaus Verden

The Classic

Verden 45+8

Classic backpacking rucksack design

Volume: 45+8 Litres



Although right from their very earliest days Berghaus have been making new and innovative kit, they’re at least as well known for their solid, classic, functional gear too. That’s where the design of the Verden comes in.

If you imagine a rucksack, chances are the picture will probably not be too far from this. The layout is what you expect of a “full-size” backpacking rucksack: the main body is flanked by side pockets, the buckle-down lid has a zipped pocket, and there’s a zip to get into the base with a divider which allows this to be a separate compartment; the back system is adjustable but uncomplicated. So, it’s got all the bits you’d imagine a big bag would have, just on a medium-sized bag.

It’s not overly complex, it’s not stripped down and spartan, and it adjusts to fit all sorts of shapes and sizes. In short, it’s an extremely useful bag.

Gelert Summit 45 pack

The budget bag.

Summit 45

Basic yet functional for the backpacker on a budget

Volume: 45 litres



Let’s be honest, buying top-end outdoor gear can be prohibitively expensive. Those who are making their first forays into the great outdoors – or simply those on a tight budget – can nevertheless get functional gear which will serve them well. If you need a pack for light overnight duties but you want to avoid the professional-level price tag, Gelert’s Summit 45 is worth a look.

Though the basic layout is pretty simple – big main bag with stretch mesh pockets and a zipped lid pocket – there are a couple of nice touches to elevate it above the ordinary, such as the hip belt being fitted with zipped pockets: perfect for sweeties. A feature often absent from some seriously technical packs is a raincover. Well, maybe that’s because seriously technical packs are often designed in the Alps or the States, but Gelert are from North Wales. They know what it is to need a raincover.


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