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8 best backpacks that are ideal for hikes, work and the gym

You won’t want to go anywhere without one of these daybags strapped to your back

Tamara Hinson
Tuesday 25 April 2023 11:47 BST
<p>We checked for signs of wear and tear and whether our stuff would remain unscathed  </p>

We checked for signs of wear and tear and whether our stuff would remain unscathed

Our Top Picks

In our humble opinion, a backpack is an essential tool in any travellers’ arsenal. Whether you’re travelling to your place of work on the daily commute, spending the day hiking or exploring new places while on holiday, a trusty rucksack will be essential.

Of course, it’s worth noting that backpacks vary hugely in both style and size – something which reflects the different demands of those travelling and the posessions and valuables they’ll need to bring with them.

If you’re looking for a backpack which can be used on commutes, look for laptop sleeves and exterior pockets which allow easy access in confined spaces and slimline profiles. These would be instead of bulkier bags that have more bells and whistles (like sternum straps and compartments for Camelbak-style hydration bladders).

If you’re looking for a backpack to use during holidays – for daytime explorations of cities or national parks, for example – comfort is key. Areas of mesh on the back will reduce the risk of a sweaty back, and padded adjustable straps will lighten the load on your back, meanwhile Ripstop fabric will boost the backpack’s longevity, too.

How we tested

We love a good backpack, and we’ve acquired quite a few over the years. We’ve got ones we turn to when we’re travelling with lots of tech in tow, and ones we rely on when we’re in need of something more rugged for skiing or snowboarding trips.

As keen hikers, we know what features to look for when it comes to comfort, too, and these particular backpacks were tested in a variety of scenarios, including treks across an Indonesian island, sweaty shopping excursions in Singapore and explorations of Mumbai.

We didn’t just trial them in different scenarios, either – we filled them with a wide range of items (ranging from netbooks to snorkelling gear). More importantly, we followed up our testing sessions with thorough inspections, searching for any hint of wear and tear and ensuring the contents emerged unscathed.

We tried roll-top and zip-up daypacks

The best daypacks for 2023 are:

Picture Off trax 20 backpack

best backpack
  • Best: Overall
  • Capacity: 20ml
  • Dimensions: 26cm x 15cm x 48cm

Our pet hate is zips which don’t open wide enough, but the zips on this bag’s main compartment extend much further than most, which makes for effortless access. The manufacturers have been generous when it comes to the areas of breathable mesh on the bag’s straps and rear, too. The pockets on the side were more than deep enough to hold our water bottles snugly, and the internal laptop sleeve was extremely well padded, as was the fleece-lined pocket at the top, which was perfect for storing sunglasses, phones and other delicate items. The material – 150D ripstop with PU coating – was also incredibly tough.

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Briggs & Riley rhapsody essential backpack

best backpack
  • Best: For work
  • Capacity: 16l
  • Dimensions : 40.64cm x 27.94 cm x 13.97cm

There are various situations which call for a slightly smarter backpack, and this is where Briggs & Riley comes in. Its essential backpack is a simple but chic bag with plenty of useful added extras (including an ID tag on which we could write our name, and a slip-through back panel which meant we could slide it over the handle of our wheeled suitcase), it’s a backpack which has an abundance of space.

The interior has two large laptop-sized pockets which have plenty of padding so we were happy to place our netbook in the bag without its case. There are classy touches too, including a high-shine lightweight micro weave nylon (which we found surprisingly easy to spot clean) and a leather handle and fob.

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Burton day hiker 25l backpack

best backpack
  • Best: For hikers
  • Capacity: 25l
  • Dimensions: 49cm x 29cm x 17cm

This is the latest version of Burton’s legendary day hiker backpack, a day pack which has been designed according to the brand’s ethos that “school and work are just stops on the way to the mountain.” In other words, although it’s designed to be skier and snowboarder-friendly, it’s very much been designed as a day pack – and a great one, at that.

Our favourite things about the latest version of the backpack includes the bluesign approved 420D nylon oxford fabric, the abundance of pockets (including front accessory pockets, a dual side mesh water bottle space and an internal zippered mesh pocket with key clip). It also has an ultra-ergonomic design, courtesy of ergonomic shoulder straps, an adjustable sternum strap and a moulded back panel with deep airflow channels.

  1. £60 from
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Eastpak floid explore CS

best backpack
  • Best: For travelling light
  • Capacity: 16l
  • Dimensions: 48cm x 29cm x 12.5cm

Eastpak has done a few things a little differently here. To start with, instead of just two elasticated mesh pockets on the side, there’s one on the side and a supersized one on the front, although we actually preferred this approach. The larger pocket gripped our water bottle just as well, and was big enough to store some snacks in, too. The interior’s relatively simple, with a large central compartment and laptop sleeve, although there were several smaller pockets for items such as wallets. An internal dangle clip was perfect for keeping our keys secure and bonus points were awarded for the extra-long zip pulls, which were easy to get to grips with.

  1. £62 from
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Chrome ruckas backpack

best backpack
  • Best: For fans of minimalism
  • Capacity: 23ml
  • Dimensions: 49.50cm x 25cm x 29cm

This is a simple but incredibly well designed backpack which is also easily accessible, thanks to a three-quarters zip and the option to access the contents through the side, as well as the top. One feature we wish we saw more of is this bag’s internal mesh pocket, which we found incredibly useful for items which needed to be kept secure but which we still needed easy access to. Two internal pockets (one of which is a laptop sleeve) made staying organised a breeze, and we appreciated the supersized front pocket, which is ideal for documents such as boarding passes.

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Picture grounds 22 backpack

best backpack
  • Best: Roll-top backpack
  • Capacity: 22ml
  • Dimensions: 47cm x 28cm x 15 cm

We admittedly get a little nervous when it comes to roll-top backpacks, a fear sparked partly by the time the contents of our roll-top bag ended up scattered across the floor of a tour bus. But Picture’s roll-top backpack had us at hello, thanks largely to the addition of an ultra-secure Velcro closure. We loved how there are endless options when it came to what we put where when using this bag, which has plenty of internal pockets and three large ones on the front. Plus, generous patches of breathable mesh on the exterior did a great job of keeping the air flowing.

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Built for Athletes small gym backpack

best backpack
  • Best: For the gym
  • Capacity: 25ml
  • Dimensions: 42cm x 30cm x 14cm

First things first. Don’t place too much stock in the “small” tag – this is actually a seriously roomy rucksack. Despite the name, it won’t just appeal to athletes either – although the extra-large bottle holders will undoubtedly be a hit with those for whom hydration is a priority.

It’s another backpack which blends easy access with great protection – all of the exterior pockets have two-way openings covered by storm flaps for extra protection in wet weather, for example. Its 25l size makes it one of the larger daypacks, although the compression straps did a great job of reducing its bulk when it wasn’t filled to capacity, and the extra-wide shoulder straps noticeably lightened the load, minimising any risk of shoulder strain.

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Vango shuttle 25

best backpack
  • Best: Padded backpack
  • Capacity: Not specified
  • Dimensions : 59cm x 20cm x 31cm

This is one of the few backpacks which is great for air travel, too – largely because of the extra handles which make squeezing it into (and dragging it out of) cramped overhead luggage bins a breeze. It’s incredibly well padded but still surprisingly light, and its large main compartment had plenty of room for all the essentials, including our laptop, which slipped easily into one of two sleeve-style pockets (ones which, ingeniously, were accessible from the front of the bag, too). And, as travellers prone to paranoia, we loved the concealed card pocket integrated into the straps.

  1. £55 from
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Backpacks FAQs

What to look for in a backpack

When purchasing a new backpack, it’s important to consider the capacity, weight, comfort and waterproofing aspects as well as what you plan to be using it for.

If it’s for longer hikes and weekend mountain walking, then you’ll want something big enough to fit bottles of water, chalk, food, a change of clothes and even sleeping bags. Typically backpacks range between 20l to 40l in volume. It’s also worth looking out for hip or chest straps that will help distribute the load, relieve shoulder pressure and reduce swaying when you walk.

Depending on how much stuff you’re bringing with you, the number of compartments will also help keep your valuables, like a phone or bungee cords, safe and dry, and essentials such as water within easy reach.

If you’re heading somewhere that’s likely to rain, a rain cover or backpacks made with a waterproof layer will stop your belongings from getting wet.

The verdict: Backpacks

Picture’s off trax 20 backpack looks cool, has various added extras other backpack designers simply don’t appear to have thought of (the fleece-lined top pocket is a case in point) and offers all-day comfort, even when it’s packed to capacity. Briggs & Riley’s ultra-comfortable rhapsody essential backpack is both fabulously stylish and wonderfully practical, while Burton’s day hiker 25l backpack is a brilliant update with a focus on ergonomics that we were impressed by.

Need something a little bigger? Read our roundup of the best travel backpacks

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