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The best travel backpacks and rucksacks

Finding the best travel backpack to suit your needs — what a carry-on, right? Well, it needn’t be. Whether you’re off for a walking holiday in the Peak District, your other half is dragging you out to Dartmoor for a Bear Grylls-style wild weekend, or you’re just seeing where the wind blows you, there’s a bag for that, and we’ve put together a list of the top travel rucksacks to help you choose.

Each has its own charms, but the main watchword of the current travel bag market seems to be customisability and adjustability. Parents in search of the best Duke of Edinburgh backpacks will be no doubt be cheered by models featuring extendable backs and comfortable shoulder-top tension straps, which go big on value and longevity for your growing teenager, and cut down on whinging.

Two of the items on our list are backpacks which turn into...well, two backpacks, which means the bulk of the bag can be left at home — wherever home is at that point in time — and the zip-off backpack can be used for exploring. Perfect if you’re inter-railing or flitting from city to city. If you’re heading further afield, look out for backpacks that fit airline carry-on specifications, saving you both money and a whole lot of faff at the departures gate.

1. Osprey Farpoint 55 Backpack

This multi-functional backpack goes above and beyond

Specifications

Best for: Multiple uses
Size: 55L
Colours: Black, blue, red

Reasons to buy

+
Multi-function; two bags in one
+
Comfortable and stable

Reasons to avoid

-
On the expensive side 

Style and substance have found a happy union in the Osprey Farpoint 55, a bag that’s ready for anything and looks the part while doing it. Multi-functional and solidly made, the finest feature of this travel rucksack is its zip-off mini pack, which means you can leave your main bag in a hotel or hostel during the day, and take the smaller one on adventures, without having to lug around your entire inventory. Its front-loading pocket also makes it easy to find what you’re looking for or repack. 

2. Vango Contour Rucksack 60+10

A gold-standard backpack for DofE Award trekkers

Specifications

Best for: Duke of Edinburgh Award
Size: 60L + 10L
Colours: Black, blue, red

Reasons to buy

+
Great value
+
Adjustable back

Reasons to avoid

-
Newer model has no map pocket 

At a bargain price and with handy adjustable features, the Vango Contour is the best backpack for Duke of Edinburgh awards on our list. The Quick Adjust Carry System, with its lightweight alloy frame and flexible webbing, allow the back length to be easily tailored to growing teenagers, and its sturdy PU-coated polyester shell means it’ll stick around to be used by the next lot, too. 

3. North Face Base Camp Duffel

Hit the road with confidence (and great back-up)

Specifications

Best for: Spontaneous travel
Size: 69L
Colours: Blue patterned

Reasons to buy

+
Duffel and backpack in one
+
Comfortable handles

Reasons to avoid

-
Fewer functions than other models 

Even if you don’t know where you’re going, be sure to take this duffel with you. It takes on all comers with its ability to transform instantly from a duffel bag to a backpack, with ergonomic alpine-cut shoulder straps and comfortable padded side handles — no more painful palms after a few hours of carry. The zippered side pocket also keeps the things you need most to hand, separate from the main body of the bag. Oh, and it looks really cool. 

4. Highlander Explorer

The Explorer has travel for two in the bag

Specifications

Best for: Couples
Size: 45L + 15L
Colours: Black, purple, blue

Reasons to buy

+
Adjustable back
+
Zip-away day pack

Reasons to avoid

-
Smaller capacity 

No, it’s not what you think — if you had visions of tandem backpacks, we’re sorry (although clearly there’s a gap in the market). The Highland Explorer is actually the best backpack for couples thanks to its seemingly endless adjustability, with customisable back length to fit taller or smaller bodies as required, and a zip-away day pack so you can share the load. It also has a handy front-loading pocket, so one can repack while the other carries. Sorted. 

5. Berghaus Arete 45

Climbers and adventurers will appreciate the Arete

Specifications

Best for: The mountains
Size: 45L
Colours: Grey

Reasons to buy

+
Can be used as a carry-on
+
Lightweight and comfortable

Reasons to avoid

-
No outside pockets 

The Berghaus Arete is arguably the best mountaineering bag on our list. The glove-friendly buckles are easy to use even on chilly mountainsides, and for those venturing further afield, it’s useful to know that if not crammed full, it can pass as a carry-on. It lacks external pockets, which may be a gripe for some, but a series of straps and loops work well to keep often-used tools and accessories at hand. 

6. Vango Sherpa 60+10 Rucksack

A great fit all round

Specifications

Best for: Best all-round value
Size: 70L
Colours: Black, blue

Reasons to buy

+
Excellent value
+
Adjustable for comfort

Reasons to avoid

-
Not the sturdiest

The second Vango offering on our list, the Sherpa benefits from the same patented back adjustment system as the previously listed Contour, and the shaped harness can also be adjusted to the user’s optimum fit for comfortable strolling, so it’s a great all-rounder for an active family. An abundance of pockets and clips also make it perfect for ‘just-in-case’ day-trippers who prefer to — in the immortal words of the Scouts — be prepared. 

7. Montane Ultra Tour 55

An easy breezy bag with a good set of features

Specifications

Best for: Best lightweight choice
Size: 55L
Colours: Blue

Reasons to buy

+
Ultra lightweight
+
Interior and exterior pockets

Reasons to avoid

-
Top-loading only 

This Montane backpack’s winning move is its light-as-a-feather construction, made possible by a shell of RAPTOR Zero fabric and aluminium bars for structure. The shoulder-top tension straps allow the pack to be pulled closer to the body and the stability adjusted based on the terrain you’re facing up to. The chest harness can also be unclipped from the left hand side, a nice touch eliminating the need for a bulky buckle that digs into the sternum while walking. 

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