1 State of the art
Atmos AG 50 men’s backpack, Osprey, £170. (The women's version is the Aura AG). Using this 50-litre pack came as a revelation. Walking with a load of around 9kg (including the 1.99kg pack itself) felt almost effortless – it really was amazingly comfortable from beginning to end of my journey. No wonder it has won rave reviews since its launch last year.
The genius of the design lies in the unique ‘AntiGravity backsystem’. Essentially this consists of a taught mesh lining that covers the back of the pack and the belt. The mesh embraces you gently but firmly, and distributes the weight more evenly than conventional packs – taking some of the strain off your shoulders. It also holds the body of the pack away from your body, allowing plenty of air in to ventilate your back. That's especially welcome in hot weather, but this is very much a four-season pack.
Different sizes are available, depending (basically) on the length of your back; and there’s a larger, 65-litre capacity bag too (Atmos AG 65, £190). The latter is definitely a better option if you are camping solo and need to fit everything in.
As usual, Osprey provides plenty of straps to keep the load compressed and stable on your back. The AG 50, thought not the AG 65, strangely lacks straps for attaching a sleeping mat or tent to the bottom, which reduces your options in an already fairly compact bag.
The pack combines other features: I won’t run through them all, but they include access at top and base, a detachable raincover, walking pole attachments, a space for a water bag and drinking tube and a stretchy front pocket for stuffing rainproof gear.
2 Robust and minimal
Kaipak 58, Fjällräven, £195. This unisex offering from Swedish outdoor firm Fjällräven has much to recommend it: namely simplicity, durability and no-nonsense design values. It’s extremely sturdy, made of heavy duty polycotton fabric. Being part-cotton, damp will linger in the fabric longer than man-made packs. To reduce this you can treat the fabric by rubbing with a bar of Fjällräven wax, which you then melt in to the fabric with a hair dryer; a process that you will either find therapeutic or tedious, depending on your tastes.
It can’t beat the Atmos AG for comfort, but performed respectably on a fully-laden five-mile walk. The harness can be slid up or down to reduce back length, for a better fit. Mesh-covered pads on strap, belt and back offer support, but naturally get pretty sweaty in summer. The pack itself weights 2.1kg – fairly typical weight for one of this size – 55 litres.
For those to whom these things matter, it's great selling is its low-key style. The muted colours and minimal detailing are a refreshing contrast if you find modern-styled packs lairy, fussy or bling.
There are discreet technical features though – including a pair of pockets in the hipbelt, compression straps to keep your load compact and stable, a detachable raincover, stretchy mesh side pockets, a roomy top pocket and a zipped front pocket for easy access to wet weather gear.
3 Bargain buy
Cholatse II 55:65 men's backpack Lowe Alpine, £100. (The women's version is the Cholatse II ND 50:60). Outstanding value for money for a rucksack with all the features that are expected of decent backpacks these days: from pockets on the belt, to a rain cover, compression straps, a lower compartment for easy access, even a whistle on the chest strap. In short, almost all the features found on the Kaipak 58, but for half the price. The ‘air mesh back’ comprises foam pads covered in fabric designed to wick sweat away from your back. Expect this to get pretty wet on hot days. It seems well made, from a robust polyester fabric. As for comfort: where the Atmos AG seems to cling to my back like a bear cub, the Cholatse II fits more crudely, feeling a little straight and upright; bearable but, as ever, be sure you try before you buy. Its maximum capacity is a generous 65 litres, and it weighs a modest 1.6kg – 500g less than the (smaller) Kaipak.
Like boots, it's important to try out packs before buying as comfort really matters on a long trek. Be fussy because anything that registers as a faint niggle when you set out has a habit of turning into a major discomfort a few miles down the trail.
So if you are ordering online, it makes sense to check you are completely happy with the company's returns policy before you click the order button.
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