A good pack is your best friend on the trail. Think about it – it keeps your stuff secure, offers room to stash your extra walking kit and food, and if you fancy a lie-down in a field it's the perfect place to rest your head.
Ok, a good pair of boots may make a compelling argument for their importance, but NEVER NEGLECT THE PACK!
With this in mind, we tried and tested new packs from industry giants Osprey and Gregory. In a moment of true sacrifice, we ditched our desks and headed out to for a strenuous hill-climb on the edge of the Peak District. We came, we climbed, we (sort of) conquered.
Here's our verdict.
. . . the Gregory Zulu 40
The Zulu and the Jade are male and female equivalents of the same bag. As a taller girl I thought that the Jade may be a little on the small side, so I opted for the Zulu. I think I made the right choice as I was comfortable from the start to the finish of the hike, especially around the hips where the hipbelt sat snug but without restricting my movement. Considering the amount of uphill walking we did this was good news.
With a 35-litre capacity I'd say the Zulu is the perfect size for a day hike like ours. There was plenty of room for a change of clothes, my waterproof jacket, lunch and a small sleeping bag. I could easily have attached a compact 1-person tent and been fully equipped for a wild camp.
The real cherry on top is the updated Free Float backsystem. I have a long torso and a notoriously bad back, so the adjustable length and the support was essential. Free Float packs in a lot of tech, from a suspended ventilated back – which kept me impressively un-drenched after a hard climb – to the wraparound hipbelt. This helps the bag pivot with your torso and, supposedly, gives a 'floating' sensation. I wouldn’t go that far because trust me, towards the top of the hill I was well-aware of the weight. But I did notice how well my back was supported. As well as spreading the weight around the hipbelt, the Zulu also sits fairly high. This is great as it feels like all the weight is distributed across the strongest part of your back and takes pressure off the lumbar region.
As someone who generally has a sore back after a hike (and who didn't at all this time) I can't shout about the Zulu enough.
- The men's Zulu is perfect for taller girls
- Perfect size for hiking and enough room for extra items
- Free float suspension was fabulous especially for weak backs
- External pocket design could be a little better for reaching your gear whilst wearing it.
. . . the Gregory Paragon 58
58 litres isn’t an easy carry for a day hike but I was surprised to feel pretty comfortable throughout the day due to the pack's dialled-in adjustability.
The tension straps run from top to bottom on either side of the bag, keeping it compact and under control. I found the double lid system particularly useful for keeping my tech secure and separate from things like my first aid kit. Having the benefit of two large mesh flex pockets also helped, as they are able to hold large water bottles without taking up room inside the pack.
The lab boffins at Gregory have definitely thought about the details. Small things like vented straps and easy access pockets really make a difference to comfort and convenience. What really made me chuckle - but seemed genuinely handy - was the sunglass holder on the left hand strap, perfect for quick access and even more useful in changeable weather like we're getting at the moment.
Normally on a full day hike I take a daysack, but having the extra room to take more of my favourite kit without sacrificing comfort is a complete bonus. The Paragon is a well-balanced pack and a serious rival to the other big names in this size category.
Pro tip from me about Gregory packs: buy one! The quality, the name and the life time guarantee should fill you with confidence.
- Comfortable frame with adjustable, vented back system.
- Sturdy and stable load-control
- Top and bottom opening is useful for accessing your stuff
- Real attention to details that make a difference
. . . the Osprey Renn 50
Firstly, the Renn looks great. The deep purple colour is unobtrusive against the natural landscape, but it's more interesting than most woman-specific packs. The shape is very clean, without the external pockets, zips and straps that clutter a lot of larger packs. It feels sleek, which can really help when navigating tight corners or climbing fences.
The Renn may feel streamlined, but there is still a lot of storage space; it’s just designed with a discrete, low profile. The top lid and lower base pockets were both easily accessed when I was in a rush to grab something (usually a snack).
There are also two low-profile, decently sized side-pockets that gave me plenty of space for a large litre water bottle and an OS map. At first I found it almost impossible to reach my water bottle when wearing the pack. After scratching my head for a bit and thinking surely this is a design flaw, I discovered the dual access feature which let me reach into the bottom of the pocket. It wasn't easy to drag my large bottle through this little gap though, so I'd recommend taking two smaller bottles or hydration packs.
There is deep padding across the back, hipbelt and lumbar area. This is designed to increase comfort and support, which it does. It also makes the pack feel as if it is sitting away from your back rather than on your back. This isn't a problem, but it can feel a little odd at first.
The "AirSpeed™ ventilated trampoline suspended mesh backpanel" is a mouthful, but it works. There is a big ventilation cavity in the middle of the back that lets in a lot of cooling airflow. We were hiking on a surprisingly warm day and I didn't feel like a sweaty-monster at all.
- Comes in 50 and 65 litre capacity
- Comfortable women-specific fit
- Good ventilation
- Easy access to gear in top and base pockets
- Dual access side pockets are good, but only useful with smaller items
. . . the Osprey Rook 65
The Rook is the male alternative to the Osprey Renn, so most of Emma's review is applicable here. The shape, pocket design and backsystem are all the same, just tailored slightly differently for a masculine frame. I also loved the colour choice too. The green is striking without being disruptive.
I was impressed by how comfortable such a large pack was during such a tough hike. I would normally use a pack like this for a backpacking holiday or a festival trip but it performed fantastically in the hills. Though I had packed it full for an authentic test of the load-support, I didn't once feel like it was unwieldy or a threat to my balance. The streamlined design definitely helps, as you can pull the pack tight to your frame (using the sternum strap) and then mostly forget it's there.
The compression straps really get the best out of the Rook's storage (and presumably the Renn's too). You can pack a LOT of stuff into this pack and still maintain the slim profile.
It fit very well and there was no need to readjust the back length or straps. The ladder lock system means that it's easy to fit the Rook to your torso length. It literally took about two minutes to get optimum fitting. I was impressed by how well the ventilation worked, especially on such a warm day. There may well be something in this Airspeed™ technology.
No matter if you're an expert or a Rook-ie, the Osprey is a great choice. I'd definitely recommend the Rook for travel to hot countries or festivals, but don't be afraid to choose it for your next hike either - especially if you plan on taking kit for an overnight stay.
- Comes in 50 and 65 litre capacity
- Very good length adjustment system
- Airspeed™ ventilation works a treat
- Easy to pack without undermining the streamlined slim-design.
- Great choice of colours
We love these packs, but there are plenty more. Check out our whole pack range and hit the trails. Happy hiking!