How to Choose the Right Rucksack

Selecting the best rucksack for your trip is one of the most important ways to ensure that your adventure, however big or small gets off to a great start.


To help you make the best decision we have outlined the different types of rucksacks available, highlighted key features and suggested what type of trip each pack is best suited for.


So whether it’s a gap year spent travelling around the world, or a high paced run along your favourite trail, we have the rucksack for you.

WHat Size Rucksack Do I Need?

The size, and therefore type of rucksack that you will need is dictated by the amount of kit and clothing you will be taking with you. This could be anything from a bottle of water and some energy bars, all the way up to clothing, a tent, sleeping bags, food and cooking equipment, to name just a few.


Below you can see a rucksack size guide to help you decide what size rucksack you will need. However, please note that the length of your trip is only the first part of choosing the right rucksack.

Activity Type

Running / Cycling



Extended Backpacking / Travel




2 – 3 Days

5 + Days

Rucksack Capacity

10 – 25 Liters

20 – 40 Liters

50 – 60 Liters

60 + Liters

What Type Of Rucksack Do I Need?

Multi-Day And Backpacking Rucksacks 

At around 60+ litres, these rucksacks are amongst the largest available and are perfect for people heading out into the wilderness for a few days and nights on a self-supported trip, travelling on a gap year or doing challenges such as The Duke of Edinburgh’s Award.


Their features include a large padded hip belt, and chunky shoulder straps, which help to support and efficiently distribute the heavy load. Multi-day rucksacks have a large internal section for the majority of your items as well as a number of internal and external pockets for storing gear that you may want to access more easily.


Many multi-day rucksacks often have a number of external straps and buckles. Some of these allow items like a tent or a roll mat to be strapped to the outside, whereas others are to compress and stabilise the load. Take time to familiarise yourself with these straps as although they may look alike, they have very different functions.


With a large heavy rucksacks it is very important that it fits you correctly, this will help you have a more comfortable trip as well as avoiding injury. All members of Cotswold Outdoor staff are expertly trained in how to correctly fit a rucksack. To find out more you can watch our rucksack fitting video.


Shop All Multi-Day Rucksacks »


As its name suggests, daysacks are designed for done-in-a-day adventures. Usually at around 20-40 litres, daysacks are perfect for one-day hikes, city-breaks or days spent climbing where you may need to carry additional equipment.


Daysacks are often neat and simple in design, with a single internal cavity and a few small pockets for items such as a phone or a water bottle. Many will still have the hip belt and shoulder straps, as these help you securely carry what can still be a heavy load, although the straps are not as bulky as on the larger multi-day packs.


The size of your daysack completely depends on what sort of activity you need it for. If it is for summer hikes and short excursions then something like a 20-30 litre pack should be fine. If however you are going to be heading out into the hills and mountains in winter, then you may need something closer to a 40 litre pack as these trips can require more kit.


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High Paced Activity Rucksacks

Rucksacks for activities such as running or cycling are often within the region of 10 – 25 litres. This type of rucksack is designed to be small, light and as closely fitting as possible. They are often only big enough for a few items; classically some food and water, an emergency layer and a map or GPS. They are therefore best suited to people confident in their route, ability and the weather conditions.


Sometimes these smaller rucksacks are designed to carry a hydration bladder. This is a soft rubber pouch that’s used for storing water and a long tube for drinking on the go. Due to the fact that high paced activity rucksacks are predominantly used for sports where hydration is vital, many small rucksacks have this feature. However as it is such a convenient addition to any rucksack, the capacity to hold hydration bladders is an increasingly common feature in many modern rucksacks, regardless of size.


Shop All High Paced Activity Packs »


Duffels And Wheeled Luggage

A rucksack however, is not always the most appropriate solution. Sometimes a duffel bag or a large bag with wheels is the best choice. The size of these bags range from anything between 30 litres all the way up to 120+ litres and in the correct circumstances they can be more convenient than a rucksack.


If you are going to be travelling long distances on foot, over changeable and broken ground or will be staying in a range of accommodations such as tents, and youth hostels then a rucksack is definitely the best choice.


If however you are going to be travelling long distances by train or car, will spend the majority of your time in one location and will only be walking small distances from the luggage collection to a taxi outside, then a duffel or wheeled bag could be more appropriate.


Shop All Duffels »


Shop All Wheeled Luggage »

Do I Need A Gender Specific Pack?

Some modern rucksacks are gender specific in their design. This is nothing to do with the appearance of the bag, but rather its overall shape, size and intended position on your body. Women’s rucksacks have more rounded ‘S’ shaped straps, whereas men’s are more parallel. The hip straps on a women’s bag also sit a little higher, taking into account the different body shapes between the genders and finally, the backs on women’s bags are shorter.


This does not mean however, that depending on your gender, you are bound to that specific design. It is simply about manufactures acknowledging a variety of body shapes and providing a number of great options. As long as a rucksack fits you correctly, there is nothing to say you must select a gender specific design.

Getting It Fitted Correctly

Modern rucksacks are highly engineered pieces of equipment that effectively distribute weight into the strongest parts of your body, complementing your natural range of movements. However, in order to achieve this level of support the bag must fit you correctly. To find out more, read our rucksack fitting guide.


View Rucksack Fitting Guide »

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