The Perfect Backpack – Is it even possible?

Which is the Perfect Backpack?

The simple answer is no, there can’t be one backpack that is perfect in all situations. A quick jaunt in the hills in the summer calls for something very different to a multi-day hike in the mountains in winter. Volume and carrying capacity alone will dictate that. Similarly the perfect backpack for you might not be perfect for me. We all have different body sizes and shapes, we all have different priorities and we all have different preferences.

It might however be possible to find the perfect backpack for a given activity for a particular individual. So the question shouldn’t be what is the perfect backpack, rather, what is the perfect backpack for me and this particular activity?

I, of course, am that particular individual, and my quest has been to find the perfect backpack for an 8-10 day wild-camping backpacking trip along the West Highland Way in Scotland. I already have the perfect backpack for shorter days out, my 30 litre Montane Trailblazer is my weapon of choice for such things. Actually, it’s only almost perfect as it doesn’t have much ventilation so I do get a sweaty back with it. It isn’t however big enough for an 8-10 day wild camping trip.. I’ll probably be doing the West Highland Way in April so it could be quite cold, it’ll probably rain some days (if not every day) and I’ll be carrying everything I need including a 2-man tent, warm sleep system and cooking kit and food. A larger capacity backpack is needed. 

Besides, there’s rarely any harm in adding to a collection, be that a collection of bikes, surfboards, jackets or backpacks!


As with anything it’s important to get your priorities in order. For me they were:

  • Capacity: I was looking for a backpack in the 40-50 litre range.
  • Comfort: I’d be wearing it for long days and for several days back to back. I want it to be as comfortable as possible.
  • Lightweight: Keeping things lightweight is always good, so the lighter the better. But, only if it remains comfortable and functional.
  • Features: I love a good technical feature so my list of desirable features were:
    • A lid with pockets – it’s good to keep things organised and be able to get to certain things without opening the main pack.
    • Hip belt pockets – as above, and if my iPhone 15 Plus fits in them then all the better.
    • Stuff pockets on the front and sides.
    • Water bottle pockets that are easy access while wearing the pack or some way of attaching a water bottle. I could use a hydration system, but want to use a water bottle with filter for this trip.
    • Shoulder strap pockets.
    • Pole carrying attachments.
    • Additional luggage carrying straps

Gregory Focal and Facet

Gregory Focal 48

I thought I’d found the ultimate one. The Gregory Focal 48 had everything. There were no shoulder strap pockets but otherwise all of the features were ticked.

Once loaded up it was plenty big enough, it only weighed 1.2kg and it even looked nice which is always a bonus. Unfortunately it just didn’t fit. The torso length was just too long for me so if I had the hip belt in the correct place the shoulder straps didn’t touch my shoulders. Needless to say, without the weight distributed properly between hips and shoulders it was pretty uncomfortable.

I therefore tried the women’s version, the Gregory Facet 45. This is essentially the same pack, but with a smaller-sized back-length and a slightly smaller capacity. It did fit better, the slightly smaller 45 litre volume was better too, and I preferred the colour. However, after wearing it for a while it just wasn’t comfortable. Maybe the Gregory back system doesn’t suit me. It therefore got sent back too. It could be the perfect backpack for you, but it just didn’t fit my body shape.

Deuter Air Contact Ultra 

Deuter Air Contact Ultra 50+5

Somewhat disappointed that the Gregory pack with the perfect features wasn’t comfortable, Anna accompanied me on a trip to Betws y Coed where I could try some others on. After a morning of trying various things I came away with the Deuter Air Contact Ultra in its 50-litre size. 

It was missing a few features such as easy access water bottle pockets and trekking pole holders, but it felt OK, looked nice and was lightweight too. I loaded it up and discovered that 50 litres was a little too large really. Not to worry, I could pad it out by simply not compressing my sleeping quilt too much (a good thing for the quilt anyway).

However, when I went for a walk with it I decided it too wasn’t as comfortable as I first thought. The pad on my lower back rubbed and put pressure on the bones at the bottom of my spine. The pack is designed for people around 170-205 cm in height, I’m right at the bottom of this scale and it would seem as though I have a short torso because once again the back length was just too long for me. Maybe I should have got the 45 litre women’s version with the smaller torso length?

I made some minor modifications to the harness system to shorten the torso length. The shoulder straps are adjustable using small karibiners on the back plate. The karibiners themselves are a few centimetres long so by replacing them with some dynema rope I was able to make the back-length about 3cm shorter. I tried it in the hills for a couple of days and it was better. There was no rubbing on my lower back, but I did find it was sore on my shoulder and was a little unstable over more technical terrain. What with that, the fact that the volume is a little too big and I’ve had to bodge the back-length, I’m thinking that maybe the Deuter Air Contact Ultra isn’t for me.

A shame, as I’ve already bought it and have now used it and otherwise it’s a nice, lightweight, somewhat minimalist backpack that feels pretty rugged. I’ll either keep it as a spare or for winter expeditions where the extra volume will be useful, or I’ll see if anyone wants to grab themselves a bargain and buy it from me.

Osprey Talon

Osprey Talon 44

Not completely convinced by the Deuter, I ordered an Osprey Talon 44. Osprey backpacks are well known and probably the ones you see most often out on the trails. I don’t always follow the pack (excuse the pun), but maybe there’s a reason for their popularity. I had kind of avoided them just becuase they are so common, but the Talon 44 has all of the features I want, and a few that I don’t need. It’s a little heavier than the ones mentioned above (1.34 kg) and is the smallest capacity of them all at (despite the name) 42 litres. Note, the Talon with the L/XL torso length is indeed 44 litres, the S/M torso length version is only 42 litres.

Despite this smaller volume all of the kit that I’ll need for the West Highland Way fits inside the pack. My groundsheet fits into one of the outer mesh pockets, which is the best place for it as it will be wet and muddy much of the time. Otherwise, with it fully packed the other outside pockets are free for use during the day and there’s a little bit of room inside for a spare scotch egg or pasty along the way.

It seems to fit better than the others and once on I barely notice that it’s there. So, despite weighing a little more it actually feels lighter than the others. I can just about reach the ‘easy-access’ side pockets while it is on, but if for some reason I can’t then it’s not really a problem. As Anna says, if I have to stop to get things in and out of the pack from time to time then that’s a good thing. Stopping for a little rest now and then isn’t what I’m good at, so being forced into it will help.

So far I’ve only been for a shortish, 4-mile walk from home with it on but it seems as though the Osprey Talon 44 will be the pack for me. It’s not the most exciting in it’s all black colour scheme but it is the most comfortable so far. It actually fits all of my kit perfectly and therefore keeps everything compact and stable. It feels more durable and rugged than the others, and it has a few extra features too. It may be 200g heavier, but I could of course go all out to save some weight by removing the Ice Axe holders as I won’t need those. However, I’m not quite brave enough to take the scissors to it for the sake of a few grams here and there.

It’s taken a while and lots of testing to find the perfect backpack for me to use for backpacking and wild-camping along the West Highland Way, but the testing and research is all part of the fun. I’ll try to ignore the additional cost of buying one that I then rejected – does anyone want to buy a Deuter Air Contact 50+5 backpack that has been used just once?

3 Responses

  1. Friday, February 23rd, 2024

    […] a new rucksack to try out, and what looked like a break in the weather I decided to head off on a wild-camping […]

  2. Monday, February 26th, 2024

    […] to the local hills for another practice camp. The main new piece of item to try this time was my new Osprey Talon backpack. However, as it was already late in the day there wouldn’t be much time for a long walk […]

  3. Friday, April 12th, 2024

    […] pack of choice for this trip is the Osprey Talon 44. It’s not the lightest, it’s not the largest, it doesn’;’t have the most […]

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Alan Cole

Alan is a Freelance Website Designer, Sports & Exercise Science Lab Technician and full time Dad & husband with far too many hobbies: Triathlete, Swimming, Cycling, Running, MTBing, Surfing, Windsurfing, SUPing, Gardening, Photography.... The list goes on.

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