Your backpack is one of the most important things to consider when preparing for a backpacking trip. It will carry your nomadic life for you so you need to be able to rely on its size and its durability. Having read product reviews and tried a few on ourselves, we reckon there are three backpacks we can recommend; the Vango Freedom 60 + 20, the Berghaus Motive 60+10, and the Berghaus Trailhead 60. They all have their merits and their weaknesses, but as you will see when looking for your perfect bag, there is always a trade-off.
Related: Check out our top criteria for choosing the perfect backpack.
Vango’s freedom range is terrific value for money. It is a suitcase-style backpack made of tear-resistant, water-resistant material – Excel® 600D polyester ripstop – and offers a great amount of storage space.
- Great amount of storage space
- At 60l, the main backpack compartment has plenty of space for all the stuff you will need on the road. The detachable pack offers an extra 20litres which boosts the overall storage capacity.
- Storage compartments
- Has a few compartments around the bag; the most useful is on the front where you could store dirty washing, or wet boots.
- Suitcase-style backpack
- Makes accessing your stuff easier as you can see it all at the same time.
- Ladder adjustment system
- Allows you to adjust where the straps sit on your shoulders making it as comfy as possible.
- Padded shoulder and hip straps
- Important for comfort and to help prevent any back injuries.
- Lockable kissing zips
- Increased security against pesky opportunistic thieves.
- Harness cover
- To tuck away the straps when being loaded onto planes and buses. The straps can get caught in luggage carousels and rip.
- Detachable day pack
- A very useful extra; can be used for day trips, carry-on luggage, and even as extra space for dirty clothes if necessary.
- Bulky appearance, uncomfortable weight distribution.
- The Vango is quite wide when sat on your back and leaves you feeling quite unstable and heavy. This backpack also has metal frames supporting the back which adds unnecessary weight.
- No security pockets anywhere.
- Not a huge deal but the Vango has no secret pockets anywhere for storing cash/passports etc.
- Front seams ripped when filled for the first time
- When I filled my Vango up for the first time and transported it (via car) to Katherine’s house, the front seams split. I thought this was shocking quality, as Vango had supposedly redesigned and strengthened their products. If it couldn’t withstand quite light transportation via car, I doubt its integrity when battered on the road.
Ultimately, the Vango is a pretty good choice. Its pros outweigh its cons and although its not a particularly fetching design, I believe it would do the job. The staff in the outdoors stores we visited were all surprised that the Vango ripped at all, let alone on its first use. Perhaps our bad experience was a one-off. Either way, it resulted in us choosing backpacks from a different brand.
WTW’s Mark of Approval: 6/10
BERGHAUS MOTIVE 60 + 10
The Berghaus is a versatile travel backpack which is suitable for long trips to distant climes, or even as a weekend bag. It’s sleek design is superior to the bulky Vango and it feels much better on your back. The Berghaus Motive 60+10 Rucksack is currently just £56 on Amazon; a fantastic price considering I paid £80. At this price, it definitely doesn’t break the bank and provides excellent value for money when you consider how many positive aspects it has when compared to its cons.
- Sleek design.
- This backpack’s design is much more attractive and streamlined than the clumsy Vango.
- Good size.
- Its sleek design does not compromise the amount of stuff it can carry. The main backpack carries 60L, and the compression straps alow you to reduce the bulkiness when full.
- BIOFIT back system.
- Fitting it to your height has never been easier as this feature allows adjustments to be made on the move. If it just doesn’t feel quite right, tug the yellow cord and the bag moves to the best position on your shoulders.
- A personal preference which prevents the need for a deep search into the depths of your backpack for the one item you packed at the bottom.
- Light support frames.
- Made of a plastic/aluminium alloy, these frames run up the back of the backpack to stabilise it against you. The Motive’s frames are much lighter than the Vango’s – an obvious plus.
- Padded straps throughout with a lower back pad.
- As you’d expect, the Motive has padded straps along with a well-placed, lower back-pad which allows air to flow freely between your back and the bag.
- Stability suspension straps on shoulders.
- When you’re on the move and you come to a sudden stop, say you come to a cliff edge, you need to rely on the fact your bag will stop moving too – this feature improves the likelihood that you won’t plummet to your death/crippling injury.
- Detachable day sack.
- Slightly unhelpful shape for carrying documents but the security pocket underneath the straps is a very useful addition.
- Lockable kissing zips.
- Although they are less sturdy than the Vango’s, the Motive has lockable kissing zips improving security.
- Lack of internal storage compartments.
- This backpack doesn’t have any internal compartments; it is one vast space. This is actually a bit annoying because when you unzip the backpack your stuff bulges out the side. This can be easily sorted by using Packing Cubes which in a way give you more functionality than compartments would.
- The day pack is only clipped on.
- The day pack on this case is only clipped on to four points. It’s fiddly enough to deter opportunistic theft, but I wouldn’t store anything valuable in there on the move.
- No separate compartment for dirty washing/wet shoes.
- Not a huge problem, plastic bags always work.
Of the three in this guide, I have chosen this backpack as it is a marked improvement on the Vango. It looks better and it feels better to wear. It is more secure, and more comfortable, and the compression straps make it much less bulky. The lack of compartments is a slight negative, as your stuff does tend to burst out when you open the zip too far. You can get around this problem by using packing cubes to help separate and organise everything. You can pick them up relatively cheaply on Amazon and I would recommend these for any backpacker.
WTW’s Mark of Approval: 8/10
BERGHAUS Trailhead 60
The Berghaus Trailhead 60 is an top-loading backpack ideal for backpackers but intended for use for hiking. The style and design of the bag is aimed at female users, although it can be adjusted to any size (thankfully for Katherine).
- Comparable size to the others at 60L.
- Like the others, this backpack can hold 60 litres worth of stuff; plenty of storage space for long-term backpackers.
- Lots of extra compartments.
- There are a variety of useful external pockets, for water bottles and other accessories you might need to access quickly.
- BIOFIT system.
- Like other Berghaus models, this backpack uses the BIOFIT back system allowing for adjustable comfort on-the-move.
- Attachments to store walking poles.
- This is primarily a hiking backpack, so Berghaus have included attachments which can hold collapsible hiking poles; useful for those planning on doing some serious walking.
- Top-loader with zip to main compartment
- This could be seen as a negative; the Trailhead is a top-loader. However, Berghaus have worked around the impractical nature of this style by including a zip at the bottom which opens into the bottom of the main section, allowing access to those buried items.
- Extra storage space in the top cover.
- The top cover provides a zipped pocket for extra storage space which Katherine uses for laundry.
- Built-in waterproof cover.
- A wonderful feature which is stored in a seamlessly hidden velcro compartment underneath the bag.
- Padded straps and back-pad
- As you’d expect for all good quality backpacks.
- No detachable day pack.
- Katherine is not bothered by this and uses a separate backpack from Kathmandu which works very well.
- Closed by a drawstring.
- The other backpacks in this post are more secure than the Trailhead as it uses a drawstring to close everything up. The drawstring is protected by the top cover which is nice and tight, but it would not prevent a determined pickpocket from sliding his/her hand in.
- Particularly fiddly zips.
- The zips on the external compartments are quite fiddly, particularly when the bag is full.
In all honesty, the Berghaus Trailhead 60 doesn’t have a whole lot of flaws. My personal preference is for suitcase-style backpacks but the Trailhead’s top-loading style works well for Katherine. It really is a matter of preference.
WTW’s Mark of Approval: 8/10.
We hope this article has helped you choose the right backpack for you.
Have you had a different experience with any of these backpacks? Would you recommend any others?
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