Your sports backpack needs to be hardwearing and functional, but that doesn’t mean you should compromise on style. Here’s our pick of the best new sports backpacks for active women…

Hiking, commuting, camping, city exploring, or simply for carrying your sweaty gym kit from workout to office… it’s amazing how many scenarios require a sporty backpack. And yet, how often do we talk about what you need to know to select the right backpack? This is important information because there is no one-size-fits-all rucksack.

For example, if you’re trekking across town you might want more easy-access pockets for your drinks bottle, keys, wallet and phone. A gym bag will require more space for your trainers, shower gear and post-workout fuel. But a hiking rucksack (or active-commuting pack) will require more tech, such as padded shoulder straps, a comfortable hip belt, weatherproof fabrics and maybe even a hydration bladder (a soft water bag with a drinking tube that fits at the rear of a backpack). With so many things to think about, here’s a quick overview of things to consider before making a purchase.

Related: Best walking gear for women

What to look for in a sports backpack

Before you start looking for your sports backpack, take time to decide what you will be using it for. Do you need zipped compartments for your valuables? Do you need taped seams to stop gear getting wet on a soggy commute to the office? Or, do you need something light and portable for ease-of-carrying while running?

‘It’s worth thinking about what features you need in a pack,’ agrees Ellie Clewlow, gear tester, hiker and backpacker from independent adventure gear retailer ‘Perhaps you need lots of pockets to keep your kit organised, or you’d like it to be compatible with a hydration system so you can drink on-the-go, or you need a waterproof raincover to keep your stuff dry.’ There’s so much to think about!

Related: How to get 10,000 steps a day

What size backpack do I need?

Pay attention to the size of your backpack, measured in litres (L), too. This relates to how much weight and bulk you’ll be carrying. ‘The size pack you need is influenced by the length and duration of your activity. Are you just going for day hikes or preparing for a multi-day trip?’ says Clewlow.

‘If you’re just looking for a day pack, you can usually get away with a 15-to-30L pack, whereas an overnight trip might need something around 35L. For a multi-day camp carrying all your kit, you’ll need to look at a 40-to-60L pack.’ While packing light can be
quite a craft, bear in mind that a larger pack might be more uncomfortable to carry.

‘In my experience, the bigger the pack size, the more you are likely to take, which isn’t ideal if you don’t want to carry too much weight,’ warns Clewlow. ‘It’s a good idea to be realistic about what you need and how much you should carry.’

Finding your backpack fit

With so many styles to choose from, it’s worth going for the right-sized backpack for you. ‘The fit of the pack is the most important thing – it can make the difference between a great trip and a miserable one,’ says Clewlow. ‘I’m a big fan of women-specific packs – which usually have a shorter torso length, a harness that is curved to suit the female figure, and a padded, supportive hip belt – but it very much depends on your body shape as to whether a women’s pack or a unisex pack will be a more comfortable fit.’

When you’ve chosen your pack, Clewlow suggests you spend some time getting the fit just right: ‘There’s an art to adjusting it to suit you, but a well-fitted pack will enable you to carry more weight more comfortably and over a longer distance. Fill the pack with all your gear and then adjust the shoulder straps, hip belt and load lifters until the weight feels secure and stable. Take a walk around the house, going up and down the stairs to mimic steep and uneven terrain. If it doesn’t feel quite right in the house, it won’t feel comfortable in the great outdoors.’

Best sports rucksacks for women

vaude sports backpack for women

Women’s Fitness Best Buy: VAUDE Brenta 30 Hiking Backpack (£120)

  • Style: 4.5/5
  • Function: 5/5
  • Comfort: 5/5

The integrated rain cover cinched the Best Buy tag for this well-designed 30L hiking backpack. Having been caught out in the Great British weather on many hikes, we know how important waterproofing is when it comes to all-day walking. This pack’s cover is stowed away in a bottom-compartment zip and is really easy to fit over the bag when needed, plus the main fabric boasts a water-repellent EcoFinish.

The bag itself is comfy, even on our smaller frame, thanks to its ErgoShape straps and adjustable back length – a bit of a tweak to the shoulder straps, sternum strap and hip belt length and it felt almost made-to-measure! It doesn’t boast as many separate compartments as other bags on test but there are enough, plus it has a really handy front zip for fast access to the main compartment (no fiddling with the top-loaded drawstring required!).

It has an opening for a hydration bladder should you already have one to hand or want to buy one separately. And, joyously, it’s good for the planet as well, having been made with a 50 per cent recycled polyester and a PFC-free EcoFinish. A great buy.

columbia sports backpack

Women’s Fitness Recommended: Columbia Maxtrail 22L Hydration Hiking Pack (£90)

  • Style: 4/5
  • Function: 4/5
  • Comfort: 5/5

This compact pack might be made for long-distance hikers, with some really smart features (more on that later), but it’s fast become our every-activity essential. With the 2.5L hydration bladder removed, it makes a good gym bag or short-distance walking pack. But equally, we have found that the reservoir provides enough water for hours of adventure.

After making some initial adjustments to the shoulder and sternum straps, we found it really comfortable on our smaller frame – we experienced absolutely no backache or digging in of straps while carrying it packed to the max for several hours. We love the breathable EVA back panel, too, because we didn’t get super-sweaty despite walking on one of the hottest days of the year.

If you are a hiker, the trekking pole attachments and rescue whistle on the sternum strap will surely be appreciated. If you’re not, the zipper pocket at the front – perfect for easy access to your phone – and compressive side pockets for a drinks bottle or two will likely come in handy. We’d like to see the use of a few recycled fabrics, but think it’s great value for the tech on offer.

groundtruth sports backpack

Groundtruth RIKR Technical Tote (£190)

  • Style: 5/5
  • Function: 4/5
  • Comfort: 4/5

If you’re looking for a backpack that will fit seamlessly with your active lifestyle, this is it. Its sleek design means that it functions really well as a workout-to-workplace bag, with semi-detachable straps that transform it from a backpack to a crossbody pack or a hand-carry bag.

We had to spend some time getting to grips with the various pockets: there are two quick-access pockets at the front; a couple of water bottle holder pockets; internal zip, mesh and laptop compartments; and even a fleece-lined sunglasses compartment. Phew! It also has reflective strips (handy for commuters), adjustable shoulder straps and eco credentials (it’s made from 100 per cent recycled plastic).

With a 15L capacity and no hip or sternum strap, it’s probably not the pack to take on a mountain hike, but we did a 10K city tour with it and was very impressed by how it performed.

chrome sports backpack

Chrome Tensile Ruckpack (£168)

  • Style: 4/5
  • Function: 4/5
  • Comfort: 4/5

We first tried this lightweight 25L backpack over a year ago, so were excited to discover that it’s just been revamped with a new black colourway. It’s been a comfy addition to our hikes, holidays, gym trips and bike rides, and has never failed to hold everything we’ve shoved into its top-opening design. Indeed, when it’s been really packed to the brim, the top drawstring has provided extra comfort that everything will stay put.

It’s got loads of essential features for active bods – adjustable shoulder straps, a sternum strap for additional load distribution, and zip pockets galore – but the straps could fit our small frame a little more snugly. We love it for its durable fabric (it’s made from a tough laminated ripstop nylon) and drawstring drinks bottle pockets on the sides, which keep bottles from bouncing around as you move.

away rucksack

Away F.A.R Convertible Backpack (£200)

  • Style: 4/5
  • Function: 4/5
  • Comfort: 3.5/5

Made to help travellers explore the outdoor world, this 45L backpack sits in a category of its own. Truly, it’s like nothing we’ve come across before, and that’s a bit of a revelation. Thoughtfully designed, it converts from a carry-on suitcase (which the brand recommends for up to a five-day excursion and says meets the requirements for most major airlines as carry-on luggage) to a backpack that can be used when you get to your destination.

It has multiple handles – at the top and the side – plus removable padded shoulder straps, that can be easily clipped to make it into a pretty nifty backpack, with the addition of a chest strap for a customised fit. But it serves really well as a travel bag, too, with inner mesh pockets, a zipped front section and a shoulder strap for easy carrying. Available in green, blue and black, we couldn’t be more impressed with how this versatile bag functions.

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