- Buyer's Guide
Best Day Hiking Backpacks for Outside Adventures
The outdoors are calling and you’re ready for a day of adventure. But you need something to carry your essential gear. Enter the hiking daypack. Available in a variety of designs and sizes, hiking daypacks should offer a good balance of features to suit your particular needs. Of course, those features will vary depending on how and where you plan to use the pack. So before we get into some top pack picks, let’s expand on a few key factors to consider.
What to look for in a day hiker
Will you be going on a fairly sedate hike or scraping and scrambling over harsh rocky terrain? Different environments merit different levels of pack toughness and abrasion resistance. Generally the more durable a fabric is, the heavier it will be (or you might need to pay more for a tough yet lightweight option like X-Pac or Dyneema). So weigh up whether you want to prioritize durability or shedding those extra carry grams.
Protection from the elements
Are you planning to hike under clear skies or venturing out in inclement weather such as snow or rain? It’s always a good idea to have a pack that offers at least decent water resistance, as you never know when showers may strike even on sunny days. Harsher weather may require completely waterproof or highly weatherproof materials and design features such as a rolltop closure or the addition of a raincover.
As a general rule, the heavier your carry load is, the more comfort you’ll want from your pack. Make sure there’s sufficient padding on the shoulder straps and back panel. Also consider the internal frame which provides structure. The more burly the frame is, generally the more weight it can support. Framesheets help support the load and transfer weight to the hips. Plus some are removable, which lets you keep carry weight to a minimum and makes the pack more compressible for space-saving storage.
Bear in mind that some daypacks don’t have internal frames. Handy if you want that light weight and compressibility, but not well suited to heavier loads. So it’s best to stick with lighter loads if opting for a pack without a frame.
A pack’s hip belt and sternum strap play an important role in stabilizing the load on the go, stopping it swinging from side to side during active use. While a thin hip belt is fine for lighter loads, consider a beefier hip belt for comfortably bearing heavier loads.
Load lifter straps will also help keep the load close to your body for better weight distribution and carry comfort.
Another key consideration for comfort is ensuring the pack provides sufficient ventilation. Features such as airflow channels on the back panel, moisture-wicking fabric, perforated padding, and airmesh can all help improve ventilation (it’s worth noting some materials may be scratchy on exposed skin or rough on clothing so keep an eye out for this in user reviews or feedback). Some pack designs even offer curved suspension that keeps the main body of the pack suspended off your back for maximized airflow.
Last but not least, make sure the pack suits your torso length. A lot of packs come in a variety of sizes and/or have adjustable back panels to accommodate different torso lengths. Additionally, some come in male and female options to suit different body types too.
Obviously you need a pack sufficiently large enough to hold your required gear. However, you don’t want something too large that adds unnecessary weight and bulk to your hike. Features such as external stretch pockets and attachment points can help secure bulkier items like outer layers, water bottles, quick-access items, etc. without having to use a larger pack volume. Ideally though you shouldn’t be carrying a lot of weight (it’s a day hike, not a multi-day adventure), so try to find a balance of carrying what you need (and perhaps one or two luxury items you really want) and leaving unnecessary items at home. Ultimately, less weight makes for an easier hike. That being said, minimalists may be able to pack a suitable overnight setup into a daypack so it depends on your packing style and needs.
Small packs (roughly up to 10L or so) suit short hikes with the essentials (a lightweight outer layer, snacks, etc.). Larger packs (around 11L to 35L) are better for longer day hikes where more gear is required. Bigger packs than this will suit gear-heavy day hikes, such as needing more gear in colder weather, traversing tricky terrain, or factoring in the potential of overnighting on the hike. Also pay attention to the pack’s shape, as narrower or tapering packs can help you move more agilely (though you may compromise a little on access or usable volume depending on the design and your packing).
Some items you’ll want quick access to, such as water bottles, maps, snacks, sunglasses, gloves, hats, climbing tools and helmet, and so forth. So your daypack should offer sufficient quick-access storage to accommodate these items depending on your setup. Hip belt pockets and easy-reach side pockets are handy for access without taking the pack off. Plus some packs may have a pocket for a hydration bladder.
The main compartment will hold items you’ll access less frequently or perhaps not require on the trail but want to bring anyway (an outer layer, first aid kit, camera, etc.). Consider how you might want to access these items, with multiple designs offering their own pros and cons.
For example, a rolltop takes longer to access the main compartment but offers better weather protection and flexible volume. A top loader is fairly quick to open but tricky to access items at the bottom of the pack so make sure to pack the least used items at the bottom. You may also find packs that offer multiple access points such as top and side access or top and bottom access. Some provide front zipper or front panel access that opens the main compartment fully for access throughout.
More subtle colors such as greens, browns, and grays can help you blend into your environment more, which may be useful for activities such as wildlife viewing. However, bright colors will make you more visible, which is useful for emergency situations (a pop of color in snowy landscapes or dense vegetation can help rescue services spot you more easily if you run into trouble). Some daypacks have a distinct outdoors aesthetic you might be looking for, while others are more understated and may suit users who want an outdoor/urban hybrid that can do double duty in the city and on outdoor trails.
Now that you have a few considerations to think about, let’s take a look at some prime daypack picks that might be right for you…
Light and budget-friendly
Want to move fast and light with a minimal load? Deuter’s Speed Lite 12 will help you do that. It weighs just 12 oz but still offers a range of features including a sternum strap, removable hip belt, breathable foam back panel and contoured straps. You’ll also find quick-access pockets and hydration bladder compatibility.
Mid-sized on a budget
If you’re looking for a versatile outdoor and urban pack, consider the Backcountry 27L Daypack. There’s plenty of space to hold a day’s worth of gear, whether you’re venturing on the trails or navigating the city. The padded hydration sleeve does double duty as a laptop sleeve, with extra organization courtesy of a fleece-lined top pocket for delicates and valuables, along with an additional interior pocket. The durable build coupled with padded shoulder straps and airmesh back panel keeps you moving confidently, while the low-key looks are understated enough to hop from trail to tarmac and back again.
Casual light hiker
The Patagonia Nine Trails 20L Backpack offers a great mix of durability, comfort and organization in one. Ready for a long day on the trails, it’s made with a weather-resistant, lightweight yet tough CORDURA® nylon ripstop. Multiple pockets and a U-shaped opening provide easy access to gear, while hydration bladder compatibility provides added functionality. Designed for all-day comfort, the pack has a breathable mono-mesh back panel and perforated foam shoulder harness, along with a hip belt and sternum strap for load stability. It also comes in two sizes so you can pick the one best suited to your torso size.
Osprey Talon 22 and Tempest 20 (US$89.99)
Solid and compact panel-loader
Osprey have been in the outdoor carry game for a long time and it shows with the men’s Talon 22 and women’s Tempest 20. These bags are packed with features to keep you moving comfortably while roaming outdoors, including an AirScape™ accordion foam back panel for improved ventilation, an adjustable torso length, and a seamless lumbar to hip belt body wrap design for stability and comfort. The Tempest 20 is also ergonomically designed for a women’s specific fit. The packs have a range of quick-access storage such as Stow-on-the-Go™ trekking pole attachments, an external hydration sleeve, and easy-access pockets.
For moving fast and light
Keen on a pack that gives you day hiking and trail running flexibility? Consider the Salomon XA 25, which takes design inspiration from trail running vests to provide an adjustable fit for secure and stable load carrying without restricting freedom of movement. Cord compression allows you to cinch or expand as required to suit different loads. Built to withstand the elements, it features weather-resistant materials, taped seams, and a rolltop opening. The pack is hydration bladder compatible but also comes with two soft flasks that can be carried in the front shoulder strap pockets for easy access.
Perfect for a summer hike
The Gregory Miwok 24 is all about maximizing comfort, flexibility and freedom of movement while you’re on the go. The BioSync dynamic suspension flexes with you as you move and the harness is adjustable to suit different torso lengths. The pack has a 3D foam breathable back panel that boosts airflow, along with attachment points for trekking poles or ice axes. You’ll also find quick-access pockets for valuables and trail essentials, as well as hydration bladder compatibility.
A budget hiker for days and overnights
The REI Co-op Traverse 35 is a solid all-rounder that can embrace day hikes or minimalist overnight trips. Available in men’s and women’s versions, it’s made with durable recycled ripstop nylon and includes a raincover for added peace of mind in rain or snow. Comfort is well taken care of with a padded hip belt and shoulder straps, a breathable trampoline-style back panel, and REI UpLift™ Compression technology designed to pull the load up and in, so it’s closer to your center of gravity for better balance and stability. A variety of quick-access pockets and external attachment points let you easily organize gear and the pack is also compatible with hydration bladders.
For carrying in the city and the mountaintops
Fancy a more minimalist carry approach with off-trail versatility? The Arc’teryx Brize 25 is a worthy contender, with a sleek narrow profile and just enough organization to keep essentials tidy while maintaining the pack’s clean form. The pack has an Aeroform™ thermoformed back panel for improved airflow, padded shoulder straps, a sternum strap and minimalist hip belt for load stability. It features quick-access top and side pockets, an internal valuables pocket, and external attachment points for tools and extra gear. You also benefit from hydration bladder compatibility and compression straps. And with its durable, water-resistant build, it’s versatile for day hikes, everyday use and travel use.
Osprey Stratos 34 (US$160) and Sirrus 36 (US$170)
Airflow, access and a great all-rounder
Want maximized ventilation for warm weather hikes or fast-paced activities? Check out the men’s Osprey Stratos 34 and women’s Sirrus 36 backpacks. The packs’ adjustable AirSpeed™ ventilated trampoline back panel keeps you cool on the go, with an adjustable torso length for a tailored fit. The Stratos 34 has a panel loading design while the Sirrus 36 offers top and side access. Both packs also offer a range of quick-access pockets and attachment points for convenient access to gear throughout the day. And there’s a raincover included for protection from the elements too.
Super comfortable and rugged hiker with solid load hauling
When it comes to rugged durability, legendary access and all-day carry comfort, Mystery Ranch is always a trusty choice. And their Coulee 25 offers an enticing blend of all three. The pack is made with a 330D Robic nylon fabric and provides a removable padded waist belt and an adjustable Futura Yoke for a dialed-in fit. External pockets and lash points keep bulky and frequently used gear easily accessible, while the 3-ZIP opening ensures convenient access throughout the main compartment. Plus you’ll also find an interior hydration bladder sleeve.
One of our favorite panel-loaders coming in V2
Details on V2 of the EVERGOODS MPL30 are intentionally sparse, but if the original is anything to go by, this hybrid urban/outdoor pack will be even better than before. It’s currently available to pre-order at the highest discount there’ll be, with details to follow in about a month but a smaller saving then.
Super light and sleek
Don’t want to choose between ultralight and durability? With this daypack, you don’t have to. The bag is made with Dyneema® Composite Hybrid material, creating a tough, highly weatherproof, yet lightweight build. Weighing in at just 20.35 oz (577g), it’s available in three sizes to suit different users. The clamshell main compartment, external pockets, tool attachments, and shock cord let you easily organize and access gear.
When you need waterproof
If backpack portability, duffel-style access and a rugged waterproof build sounds like your kind of carry, the Ortlieb Atrack 25L should be on your radar. The bag is made with 100% waterproof PVC-free nylon material and a TIZIP zipper, keeping gear well protected whether you’re caught in rain or wading through a river. The adjustable back panel suits a variety of torso lengths, while a mix of interior and exterior pockets and attachment points let you tailor your carry setup as you see fit.
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