The Best Daypacks of 2023

The Best Daypacks of 2023

Daypacks are simple pieces of gear, but it can be tricky to find the right one based on style, fit, and your needs. We’ve broken down the best daypacks into a few different categories to help you choose.

What we love most about all of these best daypacks is their versatility. Grab one when taking your dog on a walk, heading into the office or the classroom, or hitting the mountains for a day hike, bike ride, and more. The trick is to find one that hits these four criteria: comfort, fit, included features, and ideal price.

For review purposes, we considered and tested the best small backpacks that hold between 12 and 30 liters. To choose the best of the best, we ranked each pack on quality, feedback from our testing, and price.

Read on for our best daypack selections as well as our daypack buyer’s guide. And for help with any hairsplitting decisions, check out our comparison chart and FAQ sections.

The Best Daypacks of 2023


Best Overall Daypack

Deuter Speed Lite 25

Specs

  • Material 100D and 140D high-tenacity 100% recycled polyamide
  • Pockets Three external stretch
  • Suspension style Deuter’s Lite System, a tensioned Derlin U frame
  • Hydration-compatible Yes, up to 3 L
  • Ideal use Any and everything
  • Weight 1 lb., 9 oz.
The Best Daypacks of 2023

Pros

  • Versatile
  • Durable
  • Carries weight well
  • Bluesign-certified body fabric

Cons

  • Frame limits packability for travel
  • Shoulder pocket a bit too small to hold phone
The Speed Lite series from Deuter has been a tester favorite around these parts since their introduction, and now newly updated to incorporate a running-vest style harness system, a more breathable back panel, and everything we loved about the previous models, the Deuter Speed Lite 25 ($120) stands above the rest as our choice of best overall daypack available today.

Let’s start off with the big changes: the suspension system. While the smaller volume versions of the packs retain S-style pack straps, the 25-liter versions and above have now adopted a well-executed vest-style harness. In recent years we’ve come to really appreciate this style of strap system on lower-volume packs, and Deuter does it excellently. Each strap spreads out the load across the upper torso, and sports stretch mesh pockets to port along essentials like snacks or shades.

Turning to the body of the pack, you get a slimmed 25-liter capacity that balances well with the hip belt fins and Derlin U-frame suspension. 25 liters is just about the limit of where we like to see some type of frame involved in a daypack construction, and Deuter again nails it here. During our test hikes, we felt well supported — even with a pack filled all the way to the brim.

Rounding out this do-it-all daypack are a number of small features that we’ve come to feel naked without, such as a trekking pole attachment system, stretch-mesh back and side pockets, and an interior valuables compartment. We will note that while the zippered shoulder strap pocket is likely meant to carry your phone, most modern phones are just too brick-like to make for a comfortable carry.

Perfect for anyone who wants a daypack that leaves little on the cutting room floor, the Deuter Speed Lite 25 jams in all of our favorite features, and carries it all with an updated vest-style suspension system that we can’t live without now. If you’re in need of a bit more room, the Speed Lite series also offers a 30liter and 28-liter women’s version, and if you’re feeling more spartan, there are also smaller 17-liter and 21-liter options.
Best Budget Daypack

REI Co-op Flash 18

Specs

  • Material Recycled ripstop nylon
  • Pockets One external zippered
  • Suspension style Frameless foam back panel
  • Hydration-compatible Yes, up to 3 L
  • Ideal use Trail to town
  • Weight 9.5 oz.
The Best Daypacks of 2023

Pros

  • Budget price
  • Packability

Cons

  • Lower capacity
  • Not much structure
This pack may not have external water bottle pockets, but it’s got just about everything else. The REI Flash 18 pack ($40) weighs just 9.5 ounces and has a drawcord top closure, detachable sternum and hip straps, a hydration reservoir compartment, and a zippered side pocket. It’s made with recycled materials and ripstop nylon, and at a budget price of $40, it easily lands as our top budget daypack.

The Flash 18 offers great quality for the price and during testing, we found it to be a great “town-to-trail” option. There’s no bulky padding or internal frame, which helps keep the weight down and makes it a fairly packable option. This is an excellent pack to ball up and toss into a larger pack or luggage for quick forays out from a base camp.

Newly updated, the Flash 18 is now made with recycled Bluesign-approved nylon, and we greatly appreciate that REI is on top of continual updates to make this pack even better. At 18 liters, it isn’t the largest daypack, and our testers reported a need for careful packing in order to avoid an uncomfortable carry. But for the price, it’s hard to beat for a budget pick.

Stuffed away for quick deployment, the Flash 18 makes an excellent day pack for side trips on longer backpacking or travel trips.
Runner-Up Daypack

Osprey Hikelite 18 Pack

Specs

  • Material 100D/420D recycled nylon
  • Pockets Two external stretch, one zippered
  • Suspension style Alloy wire frame, breathable mesh back panel
  • Hydration-compatible Yes, up to 3 L
  • Ideal use Backpacking, travel
  • Weight 1 lb., 8.7 oz.
The Best Daypacks of 2023

Pros

  • Breathable back panel and straps
  • Plenty of color options
  • Integrated rain cover

Cons

  • Limited external attachment options
This pack is not only a popular and trusted option but also came close to taking the best overall designation. The Hikelite 18 Pack from Osprey ($120) has a foam back panel, a durable 100D/420D recycled nylon exterior, and a large main compartment that swallowed our kit during testing.

The Hikelite series of packs from Osprey builds on their popular Daylite packs (which we have given high marks to in the past) but bulks up the suspension system to create a daypack that carries any load with ease. A light alloy hoop frame works in tandem with the tensioned mesh back panel to create both a strong and ventilated support system.

The pack comes in a variety of colors and has thoughtful features like an emergency whistle built into the sternum buckle. It also has compression straps on the side to secure water bottles or extra gear when your pack is on the fuller side. And rounding out the thoughtful hiking-minded features: an integrated rain cover that deploys from a secret pocket below the pack body.

While this 18-liter pack is on the smaller side, it can pack in more than you think and is plenty big enough to carry an extra layer, water, and a first-aid kit — the minimal day hiking basics. The downside of a streamlined exterior is the paucity of a larger stuff pocket for things like a wet rain jacket, but for quick jaunts in the hills, you’ll likely forget the need.

Osprey’s classic go-to Hikelite has garnered an excellent reputation among our GearJunkie testers. If you’re looking for a pack with a few more storage options, the Hikelite also comes in a 26-liter, 28-liter, and 32-liter capacity, with the latter two sizes including two separate torso lengths for a perfect fit.

To read more about our best runner-up daypack choice, check out our in-depth review.
Best Commuter Daypack

Cotopaxi Luzon 18L Del Dia Pack

Specs

  • Material 100% repurposed ripstop nylon
  • Pockets One external zippered
  • Suspension style Frameless
  • Hydration-compatible Yes, up to 2 L
  • Ideal use Travel, commuting
  • Weight 10.6 oz.
The Best Daypacks of 2023

Pros

  • Sustainable
  • Price
  • Slender profile for commuting

Cons

  • Fabric colors sometimes aren’t as advertised
  • Requires careful packing
This simple and durable no-frills pack is one of our favorites factoring in comfort, price, and style. The Luzon 18 L pack ($60) is comfortable to wear when commuting by walking and biking, and it also works as a great travel pack with one main compartment (no loose pockets or sleeves).

Cotopaxi makes the pack with a ripstop nylon shell fabric, a top-loading drawstring compartment, an adjustable sternum strap, and mesh shoulder straps.

On top of all the physical features, each Luzon pack is 100% unique, as they’re made from cuts of repurposed fabric. We like that the pack is on the more slender side but doesn’t get too chunky when carrying a variety of items, which makes it ideal for bopping around the city on the way to work.

In addition to this pack, Cotopaxi uses its scrap fabric to make other gear items (like its Teca Half-Zip windbreaker). While using repurposed fabrics earns the Luzon top marks for sustainability, some purchasers online have noted that the fabric colors they received didn’t quite match what they expected. Read more about our top commuter pick in our in-depth review.
Most Technical Daypack

Black Diamond Trail Zip 18L

Specs

  • Material 100D ripstop nylon
  • Pockets One external zippered
  • Suspension style Frameless foam back panel
  • Hydration-compatible Yes
  • Ideal use Scrambling or summit pack
  • Weight 14.6 oz.
The Best Daypacks of 2023

Pros

  • Streamlined design
  • Suspension system fits many body types

Cons

  • Limited access
In most outdoor pursuits, you want to avoid “danglers,” or items hanging from your body or pack. Loose straps can get caught up in bike chains or chairlifts, and items clipped or swinging from a backpack can throw off your balance. Black Diamond’s Trail Zip 18L ($80) is a sleek, “everything-is-integrated” option for your technical in-a-day pursuits.

There are no side pockets — instead, store your water in a bladder with hydration hose access. In place of side pockets, there are two sleeves designed to store BD’s Z poles (or any other folding trekking poles that fit), meaning you won’t have to rig them to the pack’s exterior.

The Trail Zip also has an integrated visible headlamp stash pocket. Plus, four connection loops along the back panel attach to larger packs when on longer multi-day missions.

It’s super durable and holds a lot more than you think — from extra layers for a friend to your gear for the crag. The pack’s straps are also tailored nicely to fit a variety of body types — not too narrow and not too wide around the shoulders.

If you frequently find yourself without pockets (and you like a pack with lots of them), this probably isn’t the pack for you, as gear retrieval isn’t instant. But if you pack smart and have your system dialed, this pack is a great choice. There’s even a Trail Zip 14L ($60) that loses the foam back panel for the ultimate in packability.
Most Packable Daypack

Matador Freerain22 Packable Daypack

Specs

  • Material 50D ripstop nylon, with 100D Robic wear panels
  • Pockets Two external stretch, One external zippered
  • Suspension style Frameless
  • Hydration-compatible No
  • Ideal use Travel
  • Weight 10.6 oz.
The Best Daypacks of 2023

Pros

  • Great packability
  • Waterproof fabric
  • Rugged wear panels

Cons

  • No foam back panel or frame in a larger volume pack
  • Uncomfortable pack straps
“Packable” is in the name, and for good reason. We’ve taken the Freerain22 Daypack from Matador ($100) snowshoeing, running, hiking, to and from the office, and more. The waterproof exterior and roll-top closure are especially great if you get caught in rainy or snowy weather — all your layers and pack contents will stay dry.

It’s also great for travel or impromptu adventures. Packed down into its tiny pocket sleeve, you can stash this bag just about anywhere. Matador has achieved the near-impossible with this pack — offering storage for 22 liters of gear while packing down to just 6 by 4 inches and weighing only 10.6 ounces.

Recently updated, the Freerain22 now sports high-wear panels of durable Robic ripstop nylon, as well as a number of new attachment options and gear loops. These added features come at a price, adding weight over its predecessor and slightly dulling the pack’s first-class size-to-weight ratio. The packed size, however, continues to impress.

Several of our editors have used the Matador Freerain22 pack, and all had positive feedback. The only con we had was from our female tester: the shape of the wider mesh shoulder straps makes it harder to find the right fit across the chest compared to other packs. Due to this, the straps aren’t as comfortable. Still, its packability won us over.
Best Women's-Specific Daypack

Osprey Tempest 20

Specs

  • Material 210D/420D recycled ripstop nylon
  • Pockets Three external stretch, one external zippered, and two hipbelt
  • Suspension style Frameless foam back panel
  • Hydration-compatible Yes, up to 3 L
  • Ideal use Hiking, biking
  • Weight 1 lb., 15.6 oz.
The Best Daypacks of 2023

Pros

  • Feature-rich
  • Highly adjustable hip belt and harness
  • Multisport ready

Cons

  • Expensive
Osprey’s Tempest 20 L ($160), a sister to the Osprey Talon (men’s) pack, won our best pick for women’s-specific pack. This pack garnered high marks from all of our female testers, thanks to features like its breathable back panel, lumbar support, padded hip belt, and accurate (and adjustable!) fit around the torso and hips.

Osprey equipped this women’s pack with a BioStretch hip belt (seamless fabric) and wrapping harness, allowing both to be adjustable. There’s also an adjustable sternum strap to fit different size chests.

On top of the perks of a women’s fit, testers also really like this pack’s stretch mesh pocket on the shoulder strap and good-size hip belt pockets. Trekking pole and bike helmet attachment points (plus other loops and pockets for stashing a variety of gear), as well as an external hydration bladder compartment (works with a 2 or 3-liter bladder), round out this pack and make it a fantastic do-all option.

You will pay for the feature-richness, as the Tempest 20 L was close to the most expensive daypack in our testing. Added recently, the Tempest also comes in a new size (24 L), if you’re looking for a bit more room.
Best of the Rest

Patagonia Altvia 28L

Specs

  • Material 100% recycled nylon
  • Pockets Three external stretch, one zippered
  • Suspension style Frameless foam back panel
  • Hydration-compatible Yes, up to 3 L
  • Ideal use Day trips that require a lot of gear or might run long
  • Weight 1 lb., 12 oz.
The Best Daypacks of 2023

Pros

  • Comfortable mesh backpanel
  • Hydration compatible
  • Integrated rain cover

Cons

  • Hipbelt pockets are a bit shallow
As part of a lineup of capable daypacks from Patagonia, the Altvia 28 L ($149) lands as the second-largest and is just about the goldilocks size for us when it comes to day trips that might edge into evening adventures.

Built for comfort, the Altvia 28 L is built around a removable frame sheet and spacer mesh back panel that easily supported our loads during testing. 28 liters is just about the point where we begin wanting the support of a hip belt, and we were happy to see one included on this pack, along with small stretch hip belt pockets that are perfect for keys, lip balm, or a small trail snack.

The closure style of the Altvia 28 L is reminiscent of the drawstring collar-turned lid that graced the previous generation of Patagonia’s alpine-focused Ascensionist packs, and it’s still one that we find just plain works. We will note that this lid has two buckle straps available to it to cinch down the load, depending on how full or empty your pack is.

At the front of the pack, a deep stretch mesh pocket swallows up wet rain jackets or items we’re grabbing throughout the day, such as a GPS or water filter. And sitting side-saddle to that are two stretch water bottle pockets that were accommodating to even the largest of our insulated bottles. If bottles aren’t your thing, there’s also an internal water bladder sleeve and routing port for your hydration hose.

Maybe our favorite part of this pack was one we didn’t expect: a full-sized pack cover deploys from a hidden pocket at the bottom of the bag, meaning that surprise showers had nothing on us. 

Also available in 14-liter, 22-liter, and 36-liter sizes, the Altvia series of daypacks are a versatile set of bags that can take you from the trailhead and back, no matter how long your day trip takes. Check out our thoughts on the largest of the Altiva packs in our deep-dive review.

Gregory Citro and Juno 30L Hydration Packs

Specs

  • Material 210D/420D ripstop nylon
  • Pockets Three external stretch, one external zippered, two hipbelt
  • Suspension style Frameless foam back panel
  • Hydration-compatible Yes, up to 2 L
  • Ideal use All around
  • Weight 2 lbs., 1.4 oz.
The Best Daypacks of 2023

Pros

  • Lots of external storage
  • Hydration-friendly

Cons

  • Heavier for a day pack
  • Price
These packs are another popular option for day trips, whether you’re running, hiking, or biking. The Gregory Citro (men’s) and Juno (women’s fit) 30-liter packs ($180) focus on hydration design and ease of access to gear.

These packs made it on our list because while Gregory has tons of iterations of hydration packs, these stood out in our testing. It’s compact and has great features like a ventilated back panel and magnetic bite valve attachment for properly storing that hydration hose out of the way.

Daypacks that prioritize hydration will often need to contend with added water weight, but the Citro and Juno do it with style. An ActiveFlex harness keeps the load close to your back, and is one of the most supportive in our review.

Gregory’s Citro and Juno packs also come in a 24-liter size.

Fjallraven Kanken

Specs

  • Material Vinylon F fabric
  • Pockets Two external flat, one external zippered
  • Suspension style Frameless foam back panel
  • Hydration-compatible No
  • Ideal use School, city
  • Weight 10.6 oz.
The Best Daypacks of 2023

Pros

  • Stylish
  • Ergonomic
  • Many color options

Cons

  • Not many outdoor-focused features
The undisputed champ of the back-to-school season is Fjallraven’s on-trend Kanken. A favorite among youngsters and college kids alike, the Kanken ($90) comes in a bajillion color combinations — a staggering 56, to be exact.

It’s durable, stylish, and will last through many schoolyard tussles. The Vinylon fabric withstands dirt and repels water. It also has a removable seat cushion, extra pockets for stashing, and is ergonomically designed to prevent back problems.

This pack might come out with you occasionally on the trail, but it isn’t where it excels. With little crossover features for the outdoors, you’ll probably reach for another pack for the dirt paths.

Additionally, the logo on the Kanken is reflective, adding an extra layer of safety for kids who might have to travel at dusk or dawn.

Decathlon Quechua Arpenaz NH100 20 L

Specs

  • Material Polyester
  • Pockets Two external stretch, one external zippered
  • Suspension style Frameless foam back panel
  • Hydration-compatible No
  • Ideal use Occasional use
  • Weight 16 oz.
The Best Daypacks of 2023

Pros

  • Budget price
  • Comfortable back panel and straps

Cons

  • Poor durability
A rival for our best budget option, this pack from Decathlon offers 20 liters of storage for just $17. This pack isn’t going to last forever and isn’t waterproof, but it is a great daily knock-around option.

Decathlon made this pack with polyester and polyurethane. And despite the price, the NH100 backpack still has features like adjustable straps and a chest strap. The back panel is a split two-piece foam design, and the straps have a nice amount of cushion for a budget pack.

After a few years of casual testing, we have noted a shorter lifespan on this pack, so if you don’t hike very often and want something with some versatility for off-trail adventures, or need something as an emergency backup, check out the NH100 20 L daypack from Decathlon.

Osprey Talon 22

Specs

  • Material 210D/420D recycled ripstop nylon
  • Pockets Three external stretch, one external zippered, and two hipbelt
  • Suspension style Frameless foam back panel
  • Hydration-compatible Yes
  • Ideal use Multisport days
  • Weight 2 lbs.
The Best Daypacks of 2023

Pros

  • Many attachment features
  • Cushy suspension system

Cons

  • On the heavier end
Osprey’s Talon 22 is pricey at $160, but its durability and lightweight might be worth it. This pack earned glowing reviews from our daypack testers, who raved about this pack’s nearly perfect fit and performance across a variety of terrain. Its volume is also on the upper end, with a capacity to store 22 liters of gear.

We added this pack to the list because of its lightweight construction, an abundance of pockets (including the harness strap stash pocket), and Osprey’s excellent reputation. In our own testing, we found the hype to be real, highly valuing the fine-tuned suspension system and various attachment options. This does, however, mean the pack has put on a few ounces compared to other, more svelte models.

You should definitely consider this pack if you’re looking for something more sport-specific like biking or climbing — the pack has a helmet attachment point as well as a trekking pole and ice loop attachments.

There’s also a dizzying number of different volumes available in the Talon line, from a fast and ultralight 11-liter to a light, overnight-ready 44-liter.

Arc’teryx Granville 16 Zip Backpack

Specs

  • Material 420D ripstop nylon
  • Pockets One external zippered
  • Suspension style Frameless foam back panel
  • Hydration-compatible No
  • Ideal use City, commuting
  • Weight 1 lb., 10 oz.
The Best Daypacks of 2023

Pros

  • Burly pack fabric
  • Padded laptop sleeve
  • Waterproof zippers

Cons

  • Expensive
  • Limited torso size options
You’re probably wondering why a 16-liter pack that’s $180 made it on our list. Arc’teryx designed and streamlined the Granville 16 for urban-to-outdoor travel, and in typical fashion, they nailed it.

The pack is also one of the few we’ve seen that can stand up to really harsh weather — it’s made of the same laminated, waterproof construction and taped seams as Arc’teryx’s high-end mountaineering packs, as well as a watertight zipper on the main compartment, so it’s really durable. The interior has a padded laptop sleeve and a zippered organizer pocket with a key clip. It’s also really packable.

This is definitely a nice pack that offers lots of versatility for shorter daily pursuits, but it’s pricey. If you’re looking for a similar-sized daypack with a lower price point, check out the Arc’teryx Heliad 15, for a cool $60.
 

Daypack Comparison Chart

Daypack Material Pockets Suspension Style Hydration Compatible Weight
Deuter Speed Lite 25 100D and 140D high-tenacity 100% recycled polyamide 3 external stretch Deuter’s Lite System, a tensioned Derlin U frame Yes, up to 3 L 1 lb., 9 oz.
REI Co-op Flash 18 Recycled ripstop nylon 1 external zippered Frameless foam back panel Yes, up to 3 L 9.5 oz.
Osprey Hikelite Pack 300D recycled polyester 2 external stretch Frameless foam back panel Yes, up to 3 L 1 lb., 1.4 oz.
Cotopaxi Luzon 18L
Del Dia Pack
100% repurposed ripstop nylon 1 external zippered Frameless Yes, up to 2 L 10.6 oz.
Black Diamond Trail
Zip 18L
100D ripstop nylon 1 external zippered Frameless foam back panel Yes 14.6 oz.
Matador Freerain22
Packable Daypack
50D ripstop nylon, with 100D Robic wear panels 2 external stretch, 1 external zippered Frameless No 10.6 oz.
Osprey Tempest 20 210D/420D recycled ripstop nylon 3 external stretch, 1 external zippered, and 2 hipbelt Frameless foam back panel Yes, up to 3 L 1 lb., 15.6 oz.
Patagonia Altvia 28L 100% recycled nylon 3 external stretch, 1 zippered Frameless foam back panel Yes, up to 3 L 1 lb., 12 oz.
Gregory Citro and Juno
30L Hydration Packs
210D/420D ripstop nylon 3 external stretch, 1 external zippered, 2 hipbelt Frameless foam back panel Yes, up to 2 L 2 lbs., 1.4 oz.
Fjallraven Kanken Vinylon F fabric 2 external flat, 1 external zippered Frameless foam back panel No 10.6 oz.
Decathlon Quechua
Arpenaz NH100 20 L
Polyester 2 external stretch, 1 external zippered Frameless foam back panel No 16 oz.
Osprey Talon 22 210D/420D recycled ripstop nylon 3 external stretch, 1 external zippered, and 2 hipbelt Frameless foam back panel Yes 2 lbs.
Arc’teryx Granville
16 Zip Backpack
 420D ripstop nylon 1 external zippered Frameless foam back panel No 1 lb., 10 oz.
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A sampling of daypacks we tested of different sizes; (photo/Mary Murphy)

Why You Should Trust Us

Our GearJunkie testers are a multisport bunch who take every opportunity to sneak out for the types of brief adventures that daypacks shine in. And, we’ve put our heads together here to drum up the best daypacks on the market in 2023.

Nick Belcaster is a Washington-based trail hound who knows well the “get-it-while-you-can” aspect of adventuring in what is sometimes known as the Pacific North West. His exploits range from car-to-car alpine adventures in North Cascades National Park to ripping around on mountain bikes just outside of town, and in doing so he’s cultivated a taste for what makes a daypack the one.

The beauty of a daypack is in its absolute versatility, and we’ve used ours to tackle everything from single track to toting the laptop into the urban jungle. For this list, we looked at daypacks across the spectrum — from packable and travel-friendly rucksacks to full-featured hiking and riding packs — and sent them out for proving on bite-size adventures across the country.

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(Photo/Rebecca Parsons)

Buyer’s Guide: How to Choose a Daypack

Whether you’re choosing a pack to take you from work to the mountains or a daypack that can fill one specific use, let’s break down the best way to choose the right daypack for you.

Pack Size

One of the most important items on the trail is your pack — it’s how you’ll carry all your gear and support yourself on the trail. For this review, we included daypacks from 12 to 30 liters, but that’s a huge range.

Consider what gear you’ll want to carry: the basics like water, a first-aid kit, wind/rain layer, snacks, glasses, and a cellphone. You might also carry extras like your kids’ layers, a doggie bowl, sun hat or sunscreen, camera, trekking poles, and water reservoir.

You’ll only have space for the essential items with an 11-13 liter pack, but these are usually a little more versatile for daily use. This is a good size if you’re commuting or going on a shorter hike or bike ride.

Meanwhile, a daypack of around 20-30 liters allows you to bring more water for longer trips in hotter environments or extra food and heavier layers if it’s spring or fall.

Larger packs also have better and more features if you’re traveling in alpine terrain — like headlamp pockets, trekking pole sleeves, ice axe loops, a hip belt, and a helmet compartment or exterior stretch pocket. Packs of this size are also better for quick overnights and multi-activity trips like hiking and climbing or short-term travel.

Apart from the volume, or carrying capacity, of a pack, there’s also pack sizing for your body. Daypacks are usually one size, as they’re meant to be adjustable and versatile yet streamlined. We had multiple testers of different body types try on these daypacks for comparison.

Any good daypack will have adjustable straps that help with fit. And even though they are daypacks, many have sternum straps or hip belts as well.

If a pack does come in multiple sizes (usually S/M or M/L size ranges or plus or tall sizes), make sure to check the brand’s size chart. Measure your torso or back length and find a pack that will fit your size and height. Things to look for: packs with sternum straps or a removable hip strap.

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(Photo/Mary Murphy)

Frame Styles and Straps

Because the loads they carry are often lighter, daypacks don’t benefit greatly from the complicated frames of larger backpacking packs. More often, foam sheets are employed to provide some rigidity to the back panel and better distribute the weight.

Packs like the Gregory Citro and the Osprey Talon 22 or Tempest offer the greatest amount of support while remaining frameless. Some packs will also make their foam frame sheets removable, offering a cushioned seat on the go.

A frameless pack will have an upper comfortable limit when it comes to weight, and will need to be packed with care to avoid being poked in the back with your kit. We try to stay below 15 pounds maximum when saddling up a daypack for an extended jaunt.

The addition of a minimal frame can greatly increase the carrying capacity of a daypack, such as the tensioned Derlin U frame of the Deuter Speed Lite 25, but when you’re hauling the lightweight loads associated with day trips, it often isn’t a necessity.

Shoulder straps also play an important role in providing support for a day on the trail. These are typically available in three flavors: J-style straps are the original, S-style straps accommodate those with large chests, and running-vest style straps are preferred for light loads and active movement. Look for shoulder straps that provide a good amount of cushioning foam and fit your torso appropriately.

Typically a requirement on backpacking packs, hip belts on daypacks can afford to be less supportive due to the lighter loads they carry. The most minimal style features simple webbing belts, and can even be removable, like on the Black Diamond Trail Zip 18L.

More supportive hip belts incorporate spacer mesh and foam to disperse the weight across the hips. If you’re looking to tack on the miles or just want a more cushioned ride, springing for a full-featured hip belt is well worth it.

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The highly breathable, ventilated AirSpeed back panel of the Osprey Hikelite; (photo/Mary Murphy)

Materials

Daypacks don’t often see the abuses of larger bags, and are commonly constructed of lighter fabrics to minimize weight and cut down on bulk. All of the daypacks on our list are tried and tested, and they’ll work for most outdoor activities.

That being said, if you want a pack to put through the paces year after year, consider one with a higher-denier material (like tight-weaved polyamide, polyester, or ripstop nylon). Deniers from 100 to 200 are a great sign a pack will be durable in the long run.

The material of the back panel in particular can be the difference between smooth sailing and a sweaty back. Daypacks that use spacer mesh and die-cut foam patterns in their back panels will breathe much better than their flat-back counterparts.

Back Panels

Most daypacks will rely on some type of foam and mesh to provide cushioning on your back, as well as promote airflow and breathability. In the pursuit of cutting ounces, daypacks on the ultralight side of the spectrum may exclude this altogether, meaning that perspiration can’t escape as easily.

The upside to this is that these packs compress down impressively, meaning they disappear into luggage or a larger pack.

Because daypacks often lack the bones of a frame to support weight, cushioned back panel design helps to shore up the structure and provides additional support, while keeping the weight close to your back.

A spacer mesh or segmented back panel will keep air moving and hopefully your shirt dry. We were impressed by the ventilation provided by the Deuter Speed Lite 25, as well as the Osprey Talon 22 and Tempest daypacks.

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Osprey leads the pack when it comes to suspension systems, and their daypacks are no exception; (photo/Rebecca Parsons)

Features, Pockets, and Closures

What features does the pack offer? Look for how many pockets the pack has or if it has internal pockets or compartments. These features are great to have when it comes to organizing your gear. Is there an exterior pocket? Are there side pockets?

Things to look for: Our first thought when we examine a new pack in testing is to look for where we’ll store our water source, whether that’s a reservoir or bottle. Also, check to make sure the pack’s internal sleeve will fit your reservoir (which can run anywhere between 0.75 and 3 liters).

The second thing we check is the back panel. Almost all the packs that made it on our list have ventilated mesh or breathable back panels — this is a really great feature for almost all adventures.

The closure style of a day pack can have a big impact on how quickly accessible it is. Main compartments that open with a drawstring are a snap to pop open and closed, but aren’t the most secure.

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A pack with enough room for the 10 essentials; (photo/Mary Murphy)

Roll-tops, like the Matador Freerain22 Packable Daypack, offer the best protection from the elements, but can be slow to unravel on opening. Zippered closures are seen on the more feature-rich daypacks, and can even be watertight, but will need to be cared for more, as grit and sand can damage their sliders and cause them to split if neglected.

Sport-specific features, like a bike helmet lashing system or an ice axe loop, will often dictate the best usage style for your daypack. It’s often worth considering what you’ll be using your daypack for the most and purchasing a dedicated pack, or one that is feature-rich and can be used for many different outings.

Hydration Compatibility

Keeping your water accessible is the best way to ensure your thirst is quenched, and H2O systems like the Platypus BigZip EVO or Osprey Hydraulics Reservoirs make an excellent pairing with a daypack for extended trips. Many daypacks provide hydration compatibility, though not all, so choose based on your expected usage.

Hydration-oriented packs will have separate compartments for bladders, sometimes with insulated sleeves or hooks for securing a bladder, and routing for a hydration tube. Some packs, like Gregory’s H20 Series, have magnetic or quick clip attachments for easy sippin’ on the go. Hydration tube ports allow for drinking tubes to exit the interior of the pack.

You’ll want to check the sizing of your daypack with the size of your bladder. For example, a large 3-liter bladder might not fit in a 16-liter pack. See what the brand recommends and check the sizing.

It’s also worth mentioning that water can be one of the heaviest things you carry in a daypack, and choosing a pack with a more robust suspension system to accommodate it will keep your back happy. A pack without a frame like the Cotopaxi Luzon Del Dia Pack isn’t likely to haul a full 3 liters of water nearly as well as one with a more robustly supportive frame.

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(Photo/Rudy Campos)

Waterproofness

Do you live in a climate where there’s lots of rain? Are you looking for a daypack that’s more durable and can stand up to travel and use in different places? Check the waterproofing on the pack.

Look for a DWR coating, polyamide, or PU abrasion resistance coating (these packs will be more durable), taped seams, roll-top closures, and waterproof or sealed zippers. Daypacks that incorporate a number of these features, like the Matador Freerain22 Packable Daypack, will have a high level of waterproofness and keep afternoon storms at bay.

You can also employ a pack cover or liner to keep items like an insulated jacket or electronics dry for when you need them most. Some packs, like the Patagonia Altvia 28L, even come with integrated pack covers that deploy from a hidden pocket.

Don’t forget to check the quality of the zippers and zipper pulls as well as the overall construction of the pack. Also, check the material on the pack bottom for durability.

Women’s-Specific Daypacks

Women are built differently than men. Women’s packs tend to have a shorter torso length, narrower shoulder-width straps, and different hip measurements to reflect that. For some, having a women’s pack makes all the difference.

Unfortunately, many smaller volume daypacks are often only available in one unisex size, which means you’ll get less of a customized fit. Larger volume daypacks tend to see increased loads, and some on the market will be offered in a Small/Medium, Medium/Large sizing, or include a women’s-specific model.

Be sure to check to see if a brand offers a pack series in men’s/women’s-specific, and see which measurements or size offerings will best fit you. The pack we zeroed in on as the best women’s-specific was the Osprey Women’s Tempest.

Value

Daypacks run the gamut in terms of cost, from budget-minded sacks to high-end bags for in-a-day adventures. The best bang-for-your-buck daypack we’ve encountered has been the REI Co-op Flash 18.

A good rule to follow is the broader your horizons, the more you’re likely to spend. Additional features add up quickly, and the daypack that can do it all certainly comes with a price tag. More budget-minded options will also likely have a limited lifespan, so treat them with care.

FAQ

What is The Best Daypack?

The best daypack is hard to define because the sizing will vary based on your needs. Some days, we’ll reach for our trusty 18-liter REI Flash. On other days, we might need a 24-30 liter pack depending on the activity.

That being said, the Deuter Speed Lites, Cotopaxi Luzon, Osprey Talon, and Tempest packs were some top staff favorites.

What is the Difference Between a Backpack and a Daypack?

Simply, size. A daypack is meant to comfortably carry all of the essentials you might need on a daily outing and are typically between 12 and 30 liters. A backpacking pack will have additional space to accommodate all of the equipment needed for an overnight trip or a more technical outing like rock climbing.

What Size Pack is Good for Day Hiking?

As we mentioned in the intro, you’ll want a 15-30 liter daypack for hiking. Any larger, and it will be a heavier load to carry; any smaller, and you won’t have room for the 10 essentials. Based on experience and what’s on the market, 20-24 liter packs tend to be the most popular choice.

What Should Be in a Daypack For Hiking?

Great question — we’ve got an article on this exact topic, with a handy, comprehensive list you can even print out!

But you can expect to always start with the basics: extra layers or a rain layer (depending on the season), water, food, a small first-aid kit, and sun protection.

What Should I Look for When Buying a Hiking Daypack?

For the daypack itself, look for durable — maybe even water-resistant — fabric, a breathable back panel, straps or loops for securing gear, and a good mix of internal and external pockets.

Other features that are great to have on a daypack are a hip belt, sternum strap, key clip, hydration sleeve, and attachment points for trekking poles.

Now that you have all the tools you need to choose the right pack, get out there and enjoy the outdoors!

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