10. Best Daypacks for Hiking for 2023 & How to Choose
Backpacking is a popular form of hiking that just keeps gaining traction. Instead of packing up a whole vehicle with supplies to rough it, all that is taken is what a person can carry. With that comes the need for suitable gear and a good bag to carry it all in.
Daypacks aren’t just a backpack. They are made to carry enough gear to make it through a hike and any unexpected turns for at least a day. They also each have unique features that will make or break a hiking experience, so it is important to select a good one. A daypack has to be as comfortable to wear full of gear while also being able to hold up to the hiker’s needs. Keep reading to learn how to choose the best hiking daypack so that hike becomes something to remember for all the right reasons.
What is the Difference Between a Backpack and a Daypack?
There is only a subtle difference between a daypack and a backpack. The long and short of it is that all daypacks are backpacks, but all backpacks are not daypacks. A daypack is a small backpack that is meant to be lightweight and to only carry around the things needed for a shorter day hike.
10. Best Daypacks for Hiking for 2023
There are a lot of daypacks out there, but they aren’t all made equally. Depending on individual needs and the circumstances of the hike, something that is good for one person might not be the greatest for another.
Here are 10 great hiking daypacks to consider:
- Osprey Talon 22 (men’s) and Tempest 20
- Osprey Daylite Pack Special Edition
- Sea to Summit Ultra-Sil Travel Day Pack
- REI Flash 22
- Gregory Citro 24 H20 & Juno 24 H20
- Deuter Speed Lite 20
- REI Trail 40
- Osprey Stratos 24 & Sirrus 24
- Patagonia Nine Trails 28
- Hyperlite Mountain Gear Daybreak
Best Daypacks for Hiking for 2023
BEST DAYPACK OVERALL FOR COMFORT & FUNCTIONALITY
WEIGHT: 2 lb. 0.64 oz. / 1 lb. 14.6 oz.
CAPACITY: 22L / 20L
PROS: Comfortable, padded/ventilated back panel, supportive hipbelt, good pocket arrangement, helmet clip for commuting, good value for the price, durable
CONS: Heavier than some other daypacks, hipbelt isn’t removable
BOTTOM LINE: The Osprey Talon 22 (men’s) and Tempest 20 (women’s) provide an exceptional balance of comfort, convenience, and functionality. Our favorite feature of these packs is how they form to our bodies. With cushy hipbelts, padded shoulder straps, and ventilated back panels, the Talon and Tempest ride very comfortably on the trail. These packs have plenty of room for a full-day adventure and convenient storage compartments to keep our gear organized nicely.
BEST AFFORDABLE DAYPACK WITH A MINIMAL BUT FUNCTIONAL DESIGN
WEIGHT: 1 lb.
PROS: Affordable, ultralight, removable hipbelt, good pocket organization
CONS: Not as supportive as some others, small capacity
BOTTOM LINE: The Osprey Daylite is a simple, sleek, and affordable daypack that has similar features to the REI Flash 22, and Deuter Speed Lite 20, but with slightly less capacity. The Daylite is a great option for short trips with light loads. Hydration bladder users will find the external hydration sleeve on the Daylite convenient. This pack is a bit small for full-day adventures, but for short hikes, it’s often all we really need to carry our gear comfortably. If you need a little more space, Osprey also makes the slightly larger 20L Daylite Plus.
BEST ULTRALIGHT & PACKABLE DAYPACK FOR SHORT HIKES
WEIGHT: 2.5 oz.
PROS: Ultralight, very compact (folds to about the size of Clif Bar), affordable
CONS: Not as durable as some others, only has one pocket, no frame, can be uncomfortable if not packed well
BOTTOM LINE: The Sea to Summit Ultra-Sil daypack is a different type of backpack than the others on this list – it’s essentially a nylon stuff sack with a zipper and two shoulder straps. This simple design isn’t great for long days on the trail, but it’s convenient for short hikes. We also love how lightweight and compressible the Ultra-Sil is, which makes it easy to throw in a larger suitcase or backpack when we’re heading out on longer trips. The Ultra-Sil only has one pocket and no frame, so packing it carefully is a must for comfort (we place a padded insulation layer against our back). When all you need is a simple pack for a minimal load, the Sea to Summit Ultra-Sil is a nice solution.
4. REI Flash 22
BEST ULTRALIGHT BUDGET DAYPACK
WEIGHT: 14 oz.
PROS: Affordable, ultralight, good pocket organization, removable hip belt, comfortable, packable
CONS: Not as supportive as some others
BOTTOM LINE: The affordable and ultralight REI Flash 22 has been a staple on our hikes for many years due to its exceptional comfort and simplicity. For full-day adventures, you may want a pack with a more substantial hip belt and carrying capacity, but we often find that a small pack like the Flash 22 is all we really need for short day hikes with a lightweight load. This pack has a variety of convenient storage pockets, easy to reach water bottle holsters, and enough structure to feel comfortable against your back. This pack also comes in a Flash 18 model, but we prefer the Flash 22 because of its water bottle and top lid pockets.
BEST HYDRATION DAYPACK FOR HIKING
WEIGHT: 2 lbs. / 1 lb. 15 oz.
PROS: Hydration bladder included, very comfortable, supportive, transfers weight to hips well, good pocket organization, durable
CONS: Heavier than some, side pockets fit narrow water bottles great but are tight for wide bottles
BOTTOM LINE: If hydration bladders are your jam, it’s a good idea to buy a daypack that includes one. You’ll save money, and you won’t need to worry about finding a specific bladder that fits your pack. The Gregory Citro 24 H20 (men’s) and Juno 24 H20 (women’s) are our favorite hydration packs because they’re comfy, supportive, and they have a simple, yet organized design. The suspended mesh back provides good ventilation and effectively transfers weight to the padded hipbelt. You’ll also find the Citro and Juno at the top of our Best Hydration Packs list. If you prefer to use water bottles or already have a hydration bladder, the Citro 24 and Juno 24 are available without the bladder.
BEST SMALL & DURABLE HIKING DAYPACK WITH COMFORTABLE PADDING
WEIGHT: 1 lb. 1 oz.
PROS: Affordable, durable, comfortable, ultralight, padded back panel, removable hipbelt, large/convenient opening for main compartment
CONS: Front stash pocket is somewhat inconvenient to access
BOTTOM LINE: The Deuter Speed Lite 20 is comparable in size, shape, and comfort to the REI Flash 22, but with a bit more padding and durability. It’s a fairly simple pack, but the lightweight design is often all we need on short day hikes with light loads. Like the Flash, the Speed Lite comes with a simple, removable nylon hipbelt. Overall, we like the storage design of the Speed Lite with its large main pocket opening, but we wish the front stash pocket was a bit easier to access. We think the Speed Lite 20 goes toe-to-toe with the Flash 22 for the best small daypack design. If you’re looking for more carrying capacity, Deuter also makes this pack in 24 and 32 (men’s sizes)/22 and 30 (women’s sizes) liter models.
7. REI Trail 40
BEST ROOMY PACK THAT’S GREAT FOR TRAVEL & LONG DAY HIKES
WEIGHT: 3 lbs.
PROS: Excellent pocket organization, large/convenient opening for main compartment, durable, spacious, supportive hipbelt, rain cover included
CONS: Heavy, more room than necessary for short hikes
BOTTOM LINE: The REI Trail 40 (view women’s) are great choices for those who need one pack that can do it all. The supportive hipbelt makes the Trail 40 one of the best options on our list for hikes where you need to carry a little extra weight. The wrap-around zipper on the main compartment makes it easy to pack and access your items when traveling. The Trail 40 can even work as a school backpack because of all the organizational pockets and the padding on the back. While it may be a bit large for most casual day hikes, the Trail 40 is versatile enough to be practical in many situations. If you’re looking for something smaller, the Trail Pack also comes in a 25L size for men and women.
BEST COMFY & SUPPORTIVE HIKING DAYPACK FOR LONGER HIKES
WEIGHT: 2 lbs. 12 oz. / 2 lbs. 9 oz.
PROS: Very comfortable, supportive, transfers weight to hips well, good pocket organization, rain cover included, durable
CONS: We would prefer a mesh front pocket over the zippered pocket, heavier than some others
BOTTOM LINE: The Osprey Stratos 24 (men’s) and Sirrus 24 (women’s) have some of the most comfortable frames of any daypacks we’ve used, hands down. Their stretch-mesh back panels feel cushy against the back and seamlessly transition into their hipbelts for excellent weight transfer. These packs have a solid organizational system too, with convenient gear storage pockets, two hipbelt pockets, and easy-to-access water bottle holsters. The Stratos 24 and Sirrus 24 are exceptionally comfortable daypacks built for extended adventures, and we recommend them for those who like having extra support.
BEST STYLISH DAYPACK WITH A LARGE CAPACITY
WEIGHT: 2 lbs. 3.3 oz. / 2 lbs. 0.6 oz.
CAPACITY: 28L / 26L
PROS: Stylish design, excellent pocket organization, large/convenient opening for main compartment, durable, spacious, comfortable, padded back panel, supportive hipbelt
CONS: Expensive, heavier than some others
BOTTOM LINE: The Patagonia Nine Trails 28 (men’s sizes) and Nine Trails 26 (women’s sizes) have a sleek design and straightforward features. We love the style and comfort of the Nine Trails, and it has a lot of storage space for extended day hikes. The wrap-around zipper on this pack makes accessing gear easy and the front mesh pocket is durable and secure. The hipbelt on the Nine Trails is comfortable, transfers weight well, and has two slim pockets for snacks and gear. The comfort, capacity, and organization of this pack make it a good choice for travel, commuting, and longer day hikes. The Nine Trails comes in a variety of sizes, but our favorite is the 28L model.
BEST HIGHLY WEATHER-RESISTANT & DURABLE HIKING DAYPACK
WEIGHT: 1 lb. 3 oz.
PROS: Ultralight, highly water-resistant, durable, feels more spacious than 17L, supportive/stashable hipbelt, high-quality materials/construction
CONS: Expensive, no hydration bladder pocket
BOTTOM LINE: The Hyperlite Mountain Gear Daybreak is a tough, ultralight daypack built for a full day on the trail. Though not fully waterproof, the Daybreak is the most weather-resistant pack on this list, shedding moderate precipitation with ease. The Daybreak is made of ultralight and durable DCF, which is a big part of the reason it’s so expensive. Though it’s listed at 17L, the Daybreak feels roomier than that, and the front pocket adds a lot of space. We love that the hip belt feels secure and can be tucked away when not in use. Though the cost of this pack will be prohibitive for some, the Daybreak is a well-constructed, tough-as-nails, ultralight daypack.
BEST ULTRALIGHT PACK FOR LONG DAY HIKES & QUICK OVERNIGHTS
WEIGHT: 1 lb. 4 oz.
PROS: Ultralight, frame is a removable sit pad, shoulder strap pockets, roomy, durable
CONS: Wide shoulder straps don’t sit well on all body types, more room than necessary for short hikes
BOTTOM LINE: The Wy’east from Six Moon Designs is one of the lightest daypacks we’ve tested with this much capacity. This pack is great for long hikes when you need to carry bulky items, and it can even work as an overnight bag for those with truly ultralight setups. The Day breaker comes with two convenient shoulder strap pockets and the frame doubles as a foam sit pad. Our one gripe with this bag is that the shoulder straps are pretty wide, so it’s not a great fit for those with narrow shoulders or small frames.
While there’s enough packs on a retailer’s shelf to make someone’s head spin, by narrowing down exact features and needs, the best hiking daypack could be just within reach.
How to Choose the Best Daypack for Hiking
It’s best to find a place that will allow daypacks to be tried on or returned if they don’t work out. Try them on with some weight for a short period of time and see how they feel. There’s nothing worse than a bag that’s annoying to carry, even only for a few miles. Remember that no matter how many people say a pack is great, everyone is unique. Be as picky as needed, it will pay off in the end.
Consider Needs for the Daypack
If the plan is to go to a place with carefully manicured trails for a short hike of a few miles at best, there isn’t going to be much of a need for a high-end and ruggedly built daypack. However, if the intention is a long through hike with a sleep stop built in, or even simply a hike taking place in rougher conditions, opting for a heavier-duty bag might be worth considering.
Here are some questions to ask when considering needs for a daypack:
- Is it adequate for the planned kinds of trails?
- Is it comfortable to wear?
- Is it light enough to be worn long term while being filled with gear?
- Is it sturdy and/or easily repaired if something happens?
- Is it easy to access?
- Is it big enough for the Ten Essentials and any other gear?
- Is it aesthetically pleasing?
- Is it breathable?
- Is it suitable for the season?
- Does it have a hydration reservoir?
- Does it come with a rain cover?
- Does it have reflective components?
- Does it have enough pockets?
- Does it have a suspended back panel?
- Does it have a sleeping bag compartment?
Some of these questions might not matter, but they are still worth asking. This can help even find unexpected features that might help with the decision-making process. Making a list of absolute needs followed by general likes and desires is always a good route to go when trying to assess needs for an appropriate pack.
Stick to a Budget
Unfortunately, things cost money. Keep an eye out on what needs cost and budget accordingly. Don’t be swindled into overpaying for something unnecessary or cuts into the budget for other things. If nothing else, keep a close eye on sales, clearance, or membership rewards to spring for the best price.
Just know that just because something is expensive, doesn’t mean it’s good. The same goes for if something is cheap, that doesn’t always mean that it is going to fall apart quickly. Also consider looking at similar bags to the dream bag to see if there’s something more budget friendly while still doing everything the other brand did.
There is nothing worse than having a pack that is too small for everything needed for the trip, so things have to be put in other containers and thus negating the point of having a nice hiking bag. Second to this is a pack that is too big, heavy, and wasting too much space. That bag with a ton of space for winter hiking is going to weigh down and be far less comfortable in the summer.
Here are some good sizes for daypacks based on what season the hike is taking place:
Sizes of daypacks based on what season the hike is taking place
Overstuffing a pack is dangerous. It can damage the gear inside or cause unnecessary stress to the bag leading to more repairs down the line. Spring and autumn tend to be cooler months needing less gear, summer benefits from less stuff to carry but more hydration, and winter needs the most gear to combat the cold temperatures.
Weight is a Factor
The weight of the pack itself is rather crucial when it comes to selecting the appropriate bag. A bulkier bag will take more energy to carry around, whereas an ultralight barely weighs anything itself. There is no point in going for the biggest, heaviest bag if it is a chore to carry everything inside of it for long. If it’s going to be a short hike, strength training, durability is a serious concern, or some other means where weight isn’t as much of a factor, then by all means go for a heavier bag.
Conversely, not everyone wants to or can get away with bringing along only the bare minimum. In this case, an ultralight won’t be ideal. Their point is to be as light as possible to reduce the energy consumed while hiking, making these excellent choices for a significant hike. They are also good choices for someone who is trying to really rough it and get closer to nature without a lot of extra bogging them down.
On top of the weight of the bag itself, the gear weighs a lot too. If it’s known that there is going to be a lot of gear, opting for a lighter bag might be a way to balance out the weight of everything.
Comfort is Key: Check the Fit
It can be tempting to just order whatever bag seems to be the one with the best reviews. However, everyone is shaped differently. What might be excellent and comfortable for one person could drive another insane and make for a miserable experience. A well-fitting bag is almost as important as a good pair of jeans.
Here are some points to check while trying out a bag for fit:
- How does the weight carry?
- Does it sit flush against the back or is there a suspended backing?
- Are the straps comfortable on the shoulders?
- Is there a waist strap to redistribute weight?
- Is there a frame inside the bag that digs in?
- Does it ride well on the back?
- Is it cool or does it trap heat?
- Does it fit around the waist if it has a hipbelt?
- Are there load lifter straps?
- Is there a sternum strap?
Some stores will even let people try on the bags with some weights in them in order for them to get an idea of how it will be for a little bit of walking. If it was something ordered, be sure to check it as soon as possible so if it doesn’t work out it can be exchanged for one that will.
What is the Water Storage?
Water is important no matter the season of the hike. Some smaller daypacks don’t have much space, if any, to store water bottles. This would mean that any water would need to be carried, stuffed inside the bag, or clipped somewhere else. For a short hike, this might be fine. After a while though, that gets tedious. Make sure the pack has plenty of storage for water bottles and always bring more than expected.
There are also hydration packs, which are usually daypacks that have a built-in water storage compartment. Typically, they also have long tubes, so they don’t need to be fished out of their confinements either. These are excellent during the summer months or for people who need a more obvious reminder to drink, or those who might need more than others.
Most daypacks will have a regular large pouch at the very least. Typically, these are top loading, but some are side. However, it can be annoying to dig through a pack to find that package of bandages or that missing key at the end of the trip. Therefore, finding a bag with plenty of pockets, hooks, pouches, and other built-in organization management tools can be a serious lifesaver.
A common practice is to put the hike’s itinerary, a map, and any identity or medical information on a strap or chest pouch so it’s easy to access. It’s also common practice to put first aid materials in an external pocket for the same reason. Some higher-end daypacks even have pouches specifically marked for these making it easy if someone else needs to help in the event of an emergency.
To Waterproof or Not to Waterproof
Since they are built for only a day trip, most day packs don’t come in waterproof material. That doesn’t mean none of them do. Some are waterproof, while others might have a built-in rain guard. An alternative is to carry around other waterproofing materials just in case things get a little wet on the trail.
Here are some methods to waterproof a daypack that isn’t:
- A large trash bag over the whole pack
- Specialty waterproofing sprays
- An unattached rain guard
- A poncho draped over
Remember that technically, nothing is waterproof. It’s merely water resistant. So, storing things within stuff sacks helps to keep them dry even if other options fail. Most of the moisture comes through the seams and zippers anyway, though they can usually handle a light drizzle without concern even if they aren’t proofed.
Waterproofing is pretty much essential if the intention is to go out during the winter as well, so be sure to account for that when considering the potential and need for a waterproofed pack. It can be the difference between dry gear at the end of the trip and soaked gear because of melted snow.
Ventilation Doesn’t Just Mean Holes
In some places, ventilation means having holes for air to escape. That’s not entirely accurate when it comes to ventilation in a daypack. Good ventilation usually appears in packs with a mesh back panel so that there’s more airflow between the back and the daypack. It helps cut back on how sweaty that area is going to be.
Additionally, some packs have this mesh cushioning along the straps too in order to make them both more breathable and more comfortable. A lot of weight is going to be resting on those shoulders and that back, so it’s good to keep them as comfortable as possible. The main issue with this is that these packs are going to be a bit heavier overall.
Opening and Closing the Load
Not every backpack is closed the same way, so it stands to reason that neither will daypacks. The way they close and are accessed can be a make-or-break feature of the pack, so it’s important to consider the different options when looking to purchase one. Also consider extra pockets on top of the style, as that could sway its usefulness as well.
These packs have a big opening where the zipper forms a giant U around the pack. It can then be lifted up like a lid, leading to easier access to all of the gear inside. This is great for lots of organization, especially in designs with multiple enclosures within it. There isn’t a concern for things shuffling and falling to the bottom which is a definite plus.
Panel-loading daypacks are extremely popular options which makes them easy to find. They typically have a blockier look than others, but they also tend to have good support. Their ease of access is really what lets them shine though, so they’re a good option for someone needing that feature.
A roll-top is just what it sounds like. Instead of using a zipper, they roll over. This style of pack tends to have a ton of storage space as it can expand while still being able to close. They also do amazingly well when waterproofed since there are fewer areas where water can really seep through. There’s also no concern for the zipper to break in the main enclosure.
These packs sometimes even have an additional flap on top of the roll-top, which adds yet another layer of protection against the elements. Typically, these are extremely durable packs capable of long trips. If the plan is for an overnight hike in questionable weather, this is definitely the closure style to outdo the others.
These packs take from their stuff sack counterparts and close themselves with a cord. These packs typically do great when stuffed with a ton of gear, but they don’t usually close completely. Many of them are made with an extra flap on top of the cinch that closes with a clip or something, so they do make for good options for people with trouble handling zippers.
Unfortunately, another problem with cinch-top designs is that they tend to be saved for larger packs and don’t show up often in smaller daypack styles. They also don’t always like to stay cinched shut, so they might need to be tied out on the trail or have their cording replaced from time to time.
Hiking Doesn’t Have to be Drab
So many things are marketed to be bland and boring when it comes to hiking. That is what some people want, but others want something different. Having a funky daypack doesn’t discredit the hiker if it serves its intended purpose of carrying all their gear comfortably.
Therefore, don’t feel pressured into buying a daypack that feels hideous. There are tons of options out there beyond camouflage, bright blue, and various shades of browns. If nothing else, add on patches or something to add a bit of a personal touch. Plus, that gives it the added bonus of being identifiable.
Decide Based on What Goes into the Daypack
Hiking has been a hobby for long enough now that people have really narrowed down what is actually needed and what can be left behind. Ultralight backpackers are professionals at this, carrying only exactly what they need and nothing else. The bare minimum gear for hiking, even just for a day, is known as the Ten Essentials.
The Ten Essentials the best daypacks for hiking
The point of these is to be prepared should the worst happen, as it’s definitely better to be prepared and not need something than to need it and not have it. Also always leave a copy of the itinerary in the car, with a family member or friend, and with the park staff so that they have an idea of where to look if need be.
These are the Ten Essentials and some examples of each:
Ten Essentials and some examples of each
*plus extra batteries
*always well beyond minimum expectation
*always well beyond minimum expectation
*At least one extra set, especially socks
These essentials can ensure that the hiker can survive until help arrives should something go wrong. Most experienced hikers will recommend at least one day extra worth of supplies in order to have the best chances. These essentials at least need to go into the daypack, so make sure to get one that will fit them while still being comfortable.
Just because people have figured out the essential things to bring along, doesn’t mean that those are the only things that can ever be brought along. However, if more is going to be brought, the pack might need some extra space to accommodate them.
Here are some popular additions to the daypack gear:
- A camera
- Art supplies
- Trekking poles
- Board games
- Extra tools
- Bear bell
- Rope or paracord
- Reflective tape
- Emergency whistle
- Mess kits
When hiking around during hunting season, it’s also a good idea to ensure that there is plenty of reflection on the hiker and their pack in order to prevent accidents. Reflectors also help search and rescue locate should they get lost. It’s also typically considered a good idea to carry things that can serve multiple purposes in order to cut down weight.
Conclusion for the best daypacks for hiking
A daypack is more than just a backpack. They are survival tools to make sure that the hiker is going to be okay should the worst happens while they are out on trail. So, it’s important to pick one that is suitable for their needs and comfort while also being able to carry all their gear. Just like with most things, there are many different kinds to choose from.
No two people are alike, so expecting a one size fits all daypack is silly. What works for one person might not work for the next no matter how many experts or reviews say otherwise. As long as the hiker is safe and comfortable while out, that’s what matters.