From short day hikes and summit scrambles to all-day adventures into the backcountry, you’ll want the right pack for the job. Most people carry water and food, a layering piece and rain shell, and a few other accessories like a first-aid kit or headlamp. And the longer you’ll be on the trail, the more comfort, capacity, and features come into play. Below we break down the best daypacks of 2021, from simple and inexpensive models for casual hikes to more comfortable and feature-packed options for longer excursions. For more information, check out our detailed buying advice and comparison table after the picks.
Our Team's Daypack Picks
- Best Overall Daypack: Osprey Talon 22
- A Close Second: Deuter Speed Lite 24
- Best Budget/Lightweight Daypack: REI Flash 18
- Most Comfortable for Heavy Loads: Osprey Stratos 36
- Best Hydration Pack for Hiking: CamelBak Rim Runner 22
- Best for Fast-and-Light Mountain Missions: Black Diamond Distance 15
- Best Waist (Fanny) Pack for Hiking: Mountainsmith Tour
Weight: 1 lb. 14.6 oz.
Capacities: 11, 22, 26, 33, 36, 44L
What we like: A comfortable, well-built, and versatile daypack.
What we don’t: For heavy loads, the Osprey Stratos below offers more padding and support.
If you’re looking for one daypack that can do it all, Osprey’s updated Talon is your best bet. At 22 liters (and made in larger versions up to 44 liters for those who need more capacity), it hits an ideal balance of comfort and features. Notably, the Talon has a real hipbelt with light cushioning, which is more comfortable than the simple webbing you get with more streamlined packs, along with a thoughtfully designed mesh backpanel. The pack also has functional organization, a nice stretchiness to it, ample attachment points including for trekking poles, a helmet, and an ice axe, and is made in two sizes to dial in fit. For day hikes, travel, and everyday use, the Talon 22 is an excellent choice.
While the Talon is Osprey’s best all-rounder, the more expensive Stratos collection below offers even more padding and carrying comfort. The latter has a more substantial hipbelt along with a suspended mesh backpanel for superior support and ventilation (it’s built more like a backpacking pack than a daypack). On the flipside, the Talon is lighter at under 2 pounds, but its thinner backpanel does mean that you can sometimes feel the contents of your bag on your back, and particularly if loaded down. In the end, the Stratos gets the edge for heavy loads and long days on the trail (the 36L we have listed is even serviceable for light overnights), but the Talon is lighter, cheaper, and more than enough daypack for most people and uses... Read in-depth review
See the Osprey Talon 22 See the Women's Osprey Tempest 20
Weight: 1 lb. 12 oz.
Capacities: 12, 16, 20, 24, 26, 32L
What we like: A superb daypack and a better value than the Talon above.
What we don’t: Only comes in one size and therefore fits a limited range of people.
We’ll start by noting that the Deuter Speed Lite 24 has few weaknesses and is a serious competitor to our top pick, the Osprey Talon above. Starting with the good, the Speed Lite is an ideal size for most day hikes at 24 liters, is comfortable, ventilates well, and comes with a ton of features including trekking pole holders, daisy chains, side compression straps, and hydration reservoir compatibility. Compared to the smaller Speed Lite 20, which we also like, the padded hipbelt makes a big difference when carrying full loads and covering longer distances—it feels like a totally different pack in that regard. And with the fairly recent update to the Talon, the Speed Lite 24 is $15 cheaper for 2 liters more capacity.
The reason we give the nod to the Talon is that it comes in two sizes. The Speed Lite 24 only comes in one size, which is fairly common among daypacks and fits torsos ranging from 15 to 19 inches (the women’s 22L version fits 14 to 18 in.). During testing, the fit was noticeably small on our 6-foot tester, and the hipbelt sat uncomfortably high. The Talon, on the other hand, comes in two size options: the S/M fits 16- to 20-inch torsos, and the M/L fits 19-to 23-inch torsos, which is a pretty substantial difference. But if the slipper fits, the Speed Lite 24 is a superb daypack for less money.
See the Deuter Speed Lite 24 See the Women's Speed Lite 22 SL
Weight: 9 oz.
Capacities: 18, 22L
What we like: Lightweight, well-built, and cheap.
What we don’t: Can’t carry much weight and low on features.
REI Co-op’s Flash line of daypacks has been a mainstay among hikers, travelers, and those on a budget for years. Simplicity wins out here: the Flash 18 is frameless by design, meaning it lacks the rigidity of other daypacks but manages to keep weight incredibly low at just 9 ounces (and even less if you take out the removable waistbelt, sternum strap, or back pad). You don’t get a cushy hipbelt or shoulder straps, but the breathable mesh and padding are surprisingly comfortable when carrying lighter loads. Perhaps most importantly, the Flash costs just $40, is well-built overall, and has enough capacity for shorter adventures and summit scrambles.
Features are limited with the REI Flash 18, so those who like comfy padding, organization, or who want a water bottle stretch pocket should look at the other more fully appointed models on this list. In addition, the Flash only comes in one size (some higher-end packs including the Talon above come in two sizes), which can make it tougher to nail the fit. Last but not least, the Flash isn’t the most durable pack on this list: the foam backpanel insert is fairly thin, for example, as is the ripstop nylon shell. But for carrying small amounts of gear that don't weigh down your pack, the Flash 18 is a great way to go fast and light on a budget... Read in-depth review
See the REI Co-op Flash 18
Weight: 3 lbs. 2.8 oz.
Capacities: 24, 26, 34, 36, 50L
What we like: Extremely comfortable, loaded with features, and can pull double duty for light overnights.
What we don’t: Heavy for its capacity.
If you prioritize comfort or plan on hauling a heavy load, the Osprey Stratos 36 is one of the most feature-rich daypacks on this list. Its full metal frame and substantial hipbelt put the weight comfortably on your hips, and a large mesh panel ventilates extremely well and conforms nicely to your back. In addition, organization is excellent—we particularly like the two hipbelt pockets and zippered side panel access to the main compartment, and there’s even a sleeping bag compartment and pad straps for embarking on minimalist overnights. Add a built-in rain cover, and the Stratos checks off everything you’ll need in a daypack—and more.
The primary downsides of the Stratos are weight and price. The sturdy construction pushes the pack to over 3 pounds (this is more than many backpacking packs even), and the Osprey can’t stuff down like a frameless bag. It's also fairly expensive at $170 considering the capacity (you can save a considerable $31 with REI’s Traverse 32 below without sacrificing much in the way of storage). In the end, those wanting a premium, luxurious pack will appreciate the Stratos’ support and build quality, but for something simpler and more packable from Osprey, see the equally popular Talon above... Read in-depth review
See the Osprey Stratos 36 See the Women's Osprey Sirrus 36
Weight: 1 lb. 10 oz.
What we like: Included hydration system; reasonable weight.
What we don’t: Most daypacks these days are reservoir-compatible, so the novelty has worn off a bit.
Best known for hydration systems and water bottles, CamelBak has put together an impressive lineup of daypacks as well. The Rim Runner 22 is one of their leading hydration packs for hiking and there is a lot to like here. For a reasonable $100, you get the 2.5-liter variation of the Crux reservoir system, which is our current favorite on the market. Moreover, the pack is decently light at 1 pound 10 ounces and the backpanel is made with a breathable mesh that does a good job in terms of comfort and ventilation. All in all, the Rim Runner 22 is a quality hydration pack from one of the best in the business.
If you’re in the market for an even more substantial hydration pack, CamelBak also makes the burlier Fourteener. In addition to a larger water capacity at 3 liters, the Fourteener has a more sculpted backpanel for improved ventilation, a more substantial hipbelt for better carrying comfort on long trail days, and additional capacity at 26 liters total. That said, that pack also sees a big jump up in weight to 2 pounds 13 ounces and is significantly more expensive at $155. And for cheaper hydration pack options, check out Gregory's Nano H2O below, REI's Swiftland Hydro line, and CamelBak’s own Octane 18L.
See the CamelBak Rim Runner 22
Weight: 13.9 oz.
Capacities: 4, 8, 15L
What we like: Light, streamlined, and allows convenient access to the essentials.
What we don’t: No hipbelt and specialized feature set.
Traditional daypacks like the Talon, Speed Lite, and Stratos above are great for moderate day hikes, but Black Diamond’s running-inspired Distance 15 is purpose-built for mountain athletes focused on traveling fast and light. The hybrid pack/vest design checks in at a scant 13.9 ounces but easily accommodates a day’s worth of supplies (it can even fit a streamlined climbing helmet). The storage layout is another highlight: the four zippered chest pockets, trekking pole sleeves, ice axe holders, side compression straps, and dual front stretch pockets allow you to conveniently access the essentials without removing the pack. Along with the body-hugging shape, the Distance makes it easy to move quickly and efficiently over rougher, varied terrain.
To be clear, however, the Black Diamond Distance isn’t for everyone. The materials are reasonably durable (the pack uses a mix of 100 and 200D fabrics), but it’s important to be careful around sharp rock and equipment and avoid overpacking (we had a shoulder strap detach almost entirely after adding too much weight). We’ve also found that the pack rides a bit low on our back and can feel heavy at the end of a long day as a result, and the lack of hipbelt only exacerbates the issue. The Distance does come in a nice range of sizes from extra small to large, and the straps allow you to adjust the fit at the sides and front, but we still recommend trying it on before buying (the unisex sizing might be problematic for some women). If you can get a good fit, however, the Distance 15 is a light but thoughtfully built option for activities like scrambling, ridge traverses, and long days in the mountains.
See the Black Diamond Distance 15
Weight: 1 lb. 12 oz.
Capacities: 6, 9L
What we like: A fully featured and comfortable waist pack for hiking.
What we don’t: Bulky and pricey.
Waist packs have taken over the world of mountain biking, and the trend is picking up steam for hikers too. The concept is simple: instead of hauling a burly bag on your shoulders, a lightweight waist pack (or fanny pack, as they are affectionately known) can carry everything you need without being as cumbersome. And for the Cadillac of waist packs, Mountainsmith’s Tour is best-in-class. You get a fairly generous 9 liters of capacity, including smartphone-compatible waist pockets, dedicated water bottle pockets that can accommodate up to 32 ounces total, and a functional front attachment system for quickly stashing a rain shell or puffy. It isn’t the lightest or cheapest waist pack on the market, but you can’t beat the feature set or build quality.
If you are interested in this unique product category but want to shop around, Osprey makes its popular Talon and Daylite in waist pack versions, the latter of which is quite light and cheap at just 7 ounces and $30. For more around town-friendly options, Cotopaxi and Fjallraven offer cheaper and more streamlined models (the Bataan and Kanken, respectively), and Patagonia has a “Mini” variation of its Black Hole that weighs just 3.5 ounces. All are fine options for travel and short day hikes, but none can match the performance chops, carrying comfort, or feature set of the Tour. Other standout options in Mountainsmith’s waist pack collection include the even larger 13-liter Day, camera equipment-ready Tanack 10L, and slightly cheaper and lighter Tour Small ($75; 1 lb. 9 oz.).
See the Mountainsmith Tour Lumbar Pack
Weight: 1 lb. 4.6 oz.
Capacities: 13, 20L
What we like: Osprey quality and 20 liters of capacity at a good price.
What we don’t: Limited support and only sold in one size.
Osprey’s Talon and Stratos above get the lion’s share of the attention, but the Daylite Plus is another viable option that comes in significantly cheaper. This simple daypack weighs just 1 pound 4.6 ounces, has a respectable 20-liter capacity and good padding for carrying lighter loads, and boasts the kind of quality build that Osprey in known for. In terms of best uses, we’ve found that the Daylite Plus is a great match for short to moderate days on the trail or as a companion pack for travel—it’s designed to attach to the outside of a number of Osprey’s larger travel bags, including the popular Farpoint (and women’s Fairview) series.
The most obvious drawbacks to the Osprey Daylite Plus are the lack of support and sizing options (the one-size-fits-all design can accommodate 15- to 22-in. torso lengths and 25- to 50-in. waists). As we noted above, the shoulder straps are thinly cushioned and will get the job done for minimalists, but those planning to stuff in a full day’s worth of gear—including a shell, insulation, food, water, and other necessities—will quickly notice the drop in comfort. The waist belt is also made of simple webbing, which again is serviceable for brief outings but falls short as the miles add up. But as a streamlined grab-and-go option that can also be worn for travel and around-town use, the Daylite Plus (and smaller 13-liter Daylite) undeniably is a great value from one of the most reputable pack manufacturers in the business... Read in-depth review
See the Osprey Daylite Plus
Weight: 1 lb. 3 oz.
What we like: Waterproof and light.
What we don’t: Expensive; relatively small capacity in the main compartment.
Maine-based Hyperlite Mountain Gear makes some of our favorite ultralight backpacking packs. Their top daypack, the Daybreak, shares the same core ingredients: Dyneema Composite Fabric that is weather-resistant and incredibly strong for its weight, simple yet functional organization, and a clean design that looks great. On paper, the 17-liter capacity in the main compartment seems small, but the large front pocket and two side pockets add a significant amount of functional storage. For serious day hikes in rough conditions, the Daybreak is hard to beat.
Cost is the biggest obstacle in choosing the Daybreak. In fact, it’s the most expensive bag on our list despite only having a moderate 17-liter capacity. But the extra money gets you excellent weather protection, a premium build that is handmade in the U.S., and we love the trickle-down features from Hyperlite’s backpacking packs. And it's worth noting that many people use the Daybreak for daily use, and we’ve found ourselves doing the same for travel and carrying a computer or camera. If you’re able to pull double duty, it’s easier to swallow the high price. And for another competitive ultralight option, check out Six Moon Designs’ larger and cheaper (but not waterproof) 24-liter Daybreaker Daypack.
See the Hyperlite Mountain Gear Daybreak
Weight: 2 lbs. 4 oz.
Capacities: 38, 60L
What we like: Great option for long day hikes and ultralight backpacking.
What we don’t: Expensive and overkill for casual day hikers.
Granite Gear’s Crown2 60 pack is a favorite among thru-hikers and minimalist backpackers, and the Minnesota-based company expanded the line with a smaller-capacity 38-liter model. We took the bag to Patagonia and came away impressed: it’s very light, comfortable even with a full load, and a standout in terms of organization. If you want a high-capacity daypack that can pull double duty for ultralight overnight trips, the Crown2 38 is the best design we’ve seen.
What sets the Crown2 apart is Granite Gear’s ability to balance weight and functionality. The pack is nearly a pound lighter than the Stratos 36 above despite holding 2 additional liters, but it doesn’t compromise on comfort with supportive cushioning along the backpanel, hipbelt, and shoulder straps. Further, the Granite Gear has excellent organization with a roll-top closure for the main compartment, zippered hipbelt pockets, and three large mesh pockets along the body of the pack. Unfortunately, they don’t make the Crown2 any smaller than 38 liters, which is overkill for most day hikes (if you don’t need the capacity, check out Granite Gear’s Dagger and Scurry). And for another solid ultralight high-capacity option, see Gossamer Gear’s feathery Murmur 36 Hyperlight.
See the Granite Gear Crown2 38
Weight: 2 lbs. 9 oz.
Capacities: 32, 60L
What we like: Durable materials, three size options, and a good all-around value.
What we don’t: Overbuilt for most day hikes.
The second REI pack to make our list is the Traverse 32, which is a smaller variation of their popular 60-liter backpacking pack. In a strong departure from the minimalist Flash 18 above, the focus here is on durability and organization: the Traverse is solidly built with a steel frame and hardwearing fabrics (bonus: they’re recycled and bluesign-approved), and you get ample exterior pockets and lash points for stowing gear and valuables. The Traverse also features REI’s functional Packmod system, which allows you to customize the compression strap layout to tailor it to the size and shape of your load. Finally, as we’ve come to expect from the brand, the Traverse is a good all-around value for what you get at just $139.
That said, not everyone will benefit from the Traverse’s unapologetically burly and complex build. Weight is pretty reasonable for the capacity at 2 pounds 9 ounces, but the thicker fabrics and raised foam padding on the backpanel give the pack a fairly clunky and dated feel (they also translate to subpar breathability). For most easy to moderate day hikes, we would prefer shaving considerable heft and bulk with a design like Osprey’s Talon or Deuter’s Speed Lite above. That said, the Traverse has its appeal for ambitious all-day treks and light overnights, and the three size options mean that most hikers should be able to find a good fit. For a bigger but slightly less technical design, check out REI’s own Trail 40.
See the REI Co-op Traverse 32 See the Women's REI Traverse 32
Weight: 2 lbs. 9.9 oz.
Capacities: 30, 35, 40, 55, 65L
What we like: A legitimate competitor to Osprey’s Stratos above.
What we don’t: Not as overnight-friendly as the Stratos.
Gregory goes head-to-head with Osprey in the daypack and backpacking pack markets, and their Zulu 30 is a serious competitor to the popular Stratos above. In short, the Zulu has all the trimmings we’d expect of a premium day-hiking design, including the brand’s FreeFloat Dynamic Suspension system and mesh backpanel for great all-around comfort and breathability. Further, you get well-thought-out organization, easy access to the main compartment via a large U-shaped opening, and even an included rain cover. We also love the adjustability at the torso, which can be moved up or down 4 inches. Finally, the Gregory is built to last with robust materials throughout and reinforced panels along the bottom.
All that said, the Zulu falls short of the Stratos 36 above in one key area: versatility. In particular, the Stratos is the more overnight-friendly option with an additional 6 liters of capacity and a slightly more functional storage layout, including a top lid, zippered front panel (the Gregory has a traditional shove-it mesh pocket), and dedicated sleeping bag compartment with removable pad straps. The Osprey is heavier by around 9 ounces and costs $20 more, but we think those tradeoffs are worth it for those looking for a dual hiking/backpacking pack. On the flipside, unlike the Stratos line, the Zulu collection doesn’t include any options in the 20-liter range for day hikers who like to stick to the basics. But there’s no denying the impressive comfort and feature set, which is why we’ve included the Zulu here.
See the Gregory Zulu 30 See the Women's Gregory Jade 28
Weight: 2 lbs.
Capacities: 15, 30, 45L
What we like: Versatile size, good organization, and top-notch build quality.
What we don’t: Arc’teryx gear doesn’t come cheap.
Arc’teryx is known for making high-quality gear for ambitious alpine adventures, and much of that expertise has trickled down into their hiking-focused Aerios line. Offered in 15, 30, and 45-liter capacities, we like the middle Aerios 30 best: it’s sized right for everything from big day trips to ultralight overnights, light for its capacity at just 2 pounds even, and well-built with tear-resistant fabrics, good padding, and a breathable backpanel. You also get functional organization in the form of six exterior pockets (including two running vest-style pockets for soft flasks), and the smart compression system at the front allows you to cinch down a smaller load or strap on extra gear like a puffy or rain jacket.
The biggest downside to the Aerios 30—and many Arc’teryx products in general—is the steep price tag. For reference, Granite Gear’s Crown2 38 above costs $5 less and offers 8 additional liters of capacity for only a 4-ounce weight penalty. Alternatively, Patagonia’s Altvia 28L below will save you around $50 and 4 ounces, although the Arc’teryx wins out in organization with more pockets and the practical front bungee system. Taking price out of the equation, the Aerios is a thoughtfully built pack that nicely integrates technical performance and features in an approachable, streamlined design. And like many of the higher-end options on our list, we appreciate that the Aerios is offered in two sizes (regular and tall) to help dial in fit.
See the Arc'teryx Aerios 30 See the Women's Arc'teryx Aerios 30
Weight: 1 lb. 2 oz.
Capacities: 18, 22L
What we like: A great value for a solid all-around hydration pack.
What we don’t: Less comfortable than the CamelBak above.
Gregory has been in the pack business for decades, and we’re consistently impressed with the build quality and comfort of their products. The Nano H2O hydration pack is no exception and has a hiking-focused build that comes with Gregory’s in-house 3D Hydro reservoir system. There’s a lot to like here: the Nano is lightweight, sleek, and very competitively priced at just $80 (the included reservoir costs $40 alone). You can spend up for Gregory’s Inertia 20 hydration pack, which comes with nice touches like a lightly padded hipbelt, compression straps, and a stretchy mesh pocket along the front, but we love the value of the Nano line.
Compared with the CamelBak Rim Runner hydration pack above, the Gregory Nano H2O includes a slightly larger 3-liter reservoir, has the same overall capacity, and costs $20 less. Where the CamelBak gets the clear edge is carrying abilities with a more supportive and stiffer backpanel. It also has light padding and pockets on the hipbelt along with a more form-fitting design. But for shorter hikes with lighter loads, the Nano H2O is a great alternative for less money. For a more feature-rich hydration option from Gregory with excellent carrying comfort, check out their premium Citro 24.
See the Gregory Nano 22 H2O
Weight: 1 lb. 12 oz.
Capacities: 14, 22, 28, 36L
What we like: Functional storage, capacity, and features at a low weight.
What we don’t: Fairly thin padding along the hipbelt and shoulder straps.
Coming on the heels of their Nine Trails collection is Patagonia’s new hiking-focused Altvia line. Ranging in capacity from 14 to 36 liters, the middle-ground 28L model strikes us as the most versatile, with a suspended mesh backpanel for airflow, lightly padded shoulder straps and hipbelt (the latter of which have pockets), included rain cover, and enough capacity to pull double duty for ultralight overnights—all at under 2 pounds. We also like the top lid design, which opens wide for easy access to gear but can be cinched securely via a drawcord and buckle system. Finally, we appreciate the brand’s ongoing focus on sustainability, including the use of recycled nylon and PFC-free DWR.
As we’ve come to expect from Patagonia, the Altvia is well-built with durable materials, reasonably weather-resistant with a PU coating and durable water repellent finish (plus the aforementioned rain cover), and looks good to boot. And climbers in particular will like the tall and narrow shape that sits close to the back, which makes it a viable option for use at the crag or while following multi-pitch routes. All that said, Patagonia did minimize the cushioning along the waist belt and shoulder straps to shave weight, which means comfort will suffer under heavy loads and over longer distances. But if you’re intentional about packing, the new Altvia 28L is another thoughtfully made and versatile choice.
See the Patagonia Altvia 28L
Weight: 15.6 oz.
Capacities: 15, 25L
What we like: Low weight and functional feature set for fastpacking and ultra-minimalist overnights.
What we don’t: Light on padding and too techy for casual use.
For fastpacking and longer technical missions in the mountains, a hydration pack like Salomon’s XA 25 makes a lot of sense. We’ll start with the positives: the XA checks in at under a pound but comes nicely appointed with a generous 25 liters of capacity, front water bottle storage (two soft flasks are included) and reservoir compatibility, functional exterior storage including two stretch pockets and well-designed compression straps, and a roll-top closure that makes it easy to snug things down. Finally, we love that Salomon made the main compartment highly water-resistant (including taped seams). Combined with the YKK zippers, the XA 25 stands out as one of the most well-built and weather-ready designs on our list.
Now for the negatives: the Salomon XA 25 costs a steep $180 but is far less versatile than many other options on this list. In other words, this is a decidedly technical pack that is overkill for most casual day hikers (and many ambitious hikers too). Further, to keep weight low, the XA 25 uses thin materials along the shoulders and a very basic webbing hipbelt, which make it notably less comfortable and supportive than the more traditional designs from Osprey, Deuter, and Gregory above. On the flipside, the XA 25 sits very close to the body, which makes it much easier to cover ground quickly (similar to the smaller Black Diamond Distance above). All in all, this pack isn’t for everyone, but the low weight and well-executed feature set make it an excellent choice for ultralight overnights and mountain athletes who like to get after it.
See the Salomon XA 25
Weight: 2 lb. 14.3 oz.
Capacities: 24, 34L
What we like: A truly fully featured pack that includes a 2.5-liter reservoir and adjustable backpanel.
What we don’t: Expensive and heavy.
The Osprey Stratos above is a very comfortable and feature-rich model, but the Manta 24 takes it to the next level. This is the Tesla of daypacks and includes a 2.5-liter hydration reservoir, an adjustable torso that can move up or down 4 inches, a 3D raised backpanel for carrying comfort and ventilation, an integrated rain cover, and compression straps for tightening down your load. For those who frequently hike in warm conditions where water is at a premium, the Osprey Manta 24 is the real deal.
Why do we have the Manta 24 so far down this list? To start, it weighs nearly 3 pounds without water, which makes it one of the heaviest daypacks on this list relative to capacity. Second, $160 is a lot to spend on a pack of this size, although the included reservoir is a $34 value alone and means that you likely won’t have to bring along separate bottles. In the end, weight-conscious hikers and those a budget should look elsewhere, but you’ll be hard-pressed to find a more feature-rich pack. And for longer adventures, Osprey makes a 34-liter version for $180.
See the Osprey Manta 24 See the Women's Osprey Mira 22
Weight: 12.8 oz.
Capacities: 7, 12L
What we like: Lightweight, body-hugging design is great for hikers who like to move quickly.
What we don’t: Pricey for the capacity and only intended for light loads.
As we saw with the Black Diamond Distance 15 above, there’s a strong case to be made for using a running vest while day hiking. For shorter and less gear-heavy outings, an option like Nathan’s TrailMix 12L has a reasonable capacity that can swallow all the essentials, and pockets along the front allow you to keep smaller items like snacks, lip balm, or a phone easily accessible. In use, we’ve found the main compartment surprisingly large, easy to access, and simple to snug down with the roll-top closure. And like the larger Salomon XA 25 above, the Nathan sits very to your body, which limits bouncing and makes it a nice option for those who like to mix in some running or jogging on their hikes.
The biggest downsides to the Nathan TrailMix are cost, capacity, and load-carrying capability. For $20 less, Osprey’s Talon above offers nearly double the space and a full suite of premium features (for just over a pound more), and the TrailMix is undeniably small and will require smart packing to fit a full day’s worth of supplies (be sure not to overload it). Finally, we appreciate that Nathan included a 2-liter reservoir with the pack, but it tends to eat into the main compartment when full. Again, the TrailMix makes a lot of sense if you pack light and like to move quickly, but the cost and load limitations detract from its all-around appeal.
See the Nathan TrailMix 12L
Weight: 2 lbs. 11.2 oz.
Capacities: 25, 40L
What we like: Unique zipper design allows easy access and has a lot of appeal for travel.
What we don’t: Pricey and heavy.
Mystery Ranch is a cottage brand out of Bozeman, Montana, with a solid reputation among hunters and serious mountain athletes. For the more casual day hiking crowd, their Coulee 25 stands out as an impressively durable and functional option. Right away, you’ll notice that this pack looks a little different than the competition: with a unique, Y-shaped opening at the front, the Coulee opens wide and allows quick and easy access to the main compartment. From day hiking to international travel, the 3-zipper system has a lot of appeal, and the rest of the design and storage layout are equally well-executed.
The Coulee 25 is a competitor to Osprey’s Manta 24 above, but a few key differences push the Coulee down in our rankings. Specifically, the Manta costs $15 less but comes with a 2.5-liter hydration reservoir, integrated rain cover, and more exterior storage. You forego the Mystery Ranch’s innovative zipper design, sacrifice a little durability, and the Manta is less customizable (you can remove the Coulee’s hipbelt), but the Osprey strikes us as the better overall value. And if you like the design of the Coulee but want something a little bigger for overnights, check out Mystery Ranch’s Scree 32.
See the Mystery Ranch Coulee 25 See the Women's Coulee 25
Weight: 1 lb.
What we like: A durable canvas pack with your pick of mountain artwork; handmade in the USA.
What we don’t: Pricey and not ideal for performance use.
Most of the packs here are fairly technical in nature, but Free Range Equipment offers something a little different. A small company run out of a garage in Bend, Oregon, FRE works with artists to create each of their classic Canvas Series packs. Their list of collaborators is ever-growing, and at the time of publishing, you can choose from 63 different designs including everything from the Tetons and Patagonia’s Fitz Roy range to a mountain wildflower scene. The Canvas pack is basic—you get 25 liters of space, a small internal stash pocket, and two zippered pockets on the lid—but it gets the job done for day hikes or your daily commute (a laptop easily fits inside).
Free Range Equipment’s Canvas packs aren’t trying to match the performance chops of the Ospreys and Deuters above, but their rugged fabric will hold up to years of use and abuse (we’ve used ours almost daily for three years with no durability concerns). Keep in mind that you don’t get features like a padded waistbelt, reservoir sleeve, or numerous storage options, and the Canvas pack only comes in one size. But let’s be honest: the aesthetics and versatility are the biggest selling points of this pack, and it wins out in both departments. We should note that FRE also makes Canvas fanny packs, which feature their own unique artwork and are less of an investment at $59.
See the Free Range Equipment Canvas
|Osprey Talon 22||$130||1 lb. 14.6 oz.||11, 22, 26, 33, 36, 44L||Cushioned||Backpanel||7 exterior|
|Deuter Speed Lite 24||$115||1 lb. 12 oz.||12, 16, 20, 24, 26, 32L||Cushioned||U-frame||6 exterior|
|REI Co-op Flash 18||$40||9 oz.||18, 22L||Webbing||None||1 exterior|
|Osprey Stratos 36||$170||3 lb. 2.8 oz.||24, 26, 34, 36, 50L||Cushioned||Alloy frame||7 exterior|
|CamelBak Rim Runner 22||$100||1 lb. 10 oz.||22L||Cushioned||Backpanel||6 exterior|
|Black Diamond Distance 15||$150||13.9 oz.||4, 8, 15L||None||None||6 exterior|
|Mountainsmith Tour||$80||1 lb. 12 oz.||6, 9L||Cushioned||None||6 exterior|
|Osprey Daylite Plus||$70||1 lb. 4.6 oz.||13, 20L||Webbing||None||5 exterior|
|Hyperlite Daybreak||$210||1 lb. 3 oz.||17L||Cushioned||Backpanel||3 exterior|
|Granite Gear Crown2 38||$185||2 lb. 4 oz.||38, 60L||Cushioned||Framesheet||6 exterior|
|REI Co-op Traverse 32||$139||2 lb. 9 oz.||32, 60L||Cushioned||Steel frame||6 exterior|
|Gregory Zulu 30||$150||2 lb. 9.9 oz.||30, 35, 40, 55, 65L||Cushioned||Steel frame||6 exterior|
|Arc'teryx Aerios 30||$190||2 lb.||15, 30, 45L||Cushioned||Framesheet||6 exterior|
|Gregory Nano 22 H2O||$80||1 lb. 2 oz.||18, 22L||Webbing||None||3 exterior|
|Patagonia Altvia 28L||$139||1 lb. 12 oz.||14, 22, 28, 36L||Cushioned||Backpanel||5 exterior|
|Salomon XA 25||$180||15.6 oz.||15, 25L||Webbing||None||5 exterior|
|Osprey Manta 24||$160||2 lb. 14.3 oz.||24, 34L||Cushioned||Backpanel||7 exterior|
|Nathan TrailMix 12L||$150||12.8 oz.||7, 12L||None||None||6 exterior|
|Mystery Ranch Coulee 25||$175||2 lb. 11.2 oz.||25, 40L||Cushioned||Framesheet||4 exterior|
|Free Range Canvas||$169||1 lb. 0 oz.||25L||Webbing||Backpanel||1 exterior|
- Types of Daypacks
- What's the Ideal Size (Capacity)?
- Weight: Fully Featured vs. Minimalist
- Carrying Comfort: Hipbelt and Shoulder Straps
- Fit and Sizing
- Backpanel and Ventilation
- Water Resistance
- Hydration Compatibility
- Pockets and Organization
- Closure Systems and Access
- Benefits of Choosing a Women’s-Specific Daypack
With hundreds of daypacks on the market, choosing the right one is largely dependent on what you intend to use it for. Do you need a daypack to approach an alpine climbing zone, or to explore an urban area on vacation? Do you need to strap on crampons or an ice axe, or do you just want a comfortable way to haul water and some extra layers?
For the casual user that doesn’t need much support for hauling a heavy load, the more affordable options on this list will do just fine. Budget-friendly packs like the $40 REI Co-op Flash 18 have a more basic suspension design (or none at all) and a less customizable fit, but do great for heading to class or a quick hike in the woods. If you’re planning on putting on some serious miles or need to carry a decent load, you’ll appreciate the added structure and padded backpanel, hipbelt, and shoulder straps found in the options starting around $100 (we cover this in more detail in the "Carrying Comfort" section below). Finally, many of today’s top daypacks can pull double duty for casual use.
Capacities for daypacks vary widely. You’ll see them offered anywhere from as small as 5 liters all the way up to 40 plus. For those that only need to fit a compressible rain jacket and a lunch, you can get away with one of those small packs. But most of us need a bit more space to throw in a few more essentials. The options above range from 12 to 38 liters (excluding the 9L Mountainsmith Tour waist pack), with the largest ones being better served for commuters, gear-heavy adventures like winter hikes, or ultralight overnights. We’ve found that approximately 25 liters is a real sweet spot for an all-around daypack that can handle anything from local summits to full-day hikes. At that size, organization also improves from more basic models, with a variety of zippered pockets to divvy up your gear. Below are some basic guidelines for capacity:
Short day hikes: 10-20 liters
Summit packs: 18-24 liters
Average day hikes and everyday use: 20-30 liters
Long day hikes and ultralight overnights: 30-40 liters
A quick look at our comparison table above reveals a wide range of pack weight from a scant 9 ounces to over 3 pounds. On the heavy end is the fully featured Osprey Stratos 36, which comes with lots of zippered pockets and a suspension and hipbelt to rival a backpacking pack. At the other end of the spectrum, the REI Flash 18, Osprey Daylite Plus, and Hyperlite Mountain Gear Daybreak are minimalist packs with much less in the way of structure or features but weigh about 1 pound or less. Black Diamond’s Distance 15 is another impressively light option at just 13.9 ounces, but it’s a much more specialized design with a streamlined storage layout and no hipbelt.
When evaluating pack weight, keep comfort and storage in mind. A fully featured pack will include padding on your back and real straps on your shoulders and waist to help distribute weight. If you’ll be carrying a lot, this will be your most comfortable option. But if you don’t mind feeling some of your gear on your back or won’t be hauling a heavy load (it is only a daypack, after all), the minimalist options on this list usually are cheaper and far more compressible (useful for throwing in a suitcase). In the end, most hikers and travelers will want something that lands in the middle and balances cushioning and weight, including the popular Osprey Talon 22 (1 lb. 14.6 oz.) and Deuter Speed Lite 24 (1 lb. 12 oz.).
The amount of padding on the hipbelt and shoulder straps is a great indicator of a pack’s maximum comfort levels. Nearly all daypacks for hiking have a hipbelt, but they vary from thin webbing (like the REI Flash series) to cushioned and supportive (Granite Gear Crown2 or Osprey Stratos). If all you need is a pack for short day hikes and don’t plan on carrying more than 10 or so pounds, the thinner webbing is sufficient. If, however, comfort reigns supreme or you plan to haul a lot of weight, we highly recommend a pack with a real hipbelt.
Keep in mind, the thicker designs don’t compress very well and do add some extra weight. And for those planning to use their pack for both the backcountry and casually, it may be beneficial to have a removable hipbelt. We have ours on for hiking and leave it behind when heading to town or carrying on a flight. Popular designs that have this feature include the REI Flash 18, Granite Gear Crown2 38, and Osprey Daylite Plus.
In addition to the amount of padding along the shoulder straps and hipbelt, fit plays a large role in overall comfort on the trail. Most importantly, you’ll want to ensure that your pack is the appropriate size for your torso length and that the hipbelt can be tightened to secure snugly around your hips. This is easier to achieve when a pack is offered in multiple sizes, which is one of the reasons we rank the Osprey Talon 22 at the top of our list (it’s available in S/M and L/XL sizes as well as a women’s-specific version). If you’re eyeing a pack that comes in multiple size options, take your torso length by measuring the distance between your C7 vertebrae and midpoint of your iliac crest (we outline the process here). Once you have that number, you can compare it against manufacturer sizing charts to confirm which variation will fit you best.
Unfortunately, many daypacks on the market only come in one size, including the REI Flash 18, Deuter Speed Lite 24, Osprey Daylite Plus, Free Range Equipment Canvas, and more from our picks above. It won’t be a deal-breaker for a lot of hikers, but the one-size-fits-most approach does mean you get less of a customized, close fit. And it’s worth noting that you still need to know your torso length for these designs, as manufacturers typically provide length ranges (and some one-size models have smaller ranges than others). Finally, many packs are offered in women’s-specific versions with different measurements than their men’s counterparts (we outline the benefits of choosing a women’s-specific daypack below).
Much like their larger cousins, full-on backpacking packs, higher-capacity daypacks feature a metal or plastic frame. The frame creates a rigid or semi-rigid structure that doesn’t sag under weight (including items that you strap to the outside of the pack), which is great for those that carry extra gear on their all-day excursions. Frame designs vary, but are often a u-shaped, hoop style or a plastic framesheet, both of which define the perimeter of the pack and give it a stiff, rectangular shape.
Having a frame isn’t always necessary, and very lightweight or small capacity backpacks like the REI Flash 18 oftentimes go without. For the right person, this isn’t a sacrifice at all. A frame adds weight and complexity, and when you’re not hauling anything more than 10-15 pounds, a frame doesn’t benefit you very much. In addition, a padded backpanel can accomplish a similar goal of isolating you from the contents you’re carrying and defining the shape of the pack. We recommend getting a pack with a frame if you need the extra support or like the defined shape, but again, there are plenty of reasons to avoid one altogether.
Typical daypacks will have some foam or mesh built into the backpanel (the area of the pack that comes into contact with your back) and a semi-rigid frame sheet providing structure. Ultralight packs will have either a flexible frame sheet and fabric backpanel (Flash 18) for a little structure or no padding at all. The downside of these designs is that the pack can sag and doesn’t protect you as well from bulky items in your pack. On the other hand, ultralight packs compress quite small and can be stowed in a travel bag or backpacking pack for day use.
A third style is the fully ventilated backpanel. As opposed to either nylon or foam coming into contact with your back, ventilated backpanels are full-length mesh and your best defense against a sweaty back. Osprey has been a leader in ventilated packs, and we particularly like the design of the Stratos. The suspended mesh that contacts the length of your torso encourages airflow without pulling the weight of the pack too far away from your back, which was a problem with some early models. Ventilated designs do eat into the size and dimensions of the main compartment and are more expensive, but it’s worth it for some to keep the back of their shirt dry.
It’s common for our daypacks to be filled with items like a phone, camera, or down jacket that won’t do well in rain. As such, we put a high priority on water protection. The good news is that most daypacks are relatively water-resistant and can shed light to moderate moisture, but the fabrics and seams will start to give way in a downpour. Some packs come with a built-in rain cover that stows inside the bag (from our list, the Gregory Zulu 30, REI Co-op Traverse 32, Patagonia Altvia, and Osprey Stratos and Manta have this feature). Alternatively, you can purchase a separate waterproof cover.
There are a small number of daypacks on the market made with waterproof materials, including the Hyperlite Daybreak above. The Daybreak uses Dyneema fabrics, which are naturally water-resistant, while other packs often use a waterproof nylon and seam sealing along the interior to keep out moisture. However, what most waterproof packs have in common is a price in excess of $200. This high cost of entry is what keeps waterproof packs in limited numbers, but it may be worth it if you need the protection and want something more reliable than a rain cover.
A hydration-compatible pack is defined as having some way to store a hydration reservoir, including popular models like the CamelBak Crux or Platypus Big Zip EVO. Most traditional daypacks, like the Osprey Stratos and Granite Gear Crown2, have a clip along the top of the interior of the bag and enough space to accommodate a 3-liter reservoir. And smaller packs like the Flash 18 are best suited for a smaller-capacity reservoir (up to 2 liters), not only for space reasons but also total weight.
With the exception of ultralight options, most hydration-compatible packs have a sleeve to slide in and hold the hydration reservoirs. It’s a simple process: attach the bladder to the top clip and insert into the sleeve. The hose can then be routed through an opening in the top of the pack. And if you don't already own a reservoir, choosing a hydration daypack like the CamelBak Rim Runner gets you a solid bag as well as CamelBak's reputable 2.5-liter Crux system. Alternatively, Salomon's XA 25 and Nathan's TrailMix 12L are more running-focused options but also come with reservoirs (for more options in this category, see our article on running hydration vests and packs).
If you like to have a defined space for and easy access to smaller items, look for a pack with a number of interior and exterior pockets. We like hipbelt pockets for things you want close at hand, an exterior pocket along the top lid for small items like a headlamp or multi-tool, and a large, open main compartment for our gear. For school or daily use, additional exterior pockets with a key clip are always handy.
One of our favorite pack features is a large exterior mesh pocket along the front of the pack known as a “shove-it” pocket. This expandable space is great for items you may need quick access to like a rain jacket or snack. In addition, you can throw in wet items into this outer pocket to avoid ruining the contents of your main compartment. Minimalist designs omit many organization features—sometimes including the shove-it pocket—so keep an eye out for the number of internal and external pockets if those are important to you.
All daypacks that made our list have access to the main compartment through the top of the pack, but the closure systems vary. Rolltop lids and drawcord systems are popular on minimalist packs, while fully featured bags typically use zippers. Rolltop lids and zippers are the most secure for protecting what’s inside your pack, but a well-made drawcord system like the REI Co-op Flash 18 is simple, lightweight, and very easy to use. One advantage that a rolltop pack has over the other options is compressibility: you can change the interior volume of the pack with the number of times you fold the lid.
All three closure systems above are associated with a top-loading pack, which as the name would indicate, opens at the top of the bag. In addition, there are a few packs that made our list that are considered panel loaders. That means that the lid to the main compartment can be zipped open and pulled back like a suitcase, which allows for easy access to contents at both the top and bottom of the bag. The downside is extra weight and expense (and zippers can break and fail over time), but a number of our favorite medium- to large-capacity packs have this feature.
Women’s daypacks are not, as they may appear, just a colorful version of a men’s or unisex pack. There are real design differences with tangible benefits that deserve mentioning. The advantages include a torso fit that is often a better size than the sometimes large and bulky unisex models, and shoulder straps and hipbelts have been designed specifically for women. Men with shorter torsos often get a better fit with a women’s-specific model as well.
Typically, if you’ll be using the pack for pretty serious day hikes, it’s well worth opting for a high-end women’s model like Gregory's Jade 28 and Osprey's Sirrus 36, Tempest 20, and Mira 22 we’ve listed above. The more tuned fit makes for a more comfortable carrying experience. For casual use, such as travel or when you’re packing light, it’s not as big a deal. Something like the unisex REI Flash 18 should work just fine. The more tuned fit makes for a more comfortable carrying experience. For casual use, such as travel or when you’re packing light, it’s not as big a deal. Something like the unisex REI Flash 18 should work just fine.
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