A key piece of any gear closet is a go-to daypack. It’s what you grab for nearly any type of outdoor adventure, whether it’s a hike, bike ride, or day on the slopes. Generally, what most people look for in a good daypack is the ability to carry enough water and food for a full day out, an extra layering piece or two, a first-aid kit, a headlamp, and a few other accessories. Price of daypacks will correspond with technical features and hauling abilities. Cheaper ones are great for carrying the light stuff, and more expensive options have more complex suspensions for a better fit and support. For more information, see our daypack comparison table and buying advice below the picks. For overnight trips, check out our article on the best backpacking packs.
Weight: 44 oz.
Capacities: 24, 34, 36, 50L
What we like: Carries weight well, ventilated back panel.
What we don’t: Heavy for its capacity.
For the majority of day hikers, the Osprey Stratos 24 hits a really nice balance of comfort, storage, and features. With the smallest capacity in the Stratos lineup—the largest version reaches an overnight-ready 50 liters—the pack has heavy hauling roots. A peripheral hoop metal frame and substantial hipbelt are built to carry weight on your hips, and a large mesh panel conforms nicely to your back. In addition, organization is excellent—we particularly like the 2 hipbelt pockets and large zippered access to the main compartment. Add a built-in rain cover, and the Stratos checks off everything that we look for in a feature-rich daypack for hiking.
The primary downside of the Stratos is weight. The sturdy build pushes the pack to nearly 3 pounds and the Osprey can’t stuff down like a frameless bag. Those focused on comfort or hauling serious loads will appreciate the structure, but if you want something simpler and more packable, check out the lighter weight options below.
See the Osprey Stratos 24 See the Women's Osprey Sirrus 24
Weight: 19 oz.
Capacities: 10, 20L
What we like: Extremely versatile and light.
What we don’t: No padding on the hipbelt.
Despite a relatively small 20-liter capacity, the Deuter Speed Lite 20 is one of the most versatile daypacks we've tested. Two sets of compression straps on either side of the pack can hold anything from trekking poles to skis. Support comes courtesy of a u-shaped thermoplastic rod, which is both light and completely functional. For going ultralight, you can remove the support rod along with the hipbelt and sternum strap.
As the name indicates, the Speed Lite was designed for moving fast, and in keeping the weight down, you get absolutely no padding on the hipbelt. You’ll miss the extra padding when carrying a heavier load, but most day hikers should be fine. A popular daypack year after year (and year round), we fully expect the Speed Lite to continue to collect praises from climbers, skiers, hikers, and commuters.
See the Deuter Speed Lite 20
Weight: 10 oz.
Capacities: 18, 22L
What we like: So packable and stuffable that you will bring it everywhere.
What we don’t: Can’t handle much weight, low on features.
About as functional as a little pack can get, the REI Flash 18 deserves a place in just about every backpacker, traveler, or peak bagger’s gear closet. This small and super lightweight (10 ounces) bag is very packable and holds just enough for a day’s worth of adventuring. The soft and flexible back panel is also removable should you need to really stuff it down. Turn the pack inside out and it works well as a stuff bag, complete with a zippered mesh pocket.
Features are limited to the basics, so those that like a lot of organization or want a water bottle stretch pocket should probably opt for the Flash 22 or Marmot Kompressor below. You still do get a hydration sleeve, hipbelt, and sternum straps, as well as a daisy chain and ice axe loop for use as a summit pack.
See the REI Co-op Flash 18
Weight: 41 oz.
Capacities: 20, 24L
What we like: Great backpanel and storage; includes a hydration system.
What we don’t: Not as comfortable as the Stratos.
Best known for hydration systems and water bottles, CamelBak has put together an impressive lineup of daypacks as well. The Fourteener 24 is their top-end model and comes with CamelBak’s newest 3-liter reservoir and drink tube. Overall, we think the Fourteener is a quality pack and strong competition to the Stratos 24 above for long days on the trail. We particularly like the articulating foam panels along the back that keeps the pack snug to your back without compromising on ventilation. And considering that a $35 hydration system is included, the Fourteener is a better value than the Osprey.
However, we do have a few nitpicks with the Fourterneer 24 that keep it from ranking higher. Considering its weight of 2 pounds 9 ounces not including the hydration system, we would prefer more support from the hipbelt. As a result, the Stratos is the better option for hauling a full day’s worth of gear. The other downside is that you cannot purchase the Fourteener—or any CamelBak bag—without a hydration system. But if you’re due for an upgrade or don’t already have a reservoir, the Fourteener 24 is a great solution for done-in-a-day adventures.
See the CamelBak Fourteener 24
Weight: 21 oz.
Capacities: 11, 18, 22, 33L
What we like: Lots of pockets and comes in two sizes.
What we don’t: Limited support.
The Talon 22 from Osprey is the quintessential daypack and checks all the boxes for casual hikes. It’s a great size for a half-day on the trail, has ample storage, a nice strechiness to it, and comes in two sizes to help dial in fit. For short hikes, travel, and everyday use, the Talon 22 is a solid choice. For longer day hikes, we prefer the Osprey Stratos 24 above, which has a more substantial hip belt and suspended mesh back panel for increased support. The thin backpanel of the Talon means that you’ll often feel the contents of your bag on your back, particularly if it’s loaded down, which is why we prefer the Stratos for more serious excursions.
See the Osprey Talon 22 See the Women's Osprey Tempest 20
Weight: 32 oz.
Capacities: 25, 32L
What we like: Well made crossover hiking/everyday pack.
What we don’t: Expensive and non-padded hipbelt.
Arc’teryx typically designs gear for hardcore adventurers, but their new line of Brize packs aims for the everyday hiker and urban explorer. We like the simple but functional design: the main compartment has a wide opening for easy access, and there are enough interior and exterior pockets and lash points for water bottles or a reservoir, small items like keys or a headlamp, and trekking poles or an ice axe. As we’ve come to expect from Arc’teryx, the quality is also top notch with fabrics that balance weight and strength as well as great attention to detail.
Why has the Brize 25 landed in the middle of our rankings? To start, we prefer a padded hipbelt with a pack of this capacity and carrying ability (you do get a real hipbelt when stepping up to the 32-liter Brize, however). More, it’s hard to justify the $159 price tag when our top-rated Stratos 24 has superior organization and comfort for nearly $30 less. But for those that like Arc’teryx’s sleek styling and beautiful construction, the extra expense may be worth it.
See the Arc'teryx Brize 25
Weight: 16 oz.
Capacities: 26, 54L
What we like: Thoughtful, minimalist style that can carry a lot.
What we don’t: Limited airflow around your back.
Based in Northern Minnesota, Granite Gear builds ultralight packs and gear that we absolutely love. The Virga delivers a great combination of lightweight and functionality: tough Cordura fabric, roll-top closure, and comfortable padded hipbelt and shoulder straps at a total weight of 16 ounces. They keep the weight down by ditching a back panel, which means it’s important to pack carefully to avoid any discomfort (we find attaching a 2-liter hydration bladder to the internal clip creates sufficient structure). The simple fabric back on the Virga 26 does mean very little airflow gets through, so on warmer days you’ll likely be sweaty. As minimalist gear goes, these are very small compromises, and for its level of support, organization (with 3 mesh outer pockets), and durability, we think the Virga 26 is a winner.
See the Granite Gear Virga 26
Weight: 19 oz.
What we like: Waterproof and fully featured design.
What we don’t: Expensive; 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 2 side pockets add a significant amount of functional storage. For serious day hikes and rough conditions, the Daybreak is hard to beat.
Cost is the biggest obstacle in choosing the Daybreak. At $225, it’s the most expensive bag on our list despite having a relatively small capacity. The extra money gets you a premium item that’s handmade in the U.S., and we love the trickle-down features from Hyperlite’s backpacking packs, but it’s still hard to justify over a quality pack like the Stratos above.
See the Hyperlite Mountain Gear Daybreak
Weight: 46 oz.
Capacities: 25, 40L
What we like: Excellent organization; included rain cover.
What we don’t: Relatively basic backpanel design.
We’ve used a number of REI daypacks over the years, and consider them a great value for their feature set. The Trail 40 is an excellent example: for $109 you get outstanding organization, great touches like trekking pole attachments and rain cover, and specific men’s and women’s designs. For the capacity, there are a ton of pockets, which include outer pockets along the side and top lid for small items. More, a total of 4 zippers give you access to the main compartment. We particularly like the zippers along the sides, which access the bottom of the main compartment without having to pull out everything on top. Overall, the fit isn’t as nice as one of the Osprey designs, but everything else is in-line with those more expensive options. Tack on REI’s excellent 100% satisfaction guarantee and the Trail 40 becomes an even better deal.
See the REI Co-op Trail 40 See the Women's REI Co-op Trail 40
Weight: 2.4 oz.
What we like: Incredibly light and packs down really small.
What we don’t: Not very comfortable and limited feature set.
For those that prioritize weight and packability, it’s hard to beat Sea to Summit’s new Ultra-Sil daypack. The standout features are its impressive weight—at 2.4 ounces it’s the lightest on our list by over 7 ounces—and a stuffed size that’s small enough to attach to a set of keys. There aren’t any pockets or extra features here, but with a total capacity of 20 liters, it has a slightly larger main compartment than the popular REI Flash 18 above.
Understandably, the Ultra-Sil’s minimalist design does come with a number of compromises. With very thin, non-padded shoulder straps and no hipbelt, the pack isn’t comfortable with more than a few pounds worth of clothing or food inside. More, the lack of any exterior loops makes it less useful as a summit pack like the Flash 18. For travel or short hikes when you don’t need the padding, however, the Ultra-Sil is an incredibly useful little pack.
See the Sea to Summit Ultra-Sil
Weight: 13 oz.
What we like: A Flash 18 with more features and organization and minimal weight penalty.
What we don’t: Not a great back breather.
If you love the idea of an ultralight and stuffable daypack but want a few features tossed in, the Marmot Kompressor Plus 20 is worth a look. In contrast to the REI Flash 18 above, the Kompressor adds a top lid with pockets as well as a zippered front pocket—perfect for small items. You also get side compression straps to better handle a bulky load. These extra features and organization do wonders for day hikes and urban wandering. And the entire pack can be stuffed into its own lid pocket, so it’s great for travel. One issue with the lightweight design is that the back panel is very basic and doesn’t breathe very well. When you’re working hard, you can expect to get a sweaty back. And the Kompressor is a significant $25 more than the REI bag, which hurts it in our rankings.
See the Marmot Kompressor Plus 20
Weight: 24 oz.
Capacities: 6, 12, 18, 24L
What we like: Great fit; nice little additions such as a sunglass clip on front and a bike light clip on back.
What we don’t: No loops on the outside for trekking poles, etc.
The Miwok series from Gregory (also available the women’s-specific Maya series) has a simple, streamlined look but packs a whole lot of features. Despite being small (it’s also available in a 6, 12, and 24 version) the Gregory Miwok 18 can accommodate quite a bit of extras in the two hip pockets, two side pockets, and a well-designed expandable stash pocket that can secure a light rain jacket or mountain bike helmet. Ventilated foam makes up the curved back panel, shoulder straps, and hip belt, so it’s ready for active adventures in the warmest climates.
The Miwok lands towards the bottom of our list, however, because it doesn’t stack up well to the competition. The Osprey Talon and Deuter Speed Lite above are better technical options and weigh less, and the Osprey Stratos and CamelBak Fourteener are more comfortable. But the Miwok 18 undercuts the Stratos and Fourteener in weight and price and finds a nice middle ground as a dedicated pack for long day hikes.
See the Gregory Miwok 18 See the Women's Gregory Maya 16
Weight: 32 oz.
Capacities: 32, 44, 50L
What we like: Great multi-use bag for hiking, commuting, and travel.
What we don’t: Not a technical pack.
Kelty doesn’t aim for the high end of the outdoor gear spectrum, but we appreciate their functional designs and value-oriented pricing. Their Redwing 32 is built for travel, daily use, and hiking: it has a large main compartment with a wide U-shaped opening, plenty of exterior pockets, and durable materials that will stand up well to hard use. The foam along the shoulder straps and hipbelt are a step down in quality compared with the packs above, but few packs of this capacity can match the $100 price.
If you’re looking solely for a hiking-specific daypack for putting in serious miles, we think there are better options than the Redwing 32. It can feel unwieldy on the trail and lacks the close fit and high level of back ventilation of our top-rated packs above. More, the pocket design is optimized for travel and commuting rather than hiking gear. These complaints aside, the Redwing is priced right and a versatile all-in-one daypack solution.
See the Kelty Redwing 32
Weight: 18 oz.
Capacities: 15, 20, 35L
What we like: A nice balance of low weight and some features.
What we don’t: Main exterior pocket is too small for most items; expensive.
Swedish company Thule recently made the jump into hiking gear with a line of technical backpacks. The Stir 20L (also available in 15L and 30L models) is simple yet thoughtfully designed and offers more in the way of features than other minimalist packs like the REI Flash above or the Patagonia Ascensionist below. You get two side pockets to store water bottles or other gear, as well as a “shove-it” pocket on the outside (unfortunately it’s too small for anything of real size). Like the Ascensionist, this pack offers high-end build quality and a clean design that works well for anything from hiking and biking to commuting, but at $100 we wouldn't consider it a great value. If you prefer a cushy hip belt or back padding we recommend looking elsewhere, but the Stir is great for those who want to move fast and light... Read in-depth review
See the Thule Stir 20L
Weight: 24.7 oz.
Capacities: 30, 35, 40L
What we like: Lightweight, high quality build, and clean design.
What we don’t: Very limited organization.
Surprisingly, Patagonia is rather lacking in the daypack category. The Black Hole and Refugio are too casual for our taste—they make nice travel and school packs but don’t excel for hiking. The Ascenionist, on the other hand, is a high-end lightweight pack designed for climbing, but we love it as a minimalist day hiker. At 25 ounces and with a 30-liter capacity, this pack can carry more and will last longer than other comparable options. The shell is tough with a polyurethane coated 210-denier fabric, and the pack looks and feels great. One notable omission on the Ascensionist is storage—the pack has only a single small exterior pocket and has no internal bladder system. But if you don’t mind storing your water bottle and other gear items entirely inside your pack, the Ascensionist is a nice lightweight option.
See the Patagonia Ascensionist 30L
Weight: 16 oz.
Capacities: 13, 20L
What we like: Cheap and works great for short trips.
What we don’t: Very few features and small capacity.
Osprey has one of the most complete backpack lineups around, and their leading budget model is the Daylite. This bag is small and simple with a 13-liter capacity and a total of 2 zippered pockets. As its size would indicate, the pack isn’t designed to carry very much weight, although it does come with a basic hipbelt and sternum strap for support. We find it’s best to use the Daylite for easy and short days on the trail or as a companion pack for travel—it is designed to attach to the outside of a number of Osprey’s travel bags.
At this price point, the Daylite’s primary competitor is the REI Flash 18 above. In most cases, we prefer the Flash: it packs down smaller, weighs less, and can fit more gear. While the Daylite’s extra zippered pocket is nice, we think the REI is better both for travel and the trail. But for those who like Osprey, the Daylite is a quality option and comes with the company’s excellent warranty.
See the Osprey Daylite
|Osprey Stratos 24||$130||44 oz.||24, 34, 36, 50L||Cushioned||Alloy frame||5 exterior|
|Deuter Speed Lite 20||$89||19 oz.||10, 20L||Webbing||U-frame||4 exterior|
|REI Co-op Flash 18||$40||10 oz.||18, 22L||Webbing||None||1 exterior|
|CamelBak Fourteener 24||$145||41 oz.||20, 24L||Cushioned||Framesheet||6 exterior|
|Osprey Talon 22||$110||21 oz.||11, 18, 22, 33L||Cushioned||Framesheet||4 exterior|
|Arc'teryx Brize 25||$159||32 oz.||25, 32L||Webbing||Framesheet||3 exterior|
|Granite Gear Virga 26||$120||16 oz.||26, 54L||Cushioned||None||3 exterior|
|Hyperlite Mountain Gear Daybreak||$225||19 oz.||17L||Cushioned||None||3 exterior|
|REI Co-op Trail 40||$109||46 oz.||25, 40L||Cushioned||Steel frame||6 exterior|
|Sea to Summit Ultra-Sil||$33||2.4 oz.||20L||None||None||0 exterior|
|Marmot Kompressor Plus 20||$65||13 oz.||20L||Webbing||None||3 exterior|
|Gregory Miwok 18||$100||24 oz.||6, 12, 18, 24L||Cushioned||Framesheet||6 exterior|
|Kelty Redwing 32||$100||32 oz.||32, 44, 50L||Cushioned||Framesheet||6 exterior|
|Thule Stir 20L||$100||18 oz.||15, 20, 35L||Webbing||None||4 exterior|
|Patagonia Ascensionist 30||$149||24.7 oz.||30, 35, 40L||Webbing||Framesheet||1 exterior|
|Osprey Daylite||$50||16 oz.||13, 20L||Webbing||None||3 exterior|
- Types of Daypacks
- What's the Ideal Size (Capacity)?
- Weight: Fully Featured vs. Minimalist
- Carrying Comfort: Hipbelt and Shoulder Straps
- Back Panel 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 have a more basic suspension design 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 more advanced technology found in the options starting around $100. Many of today’s top daypacks can pull double duty for casual use. A popular crossover option is the Kelty Redwing 32, which is built for travel and commuting to work or school, but performs well when you want to get away from it all.
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—even smaller than the REI Flash 18 on this list. But most of us need a bit more space to throw in a few more essentials. The options on this list range from 13 to 40 liters, with the largest ones being better served for commuters or for ultralight overnights. We’ve found that around 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. You’ll get 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 10 ounces to nearly 3 pounds. On the heavy end is the fully featured Osprey Stratos 24, 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 Granite Gear Virga 26, REI Flash 18, Thule Stir 20L, and Patagonia Ascensionist 30L are minimalist packs with much less in the way of structure or features but weigh about 1 pound or less.
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 packable.
The amount of padding in the hipbelt and shoulder straps are 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 18 or Deuter Speed Lite 20) to cushioned and supportive (Osprey Stratos and Granite Gear Virga 26). 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.
Much like their larger cousins, full-on backpacking packs, higher capacity daypacks feature a metal or plastic frame. The frame creates a 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 or hoop style, which defines 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 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 stiff back panel 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.
Typical daypacks will have some foam or mesh built into the back panel (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 back panel (Flash 18 and Marmot Kompressor) for a little structure or no padding at all (Granite Gear Virga 26). 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 back panel. As opposed to either nylon or foam coming into contact with your back, ventilated back panels 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 Osprey Stratos 24 and REI Trail 40 have this feature). Alternatively, you can purchase a separate waterproof cover. REI’s Duck’s Back is a good budget option, although it does have a generic fit that won’t be completely secure in windy conditions. For a more premium design, try an Ultra-Sil cover from Sea to Summit.
There are a small number of daypacks on the market made with waterproof materials. From our list, this includes the Hyperlite Daybreak. The Daybreak uses Dyneema fabrics, which are naturally water resistant, while other packs use a waterproof nylon and seam sealing along the interior to keep out moisture. 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. Most traditional daypacks, like the two options from Osprey and the REI Trail 40, have a clip along the top of the interior of the bag and enough space to accommodate a 3-liter reservoir. 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. In the case of the Virga 26, we found that while we could fit a full 3-liter reservoir inside, it did cause the pack to lose some of its structure and comfort. The 2 liter option did not have those issues.
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 reservoir to the top clip and insert into the sleeve. The hose can then be routed through an opening in the top of the pack. For casual use, a number of these sleeves can also accommodate a laptop, such as the larger opening on the Granite Gear Kahiltna 29 (see our in-depth review).
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 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 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, but a number of our favorite medium to large capacity packs have this feature, including the Kelty Redwing 32, REI Trail 40, and Osprey Stratos 24.
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 the Osprey Sirrus 24, Osprey Tempest 20, and REI Trail 40 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.
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