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 overnight trips, see our article on the best backpacking packs.
Table of Contents
- Our Daypack Picks
- Daypack Comparison Table
- Daypack Buying Advice
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 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, but the Talon is lighter, $10 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: 9 oz.
Capacities: 18, 22L
What we like: Lightweight, well-built, and cheap.
What we don’t: Can’t handle 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 featured models on this list (including REI’s own Flash 22 below). In addition, the Flash only comes in one size (some higher-end models 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: 2 lbs. 12 oz.
Capacities: 24, 26, 34, 36, 50L
What we like: Extremely comfortable and loaded with features.
What we don’t: Heavy for its capacity.
If you prioritize comfort or plan on hauling a heavy load, the Osprey Stratos 24 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 large zippered access to the main compartment. Add a built-in rain cover, and the Stratos checks off everything you’ll need in a daypack.
The primary downsides of the Stratos are weight and price. The sturdy construction pushes the pack to nearly 3 pounds (many backpacking packs weigh less), and the Osprey can’t stuff down like a frameless bag. It's also fairly expensive at $140 considering the relatively modest 24-liter capacity. 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 24 See the Women's Osprey Sirrus 24
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 lighter than the Stratos 24 above despite holding 14 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 the Gossamer Gear Kumo 36 below.
See the Granite Gear Crown2 38
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 Trail Hydro line, and CamelBak’s own Octane 18L.
See the CamelBak Rim Runner 22
Weight: 13.4 oz.
Capacity: 8L (Nine Trails packs available up to 36L)
What we like: A fully featured and comfortable waist pack for hiking.
What we don’t: Pricey.
Waist packs have taken over the world of mountain biking, and the trend is picking up steam for hikers too. The concept is quite simple: instead of carrying 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, Patagonia’s Nine Trails is best-in-class. You get 8 liters of storage capacity, which is plenty for your phone, keys, food, and a puffy and/or rain shell. The Patagonia even includes a 1.5-liter water reservoir and hose system for easy drinking on the go. 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. In addition, REI makes its Trail line in 5- and 2-liter versions, 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 Nine Trails 8L.
See the Patagonia Nine Trails 8L
Weight: 1 lb. 12 oz.
Capacities: 12, 16, 20, 24, 26, 32L
What we like: A superb daypack and a better value than the Osprey 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 recent update to the Talon, the Speed Lite 24 is a full $25 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: 13 oz.
Capacities: 18, 22L
What we like: More featured and substantial than the Flash 18 above.
What we don’t: Frameless design isn’t supportive or comfortable for long trail days.
REI Co-op’s Flash 18 above is great for short outings and summit pushes, but their larger and $15-pricier Flash 22 adds a few functional extras for longer and more gear-intensive hikes. Most notably, you get side stash pockets for stowing water bottles, a lid with a zippered pocket, and an additional zippered pocket along the front. We also appreciate the mesh panels along the back, which are lightly padded and add a nice dose of breathability and comfort. Weight goes up to 13 ounces, but the Flash 22 still is impressively light considering the fairly generous capacity and solid organization (for reference, it’s over a pound lighter than the Osprey Talon 22).
The REI Co-op Flash 22 isn’t without limitations, however. If you are loading down your daypack with gear or planning on covering long distances, the frameless design certainly isn’t as comfortable as more expensive options from Osprey, Deuter, and even REI’s own Trail 25 below. In addition, like the smaller Flash 18, the 22-liter variation only comes in one size, and it’s not the most hardwearing pack with thin fabrics and materials. But we can’t help but love the low weight, functional organization, and price, which is why the Flash 22 is included here... Read in-depth review
See the REI Co-op Flash 22
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: 1 lb. 13.6 oz.
Capacities: 12, 18, 24, 32, 42L
What we like: Great mix of storage, weight, and comfort.
What we don’t: One size doesn’t truly fit all; zipper failed on our pack.
One of Gregory’s longest-standing daypack lines is the Miwok (and women’s-specific Maya). Through a full season of use, we’ve found the latest model does a great job balancing weight, comfort, and features. At under 2 pounds for the 24-liter version, you get everything you need for a full day out: the hipbelt is lightly padded and supportive, the backpanel is fairly flexible but just thick enough to isolate you from what’s inside, and there’s a grand total of eight exterior pockets. Competitively priced at $120 and built to last with reinforced panels along the bottom, the Miwok 24 is a quality choice for day hiking and travel.
How does the Gregory compare with Osprey’s Talon 22 above? The two cost around the same (the Gregory is $10 cheaper) and share a number of features, including the amount of padding on their backpanels and hipbelts, mesh pockets along the front, and premium touches like dedicated hydration reservoir sleeves. The Osprey is a little more multi-sport-friendly with its LidLock bike helmet system, but the Gregory gets the edge in capacity by 2 liters and organization with a slightly more functional layout. What pushes the Osprey to the lead for us in the end is its two available sizes, which allow more people to get a closer and better fit. In addition, we had a zipper fail on our Miwok, while our Talon is still going strong after several years of consistent use.
See the Gregory Miwok 24 See the Women's Gregory Maya 22
Weight: 2 lbs.
Capacities: 25, 40L
What we like: Excellent organization; included rain cover.
What we don’t: Relatively basic hipbelt and backpanel designs.
We’ve used a number of REI daypacks over the years and consider them a solid value for their feature set. The Trail 25 is an excellent example: for $80, you get outstanding organization with ample exterior pockets and lash points, great touches like trekking pole attachments and an included rain cover, and specific men’s and women’s designs. The pack is also solidly built with durable materials (bonus: they’re recycled and bluesign-approved) and plush cushioning along the backpanel and shoulders.
We particularly like the U-shaped zippers along the sides of the Trail 25, which allow you to access the bottom of the main compartment without having to pull out everything on top. The only notable downsides are the lack of cushioning along the hipbelt (the larger Trail 40 offers padding here) and slightly basic backpanel design, which isn’t as form-fitting or breathable as the Talon’s above. But everything else is in line with the more expensive Osprey, and we consider the Trail 25 a highly versatile option for day hikes, commuting, or use as a carry-on while traveling. And for a more premium option from REI that can pull double duty for light overnights, see their Traverse 32.
See the REI Co-op Trail 25 See the Women's REI Trail 25
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. 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 lbs.
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 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 32L Brize, however). Moreover, despite a recent price drop from $159 to $130, it’s still hard to justify the price tag when alternatives like the Gregory Miwok 24 and Osprey Stratos 24 cost around the same and offer superior organization and comfort. But there’s no denying Arc’teryx’s sleek styling and beautiful construction, which is why we’ve included the Brize here. For a true hiking-focused option from Arc’teryx, check out their new Aerios line (available in 15, 30, and 45L capacities).
See the Arc'teryx Brize 25
Weight: 1 lb. 4.5 oz.
Hipbelt: Lightly cushioned
What we like: Light with generous storage.
What we don’t: Frameless design limits its carry capacity.
Gossamer Gear is one of our favorite cottage industry brands, with a strong lineup targeted at minimalist adventurers and thru-hikers. For gear-heavy day trips, travel, or true ultralight backpacking, the Kumo 36 is an intriguing design. Weighing in at 1 pound 4.5 ounces, the pack has generous storage with a large, 28-liter main compartment and thoughtfully distributed pockets along the sides, hipbelt, and front. The flexible foam backpanel doesn’t offer much structure and the padding undoubtedly is thin, but the Kumo is well-made and surprisingly durable with its high-quality Robic nylon construction.
Among high-capacity and lightweight options, the Granite Gear Crown2 above is a strong competitor to the Kumo. Both offer similar levels of storage and convenience, but the Gossamer Gear has the clear advantage in terms of weight, undercutting the Crown by nearly a full pound. However, the Granite Gear’s plastic framesheet and thicker cushioning give it a much higher weight capacity (35 lbs. compared to the Kumo’s 25 lbs.), making the Crown2 a more versatile one-quiver pack.
See the Gossamer Gear Kumo 36
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 (the Stratos only comes in one size), 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.
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 $10 less, Osprey’s Stratos above offers double the space and a full suite of premium features (for a full 2 lbs. 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 44 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|
|REI Co-op Flash 18||$40||9 oz.||18, 22L||Webbing||None||1 exterior|
|Osprey Stratos 24||$140||2 lb. 12 oz.||24, 26, 34, 36, 50L||Cushioned||Alloy frame||5 exterior|
|Granite Gear Crown2 38||$185||2 lb. 4 oz.||38, 60L||Cushioned||Framesheet||6 exterior|
|CamelBak Rim Runner 22||$100||1 lb. 10 oz.||22L||Cushioned||Backpanel||6 exterior|
|Patagonia Nine Trails 8L||$119||13.4 oz.||8L||Cushioned||Backpanel||4 exterior|
|Deuter Speed Lite 24||$105||1 lb. 12 oz.||12, 16, 20, 24, 26, 32L||Cushioned||U-frame||6 exterior|
|REI Co-op Flash 22||$55||13 oz.||18, 22L||Webbing||None||3 exterior|
|Hyperlite Daybreak||$210||1 lb. 3 oz.||17L||Cushioned||Backpanel||3 exterior|
|Gregory Miwok 24||$120||1 lb. 13.6 oz.||12, 18, 24, 32, 42L||Cushioned||Backpanel||8 exterior|
|REI Co-op Trail 25||$80||2 lb. 0 oz.||25, 40L||Webbing||Framesheet||5 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|
|Arc'teryx Brize 25||$130||2 lb. 0 oz.||25, 32L||Webbing||Backpanel||3 exterior|
|Gossamer Gear Kumo 36||$165||1 lb. 4.5 oz.||36L||Cushioned||None||8 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 13 to 40 liters, with the largest ones being better served for commuters, gear-heavy adventures like winter hikes, or for 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 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 REI Flash 18 and Flash 22, Osprey Daylite, 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.
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 Gregory Miwok 24 (1 lb. 13.6 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 and Flash 22, Granite Gear Crown2 38, and Gossamer Gear Kumo 36.
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 and 22, Osprey Stratos 24, Deuter Speed Lite 24, Gregory Miwok 24, 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 REI Co-op Trail 25, 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 the Osprey Sirrus 24, 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 or Flash 22 should work just fine.
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