Pick the perfect pack for your daylong diversions

How hard can it be to pick a daypack? Spend a few minutes in an outdoor gear shop; with the wide variety of sizes, shapes, designs, weights and prices available, it might seem more complicated than you thought.

We’ll help you decide what type of daypack you need and then recommend some top-performing models. Whatever your adventures, rest assured there’s at least one great pack out there for you.

Buying tips

Consider these questions:

  • What kind of hikes and other activities will you use a daypack for?
  • How much stuff will you carry, in terms of volume and weight? To get a sense of that, throw your gear into an old daypack, or if you’re shopping for your first daypack, pile up the stuff you’ll carry and look at it, or maybe take it with you to the store and load up some daypacks.
  • Do you want a lightweight and minimalist design, an assortment of pockets and features, or something in between?
  • Do you need one that’s armored for hard use or simply for walking good trails?

Next, these factors will help you distinguish better among different daypacks:

CAPACITY: For many three-season day hikes when you’re carrying only for yourself, a daypack between 16 and 22 liters has enough space. When you’re carrying extra — say, leading a group of Scouts — get a pack with around 28-40 liters of capacity.

FIT: As with backpacks, fit is critical to comfort, especially the more weight you put inside it. Daypacks designed to carry no more than about 10 pounds often come in one torso size, but larger-capacity daypacks usually come in two or more sizes and in men’s and women’s models.

SUSPENSION: How much weight a pack can comfortably carry depends on its internal frame and padding. Ultralight daypacks — less than 1.5 pounds — are designed for up to 10-12 pounds. Daypacks intended for 15-20 pounds or more — as many Scouters might need to carry — typically have ample padding in the shoulder straps and waist belt, and a metal wire frame or a plastic framesheet that provides support and directs most of the weight onto your hips. Empty, these packs weigh 2-3 pounds.

ORGANIZATION: A zipper on the top or side of a pack to access the main compartment, multiple pockets, features for carrying trekking poles, ice axes, etc., offer convenience — and add weight and cost. Ask yourself how important compartmentalization and quick access are.

MATERIALS: Many daypacks for hiking are made with similar materials: fairly durable body fabric, tougher fabric on the bottom and foam in the back pad, shoulder straps and waist belt. But some daypacks are built with tougher materials, sometimes adding weight and often increasing cost.

Top-performing daypacks

You might not have heard of this small company that makes all its gear at its Maine factory, but if you’re looking for a daypack that’s both super light and really tough — traits not often mutually compatible — check out the HYPERLITE MOUNTAIN GEAR DAYBREAK ($230, hyperlitemountaingear.com). The distinguishing feature is the ultralight, waterproof, supremely durable Dyneema fabric (the zipper’s also waterproof). The minimalist design still has four pockets. With 17 liters/1,040 cubic inches of capacity, it’s large enough for many outings, and it carries up to 25 pounds. It comes in three sizes, which is very unusual for a daypack. 1 lb. 4.3 oz.

The REI CO-OP FLASH 22 ($55, rei.com) is about as basic, lightweight and affordable as well-made hiking daypacks get. The 22 liters/1,343 cubic inches of capacity will accommodate all the stuff most hikers carry for themselves, and there are two convenient stretch side pockets and one small zippered top pocket, plus external attachments. But the thinly padded shoulder straps and back panel, removable webbing waist belt and lack of a frame mean that your back, not the pack, will support whatever weight you put in it. It’s best with 10 pounds or less and useful when you need an ultralight daypack, such as for side hikes during a backpacking trip. 13 oz.

Comfort and versatility are the inspiration behind the men’s OSPREY TALON 22 and women’s TEMPEST 20 ($110, osprey.com). A seamless foam hip belt (with zippered pockets) is integrated with the ventilated back panel so the pack seems to hug your torso, for which the flexible, plastic framesheet provides support for carrying 15 pounds. Uniquely loaded with features that come in well under 2 pounds, there’s a big zipper accessing the main compartment, six external pockets, attachments for poles, a bike helmet and a light, along with adequate capacity (1,098 to 1,343 cubic inches) for three-season hikes. 1 lb., 11 oz.

More and more day-hikers are gravitating toward utilitarian simplicity in a daypack, and if that describes you, the PATAGONIA NINE TRAILS PACK 20L ($129, patagonia.com) has your back. At 1,220.5 cubic inches, it falls in the capacity range ideal for most all-day, three-season hikes, and it has six external pockets, including zippered ones on the hip belt. Instead of a traditional buckle-down top lid, the Nine Trails sports a big U-shaped top zipper for fast access to the main compartment. A three-layer, ventilated back panel and foam shoulder straps and hip belt deliver comfort, and it comes in two men’s and women’s sizes. It’s also among the lightest packs that have a framesheet and the support to carry at least 15 pounds. 1 lb. 13.6 oz.

You’ll be hard pressed to find a lighter (and perhaps cheaper) daypack with the degree of organization, comfort for carrying 20 pounds or more, and versatility of the men’s GREGORY CITRO 20 and women’s JUNO 20 ($120, gregorypacks.com). One-zip access to the main compartment and six external pockets provide excellent organization, and they’re loaded with features like attachments for axes and poles and side compression. Most distinctively, the wire perimeter frame places most of the weight onto your hips, and the moisture-wicking VaporSpan back panel keeps the ride cool. While heavier than the Osprey and Patagonia packs, these sacks cross over smoothly from day hiking to bike commuting and other activities. 20 liters/1,220 cubic inches; Citro: 2 lbs. 3 oz., Juno: 2 lbs. 2 oz.

Scouters who need to step up a level in carrying capacity are wise to consider the men’s DEUTER TRAIL PRO 36 and women’s TRAIL PRO 34 SL ($165, deuter.com). Capacious and feature-rich, these packs eschew the trend in lighter gear in favor of a design that makes them comfortable with loads of 25-35 pounds and more versatile than many daypacks. A spring-steel suspension and plastic framesheet create a weight-carrying capacity comparable to many 50-liter backpacks, and little details enhance comfort. Classic toploaders with a U-shaped zipper into the main compartment — unusual among daypacks — abundant pockets, a rain cover, ax and trekking pole attachments, and a carabiner/gear loop, they hearken to an era when packs were built for any task. 3 lbs. 7 oz.

1 Comment

  1. I find as an Outdoors Ethicist, that I carry the complete ten essentials, many of the small ones in duplicate, plus Cub listed items. (Why do Cubs need to have a whistle, but Scouts don’t?) I also have OE teaching materials as needed, plus my cameras. I fill my Osprey Skarab 32 liter pack up, and have danglies. But it all works.

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