If you’re heading out for any outdoor activity of more than a couple of hours, then you’ll likely want to carry a few things with you such as a water bottle, warm clothing, food and even a first aid kit. Most people opt to use a daypack, rather than trying to carry everything that you need in your hands and pockets.

However, daypacks come in a range of different sizes and styles with different features and knowing how to choose the right one is important. 

A good daypack can make your hike more enjoyable, while a badly fitted or wrong sized daypack can be frustrating and uncomfortable. This guide will help you choose the right daypack for your next hike.

Daypack vs backpack: what is the difference

If you’ve ever been into your local outdoor gear store, then you’ve likely stood at the hiking section with all the different sizes and colors of backpacks and wondered, what’s the difference?

Rack Of Daypacks

A backpack is really a generic term for any bag that is carried on your back. A daypack is then just a type of backpack, however, not every backpack is a daypack and there are some significant differences.

A daypack is generally a small backpack from around 20 to 50 liters that is enough to carry a few essentials for a day spent in the outdoors. They also have some features that not all backpacks have.

Daypacks tend to be lightweight with no internal frame against the back panel, which you‘re more likely to see on larger backpacks. The main compartment also tends to be solely accessed from the top, known as top-loading, with a few side pockets as well. However, daypacks are constantly changing in design and there are greater demands for different types and styles.

Different types of daypacks

There are daypacks for all different outdoor activities from hiking to rock climbing to cycling and snow sports. Depending on which activity you’re more likely to do, daypacks can have slightly different features.

Hiking daypack

Hiking Daypack

You can choose from many different shapes for a hiking daypack. Although, most packs dedicated for hiking tend to have water bottle pockets and hydration reservoirs. Hiking packs also usually allow for different adjustments such as in the shoulder straps and sternum strap, to have a more comfortable fit.

Daypacks for hiking can range in different capacities depending on the conditions you’ll be hiking in and what you need or want to carry. 

Running daypack

Running Daypack

Daypacks for running tend to be on the smaller and lighter end of the scale. They also limit the movement of the pack with a more fitted and tighter structure. Running daypacks are more like hydration packs and have easy to access pockets.

Climbing daypack

Climbing Daypack

Daypacks for climbing are better if they have a narrower design made from tougher materials to reduce abrasion damage. Some climbing daypacks have a more structured frame with a hip belt to center more weight on your hips. They can also have specific features like ice axe loop and daisy chain loops for climbing gear.

Cycling daypack

Cycling Daypack

Cycling daypacks tend to be compact and lightweight so as not to interfere with your riding. They also have space with hydration reservoirs like for hiking, but they tend to focus more on sternum straps than hip belts for comfort when riding.

Snowsports daypacks

Snowsport Daypack

Daypacks for skiing and snowboarding tend to be more like climbing backpacks with a narrow and tight-fitting design to ensure it doesn’t hinder your movements. Most daypacks for snow activities also have attachments for skis and boards as well. 

Packable daypack

Packable Daypack In ItalyA packable daypack is one that folds into a small pouch or it’s own pocket. They are usually less rigid and have more basic features than an ordinary backpack, but their compact, pocket-sized feature means that you can take it with you almost anywhere. They are best for light hikes and traveling when you don’t have a lot of luggage space. You can read our guide about best packable daypacks and how to choose one.

Daypacks for camping and backpacking

Daypack For Camping

As soon as you consider taking a pack for camping or anything that requires a heavier load, a daypack can be limiting and even uncomfortable. Once you need to carry more than 20 pounds, you really should consider a backpack that has a more structured frame and perhaps more padding in the straps, as these things are not always featured on regular daypacks

Packs for camping or multiday hikes tend to be more than 50L and able to carry heavier loads.

 

Day pack sizes and capacities

Sizes and capacities of daypacks range from less than 10L and up to 50L. This really depends on what activity you’re doing and how much you need to carry.

How is backpack size and capacity measured?

Backpack capacity is measured in liters as this tends to tell you how much you’ll be able to fit inside when it’s well packed. The dimensions and measurements of a pack are less important, simply because it is the capacity or volume of the main compartment and pockets that are most useful when determining which backpack you’ll need. In saying that, dimensions and shape of a backpack may become a consideration for activities like climbing when a narrow and taller pack is better.

Small daypacks (10-20L)

Small packs up to 10L tend to be for cycling or running with just enough room for water, snacks and a light jacket.

A pack between 10 and 20 liters can be purposed for any activity that requires not a lot of gear, such as day hiking in summer months. They tend to have more pockets to fit in extra items.

Medium sized daypacks (20-35L)

This is the ideal daypack size for most activities. This allows enough capacity to carry all the essentials as well as some extras like a camera, warmer gear and a first aid kit. They are the perfect all-round daypack for multiple seasons and uses.

Large daypacks (35-50L)

Larger daypacks over 35 liters are for heavier loads or longer excursions that require more gear. They can be good for winter day hikes when you need extra warm clothing or for climbing or mountaineering equipment.

If you have ultralight camping equipment, you might be able to turn this daypack into a camping or overnight pack, depending on how minimal you can pack and whether you have a small sleeping bag.

Important considerations when choosing a daypack

Type of activity or hike

The type of activity you will be doing will influence your decision on which daypack to choose. For hiking, you need to look for space for water bottles and hydration reservoirs as well as straps for distributing weight across your back. 

For other activities like cycling and running, you’ll want to make sure the daypack is more fitted and won’t move around too much to affect your movement. 

Size and capacity

The size, shape and capacity of a daypack is one of the most important things to consider when choosing a daypack. This really depends on what activity you’re doing and how much you need to carry. A medium-size pack between 20 and 35 liters is generally pretty standard for a daypack

Straps

Daypacks tend to have a few different straps. They are important for weight distribution and comfort. Sternum straps allow you to connect your shoulder straps across your chest. This can help with stability and balance and release even more pressure off your shoulders.

Some daypacks, especially the larger sizes over 35L, have hip belts as well. They help distribute the load evenly across your back and put more weight on your hips which alleviates the pressure on your neck and shoulders.

You also might want to consider how much padding the straps have, especially the shoulder straps. Many of the smaller daypacks tend not to have much padding.

Fit

Many backpacks have different fit options depending on your personal torso length. Some brands like Osprey offer multiple sizes of the same type of backpack to fit different people. Usually this means there is adjustable suspension to fit your torso, although this tends to be for larger packs.

There are also gender-specific fits for many backpacks. Torso dimensions for women are generally shorter and narrower making for different sized frames in mind. Female backpacks also tend to have different hip belts and shoulder straps which are contoured for female bodies.

It’s important to fit and size a backpack properly before hitting the trails.

Pockets

Pockets tend to be a personal preference and you’ll find different brands often have different ideas about the ideal pocket placement and space. It’s common for most daypacks to have a top access point for the main compartment and then smaller exterior pockets on the front with water bottle pockets on the side. An important thing to consider with pockets is easy access.

Recommended daypacks for day hikes

Deuter Speed Lite 20

Deuter Speed Lite 20 is a good all-round option for light summer hikes. It’s very versatile with water bottle pockets and light, breathable material. The waist belt is thin so you wouldn’t want to carry anything heavy but it’s a good, lightweight option.

Osprey Talon 22

Osprey Talon 22  is one of the most popular and best hiking daypacks on the market. It’s a nice fitted shape with an adjustable torso length and a mesh hip belt. There are plenty of pockets and room for a hydration bladder. 

Osprey Stratos 36

Osprey Stratos 36 is one of Ospreys best daypacks for longer hikes or winter excursions which require more gear. It has plenty of pockets, including ones on the hip belt and a bottom hatch to get into the main compartment different ways. It can be used for many activities too with an ice axe loop, rain cover and trekking pole holder.

REI Co-op Traverse 35

REI Co-op Traverse 35 Daypack

Rei Co-op Traverse 35 is similar to the Osprey Stratos, this pack is for longer days and winter hikes. It can be used across different climates and conditions with good ventilation and a rain cover to keep it waterproof. It also comes in a women’s fit.

REI Flash 45

REI Flash 45 Daypack

REI Flash 45 is a compact hiking daypack, perfect for heavy loads, with a comfortable upper limit of 30 pounds. Water bottle pockets are close enough so you can reach them without removing the pack and there are side pockets for storing handy small items. It also has a removable top lid which can take nearly 6 liters off the capacity. If you pack light, you might even be able to use it as an overnight pack.

Conclusion

A daypack is an essential component for any outdoor activity. Knowing what to look for and how to choose a daypack is important. Understanding what you’re going to use the daypack for and what kind of fit, size and features you might need will help you decide which is the best daypack for you.

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