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Published Aug 18, 2022 6:06 PM

There are basically three options for carrying your gear when venturing off the beaten path: a fanny pack, a sling bag, and a daypack. The team at Task & Purpose has used all of these options, and hands-down, the daypack is the best choice for versatility, comfort, capacity, and convenience. A quality daypack in the 15- to 25-liter range will hold all of your water, food, raingear, spare clothing, and survival essentials for the day without weighing you down. Let’s get started.

What do you get in a daypack made by one of the world’s top-tier companies of thru-hiking backpacks and expedition gear? A rock-solid build in a featherweight package that’s easy to carry for miles on the trail.

Granite Gear, founded in 1986 by two outdoorsmen canoeing through the Boundary Waters near Canada, has decades of experience in the backpacking industry. Its Crown series is a frequent sight on the Appalachian, Pacific Crest, and Continental Divide trails, and I myself have carried both the Leopard AC and the Nimbus Trace over many miles of unforgiving terrain on the PCT. The Scurry is a distillation of the features and capabilities of these proven packs into a compact, lightweight, and comfortable 24-liter package that will carry everything you need for a full day of hiking and exploring.

Weighing in at just 1.1 pounds, the Granite Gear Scurry is among the lightest packs for its volume due to the use of 100 and 210 denier Robic nylon. The Scurry uses a simple roll-top design, which provides superior weather resistance and eliminates the extra weight of a dedicated top lid. A roomy external pocket on the outside of the pack provides an ideal location for quick-grab items, and a complete set of horizontal compression straps allows you to securely lash down rain gear, a tripod, or other bulky items. The Scurry is also fully hydration-compatible with a bladder sleeve and hose ports. Yet, it also has dual mesh water bottle pockets on the sides of the pack to accommodate a one-liter water bottle.

Priced competitively and available on Amazon or direct from Granite Gear’s own website, the Scurry is our pick for the best overall hiking daypack.

Product Specs
  • Volume: 24 liters
  • Max load: 20 pounds
  • Dimensions: 18 X 13 X 7 inches
  • Weight: 1.1 pounds
  • Material: Robic high-tenacity nylon (100D and custom 210D)
  • Style: Unisex
Why It Made The Cut
  • The Granite Gear Scurry 24L imbues the company’s proven pedigree of renowned expedition backpacks into a featherweight package suitable for day-hiking and off-trail jaunts.
PROS

Lightweight

Comfortable high-density foam frame sheet and shoulder straps

CONS

Limited organization features

With 25 liters of capacity and weighing in at two pounds when empty, the Trail 25 handily meets all of our design criteria for a hiking daypack. A sturdy high-density polyethylene (HDPE) frame sheet and generous padding on the back panel and shoulder straps ensure that heavy loads won’t wear you down. Also, thoughtful features like trekking pole clips and an included pack cover will keep you in good stead as you explore the wilderness.

Two combination stretch pockets are strategically located on each side of the pack and can hold up to four water bottles or a mix of water bottles and gear such as a camera tripod. The design includes a top pocket ideal for quick-grab items like granola bars, a headlamp, a map, and compass, and a bottom pocket that is ideal for rain gear or a first aid kit.

The interior of the pack features generous storage space with stretch mesh pockets on the sides and a dedicated pocket for a hydration bladder, plus another quick-grab pocket on the inside of the front panel.

Like all REI daypacks and products, the Trail 25 is backed by REI’s “satisfaction guaranteed” return policy, so you can’t go wrong giving this daypack a test drive. The REI Trek 25 is our pick for the best value in hiking daypacks.

Product Specs
  • Volume: 25 liters
  • Max load: Not specified
  • Dimensions: 19.5 x 13.25 x 7.5 inches
  • Weight: 2 pounds
  • Material: Recycled nylon (bluesign-approved)
  • Style: Men’s and women’s
Why It Made The Cut
  • The Trail 25 daypack incorporates some of the best features from other manufacturers in a rugged, lightweight daypack at an affordable price for budget-conscious shoppers.
PROS

Multiple pockets for organization

Well-padded shoulder straps

Competitively priced

CONS

Waist strap is of minimal use

Editor’s Choice

Osprey’s Talon 22 is a multi-sport daypack suitable for hiking, cycling, and even cross-country skiing. Made from a mix of 100D and 210D wave check high-tenacity nylon with 410HD nylon in key stress areas, the Talon 22 is both durable and lightweight. The patented AirScape back panel with a continuous-wrap harness and hip belt promotes airflow between the pack and your body and is supremely comfortable.

The Talon 22 features dual water bottle and hip belt pockets, a stretch-mesh front panel pocket for stashing a light jacket, and a top pocket for storing snacks, a phone, and other quick-grab items. The outside of the pack also includes a helmet clip and taillight loop for cyclists.

The interior of the pack is accessed through dual zippers and includes a medium-sized mesh pocket for additional organization. Unlike many other packs, the hydration bladder sleeve is located between the body of the pack and the suspension system, ensuring that all of your gear stays dry even in the event of a catastrophic leak.

The Talon is part of an entire lineup of daypacks available in 11-, 22-, 26-, 33-, 36-, and 44-liter capacities, offering you the opportunity to find the perfect size for your outdoor needs.

For its versatility, feature set, and comfortable AirScape suspension system, the Talon 22 is our pick for the best day hiking backpack.

Product Specs
  • Volume: 20 liters (S/M), 22 liters (L/XL)
  • Max load: 20 pounds
  • Dimensions: 20 x 9.8 x 9.1 inches (S/M), 22 x 9.8 x 9.1 inches (L/XL)
  • Weight: 1.9 pounds (S/M), 2 pounds (L/XL)
  • Material: 100D x 210D wave check high-tenacity nylon + 410HD nylon on bottom and accent areas, bluesign-approved
  • Style: Men’s
Why It Made The Cut
  • While it may be expensive, the Osprey Talon 22L’s AirSpace back panel and suspension system offers incredible comfort and breathability under all weather conditions and most activities.
PROS

Breathable back panel and comfortable, ergonomic suspension system

Wrap-around hip belt with built-in pockets

Multiple pockets for excellent organization

Trekking pole attachments on the back and shoulder straps

CONS

Expensive

Best for Women

The Tempest 20 is identical to the Talon-series pack discussed above but with several modifications to accommodate women’s sizes and body types. Specifically, the pack shape is a bit narrower and deeper to shift the load downward towards your center of gravity. The shoulder harness curves are modified to create a better fit for a woman’s neck, shoulder, and chest, and the hip belt geometry is altered to account for the larger difference between women’s waist and hip measurements.

As with the Talon, the Tempest is available in a variety of capacities including 9, 20, 24, 30, 34, and 40 liters.

The Tempest provides the same great features and capabilities as the Talon, but is tailored specifically to women. For this reason, the Talon 20 is our choice for the best hiking daypack for women.

Product Specs
  • Volume: 18 liters (XS/S), 20 liters (M/L)
  • Max load: 20 pounds
  • Dimensions: 18.1 x 10.6 x 9.1 inches (XS/S), 20 x 10.6 x 9.1 inches (M/L)
  • Weight: 2 pounds (XS/S), 2.2 pounds (M/L)
  • Material: 100D x 210D wave check high-tenacity nylon + 410HD nylon on the bottom and accent areas, bluesign-approved
  • Style: Women’s
Why It Made The Cut
  • Strong enough for a man but made for a woman, the Tempest 20 combines all the features of the Talon 22 in a female-friendly package.
PROS

Breathable back panel and comfortable, ergonomic suspension system

Wrap-around hip belt with built-in pockets

Multiple pockets for excellent organization

Trekking pole attachments on the back and shoulder straps

CONS

Expensive

Best for Heavy Loads

Mystery Ranch is yet another proven name in the outdoor gear industry with outstanding products for military, hunting, and general outdoor use. The Coulee series of packs, available in 25 and 40 liters, are rugged daypacks that feature a robust, adjustable suspension system that excels at carrying heavy loads.

Made entirely out of 330 denier high-tenacity Robic nylon and featuring Mystery Ranch’s signature 3-ZIP quick-access layout, the Coulee 25 offers dual water bottle pockets, two exterior stash pockets, loops for an ice ax or trekking poles, and a removable hip belt with built-in pockets on both sides. A top lid pocket provides quick access to small essentials such as a phone, compass, map, and headlamp. YKK zippers are used exclusively throughout, and zippers in leak-prone areas on the top of the pack are protected by Aquaguard water-repellent nylon.

The Coulee 25 incorporates an HDPE frame sheet and extra closed-cell foam on the shoulder pads to provide increased rigidity and comfort when fully loaded.

Although more expensive than most other options, the Coulee 25 is our best daypack for heavy loads.

Product Specs
  • Volume: 25 liters
  • Max load: Not specified
  • Dimensions: 22 x 10.5 x 12 inches
  • Weight: 2.9 pounds
  • Material: Robic high-tenacity nylon 330D
  • Style: Unisex
Why It Made The Cut
  • With tactical chops, a low-key style, a generous 25 liters of storage, and a robust suspension system, the Mystery Ranch Coulee has your six.
PROS

Robust suspension system

3-ZIP design provides easy access

Removable hip belt

CONS

Expensive

Heavy

Best Hybrid Daypack

If you need a single daypack to carry spelunking gear on the weekends and a MacBook Pro back and forth to work, then the Evergoods Civic Half Zip offers a no-compromise solution. Founded in 2016 by Jack Barley, one of the co-founders of Goruck, and Kevin Dee, a designer formerly with Patagonia, Evergoods focuses on crossover gear which spans the divide between rustic campgrounds and corporate boardrooms.

The Civic Half Zip provides 22 liters of space enclosed in a 500 denier high-tenacity, balanced weave nylon that is coated with a durable water-repellent (DWR) finish. Dual mesh water bottle pockets flank a single cavernous opening secured with durable YKK zippers. Two zippered compartments, one at the top of the bag and one on the interior of the front panel, provide sufficient organization without compromising the interior volume of the bag. A dual-purpose hydration bladder or laptop sleeve allows the Civic to transform between rustic and modern use cases with ease.

Although both pricier and heavier than other bags dedicated solely for use on the trail, the Evergoods Civic Half Zip is our choice for the best crossover daypack.

Product Specs
  • Volume: 22 liters
  • Max load: Not specified
  • Dimensions: 18 X 8 X 11 inches
  • Weight: 2.25 pounds
  • Material: 500D high-tenacity nylon 6,6 with air-textured yarn and water-repellent finish
  • Style: Unisex
Why It Made The Cut
  • The Civic Half Zip is tough, ergonomic, and functional for both hiking trails and urban canyons. It blurs the line well, making it an ideal dual-purpose pack.
PROS

Durable materials

Fantastic ergonomics

CONS

Expensive

Things to consider before buying a daypack

Capacity

We’ve all been there — that first hike in a national park in some far-away mountain state. Your packing list grows as you think through everything that “could happen:” GPS, ham radio, hand ax, two MREs, space blanket, tent stakes, six-pound first aid kit, etc.  But unless you’re going off-trail or trekking through big bear country, the reality of the situation is that you can get by with far less gear.

With that in mind, all of the daypacks listed above are in the 15- to 25-liter capacity. Admittedly, the low end of that range is a bit tight but still potentially viable depending on the season, weather, terrain, and your personal knowledge of bushcraft and wilderness survival. The sweet spot is right at 20 liters, which should accommodate virtually every scenario. A 25-liter pack would be a good choice when conditions are such that you may need extra clothing or when carrying special equipment like a DSLR camera and telephoto lenses.

From a load-bearing standpoint, a hiking daypack should be rated for around 20 pounds. This ensures that the padding on the back panel and shoulder straps are sufficient for a comfortable carry, even though most of the time you shouldn’t be hauling that much weight. 

Weight

The empty weight should be under two pounds. It’s possible to find daypacks that weigh less than one pound, but check the comfort and fit before venturing far afield as such packs generally lack sufficient padding.

Fit

Since the hip belt on most daypacks is insufficient to transfer much of the load to your hips, you’ll be carrying the weight on your shoulders, which affects both the desired fit and your personal comfort level as pack weight increases. Look for a daypack that carries high and close on your back rucksack-style. Your pack should not extend below your belt line either — this can be addressed with adjustable suspension systems on higher-end packs or by selecting a pack with a fixed suspension that correctly matches your torso length.

Price

Expect to spend around $100 on a quality hiking daypack. There are options in the $50 to $75 range, but these packs generally lack sufficient structure (frame sheet and shoulder padding) to properly carry your load and/or use materials that are both less expensive and heavier by design. Buy once, cry once, and choose a quality brand that is lightweight and comfortable.

FAQs about hiking daypacks

Q: What should I look for when buying a hiking daypack?

A: Your priority is to decide on an appropriate capacity for your daypack — anything over 25 liters will tempt you to carry far too much gear for a simple dayhike. Beyond that, look for the features (design, pockets, attachment points) that best fit your use case, recognizing that features generally equate to added weight. 

Q: What is the difference between a backpack and a daypack?

A: The main difference is primarily volume, with daypacks topping out at around 35 liters and backpacks going up to 90 liters or more. Backpacks are designed for multi-day or multi-night excursions and have additional features for carrying or attaching gear that isn’t necessary for day-hiking (e.g., bear canisters).

Q: What should be in a daypack for hiking?

A: Water sufficient for your use with filtration and purification capabilities in case of unexpected delays, food as desired, extra clothing, rain gear if appropriate, map, compass, and either the “10 Essentials” or the “10 C’s of Survivability” (parts 1 and 2), depending on your experience in the backcountry and knowledge of the area.

Final thoughts

Any of the daypacks above are outstanding choices, with some better for heavier loads and others for moving fast and light. Keep the reality of your use case in mind — you’re hiking, not backpacking — so only take what you truly need, and you’ll have a much more enjoyable time out on the trail. 

Methodology

In this article, we recommend the best daypacks for hiking in the field. Our selections are based on personal experience with many different brands over many miles of trails, as well as extensive research of the manufacturer’s specifications, professional publications, product videos, and other sources. 

Our research started with identifying the key characteristics essential to the performance of a quality daypack, namely capacity, weight, and fit. These characteristics are discussed above in the section “Things to consider before buying a daypack.”

We then searched for daypacks on e-commerce websites including Amazon, REI, Cabela’s, Backcountry, Campmor, and others, with a focus on selecting those products that offer an optimal balance between design characteristics. The most promising daypacks were then selected for in-depth research via consumer and independent third-party print and video reviews, as well as discussions within the Task & Purpose community.

The final research step leveraged all the data, results, and commentary to develop specific questions for each manufacturer. The answers provided by the manufacturers gave us a better understanding of each daypack’s performance and helped us develop our final set of recommendations.

It is of the utmost importance to those of us at Task & Purpose to ensure that you, our readers, know our commitment to fair and open product reviews and recommendations so that you can trust us to provide you with unbiased, balanced information.