HOW TO CHOOSE THE BEST DAYPACK FOR HIKING
You may be wondering why we have dedicated an entire article to help you decide how to choose the best daypack for hiking. Isn’t it just like a regular backpack and isn’t that enough to carry a light load out on the trail? If we’re being honest, the answer is a little more complicated than just yes or no and we want to help you make the best choice possible.
As self-confessed gear lovers (and nerds) here at Bearfoot Theory we like diving into details of a product and don’t mind sharing what we’ve learned to help you navigate the overstuffed racks at your local outdoor shop. Besides, daypacks can be pretty pricey, and it’s important to know what you’re spending your money on — after all, good gear should help, not hinder your time spent enjoying the natural world. And it isn’t any fun suffering a broken strap on your brand new pack.
Ready to go? Here’s your guide on how to choose the best daypack for hiking!
Basics of Choosing a Daypack
Just like a backpacking pack, the type of trip you take most often will dictate what is the best daypack for you. A common question that many hikers have is what exactly is the difference between a general daypack like a backpack you’d carry on the street and a technical daypack for the trail? The answer varies depending on what you do the most of, however, there are a few basic things to consider before choosing the best daypack for hiking.
Length of Your Trip
Going on a serious day hike requires a more technical pack with more support than you need for a two-hour hike. It’s helpful to consider how the length of your trips will affect what kind of pack is best depending on its technical features. We’ll talk more about this later in the article.
Weather and Climate
Just like a backpacking pack, you’ll want to consider the weather and climate. Will it be cold & snowy or hot & humid? A lot of packs have extra features and design details that can really make a difference when you’re out in the elements. For hot & humid weather, looking for features that help allow airflow on your back while carrying a backpack will help prevent a hot, sweaty back that could be more prone to chaffing. For cold, wet weather, you might want a pack that is made of a water-resistant fabric or comes with a rain cover.
Activities You’ll Be Doing On Your Hike
For some, heading outside for a day hike also means going climbing, mountain biking, trail running or touring in the backcountry, so features like a hip belt, places to strap on extra gear, pockets, and frame make all the difference.
What Size Daypack Do You Need?
A typical daypack is less than 2,500 cubic inches or 40 liters, however, there are other options to choose from depending on your activity. Here’s a brief overview of daypack sizes and the best activities to pair them with:
- 10 Liters or Less = Short, light day hikes, trail running, road biking
- 11-20 Liters = Mountain biking, longer day hikes, trail running
- 21-35 Liters = Long, intense day hikes, travel
- 36-50 Liters = Any activity that requires more gear like climbing, room for extra layers of clothing, food, water, etc.
Remember that you don’t need too big of a pack if you aren’t carrying additional gear or clothing layers. A smaller capacity pack will be lightweight and compact enough that it won’t way you down but may also come with enough technical features that you won’t need to worry about extra space and storage.
Looking for a multi-day backpacking backpack? Click here our favorite backpacking pack recommendations.
How Should a Daypack Fit?
Unlike backpacking packs, a daypack fit isn’t as specific. Although there are children and women’s specific fits, many are unisex and offer features like adjustable straps so you can customize the pack to fit your torso. But that’s the keyword…TORSO. There are tall people with short torsos and short people will long torsos, and how your pack fits is dependent on your torso length, rather than your overall height.
Some brands and manufacturers have small, medium and large sizes, but it varies overall. We recommend trying on a new daypack before you buy to ensure that it feels comfortable and won’t rub and chafe when you fill it up with the ten hiking essentials.
When you first put the pack on, the top of the waist belt should sit slightly above the center of your hips. Tighten the waistbelt so it’s snug but comfortable. Then you want to cinch the shoulder straps down. If there is a gap between your shoulders and the shoulder straps, the torso of the pack is too long. If the shoulder straps feel like they are weighing you down, the torso of the daypack might be too short, meaning you should size up. We always recommend trying on in the store if possible so you can finely tune the straps for the proper fit.
Hiking in Nepal with the Osprey Manta AG 28 Hydration Pack
A Note on Women’s Specific Packs
Backpacker Magazine said it best when they noted that “women’s packs aren’t just smaller men’s packs in pretty colors.” These packs are designed to properly fit a women’s anatomy, like more slanted hip straps and narrower shoulder straps that will fit better overall. If you’re a female and struggling to find a pack that fits you perfect, we recommend looking into a women’s specific fit.
Daypack Features To Consider
Besides fit and size, the varying features of a daypack are worth taking into account before making a purchase. Here are a few common features, plus things to consider before deciding on a pack.
- Frames + Frameless Packs: Some daypacks come outfitted with an internal frame or lightweight frame sheet that makes the pack a bit sturdier for heavy loads. This does make the pack heavier overall, but the best daypack for more serious hiking will be one with a frame. If you prefer a more compact, lightweight pack that can be stuffed in a suitcase on bigger trips, a frameless daypack is a perfect choice.
- Waistbelt & sternum straps: We consider waistbelt and sternum straps absolute musts, and these straps are what differentiate a hiking backpack and a school or city backpack. A waistbelt helps transfer the weight of the pack away from your shoulders to your hips and makes it a lot more comfortable to wear on long days. A sternum strap that goes across your chest helps keep the pack in place. For higher capacity packs, we also prefer daypacks with load lifter straps. These straps above your shoulders connect the top of the pack to the frame and allow you to pull the load in tighter to your body so the weight of your pack isn’t pulling you back.
- Hydration Pocket + Water Bottle Side Pockets: Most modern daypacks and backpacking packs have space in between the interior compartment and the frame to store a hydration reservoir. Not familiar with the term? A hydration reservoir is a plastic bladder that can be filled with water; it has a long tube attached so you can drink the water from the hydration pack rather than digging out your water bottle. It’s a pretty nice feature that doesn’t add too much extra weight. For those who’d rather stash their water on the outside of your bag for easy access, a water bottle side pocket is a common feature that is on nearly every pack.
- Mesh Ventilation: When you start to work up a sweat outside, a pack that sits close to your back can trap heat and start to become pretty uncomfortable. Many brands add mesh paneling to the inner back portion of the pack for ventilation. Believe us, you may not appreciate it at the start but on a hot hike, you’ll be glad to have it.
- Pockets: Daypack pockets are simple and straightforward, with one large main compartment and a zippered top pocket or outer pocket for stashing small objects and miscellaneous items that are easily accessible. Daypacks with a larger carrying capacity may also have strategically placed zip pockets on the side and underneath or even on the waistbelt.
The Best Daypacks for Hiking
Below, we four ladies on the Bearfoot Theory team share the best daypacks for hiking we’ve found based on our experiences.
KRISTEN’S DAYPACK PICKS
- The Osprey Manta AG 28 Hydration Pack – This 28-liter bag is a great all-around daypack and is the daypack I took with me to Everest Basecamp and to Canada last summer. It’s got a 2.5-liter hydration reservoir, lots of pockets, and a comfortable hip belt. I also like the mesh pouch for extra layers. The hipbelt hugs around your body, which I like, but may not be as comfortable depending on your body type.
- Mindshift Gear Rotation 180 Horizon 34 Backpack – This 34-liter pack is the best camera backpack I’ve come across for hiking and other outdoor activities. If you are a photographer who is sick of taking off your pack every time you want to snap a photo, this pack is for you. The part of the bag that holds your camera and lens rotates around to the front of your body, while the pack stays in place. It makes it very easy to access and takes a lot of pressure off of your neck if you are used to hiking with your camera swinging across your body. The only downside of this pack is that it doesn’t really fit my 15″ Macbook Pro. That’s obviously not a problem for a dayhike, but it is an issue for trips when I need to bring my laptop.
- Mountain Hardwear Scrambler Outdry Pack – This 30-liter pack is a great multi-purpose pack for those who don’t care about organizational pockets. You can use it to hike, carry skis, or for climbing. It’s very durable and the pack material is completely waterproof, making it an excellent option for wet or rugged climates like the Pacific Northwest or Hawaii.
- Osprey Raven 14 – This is a much smaller pack that I use for biking and dayhikes when I don’t need to bring a ton of extra gear. It’s a frameless bag with an awesome mesh back panel for ventilation. My favorite thing about this pack is the separate compartment for the included 3-liter hydration reservoir that makes it very easy to refill your water. It also has a few different pockets for snacks, a small camera, and extra layers.
KIM’S DAYPACK PICKS
- REI Women’s 40 pack: I love, love, love the REI Women’s 40 pack. This higher capacity daypack has awesome organization compartments, and it’s really helpful that the pack has a U-shaped zipper in front that fully opens the main compartment for packing or finding that 1 missing item you can’t locate. The zippered belt pockets are also large enough to hold your cell phone and other must-haves that you want at your hip. The REI Women’s 40 is a women’s specific pack, but they have an REI Men’s 40 pack.
- REI Flash 22: I also have an REI Flash 22 that is awesome for biking & quick trails, but it has very little back support. I do love how lightweight and versatile the bag is. It is great for traveling if you think you’ll need an extra backpack because it packs super small and you can throw it in your luggage.
LINDA’S DAYPACK PICK
- Camelback Sequoia 22 Hydration Pack: I love Camelback and have used their daypacks for years. My current favorite is the Camelback Sequoia 22 Hydration Pack. I like how they have a separate zipper/pouch at the back for the hydration pack and I have never had issues with the hydration pack leaking (as long as I close it properly). The packs have nice padding at the back and allow air flow. They also have waist and chest straps which take the weight off my back and make it more comfortable to carry. I take it on all my day hikes and also like to take it as a personal item when I travel since it fits a lot and has separate pockets that fit my laptop well.
KATHERINE’S DAYPACK PICKS
- Cotopaxi Luzon 18L Del Dia Daypack: This 18 liter frameless daypack is super lightweight, compact and has just the right amount of technical features for a daypack without going overboard. I really like that the main compartment is large enough to cram extra layers in and has a drawstring closure so I’m not fumbling around with a zipper. Plus, there’s a hydration sleeve and adjustable straps that tighten it up to customize my fit. Not to mention, I love their ethos and recycled fabrics that are handpicked by the workers. The lack of technical features means it’s not the best daypack for serious hikes, but for travel, light dayhikes and other activities, it’s a great option.