Do you really need a day pack? After all, there are plenty of other packs you can use for hiking. That’s what I used to think until I discovered their true genius. A daypack stops you from overpacking, which can increase your pack weight and lead to sore shoulders and tired muscles. The best daypack will keep your essentials safe while minimizing the amount of weight you carry.
This makes them perfect if you plan on doing shorter hikes that don’t need a ton of gear or layers. Daypacks are perfect for safely bringing bare essentials on hikes when more material or weight would be cumbersome. They’re very popular amongst hikers, anglers, trail runners, and mountain bikers. In this guide, I review the best daypacks available today.
My Review Process
I’ve been pursuing outdoor adventures for three decades. During that time, I struggled through hikes with packs that were too big and too small. Fighting with a zippered pocket that won't open or having a giant pack swing from your shoulders with every step is a recipe for frustration, irritation, and injury. Daypacks were a game-changer for me.
The size of the daypack helps you prioritize items so you don’t run the risk of overstuffing. The shape also helps the pack cling to your body, which minimizes swaying. You might not rely on a daypack for multi-day outings, but with gear loops, reservoir pockets, and flexible pack frames, the right daypack can make your day hikes much more enjoyable.
The Deuter Speed Lite 25 is my favorite overall daypack. It’s a great size, and 25 liters is plenty of space to pack all your essentials, outdoor gear, extra layers, and even a small med kit. The Speed Lite 25 is also lightweight, weighing only 1.5 pounds. The pack is surprisingly durable because of its rigid internal frame, which also gives it extra stability when carrying heavy loads.
On the negative side, the shoulder pocket is nice for smaller items but may not be big enough to stuff a phone into. Additionally, due to the rigid frame, the pack isn’t as flexible when you’re stuffing items into it. However, if you’re trying to cram more than 25 liters for a day pack, it may be worth reducing some items or considering a larger pack.
Another one of my favorite features is the breathable running vest style straps. They not only hold tightly to your frame but help wick away sweat for consistently comfortable hiking. It’s an awesome pack and ready to accompany you on the next excellent single-day adventure.
My choice for the best men’s daypack is the Osprey Talon 22. Osprey makes excellent backpacks of all sizes, and this one is no exception. The pack is fully adjustable, comfortable to wear over long distances, and makes fantastic use of ventilation features. On top of all that, it’s another lighter-weight option, coming in at just under two pounds.
The main downside of frameless packs like this one is a lack of rigidity, which makes it hard to keep a heavier load stable. If you pack oddly shaped items, you may feel them poking against your back. Wrapping items in soft clothing helps alleviate this, but the Talon 22 works best with lighter loads.
With a wide range of ventilation features, a comfortable carry, and full adjustability, the Talon 22 is a top daypack for light to medium loads.
The Osprey Tempest 20 Small is my choice for the best women’s daypack. Similar to the Talon 22, this pack is very adjustable and has several ventilation features, like a breathable back panel. It also has a great external pocket layout and fits most shorter-torso hikers. When you combine that with the loops and straps for outdoor gear, you have a multisport-capable pack.
The downside to this pack is the price. It’s not the most expensive option, but comfortably above the average price of other daypacks, so keep that in mind. However, I’ve always had success with Osprey packs, and if you only need something for day hikes or travel, this one is absolutely worth a closer look.
For more choices, check out our page on the best daypacks for women.
In the world of minimalist ultralight daypacks, the Aerios 15 is one of the best. This is a very small pack but features an excellent body-hugging design (sternum compression straps),shoulder strap pockets and is fantastically lightweight, weighing only 1 pound 4 ounces. The stretch fabric is also nice for additional storage.
This pack does have some downsides, including its price and lack of a hydration sleeve. There is a hook for a hydration bladder but no external hydration sleeve or place to thread a hydration tube. Water bottles are likely the best way to stay hydrated, which may frustrate efficiency seekers. It will also be difficult to get any bulky items into a 15-liter pack.
Even so, with a ridiculously lightweight profile, body-hugging design, and very useful (and large) shoulder strap pockets, the Aerios 15 is a great option for shorter hikes.
Weather happens, so it makes sense to think about weatherproofing your packs and gear. Most options on this list are weather resistant and offer pack covers (usually for an extra charge). However, if you’re looking for the best waterproof daypack, Hyperlite Mountain Gear has you covered.
Well-known amongst avid hikers, Hyperlite makes excellent lightweight gear. Normally, the tradeoff with lightweight gear is in durability. But this pack is surprisingly strong, comfortable, and still only weighs 1.4 pounds empty. One downside I found is less breathability, but that’s because the pack is fully waterproof.
If you want the best waterproof option and don’t mind the premium pricing, the reliable Daybreak daypack from Hyperlite Mountain Gear is hard to beat.
If you’re looking for a small, simple pack that’s comfortable and lightweight, the Black Diamond Pursuit 15 is an excellent choice. Overpacking is a concern among weight-conscious recreationists because we often carry things we don’t need. The Pursuit 15 is a great way to whittle down pack items to the bare essentials.
The downsides are fairly straightforward; the pack is quite small. The Pursuit 15 will best serve those interested in trail running, mountain biking, or ultra running due to its slim design. Its pockets are designed for easy access - you don’t even need to take off the pack. Overall, it's a fantastic small daypack and is ideal for quick hikes and people who like to pack light.
If you’re looking for a versatile daypack for a great price, the Osprey Daylite Plus should be on your radar. This great pack has a convenient laptop sleeve so you can work between adventures and fits nicely on most people. It’s not a fully featured pack but makes the most of its simple and functional design. With this, you can carry all you need for a day hike.
Without the addition of gear straps and loops, this isn’t a top option for mountaineering or larger outdoor objectives. The laptop sleeve may also be unnecessary depending on how you plan to use it. However, the built-in versatility and effective design give it a multi-use appeal. The Osprey Daylite Plus is at home on both the trails and in airports or urban areas.
Daypack Buying Guide
There is a wide range of affordable daypacks out there, so make sure you have all the information you need before you buy one.
Our handy buying guide should help address any lingering issues; there's also an FAQ section below so you know exactly what to expect from your new favorite daypack.
Daypacks cost between roughly $50 and $250. The sweet spot is usually around $150 for a higher-end option that fits most, if not all, of your needs. High-end models like the Hyperlite Daybreak are fantastic but will cost more. On the other side, budget choices usually float between $50-100.
Capacity & Weight
Daypacks are smaller by design, so their average carrying capacity is going to be lower than other hiking backpacks. Usually, you’re looking at a volume of 15-30 liters per pack. Anything with a larger capacity is generally considered a regular backpack. Anything below 15 liters, and you’d be better served with a trail running type vest.
Weight is another important consideration. Many daypacks highlight a frameless design, which is great for stuffing extra layers and softer items into a pack. However, without a rigid frame, any extra weight or bulky items will feel awkward and unwieldy on your back. Frameless flexible daypacks hit the sweet spot for light load comfort but suffer under the stress of heavier loads.
Daypacks are minimalist packs made from lighter materials. This reduces overall weight but may yield some durability issues over time. Polyester, nylon, ripstop nylon, and blends between them are very common. However, packs can also be made from recycled materials.
In addition to the primary fabrics, packs with mesh, spandex, foam panels, and compression straps really help elevate models. Gore-tex or DWR coatings will help keep moisture out when you're adventuring as well, but won't be as breathable and may cause more sweating.
Daypack features encompass a wide array of design flourishes that increase the usability of the pack. Some examples of useful features include padded shoulder straps and a variety of convenient pockets (like hipbelt pockets, mesh pockets, and internal pockets). Other examples include weatherproofing, padded shoulder straps, key clips, and extra gear attachments.
Keep in mind that extra features, while great, may not be what you’re looking for. If you don’t need gear straps, padded sleeves, or chest compression straps, simple designs with basic features and organizational pockets are more effective.
Pockets & Closures
Exterior pockets, mesh pockets, phone pockets, zippered pockets, and hipbelt pockets are all useful to have. A backpack with a wide array of organizational pocket sizes and placement can make a huge difference in efficiency on the trail. Look for the number of pockets, their size, whether or not they have zipper closures (snaps are ok, too), and the layout of the pockets.
Not all daypacks are hydration packs. Make sure you can fit water bottles or a hydration bladder into your pack and thread a hydration tube through it. Daypacks with hydration sleeves or dedicated water bottle pockets are more useful than those without.
Breathability and waterproofing are usually at opposite ends of the spectrum, with very little overlap. The more breathable a pack, the less waterproofing it will feature. Having said that, most options on the list have some ventilation features, most commonly a breathable back panel, mesh straps, and vents built into the pack.
All the packs on this list come with some weather resistance. However, it’s always a smart move to find or purchase a rain cover. Some daypacks come with a built-in rain cover, but it isn't guaranteed. Rain covers (also called pack covers) should fit snugly over your pack and cover all major areas.
Of all the models reviewed in this article, only the Hyperlite Mountain Gear Daybreak has a waterproof rating.
My choice for the best overall hiking daypack is the stellar Deuter Speed Lite 25. The best women's daypack is the versatile and comfortable Osprey Tempest 20 small.
If you're worried about heavy rain, I would opt for the waterproof Hyperlite Mountain Gear Daypack. And, of course, for budget shoppers, the Osprey Daylite Plus is a great and affordable multi-use daypack.
A backpack is an umbrella term used to describe a wide variety of carrying vessels that you can sling over your shoulders. They are often larger than a daypack, with more carrying capacity. A backpack can also be used for hiking, sports, work, school, or anything in between.
Traditional daypacks are a more focused version of a backpack. They are smaller, lightweight, and generally made to accomplish day hiking objectives. And while you can certainly use them for urban activities, dedicated daypacks shine in the outdoors.
A daypack is specifically designed for day hiking and have many advantages over larger backpacks. The best minimalist daypacks hug your body to prevent excess swaying, have hydration or water bottle pockets, and just enough space for critical items.
Another benefit is they help avoid overpacking. Many people feel the unconscious desire to stuff their packs with items until it’s near bursting. If that’s you and you don’t want to lug around a ton of extra weight, I’d get a daypack between 15-30 liters and only take what fits.
There are several competing theories, although I like the idea that a daypack should only weigh about 10% of your total body weight. Ultralight hikers tend to prioritize minimalist daypacks that have several features reminiscent of trail running vests, but that will prevent you from bringing any bulkier items.
Now, there are exceptions. For me, I love carrying a loaded first aid kit. This decision was informed by previous medical situations in the backcountry. Given that, I tend to stuff daypacks full to the brim. If that sounds like you, make sure the pack has a dedicated frame like the Deuter Speed Lite 25.
Daypacks can run from about 15-30 liters. Many varieties are offered between 20-25 liters. And while this may not seem like a lot of space, when items are suitably distributed, it should be just enough for a hiking trip. Keep in mind that the more flexible the pack, the more you'll need to shift items around until they fit.
I prefer daypacks on the large side, again, a decision informed by previous medical and emergency situations in the wild. My ideal outdoor adventure daypack size is around 25 liters. However, if you are confident in your abilities and don’t feel the need to carry around the gear that I tend to include, I’d go down to around 20 liters.
Trail runners, mountain bikers, and ultralight disciples should strongly consider the 15-liter range. The weight of a full pack won’t be enough to slow you down, and the compression strap design system will cinch the pack down flush with your body to keep your load stable. The less a pack sways when you move, the more comfortable it’s going to be.
*The information on this site is based on research and first-hand experience but should not be treated as medical advice. Before beginning any new activity, we recommend consulting with a physician, nutritionist or other relevant professional healthcare provider.