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Updated May 2022
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BestReviews spends thousands of hours researching, analyzing, and testing products to recommend the best picks for most consumers. We only make money if you purchase a product through our links, and all opinions about the products are our own. Read more  
BestReviews spends thousands of hours researching, analyzing, and testing products to recommend the best picks for most consumers. We buy all products with our own funds, and we never accept free products from manufacturers.Read more 
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Buying guide for Best hiking daypacks

If you only go for short hikes on your favorite trails, you can probably carry all your essentials in your jacket pockets. If you’re planning to hike all day, a full-size backpack might be too heavy and bulky. You need a hiking daypack for all your necessary items.

A compact and lightweight hiking daypack won’t slow you down, but it’s still large enough to hold everything you might need during your hike and comfortable enough that you can hike all day. There are a few things to think about to determine whether a daypack or traditional backpack is the better option for you, such as size, fit, and compartments.

hiking daypacks
You can get plenty of health benefits from a weekly hike of just 30 to 60 minutes, so it’s worthwhile to hit the trails even if your time is limited.

How to choose the best hiking daypack

Hiking daypacks vs. backpacks

When looking for a hiking daypack, you might be a little confused by the difference between a daypack and a backpack. In reality, they’re much the same thing. A daypack is a type of backpack, but it differs from regular backpacks by size, weight, and some other features.

As its name implies, a hiking daypack is designed to carry all the items you need on a daylong hike. However, because it isn’t meant to hold enough supplies for a long trip, it’s smaller, lighter, and more compact than a hiking backpack.

While most daypacks have some padding to make them more comfortable, they don’t have the same support as backpacks because they aren’t intended to be carried for long periods. Hiking daypacks typically don’t have padded shoulder straps, but many have a sternum strap and hip strap to stabilize the pack on your body.

Hiking daypack sizes

These daypacks are all fairly small, but you can choose from various capacity options. Most packs have a capacity of between 10 and 50 liters.

Up to 10 liters: These daypacks work best for high-impact activities like running or biking. They might be suitable for very short hikes, with only enough space for the basics.

10 to 20 liters: These daypacks can work well for short hikes. Most have extra pockets to carry more than just your basics.

20 to 35 liters: These daypacks are the ideal size for a day of hiking. They’re large enough to hold supplies, food, extra clothing, and more without weighing you down too much.

35 to 50 liters: These daypacks are slightly larger than necessary for a day of hiking. However, if you want a versatile pack that you can also use for overnight hikes, one of these would be a good option.

Fit

Torso: A hiking daypack should fit your body well to ensure that it’s as comfortable as possible. Most importantly, it should be the right size for your torso. That’s why some packs are available in several sizes that range from small to large, depending on your torso length. The precise measurements vary from manufacturer to manufacturer, so it’s important to consult the sizing chart.

Waist: Your waist measurement also comes into play because of the daypack’s hip strap or belt. Most straps are adjustable and can comfortably fit waists between 20 and 40 inches.

When you put on a hiking daypack, the hip strap should be approximately one finger’s width over the top of your hips. There shouldn’t be any gap between the shoulder strap and the top of your shoulder in this position. If there is a gap, the pack is too large for your torso. On the other hand, if the straps pull down your back a couple of inches, the pack is likely too small for your torso.

Frame

Many hiking daypacks are frameless, meaning they don’t have any internal support to help carry the weight of your items. As a result, they don’t work as well as backpacks for heavier loads. However, a frameless hiking daypack is extremely lightweight and compact, conforming to the shape of your back for a more comfortable fit.

You can find some daypacks with an internal frame to help support the weight of your belongings. To make sure your daypack is still lightweight, look for a pack with a plastic or aluminum frame.

A daypack’s waist belt should sit directly on your hips. Tighten the straps so the belt is comfortably snug.

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What features should I look for in a hiking daypack?

Ventilation

Choosing a daypack with an effective ventilation system is essential if you plan to hike in hot weather. Models with a ventilated back panel are usually the best bet for keeping you cool and comfortable. The panel is typically made of mesh, so air can circulate freely across your back and keep you from getting too sweaty.

Hydration

You need to stay hydrated on your hike, which is why it’s crucial to carry water with you. Nearly all hiking daypacks have a sleeve for a water bottle or hydration reservoir. However, a hydration reservoir is a system that’s built into a backpack. If you’re using a reservoir, check that it’s compatible with the daypack you’re considering. Some backpacks and daypacks, called hydration packs, come with their own hydration reservoir.

Storage

A hiking daypack that has multiple pockets makes it extremely easy to organize your gear. Look for a model with enough external pockets for items you reach for often, like your phone and sunscreen.

Rain cover

If it’s likely to rain where you hike, it helps to choose a daypack that comes with a waterproof rain cover to help protect the contents of your pack from water or damage.

Sleeping bag compartment

Some larger hiking daypacks include a pocket for a sleeping bag. If you plan to use the pack for overnight trips, it will definitely come in handy. However, if you plan to use your pack exclusively for daylong hikes, it isn’t necessary.

water bottle
DID YOU KNOW?
It’s generally recommended that you carry at least one liter of water for every couple of hours of hiking you plan to do. Make sure to choose a daypack that can fit a large enough water bottle or reservoir to allow you to stay hydrated.
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How do I accessorize a hiking daypack?

Hydration reservoir

If you choose a daypack with a hydration sleeve, a hydration reservoir makes it extremely easy to carry enough water to drink on your hike. You can also find hands-free systems that come in several sizes.

Compression bags

If you’re trying to maximize the space in a small hiking daypack, get some compression bags or stuff sacks. Look for bags that are lightweight, water-resistant, and durable.

How much do hiking daypacks cost?

Inexpensive

The most affordable hiking daypacks typically cost between $15 and $30. They’re usually smaller packs with a capacity of 10 liters or less and aren’t compatible with a hydration system. Most aren’t very water-resistant, either.

Mid-range

These hiking daypacks have a capacity between 10 and 30 liters and cost between $30 and $115. Many in this price range are compatible with a hydration system, and some packs even include a small hydration reservoir. Some daypacks in this price range are fairly water-resistant.

Expensive

The most expensive hiking daypacks offer a capacity between 20 and 50 liters and generally cost between $115 and $210. Nearly all the packs in this price range are compatible with a hydration system. Most also include a substantial hydration reservoir. These daypacks are highly water-resistant.

In spring and summer, a smaller daypack is usually sufficient for daylong hikes because you don’t need to pack extra clothing for cold weather. In the fall and winter, you might want to use a larger pack so you can carry more layers.

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Tips

  • Keep items you use often in the daypack’s side pockets. These pockets are easier to access, so you can quickly grab your sunglasses or bug spray without taking off the pack.
  • Pack your daypack with balance in mind. The heaviest items should be closest to the middle of your back, near your center of gravity, so the pack is more comfortable to wear. If the pack’s straps dig into your shoulders, that’s usually a sign that the weight isn’t evenly distributed inside the pack.
  • Keep items you don’t need often deeper inside the daypack. You won’t usually need to quickly grab a change of clothing on a daylong hike, so it can go at the bottom. Snacks should be near the top to make them easier to access.
  • Tighten the straps once you have the daypack on. To maximize space inside the daypack, loosen the straps while you pack it. Once the bag is loaded, you can tighten the straps across your body to make sure that the pack will be stable while you hike.
first aid kit
Even if you don’t plan to be out on the trails for long, carry some basic first aid supplies like antibiotic cream and bandages in your hiking daypack.

FAQ

Q. Is a hiking daypack necessary?

A. You can use any backpack for daylong hikes, so a daypack might not be necessary. However, daypacks are specifically designed to be lightweight and compact, making them more comfortable when hiking on trails. If you regularly go for day hikes, it might be worth investing in a daypack. If you mostly go on longer hiking trips, a larger hiking backpack is probably a better option.

Q. Are daypacks waterproof?

A. Some daypacks are fully waterproof: they can be submerged without letting any moisture inside the pack. However, most are only water-resistant, so they can withstand splashing or light rain without damaging the items inside, but they can’t be submerged.

Q. How long does a hiking daypack last?

A. Most high-quality daypacks are built to withstand the wear and tear of regular use. The materials can last for up to 10 years, even if you’re using the daypack every week. However, if you opt for a more affordable daypack, you might only get a few years of use out of it before you need to replace it.

 

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