Product Reviews

Switchback Travel | Best Daypacks for Hiking of 2023

From short day hikes and summit scrambles to all-day adventures into the backcountry, you’ll want the right pack for the job. Most people carry water and food, a layering piece and rain shell, and a few other accessories like a first-aid kit or headlamp. And the longer you’ll be on the trail, the more comfort, capacity, and features come into play. Below we break down the best daypacks of 2023, from simple and inexpensive models for casual hikes to more comfortable and feature-packed options for longer excursions. For more information, check out our detailed buying advice and comparison table after the picks.

Our Team’s Daypack Picks

Best Overall Daypack

1. Osprey Talon 22 ($160)

Osprey Talon 22 daypackWeight: 1 lb. 14.6 oz.
Capacities: 11, 22, 26, 33, 36, 44L
Hipbelt: Cushioned
What we like: A comfortable, well-built, and versatile daypack.
What we don’t: For heavy loads, the Osprey Stratos below offers more padding and support.

If you’re looking for one daypack that can do it all, Osprey’s Talon is your best bet. At 22 liters (and made in larger versions up to 44 liters for those who need more capacity), it hits an ideal balance of comfort and features. Notably, the Talon has a real hipbelt with light cushioning, which is more comfortable than the simple webbing you get with more streamlined packs, along with a thoughtfully designed mesh backpanel. The pack also has functional organization, a nice stretchiness to it, ample attachment points including for trekking poles, a helmet, and a bike light, and is made in two sizes to dial in fit. For day hikes, travel, and everyday use, the Talon 22 is an excellent choice.

While the Talon is Osprey’s best all-rounder, the more expensive Stratos collection below offers even more padding and carrying comfort. The latter has a more substantial hipbelt along with a suspended mesh backpanel for superior support and ventilation (it’s built more like a backpacking pack than a daypack). On the flip side, the Talon is lighter at under 2 pounds, but its thinner backpanel does mean that you can sometimes feel the contents of your bag on your back, and particularly if loaded down. In the end, the Stratos gets the edge for heavy loads and long days on the trail (the 36L we have listed is even serviceable for light overnights), but the Talon is lighter, cheaper, and more than enough daypack for most people and uses. For a more casually minded option from Osprey that offers similar carrying comfort, check out their Hikelite 26Read in-depth review
See the Osprey Talon 22 See the Women’s Osprey Tempest 20

Best Budget/Lightweight Daypack

2. REI Co-op Flash 22 ($60)

REI Co-op Flash 22 daypack (orange)Weight: 14 oz.
Capacities: 18, 22L
Hipbelt: Webbing
What we like: Lightweight, well made, and cheap.
What we don’t: Underbuilt for shuttling a full load.

REI Co-op’s Flash line of daypacks has been a mainstay among hikers, travelers, and those on a budget for years. And with a recent update, the latest Flash 22 is more competitive than ever. Simplicity wins out here: The Flash 22 is frameless by design, meaning it lacks the rigidity of other daypacks but manages to keep weight extremely low at just 14 ounces (and even less if you take out the back pad or sternum strap). You don’t get a cushy hipbelt or shoulder straps, but the padded mesh along the back and shoulders does a good job at keeping you comfortable when carrying lighter loads. Perhaps most importantly, the Flash costs just $60, is well built overall, and has enough capacity for all-day outings on the trail (provided you pack relatively light).

As we touched on above, the Flash 22 was updated recently with some noteworthy changes. Specifically, the latest pack utilizes more environmentally friendly materials, including recycled and bluesign-approved nylon. The top lid also now includes two buckles rather than one for snugging things down, and the Packmod bungee can be moved up or down to customize gear attachments. Finally, we love the hidden zippered pocket next to the backpanel—it’s a really handy place to store small valuables like a phone and wallet. But some downsides remain: The Flash 22 isn’t a standout in comfort or support for shuttling a heavy load over long distances, materials are on the thinner end for rough use, and it’s only sold in one size. But if you can keep weight to a minimum, the Flash 22 is a great way to go fast and light on a budget. For an even lighter and more streamlined version, check out REI’s $20-cheaper Flash 18Read in-depth review
See the REI Co-op Flash 22

Most Comfortable Daypack for Heavy Loads

3. Osprey Stratos 36 ($220)

Osprey Stratos 36 daypack_0Weight: 3 lbs. 4.5 oz.
Capacities: 24, 34, 36, 44L
Hipbelt: Cushioned
What we like: Extremely comfortable, loaded with features, and can pull double duty for light overnights.
What we don’t: Heavy for the capacity and no longer offered in multiple sizes.

If you prioritize comfort or plan on hauling a heavy load, the Osprey Stratos 36 is one of the most feature-rich daypacks on this list. Its full metal frame and substantial hipbelt put the weight comfortably on your hips, and a large mesh panel ventilates extremely well and conforms nicely to your back. In addition, organization is excellent—we particularly like the two hipbelt pockets and zippered side panel access to the main compartment, and there’s even a sleeping bag compartment and pad straps for embarking on minimalist overnights. Add a built-in rain cover, and the Stratos checks off everything you’ll need in a daypack—and more.

Osprey overhauled the Stratos and women’s Sirrus collections recently, and we think most of the updates were positive. In addition to using more eco-friendly materials, the latest packs got a boost in breathability with minor changes to the backpanel design. Osprey did do away with the multiple sizing options, although the new ladder-like system at the back is a decent substitute and allows you to quickly adjust the torso length by up to 4 inches. The primary downsides are still weight and price: The Stratos 36 checks in at over 3 pounds (it’s even heavier than many backpacking packs) and is expensive for the capacity at $220. In the end, those wanting a premium, luxurious pack will appreciate the Stratos’ support and build quality, but for something simpler and more packable from Osprey, see the equally popular Talon above.
See the Osprey Stratos 36 See the Women’s Osprey Sirrus 36

Best Hydration Pack for Hiking

4. Osprey Skarab 30 ($150)

Osprey Skarab 30 hydration daypack (green)Weight: 2 lbs. 0.2 oz.
Capacities: 18, 22, 30L
Hipbelt: Cushioned
What we like: Great mix of storage, convenience, and comfort with an included hydration system.
What we don’t: Small hipbelt pockets, only sold in one size, and many hikers already own a reservoir.

Most modern daypacks come with dedicated storage for a water reservoir, but Osprey’s Skarab 30 (and women’s Skimmer 28) provides a functional all-in-one option for those who want to purchase their pack and bladder together. In testing the Skarab, we were especially impressed by its comfort and convenience, including a spacious main compartment with a large bucket-style opening, nicely cushioned yet low-profile suspension system, and convenient organizational layout. For reference, the included 2.5-liter Hydraulics LT reservoir is a $33 investment on its own, making the Skarab a really good value for those who don’t already own a bladder. Added up, it’s another high-quality and well-appointed design from one of the best pack manufacturers around.

The Osprey Skarab 30 tops our hydration pack round-up for this year, but it’s not without downsides. First, the hipbelt pockets are noticeably small and couldn’t accommodate our standard-sized iPhone. Second, both the Skarab and women’s Skimmer are only offered in a single torso size, which will make it harder for some to dial in fit. But these are relatively small complaints for an otherwise well-equipped and highly comfortable daypack, and the included reservoir is just the cherry on top. For a boost in support and ventilation, Osprey’s $220 Manta 34 (and women’s Mira 32) includes the same 2.5-liter reservoir, although it’s noticeably heavier and more complex than the Skarab and too overbuilt for most.
See the Osprey Skarab 30 See the Women’s Osprey Skimmer 28

Best Pack for Fast-and-Light Mountain Missions

5. Black Diamond Distance 15 ($180)

Black Diamond Distance 15 running daypackWeight: 12.7 oz.
Capacities: 4, 8, 15, 22L
Hipbelt: None
What we like: Light, streamlined, and allows convenient access to the essentials.
What we don’t: Limited load support and no hipbelt.

Traditional daypacks like the Talon and Stratos above are great for moderate day hikes, but Black Diamond’s running-inspired Distance 15 is purpose-built for mountain athletes focused on traveling fast and light. The hybrid pack/vest design checks in at a scant 12.7 ounces but easily accommodates a day’s worth of supplies (it can even fit a streamlined climbing helmet). Storage is another highlight: The zippered chest pocket, trekking pole sleeves, ice axe holders, side compression straps, and multiple chest pockets allow you to conveniently access the essentials without removing the pack. And with its body-hugging shape (improved in the 2023 version), the Distance makes it easy to move quickly and efficiently with a day’s worth of gear.

To be clear, however, the Black Diamond Distance isn’t for everyone. The pack is reasonably durable with UHMWPE ripstop body fabrics, but you’ll need to be careful around sharp rocks or equipment and avoid overpacking (we had a shoulder strap detach almost entirely after carrying too much weight). It also rides a bit low on our back and can feel heavy at the end of a long day, and the lack of hipbelt only exacerbates the issue. Importantly, the revamped Distance now comes in three sizes for both men and women, which is an improvement over the outgoing unisex pack. All told, traditional day hikers will likely want more support, but the Black Diamond is a lightweight and thoughtfully built option for those looking for a step up from a running vest. And it’s now made in a 22-liter model, which tacks on a considerable 7 liters and a large stretch woven pocket at the front.
See the Black Diamond Distance 15 See the Women’s BD Distance 15

Best Daypack for On-the-Go Storage

6. Arc’teryx Aerios 30 ($190)

Arc'teryx Aerios 30 hiking daypackWeight: 2 lbs.
Capacities: 15, 30, 45L
Hipbelt: Cushioned
What we like: Excellent on-the-go storage with a supportive and body-hugging fit.
What we don’t: Expensive and not ideal for casual use.

Arc’teryx is known for making high-quality gear for ambitious adventures, and much of that expertise has trickled down to their hiking-focused Aerios pack. We’re big fans of the fastpacking-inspired design, which merges the capacity and support of a backpack with the on-the-go storage of a running vest. On the front, you get two stretchy mesh pockets (great for storing soft flasks) in addition to zippered pockets on both the shoulder straps and hipbelt. The rest of the pack offers equally convenient organization—including side dump pockets and a handy accessory stash—and suspension is excellent, pairing a vest-like fit at the chest with a rigid foam backpanel and supportive hipbelt. It all adds up to our favorite new daypack of the year, especially for hikers that prioritize speed and distance.

We recently tested the Aerios 30 on several day hikes in Patagonia and were blown away by the thoughtful design and high-quality finishes. In fact, after experiencing the merits of the body-hugging fit and generous on-the-go storage, we found it hard to transition back to a standard pack. That said, you’ll pay a pretty steep premium at $190, which is around $50 more than similarly sized options like the REI Traverse 32 and Patagonia Altvia 28L below. And some may not like the technical appearance of the vest-like upper, which doesn’t wear as well on casual adventures (note: Arc’teryx’s new Mantis collection is cheaper and more everyday-friendly). But for fast-moving trail days when you’re eating and drinking on the go, you’d be hard-pressed to find a more suitable and well-built option. Within this category, it’s also worth checking out the new-for-2023 Black Diamond Pursuit below.
See the Arc’teryx Aerios 30 See the Women’s Arc’teryx Aerios 30

Best of the Rest

7. Osprey Daylite Plus ($75)

Osprey Daylite Plus daypackWeight: 1 lb. 4.6 oz.
Capacities: 13, 20L
Hipbelt: Webbing
What we like: Osprey quality and 20 liters of capacity at a good price.
What we don’t: Limited support and only sold in one size.

Osprey’s Talon and Stratos above get the lion’s share of the attention, but the Daylite Plus is another viable option that comes in significantly cheaper. This simple daypack weighs just 1 pound 4.6 ounces, has a respectable 20-liter capacity and good padding for carrying lighter loads, and boasts the kind of quality build that Osprey in known for. In terms of best uses, we’ve found that the Daylite Plus is a great match for short to moderate days on the trail or as a companion pack for travel—it’s designed to attach to the outside of a number of Osprey’s larger travel bags, including the popular Farpoint (and women’s Fairview) series.

The most obvious drawbacks to the Osprey Daylite Plus are the lack of support and sizing options (the one-size-fits-all design can accommodate 15- to 22-in. torso lengths and 25- to 50-in. waists). As we noted above, the shoulder straps are thinly cushioned and will get the job done for minimalists, but those planning to stuff in a full day’s worth of gear—including a shell, insulation, food, water, and other necessities—will quickly notice the drop in comfort. The waist belt is also made of simple webbing, which again is serviceable for brief outings but falls short as the miles add up. But as a streamlined grab-and-go option that can also be worn for travel and around-town use, the Daylite Plus (and smaller 13-liter Daylite) undeniably is a great value from one of the most reputable pack manufacturers in the business… Read in-depth review
See the Osprey Daylite Plus

8. Hyperlite Mountain Gear Daybreak ($229)

Hyperlite Mountain Gear Daybreak packWeight: 1 lb. 5 oz.
Capacity: 17L
Hipbelt: Cushioned
What we like: Waterproof and light.
What we don’t: Expensive; relatively small capacity in the main compartment.

Maine-based Hyperlite Mountain Gear makes some of our favorite ultralight backpacking packs. Their top daypack, the Daybreak, shares the same core ingredients: Dyneema Composite Fabric that is weather-resistant and incredibly strong for its weight, simple yet functional organization, and a clean design that looks great. On paper, the 17-liter capacity in the main compartment seems small, but the large front pocket and two side pockets add a significant amount of functional storage. For serious day hikes in rough conditions, the Daybreak is hard to beat.

Cost is the biggest obstacle in choosing the Daybreak. In fact, it’s the most expensive bag on our list despite only having a moderate 17-liter capacity. But the extra money gets you excellent weather protection, a premium build that is handmade in the U.S., and we love the trickle-down features from Hyperlite’s backpacking packs. And it’s worth noting that many people use the Daybreak for daily use, and we’ve found ourselves doing the same for travel and carrying a computer or camera. If you’re able to pull double duty, it’s easier to swallow the high price. And for another competitive ultralight option, check out Matador’s Beast daypacks (offered in 18- and 28-liter variations), which are similarly feature-rich and weather-ready for considerably less (we outline the larger model below)… Read in-depth review
See the Hyperlite Mountain Gear Daybreak

9. REI Co-op Traverse 32 ($139)

REI Co-op Traverse 32 daypackWeight: 2 lbs. 9 oz.
Capacities: 32, 60L
Hipbelt: Cushioned
What we like: Durable materials, three size options, and a good all-around value.
What we don’t: Overbuilt for most day hikes.

The second REI pack to make our list is the Traverse 32, which is a shrunken-down variation of their popular 60-liter backpacking pack. In a strong departure from the minimalist Flash 22 above, the focus here is on durability and organization: The Traverse is solidly built with a steel frame and hardwearing fabrics (bonus: They’re recycled and bluesign-approved), and you get ample exterior pockets, a handy side-access zipper to the main compartment, and lash points for stowing gear and valuables. The Traverse also features REI’s functional Packmod system, which allows you to customize the compression strap layout to tailor it to the size and shape of your load. Finally, as we’ve come to expect from the brand, the Traverse is a good all-around value for what you get at $139.

That said, not everyone will benefit from the Traverse’s unapologetically burly and complex build. Weight is pretty reasonable for the capacity at 2 pounds 9 ounces, but the thicker fabrics and raised foam padding on the backpanel give the pack a fairly clunky feel (they also translate to subpar breathability). For most easy to moderate day hikes, we would prefer shaving considerable heft and bulk with a design like Osprey’s Talon above. That said, the Traverse has its appeal for ambitious all-day treks and light overnights, and the three size options mean that most hikers should be able to find a good fit. For a bigger but slightly less technical design, check out REI’s own Trail 40 below.
See the REI Co-op Traverse 32 See the Women’s REI Traverse 32

10. Deuter Speed Lite CV 25 ($120)

Deuter Speed Lite 25 daypackWeight: 1 lb. 9 oz.
Capacities: 13, 17, 21, 25, 30L
Hipbelt: Cushioned
What we like: Competitive mix of weight, comfort, and features.
What we don’t: We were a little disappointed by the storage layout and hipbelt padding.

Deuter’s Speed Lite has been a mainstay in the daypack market for years and underwent a big overhaul recently. Thankfully, Deuter retained a lot of what we loved about the previous versions: The 25-liter pack here is an ideal size for most day hikes (the prior-generation model was 24L), is both comfortable and breathable, and comes with a ton of features including trekking pole holders, daisy chains, side compression straps, and hydration reservoir compatibility. And despite being a little bigger than the Talon 22 above, the latest Speed Lite is around 5 ounces lighter and $30 cheaper, making it a good overall value for the capacity. A final bonus: The new pack uses recycled, bluesign-approved fabrics and a PFC-free DWR coating, which only add to the all-around appeal.

That said, we don’t love all of the changes that Deuter made. Our main complaints have to do with the new vest-like pockets on the shoulder straps, which proved to be less practical than anticipated due to their flat and narrow shape. For reference, they’re too small to fit more than a couple snacks and were even a tight squeeze for kids’ sunglasses. To be sure, we love when packs prioritize easy on-the-go-access, but the Speed Lite’s design falls noticeably short of competitors like the Arc’teryx Aerios 30 above and Black Diamond Pursuit 15 below. The single hipbelt pocket is also on the small side, and both the belt and shoulder straps are minimally padded and lack the cushy, premium feel that you get with the Ospreys above. All in all, we wish the details were a little better sorted, but the Speed Lite remains a comfortable and nicely appointed day hiking design at a good price.
See the Deuter Speed Lite CV 25 See the Women’s Deuter Speed Lite CV 23 SL

11. Gregory Zulu 30 ($170)

Gregory Zulu 30 hiking daypackWeight: 3 lbs. 0.6 oz.
Capacities: 30, 35, 45, 55, 65L
Hipbelt: Cushioned
What we like: A legitimate competitor to Osprey’s Stratos above.
What we don’t: Heavy; not as overnight-friendly as the Stratos.

Gregory goes head-to-head with Osprey in the daypack and backpacking pack markets, and their Zulu 30 is a serious competitor to the popular Stratos above. In short, the Zulu has all the trimmings we’d expect of a premium day-hiking design, including the brand’s FreeFloat dynamic suspension system and mesh backpanel for great all-around comfort and breathability. Further, you get well-thought-out organization, easy access to the main compartment via a large U-shaped opening, and three handy stretch mesh pockets on the exterior. We also love the adjustability at the torso, which can be moved up or down 3.5 inches. Finally, the Gregory is built to last with robust materials throughout and reinforced panels along the bottom.

The Zulu comes in a range of capacities up to 65 liters, but the 30-liter version here is our favorite day hiking option with its sleek bucket-style opening and streamlined shape (the larger capacities feature a floating lid). That said, it’s particularly heavy for a day pack, and the aforementioned Stratos 36 offers more versatility for overnights: On top of the additional 6 liters of capacity, you get a more featured storage layout, including a zippered front panel and dedicated sleeping bag compartment with a floating liner. On the flip side, while the Stratos line comes in a 24-liter version, the Zulu collection doesn’t include any options in the 20-liter range for day hikers who like to stick to the basics. But if 30 liters is your sweet spot, there’s no denying the Zulu’s impressive comfort, ventilation, and feature set.
See the Gregory Zulu 30 See the Women’s Gregory Jade 28

12. REI Co-op Trail 40 ($129)

REI Co-op Trail 40 daypackWeight: 3 lbs.
Capacity: 40L
Hipbelt: Cushioned
What we like: Massive interior, excellent organization, and included rain cover at a great price.
What we don’t: The second-heaviest option on our list and overkill for most day hikes.

We’ve used quite a few REI daypacks over the years and consider them a solid value for their feature set. The Trail 40 is an excellent example: For $129, you get outstanding organization with a generous 40-liter main compartment (the largest daypack to make our list), ample exterior pockets and lash points, great touches like trekking pole attachments and an included rain cover, and specific men’s and women’s designs. The pack is also nicely built with durable materials that are recycled and bluesign-approved, along with plush cushioning along the backpanel, hipbelt, and shoulders. And we love the U-shaped opening that extends down the sides, which allows you to access the bottom of the main compartment without having to pull out everything on top. Taken together, it’s a whole lot of bang for your buck.

As we mentioned, the REI Trail 40 is the largest option here, which has its pros and cons. On the bright side, you should have no trouble stashing a full day’s worth of gear, including extra layers and plenty of water and snacks. It also crosses over nicely for travel, and can even pull double duty for light overnights (provided you pack strategically). On the flip side, the Trail 40 checks in at a fairly hefty 3 pounds, making it the second-heaviest pick on our list (right behind Osprey’s 3-lb.-4.5-oz. Stratos 36 above). It also lacks structure and is fairly floppy when fully unzipped, especially if the lid is weighed down with gear. But if you plan to carry a lot and don’t mind the weight penalty, the Trail 40 stands out as a highly versatile and affordable option for day hikes, commuting, minimalist overnights, or use as a carry-on while traveling.
See the Men’s REI Co-op Trail 40 See the Women’s REI Co-op Trail 40

13. Black Diamond Pursuit 15 ($150)

Black Diamond Pursuit 15 hiking daypackWeight: 1 lb. 9.1 oz.
Capacities: 15, 30L
Hipbelt: Cushioned
What we like: Vest-like on-the-go storage meets pack-like support and carrying comfort.
What we don’t: No accessory zip pocket; build quality isn’t on par with the Arc’teryx Aerios.

We’re big fans of the Distance 15 (above) for mountain running objectives, but it’s an undeniably minimalist design that doesn’t offer much support for heavy loads. So when Black Diamond released the Pursuit series earlier this year, it caught our immediate attention. Available in 15 and 30 liter capacities for both men and women, the Pursuit merges the on-the-go storage and body-hugging fit of the Distance with traditional daypack features, including a padded hipbelt, U-zip access to the main compartment, and stretch woven front pocket. Added up, it’s a modern vest/pack option that offers convenient access to the essentials without compromising carrying comfort and support.

The Pursuit falls into the same category as the Arc’teryx Aerios above, but the two packs are distinct in a few key ways. While the Pursuit 15 features a wide, padded hipbelt that hugs the side of the body (and includes additional storage), the Aerios 15 ($130) uses a thin webbing strap more reminiscent of a pared-down daypack. And in terms of storage, with the Aerios you get an accessory zip pocket and bungee on the front, while the BD has a stretch-woven stash and tacks on a few more pockets on the chest. It’s hard to beat Arc’teryx’s build quality (especially at a lower cost), but the Pursuit will appeal to those looking for more support and on-the-go storage. Either way you slice it, it’s an exciting new entry for weight-conscious day hikers who like to add scrambling and running into the mix.
See the Black Diamond Pursuit 15 See the Women’s BD Pursuit 15

14. Matador Beast28 ($150)

Matador Beast28 daypackWeight: 1 lb. 8 oz.
Capacities: 18, 28L
Hipbelt: Cushioned
What we like: Impressively tough and light for the capacity.
What we don’t: Overly technical for some.

Boulder-based Matador is an upstart on the rise and has quickly made a name for themselves in the travel market with a nice selection of light but dependable packs and duffels. Their daypack lineup follows suit, including the popular Beast28 here. What immediately stands out is the Beast’s competitive 1-pound-8-ounce weight, which is impressively light for the capacity and undercuts more traditional (and smaller) models like the Osprey Talon 22 (1 lb. 14.6 oz.), Deuter Speed Lite 25 (1 lb. 9 oz.), and others above. It also packs down remarkably small for stashing in a duffel for travel—Matador includes a handy compression sack for storage, and both the hipbelt and sternum strap can be removed to streamline your kit even further. Finally, while many ultralight packs compromise on durability, the Beast is noticeably well built with a tough (210D) Robic nylon build, water-resistant YKK zippers, and a UTS coating for waterproofing and tear resistance.

In addition to being impressively light and durable for the size, the Matador Beast28 is also surprisingly comfortable for a UL design. The backpanel, shoulder straps, and hipbelt are all nicely cushioned with EVA foam, and the flexible steel frame adds a good dose of support while keeping weight in check (it also helps with compressing the pack down for storage). That said, the Beast has a fairly technical appearance that doesn’t wear particularly well around town and is only offered in a single black colorway. Exterior storage is also a little lacking, including just three pockets on the outside—for the same price, Osprey’s Talon 22 above boats seven exterior pockets. But if you don’t mind stuffing most of your gear in the main compartment, the Beast28 stands out as a high-quality UL option for fast-moving day hikes and short mountain missions. For an even lighter option from Matador, their $125 Freerain28 checks in at just 12.3 ounces and boasts a waterproof main compartment with a roll-top closure but has less padding overall.
See the Matador Beast28

15. Gregory Nano 22 H2O ($90)

Gregory Nano 22 H2O hydration daypackWeight: 1 lb. 2 oz.
Capacities: 18, 22L
Hipbelt: Webbing
What we like: A great value for a solid all-around hydration pack.
What we don’t: Less comfortable than the Osprey Skarab above.

Gregory has been in the pack business for decades, and we’re consistently impressed with the build quality and comfort of their products. The Nano H2O hydration pack is no exception and has a hiking-focused build that comes with Gregory’s in-house 3D Hydro reservoir system. There’s a lot to like here: The Nano is lightweight, sleek, and very competitively priced at just $90 (the included reservoir costs $45 alone). You can spend up for Gregory’s Inertia 24 hydration pack, which comes with nice touches like a lightly padded hipbelt, more supportive foam backpanel, and more generous storage layout, but we love the value of the Nano line.

Compared with the Osprey Skarab 30 hydration pack above, the Gregory Nano H2O is a little smaller but includes a larger 3-liter reservoir (the Skarab’s is 2.5L) and costs a considerable $60 less. Where the Skarab gets the clear edge is carrying abilities with a stiffer, more supportive backpanel. It also has good padding and pockets on the hipbelt along with a more form-fitting design. But for shorter hikes with lighter loads, the Nano H2O is a great alternative for less money. For a more feature-rich hydration option from Gregory with excellent carrying comfort, check out their premium Citro 24. And for those who already own a hydration bladder, Gregory also offers a version of the Nano sans reservoir, which features a slightly different design and comes in 14, 16, 18, 20, 24, and 30-liter capacities.
See the Gregory Nano 22 H2O

16. Patagonia Altvia 28L ($149)

Patagonia Altvia 28L hiking daypackWeight: 1 lb. 12.1 oz.
Capacities: 14, 22, 28L
Hipbelt: Cushioned
What we like: Functional storage, capacity, and features at a low weight.
What we don’t: Fairly thin padding along the hipbelt and shoulder straps.

Coming on the heels of their Nine Trails collection is Patagonia’s hiking-focused Altvia line. Ranging in capacity from 14 to 28 liters, the 28L model strikes us as the most versatile, with a suspended mesh backpanel for airflow, lightly padded shoulder straps and hipbelt (the latter of which have pockets), included rain cover, and enough capacity to pull double duty for ultralight overnights—all at under 2 pounds. We also like the top lid design, which opens wide for easy access to gear but can be cinched securely via a drawcord and buckle system. Finally, we appreciate the brand’s ongoing focus on sustainability, including the use of recycled nylon and PFC-free DWR.

As we’ve come to expect from Patagonia, the Altvia is well built with durable materials, reasonably weather-resistant with a PU coating and durable water repellent finish (plus the aforementioned rain cover), and looks good to boot. And climbers in particular will like the tall and narrow shape that sits close to the back, which makes it a viable option for use at the crag or while following multi-pitch routes. All that said, Patagonia did minimize the cushioning along the waist belt and shoulder straps to shave weight, which means comfort will suffer under heavy loads and over longer distances. But if you’re intentional about packing, the Altvia 28L is another thoughtfully made and versatile choice.
See the Patagonia Altvia 28L

17. Cotopaxi Batac 16L ($65)

Cotopaxi Batac 16L daypack_0Weight: 11 oz.
Capacities: 16, 24L
Hipbelt: None
What we like: Light and eye-catching design with a strong focus on sustainability.
What we don’t: Lacking in comfort and features.

Salt Lake City-based Cotopaxi is a brand on the rise, combining sustainable production practices with fun, vibrant designs for casual outdoor-goers. Their Batac 16L daypack slots in as a budget-friendly and feathery option for minimalists and short day-hiking objectives. For reference, it’s the lightest option on our list at a scant 11 ounces (undercutting the Flash 22 above by 3 oz.) and has a streamlined, body-hugging shape that keeps the pack close to your back. Storage is also surprisingly good for how small and light the pack is, including a vertical front zippered pocket, two mesh water bottle pockets, exterior attachment loops, and an internal sleeve for a reservoir or laptop. Added up, it’s a sleek, good-looking option at a very affordable price point and can easily pull double duty for commuting and travel.

That said, the performance drawbacks are enough to push the Batac toward the end of our rankings. Despite the functional storage layout, the design still is decidedly basic with a frameless build, no hipbelt, and minimal padding along the shoulder straps. For reference, REI’s similarly sized Flash 18 costs $25 less, weighs 9.5 ounces, and boasts a basic webbing hipbelt for a little added support, while their $60 Flash 22 above is noticeably more comfortable and feature-rich. On the flip side, the Cotopaxi wins out in styling with its bright, multi-colored design and is made from 100% repurposed fabrics—two of the brand’s hallmarks. Given the light and sleek build, it’s also a viable follower pack for multi-pitch climbs. The lack of support and cushioning are undeniably limiting, but it’s a thoughtfully built option at a good value for shorter adventures and summit scrambles. For a simpler option from Cotopaxi, check out their popular Luzon 18L.
See the Cotopaxi Batac 16L

18. Mystery Ranch Coulee 30 ($189)

Mystery Ranch Coulee 30 hiking daypackWeight: 2 lbs. 11.2 oz.
Capacities: 20, 30, 40, 50L
Hipbelt: Cushioned
What we like: Unique zipper design allows easy access and has a lot of appeal for travel.
What we don’t: Not as featured as the Stratos above.

Mystery Ranch is a cottage brand out of Bozeman, Mont., with a solid reputation among hunters and serious mountain athletes. For the casual day-hiking crowd, their Coulee 30 stands out as an impressively durable and functional option. Right away, you’ll notice that this pack looks a little different than the competition: With a unique, Y-shaped opening at the front, the Coulee opens wide and allows quick and easy access to the main compartment. From day hiking to international travel, the 3-zipper system has a lot of appeal, and the rest of the design and storage layout are equally well executed.

With a well-built harness and hipbelt and capacities that run as large as 50 liters, the Coulee is a viable competitor to the Osprey’s Stratos above. The Stratos offers a more traditional floating-lid design, integrated rain cover, and additional storage options, but the Coulee is a considerable $31 cheaper and comes in two sizes for both men and women (the Osprey is only available in one size). All told, there’s a lot to like about the unique Coulee, and with revitalized colorways and a sleek exterior, the newest version is also a great crossover option for everyday use. For a more technical design from Mystery Ranch, check out their Scree 32.
See the Mystery Ranch Coulee 30 See the Women’s Coulee 25

19. Free Range Equipment Canvas ($139)

Free Range Equipment Canvas daypack_0Weight: 1 lb.
Capacities: 25L
Hipbelt: Webbing
What we like: A durable canvas pack with your pick of mountain artwork; handmade in the USA.
What we don’t: Pricey and not ideal for performance use.

Most of the packs here are fairly technical in nature, but Free Range Equipment (FRE) offers something a little different. A small company run out of a garage in Bend, Oregon, FRE works with artists to create each of their classic Canvas Series packs. Their list of collaborators is ever-growing, and at the time of publishing, you can choose from 10 different designs, including everything from the Tetons and Mt. Hood to an idyllic cabin scene. The Canvas pack is basic—you get 25 liters of space, a small internal stash pocket, and two zippered pockets on the lid—but it gets the job done for day hikes or your daily commute (a laptop easily fits inside).

Free Range Equipment’s Canvas packs aren’t trying to match the performance chops of the Ospreys and Deuters above, but their rugged fabric will hold up to years of use and abuse (we’ve used ours almost daily for three years with no durability concerns). Keep in mind that you don’t get features like a padded waistbelt, reservoir sleeve, or numerous storage options, and the Canvas pack only comes in one size. But let’s be honest: The aesthetics and versatility are the biggest selling points of this pack, and it wins out in both departments. We should note that FRE also makes Canvas fanny packs, which feature their own unique artwork and are less of an investment at $59.
See the Free Range Equipment Canvas

Daypack Comparison Table

Osprey Talon 22$1601 lb. 14.6 oz.11, 22, 26, 33, 36, 44LCushionedBackpanel7 exterior
REI Co-op Flash 22$6014 oz.18, 22LWebbingNone3 exterior
Osprey Stratos 36$2203 lb. 4.5 oz.24, 34, 36, 44LCushionedAlloy frame7 exterior
Osprey Skarab 30$1502 lbs. 0.2 oz.18, 22, 30LCushionedFramesheet5 exterior
Black Diamond Distance 15$18012.7 oz.4, 8, 15, 22LNoneNone7 exterior
Arc’teryx Aerios 30$1902 lbs.15, 30, 45LCushionedFramesheet8 exterior
Osprey Daylite Plus$751 lb. 4.6 oz.13, 20LWebbingBackpanel5 exterior
Hyperlite Daybreak$2291 lb. 5 oz.17LCushionedNone3 exterior
REI Co-op Traverse 32$1392 lb. 9 oz.32, 60LCushionedSteel frame6 exterior
Deuter Speed Lite CV 25$1201 lb. 9 oz.13, 17, 21, 25, 30LCushionedU-frame6 exterior
Gregory Zulu 30$1703 lb. 0.6 oz.30, 35, 45, 55, 65LCushionedSteel frame4 exterior
REI Co-op Trail 40$1293 lbs.40LCushionedSteel frame6 exterior
Black Diamond Pursuit 15$1501 lb. 9.1 oz.15, 30LCushionedBackpanel7 exterior
Matador Beast28$1501 lb. 8 oz.18, 28LCushionedSteel frame3 exterior
Gregory Nano 22 H2O$901 lb. 2 oz.18, 22LWebbingNone3 exterior
Patagonia Altvia 28L$1491 lb. 12.1 oz.14, 22, 28, 36LCushionedFramesheet5 exterior
Cotopaxi Batac 16L$6511 oz.16, 24LNoneNone3 exterior
Mystery Ranch Coulee 30$1892 lb. 11.2 oz.20, 30, 40, 50LCushionedFramesheet7 exterior
Free Range Canvas$1391 lb.25LWebbingBackpanel1 exterior

Daypack Buying Advice

Types of Daypacks

With hundreds of daypacks on the market, choosing the right one is largely dependent on what you intend to use it for. Do you need a daypack to approach an alpine climbing zone, or to explore an urban area on vacation? Do you need to strap on crampons or an ice axe, or do you just want a comfortable way to haul water and some extra layers?

Daypacks lineup (REI%2C Hyperlite%2C and Osprey options)
Daypack capacity and design can vary widely from basic to feature-rich

For the casual user that doesn’t need much support for hauling a heavy load, the more affordable options on this list will do just fine. Budget-friendly packs like the $60 REI Co-op Flash 22 have a more basic suspension design (or none at all) and a less customizable fit, but do great for heading to class or a quick hike in the woods. If you’re planning on putting on some serious miles or need to carry a decent load, you’ll appreciate the added structure and padded backpanel, hipbelt, and shoulder straps found in the options starting around $100 (we cover this in more detail in the “Carrying Comfort” section below). Finally, many of today’s top daypacks can pull double duty for casual use.

Daypack (REI Flash 22 suspension system)
The REI Flash 22’s basic suspension system is fine for shuttling light loads

What’s the Ideal Size (Capacity)?

Capacities for daypacks vary widely. You’ll see them offered anywhere from as small as 5 liters all the way up to 40 or more. For those who only need to fit a compressible rain jacket and a lunch, you can get away with one of those small packs. But most of us need a bit more space to throw in a few more essentials. The options above range from 15 to 40 liters, with the largest ones being better served for commuters, gear-heavy adventures like winter hikes, or ultralight overnights. We’ve found that approximately 25 liters is a real sweet spot for an all-around daypack that can handle anything from local summits to full-day hikes. At that size, organization also improves from more basic models, with a variety of zippered pockets to divvy up your gear. Below are some basic guidelines for capacity:

Short day hikes: 10-20 liters
Summit packs: 18-24 liters
Average day hikes and everyday use: 20-30 liters
Long day hikes and ultralight overnights: 30-40 liters

Hiking daypacks (group hiking along riverbed)
A daypack between 20 to 30 liters is a sweet spot for most hikers

Weight: Fully Featured vs. Minimalist

A quick look at our comparison table above reveals a wide range of pack weight from a scant 9 ounces to over 3 pounds. On the heavy end is the fully featured Osprey Stratos 36, which comes with lots of zippered pockets and a suspension and hipbelt to rival a backpacking pack. At the other end of the spectrum, the REI Flash 22, Osprey Daylite Plus, Cotopaxi Batac, and Hyperlite Mountain Gear Daybreak are minimalist packs with much less in the way of structure or features but weigh about 1 pound or less. Black Diamond’s Distance 15 is another impressively light option at just 12.7 ounces, but it’s a much more specialized design with a streamlined storage layout and no hipbelt.

Day hiking in Fisher Towers (daypacks)
Minimalist daypacks are great for carrying a lightweight load

When evaluating pack weight, keep comfort and storage in mind. A fully featured pack will include padding on your back and real straps on your shoulders and waist to help distribute weight. If you’ll be carrying a lot, this will be your most comfortable option. But if you don’t mind feeling some of your gear on your back or won’t be hauling a heavy load (it is only a daypack, after all), the minimalist options on this list usually are cheaper and far more compressible (useful for throwing in a suitcase). In the end, most hikers and travelers will want something that lands in the middle and balances cushioning and weight, including the popular Osprey Talon 22 (1 lb. 14.6 oz.) and Patagonia’s Altvia 28L (1 lb. 12 oz.).

Daypack (adjusting sternum strap on Osprey Stratos)
A fully featured pack is a great match for long days, bad weather, or when carrying extra gear

Carrying Comfort: Hipbelt and Shoulder Straps

The amount of padding on the hipbelt and shoulder straps is a great indicator of a pack’s maximum comfort levels. Nearly all daypacks for hiking have a hipbelt, but they vary from thin webbing (like the REI Flash series) to cushioned and supportive (Osprey Stratos). If all you need is a pack for short day hikes and don’t plan on carrying more than 10 or so pounds, the thinner webbing is sufficient. If, however, comfort reigns supreme or you plan to haul a lot of weight, we highly recommend a pack with a real hipbelt.

Daypack (cushioned and webbing hipbelt)
A cushioned hipbelt (left) vs. webbing hipbelt

Keep in mind, the thicker designs don’t compress very well and do add some extra weight. And for those planning to use their pack for both the backcountry and casually, it may be beneficial to have a removable hipbelt. We have ours on for hiking and leave it behind when heading to town or carrying on a flight. One design that has this feature is the Osprey Daylite Plus.

Daypack (waistbelt types)
A cushioned hipbelt is a great choice for heavier loads and longer trail days

Fit and Sizing

In addition to the amount of padding along the shoulder straps and hipbelt, fit plays a large role in overall comfort on the trail. Most importantly, you’ll want to ensure that your pack is the appropriate size for your torso length and that the hipbelt can be tightened to secure snugly around your hips. This is easier to achieve when a pack is offered in multiple sizes, which is one of the reasons we rank the Osprey Talon 22 at the top of our list (it’s available in S/M and L/XL sizes as well as a women’s-specific version). If you’re eyeing a pack that comes in multiple size options, take your torso length by measuring the distance between your C7 vertebrae and midpoint of your iliac crest (we outline the process here). Once you have that number, you can compare it against manufacturer sizing charts to confirm which variation will fit you best.

Daypack (hiking in Patagonia with the Arc'teryx Aerios 30)
We love the close, body-hugging fit of the Arc’teryx Aerios 30

Unfortunately, many daypacks on the market only come in one size, including the REI Flash 22, Cotopaxi Batac, Osprey Daylite Plus, Free Range Equipment Canvas, and more from our picks above. It won’t be a deal-breaker for a lot of hikers, but the one-size-fits-most approach does mean you get less of a customized, close fit. And it’s worth noting that you still need to know your torso length for these designs, as manufacturers typically provide length ranges (and some one-size models have smaller ranges than others). Finally, many packs are offered in women’s-specific versions with different measurements than their men’s counterparts (we outline the benefits of choosing a women’s-specific daypack below).

Daypack (Deuter Speed Lite 23 SL in Utah)
Nailing fit is crucial for maximizing comfort on the trail

Daypack Frames Types

Much like their larger cousins, full-on backpacking packs, higher-capacity daypacks feature a metal or plastic frame. The frame creates a rigid or semi-rigid structure that doesn’t sag under weight (including items that you strap to the outside of the pack), which is great for those who carry extra gear on their all-day excursions. Frame designs vary, but are often a u-shaped, hoop style or a plastic framesheet, both of which define the perimeter of the pack and give it a stiff, rectangular shape.

Osprey Hikelite 26 daypack (tying shoelaces)
A lightweight metal frame offers great structure and load distribution

Having a frame isn’t always necessary, and very lightweight or small-capacity backpacks like the REI Flash 22 oftentimes go without. For the right person, this isn’t a sacrifice at all. A frame adds weight and complexity, and when you’re not hauling anything more than 10-15 pounds, a frame doesn’t benefit you very much. In addition, a padded backpanel can accomplish a similar goal of isolating you from the contents you’re carrying and defining the shape of the pack. We recommend getting a pack with a frame if you need the extra support or like the defined shape, but again, there are plenty of reasons to avoid one altogether.

Daypack (foam backpanel on REI Flash 22)
The thin (and flimsy) foam backpanel inside the REI Flash 22

Backpanel and Ventilation

Typical daypacks will have some foam or mesh built into the backpanel (the area of the pack that comes into contact with your back) and a semi-rigid frame sheet providing structure. Ultralight packs will have either a flexible frame sheet and fabric backpanel for a little structure or no padding at all. The downside of these designs is that the pack can sag and doesn’t protect you as well from bulky items in your pack. On the other hand, ultralight packs compress quite small and can be stowed in a travel pack or backpacking pack for day use.

Daypack backpanels and frames
Most daypacks use airy foam or suspended mesh to provide comfort and ventilation

A third style is the fully ventilated backpanel. As opposed to either nylon or foam coming into contact with your back, ventilated backpanels are full-length mesh and your best defense against a sweaty back. Osprey has been a leader in ventilated packs, and we particularly like the design of the Osprey Stratos 36. The suspended mesh that contacts the length of your torso encourages airflow without pulling the weight of the pack too far away from your back, which was a problem with some early models. Ventilated designs do eat into the size and dimensions of the main compartment and are more expensive, but it’s worth it for some to keep the back of their shirt dry.

Hiking in hot weather (daypacks)
Ventilated backpanels are especially ideal for hot-weather hiking

Water Resistance

It’s common for our daypacks to be filled with items like a phone, camera, or down jacket that won’t do well in rain. As such, we put a high priority on water protection. The good news is that most daypacks are relatively water-resistant and can shed light to moderate moisture, but the fabrics and seams will start to give way in a downpour. Some packs come with a built-in rain cover that stows inside the bag (from our list, the Gregory Zulu 30, REI Co-op Traverse 32 and Trail 40, Patagonia Altvia, and Osprey Stratos have this feature). Alternatively, you can purchase a separate waterproof cover.

Daypack (Osprey Stratos 24 rain cover)
Pack covers add another line of defense against rain and snow

There are a small number of daypacks on the market made with waterproof materials, including the Hyperlite Daybreak. The Daybreak uses Dyneema fabrics, which are naturally water-resistant, while other packs often use a waterproof nylon and seam sealing along the interior to keep out moisture. However, what most waterproof packs have in common is a price in excess of $200. This high cost of entry is what keeps waterproof packs in limited numbers, but it may be worth it if you need the protection and want something more reliable than a rain cover.

Daypack (Hyperlite Mountain Gear Daybreak in Peru)
The Hyperlite Daybreak’s Dyneema build is impressively water-resistant

Hydration Compatibility

A hydration-compatible pack is defined as having some way to store a hydration reservoir, including popular models like the CamelBak Crux or Platypus Big Zip EVO. Most traditional daypacks, like the Osprey Stratos, have a clip along the top of the interior of the bag and enough space to accommodate a 3-liter reservoir. And smaller packs like the Cotopaxi Batac 16L are best suited for a smaller-capacity reservoir (up to 2 liters), not only for space reasons but also total weight.

Daypack (REI Co-op Flash 22 reservoir clip)
The reservoir clip inside REI’s Flash

With the exception of ultralight options, most hydration-compatible packs have a sleeve to slide in and hold the hydration reservoirs. It’s a simple process: Attach the bladder to the top clip and insert into the sleeve. The hose can then be routed through an opening in the top of the pack. And if you don’t already own a reservoir, choosing a hydration daypack like the Osprey Skarab 30 gets you a solid pack as well as a reputable 2.5-liter Hydraulics LT system (which is made by hydration leader HydraPak). For a full list of our top picks in this category, see our article on the best hydration packs.

Daypack (taking reservoir out of Osprey Skimmer 28)
Osprey’s Skarab 30 and women’s Skinner 28 come with a quality 2.5-liter reservoir

Pockets and Organization

If you like to have a defined space for and easy access to smaller items, look for a pack with a number of interior and exterior pockets. We like hipbelt pockets for things you want close at hand, an exterior pocket along the top lid for small items like a headlamp or multi-tool, and a large, open main compartment for our gear. For school or daily use, additional exterior pockets with a key clip are always handy.

Daypack (Osprey Stratos hipbelt pocket)
Hipbelt pockets are great for quick access to small items

One of our favorite pack features is a large exterior mesh pocket along the front of the pack known as a “shove-it” pocket. This expandable space is great for items you may need quick access to like a rain jacket or snack. In addition, you can throw in wet items into this outer pocket to avoid ruining the contents of your main compartment. Minimalist designs omit many organization features—sometimes including the shove-it pocket—so keep an eye out for the number of internal and external pockets if those are important to you.

Daypack (Hyperlite Daybreak shove-it pocket)
Shove-it pockets are useful for wet or dirty items

Running Vest-Inspired Pockets
We’d be remiss not to touch on running vest-inspired storage, which is a rapidly growing trend among daypacks. From our list above, the Arc’teryx Aerios 30, Deuter Speed Lite 25, and Black Diamond Pursuit 15 all boast front pockets on the shoulder straps (similar to running vests) that allow for easy on-the-go access to snacks and other small necessities. We’re generally big fans of this type of storage, although some designs are better executed than others. For example, the Speed Lite’s pockets are prohibitively small and narrow and can’t accommodate anything more than a couple snacks, while both the Aerios and Pursuit can swallow a smartphone. Regardless of which option you choose, the front pockets do add a bit of a technical slant (these packs aren’t the best for crossing over for casual use), but serious day hikers will likely find the added convenience worth that tradeoff.

Daypack (Deuter Speed Lite front storage)
The Deuter Speed Lite’s front pockets are too small for a phone but work for snack and keys

Closure Systems and Access

All daypacks that made our list have access to the main compartment through the top of the pack, but the closure systems vary. Roll-top lids and drawcord systems are popular on minimalist packs, while fully featured bags typically use zippers. Roll-top lids and zippers are the most secure for protecting what’s inside your pack, but a well-made drawcord system like the REI Co-op Flash 22 is simple, lightweight, and very easy to use. One advantage that a roll-top pack has over the other options is compressibility: You can change the interior volume of the pack with the number of times you fold the lid.

Daypack (REI Flash 18 roll top closure)
Drawcord closures allow for quick access to the main compartment

All three closure systems above are associated with a top-loading pack, which as the name would indicate, opens at the top of the bag. In addition, there are a few packs that made our list that are considered panel loaders. That means that the lid to the main compartment can be zipped open and pulled back like a suitcase, which allows for easy access to contents at both the top and bottom of the bag. The downside is extra weight and expense (and zippers can break and fail over time), but a number of our favorite medium- to large-capacity packs have this feature.

Daypack (Gregory Miwok broken zipper)
A clamshell opening makes it easy to access the bottom of the pack, but zippers can be a point of failure

Benefits of Choosing a Women’s-Specific Daypack

Women’s daypacks are not, as they may appear, just a colorful version of a men’s or unisex pack. There are real design differences with tangible benefits that deserve mentioning. The advantages include a torso fit that is often a better size than the sometimes large and bulky unisex models, and shoulder straps and hipbelts have been designed specifically for women. Men with shorter torsos often get a better fit with a women’s-specific model as well.

Women's-specific daypacks (by lake in Patagonia)
Testing the women’s REI Trail and Osprey Tempest (left & right) and unisex Osprey Hikelite (center)

Typically, if you’ll be using the pack for pretty serious day hikes, it’s well worth opting for a high-end women’s model like Gregory’s Jade 28, Deuter’s Speed Lite 23 SL, and Osprey’s Sirrus 36, Tempest 20, and Skimmer 28 we’ve listed above. The more tuned fit makes for a more comfortable carrying experience. For casual use, such as travel or when you’re packing light, it’s not as big a deal. Something like the unisex REI Flash 22 should work just fine. For a complete look at the market, check out our article on the best women’s hiking daypacks.
Back to Our Top Daypack Picks Back to Our Daypack Comparison Table


Read More Hiking Daypacks Product Reviews

Donovan Larsen

Donovan is a columnist and associate editor at the Dark News. He has written on everything from the politics to diversity issues in the workplace.

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