By Michael Lanza
Choosing a daypack for hiking can seem overwhelming when you see the dozens of choices available today, which range all over the map in terms of volume, weight, carrying capacity, features, and cost—as well as fit and comfort. Look no further. This freshly updated review spotlights the best daypacks for hiking and offers expert buying tips that explain the subtle differences between packs to help you find the right one for your own adventures.
This article covers a wide range of daypacks, from 16 to 36 liters and 17 ounces to almost three-and-a-half pounds, each one a standout for different reasons and uses. My picks and buying tips are based on personally testing new daypacks constantly through thousands of miles of hiking and more than a quarter-century of testing and reviewing gear—formerly for 10 years as the lead gear reviewer for Backpacker magazine and even longer running this blog.
I think this review will help you find a pack that’s perfect for you—plus you’ll usually find the best prices at affiliate links in this review (which support this blog when you make a purchase through them, at not cost to you).
Please share your own experiences with any of these packs, suggest other daypacks, or ask questions in the comments section at the bottom of this story. I try to respond to all comments.
Before buying, consider what you need a daypack for. How much stuff will you carry? That partly depends on where, when, and how far you hike. What kind of pack design suits your dayhiking style: low- or high-capacity? Lightweight and minimalist, or with an assortment of pockets and features? Built to carry plenty of gear, clothing, food, and water, or a light load? Armored for hard abuse, or needed mostly for cruising good trails?
Here are some
details to consider when choosing a daypack:
- Volume/Capacity For most three-season dayhikes where you’re carrying the usual stuff (clothing, food, water, some incidentals like a camera), a daypack between 16 and 24 liters has enough space, with the lower end of that range best for hikers who prioritize a streamlined, lightweight design, and the upper end of that range for hikers who sometimes need extra capacity. For outings that are unusually gear-intensive—or carrying stuff for another person—look to a pack that’s 28 liters or more. For carrying bare essentials in good weather, a 12-liter daypack may be fine; but for trekking hut to hut for several days, you may need a pack in the 36-40L range.
- Suspension We all have our own idea of how much weight is comfortable in a daypack, but how much weight a pack can comfortably carry largely depends on its frame (if there is one) and suspension (the shoulder straps and waist belt). Very light daypacks—under roughly 1.5 pounds—offer minimal support and putting more than 10 to 12 pounds inside may compromise their comfort, which simply means that your body will feel the weight more. Daypacks designed to carry 15 to 20 pounds or more typically have padded shoulder straps and waist belt and a metal wire frame and/or a plastic framesheet to maintain the pack’s shape and direct most of the weight onto your hips.
- Fit As with backpacks, fit is critical to carrying comfort, especially the more weight you’re putting inside the daypack. Low-capacity daypacks designed to carry no more than about 10 pounds often come in one size, while larger-capacity daypacks will come in two or three sizes and men’s and women’s models, to help you find a better fit. See my story “Top 5 Tips for Buying the Right Backpacking Pack” for instructions on how to measure your torso to fit a backpack or daypack.
- Organization Quick access to the main compartment—usually in the form of a clamshell-style zipper, or a vertical side zipper if the pack has a lid that buckles down—and multiple pockets on the outside offer great convenience. So do little details like attachments for trekking poles and an ice axe. Those features also add cost and some weight and bulk. Consider how important compartmentalization is to you and how much stuff you want to have within reach while wearing the pack.
- Materials Many daypacks for hiking are made with similar materials, from a reasonably durable body fabric and tougher fabric on the bottom to stretch-mesh external pockets that are more vulnerable to tearing and perforated, breathable foam in the back panel, shoulder straps, and waist belt. But some daypacks are built with tougher materials that will withstand hard use—sometimes (but not always) adding weight and cost. Again, this comes down to how you plan to use the pack.
The comparison chart lists the packs from lightest to heaviest and offers a quick look at features that distinguish these packs from one another; the overall ratings are based on criteria that tend to favor heavier daypacks, so they’re most helpful when comparing packs of similar weights. Each of the short reviews below the chart includes a link to my complete review of the pack.
The 10 Best Hiking Daypacks
|The North Face Chimera 18||18L/1,098 c.i.||$99||1 lb. 1 oz.||4.2||15 lbs.||* Men’s and women’s models
* Good comfort
* Very lightweight
* Unique harness and compression
* 6 pockets
|Deuter Speed Lite 20||20L/1,220 c.i.||$80||1 lb. 3 oz.||3.5||12 lbs.||* Very lightweight
* Removable waist belt
* 4 pockets
|Hyperlite Mountain Gear Daybreak||17L/1,040 c.i.||$229||1 lb. 4 oz.||3.5||12 lbs.||* Waterproof
* Highly durable
* 3 unisex sizes
* 4 pockets
|Patagonia Altiva 20L||22L/1,343 c.i.,||$129||1 lb. 8oz.||3.5||12 lbs.||* 2 unisex sizes
* Breathable back panel, shoulder straps, hipbelt
* 6 pockets
|Osprey Talon 22 and Tempest 20||20-22L/1,220-1,343 c.i. (men’s Talon)
18-20L/1,098-1,220 c.i. (women’s Tempest)
|$160||1 lb. 11 oz. (men’s S/M)||4||15 lbs.||* Men’s and women’s models
* Ventilating back panel
* Multiple features
* 6 pockets
|Gregory Miko 20/Maya 20||20L/1,220 c.i.||$130||2 lbs. 1 oz.||4.2||15 lbs.||* Men’s and women’s models
* Adjustable fit
* Ventilating harness, hipbelt, back panel
* 6 pockets
|Arc’teryx Aerios 30||30L/1,831 c.i.||$190||2 lbs.||4.2||20 lbs.||* Unique vest-like suspension
* Men’s and women’s models
* Breathable back panel
* 7 pockets
|Gregory Citro 24/Juno 24||20L/1,708 c.i.||$170||2 lbs. 3.5 oz.||4||20 lbs.||* Men’s and women’s models
* Ventilating back panel
* 6 pockets
|Mystery Ranch Coulee 25||25L/1,525 c.i.||$189||2 lbs. 11 oz.||4.3||20 lbs.||* Men’s and women’s sizes
* Unique 3-zipper access to main compartment
* Balances weight, comfort, durability
* 7 pockets
|Deuter Trail Pro 36 and Trail Pro 34 SL||36L/2,197 c.i.||$175||3 lbs. 7 oz.||4.3||25-35 lbs.||* Men’s and women’s models
* Large carrying capacity, multiple features
* Very durable
* 6 pockets
* rain cover
The North Face Chimera 18
$99, 18L/1,098 c.i., 1 lb. 1 oz.
You don’t expect this much from a daypack weighing just 17 ounces, but the Chimera 18 exhibits surprising comfort and versatility even for long hikes with up to 15 pounds inside. From Glacier and Zion national parks to a 21-mile, 10,000+-vertical-foot, rim-to-rim dayhike across the Grand Canyon, this featherweight felt quite comfortable.
TNF’s unique DynoCinch System, adjustable using cords within reach when wearing the pack, compresses the load to improve stability, and the harness disperses the load across wide shoulder straps while keeping the pack’s empty weight down. Its organization features quick access to zippered main compartments plus mesh pockets on the shoulder straps. All in all, a great quiver-of-one daypack.
Read my complete review of The North Face Chimera 18.
BUY IT NOW You can support my work on this blog, at no cost to you, by clicking either of these affiliate links to purchase a men’s or women’s The North Face Chimera 18 or Chimera 24 at backcountry.com or moosejaw.com.
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Deuter Speed Lite 20 and Speed Lite 24
Deuter Speed Lite 20
$80, 20L/1,220 c.i. 1 lb. 3 oz.
Deuter Speed Lite 24
$115, 24L/1,465 c.i. 1 lb. 11 oz.
The lightweight Speed Lite 20 passed my first serious test of it on an 8.5-hour, 20-mile, 4,500-foot trail run-hike of the Alice Lake-Toxaway Lake Loop in Idaho’s Sawtooth Mountains, including a 1,400-foot, third-class scramble up 10,651-foot Snowyside Peak. Another tester wore the Speed Lite 24 on an eight-mile, 4500-foot hike up Ferguson Canyon and a 3,000-foot scramble up the South Ridge of Mount Superior in Utah’s Wasatch Range.
The minimalist, highly flexible, U-shaped Delrin frame, perforated mesh padding in the shoulder straps, and unpadded, removable webbing waist belt carry 10 to 12 pounds comfortably in the Speed Lite 20, while the Speed Lite 24 handles 15 pounds or more. A U-shaped top zipper quickly accesses the main compartment, plus there’s a zippered top pocket and mesh side pockets for a liter bottle or snacks, gloves, map, and a front pocket that swallows a rain jacket.
Read my complete reviews of the Deuter Speed Lite 20 and the Speed Lite 24.
BUY IT NOW You can support my work on this blog, at no cost to you, by clicking either of these affiliate links to purchase a men’s or women’s Deuter Speed Lite 20, Speed Lite 24, or another Speed Lite size at backcountry.com or moosejaw.com.
See “The 25 Best National Park Dayhikes”
and “Extreme Hiking: America’s Best Hard Dayhikes.”
Hyperlite Mountain Gear Daybreak
$229, 17L/1,040 c.i., 1 lb. 4 oz.
Lightweight and tough aren’t adjectives I often use together when describing gear, but they both apply to the Daybreak, which I’ve used dayhiking, on multi-pitch rock climbs, and ski touring. The ultralight, waterproof Dyneema fabric (the zipper’s also waterproof) got dragged over rock without suffering damage.
With a thin, flexible back pad and no frame, you can roll the Daybreak up and strap it to the outside of a backpack. Carrying 12 pounds comfortably, this minimalist bag has four pockets—including a large, front, bellows pocket—and comes in three sizes, very unusual for a daypack. Despite always testing new daypacks, I consistently grab this for dayhikes and multi-pitch rock climbs.
Read my complete review of the Hyperlite Mountain Gear Daybreak.
BUY IT NOW You can support my work on this blog, at no cost to you, by clicking either of these affiliate links to purchase a Hyperlite Mountain Gear Daybreak at backcountry.com or hyperlitemountaingear.com.
Want a really ultralight, minimalist daypack?
See my review of the Black Diamond Trail Blitz 12 and REI Flash 18.
Patagonia Altvia 22L
$129, 22L/1,343 c.i., 1 lb. 8 oz.
When carrying less than 15 pounds—as many hikers do—you don’t need an over-engineered, heavy pack. Enter the Patagonia Altvia 22L, which marries low weight, good capacity, and easy access. On dayhikes of up to 12 miles—including one trail that rises 2,000 vertical feet in two miles—I was impressed with the Altvia’s functionality and versatility.
With just a foam back pad, the pack remains light, while breathable shoulder straps and hipbelt and a mesh back panel keeps you cool when working up a sweat. Still, organization is excellent, with a clamshell zipper quickly opening the main compartment and six external pockets. Green creds include recycled and PFC-free materials.
See my complete review of the Patagonia Altvia 22L.
BUY IT NOW You can support my work on this blog, at no cost to you, by clicking this affiliate link to purchase a Patagonia Altvia 22L or other versions of the Altvia at patagonia.com.
Planning your next big adventure? See “America’s Top 10 Best Backpacking Trips”
and “Tent Flap With a View: 25 Favorite Backcountry Campsites.”
Osprey Talon 22/Tempest 20
$160, 20L/1,220 c.i., 1 lb., 11 oz.
From a 14-mile, nearly 3,000-foot round-trip dayhike up 11,049-foot Telescope Peak, the highest in Death Valley National Park, to the rugged hike up Cerro Chato in Costa Rica and many other trails, the Talon 22 carried up to 15 pounds comfortably, thanks to a suspension featuring a flexible, plastic framesheet, and an adjustable harness with a seamless, foam hipbelt that forms one continuous piece with the nicely ventilated mesh back panel.
Unusually feature-rich for daypacks that weigh in well under two pounds, the men’s Talon and women’s Tempest sport easy access to the main compartment via a big clamshell zipper, and multiple pockets on the hipbelt, sides, top, and front, as well as handy attachments for trekking poles, a bike helmet, and a light. They’re among the most versatile multi-sport daypacks on the market.
Read my complete review of the Osprey Talon 22 and Tempest 20.
BUY IT NOW You can support my work on this blog, at no cost to you, by clicking any of these affiliate links to purchase a men’s Osprey Talon 22 or another size at ospreypacks.com, backcountry.com, or moosejaw.com, or a women’s Osprey Tempest 20 or another size at ospreypacks.com, backcountry.com, or moosejaw.com.
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Gregory Miko 20/Maya 20
$130, 20L/1,220 c.i., 2 lbs. 1 oz.
Gregory’s Miko and Maya, the latest updates of the classic, lightweight men’s and women’s Miwok and Maya daypacks, retain all that made their predecessors outstanding, from the comfortable, close-fitting, very breathable, adjustable suspension to the quick access to the main compartment, six external pockets, and the independent, zippered bladder sleeve outside the main compartment. Carrying the Miko 20 on all-day, rugged hikes from New Hampshire’s Presidential Range to Utah’s Wasatch Range, I found this versatile bag remains my favorite for most of my three-season, done-in-a-day adventures.
Read my complete review of the 2019 Miko 20 and Maya 20.
BUY IT NOW You can support my work on this blog by clicking any of these links to purchase a Gregory men’s Miko 20 at moosejaw.com or rei.com, a women’s Maya 20 at at moosejaw.com or rei.com, or other versions of the Miko at moosejaw.com or rei.com, and the Maya at moosejaw.com or rei.com.
Want to hike the Teton Crest Trail, John Muir Trail, or another trip?
Click here for expert advice you won’t get elsewhere.
Arc’teryx Aerios 30
$190, 30L/1,831 c.i., 2 lbs.
Marrying elements of traditional daypacks and running vests, the Aerios 30 has bountiful capacity, an inspired design, and superior durability—all at a modest weight. With a light but impressively supportive framesheet, fixed (non-adjustable), wide, padded shoulder straps and hipbelt, and a highly breathable, mesh-covered Aeroform back panel with a slightly concave shape that allows good air flow, it has the support and comfort for carrying 20 pounds.
The voluminous main compartment, accessed by a deep, clamshell zipper, and seven external pockets deliver excellent organization. Despite one flaw, the Aerios 30 ranks as one of today’s most versatile daypacks.
Read my complete review of the Arc’teryx Aerios 30.
BUY IT NOW You can support my work on this blog, at no cost to you, by clicking this affiliate link to purchase the men’s or women’s Arc’teryx Aerios 30 at rei.com.
Plan your next great backpacking trip in Yosemite, Grand Teton, or other parks using my expert e-guides.
Gregory Citro 24/Juno 24
$170, 20L/1,708 c.i., 2 lbs. 3.5 oz.
The men’s Citro 24 and women’s Juno 24 are arguably the lightest daypacks that offer excellent organization and the support and comfort for carrying more than 20 pounds, as well as the versatility to crossover from dayhiking to bike commuting and other activities.
A lightweight, wire perimeter frame with a leaf-spring in the lumbar area transfers much of the pack weight onto your hips, and Gregory’s moisture-wicking, VaporSpan back panel ventilates nicely. The main compartment is accessed quickly via a convenient, clamshell-style zipper, and there are six external pockets, side compression, and attachments for axes and poles.
Read my complete review of the previous models, the Gregory Citro 20/Juno 20.
Gregory has updated the Citro and Juno packs with a Citro 20 H2O($170), Citro 30 H2O ($180, also in Plus size), Juno 24 H2O ($170), and Juno 30 H2O ($180, also in Plus size). See them all at gregorypacks.com.
BUY IT NOW You can support my work on this blog, at no cost to you, by clicking any of these affiliate links to purchase a Gregory Citro 20 or another size at backcountry.com or moosejaw.com, or the Gregory Juno 20 or another size at backcountry.com or moosejaw.com.
Make your trail runs and fast hikes better with one of “The Best Running Hydration Vests”
and one of the best ultralight hiking and running jackets.
Mystery Ranch Coulee 25
$189, 25L/1,525 c.i., 2 lbs. 11 oz. (men’s S/M)
Hikers willing to accept a small weight penalty for more carrying capacity and superior comfort, access, versatility, and durability, will love the Mystery Ranch Coulee 25.
Most uniquely, instead of a traditional, separate lid, a three-zipper system—two that open up the top and a vertical front zipper—provide rapid and complete access to the main compartment. The well-padded harness—adjustable for torso length—and HDPE framesheet enable the Coulee 25 to carry 20 pounds or more comfortably. Plus, seven external pockets—one on top and two on the sides, front, and hipbelt—give it excellent organization.
Read my complete review of the Mystery Ranch Coulee 25.
Mystery Ranch has updated the Coulee packs with a Coulee 20 ($179), Coulee 30 ($189), Coulee 40 ($239), and Coulee 50 ($249). See them all at mysteryranch.com.
BUY IT NOW You can support my work on this blog, at no cost to you, by clicking either of these affiliate links to purchase the men’s or women’s Mystery Ranch Coulee 25 or other sizes of the Coulee pack at backcountry.com or moosejaw.com.
Time for a better backpack?
See “The 10 Best Backpacking Packs”
and the best ultralight backpacks.
Deuter Trail Pro 36 and Trail Pro 34 SL
$175, 36L/2,197 c.i., 3 lbs. 7 oz.
Deuter’s Trail Pro 36 and women’s Trail Pro 34 SL are high-volume, feature-rich daypacks that diverge from the current trend toward lighter gear—making them uniquely suited to carrying heavier loads and more versatile than many of today’s daypacks.
A spring-steel suspension and plastic framesheet give the Trail Pro a weight-carrying capacity comparable to many lightweight, 50-liter backpacks, and the suspension’s design enhances comfort. This top-loader has a U-shaped zipper to access the main compartment—unusual among daypacks—and abundant pockets, a rain cover, utilitarian features like ice axe and trekking poles attachments and a carabiner/gear loop, and it’s bomber.
Read my complete review of the Deuter Trail Pro 36 and Trail Pro 34 SL.
BUY IT NOW You can support my work on this blog by clicking any of these links to purchase a Deuter Trail Pro 36 at backcountry.com or Moosejaw.com, a women’s Trail Pro 34 SL at backcountry.com or Moosejaw.com, a Trail Pro 32 at Moosejaw.com, or a women’s Trail Pro 30 SL at backcountry.com or Moosejaw.com.
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See all of my reviews of daypacks I like and all of my reviews of hiking gear.
NOTE: I tested gear for Backpacker magazine for 20 years. At The Big Outside, I review only what I consider the best outdoor gear and apparel. See The Big Outside’s Gear Reviews page for categorized menus of gear reviews and expert buying tips.
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