Ask Me: Looking For an All-Purpose Daypack for Hiking and Traveling

July 29, 2016  |  In Ask Me, Gear Reviews, Hiking, International Adventures   |   Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,   |   2 Comments
Osprey Manta AG 20 daypack on Telescope Peak in Death Valley National Park.

The Osprey Manta AG 20 daypack on Telescope Peak in Death Valley National Park.

Mr. Lanza,

I have recently stumbled across your blog and become a big fan. Thank you for taking the time to put it together and keep it going. I would like to get your thoughts on what you think is the best waterproof daypack. Long story short, I’m looking for a waterproof daypack because my girlfriend and I are going to be traveling abroad visiting multiple countries. Some will be hot, some will be cool, and some will likely be rainy and others will definitely involve water activities and a lot of hiking or walking around.
Right or wrong, in my mind I think I need something that is:
•    Waterproof
•    About 30L because we will be doing some in-between 1-3 nights stints, picking up things along the way, and I’ll undoubtedly end up carrying some of her stuff. Also, this seems like a size that should be acceptable for any airline carryon requirements.
•    Comfortable enough to wear for extended periods and carry a moderate load.

Of course, if you don’t know of a good waterproof daypack for hiking and traveling I suppose I could put a dry bag in the main compartment of whatever day pack you think is best.

Also, I don’t mind spending more on something of good quality, as I tend to be rough on my gear and use it until it disintegrates.

You have a great blog and I appreciate the time you took to read and consider my email. I’m happy to donate to your blog.

Wishing you many adventures,

James,
Virginia

Hi James,

Thanks for writing and for following my blog.

Yes, you can find a waterproof daypack, and I would think 28-30L is appropriate for your plans.

But I would suggest you consider a pack that’s not waterproof, unless you really expect to be quite wet frequently, including possible immersion of the pack (which is the primary reason for having a waterproof pack—for example, when hiking/descending wet canyons in water). To ensure a pack is waterproof, not only are the seams taped and the fabric bulletproof, but the zippers must be waterproof—which makes them more tedious to open and close, something which could get annoying if you’re using that pack constantly for a long trip. Also, there are typically very few external and organizational features on the pack. It could be great for technical canyoneering, but not so much for standard hiking and traveling.

My preference would be an all-around daypack with good organization, that’s comfortable with 15-20 pounds inside, has good access, is durable, and then to buy a set of waterproof stuff sacks or roll-top sacks for your contents. You can then compartmentalize the contents and have a pack that’s more convenient to deal with multiple times a day.

Rather than try to suggest there’s one daypack you absolutely must get, I’ll talk about a couple of daypacks I really like, their strengths and weaknesses, to help inform a choice that’s ultimately based on your personal preferences. Perhaps you’ve already read through some of my daypack reviews.

Focusing on daypacks in the 30L range, with the support and comfort for carrying upwards of 20 pounds, that does narrow the options a bit. Not many daypacks have a harness and suspension designed to carry that much weight comfortably; many tend to have fairly flimsy hipbelts, minimal padding in the shoulder straps, and not much of a frame to support weight (if you can easily fold the daypack almost in half, it’s not built for much weight). As I wrote previously, for traveling and hiking, I would also want good organization to the daypack, so that you don’t have to constantly dig through a main compartment to find things. I think you want some pockets inside and outside.

Gregory Salvo 28

Gregory Salvo 28

The new Gregory Salvo 28 has a more substantial suspension than many daypacks, yet it’s still cool because of the back panel’s ventilation. I carried 20 pounds in it comfortably. I like its organization and I mention in the review that it’s a good carry-on size, too. As I wrote in the review, it seems even roomier than 28 liters. It’s not waterproof, although the fabric would shed a light rain for a little while, and it’s pretty tough, with the mesh side pockets being the only external weak spot in terms of durability.

I also really like the new Osprey Manta AG 20 (lead photo, above) which also comes in 28L and 36L versions. Osprey redesigned its Manta series this year to incorporate the Anti-Gravity harness that it introduced in larger backpacks last year, which I found to be exceptionally comfortable in Osprey’s Atmos AG 65 backpack. The Manta daypacks are designed for multi-sport use, with separate access to the hydration compartment and main compartment (meaning you can refill the bladder without pulling everything out of the main compartment), a shoulder strap loop for quickly attaching trekking poles, a helmet attachment, and it has an integrated rain cover, and pockets in front, on the sides, and on the hipbelt. A 2.5-liter Hydraulics bladder is included. If you find one that fits (which shouldn’t be a problem; the 20L comes in one size, but the 28 and 36 come in two sizes), it may be the most comfortable daypack for loads up to 20 pounds or more. I suspect the 36L would still meet carry-on size requirements, but you might want to check its exact dimensions.

Osprey Manta AG 20

Osprey Manta AG 20

I haven’t used the Deuter ACT Trail 30, but I’ve used other Deuter models, and this one appears worth a look.

As for drawbacks of these packs, as someone who prefers light gear, I’ll say there are certainly lighter daypack models out there, and I’d suggest one of those if you were only dayhiking and generally carrying no more than about 12 (or maybe 15) pounds. But given the range of expectations you have for a daypack, I think you want the comfort and features of the models I’ve suggested, and they come at a bit more cost and higher weight. But there are similar models that don’t ventilate as well as these, so with these you don’t have to suffer a sweaty back; and they’re really not all that heavy. Sometimes consumers look only at the numbers when comparing pack weights, but comfort depends more on whether the pack is designed for how you’ll use it.

There are other brands making good daypacks: Marmot, The North Face, Mammut, Mountain Hardwear, to name a few, and you may want to at least peruse some options from those brands at their websites. But I think you’ll find that daypacks (as well as backpacks) have become a specialized category, where brands target specific users to distinguish individual products. Given your very focused needs, I haven’t seen better options than my recommendations above.

If you really would prefer a waterproof daypack, the Arc’teryx Velaro 24 isn’t completely waterproof, but its main compartment is almost waterproof, and the fabric is really tough. There’s also a 35L version. It may represent a sort of balance of your needs and wants. But it won’t carry more than 15 pounds as comfortably as the above daypacks, and it doesn’t have nearly as much convenient organization.

Then there’s the waterproof Sea to Summit Flow 35L Dry Pack, which I used for a technical canyoneering descent when we had to swim some pools. But I’ve already given you the reasons why I wouldn’t recommend a completely waterproof pack for your purposes.

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If you want to get stuff sacks that are good for keeping stuff dry if your pack gets rained on, but not for immersion in water, the Osprey Ultralight Dry Sacks are lightweight, tough, and reasonably priced. For tougher, probably more waterproof stuff sacks that are a bit pricey, I like the Hyperlite Mountain Gear CF8 Cuben Fiber Stuff Sack set no. 1. If you really want dry bags, I’ve used Sea to Summit eVent Compression Dry Sacks for years to ensure that my sleeping bag stays dry in my pack, and they’ve never failed me. See my “Gear Review: 10 Favorite Backpacking Accessories.” I’ve also more recently tested and liked dry bags made by Exped, and a Sea to Summit Lightweight Dry Sack (in sizes ranging from 1L to 35L), and I’ll review them.

You might also find some of these stories helpful with this purchase and when you’re looking for any gear:

Buying Gear? Read This First
5 Tips For Buying the Right Backpack

I hope this is all helpful. Let me know if you have any more questions. Thanks again for following my blog and let me know what you decide on.

Best,
Michael

Michael,

While there’s always a possibility of submersion with my girlfriend and I, and I hate to have adventure limited by the capability of my gear, it probably makes sense for this trip that I can get by with some dry sacks.

Thanks for your time and expertise.

Best,
James

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 all of my gear reviews at The Big Outside.

In Ask Me, I share my response to a reader question. Got a question about hiking, backpacking, gear, or any topic or trip I write about at The Big Outside? Send it to me at mlanza@thebigoutside.com, message me at facebook.com/TheBigOutside, or tweet it to @MichaelALanza. I will answer the ones I can in a blog post, using only your first name and city, with your permission. I now receive more questions than I can answer, so I ask that readers sending me a question be willing to make a minimum $25 donation to this website through my Support button for the time and expertise I put into a response. I will also provide a telephone consult for a minimum $45 donation. Write to me first and I will tell you whether I can answer your question (I usually can); I will respond as quickly as I can. First scroll through my Ask Me page and All Trips pagesskills stories, and gear reviews for answers to your questions before writing to me.

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2 Responses to Ask Me: Looking For an All-Purpose Daypack for Hiking and Traveling

  1. Jeff   |  July 30, 2016 at 1:32 pm

    I would also suggest you have a good look at Manta AG series. I have the 20 because I wanted the smallest one for fast packing. Love it so far. Super comfortable and AG system is very effective as many reviews on the web have stated. Be aware the 20 only comes in one size so it may or may not work for you or carry enough. The bigger versions come in 2 back sizes and many different capacities. They also have built in rain covers (at least my 20 does). Great pack IMO…. And I’m super picky about my gear 🤔

    Jeff in MA

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