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. Look no further. This review covers the best daypacks for hiking and spotlights and explains the subtle differences between them to help you find the right pack for your own hiking adventures.
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—first for Backpacker magazine, and now for this blog. I think this review will help you find a pack that’s perfect for you—plus you’ll find the best prices at links in this review.
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 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 liters and 22 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 may need extra space on some hikes. For outings that are unusually gear-intensive—or if you’re carrying stuff for another person—look to a pack with 28 liters or more capacity. If you’re carrying bare essentials in good weather, a 12-liter daypack may be fine.
- 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 internal frame (if there is one) and suspension (the shoulder straps and waist belt). Super light daypacks—under roughly 1.5 pounds—typically 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 upwards of 15 to 20 pounds (or more) comfortably typically have a metal wire frame and/or a plastic framesheet to maintain the pack’s shape and focus most of the weight onto your hips, as well as adequately padded shoulder straps and waist belt.
- 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, which can save you time. So do little details like attachments for trekking poles and an ice axe. Those features also add cost, weight, and some bulk to a pack. Look at a pack’s organization and consider how important compartmentalization is to you, and how much stuff you want to have within reach while actually wearing the pack.
- Materials—Many daypacks for hiking are made with similar or basically the same 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 much more abuse—sometimes (but not always) adding weight and cost, but sometimes also worth those tradeoffs. Again, this comes down to how you plan to use the pack, but look at those details closely.
The comparison chart offers a quick look at features that distinguish the packs from one another. Each of the short reviews below the chart includes a link to my complete review of the pack.
|The North Face Chimera 18||$100||18L/1,098 c.i.||1 lb. 1 oz.||15 lbs.||* Zipper access to main compartment
* Unique harness and compression
* 6 pockets
|Hyperlite Mountain Gear Daybreak||$230||17L/1,040 c.i.||1 lb. 4 oz.||12 lbs.||* Waterproof and highly durable
* Zipper access to main compartment
* 4 pockets
|Gregory Miwok 18/Maya 16||$100||16-18L/976-1,098 c.i.||1 lb. 12 oz.||15 lbs.||* Men's and women's models
* Ventilating harness, hipbelt, back panel
* 6 pockets
|Osprey Talon 22 and Tempest 20||$110||20-22L/1,220-1,343 c.i. (men's Talon)|
18-20L/1,098-1,220 c.i. (women's Tempest)
|1 lb. 11 oz. (men's S/M)||15 lbs.||* Men's and women's models
* Ventilating back panel
* 6 pockets
|Patagonia Nine Trails 20||$129||20L/1,220 c.i.||1 lb. 11 oz.||15 lbs.||* Zipper access to main compartment
* Men's and women's models
* Highly breathable back panel
* 6 external pockets
|Gregory Citro 20/Juno 20||$120||20L/1,708 c.i.||2 lbs. 3.5 oz.||15-20 lbs.||* Zipper access to main compartment
* Men's and women's models
* Ventilating back panel
* 6 external pockets
|Exped Skyline 15||$129||15L/915 c.i.||2 lbs. 5 oz.||20+ lbs.||* Unique hybrid suspension
* Two zippers accessing main compartment
* 4 external pockets
* Rain cover
|Deuter Trail Pro 36 and Trail Pro 34 SL||$165||36L/2,197 c.i.||3 lbs. 7 oz.||25-35 lbs.||* Zipper access to main compartment
* Men's and women's models
* Large carrying capacity, multiple features
* 6 external pockets
* rain cover
$100, 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 by clicking this link to purchase a men’s or women’s The North Face Chimera 18 at backcountry.com, moosejaw.com, or rei.com, a men’s or women’s Chimera 24 at backcountry.com, moosejaw.com, or rei.com.
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$230, 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.
Want an ultralight, minimalist daypack? See my review of the Black Diamond Trail Blitz 12 and REI Flash 18.
$100, 18L/1,098 c.i., 1 lb. 12 oz.
Gregory’s 2019 update of these classic, lightweight men’s and women’s daypacks retains all that makes them outstanding—but most notably changes the formerly fixed suspension to an adjustable one, making these the only sub-three-pound daypacks reviewed here that are adjustable. Using the Miwok 18 on a trek through Spain’s Picos de Europa Mountains, I found it comfortable carrying up to 15 pounds, and I love its multi-featured design, from the six external pockets to the zippered bladder sleeve outside the main compartment and the attachment for sunglasses or collapsed trekking poles on the left shoulder strap. Among the lightest daypacks, the Miwok and Maya are also among the most versatile.
Read my complete review of the 2019 Miwok 18 and Maya 16.
BUY IT NOW You can support my work on this blog by clicking any of these links to purchase a men’s Gregory Miwok 12, Miwok 18, or Miwok 24 at backcountry.com, moosejaw.com, ems.com, or rei.com, or a women’s Maya 10, Maya 16, or Maya 22 at backcountry.com, moosejaw.com, ems.com, or rei.com. You can also find previous versions of the Miwok on sale at ems.com, or rei.com, and the Maya on sale at ems.com, or rei.com.
Want more? See “The 20 Best National Park Dayhikes” and “Extreme Hiking: America’s Best Hard Dayhikes.”
$110, 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, the Talon 22 carried up to 15 pounds comfortably, thanks to a suspension featuring a flexible, plastic framesheet, and 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 by clicking any of these links to purchase a men’s Osprey Talon 22 at backcountry.com, moosejaw.com, ems.com, or rei.com, or a women’s Osprey Tempest 20 at backcountry.com, moosejaw.com, ems.com, or rei.com. Or buy another size of the Talon from 11L to 44L at backcountry.com, moosejaw.com, ems.com, or rei.com, or another size of the Tempest from 9L to 40L at backcountry.com, moosejaw.com, ems.com, or rei.com.
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$129, 20L/1,220 c.i., 1 lb. 11 oz.
When you’re only carrying food, water, clothing, and some incidentals, a pack for all-day hikes need not be over-engineered. Sometimes having less occurs by design, in service to functionality. Light on your back but offering all the space and features you need, the men’s Nine Trail 20L and women’s Nine Trails 18L dispenses with the traditional buckle-down lid for a U-shaped top zipper to access the main compartment. It also has six external pockets—and most distinctively, a three-layer, ventilated back panel with a PE framesheet that gives it the support to carry at least 15 pounds comfortably.
See my complete review of the Patagonia Nine Trails 20L.
BUY IT NOW You can support my work on this blog by clicking any of these links to purchase a men’s Patagonia Nine Trails 20L at moosejaw.com or patagonia.com, the men’s Nine Trails 28L at moosejaw.com, patagonia.com, or rei.com, or the men’s Nine Trails 14L at moosejaw.com or patagonia.com. Or buy the women’s Nine Trails 26L at moosejaw.com or patagonia.com, or the women’s Nine Trails 18L at moosejaw.com or patagonia.com.
Want to hike the Teton Crest Trail, JMT, or another trip? Click here for expert advice you won’t get elsewhere.
$120, 20L/1,708 c.i., 2 lbs. 3.5 oz.
The men’s Citro 20 and women’s Juno 20 are arguably the lightest daypacks that offer excellent organization and the support and comfort for carrying up to 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 Gregory Citro 20/Juno 20.
BUY IT NOW You can support my work on this blog by clicking any of these links to purchase a Gregory Citro 20 at moosejaw.com or ems.com, the Citro 25 at moosejaw.com, ems.com, or rei.com, or the Citro 30 at moosejaw.com or ems.com. Or buy the Gregory Juno 20 at moosejaw.com or ems.com, the Juno 25 at moosejaw.com, ems.com, or rei.com, or the Juno 30 at moosejaw.com or ems.com.
Plan your next great backpacking trip in Yosemite, Grand Teton, or other parks using my expert e-guides.
$129, 19L/915 c.i., 2 lbs. 5 oz.
Real technological innovation happens rarely in daypacks, so Exped’s Switchback suspension represents a leap forward. With one quick and simple adjustment, it essentially shape-shifts the Skyline 15 between two different types of pack: with a gap between your back and the pack, maximizing air flow to keep you cool; or with a spine-hugging back panel to deliver the most stability when hiking in difficult terrain or scrambling off-trail. It carries 20 pounds comfortably and has nice organization, including two zippers offering quick access to the main compartment and some of the roomiest hipbelt pockets I’ve ever seen on a daypack.
Read my complete review of the Exped Skyline 15.
$165, 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 Moosejaw.com or rei.com, a women’s Trail Pro 34 SL at Moosejaw.com or rei.com, a Trail Pro 32 at Moosejaw.com or rei.com, or a women’s Trail Pro 30 SL at Moosejaw.com or rei.com.
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NOTE: I reviewed gear for Backpacker Magazine for 20 years. At The Big Outside, I review only what I consider the best outdoor gear and apparel. See categorized menus of all of my gear reviews at The Big Outside.