Patagonia Nine Trails 20L
$129, 20L/1,220 c.i., 1 lb. 11 oz. (S/M)
Sizes: S/M and L/XL
What’s an ideal daypack for three-season hikes? When you’re only carrying food, water, extra clothing, and perhaps some incidentals like camera gear (as I do), a daypack of 15 to 20 liters is ideal for most dayhikers in three-season conditions: They’re light on your back but offer all the space and features you need. Sometimes the story behind a piece of gear will appear sparse, precisely because it dispenses with the superfluous in service to functionality. On various dayhikes from Zion National Park to a 27-mile, 16-hour traverse of western Maine’s Mahoosuc Range, I found the Nine Trails 20L hits a sweet spot for supremely easy access, low weight, capacity, and comfort.
Simplicity and quick access take top priority in the men’s Nine Trails 20L and the women’s Nine Trails 18L. Rather than having a traditional lid with two buckles and a drawcord to open underneath it, a U-shaped top zipper quickly opens up the main compartment. While the zipper does not extend down along the pack’s sides, the way some clamshell-style daypack zippers expose much of their contents, this one offers a reasonably wide mouth for seeing and accessing what’s inside, without any danger of contents falling out of it. The main compartment has adequate space for everything needed on an all-day, three-season hike: food, water, extra clothing, and it fit my DSLR and two lenses, in addition to three liters of water and everything else I needed for multi-hour hikes.
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The large front pocket holds a jacket and smaller items, and the two side pockets each hold a liter bottle. But I found it difficult to reach into the side pockets while wearing the pack, and basically impossible to replace a bottle in one of those pockets with the pack on—especially when the pack is stuffed full, reducing the space in the side pockets. The two hipbelt pockets swallow two or three energy bars each, but not a large smartphone.
Under a storm flap on the pack’s front side, there’s also a zippered pocket for smaller items like a map and sunglasses, and there’s a smaller, zippered valuables pocket inside the main compartment. However, when the front pocket and inside pocket are both filled nearly to capacity, their bulk effectively shrinks the pack’s mouth opening, making it a bit more difficult to pull bulkier items (like a DSLR camera) out of (or place items in) the main compartment.
The Nine Trails probably most stands out from comparable daypacks for its highly breathable, three-layer back panel. The outermost layer, against your back, is comprised of monofilament mesh with molded dimples for moving sweat and promoting air flow. A middle layer of perforated foam boosts breathability, while the innermost layer consists of a PE framesheet that flexes to move with your torso along its vertical axis, but has more rigidity along its horizontal axis—especially, I found, when the pack is stuffed full—giving it the support to carry at least 15 pounds comfortably. The well-padded, perforated (for breathability) shoulder straps and lightly padded hipbelt carry a load of that size well.
Available in two sizes, the Nine Trail S/M, designed for torsos measuring 16 to 19 inches, fit my 18-inch torso quite well.
A single, horizontal compression strap on each side shrinks the pack when underfilled and is positioned to secure collapsed trekking poles tucked into either side pocket. The 210-denier nylon ripstop fabric in the pack bag—durable enough for most situations that dayhikers encounter—is tougher than some models of comparable weight and capacity. That fabric is treated with a polyurethane coating and a DWR (durable, water-repellent finish) for enhanced durability and a high degree of water resistance.
Like many lightweight daypacks, the “softest” parts of the Nine Trails 20—the external areas most susceptible to damage—are the stretch pockets on the front, sides, and hipbelt. But unlike daypacks that use lighter stretch-mesh fabric, these consist of a solid fabric that should prove more durable. It showed no damage from Zion’s coarse rock.
The Patagonia Nine Trails 20L lacks some of the bells and whistles found on larger or heavier models—and that’s exactly its strength. It’s no more and no less than a comfortable, relatively light, and highly accessible pack ideal for hikers who prefer simplicity.
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 patagonia.com or rei.com, the men’s Nine Trails 28L at patagonia.com or rei.com, or the men’s Nine Trails 14L at patagonia.com. Or buy the women’s Nine Trails 26L at rei.com or patagonia.com, or the women’s Nine Trails 18L at moosejaw.com, rei.com, patagonia.com, or patagonia.ca in Canada.
See all of my reviews of daypacks I like and my picks for the eight best hiking daypacks, plus my “5 Tips For Buying the Right Backpack” (which includes daypacks) and all of my reviews of hiking gear.
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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 categorized menus of all of my gear reviews at The Big Outside.