The Best Day Backpack Review
What is the best daypack available? Whether you're an avid hiker, a climber, or a student, you probably have a need for a daypack for one or more of your activities. We put 10 top-of-the-line contenders to the test, using them in any and every way we could think of, from hiking and climbing to biking and running. We even carted around a computer as we worked on these reviews. We loaded each one side-by-side and closely inspected all of their features in order to determine which were the easiest to use, which were the most versatile and the most comfortable, and which ones could carry loads most efficiently. We loved some aspects of all of the packs we tested, but granted awards to the most useful packs of the bunch.
Read the full review below >
Test Results and Ratings
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Analysis and Award Winners
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Analysis and Test Results
Man has been lugging around gear since the dawn of time, and a backpack is one of the most efficient methods of doing so. Any time you need to carry more than what can fit into your pockets, it's nice to have a pack that can carry all your necessities. Whether you're a weekend warrior, a full-on dirtbag, or a student, you probably have a use for some sort of backpack in your life. There are a multitude of packs out there, so how do you know which one is the one you need?
There are two primary things to consider when choosing a backpack: capacity and activity. Backpacks will come with an array of features, or lack thereof, that can accommodate some of your specific needs in terms what what you'd like to do with your pack. Capacity can be determined by how much stuff you need to cram into it, and that can easily be determined by the duration of the trip your planning. Expedition style packs are very large packs designed to carry winter layers and mountaineering gear for long, extended stays on the mountains. Whereas multi-day backpack packs are designed to get you through a one or two-day trip up to weeks at a time, and typically range between 30-liters and 80-liters.
Daypacks, however, tend to be on a smaller scale, ranging from 18 to 30-liters. Sometimes they will be even a little smaller if you're looking for a pack to climb multi-pitch routes or light and fast attempts. These packs are designed to hold the essential items you need to go out for a day in the mountains. On a very basic level, all you need is a little food, a little water and some extra warmth, though we do recommend some additional items for an occasional unexpected situation.
Styles of Daypacks
Today, daypacks are designed with mainly two specific categories in mind: packs geared more towards hiking and those geared more toward everyday use. Most of the packs we tested fit rather uniquely into both of those categories. The great thing about these specific packs is that they usually don't fit solely into one category or the other, and depending on your primary objectives for a pack, you can probably find more uses for your pack than in the great outdoors.
A pack designed more specifically with hiking and outdoor pursuits in mind will have features to help make your life much easier, such as trekking pole attachments and hydration compartments. A few models we tested fit the bill for just outdoor adventures in mind, like the Granite Gear Virga 26 and Osprey Stratos 24. These packs are very different, but will both hold your things. They represent the extremes between lots of features and high weight and few features and low weight.
Models designed with an eye towards everyday use will have more organizational features, as well as padded laptop sleeves. All of the packs we tested lean more toward being hiker friendly, and only a couple of them have a padded laptop compartment. If that is in imperative feature for you, try the Osprey Flapjack, Editors' Choice for laptop backpack, The North Face Recon, or the Patagonia Black Hole 25.
Three of the packs we tested cross-over from urban use to the outdoors notably well: the Osprey Talon 22, REI Flash 18, and Deuter Speed Lite 20. The Talon comes tricked out with some great features, like the ventilated back panel, trekking pole and ice axe stow aways, and a separate compartment for your hydration bladder, that are all geared for for the hiker's heart. There are also some great commuting features about this pack, like the helmet attachment and blinker clip. With a capacity of 22-liters, we were easily able to head to the coffee shop with our laptop to work on this review, or to the grocery store. The Speed Lite comes with compression straps, and with its narrow profile is great for trail running or rock climbing. Though on the smaller side, it still accompanied us around town towing that same laptop. The Flash 18 can function equally well as a multi-pitch climbing bag as a purse replacement while running errands. If you want a pack that can do a little bit of everything, look for one that has features for both technical outings and casual use.
Other Uses For Daypacks
The primary appeal lies in the fact that they are so versatile. Very few other backpacks can transition from the outdoors to the office quite so beautifully. These are the types of packs that can go with you anywhere on any type of outing, from a short shady hike, to an afternoon reading a book on the beach, to a stroll to the grocery store. While we primarily evaluated these packs for their usefulness on day hikes, there are several other reasons you may want to consider a daypack.
Backpacking gear is becoming increasingly lightweight and compact, and the trend is to take less and lighter gear. If you are the type of backpacker who carries ultralight sleeping bags and ultralight tents, you may find that you no longer need a standard backpacking backpack. When your entire pack (without food and water) weighs less than 12 pounds, often a day specific pack will work or you should consider an ultralight backpacking pack. Most diehard ultralight backpackers will want a pack specifically designed with minimalism in mind. The Granite Gear Virga 26 is an excellent pack for this use and is the only pack in this review that was especially well suited to ultralight backpacking and use as a daypack.
With checked baggage fees on the rise, many people are looking to pack for trips using only carry-on luggage when possible. One great way to accomplish this is with a large "personal item" in combination with your roll-on carry-on bag. The Osprey Daylite was one of our favorites for this use. Many of the small packs in this review meet airline requirements for a personal item, but we advise double checking guidelines and TSA regulations before you buy.
While a carry-on bag beats checking luggage, one step above is a bag that fits under the seat in front of you. The larger packs in this review can substitute for your carry-on luggage and can generally be compressed enough to slide under a seat. That said, we generally prefer to bring a laptop backpack because they are not only more stylish and but also better equipped to protect your computer. We used a hybrid between a laptop backpack and a daypack, the Patagonia Arbor for OutdoorGearLab founder Chris McNamara's trip to see the New 7 Wonders of The World in 13 days. With so many tight connecting flights, the trip was only possible because he used a day specific pack instead of a carry-on.
Note the Prominent Role in this Travel Video
Criteria for Evaluation
We tested contenders that range from minimalist to totally tricked out, and what makes these packs stand apart from each other are their features. Some are geared more towards hiking specific needs, while others have some details allowing them to be much more versatile.
All of these packs come with hydration bladder compartments, as well as hip belts and sternum straps. If you're also in the market for a bladder, check out our Hydration Bladder Review to find the perfect companion for your day specific pack.
Most of these packs also came with some external lashing options to not only increase the amount of gear you can tote, but also to make hiking easier and more convenient. The Osprey Talon and Osprey Stratos both come with bungee attachments for trekking poles. The Talon, Flash, Stratos, Salvo, and Deuter Speed Lite are a few examples of packs with ice axe attachments. Though the Talon is the only pack we tested with specific biking features, the Speed Lite has loops to attach a helmet holder (which is sold separately).
If you're looking for a pack that can transition off the trail and into the office or a classroom, The North Face Recon have the most organizational options, such as extra pockets for small items including pens and electronics. Additionally, the Talon has an extra pocket on a shoulder strap that can hold a phone, GPS, or mp3 player.
The greatest trade-off for a tricked out pack is the added weight. This year, we tested several really lightweight packs. The REI Flash, Arc'teryx Cierzo 18, Osprey Daylite, and Granite Gear Virga are all super lightweight packs. Lightweight packs are great for short hikes, but can work for longer hikes and heavier loads if you are a fastidious packer.
The heaviest packs we tested was the Osprey Stratos 26 (39.5oz), this is mostly due to its highly ventilated aluminum frame system, followed by the Gregory Salvo (38.4oz). Two of our award winners were also super lightweight: the Flash 18 (10oz) and Deuter Speed Lite (18oz).
The comfort of a pack relies on adjustability, load carrying ability, and ventilation. Our favorite pack, the Osprey Talon, is the only pack with a fully cushioned hip belt and load lifters, both of which add to the livability of the pack. As far as adjustability goes, the Osprey Talon is by far the easiest and most adjustable option out of all the packs we tested. You can simply un-Velcro the straps, move them where you want them, and stick them back on, allowing it to fit well on just about anyone.
The Adjustable Harness on the Osprey Talon
The Talon is the only pack we tested that offers different frame sizes (S/M and M/L), so it is important to properly measure your torso before purchasing. For a full explanation on fit, and measurements, check out the fit section in our Buying Advice.
As far a load carrying, the Arc'teryx Cierzo 18 is the least comfortable, with minimal padding and support, while the Gregory Salvo is the most supportive.
The Talon, Stratos, and Salvo have back panels designed to allow for airflow on the back, which is much more comfortable while hiking in warm weather. The Deuter Speed Lite has padded, yet meshy back panels that are somewhat breathable and still protect from objects from jabbing you in the back.
Though most of the products reviewed are designed for hiking specific pursuits, equipped with some handy features like trekking pole attachments, a few of them could also double as a briefcase or school tote. Unlike a climbing or snow sports specific backpack, a day specific pack is generally more versatile and can be used for everything from travel, to summiting mountains, to toting your laptop to your favorite coffee shop.
We found that the Osprey Talon performed the best for the most athletic activities, easily crossing-over between biking, hiking, and peak bagging. The Gregory Salvo 24 also works really well for hiking, but crosses over for most other activities, such as traveling or using as a work, school, or errand bag. The Granite Gear Virga and Osprey Stratos are more specialized packs and are best for hiking long distances or hiking in comfort. While the REI Flash is quite simple, the open compartment fits many different types of items. As such, it works well for several urban applications, such as a daily gym bag or purse replacement, but it also serves as a great stuff sack to have along with you on a longer overnight trips to use for summit bids and day outings.
Each product in this review proved to be durable over our months of use; what it really comes down to is the materials. Six out of the seven designs are made from either a nylon or nylon blend with some tough ripstop fabric reinforcements to prevent tears from spreading or getting larger.
The only potential durability issues that we noticed have to do with buckles. A couple of the brands, such as Deuter and Gregory, use proprietary buckles, meaning that if one gets broken they will be difficult and rather complicated to replace. Typically, your local gear shop sells buckles for just a few cents and they can be switched out on many packs, but with the proprietary buckles, both sides of the buckle will need to be replaced if one side is damaged. Also, each pack uses easy to adjust slider buckles for the sternum strap, which is handy at first, but these tend to be the first thing to go on a product that is used frequently.
Ease of Use/Organization
To test ease of use, we performed a packing test for carrying the "10 Essentials." This makes sense to us since carrying these items is the entire reason to own and carry a daypack. So we compiled our version of the 10 essentials and packed each one with the whole collection of items to see how easily each pack could carry and organize it all. All of the packs we tested were able to carry these items no problem, but it proved to be a snug fit for a couple of the smaller packs. A few models have special carry features, so we were also able to add a couple items such as trekking poles or an ice axe to those packs.
Here are the essentials we chose to bring:
As can be expected, the larger packs like the Gregory Salvo and Granite Gear Virga fit the essentials the most easily. The Talon has some extra pockets and organizational features that were great for some of the smaller items. However, the smaller packs such as the Deuter Speed Lite 20, REI Flash 18, and Osprey Daylite still held all of the essentials perfectly. The Osprey Stratos was the most difficult to pack because of its unique frame structure.
The Osprey Talon 22 is the only model to have pockets on the waist belt, which is super handy for quick access to snacks and sunscreen while hiking; it even has an extra pocket on the shoulder straps for a compass, GPS unit, or a couple pieces of beef jerky.
All of the packs are hydration bladder compatible and all but the Flash 18 and Cierrzo 18 have water bottle pockets along the sides.
Most pack companies offer a compatible rain cover to go with their packs. Rain covers are a great thing to throw in your pack just in case you get stuck in an unexpected torrential downpour and want to protect the contents of your pack. One of these is the Osprey Hi-Vis Raincover. The Osprey Stratos is the only pack in this review that included a rain cover, and even provided a stow away pocket for it. Generally speaking, these daypacks were not designed to be completely waterproof, but can only stave off light moisture. The Gregory Salvo uses water resistant materials, but the zippers proved to be a weakness that water exploits.
All of the packs we reviewed are compatible with hydration bladders, which will need to be purchased separately. We recommend checking out the Geigerrig Hydration Engine. It matches ease of use and easy cleaning with the durability we all want in a water bladder. For a more in-depth look, check out the full Hydration Bladder Review.
Buying Advice article. Note that we have another 8+ backpack review categories on the site from laptop backpacks to backpacking backpacks and more.
— Jeremy Bauman, Jessica Haist, and Gentrye Houghton
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