The Best Day Backpack Review
What is the best daypack available? We put 10 top-of-the-line daypacks 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 on to hear how these packs stacked up!
Read the full review below >
Test Results and Ratings
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Analysis and Award Winners
Best Overall Daypack
Osprey Talon 22
Best Value for Your Dollar
REI Flash 18
Top Pick for Balance of Low Weight and Features
Deuter Speed Lite 20
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Analysis and Test Results
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 20-30-liter. 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 daypacks 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 Gregory Z25 and Marmot Kompressor Verve 26. Both of those packs come with highly ventilated back panels, and lack some of the organizational features that make them a great around town pack.
Models designed with an eye towards everyday use will have more organizational features as well as padded laptop sleeves. The Kelty Redtail 27 came specifically with an organizational pocket, and the REI Trail 25 is loaded with a slew of handy extra pockets. Both these packs come outfitted with padded back panels that are great for protecting your back from pointy corners. All of the packs we tested lean more toward hiker friendly, and only a couple of them have a padded laptop compartment. If that is in imperative feature for you, try the Patagonia Refugio or The North Face Recon.
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 of daypacks 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 getting 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 daypack will work. Most diehard ultralight backpackers will want a pack specifically designed with minimalism in mind. However, If you are an occasional backpacker, you might be able to make one of the larger capacity packs in this review work for you.
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. 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, even better 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 daypack instead of a carry-on.
Note Daypacks Playing a Prominent Role in This Travel Video
Criteria for Evaluation
We tested daypacks 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. (Except the Refugio is the one model lacking a waist belt.) If you're also in the market for a bladder, check out our Hydration Bladder Review to find the perfect companion for your daypack.
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, Gregory Z25, and Marmot Kompressor Verve all come with bungee attachments for trekking poles. The Talon, Z25, and Deuter Speed Lite also come with an attachment for an ice tool. 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 REI Trail, Patagonia Refugio, Kelty Redtail, and 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. Most of the packs we reviewed are not for the weight conscious hiker, except for the ultra simple REI Flash, which weighs in at only 12 ounces. The Flash is also the only top-loading pack we tested. Leaning more towards the a simplified design, top-loading packs are more similar multi-day backpacking packs where all of your gear fits into a single compartment from it's top access point. The Flash is a great companion for fast and light ascents. The other packs we tested are all panel-loading, with U-shaped zippered access to the main compartment, and tend to have more zippers and compartments, adding weight, than the top-loading options. The Marmot Kompressor Verve 26, varies from the U-shape with a D-shaped opening, which proved to be great for loading climbing gear for a day at your favorite crag.
The heaviest packs we tested were the Gregory Z25 (1lb 14oz), this is mostly due to its highly ventilated aluminum frame system, followed by the Kompressor Verve (1lb 11oz). The lightest were our three award winners: the Flash 18 (12oz), Deuter Speed Lite (1lb 2oz) and Osprey Talon (1lb 8oz).
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 to offer 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 REI Flash is the least comfortable with minimal padding and support, while the Osprey Talon is the most supportive. The Gregory Z25 also excels at carrying loads due to it's uniquely designed and highly ventilated back panel. The Z25 features newer back panel technology, in which a stiff mesh panel sits against your back and a frame pushes the load slightly away from your body. The result is a steady flow of air behind you, preventing a sweaty back. However, because the weight is not situated close to your body, the trade-off is that with heavier loads the pack may begin to pull you backwards.
The Talon and Marmot Kompressor Verve 26 each also have a back panel designed to allow for airflow on the back, which is much more comfortable while hiking in warm weather. The Deuter Speed Lite, REI Trail 25, and Kelty Redtail have padded yet meshy back panels that are somewhat breathable and still protect from objects from jabbing you in the back. Yet, their selectively padded systems are the least ventilating, especially in contrast to the Gregory Z25.
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 daypack 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, and we found the REI Trail 25 to work best for most other activities, such as traveling or using as a work, school, or errand bag. A couple of the packs, like the Marmot Kompressor Verve and the Gregory Z25 are more specifically tailored to hiking, and perform best at just that activity. In addition, we found that the REI Flash 18 is the most versatile pack to have in your arson in general. Not only does the REI Flash meet 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:
1. Navigation- map and cell phone with compass and GPS.
2. Call for Help- whistles were included on all the packs except the Gregory Z25 and Kelty Redtail, but we have our cell phone in case we have service to call for help.
3. Hydration- all of the packs we tested came equipped with hydration sleeves for a bladder system, though a soft sided 1-liter option, such as the Platypus PlusBottle, allowed more room in some of the smaller packs like the Flash 18 and Speed Lite 20.
4. Nutrition- snacks while hiking; we have beef jerky, Nature's Bakery Fig Bars, and a sleeve of Clif Bar Shot Blocks (with caffeine!).
5. Sun Protection- Sunglasses, small bottle of sunscreen, and a hat with a brim
6. Insulation- A technical soft shell that also protects from wind and a little rain.
7. Shelter/Weather Protection- An emergency bivy.
8. Illumination- Headlamp with fresh batteries.
9. First Aid- We carried a small first aid kit tailored specifically towards hiking. Check out How to Choose the Best First Aid Kit for some great info about these.
10. Fire- emergency fire starter and a little dry kindling.
As can be expected, the larger packs, such as the Kelty Redtail 27 and the Marmot Kompressor Verve 26, fit the essentials the most easily. The Kelty Redtail and REI Trail 25 have 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 and the REI Flash 18 still held all of the essentials perfectly. The Gregory Z25 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, and 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 have water bottle pockets along the sides. All except the Flash 18 have some type of loop, either stretchy or Velcro, to secure the bladder hose onto the shoulder strap. The REI Trail is the only to pack to have a hard plastic clip on the shoulder straps to fix your bladder hose.
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 incase you get stuck in an unexpected torrential down pour and want to protect the contents of your pack. One of these is the Osprey Hi-Vis Raincover. The REI Trail 25 is the only pack in this review that included a rain cover, and even provided a stow away pocket for it.We also performed a 24-hour water test with each of the packs reviewed. Generally speaking, these packs are not designed to be completely waterproof and can only stave off light moisture. However, we were surprised at the end of the 24-hour period that all of the packs kept their contents mostly dry.
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 an avid hiker, a climber, or a student, you probably have a need for a daypack for one or more of your activities. With so many options to choose from, we hope this review helped you find the right product for you. For more advice on selecting the best product to purchase, read through our Buying Advice article. Note that we have another 8+ backpack review categories on the site from laptop backpacks to backpacking backpacks and more.
— Gentrye Houghton and McKenzie Long
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