The Best Day Backpack Review

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Hiking through the Buttermilk Boulders with the Osprey Talon 22 and the Mountain Hardwear Crimper.
Credit: David Mackey
Whether you are a frequent hiker, a student, or a weekend warrior, chances are you could use a daypack for one or more of your activities. Any time you need to carry more than your phone and wallet, it is handy to have a vessel to carry all the necessities, such as food, water, and extra layers.

We put some top-of-the-line daypacks to the test, using them for every activity we could. From hiking and climbing to biking and mountain boarding, and even carting around a computer as we worked on these reviews. We loaded each one side by side and made a close inspection of all the features to determine which were the easiest to use, and which ones were the most versatile. Each pack we tested had some standout qualities, but we narrowed it down to the most useful packs to hand out our awards. Also be sure to check out our Women's Backpack Review and our Backpacking Backpack Review.

Read the full review below >

Review by: ⋅ Senior Review Editor, OutdoorGearLab

Top Ranked Day Packs Displaying 1 - 5 of 8 << Previous | View All | Next >>
Our Ranking #1 #2 #3 #4 #5
Product Name
Osprey Talon 22
Osprey Talon 22
Read the Review
Video video review
Deuter Speed Lite 20
Deuter Speed Lite 20
Read the Review
Video video review
Patagonia Refugio
Patagonia Refugio
Read the Review
REI Trail 25
REI Trail 25
Read the Review
Video video review
REI Flash 18
REI Flash 18
Read the Review
Editors' Awards  Editors' Choice Award  Top Pick Award    Best Buy Award  Best Buy Award 
Street Price Varies $70 - $100
Compare at 9 sellers
Varies $67 - $89
Compare at 6 sellers
Varies $85 - $89
Compare at 6 sellers
$55
Compare at 1 sellers
$35
Compare at 1 sellers
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67% recommend it (2/3)
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2 ratings
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91% recommend it (10/11)
Pros Well ventilated, stretchy front pocket, many features such as helmet clip, very adjustable, versatile, separate compartment for hydration bladder.Very light, nice Velcro tab for hydration hose, innovative buckles let you clip a lot to the outside.Holds a 17 laptop, has handy organizational pockets, fun color selection, versatile.Convenient pockets that are just the right size, convenient large mesh side pockets, comfortable, inexpensive.Affordable, REI guarantee, light, packable
Cons Hard to lash bigger items to the outside, water bottle pockets are small.Very thin waist belt.No waist belt.Least breathable back panel, no loops on shoulder straps for hydration tube.Not durable, hard to access contents while on a climb
Best Uses Day hiking, mountain biking, adventure racing, bike commuting.Hiking, backpacking, mountaineering, great alternative to a standard hydration pack.Travel, as a briefcase or school bag, day hikes, around town adventures.Summit pack, day hikes, around town.Multi-pitch rock climbing, summit pack, day hikes, around town
Date Reviewed Sep 04, 2012Sep 04, 2012Apr 04, 2012Sep 05, 2012Jul 02, 2012
Weighted Scores Osprey Talon 22 Deuter Speed Lite 20 Patagonia Refugio REI Trail 25 REI Flash 18
Comfort - 23%
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Weight - 24%
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Versatility - 23%
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Ease Of Use - 15%
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Durability - 15%
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Product Specs Osprey Talon 22 Deuter Speed Lite 20 Patagonia Refugio REI Trail 25 REI Flash 18
Weight 1 lb 11 oz 1 lb 3 oz 1 lb 11 oz 1 lb. 10 oz. 10 oz.
Volume/Capacity 22 L (Talon comes in 4, 8, 11, 33, & 44) 20 L (comes in 10, 15, & 30) 28 L (1709 cu in) Fits a 17-inch laptop 25 L 18 L
Back Construction Airscape 3D Air Mesh Airflow-mesh shoulder straps and back panel Padded back panel Unpadded
Hydration Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes
Hipbelt Yes, with pockets Yes, removable No Yes, removable Yes
Compartments 1, with stretchy front pocket 1 3 (laptop compatible) 2 1
Rain Cover Not included, can be purchased separate No No, but DWR finish No No
Pockets (Small, does not include compartments or water bottle pockets) 7 2 microfiber sunglasses pocket 2 1
Outside Carry Options Helmet attachment, 2 stretchy water bottle pockets 2 mesh water bottle pockets, outside stash 2 stretchy water bottle pockets 2 huge mesh water bottle pockets
Laptop Compartment No, but can fit No, but can fit Yes Yes No, but can fit
Whistle Yes No Yes No Yes
Key Clip Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes
Materials 70D x 100D Nylon, shadow check
Stretch woven Nylon
with Lycra, 160D x 330D Nylon
shadow box
Deuter-Ripstop 210 / HexLite 210 Body: 420-denier 100% nylon oxford plain weave. Base: 840-denier 100% ballistics nylon. Lining: 200-denier 100% polyester. Stretch-woven pockets: 92% nylon/8% spandex. Recycled ripstop PET Ripstop Nylon
Notable Features blinker patch, tow loop, bungee tool tie-off Removable frame and waist belt, SOS label on pocket easy to organize second compartment and outer pocket Blinker clip loop, Removable hipbelt and sternum strap, tow loop Ultralight

OutdoorGearLab Editors' Hands-on Review


  • Review Photos
  • Editors' Choice Winners
  • All Reviewed Products
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REI Flash 18
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REI Trail 25
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Gregory Z30
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Patagonia Refugio
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The North Face Recon
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Osprey Stratos 24
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Criteria for Evaluation

Features
What makes these daypacks stand apart is the features. Each one has some features specific to hiking, but many of the packs also have other details to make them more versatile.

All of these packs are hydration bladder compatible, making each one useful for hiking and other athletic activities. You may want to check out our Hydration Bladder review if you plan to use an optional hydration system with your pack. Many of them have extra carry options to make hiking with them easier and more convenient. The Osprey Stratos and the Gregory Z30 have extra bungees for storing trekking poles, and the Z30, and Deuter Speed Lite have extra attachments for an ice tool. Both the Talon and the REI Trail had a patch attachment for a blinking light for bike communing and the Talon has the additional feature of a bike helmet attachment.

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A close up of how the trekking pole attachment works while wearing the Osprey Stratos 24. You can also see how the frame holds the bulk of the pack away from the back.
Credit: McKenzie Long
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The Osprey Talon has a clever feature to carry bike helmets. The plastic oval slides through the holes in the helmet, and bungees it to the pack. This feature is easy, convenient, and does not add much weight to the pack.
Credit: McKenzie Long

The Patagonia Refugio, The North Face Recon, and REI Trail had the most organizational pockets such as pen holders and small pockets for electronics if you want to use it as a school bag or briefcase. The Refugio and Recon go so far as to have an iPhone sized pocket, while the Refugio also has a microfiber pocket specific for storing sunglasses. They both hold and protect a laptop better than any of the others.

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On the top of the pack, there is a microfiber pocket especially for sunglasses. This is an excellent feature since people typically always have sunglasses with them while hiking or traveling, and it is difficult to pack them without them getting crunched
Credit: McKenzie Long

Weight
In general, the daypacks that we reviewed are not for the weight conscious hiker, leaning towards more features than low weight. All of them are panel-loading, which have more zippers and compartments and are heavier than top-loading versions. The heaviest were the Gregory Z30 and The North Face Recon (both 2 lb 10 oz) and the lightest was the Deuter Speed Lite 20 (1 lb 3 oz). Most of the rest of the contenders weigh about the same, with the Osprey Talon, Patagonia Refugio, and REI Trail all weighing in at 1 lb 11 oz. If you still want a featured and easy-to-use pack, but want it to be as light as possible, the Deuter Speed Lite is an excellent balance between comfort and weight.

Comfort
The comfort of the daypacks relies on adjustability, load carrying, and ventilation. As far as adjustability, the Osprey Talon 22 has the easiest to adjust shoulder harness 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 Gregory Z30 and Osprey Stratos come in a few different frame sizes, (S, M, L) so it is important to select the proper length before purchasing for ideal comfort. The Osprey Talon, is unisex and comes in two sizes, (S/M and M/L). The rest are one-size-fits-all.

For load carrying, the Patagonia Refugio would be the least comfortable because it does not have a waist belt. By contrast, The North Face Recon is the most supportive due to a PE sheet added to the back panel to support the spine. The Osprey Stratos, with its unique ventilated back panel, cannot hold much weight without tipping the wearer backwards uncomfortably. The Gregory Z30 carries weight the best with load-lifters on the shoulder straps and a thick, padded waist belt.

In terms of ventilation, the Gregory Z30, Osprey Talon 22, and Osprey Stratos 24 each have a heavily designed back panel to allow for airflow on the back, which is much more comfortable while hiking in warm weather. The Deuter Speed Lite and Patagonia Refugio have padded yet meshy back panels that are somewhat breathable and still protect objects from jabbing the back through the material. The REI Trail's selectively padded back was the least ventilating of them all, while the Osprey Stratos was by far the most ventilated, though comfort and balance are compromised when it gets too heavy.

Versatility
Most of the competitors in this review are designed with hiking in mind, having some really helpful features, but a few of them can double as a briefcase or school bag. Unlike a climbing or ski specific option, a general daypack is more versatile and can be used for everything from adventure racing to toting your laptop to the coffee shop.

We found the Osprey Talon to work best for the most athletic activities, being excellent for biking as well as hiking, and we found the Patagonia Refugio to work best for most other activities, such as traveling or using as a work, school, or errand bag. A couple of the packs, such as the Osprey Stratos and the Gregory Z30 are more tailored to hiking, and perform best at just that activity.

Durability
Each product in this review proved to be durable over our months of use. What it really comes down to is the materials. Four out of six designs are made with a tough ripstop fabric that prevents tears from spreading or getting larger. The base of the Patagonia Refugio and The North Face Recon are constructed from a ballistics nylon, which is an extra burly material that prevents rips and holes in the base, which typically sees the most wear.

For a more detailed explanation of what these fabrics are, reference our Climbing Daypack Buying Advice.

The only durability issues that we noticed has to do with buckles. Some of the brands, such as Deuter and Gregory, use proprietary buckles, so if one gets broken they will be complicated to replace. Normally, a gear shop sells buckles for 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 "10 Essentials Test." The REI Trail has a patch stitched inside to remind the user of the 10 essentials to carry with you on a day hike to ensure safety. We found this to be an interesting idea, since carrying these items is the entire reason to own and carry a daypack. So we compiled our version of the 10 essentials and tried packing each daypack with the whole collection of items to see how easily each pack could carry and organize it all. A few of the packs have special carry features, so we added a couple items such as trekking poles or an ice tool to those packs.

Here are the essentials we chose to bring:

1. Navigation- map and cell phone with GPS
2. Call for Help- whistles are included on half the packs, but we have our cell phone in case we have service to call for help
3. Hydration- water bladder and water bottle with included filter for easy filling at streams
4. Nutrition- snacks while hiking; we have beef jerky, trail mix, and a tuna packet
5. Sun Protection- Sunglasses, small bottle of sunscreen, and a hat with a brim
6. Insulation- a technical wool hoody layer for if it gets cooler
7. Shelter/Weather Protection- A waterproof hardshell jacket
8. Illumination- Headlamp with fresh batteries
9. First Aid- Tylenol and some medical tape for wounds or gear failure
10. Emergency Warmth- handwarmers and a lighter

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The 10 Essentials we used in our pack test. Every pack held all the items well, though some organized the small items better than others.
Credit: McKenzie Long

As can be expected, the larger packs such as the Gregory Z30 and the REI Trail 25 fit the essentials the most easily. However, the smaller packs such as the Deuter Speed Lite 20 and the Osprey Talon 22 still held all of the essentials perfectly. The Osprey Stratos 24 was the most difficult to pack because of its unique frame structure. The packs that had the best pockets for organizing the small items such as sunscreen, cell phone, and first aid were the Gregory Z30, the Patagonia Refugio, and the REI Trail 25.

Check out our description of different pack features above to read more about the extra carry options that many of the packs have, allowing them to easily carry more than just the 10 essentials.

The Z30 and both Osprey models have pockets on the waist belts for handy access to snacks and sunscreen while hiking, and the Stratos and Talon also have pockets on the shoulder straps for a compass, GPS unit, or snack.

All of the packs are hydration bladder compatible and have water bottle pockets along the sides. All except the REI Trail. have some type of loop, either stretchy or Velcro, to secure the bladder hose onto the shoulder strap.

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The Speed Lite has a very handy velcro tab to secure the hose of the hydration bladder. It is slightly harder to use than the loops on other packs in this review, but more secure.
Credit: McKenzie Long

Accessories
Many brands offer a compatible rain cover to go with their packs. One of these is the Osprey Hi-Vis Raincover. Rain covers are a great thing to through in your pack incase you just suck in an unexpected rain storm.

As previously stated, all of the packs we reviewed are compatible with hydration bladders. We recommend checking out the Geigerrig Hydration Engine. It matches easy of use and easy of cleaning with the durability we all want in a water bladder. For a more in-depth look, check out the full Hydration Bladder Review.

Editors' Choice Award: Osprey Talon 22
Loaded with features, the Osprey Talon 22 is amazingly versatile. It has features that are perfect for hiking (a trekking pole carry), biking (a helmet stow clip), or adventure racing (a tow loop on bottom). It also stands out for being remarkably comfortable and ventilated along the shoulders, waist belt, and back panel without the frame pushing the pack too far away from your body. This is a great pack for the athletic enthusiast who needs a smaller pack for multiple sports.

Best Buy Award: REI Trail 25
Its hard to beat a daypack that is half the price of all the others and still functional and comfortable. The REI Trail 25 has an ideal capacity, really useful stretchy water bottle pockets that are twice the size of any other pack, and an organizational front compartment for if you use it as a school bag.

Top Pick Award: Deuter Speed Lite 20
The Deuter Speed Lite 20 wins our Top Pick award for being simple. In contrast to our Editors' Choice award winner, the Osprey Talon 22, the Speed Lite has useful features without being completely tricked out. For the fast and light hiker, simplicity and light weight are preferable to the heavily featured packs. The Speed Lite is easy to compress and pack in a larger pack or load up with items for a day hike, and is not too heavy or overly complicated, yet still provides enough carry options to be useful on a longer hike.

McKenzie Long
Buying Advice
How we Test
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How to Choose the Best Daypack - Click for details
 How to Choose the Best Daypack

by McKenzie Long
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