The Best Day Backpack Review

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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.

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Test Results and Ratings

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Analysis and Award Winners


Review by:
, Jessica Haist, and Gentrye Houghton

Last Updated:
Friday
December 2, 2016

Best Overall Daypack


Osprey Talon 22


Editors' Choice Award

Price:   Varies from $69 - $100 online
Compare at 6 sellers


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Loaded with a full array of 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 and blinker attachment), or summit attempts (ice axe carry). 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, travel, and around town commuting. The Talon also comes in a larger size; take a look at the Talon 33.

Best Bang for the Buck


REI Flash 18


Best Buy Award

Price:   $40 at REI


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It's hard to beat a daypack that is half the price of all the others and still offers a phenomenal amount of versatility far beyond just hiking. The minimalist REI Flash 18 is an ideal companion on multi-pitch climbs, doubles as a stuff sack inside your larger pack while still being useful for your summit bid, or can even be used as your daily gym bag. It has a simple, top-loading design and is the lightest pack in this test, weighing only 10 ounces. This great pack also comes in the larger Flash 22 and the new looking Flash 18 Special Addition!

Top Pick Award for Balance of Low Weight and Features


Deuter Speed Lite 20


Top Pick Award

Price:   $89 online
Compare at 5 sellers


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The Deuter Speed Lite 20 wins our Top Pick award for being simple while still comfortably carrying loads. In contrast to our feature-laden Editors' Choice award winner, the Osprey Talon 22, the Speed Lite has useful features while maintaining a minimal design. For the fast and light hiker, simplicity and light weight are preferable to the heavily featured packs. The Speed Lite is easy to compress due to the compression straps and can be packed in a larger pack or loaded up with items for a day hike. It is not too heavy or overly complicated, yet still provides enough carry and extra lashing options to be useful on a longer hike. The Speed Lite also comes in two smaller sizes; check out the Speed Lite 10 and the Speed Lite 15.




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?

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The Osprey Daylite is a great beach bag.

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.

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The Talon wins our Editors' Choice award because it is a versatile pack fit for deserts, mountains, or a trip to the coffee shop.

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.

Technical Packs


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.

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The Granite Gear Virga (left) and the Osprey Stratos (Right) are very different packs. The Virga is streamlined, lightweight and has minimal features while the Stratos has many features but is the heaviest pack in our review. Consider how you'll use the pack to decide which approach is right for you.

Casual Packs


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.

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The back of the Salvo is quite plain. this increased the visual appeal of the pack, but decreased the versatility.

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.

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Whether an avid hiker, or just playing around in the mountains, the Flash 18 is ready for anything.

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.

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The Speed accompanied us on an early morning Dawn Patrol. Of all the packs in this review, it is the only one that functions decently for skiing.

Ultralight Backpacking


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.

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The Granite Gear Verga 26 has the largest capacity of the daypacks we reviewed. The extensive collar can be overstuffed if necessary. If you want a daypack that you can use for short overnight trips, this is a serious contender.

Personal Item


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.

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The Osprey Daylite's small size mades it ideal for traveling. The hydration pouch on the back panel was an excellent place to keep travel documents and money safe while navigating through the airport.

Carry-On Bag


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.

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Page loved wearing the REI Flash 18. This small daypack is ideal for having around while backpacking.

Note the Prominent Role in this Travel Video


Criteria for Evaluation


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From left to right: Osprey Daylite, REI Flash 18, Deuter Speed Lite, Arc'Teryx Cierzo 18, Osprey Talon, Osprey Stratos, Gregory Salvo 24, Granite Gear Virga 26.

Features


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.

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The front bottom, and side view of this pack. Notice the vertical daisy chain that terminates in an ice axe loop. The daisy can be used to secure a blinker light or you can rig straps, bungees, or cordage to the four perimeter loops as seen in the right photo.

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.

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The Osprey Stratos includes an integrated and removable rain cover to keep your things dry when the rain falls.

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).

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The versatile straps can either compress the sides of the pack or connect across the front. This system lets you carry pretty much anything from snow shoes to skis.

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.

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The top left photo features the velcro adjustable back-panel. The top right photo is a good view of the helmet holder and large mesh pocket that we especially loved. The bottom let photo shows the ice axe attachment.

Weight


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.

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As you can see, the pack is frameless and has a small hip belt. If you pack it with rigid objects like climbing cams, care must be taken that they don't press into your back! This sack packs the best with soft items.

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).

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Comfort


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.

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The Salvo is the most comfortable pack we tested! The airflow back panel and excellent hip belt proved supportive and breathable.

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.

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As you can see, the straps on the REI Flash are much wider than the Cierzo that subsequently has more rigid straps. These straps tended to pinch. Also notice, that the back distance from the waist belt to the top shoulder strap is a couple inches shorter on the Cierzo.

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.
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The Osprey Stratos (left) and the Gregory Salvo (right) both have air flow back panels. As you can see, the Stratos takes up much more internal volume and allows a lot more air through. The Salvo is a good balance between airflow and retaining internal storage capacity.

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.

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The Osprey Daylite was the perfect size for short day hikes in Haiti.

Versatility


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.

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Though on the smaller side, the Deuter Speed Lite comfortably held skis rather on the back or in A-Frame configuration.

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.

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The Arc'teryx Cierzo was the best pack in this review for technical rock climbing.

Durability


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.

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The Cierzo's tough shell withstands abuse.

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.

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The back pocket on the Flash 18 is accessible without completely taking the pack off. This makes it a great place to store your headphones or a snack.

Here are the essentials we chose to bring:
  • Navigation- map and cell phone with compass and GPS.
  • Call for Help- whistles were included on all the packs, but we have our cell phone in case we have service to call for help.
  • 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 Softbottle allowed more room in some of the smaller packs like the Flash 18 and Speed Lite 20.
  • Nutrition- snacks while hiking; we have beef jerky, Nature's Bakery Fig Bars, and a sleeve of Clif Bar Shot Blocks (with caffeine!).
  • Sun Protection- sunglasses, small bottle of sunscreen, and a hat with a brim
  • Insulation- a technical soft shell that also protects from wind and a little rain.
  • Shelter/Weather Protection- an emergency bivy.
  • Illumination- headlamp with fresh batteries.
  • Fire- emergency fire starter and a little dry kindling.

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All of the packs tested held our version of the "10 Essentials"needed for a day out in the mountains.

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.

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Behind the back-panel adjustment hides the hydration reservoir compartment that makes it easy to refill on the go.

Accessories


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.

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Don't get bogged down on soggy days, the REI Trail 25 comes with a rain cover!

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.

Conclusion


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The 2016 award winners.
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.
Jeremy Bauman, Jessica Haist, and Gentrye Houghton
Helpful Buying Tips
How to Choose the Best Daypack for Hiking - Click for details
 How to Choose the Best Daypack for Hiking

by Jeremy Bauman and Gentrye Houghton

Unbiased.