Most Versatile Small Daypack
Osprey Talon 22
: 27 oz | Measured volume
: 23 liters
Tons of features
Separate hydration compartment
Small side mesh pockets
No raincover included
The Osprey Talon 22 is a dependable pack that only keeps getting better. It combines features and a suspension typically only found on larger packs with a sleek and versatile design. It remains comfortable and functional for whatever activity we embark on. For more dynamic activities, the flexible frame provides freedom of movement, and for hiking, the suspension carries a typical day kit well. For a fast-moving day trip, you can't find a more effective pack.
While the Talon carries a light load well, it may not be ideal for longer or more heavily equipped days in the mountains. Rigid-framed packs such as our other Editors' Choice winner, the REI Co-op Traverse 35 or the Top Pick Osprey Stratos 34 place more of the load on your hips and remain stable when you twist and turn. While this pack is passable for travel, we preferred minimalist packs like the Best Buy REI Co-op Flash 22, which performs well on outdoor adventures as well as being stuffed under an airplane seat. The Talon also lacks built-in rain protection or water-resistant fabrics, making it less than ideal for extremely wet climates. For three-season use, this is a dependable and easy to use pack that won't slow you down.
Read review: Osprey Talon 22
Best Daypack for Heavy Loads
REI Co-op Traverse 35
: 54 oz | Measured volume
: 48 liters
Stabilizes heavy loads
Only decent ventilation
The new REI Co-op Traverse 35 has raised the bar in terms of design and functionality for large daypacks. The pack's features work as a system with the suspension and materials to create a masterpiece of a backpack that handily won our Editors' Choice award for 2019. The uplift compression straps pull anything from just the 10 essentials to a full winter mountaineering kit right up against your back, which makes for a comfortable and stable carry. It's easy to strap whatever you want to bring on your adventures to the outside of this pack, or strip it down and use it as a tough and functional carry-on for traveling.
The Traverse 35 is a heavy-duty pack for tough adventures, but it might be overkill for some. Unlike our smaller Editors' Choice Osprey Talon 22, the rigid and non-adjustable frame can be restricting for activities like scrambling and mountain biking. For high-energy, fast-moving pursuits, it doesn't ventilate as well as the Top Pick Osprey Stratos 34, and if all you need is a small or simple pack like the REI Co-op Trail 25 or Osprey Daylite Plus, the Traverse may seem too large and complex. That said, if you're looking for a quiver-of-one pack for nearly any outdoor pursuit and a pack that can stretch from short day trips all the way into the backpacking realm, the Traverse 35 is the pack for you.
Read review: REI Co-op Traverse 35
Best Bang for the Buck
REI Co-op Flash 22
: 13 oz | Measured volume
: 23 liters
Only the necessary features
Comfortable suspension for its weight
Uncomfortable with heavy loads
The newly redesigned, lighter REI Co-op Flash 22 wins our 2019 Best Buy award for its versatility and surprising comfort, even with a minimalist design. Running and hiking with this pack, we were pleasantly surprised with how well it carried light loads. Loaded with travel essentials, the pockets made staying organized on a long trip a breeze. After months of use, the lightweight material has shown only minimal signs of wear, and we're confident that we can throw on a patch easily when the fabric starts to break down. We've owned some version of a small Flash pack for over a decade, and our experience has convinced us that it is the standard for light, budget daypacks.
That said, the Flash 22 likely won't hold up to extreme abuse due to its thin and single-walled fabric design. Its foam framesheet is enough for a light load, but will get uncomfortable fast for heavy loads, which are better suited for the more supportive REI Co-op Traverse 35 or Osprey Stratos 34. It also has pockets and straps that some might find necessary compared to the even more minimalist REI Co-op Flash 18. For a low price, you get a daypack that can seamlessly transition from hiking and running to commuting and travel without weighing you down.
Read review: REI Co-op Flash 22
Best Panel Loader for Day Hiking
Osprey Stratos 34
: 52 oz | Measured volume
: 25 liters
Supports high loads
The Osprey Stratos 34 took some time for us to embrace. Our test team, initially, was made up of all-around outdoor and mountain adventurers. We hike, run, climb, and bike. We travel by car, bus, and plane. For many of these activities, a small, flexible daypack like the Osprey Talon 22 or a burly, heavy-hauler like the REI Co-op Traverse 35 is most appropriate. However, those daypacks leave out an important middle-ground in the market: packs that are designed specifically for day hiking. For those who want a pack solely for day hiking, the Osprey Stratos 34 takes the cake. Its rigid frame supports heavy loads while simultaneously holding the bulk of the pack away from your body for better ventilation. While our Editors' Choice REI Co-op Traverse 35 can support large loads just as well and is more versatile, the panel-loading benefits of the Osprey Stratos 34 make organization and quick access easy.
As we hinted above, the rigid bulk and greater weight of the Stratos 34 is a liability in certain circumstances. Consider this a no holds barred hiker's pack. It makes no concessions for other activities or sports. The zippered pockets and strap arrangement isn't ideal for carrying large, bulky objects like snowshoes, and high weight-to-volume ratio eliminates this pack as a contender for minimalist activities. However, If you prefer the convenience of an exceptionally well-ventilated panel-loader for day hiking, this is a great pack.
Read review: Osprey Stratos 34
Best for In-Town Use
Osprey Daylite Plus
: 20 oz | Measured volume
: 17 liters
Comfortable, minimalist suspension
Simple laptop sleeve
Thin waist belt
Small side pockets
The Osprey Daylite Plus wins our Top Pick award for its simplicity. It has a comfortable carry and just the right features to serve well on the trails and in town. It has a stripped-down feature set but includes a padded laptop sleeve. As a result, this is the pack we recommend for seven-day-a-week use. To the office Monday-Friday, and on the trails over the weekend, this Osprey fills a special niche.
In contrast to the feature-filled Editors' Choice winner, the Osprey Talon 22, the Daylite Plus has minimal but useful features. But, for the fast-and-light hiker, simplicity and lightweight are preferable. The Daylite Plus is a little less involved and less rigid than the Talon. But, its internal padded sleeve and plentiful organizational pockets make it well suited to travel and daily use.
Read review: Osprey Day Lite Plus
We tested these packs side-by-side to evaluate their performance in a range of demanding conditions.
Why You Should Trust Us
Our team of testers was led by Dan Scott, a PhD field scientist who studies how rivers shape the landscape. Dan spends much of his time wandering and wondering about landscapes around the world, using his recreational skills to traverse rivers, canyons, cliffs, and wildernesses using a combination of ropes, kayaks, skis, and his own two feet. Hauling rock samples, transporting survey gear, and having fun in the mountains, Dan uses and abuses day packs year round in all manner of conditions.
For this review, we applied our science chops to rigorously test these daypacks. Along with our friends and fellow testers, we used these packs across the Cascade Range in Washington, on buses and trains commuting to work in Seattle, and on a field science expedition to the Seaward Kaikoura Range in New Zealand. From easy trails to long, technical bushwhacks, we put these packs to use in real-world scenarios. We also used a series of standardized tests and measurements to put these packs through the wringer before making robust, evidence-based recommendations to help you select the best daypack for your needs.
Related: How We Tested Day Packs
Analysis and Test Results
Throughout the three-month testing process, we donned these packs for a wide range of activities and uses. Our lead author and his team devised tests and scoring metrics to push the products to their limits and to compare them on a level playing field. The key areas of performance are Comfort, Weight to Volume Ratio, Versatility, Durability, and Ease of Use. The text below explains how we evaluated the models in each metric, highlighting the top performers.
Related: Buying Advice for Day Packs
While we score these packs based on their performance, that doesn't mean we forget how much they cost. Value matters. To get the best value in a pack, figure out what you want to spend, then look for the highest overall scores at or below this price. Higher costs will generally get you more specialized features, like front-side pole carriers.
Some packs, though, offer a remarkable value for the price. For small packs, it's hard to beat the REI Co-op Flash packs at the lower end of the price range. They are among the least expensive, yet scored higher than roughly half the packs we tested. The Editors' Choice award-winning Osprey Talon 22 outperformed many of these packs by a significant margin, yet goes for a lot less than some other options. Regardless of your budget, you can maximize your daypack dollar.
Clockwise, from upper left: Osprey Stratos 34, REI Co-op Traverse 35, REI Co-op Flash 18, Osprey Talon 22, REI Trail 25, Black Diamond Street Creek 24, REI Co-op Flash 22.
The comfort of a pack relies on adjustability, load carrying ability, and ventilation. Our favorites, both winning Editors' Choice awards, the Osprey Talon 22 and REI Co-op Traverse 35, are among the only packs with a fully cushioned hip belt, load lifters, and ventilation, all of which add comfort. Other packs with padded hip belts include the Gregory Zulu 30, CamelBak Fourteener 24, and The North Face Litus 22.
As far as adjustability goes, the Osprey Talon and Osprey Stratos are the easiest and most adjustable option out of the packs tested. You can simply un-velcro the straps, move them where you want them, and stick them back on, allowing it to fit just most people. Packs like the REI Co-op Traverse 35 come in different sizes, which is nice if you fit one of those sizes, but can be a deal-breaker if you don't. Therefore, it is essential to accurately measure your torso before purchasing.
The Traverse 35 carries heavy loads comfortably, due to its stiff frame and well-padded suspension.
For load carrying, the Black Diamond Street Creek 24 is the least comfortable, with minimal padding and support and no compression straps, while the Traverse 35 is the most supportive. While the ultralight REI Co-op Flash 22 is minimalist, it carries moderate loads stably due to its thoughtfully padded shoulder straps. However, for a small pack, the Osprey Talon 22 carries light loads almost as well as the much burlier Traverse and is more flexible for dynamic activities.
While most of the tested packs have some kind of compression strap system, the uplift straps of the REI Co-op Traverse 35 and the all-around compression straps of the Osprey Stratos 34 or REI Co-op Trail 25 really take the cake. They tighten down the load to the frame and do a better job transferring heavy weight to the suspension than other packs we tested with less compression, like the Black Diamond Street Creek 24 or REI Co-op Flash 18. For dynamic, full-body movements like glissading or scrambling, the uplift compression straps on the REI Co-op Traverse 35 were unmatched by any other pack we tested.
Daypack loads can be carried effectively in little more than glorified grain sacks. It isn't until you start carrying loads up past around 20 pounds that sophisticated carry systems make a huge difference. For light loads, ventilation is key. The Talon, Stratos, Litus, Fourteener, Zulu, Rim Runner, and Traverse have the most structured, sophisticated back panels. These are all designed to allow for at least some airflow, which is more comfortable while hiking in warm weather. Don't expect any of these packs to feel like they aren't there, but after comparing dozens of packs, we can confidently say suspended mesh panels lead to a much less sweaty back at the end of the day.
The Osprey Daylite was the perfect size for short day hikes in Haiti.
The next comfort class includes the Deuter Speed Lite, Top Pick Osprey Daylite Plus, Arc'teryx Brize 25, REI Trail 25, and Best Buy REI Co-op Flash 22. Each of these have padded, mesh back panels that are breathable and still protect objects from jabbing you in the back. None is nearly as structured the packs with stiff frames and mesh suspension, but all protect, breathe, and support better than average.
The padded back panel doesn't allow for much ventilation, but at least prevents pointy objects from jabbing you in the back.
At the bottom of the comfort heap are the minimalist packs we tested. The Black Diamond Street Creek 24, REI Co-op Flash 18, and the Fjallraven Kanken 16 are little more than a fabric bag with a single layer of foam back panel lending support, stiffness, and protection. For light loads and with careful packing, minimalist packs like this can still be usable.
Ultralight packs are great for light loads, but don't offer much ventilation or stability.
Weight to Volume Ratio
While some packs might be very lightweight, they often trade off volume, features, or durability. We evaluated how heavy packs were for their volume, as well as the fabric type and construction that goes into determining how light they are. Weight to volume ratios ranged from 0.51 to 2.76 oz/L among the packs we tested, with most packs falling into the range of 1.00 to 1.72 oz/L. Lower weight to volume ratios tend to mean streamlined packs, whereas higher weight to volume ratios tend to go to packs with more bells and whistles or those with burly or over-engineered designs.
This year, we tested several lightweight packs. Both REI Co-op Flash packs (0.51 and 0.54 oz/L), Fjallraven Kanken 16 (0.73 oz/L), and Granite Gear Virga 26 (0.62 oz/L) are all super lightweight. These are great for short hikes but can work for longer hikes and heavier loads if you are a fastidious packer.
Make your pack more comfortable and take a seat
A lot of these featherweight packs save weight by reducing material in the back panel. One solution is to pack carefully. For example, fold up a clothing layer into a shape that covers key areas on the back. Another option takes a little more time but is worth it in the long run: cut out a section of Ridge Rest or foam pad
to the dimensions of the back panel. The foam is very light and protective. It also doubles as a great butt pad when taking a break or hanging around camp.
In the middle of the pack, the Editors' Choice Osprey Talon 22 (1.22 oz/L) offered decent storage space for a reasonable weight, especially considering its comfortable suspension. While the other Editors' Choice REI Traverse 35 (1.11 oz/L) is the heaviest pack we tested at 54 oz, it also carries the most (48 L), giving it a respectable weight to volume ratio. The Top Pick Osprey Daylite Plus (1.18 oz/L)) also delivered a solid carrying capacity for its weight by offering relatively minimal features.
The heaviest packs tested were CamelBak offerings that featured heavy materials and sturdy construction. It must also be noted, though, that the CamelBak packs are the only ones that come with a hydration bladder included. Their Fourteener 24 (2.76 oz/L) and Rim Runner 22 (1.78 oz/L) are easily heavier than most of the others. Only the Top Pick Osprey Stratos 34 (1.76 oz/L) is similarly heavy for its volume. For that added weight you get solid suspension, ventilation, and some additional space, but more importantly, some nice added features.
The top flap is an improvement over past versions of the Flash. We also really like that the pack can be opened or closed with a simple pull thanks to the fixed slide pull.
Remove the bladder and the CamelBak weighs are slightly more competitive with that of the other sturdy models like the Osprey Talon 22 (1.22 oz/L), Gregory Zulu 30 (1.76 oz/L), and The North Face Litus 22 (1.35 oz/L).
Though most of the products reviewed are designed for hiking-specific pursuits, equipped with some handy features like trekking pole attachments, a few could also double as a briefcase or school tote. Additionally, the larger your daypack, the more options you have. Provided you can be disciplined on short trips and not fill a large pack "just because", a larger pack allows longer trips with virtually no compromise on the shorter trips. For any winter or technical travel, less than 20 liters of actual capacity (as opposed to what the manufacturer claims. With this in mind, the larger packs also got bumps in versatility scores.
Unlike a climbing or snow-sports specific backpack, a day-specific pack is more versatile and can be used for travel, summiting mountains, and carrying your laptop to your favorite coffee shop. Many of these models don't have a laptop sleeve, but we still enjoyed using them commuting to work. For a pack designed for traveling with a laptop (but often not intended for hiking) see our laptop backpack review. For a contender that is almost equally optimized for the hiker and for him or her carrying daily town and office supplies, including a laptop, our Top Pick Osprey Daylite Plus deserves your examination.
A soft frame and stretchy side pockets made this a versatile pack for both commuting and day hiking.
The Osprey Talon performed best for the most athletic activities, easily crossing-over between biking, hiking, travel, commuting, and peak bagging. The CamelBak Rim Runner also works well for hiking but crosses over for most other activities, such as traveling or using as a work, school, or errand bag. While the Flash 18 is simple, the open compartment fits many different items. It works well for urban applications, such as a daily gym bag or purse replacement, but it also serves as an excellent stuff sack to have along with you on overnight trips to use for summit bids and day outings.
Generally, packs with rigid frames and lots of ventilation don't work so well for mountain biking or scrambling, where freedom of movement is key. Packs like the CamelBak Fourteener, Gregory Zulu, CamelBak RimRunner, The North Face Litus, Osprey Stratos, and REI Traverse all have rigid frames and features optimized for organizing larger outdoor-adventure loads. Among those, the Editors' Choice REI Co-op Traverse 35 proved most versatile with its sculpted suspension that allowed a lot of freedom of movement, even with a heavy load. It also worked well when used as a carry-on for travel, although we preferred smaller, lighter bags like the Best Buy REI Flash 22 or Osprey Talon 22 for use as small, personal bags for travel or commuting.
We liked how well this pack transferred weight to our hips and compressed the load tight against our back, making for a very stable carry.
Ease of Use
To test ease of use, we performed a packing test for carrying the "10 Essentials." Carrying these items on a journey of 2-10 hours is the main reason to own a daypack. 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 it all. We also used this load for our calisthenics testing to evaluate load stability. All of the packs tested were able to carry these items no problem, but it proved to be a snug fit for a couple of smaller packs. If packs included special carry features, like the front-side pole-loops on the Osprey Talon 22 or Stratos 34, or specialized straps like the uplift compression straps of the REI Co-op Traverse 35, we evaluated these features to check if they functioned as designed.
Here are the essentials we chose to bring:
- Navigation- map and compass, or a smartphone/GPS with offline maps.
- Call for Help- whistle, cell phone, and/or personal locator beacon.
- Hydration- 3L hydration reservoir (often only filled to 2L), 1L soft-sided platypus water bottles, hard 1L Nalgene style bottles.
- Nutrition- snacks like bars, nuts, and dried fruit.
- Sun Protection- sunglasses, small bottle of sunscreen, and a hat with a brim
- Insulation- a wind shirt, fleece, puffy, and/or rain jacket, depending on conditions.
- Shelter/Weather Protection- an emergency bivy or space blanket.
- Illumination- headlamp and/or mini flashlight with fresh batteries.
- First Aid- we carried a small first aid kit equipped to treat minor trauma and illness.
- Fire- emergency fire starter and artificial tinder.
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 bigger packs, like the Osprey Stratos 34, REI Co-op Traverse 35, and Granite Gear Virga, fit the essentials comfortably. The Stratos has lots of pockets and organizational features that were ideal for smaller items. While not as convenient as a panel-loader, the combination of 2 zippered pockets and the incredibly effective uplift straps on the Editors' Choice REI Co-op Traverse 35 balanced organizational ease with being able to quickly secure big, bulky loads.
The Osprey Talon 22, The North Face Litus 22, Osprey Stratos, REI Co-op Traverse 35, and CamelBak Rim Runner 22 are the only models with waist belt pockets. We loved these pockets to store snacks and sunscreen while hiking. The Talon 22 even has an extra pocket on the shoulder straps for a compass, GPS unit, or a snack.
All but the Fjallraven Kanken 16 and Black Diamond Street Creek 24 are hydration bladder compatible and all but the Flash 18 and Street Creek 24 have water bottle pockets on the sides, although some are certainly better than others. We liked deep, stretch-mesh water bottle pockets like those found on the REI Co-op Traverse 35 or REI Trail 25, and found that mesh pockets with elastic only around their tops or that were shorter than a typical 1L bottle, like those on the Osprey Stratos 34, were slightly less secure.
Some packs can really take the whole kitchen sink. Here, we've strapped on hiking poles, an ice axe, a climbing helmet, and snowshoes to the outside of the pack. We've also got an avalanche shovel inside the outermost pocket.
Other ease of use criteria includes ease of packing, location, and number of extra pockets, and configuration of straps and buckles. Wide-opening, panel-loading, zipper closures on the main compartment of the pack is the easiest to access. The Gregory Zulu and Editors Choice Osprey Talon 22 stand out for their wide, zippered closures on the main compartments. The Arc'teryx Brize 25 has a zippered top opening, but it is small, and the overall pack profile is narrow. It packs and unpacks more like the drawstring closure on the Best Buy REI Flash 22.
Each product in this review proved to be durable over months of use. Some will certainly last longer than others, but our testing was not quite extensive enough to test to failure. We did do enough assessment to see some superficial wear and can extrapolate by that and our institutional understanding of materials, construction, and durability. Mainly, it comes down to the materials. Most of the designs are made from either nylon or nylon blended with tough ripstop fabric reinforcements to prevent tears from spreading. Those made this way will last at least as long as the zippers remain functional. In pack design, it is the zippers that are the weak link. All zippers are equally vulnerable, though larger toothed zips are more durable. Anyway, the bulk of the packs are made of nylon that we know to last about as long as zippers last.
The ultralight REI Flash packs are made of substantially lighter ripstop nylon that most packs in this review, and are slightly more vulnerable to wear and tear, literally, than the others. The thin fabric is strong in tension, but fragile when subject to abrasion. Generally, it is abrasion that most affects backpacks. Sharp-edged contents and the rough outside world, when they come in contact with backpack fabric in between, make for rapid abrasion. The lightweight packs will show wear in a year or two of regular use. Heavy users can ruin one of these in a single rough-and-tumble outing. However, we've owned some form of the Flash 18 since it debuted in 2008 and we've found it to be a remarkably easy pack to repair in the field with just some duct tape or Tenacious Tape, due to its simple, single wall design.
We especially liked the very thick fabrics of the Top Pick Osprey Stratos 34 and Editors' Choice REI Co-op Traverse 35. We bushwhacked through miles of thick jungle in New Zealand with the Traverse and it emerged without so much as a scratch (even though we certainly didn't).
After fabrics, most of the durability issues will be with buckles. A couple of the brands, such as Deuter, use proprietary buckles, meaning that if one gets broken, they will be difficult to replace. Typically, your local gear shop sells standard buckles for just a few cents, and they can be switched out on many packs; with proprietary buckles, both sides of the buckle will need to be replaced if one side is damaged. Also, most packs use easy-to-adjust slider buckles for the sternum strap, which is handy at first but tends to be the first thing to go on a product that is frequently used.
Most pack companies offer a compatible rain cover to go with their packs. In our test, the Gregory Zulu 30, Editors Choice REI Traverse 35, REI Trail 25, and Black Diamond Street Creek 24 come with rain covers. Rain covers are a great thing to consider throwing in your pack in case you get stuck in an unexpected downpour and want to protect the contents of your pack. One of these is the Osprey Hi-Vis Raincover. Generally, these daypacks were not designed to be completely waterproof but can stave off light moisture. The REI Flash Packs and REI Co-op Traverse 35 were all notable for resisting water entry to the main compartment, even without a rain cover. The Osprey Talon 22, despite performing well in other metrics, let in the most water in our hose testing.
We sprayed these daypacks down with a hose to test their water-resistance
All but two of the packs we reviewed are compatible with hydration bladders you must purchase separately. That is, except for the CamelBak Rim Runner 22, and CamelBak Fourteener 24 that both come with a hydration reservoir and hose. Following our testing of bladders, we recommend 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.
Whether you're an avid hiker, a climber, or a student, you probably need 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. Note that we have another 8+ backpack review categories on the site from laptop backpacks to backpacking backpacks and more.