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Best Daypack of 2020

Surveying the scene on one of America's best kept day hiking secrets. For the high and wild of Wyoming's Snowy Range  the hiking specific Editors Choice Osprey Stratos 34 is just the ticket.
Thursday June 25, 2020
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If you're trying to find the best daypack for shlepping around your food, water, and extra layers, look no further! Our team of experts has tested 57 daypacks over the last 9 years to find the best models for your intended use, be it hiking through misty forests or carrying your things around town. For our latest update, we compare 16 of the most promising models evaluating them for important metrics like comfort, versatility, and ease of use. After 100s of miles of hiking and countless packing and unpacking, we've found the best models for a variety of scenarios and highlight the best packs for any budget.

Related: The Best Women's Daypacks of 2020

Top 16 Product Ratings

Displaying 1 - 5 of 16
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Best Overall Daypack


Osprey Talon 22


Editors' Choice Award

$109.95
(8% off)
at Amazon
See It

80
OVERALL
SCORE
  • Comfort - 25% 9
  • Weight - 25% 7
  • Versatility - 25% 9
  • Ease of Use - 15% 7
  • Durability - 10% 7
Weight: 27 oz | Measured volume: 23 liters
Tons of features
Fully adjustable
Comfortable
Well ventilated
Separate hydration compartment
Runs small
Small side mesh pockets
No rain cover included

The Osprey Talon 22 is a dependable pack that keeps getting better. With a sleek and versatile design, it combines features and a suspension often only found on larger packs. It stays comfortable and functional for a wide range of activities. During more active use, its flexible frame provides freedom of movement. For hiking, it handles a typical day kit well.

The Talon carries a light load, but it might not be best for more heavily equipped ventures in the woods or mountains. A pack with a rigid frame, such as the REI Co-op Traverse 35 rests more of the load on your hips and remains stable when you twist and turn. If being air-travel-friendly is an objective, check out a pack like the REI Co-op Flash 22, which performs well on outdoor adventures and can be stuffed under an airplane seat. Also, the Talon lacks built-in rain protection or water-resistant fabrics, so it's not ideal for extremely wet situations. Nevertheless, for three-season use, the Talon is a dependable, 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


Editors' Choice Award

$139.00
at REI
See It

81
OVERALL
SCORE
  • Comfort - 25% 10
  • Weight - 25% 7
  • Versatility - 25% 7
  • Ease of Use - 15% 8
  • Durability - 10% 9
Weight: 54 oz | Measured volume: 48 liters
Comfortable
Stabilizes heavy loads
Thoughtful design
Modular
Recycled fabrics
Non-adjustable frame
Only decent ventilation

The new REI Co-op Traverse 35 raised the bar for design and functionality in a large daypack. The suspension and materials work together to create a great backpack. The uplift compression straps pull up against your back anything from just the 10 essentials to a full winter mountaineering outfit. The result is a comfortable, stable carry. It's easy to strap all sorts of equipment outside the pack or strip it down for traveling.

As a heavy-duty pack for tough adventures, it might be overkill for some occasions. Unlike the smaller Osprey Talon 22, the rigid, non-adjustable frame can be restricting for activities such as scrambling and mountain biking. For high-energy, fast-moving ventures, it doesn't ventilate as well as the Osprey Stratos 34. If what you aim for is a simple pack like the REI Co-op Trail 25 or Osprey Daylite Plus, the Traverse might well be too large and complex. But if you want a pack that can handle anything from short day trips to a full-on backpacking adventure, the Traverse 35 could be your choice.

Read review: REI Co-op Traverse 35

Best Bang for the Buck


REI Co-op Flash 22


Best Buy Award

$54.95
at REI
See It

72
OVERALL
SCORE
  • Comfort - 25% 6
  • Weight - 25% 9
  • Versatility - 25% 7
  • Ease of Use - 15% 8
  • Durability - 10% 5
Weight: 13 oz | Measured volume: 23 liters
Lightweight
Only the necessary features
Comfortable suspension for its weight
Uncomfortable with heavy loads
Not durable

The tried and true REI Co-op Flash 22 is versatile and surprisingly comfortable, even with a minimalist design. Running and hiking with this pack, we were pleasantly surprised by how well it carried light loads. The pockets are loaded with travel essentials and 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 sets 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 frame sheet 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. However, 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 Daypack for Wet Environments


Ortlieb Atrack 25


Top Pick Award

$279.95
at Backcountry
See It

75
OVERALL
SCORE
  • Comfort - 25% 10
  • Weight - 25% 4
  • Versatility - 25% 7
  • Ease of Use - 15% 9
  • Durability - 10% 9
Weight: 52 oz | Measured volume: 30 liters
Submersible
Durable
Comfortable
Duffel-zipper makes access easy
Heavy

The Ortlieb Atrack 25 stands out in one unique area: it can be submerged in water. It offers that while also offering first-rate ease of use and comfort. Most daypacks need rain covers or pack liners to keep gear dry, but this pack is airtight thanks to its TIZIP zipper and burly coated nylon. A duffel-style zipper runs the length of the pack, so getting at your gear is easier than with most daypacks. Also, the suspension is well ventilated and conforms well to your torso, so it can carry heavy loads comfortably.

To be sure, all this much function, comfort, and waterproofing don't come lightly. Not surprisingly, the Atrack weighs more than most daypacks this size. If your gear doesn't need to stay bone dry, a more traditional pack like the REI Co-op Traverse 35 offers similarly excellent performance at a considerably lower price and weight. The Atrack is ideal for packrafters, canyoneers and people who value keeping gear both dry and accessible. For moving fast and light in drier environments, check out the similarly comfortable but much lighter Osprey Talon 22.

Read review: Ortlieb Atrack 25

Best Panel Loader for Day Hiking


Osprey Stratos 34


Top Pick Award

$159.95
at Amazon
See It

67
OVERALL
SCORE
  • Comfort - 25% 9
  • Weight - 25% 3
  • Versatility - 25% 7
  • Ease of Use - 15% 8
  • Durability - 10% 7
Weight: 52 oz | Measured volume: 25 liters
Excellent ventilation
Supports high loads
Many pockets
Heavy
Bulky

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 the 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 Lightweight Pack


Salomon XA 25


Top Pick Award

$189.95
at Backcountry
See It

81
OVERALL
SCORE
  • Comfort - 25% 10
  • Weight - 25% 9
  • Versatility - 25% 5
  • Ease of Use - 15% 9
  • Durability - 10% 7
Weight: 15 oz | Measured volume: 29 liters
Torso-hugging comfort
Super light
Great for all fast pursuits
Thoughtful features
Keeps gear dry in the rain
Not the best ventilation
Lots of cords to manage
Features have a learning curve

The Salomon XA 25 is ideal for fast and light pursuits. Borrowing from Salomon's expertise in trail running, the XA puts all your trail essentials right in front of you, while also distributing full-day loads across the entire torso. We ran, hiked, and biked all over the place with this pack and felt less encumbered by it than any other pack we tested.

For those who really value easy access to gear and dialed-in performance for a range of fast activities, this is a nearly ideal pack. It can slim down for short runs or expand with a nearly waterproof main compartment for long hikes in nasty weather. We wouldn't expect it to carry as heavy loads as burlier packs, and it would certainly look a little odd commuting (but who are we to judge?), but for everything else, this pack is a well-oiled machine just begging to hit the trails and get moving.

Read review: Salomon XA 25

Best for In-Town Use


Osprey Daylite Plus


Top Pick Award

$50.43
(22% off)
at Amazon
See It

68
OVERALL
SCORE
  • Comfort - 25% 6
  • Weight - 25% 7
  • Versatility - 25% 7
  • Ease of Use - 15% 8
  • Durability - 10% 6
Weight: 20 oz | Measured volume: 17 liters
Lightweight
Comfortable, minimalist suspension
Simple laptop sleeve
Thin waist belt
Small side pockets

The Osprey Daylite Plus impressed us with 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 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 test packs side-by-side to see how they measure up in all conditions. This includes a standardized rain test to evaluate wet-weather performance.
We test packs side-by-side to see how they measure up in all conditions. This includes a standardized rain test to evaluate wet-weather performance.

Why You Should Trust Us


Our team of testers is led by Dan Scott, a Ph.D. river 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. We used these packs across the Cascade and Olympic Mountains of Washington, on buses and trains commuting to work, a field science expedition to the Seaward Kaikoura Range in New Zealand, and some fun hikes around the Colorado Rockies. From easy trails to long, technical bushwhacks, we put these packs to use in real-world scenarios, often loaning them out to friends to check our assessments and pack fit. 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

Ultralight packs can excel for light-and-fast pursuits  but only if they securely carry a load during dynamic activities.
The Traverse 35 has served us well all over the world
The soft frame and small hip belt make carrying anything but a light load uncomfortable.

Analysis and Test Results


Throughout the months-long testing process, we donned these packs for a wide range of activities and uses. Our lead tester and his team devised tests and scoring metrics to push the products to their limits and to make this comparison as objective as possible. 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


Value


While we score these packs based on their performance, that doesn't mean we forget how much they cost—value matters. Higher costs will generally get you more specialized features, like front-side pole carriers, or especially premium builds, like that found on the Osprey Archeon 25. Generally, however, you can get a great, functional pack for a low price. There's enough competition in this category that most popular brands offer very value-priced offerings.

Many packs offer remarkable value for the price. For small packs, it's hard to beat the REI Co-op Flash packs or the REI Co-op Ruckpack 18 at the lower end of the price range. They are also versatile enough to be handy for a range of activities, eliminating the need to own numerous specialized packs. They are among the least expensive, yet scored higher than many of the packs we tested. The 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: REI Traverse 35  Osprey Talon 22  Salomon XA 25  Osprey Daylite Plus  Black Diamond Bolt 24
Clockwise from upper left: REI Traverse 35, Osprey Talon 22, Salomon XA 25, Osprey Daylite Plus, Black Diamond Bolt 24

Comfort


The comfort of a pack relies on adjustability, load-carrying ability, and ventilation. Our favorites, 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 super burly Ortlieb Atrack 25 and Osprey Stratos 34.


As far as adjustability goes, the Osprey Talon, Osprey Archeon, and Osprey Stratos are the easiest and most adjustable options out of the packs tested. You can simply un-velcro the back panel, move it up or down to adjust the shoulder straps, and stick it back on, allowing it to fit 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.

Heavy-lifters like the Traverse 35 shine at carrying big loads without straining your shoulders or back.
Heavy-lifters like the Traverse 35 shine at carrying big loads without straining your shoulders or back.

For load carrying, the Traverse 35 and Ortlieb Atrack 25 are easily the most supportive for heavy, bulky loads. While the ultralight REI Co-op Flash 22 is minimalist, it carries moderate loads stably due to its thoughtfully padded shoulder straps. The Salomon XA 25 has a similarly light design, but carries loads using a running vest design, distributing loads evenly around the pack. The XA blew us away with how much we could carry without straining our shoulders or having our pack bouncing while we ran. Likewise, the articulating swing-arm suspension of the Black Diamond Bolt really impressed our testers, allowing them to move freely while keeping the load stable and centered on the back. While the Osprey Archeon has a burly, stiff suspension that would otherwise be great for heavy loads, it lacks a large, padded hip belt necessary to transfer weight to the hips, undermining its performance in this category.

The Salomon XA 25 blends running and hiking features to create a stellar fast-and-light daypack
The Salomon XA 25 blends running and hiking features to create a stellar fast-and-light daypack

While most of the tested packs have some kind of compression strap system, the Ortlieb Atrack 25 kept loads most secure and tight against our backs, due to its airtight design, which works similarly to a vacuum bag, squishing down gear in the main compartment. The Salomon XA 25 performed similarly with a perimeter compression cinch strap and rolltop, waterproof main compartment. It can get loads right up against the torso, maximizing comfort and stability. For more traditional packs, 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 suspension for comfort and stability. While the Black Diamond Bolt 24 lacked lower compression straps, its simple design and contoured main compartment made it especially secure compared to packs with less well-designed compression, like the REI Co-op Ruckpack 18 or Osprey Archeon 25.

A thoughtful design can go a long way towards making a pack carry a stable load
A thoughtful design can go a long way towards making a pack carry a stable load

Ventilation is a key aspect of our comfort assessment. We like to see packs that let sweat evaporate and leave us comfortable in both hot and cold environments. The Talon, Stratos, Rim Runner, Atrack, Bolt, 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 Daylite Plus was great for short day hikes or commuting
The Daylite Plus was great for short day hikes or commuting

The next comfort class includes the Osprey Daylite Plus and Salomon XA 25, the Deuter Speed Lite, Black Diamond Bolt 24, REI Trail 25, REI Co-op Ruckpack 25, and the REI Co-op Flash 22. Each of these has padded, mesh back panels that are breathable and still protect objects from jabbing you in the back. They work best for light to moderate loads, or travel in which you want to minimize pack bulk or base pack weight.

The padded back panel doesn't allow for much ventilation  but at least prevents pointy objects from jabbing you in the back.
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. The REI Flash 18 and The North Face Chimera 24 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. While the Osprey Archeon 25 isn't minimalist, it has a minimal hip belt that undermines its otherwise stiff frame.

Ultralight packs are great for light loads  but don't offer much ventilation or stability.
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. A lightweight pack can be great, but if it doesn't carry everything you need, what's the use of having the pack in the first place? 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 or those made of high-tech materials, like the polyamide Salomon XA, 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. The REI Co-op Flash 22 (0.54 oz/L) and the Salomon XA 25 are incredibly light. The North Face Chimera 24 is also oriented towards fast and/or light adventures, and while its weight to volume ratio is only 0.86 oz/L, that doesn't take into account the large storage space provided by the stretch mesh stuff pockets that surround the pack. The Salomon XA handily beat out other light packs in our review. It seamlessly transitions from running vest to a daypack, carrying all sorts of loads and specialized gear comfortably at a minimal weight.

For a somewhat large running vest pack  the XA carries a lot of stuff comfortably in an ultralight package.
For a somewhat large running vest pack, the XA carries a lot of stuff comfortably in an ultralight package.

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 Osprey Talon 22 (1.22 oz/L) and Black Diamond Bolt 24 (1.28 oz/L) both offered decent storage space for a reasonable weight, especially considering their comfortable suspensions. While the 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. Further towards the lightweight side of things, we liked the lightweight of the Deuter Speed Lite 25 (0.94 oz/L). The 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 those that featured heavy materials and sturdy construction. The Rim Runner 22 (1.78 oz/L) and the Osprey Stratos 34 (1.76 oz/L) are similarly heavy for their volume. For that added weight you get solid suspension, ventilation, and some additional space, but more importantly, some nice added features. While the Ortlieb Atrack 25 is also a burly, heavy pack (1.71 oz/L), it also provides outstanding comfort, convenient duffel-style design, and a nearly unique water-tight main compartment, something few other packs on the market can claim. The heavy Osprey Archeon is somewhat of an outlier - it's weight doesn't yield a more comfortable carry, but instead gives you premium and ultra-durable fabrics.

The Flash 22 hugs the back well  considering its minimal suspension.
The Flash 22 hugs the back well, considering its minimal suspension.

Versatility


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, or even as a dry bag for rafting. We looked for specific features for certain activities, like a flexible back panel to enable range of motion while cycling. 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) tends to be insufficient. 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), consider a laptop backpack. For a contender that is almost equally optimized for hiking and carrying daily town and office supplies, including a laptop, Osprey Daylite Plus deserves your examination, as does the REI Co-op Ruckpack 18. Both of these packs can easily carry both office supplies like pens and a notebook but also transition seamlessly to carrying your poles and 10 essentials on a hike. The Ruckpack, in particular, impressed our testers for its sleek look and tuck-away external carry features.

The padded laptop sleeve is a nice touch when using this bag for work.
The padded laptop sleeve is a nice touch when using this bag for work.

The Osprey Talon performed best for the most athletic activities, easily crossing-over between biking, hiking, travel, commuting, and peak bagging. While the Flash 22 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. For more specialized applications, Salomon XA 25 is the best running vest/daypack hybrid we've tested and is appropriate for running, scrambling, mountain biking, and hiking. More climbing-oriented, the Black Diamond Bolt 24 combines a decent volume with a light and flexible frame, allowing for a good range of motion and gear storage options while also providing the features we like to see in a daypack, like side water bottle pockets and a roomy hipbelt pocket.

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 Osprey Stratos, Ortlieb Atrack and REI Traverse all have rigid frames and features optimized for organizing larger outdoor-adventure loads. Among those, 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 and the duffel-style Ortlieb Atrack 25 worked well as a medium-sized travel bag (think carry-on size), although we preferred smaller, lighter bags like the REI Flash 22 or Osprey Talon 22 for use as small, personal bags for travel or commuting.

The Traverse carries pretty much anything you could think to bring on a day trip  and it does so comfortably and conveniently.
The Traverse carries pretty much anything you could think to bring on a day trip, and it does so comfortably and conveniently.

Ease of Use


To test ease of use, we performed a packing test for carrying the "10 Essentials." At the very least, a daypack has to be able to keep these items with you on an outing. We get our ten essentials together and packed each pack with the whole collection of items. We also used this load for our calisthenics testing to evaluate load stability. 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 and 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.
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 and REI Co-op Traverse 35 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 REI Co-op Traverse 35 balanced organizational ease with being able to quickly secure big, bulky loads.

The Osprey Talon 22, Osprey Stratos 34, Ortlieb Atrack 25, REI Co-op Traverse 35, and Black Diamond Bolt 24 are the only models with waist belt pockets. We loved these pockets to store snacks and sunscreen while hiking. The Talon 22 and The North Face Chimera 24 even feature extra stretch mesh pockets on the shoulder straps for a compass, GPS unit, or a snack. The Salomon XA takes this a step farther, allowing you to more or less carry all the ten essentials just along the shoulder straps - awesome for moving fast and never having to stop to grab gear out of the main compartment.

All packs, even the waterproof Ortlieb Atrack 25, are hydration bladder compatible, and some, like the Salomon XA 25, even come with soft flasks for hydration. Almost all tested packs had side water bottle pockets, 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, Ortlieb Atrack 25, 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 or REI Co-op Ruckpack 18, were slightly less secure. In terms of material, we like the dense, stretchy mesh on packs like the Salomon XA or Black Diamond Bolt most for its durability, versatility, and security.

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.
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, number of extra pockets, and configuration of straps and buckles. Wide-opening, panel-loading, zipper closures on the main compartment of the pack are the easiest to access. The Ortlieb Atrack's duffel-style main zipper is unique and makes organizing the main compartment and getting to any gear in the pack very easy. Following that pack, the Osprey Talon 22, Archeon 25 and Stratos 34 stand out for their wide, zippered closures on the main compartments. The U-zip of the REI Co-op Ruckpack 18 made accessing that pack's main compartment a breeze. We like being able to dump out the entirety of a travel pack when we arrive at a destination.

Related: Buying Advice for Day Packs

Durability


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 complete failure. We did do enough assessment to see some superficial wear and minor tears and can extrapolate by that and our institutional understanding of materials, construction, and durability. Materials are the primary determinant of durability - packs with thicker, pliant materials that can both resist damage and absorb pressure tend to last longer. Those made this way will last at least as long as the zippers remain functional, at least until exposed to excessively abrasive environments. In pack design, it is the zippers that are the weak link. Unlike cinch openings, zippers can be damaged by sand or abrasion, and it pays to care for and clean zippers occasionally.

The ultralight REI Flash and The North Face Chimera 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. Abrasion from sharp objects, either inside or outside the pack, can quickly make big holes that are difficult to repair. This justifies double-walled fabrics seen on some of the most durable packs we reviewed. 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 or 22 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 Osprey Stratos 34, Ortlieb Atrack 25, Black Diamond Bolt 24, Osprey Archeon 25, and the 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). We ground the fabric and zipper of the Ortlieb Atrack 25 into the gravel bed of a river to test its durability and submersibility, and it came out without even a scratch.

This pack had no problems being tossed against abrasive rocks or crashing through brush  due to its thick  durable fabric.
This pack had no problems being tossed against abrasive rocks or crashing through brush, due to its thick, durable fabric.

While most packs use relatively flexible nylon to achieve durability, others achieve durability by using more advanced fabrics, like polyamide in the Salomon XA. While it's only single-walled, it held up nicely to bushwhacking and scrambling that can tear up other packs.


After fabrics, most of the durability issues will be with buckles and cords. We look for widely-available, well-sized, and well-designed buckles that can carry loads efficiently with no abnormal stress that might cause damage over repeated uses. The Salomon XA 25 and North Face Chimera 24 both featured lots of dangly straps and cords that, if not properly tucked away, are prime targets for snagging and tearing on branches or rocks. That's not a bad thing if you pack carefully but consider a simpler pack, like the Black Diamond Bolt 24 if you really like to just strap things down and get going quickly.

We had to be diligent to keep all these cords from dangling  although Salomon does give you hooks and stuff pockets that make this very doable.
We had to be diligent to keep all these cords from dangling, although Salomon does give you hooks and stuff pockets that make this very doable.

Most pack companies offer a compatible rain cover to go with their packs. In our test, the REI Traverse 35, Osprey Stratos 24, Osprey Archeon 25, and REI Trail 25 come with rain covers. The Ortlieb Atrack 25 has completely waterproof fabrics that render a rain cover unnecessary, and the Salomon XA 25 is almost entirely waterproof. Rain covers like the Osprey Hi-Vis Raincover 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. With the notable exception of the Atrack, these daypacks were not designed to be completely waterproof but can stave off light moisture. The REI Co-op Flash 22, The North Face Chimera 24, 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 and Black Diamond Bolt both let in the most water in our hose testing, mainly through large zippered openings.

We sprayed these daypacks down with a hose to test their water-resistance
We sprayed these daypacks down with a hose to test their water-resistance

All but two of the packs we reviewed work with hydration bladders that you must purchase separately. That is, except for the Salomon XA 25 that comes with dual 500ml soft flasks (Salomon). Following our testing of bladders, we recommend the Platypus Big Zip EVO. It matches ease-of-use with the durability we all want in a water bladder.

Related: The Best Hydration Bladders of 2020

Conclusion


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.

Dan Scott and Jediah Porter