There are thousands of products on the market that could be described as a daypack. For 2018, we combed the market, considering a dizzying list of over 80 of the world's best. We purchased the top 15 to put through our exhaustive real-world testing regimen. This is a daunting proposition for the time-crunched, discerning shopper. Thankfully, the OGL team has put decades of experience and years of effort into sorting through the options, so that you do not have to. Our test plan and execution takes into account all the ways you might use your daypack and we developed our scoring matrix and weighting to reflect the idea that most will use a daypack for day hiking. The result is the web's best review of daypacks, and a resource below that will surely demystify and streamline your shopping process.
The Best Daypacks For Hiking and Travel
Analysis and Award Winners
We spent the late winter and early spring of 2018 examining four new models and investigating changes to a couple of products we had already tested. Desert and mud, snow and wind, airplanes and motorcycles, our testing was characteristically thorough, and our comparisons of these packs to the rest of the field were easy. We fully updated this review less than half a year ago and stay busy keeping these review categories fully up to date! From the list of new packs assessed we have chosen one new award winner (Top Pick for Wet Climates Mountain Hardwear Scrambler) and have summarized the worthy attributes of the others. The bulk of our testing was in "real world" use, while we also did some formalized testing. We have an objective method for measuring volume, we weigh each pack on our own scales, and we are disciplined to load each pack with the same amount of weight and make immediate and direct comparisons. In our experience, and upon surveying a broad and deep portion of consumers, we have identified that the important criteria are comfort, weight, versatility, ease of use, and durability.
Best Overall Daypack
Osprey Talon 22
The Osprey Talon 22 keeps evolving, and, so far, we love all the changes and upgrades. This venerable model has won awards from us in multiple iterations. The latest is lighter, more comfortable and more breathable than last year's model. It remains firmly at the top of our ratings. No matter what activity we embarked on, this pack remained comfortable and well-ventilated along the shoulders, waist, and back.
As compared to some of the simpler packs in our list, like the Top Pick Mountain Hardwear Scrambler and the newcomer Arc'teryx Brize 25, the Talon is less versatile. This is a tailor-made hikers pack that can be pressed into other applications. The simpler models are better for day to day commuting and for airplane travel. Nonetheless, if you are looking for a "just right" sized option that is perfect for hiking and can be called on to travel and commute around town, the Talon 22 is an excellent choice. If you're looking for a larger pack, check out the cousin Talon 33.
Read review: Osprey Talon 22
Best Bang for the Buck
REI Co-op Flash 22
Plentiful features and immense versatility, but at half the price of the other major contenders is a combo we love. The minimalist REI Co-op Flash 22 is an ideal companion for the budget conscious. It has all that many will need for day hiking, travel, and daily use. It has a simple, top-loading design and, at 15 oz, is lighter than any of the other fully featured packs.
The ultralight, budget construction is a little flimsy for long-term use. For a pack that functions similarly but is much more durable, check out the Top Pick Mountain Hardwear Scrambler 25. REI also makes the the smaller Flash 18. Its sibling, the Stuff Travel Daypack is our favorite compressible travel pack. The Top Pick Marmot Kompressor 18 is also a significant consideration for those seeking a minimalist option.
Read review: REI Co-op Flash 22
Top Pick Award for Day Hikers /and/ in Town Use
Osprey Daylite Plus
The Osprey Day Lite Plus wins our Top Pick award for being simple, with a comfortable carry, and just the right features for serving well on the trails and in town. With a stripped-down feature set, but including a padded laptop sleeve, the Day Lite Plus is the pack that we would recommend most highly for 7-days-a-week use. To the office Monday-Friday, and on the trails on the weekend, this Osprey fills a special niche.
In contrast to the feature-filled Editors' Choice winner, the Osprey Talon 22, the Day Lite has minimal but useful features and adds a laptop sleeve. For the fast-and-light hiker, simplicity and weight are preferable to heavily featured packs. The Day Lite Plus is a little less involved and less rigid than the Talon. Its internal padded sleeve and plentiful organizational pockets, though, make it well suited to travel and daily use.
Read review: Osprey Day Lite Plus
Top Pick Award for Adventure Travel and Backpacking Basecamps
Marmot Kompressor 18
The Marmot Kompressor is a specialized piece snuck into this versatile product selection. In the realm of "daypacks", there is a large variety. Most of what we reviewed is suitable for day hiking and daily use. The Marmot does these things, but the minimalist construction isn't the most comfortable nor durable.
What the Marmot Kompressor does well is to pack away in your luggage or your bigger overnight backpack and then deploy from your hotel or campsite for side trips. It is ultralight, super packable, and quite versatile. On a backpacking trip, whether staying in the wilderness or hostels, the Kompressor will carry your sleeping bag and even squish it down to save space. Then, leave your sleeping bag in your bed or tent and use the Kompressor for side day trips. You'll hardly know you carried it there, but you will be quite appreciative that you did.
Read review: Marmot Kompressor 18
Top Pick for Wet Climates
Mountain Hardwear Scrambler 30
Our Top Pick awards go to unique products. The Mountain Hardwear Scrambler 30 is unique, mainly, for its durable waterproof construction. This simple rucksack design is made of modern, rugged waterproof fabric and construction. For wet climates, this is the best pack we have reviewed.
In the tested configuration, the Scrambler is waterproof, but not submersible. The drawstring closure leaves a vulnerability. MH offers a roll-top version that is fully submersible. If you hike and travel in wet climates, the Scrambler is your choice!
Read review: Mountain Hardwear Scrambler 30
Analysis and Test Results
Throughout the three-month testing process, we donned these packs in 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 were Weight, Comfort, Versatility, Durability, and Ease of Use/Organization. The above table displays the overall score tally, while the text below explains how we evaluated the models in each metric and highlighted the top performers.
The comfort of a pack relies on adjustability, load carrying ability, and ventilation. Our favorite, the Osprey Talon, is the only pack with a fully cushioned hip belt, adjustable suspension, and load lifters, all of which add comfort.
As far as adjustability goes, the Osprey Talon is 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 about anyone.
The Talon and close competitor The North Face Litus 22 offer different frame sizes at purchase time. With these packs and some others, you have fit sizing options. Therefore, it is essential to accurately measure your torso before purchasing. For a full explanation of fit and measurements, check out the fit section in our Buying Advice.
For load carrying, the Marmot Kompressor 18 is the least comfortable, with minimal padding and support, while the Talon is the most supportive. The CamelBak Fourteener 24 and Gregory Zulu 30 both have sophisticated suspension systems that carry almost as well as the Editors Choice Osprey Talon.
The Talon, Litus, Fourteener, Zulu, and CamelBak Rim Runner 22 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. Additionally, they have back panels with stiffening attributes that help to spread the load you've put in the pack. These all are definitely at the top of the heap, regarding comfort. It is important to mention the ventilation attributes of a daypack again.
Daypack loads can be and have been, carried comfortably and efficiently in little more than glorified grain sacks. It isn't until you get pack weights up past 20 or 30 pounds that sophisticated carry systems make a huge difference. What makes the most significant difference in comfort, and other online reviews and discussions corroborate this, is ventilation. Vented back panels keep your clothing drier, facilitating the removal of your perspiration. Much of our comfort discussion in individual reviews reflect this distinction.
The next comfort class includes the Deuter Speed Lite, Top Pick Osprey Daylite Plus, Arc'teryx Brize 25, Top Pick Mountain Hardwear Scrambler 30, 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 as the top five, but all protect, breathe, and support better than average.
At the bottom of the comfort heap are the minimalist packs we tested. The Marmot Kompressor, REI 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.
The greatest trade-off for a tricked out model is the added weight. This year, we tested several lightweight packs. Both REI Co-op Flash packs, Marmot Kompressor, Osprey Daylite, Fjallraven Kanken 16, and Granite Gear Virga 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.
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 pack panel. The foam is very light and protective. It also doubles as a great butt pad when taking a break or hanging around camp.
The heaviest packs tested were made by CamelBak. Their Fourteener 24 and Rim Runner 22 are easily heavier than any of the others. The Fourteener is more than four times the weight of our Top Pick Marmot Kompressor. The CamelBak weight numbers are mostly due to their sturdy construction. It must also be noted, though, that the CamelBak packs are the only ones that come with a hydration bladder included.
Remove the bladder and the CamelBak weighs are slightly more competitive with that of the other sturdy models like the Osprey Talon 22, Gregory Zulu 30, and The North Face Litus 22.
The lightest pack we tested is the Marmot Kompressor 18. It is a stripped down, stuff able pack for side trips and for carrying within your larger luggage. It compromises on durability, but it serves a unique niche. As such, it earns our Top Pick award.
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. Consult our chart and the "how we tested" article for an explanation of our objective volume measurement procedure) is super tight. 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 will still 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.
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.
In general, our testers that limited their usage to day hiking enjoyed the more complicated packs, while those looking for more versatility preferred the simpler packs. We characterize these packs as optimized for day hiking: CamelBak Fourteener, Gregory Zulu, CamelBak RimRunner, The North Face Litus, Osprey Talon. The remaining packs are simpler and more flexible in construction, making them more suitable to use in other sports and while traveling.
The Top Pick Marmot Kompressor 18, of course, is quite versatile. It is like the Flash 18, but even better. Notably, due to a couple of simple straps, it can be used as a sleeping bag stuff sack in your backpacking pack. The Best Buy REI Flash 22 is more than a 4-liter upgrade to the Flash 18. It has a stiffened back panel, removable waist belt, and zippered organizational pockets that make it more of a classic daypack than a stuffable travel bag.
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 ten essentials and packed each one with the whole collection of items to see how easily each pack could carry it all. 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. A few models have special carry features, so we were able to add a couple of items, such as trekking poles or an ice axe, to those packs.
Here are the essentials we chose to bring:
- Navigation- map and cell phone with compass and GPS.
- Call for Help- whistles come on some of the packs, but we have our cell phone in case we have service to call for help. Satellite communications are always worth considering.
- 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 Kanken 16, Flash 18 and Speed Lite 20.
- Nutrition- snacks while hiking; we chose 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 the wind and a little rain.
- Shelter/Weather Protection- an emergency bivy.
- Illumination- headlamp with fresh batteries.
- First Aid- we carried a small first aid kit tailored specifically towards hiking.
- Fire- emergency fire starter and a little dry kindling.
As can be expected, the bigger packs, like the Osprey Talon 22, CamelBak Fourteener 24, and Granite Gear Virga, fit the essentials comfortably. The Talon has extra pockets and organizational features that were ideal for smaller items. However, the smaller packs, such as the Deuter Speed Lite 20, REI Co-op Flash 18, and Osprey Daylite, still held all of the essentials.
The Osprey Talon 22, The North Face Litus 22, and CamelBak Rim Runner 22 are the only models with waist belt pockets. Most like these pockets for quick access to 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 are hydration bladder compatible and all but the Flash 18 and Marmot Kompressor have water bottle pockets on the sides.
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 closures on the Best Buy REI Flash 22 and Top Pick Mountain Hardwear Scrambler.
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.
Three of the packs, though, are made of silnylon. The ultralight Marmot Kompressor 18, REI Flash 18, and the Best Buy REI Flash 22 are both far 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.
We especially liked the very thick fabric of the Top Pick Mountain Hardwear Scrambler 30. Not only is this fabric rugged, and sewn together very well, but the fabric and seams are fully waterproof. This waterproof nature is uniform and thorough. The only "weakness" in the waterproof design of the Scrambler is its drawstring top. The good news, though, is that this drawstring is very durable. Also, if you want even more robust waterproofing, Mountain Hardwear sells a version of this pack with a better-sealing "roll-top" closure.
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 them 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, each model uses 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.
The ultralight construction of the Top Pick Marmot Kompressor 18 is not very durable. The thin fabric is both more susceptible to abrasion and more vulnerable to pinching and snagging. Stiffer, thicker, heavier fabrics are more durable, provided they are stitched securely together.
Most pack companies offer a compatible rain cover to go with their packs. In our test, only the Gregory Zulu 30 comes with a rain cover. 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 speaking, aside from the Mountain Hardwear Scrambler 30, these daypacks were not designed to be completely waterproof but can stave off light moisture. Most use water-resistant materials, but the zippers, seams, and closures proved to be a weakness.
All but one of the packs we reviewed are compatible with hydration bladders you must purchase separately. Except for the CamelBak Rim Runner 22, and CamelBak Fourteener 24; these 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.
Still not sure? Take a look at our buying advice article for more info.