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Our trailblazing professionals have purchased and tested over 60 of the best daypacks in the past decade, presenting 17 of this year's finest models in our most recent comparative analysis. We're here to help you find the ideal pack – tailored to your requirements – by evaluating each model based on crucial criteria such as comfort, weight, durability, adaptability, and user-friendliness. Having trekked hundreds of miles and engaged in numerous packing and unpacking sessions, our comprehensive review highlights the ultimate packs to suit any adventure on any budget.
Editors' Note: We updated this review on May 18, 2023, to adjust our ranking metrics, incorporate additional buying advice into our award-winning articles, and add new packs from Gregory, Arc'teryx, and Black Diamond.
The innovative REI Co-op Traverse 32 sets a new standard for design and functionality in a larger daypack. Durable and fully adjustable, this latest addition to the Traverse series introduces a fantastic daypack option. The suspension and materials used together result in one of the most comfortable daypacks we tested that can withstand your toughest requirements. The modular compression straps secure anything you need and tailor your load as desired. Whether carrying just the ten essentials on a brief outing or a full winter mountaineering gear set, the outcome is a comfortable, stable carry in all situations. With numerous lashing points and attachment loops, it's easy to strap various equipment outside the pack or strip it down for travel.
A robust pack for challenging adventures, it may sometimes be excessive for certain situations. Unlike the smaller Osprey Talon 22, the rigid, non-adjustable frame could be limiting for activities like scrambling or mountain biking. Although available in multiple sizes to fit your torso, the option of adjustability might be better for specialized activities. For high-output, fast-paced endeavors, the new padding and suspension system offers decent ventilation but not as much as some similarly sized packs with a mesh suspension back panel. If you're seeking a basic daypack without the extra features of a larger pack, the Traverse 32 might be too big and intricate. Instead, consider the REI Co-op Trail 25. However, if you desire a pack capable of handling anything from brief day trips to full-scale backpacking adventures, the Traverse 32 is an excellent choice.
The Osprey Talon 22 is a reliable daypack that continues evolving. Osprey knows what constitutes a solid daypack, and the Talon 22 demonstrates this perfectly. Its sleek and versatile design incorporates numerous features and a suspension style typically found only in larger packs. Comfortable for a wide variety of activities, we felt confident using this on all types of excursions. The flexible frame offers freedom of movement during more active pursuits, and the lightweight, thin, but well-padded hip belt keeps the load steady and secure. For hiking, it accommodates a typical day kit effectively.
The Talon 22 is best suited for lighter gear loads and can handle your essentials across most seasons. Still, it may not be ideal for more demanding ventures into the woods or mountains where heavy loads and extra equipment are necessary. A pack with a rigid frame, such as the REI Co-op Traverse 32, will distribute more of the load onto your hips and remain stable as you twist and turn. If compatibility with air travel is crucial, consider a pack like the REI Co-op Flash 22 or the Osprey Daylite, which can withstand outdoor adventures while remaining packable and practical for air travel and easily stowed under your seat. The Talon is DWR treated but not constructed with the most water-resistant fabrics, making it less ideal for extremely wet conditions. You can, of course, use a pack cover, but for three-season use, the Talon is a user-friendly and reliable pack that won't hold you back—interested in an even lighter option? Check out our recommendations for the best fanny packs.
Despite its minimalist design, the reliable REI Co-op Flash 22 is versatile and surprisingly comfortable. We were impressed by how well it carried lighter loads during hikes or runs. The pockets are user-friendly, making organizing and carrying travel essentials on long trips effortless. After months of use, the lightweight materials have displayed minimal signs of wear. With the single-layer construction, you can easily apply a patch if the fabric starts to deteriorate. We've owned various versions of a Flash pack for over ten years, and our latest experience has convinced us that this model will set the benchmark for lightweight, budget daypacks.
However, the Flash 22 isn't our top choice for enduring extreme wear due to its thin, single-walled fabric design. Its foam frame sheet is suitable for light loads but will quickly become uncomfortable with heavier loads, which are better suited for the more supportive REI Co-op Traverse 32 or Gregory Citro 24. Load management is crucial with this pack, as the thin back pad can promptly indicate when your gear is misplaced. Nonetheless, for the low price, you receive a daypack that can effortlessly transition from hiking and running to commuting and traveling or being stowed into a backpacking pack for use from basecamp — without adding extra weight.
The Ortlieb Atrack 25 excels in one unique aspect: complete submersion in water. It provides this ability while maintaining top-notch usability and comfort. Most daypacks require rain covers or pack liners to keep gear dry, but this pack is airtight due to a TIZIP zipper and robust coated nylon. A duffel-style zipper also extends the length of the pack, making access to your gear more manageable than with most daypacks. The suspension is well-ventilated and adapts well to your torso, allowing you to carry heavy loads easily.
This level of functionality, comfort, and waterproofing undoubtedly comes with some extra weight. As expected, the Atrack 25 is heavier than most daypacks of this size. If your gear doesn't require complete dryness, a more traditional pack like the REI Co-op Traverse 32 offers similarly exceptional performance at a considerably lower price and weight. The Atrack is perfect for pack rafters, canyoneers, or individuals who prioritize keeping their gear both dry and accessible. For faster and lighter movement in dryer environments, consider the similarly comfortable but much lighter Osprey Talon 22.
The Osprey Stratos 34 took some time for us to appreciate. Initially, our test team consisted of all-around outdoor and mountain enthusiasts. We enjoy hiking, running, climbing, biking, and traveling by car, bus, and plane to reach our destinations. For many of these activities, a small, flexible daypack like the Osprey Talon 22 or a durable, heavy-hauler like the REI Co-op Traverse 32 is more suitable. While those models are well-adapted for various activities, they involve compromises that make them slightly less than perfect for day hiking specifically. For those who want a pack dedicated to day hiking, the Osprey Stratos 34 is the top choice. Its rigid frame supports heavy loads while simultaneously positioning the bulk of the pack away from your body for improved ventilation. While other comparable packs might support large loads just as effectively and offer more versatility, the panel-loading benefits of the Osprey Stratos 34 make organization and quick access effortless.
As we hinted above, the rigid bulk and greater weight of the Stratos 34 can be a drawback in certain situations. Consider this a no holds barred hiker's pack that makes no concessions for other activities or sports. The zippered pockets and strap arrangement aren't ideal for carrying large, bulky items like snowshoes. Its high weight-to-volume ratio also disqualifies 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 an excellent choice.
The Osprey Daylite Plus impressed us with its straightforward design. It provides a comfortable carry and just the right features to perform well on the trails and in the city. Even with a pared-down feature set, it includes a padded laptop sleeve. As a result, this is the pack we recommend for everyday use. From the office Monday through Friday to the trails on the weekend, this Osprey fills a unique niche.
Compared to the feature-packed Osprey Talon 22, the Daylite Plus offers minimal yet functional features. However, this pack's simplicity and low weight make it more suitable for fast-and-light hikers. The Daylite Plus is slightly less intricate and less rigid than the Talon. Still, its internal padded sleeve and ample organizational pockets make it well-suited for travel and daily use.
For this evaluation, we employed our scientific expertise to rigorously test these daypacks. We carried the packs across the Cascade and Olympic Mountains of Washington, brought them along on buses and trains while commuting to work, filled them for a field science expedition to the Seaward Kaikoura Range in New Zealand, tried them on enjoyable hikes around the Colorado Rockies, and embarked on new adventures in the Blue Ridge Mountains of Virginia. From easy trails to lengthy, technical bushwhacks, we utilized these packs in real-world situations, often lending them to friends to double-check our evaluations and pack fit. Additionally, we put them through a series of standardized tests and measurements to thoroughly examine these packs before making solid, evidence-based suggestions to help you choose the best daypack for your requirements.
Key performance areas are divided into five rating metrics:
Comfort (25% of total score weighting)
Versatility (25% weighting)
Ease of Use (25% weighting)
Weight (15% weighting)
Durability (10% weighting)
Jacob Clark leads our team of testers. An ex-chemist turned outdoor guide, Jacob devotes most of his free time to the Los Padres Nation Forest behind Santa Barbara or more extensive exploits in the Eastern and Western Sierra. As a passionate trail runner and fast packer, he understands how traversing varied terrain in changing conditions demands a well-planned approach to gear. He often modifies packs to fit the precise needs of a specific adventure.
Dan Scott is a Ph.D. scientist who studies how rivers shape landscapes. He spends much of his time exploring and contemplating these landscapes worldwide, using his recreational abilities to navigate rivers, canyons, cliffs, and wildernesses through the use of ropes, kayaks, skis, and his own two feet. Transporting rock samples, carrying survey equipment, and enjoying the mountains, Dan employs and tests day packs year-round in every imaginable situation.
Trevor Everts, hailing originally from the Northeast U.S., has spent many days among the region's stunning mountains and lakes. As a U.S. Marine, he has traveled globally and has logged many adventures in various climates and terrains.
Analysis and Test Results
We wore these packs for every conceivable activity during our months-long testing process. Our team of gear experts created tests and scoring criteria to push the products to their limits and make this comparison as objective as possible. This in-depth article explains how we assessed the models in each metric, emphasizing the top performers to help identify the right pack for each user.
While we evaluate these packs based solely on their performance, we don't disregard the importance of price. Higher prices usually result in more specialized features, such as front-side pole carriers or exceptionally high-quality builds. Generally, you can still acquire a fantastic, functional pack at an affordable price. There's enough competition in this category that most well-known brands have their own value-oriented offerings. Numerous packs deliver exceptional value for the price. For smaller packs at the lower end of the price spectrum, it's difficult to surpass the performance of the REI Co-op Flash 22 or the Osprey Daylite. These models are also versatile enough to be useful for various activities, eliminating the need to own multiple specialized packs. They are among the least expensive yet scored higher than many of the packs we examined. The Osprey Talon 22 significantly outperformed many of these packs and is considerably more affordable than some other alternatives. Regardless of your budget, you should be able to maximize your daypack investment.
A pack's comfort depends on adjustability, load-carrying capability, and ventilation. Our favorites, the Osprey Talon 22 and REI Co-op Traverse 32, are among the only packs with fully cushioned hip belts, load lifters, and ventilation, all contributing to increased comfort. Other packs with padded hip belts include the sturdy Ortlieb Atrack 25 and the Gregory Citro 24 H2O.
Regarding adjustability, the Osprey Talon 22 and the Osprey Stratos 34 are the easiest and most adjustable options among the packs tested. You can effortlessly un-velcro the back panel, move it up or down to adjust the shoulder straps' position, and reattach it, allowing them to fit most individuals. Packs like the REI Co-op Traverse 32 come in various sizes, which is great if you fit one of those sizes but can be a significant issue if you don't. Therefore, it is crucial to measure your torso accurately before purchasing.
The REI Traverse 32 and Ortlieb Atrack 25 are easily the most supportive for carrying heavy loads. The ultralight REI Co-op Flash 22 is minimalist but carries moderate loads stably due to its thoughtfully padded shoulder straps. The articulating swing-arm suspension of the Black Diamond Bolt 24 truly impressed our testers, allowing them to move freely while keeping the load stable and centered on the back.
Most of the tested packs have some kind of compression strap system, but the Ortlieb Atrack 25 kept loads most secure and tight against our backs due to its airtight design. This functions similarly to a vacuum bag, compressing gear down in the main compartment. For more traditional packs, the uplift straps of the REI Co-op Traverse 32 and the all-around compression straps of the Osprey Stratos 34 or REI Co-op Trail 25 deserve recognition. They tighten down the load to the frame and suspension for comfort and stability. Although the Black Diamond Bolt 24 lacked lower compression straps, its simple design and contoured main compartment made it particularly secure compared to packs with less well-designed compression.
Ventilation is a crucial aspect of comfort. We appreciate packs that allow airflow across our backs to let sweat evaporate and keep us comfortable in hot and cold environments. The Osprey Stratos 34 and Gregory Zulu 30 have the most sophisticated, structured back panels. These packs are designed to improve airflow, making hiking more comfortable in warm weather. Don't expect these packs to feel like they aren't there, but after comparing dozens of options over the years, we can confidently say suspended mesh panels lead to significantly less sweatiness at the end of the day.
Although most of the products reviewed are designed for hiking-specific pursuits and come with useful features like trekking pole attachments, some can double as a briefcase, school tote, or even a dry bag for rafting. We looked for specific features tailored for certain activities, such as a flexible back panel that enables a range of motion while cycling. Moreover, the larger your daypack, the more options you have – provided you can restrain yourself on short trips and not fill a large pack "just because". For any winter or technical travel, less than 20 liters of actual capacity (rather than the manufacturer's claim) tends to be insufficient. Keeping this in mind, larger packs also received higher versatility scores.
A day hiking-specific pack tends to be more versatile than a snow-sports or climbing-specific backpack. It can often be used for travel, summiting mountains, or carrying your laptop to your favorite coffee shop. Many of these models don't have a laptop sleeve, but we still enjoyed using them for commuting to work. If your focus is on traveling for work, consider a pack designed specifically for carrying a laptop – though it is important to note that many of these are generally not intended for hiking. For a contender almost equally optimized for hiking and carrying around town, including a laptop, the Osprey Daylite Plus and Black Diamond Distance 15 are worth your consideration. Both packs can easily carry office supplies like pens and a notebook and transition seamlessly to carrying your poles and the ten essentials on a hike.
The Osprey Talon 22 performed best for the most athletic activities, easily transitioning between biking, hiking, travel, commuting, peak bagging, and mountain biking. The Arc'teryx Aerios 15 and REI Flash 18 packs are simple, but the main open compartments can accommodate many different items. They both work well for urban applications, such as a daily gym bag or purse replacement, while also serving as an excellent stuff sack to have with you on overnight trips for summit bids and day outings. 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 two water bottle pockets on each side and a roomy hip belt pocket.
In general, packs with rigid frames and ample ventilation don't work as well for mountain biking or scrambling, where freedom of movement is crucial. Packs like the Osprey Stratos 34, Ortlieb Atrack 25, and REI Traverse 32 have rigid frames and features optimized for organizing larger outdoor-adventure loads. Among those, the Traverse 32 proved most versatile with a sculpted suspension that allowed a lot of freedom of movement, even with a heavy load.
Ease of Use
To test ease of use, we conducted a packing test for carrying the "10 Essentials." At a minimum, a daypack must be able to hold these items during an outing. We gathered our ten essentials and packed each pack with the entire collection of items. We also used the same load during our calisthenics testing to evaluate load stability. If packs included special carry features, such as the front-side pole-loops on the Osprey Talon 22 or Stratos 34, or specialized straps like the Packmod compression straps of the REI Co-op Traverse 32, we assessed these features to determine if they functioned as intended.
As anticipated, the larger packs, like the Osprey Stratos 34, the REI Co-op Traverse 32, and the Gregory Zulu 30, accommodated these essentials comfortably. The Stratos 34 features numerous pockets and organizational features ideal for smaller items. Although not quite a traditional panel loader, the side-zip pocket, the combination of two zippered pockets, and the highly effective uplift straps on the Traverse 32 balanced organizational ease with rapidly securing large, bulky loads.
While many packs integrate waist-belt pockets, we particularly appreciated the pockets on the Osprey Talon 22 and Gregory Miwok 24, especially for storing trail snacks and sunscreen while hiking. The Talon 22 even features an additional stretch mesh pocket on the shoulder straps for a compass, GPS unit, or snack.
All packs, including the waterproof Ortlieb Atrack 25, are hydration bladder compatible. Almost all tested packs had side water bottle pockets, although some are certainly better than others. We favored deep, stretch-mesh water bottle pockets like those found on the REI Co-op Traverse 32, the Arc'teryx Aerios 15, or the REI Trail 25. Mesh pockets that had only elastic around their tops or were shorter than a typical one-liter bottle, like those on the Osprey Stratos 34, were slightly less secure and not ideal for valuable items like your favorite binoculars. In terms of material, we preferred the dense, stretchy mesh on packs like the Black Diamond Bolt 24 for its durability, versatility, and security.
While some packs may be extremely lightweight, they often have to sacrifice volume, features, or durability to achieve that. A lightweight pack can be excellent, but if it cannot carry everything you need, what is the purpose of having the pack in the first place? In this metric, we weigh each pack on our home scale and analyze the results concerning each pack's volume.
Lightweight packs with higher volumes tend to be streamlined or made of advanced materials. In contrast, heavier-weight packs – regardless of size – tend to include more features. The REI Co-op Flash 22 (12.6 ounces, 22 liters) and Black Diamond Distance 15 (12.7 ounces, 15 liters) are incredibly lightweight. Both packs trade some load-carrying capabilities to save some weight. But their functionality, lightweight design, and versatility are hard to beat if you're looking for a simple daypack.
Many of these ultra-light packs save weight by reducing the material in the back panel, but this can create comfort issues. The sleek Deuter Speed Lite 20 (16.1 ounces, 20 liters) is one of the lightest packs we tested for its size. The Osprey Daylite Plus (20.6 ounces, 20 liters) also provided a solid carrying capacity for its weight by keeping features to a minimum.
One simple solution to override an uncomfortable backpack is to pack carefully. For example, you can fold a clothing layer into a shape covering 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 foam pad to the dimensions of the back panel. The foam is very light and protective. It can also double as a seat pad when taking a break or hanging around camp.
The heaviest packs tested are those that feature heavy materials and sturdy constructions. The Osprey Stratos 34 (50.8 ounces, 34 liters) is relatively heavy for its volume. However, you get a robust suspension, ventilation, and some additional space for that added weight. More importantly, however, they include some nice added features. Although the Ortlieb Atrack 25 is also a rugged pack (51.8 ounces, 25 liters), it also offers exceptional comfort, a convenient duffel-style design, and an almost unique water-tight main compartment, something few other packs on the market can claim.
Each product in this review demonstrated durability over months of use, but some will undoubtedly last longer than others. While our testing period doesn't last long enough to experience complete failure, we observed some minor wear and tear on some models. Based on that and our institutional understanding of materials, construction, and durability, we can confidently extrapolate from that experience. Materials are the primary determinant of durability – packs with thicker, flexible materials that can resist damage and absorb pressure tend to last longer. Those made this way will generally last at least as long as the zippers remain functional, barring exposure to extremely abrasive environments. In pack design, zippers are often the weak link. Unlike cinch openings, zippers can be damaged by sand or abrasion, and it is worth taking the time to care for and clean zippers occasionally.
The ultralight REI Flash 18 is made of considerably lighter ripstop nylon than most packs in this review and is slightly more vulnerable to wear and tear than the others. The thin fabric is strong in tension but fragile when exposed to abrasion. Abrasion from sharp surfaces, either inside or outside the pack, can quickly create large holes that are difficult to repair. This justifies double-walled fabrics on some of the most durable packs we reviewed. The lightweight packs will likely 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 several Flash 18 and Flash 22 packs since they debuted over a decade ago, and we've found it to be an impressively easy pack to repair in the field with just some duct tape or Tenacious Tape, thanks to its simple, single-wall design.
We particularly liked the thick fabrics of the Ortlieb Atrack 25 and the REI Co-op Traverse 32. We bushwhacked through miles of dense jungle in New Zealand with the Traverse 32, and it emerged without so much as a scratch (even though our skin certainly did not). We ground the fabric and zipper of the Ortlieb Atrack 25 into the gravel bed of a river to test its durability underwater, and it also came out unscathed.
After fabrics and zippers, most of the durability issues will stem from buckles and cords. We look for widely available, well-sized, well-designed buckles that carry loads efficiently without succumbing to stress and damage over repeated uses. Also, look out for packs with dangling cords or straps that can snag on rocks or tree branches. The Cotopaxi Moda 20 is a great example of a simple, durable pack without any of these issues.
Most pack companies offer a compatible rain cover to accompany their packs. In our test, the REI Traverse 32, the Osprey Stratos 24, the Gregory Zulu 30, and the REI Trail 25 came with rain covers. The Ortlieb Atrack 25 features entirely waterproof fabrics that make a rain cover unnecessary. Rain covers like the Osprey Hi-Vis Raincover are a great thing to consider including in your pack, just in case you get caught in an unexpected downpour and want to protect the contents of your pack. With the notable exception of the Atrack, these daypacks were not completely waterproof but could fend off light moisture. The REI Co-op Flash 22 and the REI Co-op Traverse 32 were notable for resisting water entry to the main compartment, even without a rain cover. The Osprey Talon 22 and Black Diamond Bolt 24 allowed the most water during our hose testing, mainly through large zippered openings.
If you're a passionate hiker, a mountaineer, or a scholar, you'll likely require a daypack for at least one of your pursuits. Given the vast selection of great packs available on the market, this review will help you quickly narrow down the selection to the best day pack for your needs and budget.
GearLab is founded on the principle of honest, objective, reviews. Our experts test thousands of products each year using thoughtful test plans that bring out key performance differences between competing products. And, to assure complete independence, we buy all the products we test ourselves. No cherry-picked units sent by manufacturers. No sponsored content. No ads. Just real, honest, side-by-side testing and comparison.