Choosing a daypack can be a bear of a task. At its most basic, any old bag will work. However, with so many options available to you, you can afford to be discerning. We've done your homework for you. With decades of experience, hundreds of packs researched, and dozens tested in hand, we've acquired some authority on the matter. In 2018 we've assessed 16 backpacks and sorted out five award winners. One of the award winners is brand new to us and underwent the typical and rigorous OGL treatment. We also revisited our long-time Editors' Choice to see if it still holds up against the latest and the greatest. We are happy to report that the Osprey Talon 22 does indeed stand the test of time and our critical rereview. Our test period, protocol and test team is ever growing. With more experience and increasingly objective rigor, we are happy to launch our best-yet day pack review. The result is recommendations and summaries that you can count on. We also review climbing packs, if that's what you need.
The Best Daypacks For Hiking and Travel
We've had a great summer. It will be remembered for day trips to New York's Catskills, Colorado's Front Range, the Wasatch of Utah, Wyoming's Tetons, and a special hike on Wyoming's Medicine Bow Peak, among other things. Along the way, we collected information on a few new backpacks and reviewed our impressions of old favorites. We have one new award winners, expanding on our Editors' Choice selections.We've noticed that people seek a "day pack" for multiple reasons. Some want one for all-around for commuting, hiking, climbing, and town use. Others want a dedicated day hiking pack. A medium sized daypack with a soft frame design is best for all-around use. For this, we highly recommend the Osprey Talon 22. But if you want a pack specifically for weekend hikes a more rigid, larger, better-venting pack is likely in order. For this, we recommend the excellent, sophisticated and specialized Osprey Stratos 34.
Best Versatile 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 embark on, this pack remains 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. As compared to some of the more rigid packs in our list, like the Osprey Stratos 34 and the Gregory Zulu 30, the Talon is more versatile. This is a tailor-made hikers pack that can be pressed into other applications and hits a sweet spot for versatility and hiking specificity. The simpler models are a little 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 Talon 33.
Read review: Osprey Talon 22
Best Day Hiker's Daypack
Osprey Stratos 34
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 bicycle. We travel by car and bus and plane. For hikes and day trips in these settings, a flexible and smaller daypack is appropriate. In that context, the Osprey Talon 22 works best. However, what we didn't fully appreciate until we expanded our test team is that many users are dedicated weekend day hikers. This subset of the population is large, enthusiastic, and prefers packs that support and ventilate over more flexible all around packs. For these testers and this category of consumers, 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. Other packs do this as well, but the Stratos is also very well made with just the right volume and selection of pockets and straps.
As we hinted above, the Stratos 34's rigid bulk and higher weight is a liability in certain circumstances. Consider this a no holds barred hikers pack. It makes no concessions for other activities or sports. In that way, there is nothing better for long day hikes. We recognized a gap in our assessment and in our test team and expanded our protocols to better reflect the market and the backpack landscape. In doing so, we are even more pleased with our selection of packs and award winners. The Osprey Stratos 34 is an easy Editors Choice winner, after changing our perspective just a little bit.
Read full review: Osprey Stratos 34
Best Bang for the Buck
REI Co-op Flash 22
Plentiful features and immense versatility at half the price of other contenders is a combo we love. The minimalist REI Co-op Flash 22 is an ideal companion for the budget conscious. It has all the features 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 pack's 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 solid consideration for those seeking a minimalist option.
Read review: REI Co-op Flash 22
Best for Hiking 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 the trails or the town. The Day Lite Plus has a stripped-down feature set but includes a padded laptop sleeve. It's the pack that we would recommend 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. 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
Best for Adventure Travel and Basecamps
Marmot Kompressor 18
The Marmot Kompressor will disappear into your luggage or overnight backpack and then deploy from your hotel or campsite for side trips. It is an ultralight, super packable, and quite versatile. On a backpacking trip, whether staying in the wilderness or in hostels, the Kompressor will carry your sleeping bag and even compress it 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.
Most of what we've 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. The Marmot Kompressor is a specialized piece that snuck into this varied product selection.
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.
The Scrambler we tested 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 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 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, highlighting the top performers.
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. We like 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 Editor's Choice award winning Osprey Talon 22 ($110) outperformed all by a significant margin, yet goes for about $50 less than some other options. Regardless of your budget, you can maximize your daypack dollar.
The comfort of a pack relies on adjustability, load carrying ability, and ventilation. Our favorites, both winning Editors Choice awards, the Osprey Talon and Osprey Stratos 34, are among the only packs with a fully cushioned hip belt, adjustable suspension, and load lifters, all of which add comfort. Other packs with padded hip belts include the Gregory Zulu 30, the CamelBak Fourteener 24, and The North Face Litus 22.
As far as adjustability goes, the Osprey Talon is the easiest and most adjustable option 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, Stratos, and close competitor The North Face Litus 22 also come in alternate frame sizes. 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 Editors Choice Osprey Stratos 34 is the most supportive. The CamelBak Fourteener 24 and Gregory Zulu 30 both have sophisticated suspension systems that carry almost as well as the Stratos 34. The Osprey Talon 22 also carries almost as well as the Stratos and is more flexible for activities other than hiking.
The Talon, Stratos, Litus, Fourteener, Zulu, and CamelBak Rim Runner 22 have the most structured, sophisticated back panels. These are all designed to allow at least some airflow, which is more comfortable while hiking in warm weather. Additionally, they have back panels with stiffeners that help spread your pack load. These packs are the most comfortable we tested.
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 (other online reviews and discussions corroborate this) is ventilation. Vented back panels keep your clothes drier. 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 packs have padded, mesh back panels that are breathable and still keep objects from jabbing you in the back. None are 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 weight that all those features add. This year, we tested several lightweight packs. Both REI Co-op Flash packs and the Marmot Kompressor, Osprey Daylite, Fjallraven Kanken 16, and Granite Gear Virga are all super lightweight. These are great for short hikes and can work for longer hikes and heavier loads if you are a meticulous 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 a 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.
CamelBak makes some of the heaviest packs we tested, primarily because they are the only packs that come with a hydration bladder included. The CamelBak weight numbers are also due to their sturdy construction. The Fourteener is more than four times the weight of our Top Pick Marmot Kompressor. Only the Editors Choice Osprey Stratos 34 is heavier than the CamelBak options. For that added weight you get unparalleled suspension, ventilation, and additional space.
Remove the bladder and the CamelBak weighs are slightly more competitive with those 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, stuffable pack for side trips that's easy to pack into your main luggage. It compromises on durability, but it serves a unique niche. As such, it earns our Top Pick award.
Though most of the products we reviewed are designed specifically for hiking, equipped with handy features like trekking pole attachments, a few are simple enough to double as a briefcase or school tote. 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 they aren't necessary.)
For a contender that is almost equally optimized for hiking or carrying daily town and office supplies, including a laptop, our Top Pick Osprey Daylite Plus deserves your examination. For a pack designed for traveling with a laptop (but often not intended for hiking) see our laptop backpack review.
The larger your daypack, the more options you have. As long as you can be disciplined on short trips and not fill a large pack to the brim just because you can, a larger pack works for longer trips with virtually no compromise on the shorter trips. For winter or technical travel, when you might need some emergency equipment and layers, less than 20 liters of capacity is super tight. (Consult our chart and the "How we tested" article for an explanation of our objective volume measurement procedure.) With this in mind, the larger packs also got bumps in versatility scores.
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, like traveling or running errands. 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.
The Top Pick Marmot Kompressor 18 is quite versatile. It is like the REI 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 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.
Our testers who limit their daypacks to day hikes prefer the more complicated packs, while those looking for more versatility preferred the simpler packs. These are the packs we tested that are optimized for day hiking: CamelBak Fourteener, Gregory Zulu, CamelBak RimRunner, The North Face Litus, and the Osprey Stratos. From that list, we selected the Osprey Stratos 34 as an Editors Choice. For day hikers, the structured, rigid packs are best. Among those, the Stratos 34 is the clear winner. The remaining packs are simpler and more flexible in construction, making them more suitable to use in other sports and while traveling.
Ease of Use
To test ease of use, we packed each bag with the "10 Essentials." Carrying these items on a journey lasting between two and ten hours is the main reason to own a daypack. All the packs tested can carry these items no problem, but it was a snug fit for a couple of the smaller packs. A few models have special carry features, so we added a couple of items like trekking poles or an ice axe to test those options.
Here are our 10 Essentials:
- 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 there is service to call for help. Satellite communication devices are always worth considering.
- Hydration-- All the packs we tested are equipped with hydration sleeves for a bladder system. A soft sided 1-liter hydration option, like the Platypus Softbottle, allows more room in the smaller packs like the Kanken 16, Flash 18, and Speed Lite 20.
- Nutrition-- Snacks! We chose beef jerky, Nature's Bakery Fig Bars, and a sleeve of Clif Bar Shot Blocks (with caffeine, obviously).
- Sun Protection-- Sunglasses, a 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 explicitly tailored to hiking.
- Fire-- Emergency fire starter and a little dry kindling.
As 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 are ideal for smaller items. However, the smaller packs, like the Deuter Speed Lite 20, REI Co-op Flash 18, and Osprey Daylite, still hold all of the essentials.
The North Face Litus 22, Osprey Stratos, Osprey Talon 22, , and CamelBak Rim Runner 22 are the only models with waist belt pockets. Most of us 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.
We also considered how easy each bag is to pack, the location and number of extra pockets, and how well the strap and buckle configurations work. Wide-openings with panel-loading and zipper closures on the main compartment of the pack are the easiest to access. The Gregory Zulu and Editors Choice Osprey Talon 22 stand out for this reason.
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 last longer than others, but our testing was not extensive enough to test to failure. We did see some superficial wear and can extrapolate using that, internet research, and our institutional understanding of materials, construction, and durability. Mainly, it comes down to the materials. Most of these packs are made from either nylon or nylon blended with tough ripstop fabric reinforcements to prevent tears from spreading. These fabrics are likely to last at least as long as the zippers do. In pack design, zippers are the weak link, though larger toothed zips are more durable.
Three of the packs, though, are made of silnylon. The ultralight Marmot Kompressor 18, REI Flash 18, and the REI Flash 22 are all far more vulnerable to wear and tear than the others. The thin fabric is strong in tension, but fragile when subject to abrasion. Sharp-edged contents and the rough outside world 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.
Stiffer, thicker, heavier fabrics are more durable, provided they are stitched securely together. For example, we appreciate the hardy structure of the Top Pick Mountain Hardwear Scrambler 30. Not only is the fabric rugged, and sewn together very well, but the fabric and seams are fully waterproof. 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 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 or you will have to replace both ends of the clasp with more generic options. Typically, your local gear shop sells standard buckles for just a few cents, and they can be switched out on many packs. 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 frequently used product.
Most pack companies offer an optional compatible rain cover to go with their packs. In our test, only the Gregory Zulu 30 and Editors Choice Osprey Stratos 34 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. Aside from the Mountain Hardwear Scrambler 30, these daypacks are not designed to be waterproof but can stave off light moisture. Most use water-resistant materials, but the zippers, seams, and closures prove to be a weakness.
All but one of the packs we reviewed are compatible with hydration bladders. You have to purchase them separately for all the packs except for the CamelBak Rim Runner 22 and CamelBak Fourteener 24. These both come with a hydration reservoir and hose. If you're looking for a bladder, check out our constantly updated 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. 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.
— Jediah Porter