Best Daypacks for Women of 2020
Best Pack Overall
CamelBak Sequoia 24
For the hardcore day hiker who won't settle for anything less than the best, the CamelBak Sequoia 24 offers a lot of space and organization and the most comfortable hip belt we've ever had the pleasure of testing. Just like the version before this latest iteration, the Sequoia features a unique dual-wing hip belt that simultaneously compresses your pack while hugging your hips with wide, comfortably padded straps that offer the largest hip pockets of any model we tested. A dedicated hydration bladder pocket keeps your water separate from your gear, is helpfully labeled with a blue zipper pull, and comes with the latest 3L CamelBak bladder that's convenient to use. The main compartment has 20L of storage space and several slip pockets to keep you organized. Six additional pockets adorn the outside of this bag, adding an extra 4L of storage space, while the superb weight-distributing hip belt keeps it feeling light and comfortable no matter what we filled it with.
Consulting the scale, the Sequoia 24 is one of the heavier packs we tested, but we couldn't even tell once it was on and adjusted. This super-thick hip belt can be pesky when it isn't buckled, as the dual-wings splay widely to each side, making this not a great casual-use bag. In updating the Sequoia, CamelBak changed the main compartment zipper from the traditional zipper running from side to side over the top of the bag, to a U-shaped flap that allows access only to the top of the pack. Adding to this inferior, less convenient configuration, another pocket dangles in the way of the already small opening. And if you've attached trekking poles to the outside of your bag, they cover the side water bottle pocket, rendering it basically unusable. But if you're a fan of the U-shaped, top-opening system, then you're in luck. At the end of the day, when we needed to carry a lot of weight over a long distance, there's no daypack more comfortable and up for the job than the CamelBack Sequoia.
Read review: CamelBak Sequoia 24
Best Bang for the Buck
Osprey Tempest 20
Though it's not the absolute cheapest model we tested, we love the features and versatility of this Osprey pack. It's one of just a few models we tested that comes in multiple sizes AND has an adjustable torso length for your perfect fit. It has all the same features as a fully-loaded, heavier model, plus Osprey's LidLock system, which is by far the easiest and most secure way to firmly attach a helmet to a pack that we've ever seen - a must-have for cyclists and daily bike commuters. Soft, flexible shoulder straps and a hip belt integrated practically seamlessly to the back of this pack help it to be impressively comfortable, despite the lack of an internal frame. And for a lightweight option, the Tempest still manages to be impressively durable - and backed by Osprey's All Mighty Guarantee, which promises to repair your gear for free no matter what happened or how long you've owned it.
While we appreciate the adjustable torso length, this pack does run a bit on the small side. We think it's smart to test out your pack in the store or as soon as you get it in the mail, in case you need to exchange it for another size. We also think the expandable stow pocket on the front is too small, which restricts is usability. But for a fairly small, light pack, we love the versatility and practically promised longevity and think it is one of the best values among models we tested for just about any use.
Read review: Osprey Tempest 20
Best for Speed Missions
The North Face Chimera 18 - Women's
If you're hunting for a pack you can access easily without stopping, or an option for running that's larger than a hydration vest, you've found it. The Chimera 18 is halfway between a daypack and a large hydration vest and offers a seriously secure fit even for logging long trail runs. A unique harness system offers more connection points for the shoulder straps while also looping them into the system with the webbing hip belt. Along with The North Face's Dyno Cinch System, you can really crank this pack to suction to your back like a big, happy leech. Side-access to the two zippered compartments makes it easy to swing this bag in front of you and grab whatever you need without breaking stride, and we're surprised at just how much we were able to fit inside! It also has four shoulder pockets on the straps, which are great for storing little things you might normally put in the hip belt pockets this bag doesn't have.
As great as this bag is for women who love to keep moving while they're out, it's less convenient for everyday or travel use. The main compartment doesn't zip open over the top and is only accessible through that single side zip, which is quite narrow. The webbing hip belt also obviously does nothing for weight-bearing and functions only to stabilize your load, so if you're hoping to load this thing down with your laptop and bike to work, it's not going to be your ideal option. But if you're an on-a-mission type of woman, we think it's hard to beat what the Chimera has to offer.
Read review: The North Face Chimera 18 - Women's
Best for an Ultralight Pack
Osprey Ultralight Stuff Pack
There are times when you just need a bag to bring your essentials, but you don't have space for a big, fully framed pack. This is where an ultralight, super packable bag like the Osprey Ultralight comes in handy. It strips away all the fancy features of your regular pack but retains just enough features to keep it useful. With a side pocket and small top pocket, you can keep yourself organized on the go. Lightly padded shoulder straps help keep it more comfortable than many of its competitors. Weighing just 3.8 ounces and packing down into its own pocket, this on-the-go bag is easy to bring with you just about anywhere.
With such a simple design, the Ultralight Stuff Pack does miss out on some important features like a hip belt and ventilated back panel. The material is incredibly thin, meaning you'll need to pack this like a pro to avoid feeling every bump and corner of your hiking essentials. It's also a very small bag overall, so if you find yourself gravitating toward taller or larger bags for a better fit, the short straps on this bag might not be your friend. But if you're after a teeny tiny, super lightweight pack that you can throw in your car for spontaneous adventuring or stuff in your carry-on for that trip to Europe, the Osprey Ultralight is a solid companion.
Read review: Osprey Ultralight Stuff Pack
Why You Should Trust Us
Our panel of expert testers for this review is led by Maggie Brandenburg and her troop of adventure-loving ladies. Maggie spends much of her days wandering around in nature, exploring the Sierras and the vast deserts of Nevada with her adventure dog, Madeline (and carrying her canine needs too). She has over 15 years of wilderness guiding under her belt throughout the US, in the Caribbean islands, across the plains of southern Africa, and even the jungles of South America. From backpacking to traveling to squeezing in adventures wherever and whenever she can, Maggie is constantly exploring and knowsA what makes a daypack the right pack for the job.
Maggie spent hours researching the many options available before selecting the most popular packs to test. Each year, as bags receive updates and new models are unveiled, they added promising contenders. By and large, testing and retesting of these packs was covered by field trials over the course of many successive springs, summers, and falls. The five key metrics we used to judge them (Comfort, Features, Weight, Ease of Use, and Durability) were evaluated in locations such as the Tetons, the Sierra Nevadas, Nevada's Spring Mountains, the Cascades, Yellowstone, the Bighorns, the Adirondacks, and even Iceland.
Related: How We Tested Daypack for Women
Analysis and Test Results
We tested each of these daypacks over several months using our side-by-side comparison process. We used them while hiking over many miles, both for short and long hikes and for a variety of activities, from paddleboarding to commuting. After testing, we rated each daypack on a variety of criteria, from comfort and adjustability to their features and durability.
Related: Buying Advice for Daypack for Women
We frequently have to make tradeoffs when purchasing any type of gear, and a daypack is no different. We always try to test a range of products to be able to recommend great products across the spectrum. While more money doesn't always get you a better product, we found that in this category, it does tend to pair you up with a more durable bag. But when it comes to comfort and ease of use, those seem to be less tied to a dollar sign.
The CamelBack Sequoia 24 is not cheap, but it offers unparalleled comfort, handy and versatile features, and good durability. It also is the only model we tested that includes a hydration bladder, which would typically make your day bag set-up a little more expensive. The Osprey Tempest 20 is also an exceptionally versatile bag that works well for a wide variety of activities, offering a solid performance across all metrics for a moderate price.
When it comes to hiking, comfort is a key consideration for all of the gear that you wear from your head to your toes, and what's on your back is one of the most important pieces. An ill-fitting or minimally padded pack can make your 12-mile day hike significantly less enjoyable. Yet we also balanced this metric against each bag's intended usage. A pack intended for those long day hikes compared to a pack intended to be portable enough to bring anywhere for a spontaneous jaunt clearly aren't built for the same things. And yet both should be comfortable enough to not make you grumpy every time you use them. To balance these variable uses, we factored in the comfort rating as 25% of each model's overall score.
We evaluated this category based on several things: how well the padding actually "padded" our hips and shoulders, how well the hip belts helped carry the weight, how well the design helped keep us cool while hiking, and if any annoying design features impacted our comfort level. The standout in this metric is the CamelBak Sequoia. It is jam-packed full of padding in all the places we wanted it. It features a long, wide hip belt with dual-wings that pull the weight of what you're carrying close to your back at the same time that you tighten them snugly around your hips. Its back panel features strategically placed foam padding covered by mesh, leaving huge areas of your back ventilated with wide air channels. We hiked long distances on hot days over rough terrain with heavy gear and found no pack more comfortable to carry than the Sequoia 24.
Other top contenders in this category are the Gregory Jade and Osprey Sirrus. The Jade features an open mesh back, well-padded lumbar area, supportive hip belt, and contoured shoulder straps. We loaded it up with 15-plus pounds of gear and went for long hikes, and we think it offers some of the best support of any model we tested. The Sirrus also offers a well-padded hip belt and shoulder straps, an innovative back panel design to aid in ventilation, and some internal framing to help keep the contents of the pack off our backs.
Our high scorers for comfort have a lot of design and technology put into them, and the results are often exceptional. The mesh on the Osprey Sirrus 24 and Deuter Futura 22 never rubbed against us in an uncomfortable way (we did have a shirt on at all times), and it's impressive how much cooler our backs stay even while hiking in the desert southwest in summer. The raised pads on the corners of the CamelBak Sequoia 24 also achieve the same result while still offering padding in key places. Some packs, like the Lowe Alpine Aeon ND25, Black Diamond Nitro 22, and Patagonia Nine Trails 18, come close to this design, with mesh covering their padding, but the bulk of the pack still rests against our backs. This is not nearly as comfortable because it reduces airflow, and we can also feel the contents pushing into our backs.
Another design feature that affects our comfort on the trail is the hip belt. Most of the packs in this review have a load-bearing hip belt, but we still found a varying degree of comfort between some of them. The CamelBak Sequoia and Gregory Jade 28 have hip belts that cover our hip bones with thick padding. The Black Diamond Nitro 22 hip belt also provides a good amount of coverage but has significantly thinner padding than the Sequoia or Jade. Some of the options we tested, like the Deuter Futura 22, REI Flash 18, and The North Face Chimera 18 have webbing-only hip belts. They'll help keep the bag from shifting around on your back, but don't transfer any of the load off of your shoulders. We feel less comfortable in all of those models when carrying loads in them as a result. Both ultralight models we tested, the Osprey Ultralight and Sea to Summit Ultra-Sil, lack hip belts altogether but are best used for entirely different adventures than their counterparts.
We also paid close attention to the cut of the shoulder straps. We tested both unisex and women's specific packs in this line-up. Models geared toward women tend to have less space between the straps and feature a more exaggerated S-curve that better accommodates a narrower physique. Sometimes manufacturers go too far in tailoring to a "woman's physique", and in Patagonia's case they well overshot the mark with their Nine Trails models. We previously tested the 26L option and most recently tested the 18L version and they both have the same issue. Their shoulder straps are cut so closely together that they dug into all of our testers' necks, making them the least comfortable packs we tested.
We consider the versatility of each pack as another key purchase consideration because no matter how comfortable a pack is, if it can't do the things you need it to do it's not going to serve you very well. And with a piece of gear like this, a lot of its versatility is tied up in the features it may or may not have and how functional they are. While some manufacturers seem to be throwing every possible feature they can imagine on a pack, not all of these features are particularly useful. For example, there may be a daisy chain running down both sides of a pack, but how useful is that? If you do use that webbing to hook a whole bunch of gear to your bag, you'll soon become a walking Christmas tree, which is neither sleek nor efficient. Alternatively, some relatively featureless packs can be incredibly versatile by packing down into a teeny tiny little pouch that fits into your pocket.
The Osprey Sirrus is a top contender in this metric. It's fully loaded with super useful features that are handy for just about every possible adventure. From well-designed pockets all over to quick-stow trekking pole cords and even a stashed rain cover, the Sirrus is convenient for all kinds of adventures. Notably, the Gregory Jade 28 and Deuter Futura 22 also both come with rain covers stashed away for emergencies.
We appreciate the super functional features of the CamelBak Sequoia 24 for serious hiking missions. Its oversized hip belt has space for the largest pockets we've ever seen on a daypack hip belt — or even on most full-sized backpacks! One side has two large mesh stretch pockets that easily accommodate even the biggest smartphones, while the other side has a long zippered pocket that holds an astonishing array of snacks and goodies.
The Osprey Tempest 20 is another exceptionally versatile daypack, full of well-thought-out features from top to bottom. A sunglasses stow loop makes transitioning between shades forests and glaring ridgetops easier while Osprey's LidLock bungee on the back quickly and easily stows your bike helmet. And like the Sirrus, the Tempest is seemingly bursting with pockets you didn't know you couldn't live without, trekking pole quick stow loops you'll actually use, and space for two water bottles and a hydration sleeve. The Gregory Jade is also full of useful features and hip belt pockets that can actually fit large smartphones, while its large, 28L capacity ensures nothing you need gets left behind.
The Black Diamond Nitro and Cotopaxi Batac are both unisex bags that are versatile across activities but in slightly differing ways. The Nitro is chalked full of useful features, like so many others, but can also be comfortably and easily used without wearing the hip belt, and instead, clipping it behind your bum to convert this daypack into a functional travel bag. The Batac is even simpler, with just enough pockets and features to be useful, but lacking a lot of the frills others can boast — like a hip belt, hydration hose hole, or padding. However, it's lightweight and impressively packable with a capacity that's large enough to get you through a day stuck in the airport or the office.
The Lowe Alpine Aeon has tabs for securing the bottom of the poles and straps for the tops. Other packs don't have specific holders but do have two compression straps on either side, which work equally well. A single set of straps is usually not sufficient. Most of the packs we tested also have one ice ax holder, which seems like a standard addition to a daypack even though only a fraction of hikers even use one. If you need to hold two ice axes though, look for something with two loops like the Black Diamond Nitro.
Most of the models that we tested are hydration bladder compatible in various ways, but only one, the CamelBak Sequoia, actually comes with a reservoir. Whether you prefer to drink from a bottle or a hose is a question of personal preference, though hydration aficionados avow that you'll stay better hydrated if you can take small sips of water more frequently from a hose without having to stop and drink from a bottle. It is handy for sports that require the use of your hands, like paddle boarding, biking, and even hiking with trekking poles.
Notably, the Lowe Alpine Aeon ND25, while having many other fairly useful features and pockets, is not large-bladder hydration friendly. It has an external sleeve and hook for hanging hydration, but in practice, this pocket is narrow, and putting a bladder larger than just 1L makes the back of the pack bulge uncomfortably into your back. If having a hydration pouch is important to you, you might want to choose another pack.
A few packs stand out for having very few of the previously mentioned features but are still quite versatile due to their ability to pack up into their own very small pocket. The Osprey Ultralight Stuff Pack and Sea to Summit Ultra-Sil each weigh just a few ounces and each fold down into a package smaller than your fist. By cutting out features like a hip belt, extra pockets, and most loops and clips, these bags are instead versatile in that you can pack them in your luggage to Spain or keep them in your purse for an impromptu adventure.
Finally, some models have great features specific to one application. The North Face Chimera 18, has a great system for accessing your items on the go if you're on a speed mission. A unique side entry zipper gives access to all 18L of carrying capacity when swung under your right arm. If you pull it instead under your left arm as you continue marching down the trail, that zipper accesses a smaller side pocket. The harness and waist belt are all connected to tighten as one continuous system to secure your contents to your torso, and the on-the-go cinch system pulls tight under your arms to hold whatever is in your load snugly against your body during even the most intense trail runs.
We like to consider the weight of all of our outdoor gear purchases. Whether it's our shoes, trekking poles, or packs, shaving ounces off our clothing and gear can quickly add up to large weight savings, which makes each mile that much easier to cover.
If there's one thing that we learned in this review, it's that it's hard to have it all in a daypack. Want a lot of padding with a frame that supports the weight you're carrying? Then you're going to end up with a heavier bag like the Gregory Jade 28. Want something lightweight that still has all the regular comforts? Then you might have to sacrifice some durability, as super-thin nylon is not as indestructible in the long-term compared to a thicker (and therefore heavier) material.
The Osprey Ultralight and Sea to Summit Ultra-Sil are the obvious winners in the weight category. At just 3.8 and 2.7 ounces respectively, it's hard to beat that kind of minimalist weight. However, that kind of weight comes at a high cost to these bags' comfort and durability. The Osprey still has lightly padded shoulder straps and two extra pockets, but the Ultra-Sil has cut out those features and even removed the zipper pulls. Neither bag has a hip belt and both are made of paper-thin nylon, that's just not as substantial as thicker, bulkier packs we tested.
Other notable packs in this metric are the REI Co-op Flash 18 and Cotopaxi Batac 16L. Both are much less technical packs, threading between the ultralight, featureless packable models, and full-featured technical bags. This compromise trades comfort features like a padded hip belt and ventilated back panels for lighter weight options like a webbing hip belt (or no hip belt, in the case of the Batac) and thinner nylon construction. Bags like these are great choices for varied use, from tossing them in your suitcase for hiking distant destinations to using them to head to the gym or spend all day out running errands.
Ease of Use
Scoring how easy each pack is to use was a two-pronged endeavor. Firstly, we packed and unpacked them to see how easy their organization, zippers, and overall design were to use. And secondly, we evaluated their adjustability. Daypacks are notorious for not having as much adjustability as a full 60L backpacking pack. Many manufacturers only offer them in one size, and there's often limited options for further adjustment, like load-lifting straps on the shoulders or hip belt tensioners. We considered all these potential adjustable pieces and how they affected each bag's overall usability.
In general, packs with long zippers that extend far down the sides of the bag tend to be easier to load, unload, and find what you're looking for without dumping the whole thing on the ground. Additional pockets both inside and outside also help keep your things organized even during a Class 4 scramble. Most of the over-the-top, traditional backpack-style zippers allow for good access to the bottom of the pack. On the other hand, the increasingly popular U-shaped zipper that opens a flap on top of the bag, as well as drawstring tops, make it much harder to load the pack through their smaller openings and greatly increase the likelihood that you'll have to pull things out to find anything hiding near the bottom.
We are impressed with the models that have adjustable back panels. One of the most important things to getting a good fit is having the back panel line up with your torso length so that the shoulder straps and hip belt can be in the right place. If it's not, the hip belt won't work well, and you'll carry more of the load on your shoulders. Most of the packs in this review come in one size only, so learn how to measure your torso before choosing a pack to buy. The Osprey Sirrus and Tempest, Gregory Jade, and Lowe Alpine Aeon are the packs we tested that have an adjustable torso length — though even those have limits.
Some models do come in two sizes to try and cover a greater range of torso sizes, including the Gregory Jade, Patagonia Nine Trails 18, and the Osprey Tempest 20. Our two chief testers are 5'6" with a 19" torso and 5'4" with a 17" torso, so the sizes that we chose were split. While the Patagonia model seems to be fairly true to size, both the Tempest and the Jade run a bit on the small side. The padded section of the hip belt on the Tempest and Nine Trails barely comes around to our hip bones, and it doesn't provide much support as a result. The Gregory Jade 28 has much better hip belt coverage.
We do appreciate that some packs have load-lifting straps on the shoulders, but we found that they are often ineffective. Once you've adjusted your hip belt and shoulder straps, the load-lifters are supposed to shift the weight closer to your back and to stabilize your load while reducing the weight on your shoulders. For these straps to work, the body of the pack has to extend above the shoulder straps, which isn't usually the case with a daypack, since the body of the bag is so small. We really only noticed a slight difference using the load-lifters the Gregory Jade, likely because it's a slightly larger bag than the others we tested.
Lastly, we rated each different pack in this review for durability. Note that we couldn't get several year's worths of use on each bag in the space of just a few months of testing. Instead, we looked for signs of wear after several months of use that they did get. We combed through online user reviews to look for durability concerns and patterns from the hundreds of other day packers out there. And we also evaluated them based on our extensive experience with outdoor gear.
We are quite impressed with the durability of the Osprey Sirrus 24, Black Diamond Nitro, and Camelbak Sequoia. The Sirrus and Nitro are made of impressively sturdy 210D nylon in the body with a double layer on the bottom, while the Sequoia is made of seriously beefy 420D oxford nylon. All three of these packs also feature reinforced seams, thick adjustable straps, heavy-duty plastic pieces, and minimal mesh to snag on nature. The Gregory Jade and Maya are both also constructed of the same thick, 210D nylon with a double layer on the bottom, but we aren't quite as wowed by the vast amount of mesh each of these packs present for the world to snag on.
No pack will last forever, and some terrains are less forgiving than others. If you're hiking on well-maintained trails in "gentle" forest ecosystems, this might be less of a concern for you. If you're scrambling up craggy peaks or squeezing through sandy slot canyons, thicker material will offer more abrasion resistance, and you should consider this when making a purchase decision.
Finding the perfect daypack can feel like an overwhelming challenge. With so many models, even from the same manufacturer, it can be challenging to find the perfect one for you. We hope our extensive testing and ratings help you in your quest.
— Maggie Brandenburg and Cam McKenzie Ring