Our Editors independently research, test, and rate the best products. We only make money if you purchase a product through our links, and we never accept free products from manufacturers. Learn more
Our team of hiking experts has bought and tested over 60 of the best daypacks over the last 10 years and brings you 14 of this year's top models in our latest head-to-head analysis. We're here to help you find the best pack for your specific needs, and so we evaluated each model across important metrics like comfort, weight, durability, versatility, and ease of use. After logging hundreds of miles of hiking and countless rounds of packing and unpacking, we've found the best models for a variety of scenarios and highlight the best packs for any needs or budget.
Finding the best backpack for your needs and budget can be a challenge, which is why we've tested hundreds of backpacks throughout the years. Whether you need s simple hiking daypack, a larger backpacking pack, a versatile travel backpack, or a fully-featured laptop backpack, we've got you covered.
Editor's Note: This review was updated on May 25, 2022 to reflect updated versions of a few packs and to add the Cotopaxi Moda to our lineup.
The new REI Co-op Traverse 32 raises the bar for design and functionality in a larger daypack. Built to last and fully adjustable, the new addition to the Traverse lineup brings a great daypack to the mix. The suspension and materials used combine to create one of the most comfortable daypacks we tested that can still stand up to your toughest needs. The modular compression straps secure anything you need and customize your load however you need. From carrying just the 10 essentials on a short day out to a full winter mountaineering outfit, the result is a comfortable, stable carry in all situations. With lashing points and attachment loops all around, it's easy to strap all sorts of equipment outside the pack or strip it down for traveling.
A heavy-duty pack for tough adventures, it could sometimes be overkill for certain occasions. Unlike the smaller Osprey Talon 22, the rigid, non-adjustable frame can be restricting for activities such as scrambling or mountain biking. Although it does come in multiple sizes to fit your torso, it still may be better for specialized activities to have the option of adjustability. For high-output, fast-moving ventures, the new padding, and suspension system provides good ventilation, but not to the same degree as some similarly sized packs that utilize a mesh suspension back panel. If you're looking for a simple daypack without the bells and whistles of a larger pack, the Traverse 32 might well be too large and complex. Instead, consider the REI Co-op Trail 25 or Osprey Daylite Plus. But if you want a pack that can handle anything from short day trips to a full-on backpacking adventure, the Traverse 32 is a great choice.
The Osprey Talon 22 is a tried and true daypack that keeps getting better and better with time. Osprey understands what makes a strong daypack, and the Talon 22 really shows this off. Within its sleek and versatile design, it brings many features, and a suspension style often found only on larger packs. Comfortable in a wide variety of activities, we felt confident using this on all types of outings. The flexible frame provides freedom of movement during more active use, and the light and thin but nicely padded hip belt kept the load steady and secure. For hiking, it handles a typical day kit well.
The Talon 22 is best suited for a gear load on the lighter end and can handle your essentials in most seasons, but it may not be best suited for your more demanding excursions in the woods or into the mountains where heavy loads and extra gear are needed. A pack with a rigid frame, such as the REI Co-op Traverse 32, will rest more of the load on your hips and remain stable when you twist and turn. If air travel-friendliness is important, check out a pack like the REI Co-op Flash 22 or the Osprey Daylite Plus, which can stand up to outdoor adventures while remaining packable and practical for air travel and super stow-able under your seat. The Talon is DWR treated but not built with the most water-resistant fabrics, so it's not the most ideal for really wet situations. You can, of course, throw on a pack cover, but for three-season use, the Talon is an easy-to-use and dependable pack that won't slow you down.
The trusty REI Co-op Flash 22 is versatile and surprisingly comfortable, even with a minimalist design. While on a hike or out for a run, we were very pleasantly surprised by how well it carried lighter loads. The pockets are easy to use and make bringing your travel essentials and keeping them organized on a long trip a breeze. After months of use, the lightweight materials have shown only minimal signs of wear, and with the single-layer build, we are confident that we could throw on a patch easily when the fabric starts to wear down. We've owned one version or another of a Flash pack for over a decade, and this latest experience has convinced us that this model will set the standard for light, budget daypacks.
That said, the Flash 22 isn't our first choice to hold up during extreme abuse due to its thin single-walled fabric design. Its foam frame sheet is enough for a light load but will quickly prove uncomfortable with heavy loads, which are better suited for the more supportive REI Co-op Traverse 32 or Osprey Stratos 34. Load management is important with this pack as the thin back-pad can really let you know your gear is in the wrong spot quickly. However, for the low price, you get a daypack that can seamlessly transition from hiking and running to commuting and travel or getting tossed into a backpacking pack to use from basecamp, all while not weighing you down.
The Ortlieb Atrack 25 stands out in one unique area: it can be completely submerged in water. It boasts that ability while also offering first-rate ease of use and comfort. Most daypacks need rain covers or pack liners to keep gear dry, but this pack is airtight thanks to a TIZIP zipper and burly coated nylon. A duffel-style zipper also runs the length of the pack, so getting at your gear is easier than with most daypacks. Additionally, the suspension is well ventilated and conforms well to your torso so that it can carry heavy loads comfortably.
To be sure, this much function, comfort, and waterproofing don't come lightly. Unsurprisingly, the Atrack weighs more than most daypacks this size. If your gear doesn't need to stay bone dry, a more traditional pack like the REI Co-op Traverse 32 offers similarly excellent performance at a considerably lower price and weight. The Atrack is ideal for packrafters, canyoneers, or people who value keeping gear both dry and accessible. For moving fast and light in drier environments, check out the similarly comfortable but much lighter Osprey Talon 22.
The Osprey Daylite Plus impressed us with its simplicity. It offers a comfortable carry and just the right features to perform well on the trails and in town. Although it has a stripped-down feature set, it includes a padded laptop sleeve. As a result, this is the pack we recommend for seven-day-a-week use. To the office Monday thru Friday and right on to the trails for the weekend, this Osprey fills a special niche.
In contrast to the feature-filled Osprey Talon 22, the Daylite Plus has minimal but useful features. For the fast-and-light hiker, however, its simplicity and low weight are preferable. The Daylite Plus is a little less involved and less rigid than the Talon, but its internal padded sleeve and generous organizational pockets make it well suited for travel and daily use.
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 like to hike, run, climb, and bike. And we also travel by car, bus, and plane to get there. For many of these activities, a small, flexible daypack like the Osprey Talon 22 or a burly, heavy-hauler like the REI Co-op Traverse 32 is most appropriate. Although those models are well-suited for various activities, they include compromises that make them a little less than perfect for day hiking specifically. For those who want a pack solely for day hiking, the Osprey Stratos 34 takes the cake. Its rigid frame supports heavy loads while simultaneously positioning the bulk of the pack away from your body for better ventilation. While the other comparable packs might support large loads just as well and is more versatile, the panel-loading benefits of the Osprey Stratos 34 make organization and quick access easy.
As we hinted above, the rigid bulk and greater weight of the Stratos 34 is a liability in certain circumstances. Consider this a no holds barred hiker's pack, and it makes no concessions for other activities or sports. The zippered pockets and strap arrangement isn't ideal for carrying large, bulky objects like snowshoes. Its high weight-to-volume ratio also eliminates this pack as a contender for minimalist activities. However, If you prefer the convenience of an exceptionally well-ventilated panel loader for day hiking, this is a great pick.
Our team of testers is led by Dan Scott, Trevor Everts, and Jacob Clark. Dan is a Ph.D. scientist who studies how rivers shape the landscape. He spends much of his time wandering and wondering about landscapes around the world, using his recreational skills to traverse rivers, canyons, cliffs, and wildernesses using a combination of ropes, kayaks, skis, and his own two feet. Hauling rock samples, transporting survey gear, and having fun in the mountains, Dan uses and abuses day packs year-round in every imaginable situation. Trevor grew up in the Northeast U.S. and has spent countless hours among the beautiful mountains and lakes that the region offers. As a U.S. Marine, he has traveled worldwide and found adventures in all kinds of climates and terrain. Jacob, a former chemist turned outdoor guide, spends most of his free time in the Los Padres Nation Forest behind Santa Barbara, or larger exploits in the Eastern and Western Sierra. As an avid trail runner, fast packer, and guide, moving over varied terrain in changing conditions requires a thought-out approach to the gear used. He often times will modify packs to fit the exact need of a given adventure.
For this review, we applied our scientific chops to rigorously test these daypacks. We carried the packs across the Cascade and Olympic Mountains of Washington, toted 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 some fun hikes around the Colorado Rockies, and taking them on new adventures in the Blue Ridge Mountains of Virginia. From easy trails to long, technical bushwhacks, we put these packs to use in real-world scenarios, often loaning them out to friends to double-check our assessments and pack fit. We also used a series of standardized tests and measurements to put these packs through the wringer before making robust, evidence-based recommendations to help you select the best daypack for your needs.
Throughout our months-long testing process, we donned these packs for a wide range of activities and uses. Our lead tester and his team devised tests and scoring metrics to push the products to their limits and to make this comparison as objective as possible. The key areas of performance were Comfort, Weight, Versatility, Durability, and Ease of Use. The text below explains how we evaluated the models in each metric and highlights the top performers.
While we score these packs solely based on their performance, that doesn't mean we forget how much price matters. Higher prices will generally get you more specialized features, like front-side pole carriers or especially premium builds. Generally, however, you can still get a great, functional pack at a low price. There's enough competition in this category that most popular brands have their own value-oriented offerings.
Many packs offer remarkable value for the cost. For small packs, it's hard to beat the REI Co-op Flash 18 or 22 or the Osprey Daylite at the lower end of the price range. These models are also versatile enough to be handy for various activities, eliminating the need to own numerous specialized packs. They are among the least expensive yet scored higher than many of the packs we tested. The Osprey Talon 22 outperformed many of these packs by a significant margin yet goes for a lot less than some other options. Regardless of your budget, it should be possible to maximize your daypack dollar.
The comfort of a pack 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 of which enhance comfort. Other packs with padded hip belts include the burly Ortlieb Atrack 25 and the Osprey Stratos 34.
As far as adjustability goes, the Osprey Talon and the Osprey Stratos are the easiest and most adjustable options out of the packs tested. You can simply un-velcro the back panel, move it up or down to adjust the position of the shoulder straps, and stick it back on, allowing them to fit most people. Packs like the REI Co-op Traverse 32 come in different sizes, which is nice if you fit one of those sizes but can be a big concern if you don't. Therefore, it is essential to accurately measure your torso before purchasing.
For carrying heavy loads, the Traverse 32 and Ortlieb Atrack 25 are easily the most supportive. The ultralight REI Co-op Flash 22 is minimalist, but it carries moderate loads stably due to its thoughtfully padded shoulder straps. The articulating swing-arm suspension of the Black Diamond Bolt really impressed our testers, allowing them to move freely while keeping the load stable and centered on the back.
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 works similarly to a vacuum bag, squishing 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 praise. They tighten down the load to the frame and suspension for comfort and stability. While the Black Diamond Bolt 24 lacked lower compression straps, its simple design and contoured main compartment made it especially secure compared to packs with less well-designed compression.
Ventilation is a key aspect of comfort in our view. We like to see packs that allow airflow across our backs to allow sweat to evaporate and leave us comfortable in both hot or cold environments. The Talon, the Stratos, the Atrack, the Zulu 30 the Bolt, and the Traverse have the most structured, sophisticated back panels. These are all designed to allow for at least some airflow, which is more comfortable while hiking in warm weather. Don't expect any of these packs to feel like they aren't there, but after comparing dozens of packs, we can confidently say suspended mesh panels lead to significantly less sweatiness at the end of the day.
While some packs might be very lightweight, they often have to sacrifice volume, features, or durability to achieve that. A lightweight pack can be great, but if it can't carry everything you need, what's the use of having the pack in the first place? In this metric, we personally weigh each pack on our home scale and analyzed the results with each pack's volume.
Packs with lower weights and higher volumes tend to mean streamlined or made of high-tech materials. In contrast, packs with higher weights, even with larger volumes, are usually found with packs that have more bells and whistles or those with burly or over-engineered designs.
This year, we tested several lightweight packs. The REI Co-op Flash 22 (12.6 ounces, 22 liters) and Flash 18 (9.5 ounces, 18 liters) are both incredibly lightweight and versatile. Both of these packs trade some load-carrying capabilities in order to save some weight, but their functionality, lightweight design, and versatility are tough to beat if you're looking for a simple daypack.
Many of these featherweight packs save weight by reducing material in the back panel, but this can create comfort problems. One solution is to pack carefully. For example, fold up a clothing layer into a shape that covers key areas on the back. Another option takes a little more time but is worth it in the long run: cut out a section of Ridge Rest or foam pad to the dimensions of the back panel. The foam is very light and protective. It can also double as a butt pad when taking a break or hanging around camp.
Some of the lighter packs we tested include the svelte Deuter Speed Lite 20 (16.1 ounces, 20 liters). The Osprey Daylite Plus (20.6 ounces, 20 liters) also delivered a solid carrying capacity for its weight by offering relatively minimal features.
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 solid 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 burly pack (51.8 ounces, 25 liters), it also provides outstanding comfort, a convenient duffel-style design, and a nearly unique water-tight main compartment, something few other packs on the market can claim.
Though most of the products reviewed are designed for hiking-specific pursuits and equipped with handy features like trekking pole attachments, a few could also double as a briefcase or school tote or even as a dry bag for rafting. We looked for specific features for certain activities, like a flexible back panel to enable a range of motion while cycling. Additionally, the larger your daypack, the more options you have (provided you can be disciplined on short trips and not fill a large pack "just because"). For any winter or technical travel, less than 20 liters of actual capacity (rather than what the manufacturer claims) tends to be insufficient. With this in mind, the larger packs also got bumps in versatility scores.
Unlike a climbing or snow-sports-specific backpack, a day hiking-specific pack is more versatile. 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. For a pack designed for traveling with a laptop (but often not intended for hiking), consider a laptop backpack. For a contender that is almost equally optimized for hiking and carrying around town, including a laptop, the Osprey Daylite Plus and REI Co-op Flash 22 deserve your consideration. Both of these packs can easily carry office supplies like pens and a notebook and transition seamlessly to carrying your poles and the 10 essentials on a hike.
The Osprey Talon performed best for the most athletic activities, easily crossing over between biking, hiking, travel, commuting, peak bagging, and mountain biking. The REI Flash 18 and Flash 22 are simple, but the main open compartments fit many different items. They both work well for urban applications, such as a daily gym bag or purse replacement. At the same time, they also serve as an excellent stuff sack to have along with you on overnight trips to use 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 a side water bottle pockets and a roomy hip belt pocket.
Generally, packs with rigid frames and lots of ventilation don't work as well for mountain biking or scrambling, where freedom of movement is key. Packs like the Osprey Stratos, Ortlieb Atrack, Gregory Zulu 30, and REI Traverse have rigid frames and features optimized for organizing larger outdoor-adventure loads. Among those, Traverse 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 performed a packing test for carrying the "10 Essentials." At the very least, a daypack has to be able to keep these items with you on an outing. We got our ten essentials together and packed each pack with the whole collection of items. We also used the same load during our calisthenics testing to evaluate load stability. If packs included special carry features, like the front-side pole-loops on the Osprey Talon 22 or Stratos 34, or specialized straps like the Packmod compression straps of the REI Co-op Traverse 32, we evaluated these features to check if they functioned as designed.
As expected, the bigger packs, like the Osprey Stratos 34, the REI Co-op Traverse 32, and the Gregory Zulu 30, fit these essentials comfortably. The Stratos has lots of pockets and organizational features that were ideal for smaller items. Although not quite a traditional panel loader, the side-zip pocket and the combination of 2 zippered pockets and the incredibly effective uplift straps on the Traverse 32 balanced organizational ease with quickly securing big, bulky loads.
The Osprey Talon 22, the Osprey Stratos 34, the Ortlieb Atrack 25, the Gregory Zulu 30, the Gregory Miwok 24 the REI Co-op Traverse 32, and the Black Diamond Bolt 24 are the only models with waist belt pockets. We loved these pockets for storing snacks and sunscreen while hiking. The Talon 22 even features an extra stretch mesh pocket on the shoulder straps for a compass, GPS unit, or snack.
All packs, even 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 liked deep, stretch-mesh water bottle pockets like those found on the REI Co-op Traverse 32, the Ortlieb Atrack 25, or the REI Trail 25. Mesh pockets that only had elastic only around their tops or that were shorter than a typical 1-liter bottle, like those on the Osprey Stratos 34, were slightly less secure. In terms of material, we like the dense, stretchy mesh on packs like the Black Diamond Bolt most for its durability, versatility, and security.
Each product in this review proved to be durable over months of use, but some will certainly last longer than others. Our testing, however, does not last long enough to reach complete failure. We did observe some superficial wear and tear on some models and feel comfortable extrapolating based on that and our institutional understanding of materials, construction, and durability. Materials are the primary determinant of durability — packs with thicker, pliant 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, it is the zippers that are often the weak link. Unlike cinch openings, zippers can be damaged by sand or abrasion, and it pays to care for and clean zippers occasionally.
The ultralight REI Flash 18 and 22 is made of substantially 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 subjected to abrasion. Abrasion from sharp surfaces, either inside or outside the pack, can quickly make big holes that are difficult to repair. This justifies double-walled fabrics seen on some of the most durable packs we reviewed. The lightweight packs will 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 some form of the Flash 18 or 22 since they debuted over a decade ago, and we've found it to be a remarkably easy pack to repair in the field with just some duct tape or Tenacious Tape due to its simple, single wall design.
We especially liked the thick fabrics of the Osprey Stratos 34, the Ortlieb Atrack 25, the Black Diamond Bolt 24, and the REI Co-op Traverse 32. We bushwhacked through miles of thick jungle in New Zealand with the Traverse, and it emerged without so much as a scratch (even though our skin certainly didn't). We ground the fabric and zipper of the Ortlieb Atrack 25 into the gravel bed of a river to test its durability and submersibility, and it also came out without a scratch.
After fabrics and zippers, most of the durability issues will come from buckles and cords. We look for widely available, well-sized, and well-designed buckles that can carry loads efficiently with no abnormal stress leading to damage over repeated uses. Some packs have lots of dangling cords or straps that can snag on rocks or tree branches. However, consider a simpler pack, like the Black Diamond Bolt 24, if you really like to just strap things down and get going quickly.
Most pack companies offer a compatible rain cover to go with 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 has completely waterproof fabrics that render a rain cover unnecessary. Rain covers like the Osprey Hi-Vis Raincover are a great thing to consider throwing in your pack in case you get stuck in an unexpected downpour and want to protect the contents of your pack. With the notable exception of the Atrack, these daypacks were not completely waterproof but can stave 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 let in the most water in our hose testing, mainly through large zippered openings.
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 your needs and budget.
Looking for a climbing backpack for your multi-pitch...
Ad-free. Influence-free. Powered by Testing.
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.