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How to Buy a Great Daypack for Hiking

Dayhiking is simple: Stuff what you need into a small pack and head off for a day of adventure. What can seem complicated is picking the right daypack.


Determining when, where and how far you hike — and how much gear you’ll carry — is a first step toward narrowing choices. Do you want to go lightweight and minimalist or have abundant capacity and an assortment of pockets and features? Should your daypack be built for toughness or be lighter for trekking easygoing trails?

Then, of course, there’s price.

After answering those questions, look at these factors when choosing a daypack:


A daypack that can hold between 16 and 22 liters has enough space for most dayhikes for which you’re carrying extra layers of clothes, food, water and a few incidentals (camera, first-aid kit, fishing pole). If you want to carry more, especially in wintry conditions, look at packs with 28-40 liters of space. For a quick hike in good weather, a 12-liter pack works.


Any pack’s comfort weight limit depends on its internal frame (if there is one) and suspension (the shoulder straps and waist belt). Packs less than about 1 1⁄2 pounds usually offer minimal support and are made to carry about 10-12 pounds. For carrying up to 15 or 20 pounds or more comfortably, packs have a metal wire frame and/or a plastic framesheet, padded shoulder straps and a waist belt.


As with larger backpacks, the fit affects comfort, especially with more weight in the pack. Models made for youth have smaller, narrower suspensions. Teens can often wear adult models, in which small daypacks designed for 10 pounds or less often come in one size, while larger daypacks often come in two or three sizes and in men’s and women’s models.


If you like an organized pack, look for quick access to the main compartment — like a clamshell-style top zipper or a side zipper — plus multiple external pockets. The tradeoff? Those features add cost, weight and bulk.


While many hiking daypacks are made with similar materials, some are constructed with more durable materials — but, again, this might increase weight and cost.


FOR YOUNGER SCOUTS: If you’re 8-12 years old, take a look at the REI CO-OP TARN 18 PACK ($45, It has an ideal design for a young hiker: zippers to quickly access the main compartment, as well as a front pocket, a stretch front pocket, hipbelt pockets, padding in the shoulder straps and hipbelt, and a ventilating back pad. At 18 liters, the Tarn has the space and organization for water, snacks, a jacket and maybe a favorite action figure. 1 lb. 1 oz.

BARGAIN BUY: On a budget? The KELTY BSA 15L DAYPACK ($30, has a spacious 15 liters of capacity and two external pockets. The one unisex size fits torsos 18-21 inches for taller teens. Stuffing into its own top pocket, it’s packable and light enough to bring on backpacking trips for side hikes. But with no frame, belt or sternum strap, consider its comfort limit well under 10 pounds, best for short outings. 14.5 oz.

LIGHT ALL-PURPOSE PACK: For coming in at just 18 ounces, THE NORTH FACE CHIMERA 18 PACK ($100, punches above its weight, starting with comfort even on long hikes carrying up to 15 pounds, thanks to a harness that disperses the load across wide shoulder straps. Its very cool DynoCinch System compresses the load to improve stability using cords within reach when wearing the pack. The 18-liter capacity is enough for all-day three-season hikes, and includes quick access to two zippered compartments plus convenient mesh pockets on the shoulder straps. 1 lb. 2 oz.

BIKING PACK: If you’re serious about mountain biking, the CAMELBAK M.U.L.E. HYDRATION PACK ($110, offers top performance. The streamlined, torso-hugging unisex harness remains stable whether you’re cranking uphill or ripping downhill. The main compartment — accessed quickly with an external zipper — has 9 liters of space, and with five external pockets, it’s easy to store bike tools and other small items. The pack also features a stretch pocket and external hooks. Bonus: It comes with a 3-liter CamelBak bladder to help keep you hydrated. 1 lb. 5 oz.

ULTRALIGHT AND VERSATILE: Fast-and-light adventurers should look closely at the SIX MOON DESIGNS DAYBREAKER DAYPACK ($120, It has impressive capacity for its weight: 24 liters in the main compartment, an extension collar that adds 4 liters, plus stretch-woven pockets on the front and sides (2 liters total). The 210 D Nylon Robic delivers good durability, and a removable back pad doubles as a sit pad. For committed ultralighters, the hip belt and hydration sleeve can be removed to slash 3 oz. 1 lb. 4 oz.

FOR BIGGER LOADS: For adventures that aren’t short, casual or light, the men’s DEUTER TRAIL PRO 36 and women’s TRAIL PRO 34 SL ($165, offer big volume and lots of features, plus way more capacity and versatility than many competitors. The spring-steel suspension and plastic framesheet let you haul 25-35 pounds. This traditional top-loader has a U-shaped zipper to access the main compartment and six pockets, ice ax and trekking pole attachments, and a rain cover. And just try to damage it — won’t happen. 3 lbs. 7 oz.

23 Comments on How to Buy a Great Daypack for Hiking

  1. Knife Overlord // October 28, 2012 at 8:32 pm // Reply

    Scout Direct sells Alps Mountaineering packs for 40% off to scouts; really nice packs and tents too. I have the Solitude 3300 ci model w/ waist belt. Give it a peek.

  2. Knife Xpert 157 (aka Chad 101) // August 16, 2012 at 4:57 pm // Reply

    I just got a new day pack called The Compact Assault Pack b Condor. It has a little over 1000 C.U.I (cubic inches). It will be my primary hunting back pack as well as a day pack.

  3. MahnaMahna // July 7, 2012 at 12:31 pm // Reply

    Am I the only one who uses High Sierra?

  4. I really have so many backpacks, I won’t need another till I’m 40! I love my New Balance bag, but the elastics on the front are a breaking hazard!

  5. If you can afford $100.00 a Duluth Pack Daypack is great and guaranteed for life; find that anywhere else. I have two: blue for summer and orange for winter. Made with thick waterproof canvas, leather straps (Padded if desired) and rivits.

    • MN Boy Scout // April 13, 2012 at 9:19 pm // Reply

      I love the duluth pack backpacks! They are incredibly durable, strong and many are quite big. My only complaint is the dye used to color the fabric stains everything in the backpack when it gets wet. You might want a pack cover if you use it outdoors or where it might get wet

      • Off-Trail Monkey // April 24, 2012 at 10:51 pm //

        They are supposted to be sealed in Canvac before outdoor use. This prevent color bleeding.

  6. My old day pack is falling apart time to find a new one.

    • Flash 18 guy // July 26, 2011 at 4:32 pm // Reply

      I have the Flash 18. It holds a bladder, has lots of space, has a hip belt and a sternum strap,and it turns inside out becoming a sleeping bag stuff sack. It is $30 at REI.

    • Try a Teton Sports The Executive pack. I don’t actually own it but I do have the Explorer 4000 and the Scout 3400 and both are great packs so I highly recommend any Teton products they are cheap but reliable. P.S. Go to Gear Guy backpacks and see my comment on the Explorer 4000. Hope you like it.

      • Man try other packs instead of just Tetons!

      • Knife Xpert 157 (aka Chad 101) // May 3, 2012 at 8:16 pm //

        I did I tried i tinny Remington pack and that was terrible! I guess I love tetons so much because I had such a bad pack before i got a good one

  7. bobthecactus // April 22, 2011 at 1:34 pm // Reply

    maxpedition all the way. I own a Falcon 2. it may seem expensive, but it is worth the price.

  8. North Face makes some good day packs, but unlike Camelbak, it doesn’t have good space for a waterbladder. I just got a Camelbak daypack for x-mas and just looking at it I can tell it is awesome.

  9. I just use my hunting pack for scouting activities. I have a Cabela’s Scout Elite pack. its got enough room for the essentials, plus anything else I want to throw in there. Plus they come in lots of different camo patterns, so can pick the one that looks most like where you hunt. Mine’s a sagebrush pattern, and it blends in really well.

  10. hippiescout151 // September 25, 2010 at 9:30 am // Reply

    camelbak is good for a camp daypack

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