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Best daypacks: for short walks, summit hikes and hut-to-hut adventures

Included in this guide:

best daypacks: hiker with daypack
(Image credit: Getty)

Choosing the best daypack for your hiking adventures will determine the success of your escapade. Whether its part of a peak-bagging challenge or for simply carrying your kit in when you’re heading out into the hills, the daypack is an essential piece of kit that’s key to every walker’s day out.

It's been said that the best daypack is the one you forget you're wearing. As with the best hiking backpacks, a lot of engineering goes into high-quality daypacks. Obvious features such as effective load-bearing and durability are fundamentals for any pack. Beyond these necessary design traits, the best daypacks take a variety of shapes and forms – from lithe sacks designed for trail running to more heavily-featured packs designed for long days spent hiking.

best daypacks: Climber with Exped Impulse 30L pack

Daypacks – such as the Exped Impulse 30L – can be put to use in all manner of situations (Image credit: Exped)

In this guide to the best daypacks, we primarily focus on high-quality, technical models that perform well, have enough room to carry all your hiking essentials for the hills and incorporate a number of features including functionality, comfort and design.

Every entry on this list of the best daypacks is featured on its merits. For us, though, the Exped Impulse 30L is a real standout option for its ability to carry a full mountain-leader’s worth of kit when required, whilst also withstanding a range of conditions.

Best daypack for technical terrain

best daypacks: Exped Impulse 30L

(Image credit: Exped)

Exped Impulse 30L

A versatile, well-considered daypack with plenty of storage and features to take you from the hills into more technical terrain

RRP: $153 (US) / £115 (UK) | Weight (empty): 978g / 2.1lb | Volume: 30L | Variations available: 20L / 30L | Harness sizes: One Size | Compatibility: Daywalks in all conditions and across all sorts of terrain | Colors: Navy /Black

Tough
Versatile
Sustainably made
Plenty of pockets
Sizes slightly small, internal capacity a little less than 30L
Only one harness size (although it’s very adaptable)

A design-savvy Swiss-brand, Exped has established itself as a firm favourite with outdoor types, with an army of loyal fans who rave about their kit – everything from trusted daypacks to flock lined sleeping mats and pop-coloured dry bags. True to form, the Exped Impulse 30 backpack is a tough, multi-functional beast of a backpack. Made from a durable 210 Denier material, this daypack will withstand the toughest abrasion when scrambling through the mountains, but equally be at home when you’re out and about on the hills, thanks to its versatile system. There are a number of adaptable features, from a removable back plate, to detachable hip belts for those who prefer to keep their adventures fast and light.

There are several well-considered technical features, from an inside mesh pocket to zipped pockets on the hip fins, which shows Exped really understand what hikers (and bikers, climbers, fastpackers) want from their packs: space to organise their kit and plenty of pockets. The internal mesh pouch is for holding a hydration bladder, plus there’s a clip to keep the reservoir in an upwards position. An addition, two mesh side pockets make it easy to stow away drinks bottles to walking poles, making it the perfect practical pack for a multitude of activities. What’s more, the pack has some of the greenest credentials if those on test, with the Oeko tex standard 100 certification, meaning every component has been checked to make sure the materials are not harmful to human health, whilst also being certified as PFC free. For those who want a backpack that can adapt to a range of mountainous and hill activities – this pack is perfect.

Best large daypacks

best daypacks: Fjällräven Abisko Hike 35

(Image credit: Fjällräven)

Fjällräven Abisko Hike 35

A classy backpack that manages to be highly practical as well as pretty

RRP: $155 (US) / £150 (UK) | Weight (empty): 1400g/49oz | Volume: 35L | Variations available: One size | Harness sizes: One size | Compatibility: Cabin-to-cabin hikes and lightweight day trekking | Colors: Stone grey / Navy / Green

Side zipper for easy access to main compartment
Rain cover included
Emergency whistle on chest strap
Only one size
Back length not adjustable
No pockets on waist belt or harness

The beautiful-looking Abisko Hike 35 is sized in that sweet zone where it’s large enough to swallow enough equipment to see you through a quick overnight escapade (especially during summer, when kit requirements are less, or when you’re sleeping in a hut), but isn’t too big to be used for even the most casual day walk. It is made with materials that are organic or recycled, and features fluorocarbon-free impregnation, so the eco creds are high, and it’s really well designed too. Our favourite feature is the side zip, which allows you to access the main compartment and locate whatever you’re looking for (fleece, hat, food, bivvy, whatever) without having to dive in from the top and take everything out all over the trail. 

The top lid has a spacious pocket, and there’s a large front-of-pack pocket, with a full-length zip, perfect for a map. There are several compression straps that help secure the contents and keep the pack tidy when it’s not full. The sternum strap is easy to adjust, with a double slider, and there’s built-in emergency whistle on the buckle. The waist belt, with pull-forward adjusters, has substantial hip fins. There is a lack of easy access pockets on the harness, however, which is a bit of a shame, as these are always handy for storing snacks, compass and so on. It’s very comfortable to carry, with padded shoulder straps, a substantial hip belt and a lightweight frame that keeps the overall pack weight down. There is one side pocket for a water bottle – and the compression straps can be co-opted to secure trekking poles – and an internal pouch takes a hydration bladder, with a port for the hose to exit over the right shoulder. There are reflective elements on the rear, for safety when walking on lanes and roads at night, and a UN-blue raincover is included, but it’s not integrated into the pack, so can be lost.

Best daypacks

(Image credit: Deuter)

Deuter Futura 30

Extremely capable all-round pack that combines excellent fit with solid, functional design

RRP: $130 (US)/£95 (UK) | Weight: 52oz/1480g | Volume: 30L | Compatibility: Day hiking, mountain hiking, winter hiking – a great all-around pack | Colors: Lapis-midnight/Khaki-ivy/Black

Exceptional fit, especially when climbing or scrambling
Smart pocket layout
Affordable
A bit big and heavy for minimalist hikers

The fit of this daypack is spot-on, carrying both light and heavy loads without shifting, even after hours on the trail or miles of scrambling. Venting panels on the shoulder straps and back support strike a good balance of moisture wicking and padding. Deuter has wisely eschewed side pockets (often more trouble than they are worth) for a streamlined, tight rear panel pocket and one-sided bungee strap for poles. The pack comes with a rain cover, a nice bonus. Internal pockets include a hydration sleeve, a wallet/key fob pouch under the lid, and a generous top lid compartment. With 30L of storage, there will be no problem carrying gear in every season. Winter gear, dog supplies, and even a modest amount of climbing gear fit comfortably inside the pack. A final point of emphasis: the Futura 30 carries reasonably heavy loads with ease, but also doesn't float up your back when carrying lighter loads. As an all-around performer, the price and comfort can't be beat. The only consideration that might be off-putting is the larger size for hikers who prefer a more minimal pack set-up.

Best top-loading daypack

Best daypacks

(Image credit: Mammut)

Mammut Ducan 24

A lightweight, durable daypack with superior heat venting and the best engineered shoulder straps in the business

RRP: $130 (US)/£95 (UK) | Weight: 32oz/907g | Volume: 24L | Compatibility: Day hiking, mountain hiking, warm-weather hikes | Colors: Black/Granit/Olive/Sapphire/Sunlight

Lightweight 
Great stability and fit
Smart shoulder strap/chest strap design
Streamlined designed leaves out outer pockets and extensive outer pack storage options

The shoulder strap system on the Ducan makes it a stand-out pack. It features an elastic, padded material that merges comfortably with the chest strap – something other daypacks seem to incorporate as an afterthought. The shoulder straps also include a snug, elastic pocket built in that is actually big enough to hold a smartphone. Combined with the Ducan 24's gossamer weight, the superior venting of the back panel makes this the perfect pack for hikers who put out a lot of heat, or prefer to explore in hot temperatures.

Despite its light weight, the Ducan carries moderate loads quite comfortably. Under heavier loads, the pack will set lower on the hips but nonetheless stays in place without much trouble. The rain cover is integrated into the pack but is detachable for those who want to shave a few more ounces off.

Because it uses a thinner Polyamide/Polyester blend to save weight, the skin of the Ducan isn't as tough as thicker denier nylon packs, but the compromise saves weight, and for hikers who want to go fast and light, the Ducan is ideal. The lack of outer pockets is a slight nit-pick.

Best panel-loading daypacks

Best daypacks

(Image credit: Mystery Ranch)

Mystery Ranch Coulee 25

A quirky pack, excellent at transferring weight onto the hips, the benefits of the Coulee 25's unique design become quickly apparent on the trail

RRP: $175 (US)/£127 (UK) | Weight: 46oz/1304g | Volume: 24L | Compatibility: Day hiking, mountain hiking, warm-weather hikes | Colors: Black/Hummus/Garnet/Del Mar

Excellent weight distribution
3-ZIP design provides easy access to all your gear
Deep, secure side pockets
Venting can be an issue on hot days

Mystery Ranch Packs are in a class of their own when it comes to weight distribution. Regardless of the load, the Coulee 25's frame sheet and patented Futura Yoke takes the burden off the shoulders and disperses it comfortably to the hips. This is evident after a long day of hiking, when the fatigue that normally settles in on the neck and shoulders is pleasantly absent. Mystery Ranch is able to do this without adding excessive weight to the pack, which in itself is a bit of a wonderful mystery.

The 3-ZIP interior pack access is more than a novelty. It makes finding gear that has settled to the bottom of your daypack a cinch (one of the key benefits of any panel-loading pack). The top triangle of the 3-ZIP system actually hides a gear compartment, which could technically qualify the Coulee 25 as a hybrid panel-loader top-loader.

The side-stretch pockets on the sides are deep, snug, and don't interfere with the full zipper that runs down the length of the back of the pack. Compression straps, hydration sleeve, and zipper pulls are good quality, standard fare for higher-end daypacks.

If you plan on carrying a heavier load, the Coulee 25 can't be beat for comfort and weight distribution. Minor downsides are the higher price tag and the lack of a sophisticated venting system.

Best daypacks

(Image credit: Osprey)

Osprey Talon 22

A compact daypack with almost no weaknesses. All the right tweaks are in place and all the fundamentals are dialed in, creating a consummate daypack up for any adventure

RRP: $120 (US)/£87 (UK) | Weight: 25.6oz/725g (small/medium); 27.2oz/771g (medium/large) | Volume: 20L (small/medium); 22L (medium/large) | Compatibility: Day hiking, mountain hiking | Colors: Martian red

Compact and comfortable design
Well-vented for hot weather
Lightweight
Pack volume is small, hindering its use as a winter pack or on longer days when you need more gear

Osprey's Talon 22 hits a particular sweet spot for daypacks that are compact, comfortable, and reasonably priced. The suspension system utilizes a bioStretch harness, an elastic strap system that fuses with the well-vented shoulder straps and back panel. This creates a balanced fit that prevents the pack from wandering off your shoulders, even with a decent load.

Other smart features include a zipped top pocket, deep n' stretchy side pockets, and a snug rear panel compartment. Every element of the pack is nicely streamlined, which contributes to excellent stability even while scrambling or surfing scree. Another nice touch is the slightly oversized waist harness pocket, which is big enough to hold a smartphone and a few snacks.

Osprey's craftsmanship and attention to detail are apparent in everything from the smooth gliding zippers to easily adjusted strap sliders and rain cover. The Talon 22 is at home on every trail and can even serve light duty as a four-season pack. Given its compact design, the 22L volume is a bit small if you're carrying a lot of gear or weighed down with extras like climbing equipment.

Best women's specific daypacks

Best daypacks

(Image credit: Osprey)

Osprey Tempest 20

Osprey's women's packs are game-changers for many female hikers. The ergonomics, fit, and comfort have made their line of women's packs the industry leaders

RRP: $130 (US)/£94 (UK) | Weight: 30.4oz/861g (XS/S); 35.2oz/997g (M/L) | Volume: 18L (XS/S); 20L (M/L) | Compatibility: Day hiking, scrambling | Colors: Stealth black/Violac purple/Aluminium gray/Jasper green/Bell orange

Top-of-the-line fit and comfort, including extra small options
Very good ventilation and stable fit
Good color selection
Smart layout of pockets and zippers
No rain cover (sold separately)

Osprey has been a leader in women-specific pack design for years and the Tempest 20 is the perfect example why they are regarded as pioneers. ‘One size fits all’ simply doesn't work well for most women and thus, Osprey has done well to offer variations from extra-small to large. Our testers reported that the narrower shoulder strap geometry and waist belt location were huge improvements over trying to adapt to men's packs. The Tempest 20 stayed stable, even on jarring downhills and on scrambles. Pack ventilation is excellent, even on scorching hot days.

The Tempest is the women's counterpart to another pack on our best daypacks list, the Talon 22. As such, it has the same great pocket layout, generous panel-loading main compartment, hydration sleeve, and wide rear panel pocket as the Talon 22. As an added bonus, the variety of colors makes personalizing the pack fun.

Great fit, stylish lines, and optimal functionality makes the Tempest 20 our top women's daypack. The only slight gripe is that it doesn’t come with a rain cover – you can buy one for a sizeable extra layout of $34–40 / £20–22.

Best daypacks

(Image credit: Northface)

North Face Women's Hydra 26

The North Face's auto-equalizing Dyno Lift System gives this daypack an edge when it comes to stabilization and comfort, all in a lightweight and durable package

RRP: $149.95 (US)/£109 (UK) | Weight: 30oz/850g | Volume: 26L | Compatibility: Day hiking, scrambling | Colors: Urban navy

Great stabilizing frame in a lightweight pack
Quick drying back panel
Good volume to weight ratio
Sternum strap lacks elastic adjustability
Shoulder straps could be softer

The Hydra 26 features best-in-class load lifters, a real boon for a pack as light as this. Usually, stability is the first aspect sacrificed when reducing material weight, but North Face pulls off the trick with great success. The shoulder straps can feel scratchy and the sternum strap features old-school nylon straps, but the pack fits well once adjusted to suit the wearer. Weight distribution into the hips spares shoulders and keeps the pack snug without endless fiddling and adjustments.

Because of the streamlined, no-frills design, the pack features are standard issue. This isn't a bad thing, it just means that the standout feature is the comfort of the steel frame rather than the pocket layout or exterior strap setup. The waistbelt does feature a nice map/snack pocket with wide zipper pulls, an intuitive touch that’s worth the slight weight penalty on an otherwise ultra-light pack.

Lightweight summit/basecamp daypacks

Best daypacks

(Image credit: Mountainsmith)

Mountainsmith Scream 25

An excellent summit pack that channels the best features of full-size daypacks into a top-notch, ultralight design

RRP: $80 (US)/£58 (UK) | Weight: 21oz/595g | Volume: 26L | Compatibility: Summit hikes, basecamp exploration hikes, short day hikes | Colors: Mint/Stone gray

Nice stability for a pack without any internal frame
Doubles as a stuff sack or pillow 
Great durability to weight ratio
Sharp colors
Shoulder straps have a habit of getting twisted from time to time
No tight sleeve to house hydration bladder

The Scream 25 is one of the best summit packs around, thanks to its low weight, good feature set, and better-than-average fit. It's one of the few summit packs that can manage to carry 20–25lb/10kg without slinking down the back. Despite not having an internal frame, the shoulder and chest straps keep the load as stable as possible (pack smart, with heavier items stored lower). Deep side pockets give extra space for water bottles or hiking poles and the single ice-axe loop at the bottom makes perfect sense for snowy summit days.

Hydration bladders can affect the balance of the pack a bit, as it doesn't have a tight sleeve to hold a bladder in place. In addition being a great summit pack, it's a good option as a daybag when you’re traveling, especially for those occasions where you only need to pack a few things like a sandwich or water bottle. When camping, the pack stuffs into its top compartment – put your softest fleece over it and you’ve got an instant camp pillow.

Best daypacks

(Image credit: Mountain Hardwear)

Mountain Hardwear UL 20

A featherlight summit pack that is ideal for efficient hikers who are aiming to go as light as possible

RRP: $80 (US)/£58 (UK) | Weight: 10.7oz/303g | Volume: 20L | Compatibility: Summit hikes, basecamp exploration hikes, short day hikes | Colors: Black/Blue/Blue and red

As light as it gets when it comes to summit packs
Single side-pocket design saves even more weight
Good balance 
Doubles as stuff sack or pillow
Low volume means you'll have to pack smart on summit day

The UL 20 is as light as a pack can get while still being functional. If you know exactly what gear you'll need on summit day and don't want to go an ounce heavier than you need to, this is your pack. Because it lacks a waist belt, Mountain Hardware astutely made sure the shoulder straps and sternum strap worked together to keep modest loads from shifting. The single side pocket cinches tight, a savvy decision as peak bagger may be carrying a single water bottle and having it fall out could be catastrophic. A single ice axe loop and sparse but functional gear loops on the back of the pack round out a functional design that can punch above its weight if needed. Confident summit hikers who know exactly what they need will be delighted by the profile and fit of the UL 20. Like other summit packs, it will likely find use as a pillow or stuff sack when not on its way to the top.

What to look for when buying the best daypacks

When properly cared for, the best daypacks can last for decades. Rarely does a daypack suffer catastrophic failure like tents, nor are they prone to the intense wear-and-tear of boots. Parts that need replacing, such as straps, clips, and zippers are rarely cost-prohibitive. You're more likely to retire a daypack to the eager jaws of critters such as marmots or mice than from overuse.

The takeaway is that a daypack may be one of the very best gear investments you'll make, so investing in the best daypack to fit your exact style is a decision you will not regret.

best daypacks: Cyclist carrying Exped Impluse 30L

(Image credit: Exped)

Because of the fabrics used in their construction, nearly all modern daypacks have a natural resistance to water. However, if you live in an area where rain, fog, and moisture is common, it's worth investing in a pack cover to keep your gear dry – and you can line your pack with a kitchen-size garbage bag for good measure. However, you can also employ smaller dry bags within your pack to ensure the essentials stay dry. 

This leads us to our next point. When you try on a daypack, be sure to do it with roughly the amount of weight you expect to carry and, if possible, with the jackets and layers you are likely to be wearing. Venting is more important to the desert hiker than it is for the winter snowshoer.

When purchasing a pack, we recommend considering the following factors:

Pack Volume

For many hikers, packs less than 18L are too small for most day hikes – specialized summit packs excepted. Standard size for daypacks ranges from 18L–22L for less volume and 22L– 30L for more volume. Above that, you start getting into overnight backpacks.

A good sweet spot for an all-round daypack is 25L. It's more than enough space for layers, snacks, and extras like maps, guidebooks, or flasks of your favorite spirits. Larger packs, 25L–30L rucksacks, are good if you're adding in gear for your kids, dogs, thick winter layers, or climbing gear. Packs smaller than 25L are great for going light and fast, especially for warm weather hiking. You should also consider the best hydration packs if you're someone who likes to hit the trails with a bit of speed.

We have included a couple of summit packs here. These are ultralight daypacks that scrap excess materials, including an inner frame, for the sale of lightness. They are designed for summit hikes and exploratory adventures out of basecamp, but can be handy as a daypack option when you’re travelling too.

best daypacks: hiker on the Tour Du Mont Blanc

On a hut-to-hut hike – like the Tour Du Mont Blanc – a daypack's size is ideal (Image credit: Getty)

Fit and Comfort

The best daypacks will distribute weight into the waist straps – not as dramatically as full-sized backpacking packs, but enough to give your shoulders a bit of a break at the end of a long day. Nearly all backpacks offer a degree of adjustability but these adjustments have their limits. Thus the various sizes of small, medium, and large daypacks. Gear shops can help you size up the right pack and it's worth learning properly how to pack a backpack.

Gender specificity

Many women are perfectly fine using men's daypacks, which are often more-or-less gender-neutral. However, women with especially narrow shoulders or small torsos should consider trying on women-specific daypacks or one of the best women's hiking backpacks. A women's specific pack may carry weight as comfortably as a men's pack, but the shoulder straps may be much easier to put on, adjust, and take off, and the chest strap should take into account the female form.

best daypack: female hiker with a daypack

Daypacks can be contoured specifically for the female form (Image credit: Getty)

Price

When you're thinking about how to plan a backpacking trip, budget is often a real consideration. It can be tough to bite the bullet and pay upwards of $200 (US) /£150 (UK) for a relatively small pack, especially when there are many cheaper daypacks available. Beware, however, that a glorified bookbag will reveal its weaknesses on the trail. The most glaring difference between budget models and high-quality brands comes in the geometry and fit. Your shoulders will tell you all you need to know about that if you spend 6 or more hours with a poorly fitted pack.

As mentioned above, daypacks are a very good investment, even if the upfront price can sting. The best daypacks can be expected to last at least 10 years, possibly longer. One way to save some money is to make sure you're not paying for features you don't care about or need. Basic, panel-loading daypacks have the least frills but are ideal for some hikers – and this preference can save a bit of money.

Features

Finally, this is one category that is entirely based on your personal preferences. We keep a top-loader for mountain hiking when we know we'll likely be taking hats and gloves on and off throughout the day. We also have a nice panel loader for those days when we want to move quickly, suck up minor weather changes without re-layering, and only bring the basics. We like to have a single dedicated side-pocket for snacks and a hydration sleeve (both of which are standard on nearly all daypacks).

Conversely, lighter daypacks use elastic cord to store jackets on the outside of the pack or may omit side pockets altogether.

There is no one right answer. But keep this in mind: the more zippers, pockets, and straps, the more potential failure points exist. The upshot is that a single broken zipper on a side pocket likely won't make or break your day. Whatever you prefer, aim to invest in the best daypack that is functional for your personal system.