The 6 Best Daypacks for Hiking
Day hikes don’t call for a lot of gear. The shortest jaunts require a water bottle and a sturdy pair of shoes — in some cases, even everyday sneakers will do. More ambitious endeavors should be tackled with a more considered packing list: hiking boots, technical apparel, snacks, sunscreen, extra layers for the summit, a headlamp just in case. You’ll also want a backpack to put it all into.
Daypacks exist on a spectrum. Some everyday backpacks, like the ones you may have brought to school or carry to work, will do the trick, but there is a full range of very technical options explicitly designed for out-and-back hiking. These aren’t as sizeable as the 60-liter-plus bags used for long distance trekking, but they come with all the same features that make walking in the wilderness with a full load of gear a more enjoyable experience. And after all, that’s the point of hiking — to enjoy oneself.
Best Overall: Osprey Stratos
The Stratos is outfitted with all the pockets, compression straps and access points you’d expect from a backpack company — especially one with a golden reputation among long-distance thru-hikers — but the standout feature is its mesh back panel. It’s raised and tensioned away from the pack’s main vestibule, which provides a comfy trampoline-like feel and allows lots of air to flow between your back and the bag, which minimizes the sweaty back issue that often seems unavoidable. The mesh also integrates into the hipbelt, wrapping its arms around your lower torso for a fit that’s more comfortable than most other backpacks.
Best Simple Daypack: Patagonia Nine Trails
The Nine Trails backpack is designed simply, with the essentials in mind: the pack uses one spacious main compartment that’s accessed through a large U-shaped zipper and features expandable stash pockets on the exterior for storage on the go. Patagonia also rigged it with a mono-mesh back panel that is the company’s most breathable yet. The Nine Trails isn’t entirely devoid of extras though — there are smaller stash pockets on the outside and inside as well as on the hipbelt, and a hydration pouch with a port for the hose.
Best New Design: Evergoods Mountain Quick Draw
Evergoods is a new brand, but its gear know-how has some deep history; its founders are Jack Barely, the co-founder of GORUCK, and Kevin Dee, a former product engineer at Patagonia. They joined forces and took what they learned at those institutions to create ultra-functional backpacks of their own. The latest is the Mountain Quick Draw, a 24-liter mountain backpack that’s designed with functions not found on any other bag. Its hallmark is a quick access top that pulls open and cinches closed in seconds without having to fumble around with zippers or clips. There’s also a side-access zipper so that you can get to things at the bottom of the pack without exploding everything onto the ground.
Best Minimalist Daypack: Mystery Ranch In and Out
Drawstring gym bags should never be used for hiking — we’re adamant about this. If you’re looking for a lightweight, collapsible and highly-portable bag, then look to the In and Out. Mystery Ranch is better known for its full-featured trekking backpacks and the packs it supplies to the US military, but its most minimal hiking pack is just as reliable, for different reasons. The In and Out packs down into its front face pocket to be the size of a small pillow, but it isn’t basic. It’s made of 100-denier Cordura fabric for durability and has an aerospace mesh back panel for breathability. Features include a side water bottle pocket, multiple small essentials pockets, a hydration sleeve and even an ice axe loop.
Best Ultralight Daypack: Hyperlite Mountain Gear Daybreak
Mike St. Pierre founded his ultralight equipment company, Hyperlite Mountain Gear, on the sheer potential of Dyneema, a fabric that by weight is 15 times stronger than steel. That’s the main ingredient in the Daybreak, a pack created for day-long excursions. Most Hyperlite bags are spartan (it’s an ultralight thing), but the Daybreak includes features like multiple external sleeve pockets, a bungee-style lashing and a stow-away hipbelt. The whole thing weighs just 1.27 pounds.
Best Lifestyle Daypack: Topo Designs Mountain Pack
The Mountain Pack has been a recurring staple in Topo Designs’ stable of retro-looking backpacks. Versatility is where this bag shines — it has a breathable mesh back panel and all the daisy chains and gear loops needed for mountain exploits, but it also features a laptop sleeve and smaller organizing pockets for life around town.
If you look beyond the big brands, you’ll find a number of small makers who work by hand to make some of the best outdoor backpacks available. Read the Story