The daypack is tasked with carrying all of the essential gear for a day outside, making it a smaller cousin to the classic backpacking pack. Whether you’re heading out for a quick hike, an all-day epic, or anything in between, the right daypack can mean the difference between having a good day and having a great day. However, with so many options, finding the right pack can be a struggle. Luckily, whittling down the selection is simple — keep reading to learn how to choose a daypack and find the perfect pack for you!
Some of the things to consider when choosing a daypack:
Daypacks cover a broad spectrum of sizes, encompassing everything from bitty bags with capacities below 10 liters to huge haulers capable of carrying up to 50 liters. A simple way to figure out what size pack will work is to collect your kit (layers, first aid kit, hydration bladder, snacks, etc.) and see how much space they take up. When in doubt about what size pack to buy, a good rule of thumb is to err on the side of too large. It’s much easier to make a pack smaller than it is to make one larger. In fact, most daypacks feature a compression system for handling loads under maximum capacity.
While a good understanding of your capacity requirements is a great starting point for choosing the best backpack to meet your needs, there are also some general rules for determining what capacity daypack you need:
Daypacks come with two distinct closure styles: panel-loading and top-loading. On panel-loading packs, the main compartment is accessed via a large opening on the main body of the pack, often on the front while the main compartment of a top-loading pack is accessed through an opening on top of the pack — most commonly secured with a cinch lock (like a stuff sack) or a roll-top (like a dry bag).
Women’s-specific packs are designed to accommodate the differences between men’s and women’s bodies. Because women are typically smaller than men, women’s-specific daypacks have a shorter torso range. Additionally, women’s-specific daypacks have narrower and shorter shoulder straps, as well as shorter, differently shaped hip belts. However, we’re all built differently, so just because a pack says it is women’s-specific, that doesn’t mean it’s right for all women, nor does it exclude men — for example, the smaller sizes and narrow shoulders often make these packs a great choice for younger male hikers.
Much like women’s-specific packs address the unique needs of women, youth-specific packs take into account the needs of children. Youth-specific daypacks feature shoulder straps and hip belts that are smaller and shorter than their adult-sized counterparts. Youth-sized packs are also often more adjustable than adult packs to accommodate for the growth seen in kids.
Torso length is an important measurement when considering backpack fit. This is the distance from your C7 neck vertebrae to an imaginary line on your lower back which runs along the top of your hips. For an easy demonstration of how to measure this, check out this video.
Some daypacks, especially larger capacity ones, feature adjustable torso lengths that allow users to further dial in the fit. Packs with adjustable torsos are great choices for people who find getting a good fit with factory-sized packs difficult or those who are buying a pack for someone who’s still growing.
The majority of daypacks feature a sleeve and port designed for use with a hydration bladder, and some packs even include the bladder itself. Even though hydration-compatible packs are commonplace, it’s a good idea to double check if the use of a bladder is preferred to bottles.
If the pack will be used in wet and rainy weather (remember even fair-weather hikers can get caught in an occasional storm), an included rain cover is a nice feature to look for, as they help keep both the pack and its contents dry. If the pack you love doesn’t come with a rain cover, don’t worry — pack rain covers can be purchased separately.
Many daypacks hint to their intended use or include features targeted at one specific user group. Below are a few of the common activity-specific features found on today’s daypacks.
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