The Ultimate Guide To Choosing A Daypack


Backpacks are such emotional objects. For more than 25 years, a friend of mine went on day hikes in Glacier National Park while carrying a worn-out, uncomfortable daypack. I nudged, prodded, and ultimately begged him to get a proper daypack. My friend finally gave in to pressure after a year and purchased a day pack made especially for day hikes.

The outcome? After the first hike with the new pack, the odd emotional attachment he had to his old ackpack mysteriously disappeared. His new pack’s comfort, capacity, pockets, and ease of use made my friend realize how enjoyable it is to hike with a daypack made for day hiking.

A daypack is required for any outdoor activity that requires more equipment than you can comfortably carry in your pockets. Although all daypacks may appear to be similar at first glance, there are many functional distinctions between them. 

Summary – What Type of Daypack to Use for Day Hiking

Here are some features I’d advise having in a day pack if you’re looking to go day hiking:

  • Internal Frame – A framesheet or internal frame should be present in the pack. The frame and framesheet aid in transferring the weight of the pack from the shoulders to the hips. To avoid fatigue, sore shoulders, and to improve balance on longer hikes, it’s crucial to be able to carry the weight of the pack “on the hips.”
  • Lightweight– The pack should be as light as possible. Generally speaking, look for daypacks that weigh 2.5 pounds or less (and the lighter the better).
  • Hydration Compatible– A 2-liter or 3-liter water bladder should fit snugly inside the pack.
  • Capacity-Depending on your specific hiking requirements, purchase a daypack with the smallest capacity possible. You’ll bring fewer items if your pack has a smaller capacity. A general rule of thumb is to purchase a pack with a capacity of 1800 cubic inches or less. Only purchase a larger capacity pack if you are certain that you will require the extra space.
  • Good Brands of Daypacks– In general, TheNorth Face, Patagonia, Mountainsmith, Marmot, Black Diamond, and Mountain Hardwear are reliable brands to choose from when purchasing backpacks.

Daypack Capacity

The volume of daypacks varies greatly. Make a mental inventory of the equipment you carry as you consider the size you need. Can you fit your favorite jacket in the pack? Does it offer enough room for snacks for the lengths of your trips?

Considerations for pack capacity include the following:

10 liters or less: The majority of these compact packs are designed for lightweight activities like road biking, running, and brief hiking trails. thanks to their small size and low-profile design. Due to their small size and low-profile design, they only have room for a few necessities, like an ultralight jacket, some energy bars, and your keys.

11–20 liters: These small packs are frequently designed for travel, mountain biking, hiking, and running. Some have extra pockets to help you stay organized. They allow you to bring extra clothing, food, and equipment for day trips.

21–35 liters: The majority of daypacks for hiking and travel fit best in this area. There is sufficient room to fit clothing, food, and a few extras like a camera and a book.

Daypacks for Hiking – Technical Daypacks vs. General Daypacks

There are two types of hiking daypacks. The descriptions of these daypack “styles” are given below.

General Daypacks

The most common type of daypack, called a general daypack, is effective for the majority of daily tasks. They are reasonably priced, perfect for college life, and reliable for commuting by bike and other types of travel. They are great bags for use “around town” and “around the city”. The large capacities make it simple to bring everything but the kitchen sink when the need arises, and the numerous pockets allow for excellent organization.

However, general daypacks present numerous issues for day hikes, particularly strenuous hikes over long distances or in the mountains. These packs specifically lack the internal frame, adjustments, and durability present in daypacks made for hiking.

Although general daypacks can “haul the gear,” they are much less comfortable on longer day hikes than daypacks made specifically for day hiking.

Technical Daypacks

After realizing that general daypacks weren’t the best choice for serious day hiking dventures, manufacturers developed smaller capacity packs with the same features found in backpacking packs.  Although these smaller capacity packs are referred to as “daypacks,” they are also called “technical daypacks” because they have the same technical specifications as larger backpacks. Technical daypacks have features and design elements that are uncommon in general daypacks, such as: framesheet or internal frame; water bladder compartment; a larger main pocket made to carry different-sized outdoor equipment; webbing on the outside of the pack to carry bulky or awkward-sized clothing items; multiple adjustment straps for a more comfortable fit (especially sternum and riser straps); increased toughness and lower weight than general day packs.

The Most Important Features of Technical Daypacks

Technical daypacks, as previously mentioned, offer many features and design elements that are not present in everyday daypacks. The internal frame of the pack and the capacity to use a hydration bladder, however, are two of its most crucial features.

The Importance of the Internal Frame

The majority of technical daypacks are constructed with either an internal frame (typically made of one aluminum stay) or a thin framesheet built into the backpack.  Why is an internal frame important? The internal frame enables the hiker to transfer the weight of the pack from the shoulders to the hips. 80% or more of the weight of an internal frame pack can typically “ride on the hips” as opposed to “riding on the shoulders.”

The weight of the pack resting on the hips has many benefits. The hiker first develops better balance. When the weight of the pack is supported by the hips, a hiker maintains much better balance as opposed to the pack constantly threatening to pull them “backward”. Hiking off-trail or over rocky terrain is much easier and safer thanks to this improved balance.

Reduced fatigue, particularly shoulder fatigue, is a second advantage. The weight of a fifteen pound pack is not extreme. But after a few miles on longer hikes, a fifteen-pound pack can start to feel heavy, especially if the hike is uphill.

The ability to alter fit is a third advantage of internal frame packs. Infinite adjustments are possible with an internal frame. A pack without an internal frame, however, has few adjustments, and none of them significantly enhance balance or lessen fatigue.

To put it simply, technical daypacks with internal frames are much more comfortable to use on longer day hikes.

The Water Bladder

Simply put, switching back to standard water bottles after using a water bladder is a “painful step back.” For those who are unfamiliar, water bladders are large, flexible, and robust water containers that slide between the main compartment of the backpack and the fabric or framesheet of the pack. From the water bladder, a long straw extends to the pack’s shoulder strap. The hiker simply sips water through the straw.

Here is a brief list of the advantages of water bladders compared to water bottles.It’s easy to Drink. Just sip from the straw if you’re thirsty. As the hiker drinks from the water bladder , it “shrinks” and this reduces bulk and improves the comfort of the pack. It is generally much more comfortable to carry larger amounts of water because the water bladder fits between the pack and the framesheet, lying vertically along the hiker’s back. Additionally, hikers are spared from having to cram water bottles into every available space in their packs or worry about the bottles poking them in the back. Finally, a hiker’s main pack’s capacity to carry “other things” is increased by not having to carry water bottles in it.

How to Size a Daypack

An important reminder: sizing guidelines vary from manufacturer to manufacturer. A North Face pack’s sizing chart is therefore different from an Osprey pack’s sizing chart. The sizing guide frequently differs among packs made by the same manufacturer, further complicating matters. A smaller Osprey Talon daypack, for instance, has a slightly different sizing chart than the larger Osprey Stratos daypack.

You can try on various packs in a store to find one that is comfortable. Ask a friend to help you determine your torso and hip sizes if you are unable to go to a store.

Finding your Torso Lenght

The most crucial factor is your torso length, not your height, because a pack that is too tall or too short won’t have proper weight distribution, resulting in discomfort and hot spots. You can determine your torso length by tilting your head forward and measuring the distance from your C7 vertebra which is the most prominent bone where your shoulders meet the base of your neck – straight down to the iliac crest (point of your back that is parallel to the top of your hip bones).

Hip size

Choosing the proper hipbelt size is crucial because your hips, not your shoulders, should support about 80% of the weight of a backpack. A flexible tape measure should be wrapped around the top of your hips, not your waist, to determine your hip size. Hipbelt size typically differs from pant-waist size because this measurement is a little higher than your beltline.


For a more in-depth explanation: please check out this video tutorial on how to properly fit a backpack.

Things To Take Into Consideration When Choosing A Hiking Daypack

Due to the abundance of day packs on the market, it is simple to inadvertently purchase the incorrect type of bag or the correct type of bag with the incorrect features. Here is a checklist to use to avoid this issue.

Pack Access

Top: Most daypacks have a top-loading construction. The things you won’t need until the end of the day are tucked away at the bottom. Some top-loaders allow you to slightly overpack the pack thanks to a “floating” (extendable) top lid.

Front: The main storage compartment of front-access packs, also known as panel packs, is accessible via a U-shaped zipper. One panel folds away like a flap when fully opened. As a result, it is simple to load and browse through when looking for something. They work well for short hikes.

Bottom: Some daypacks have a bottom opening in addition to a top or front opening, allowing access to the interior. This can be useful if you need to access clothing or equipment that is at the bottom of your pack without taking everything out.

Side: On a few daypacks, there is an option for a side access-point to the interior. In most cases, this is in addition to top or front access. It facilitates access to the clothing and equipment inside your pack, similar to bottom access.

Suspended mesh back panel

Some packs have a mesh ventilated back panel that is designed to keep the pack a few inches away from your back. This enables a constant flow of air to prevent sweaty-back syndrome, which you frequently experience when a pack rides up against your back.


To keep your gear dry while hiking in wet or rainy conditions, look for a pack with an outer layer that is waterproof or water-resistant. Finding a backpack with a rain cover is the best way to make sure it stays dry. A separate piece of fabric called a rain cover will cover the outside of your pack and protect it from precipitation. As an alternative, try looking at bags with water-resistant coatings or roll-top closures (although these aren’t entirely reliable). Another alternative is to bundle your gear in waterproof stuff sacks internally. Strong gusts can easily tear a pack’s cover off in windy conditions, so lighter stuff sacks may be a better choice.

Sleeping bag compartment

A few larger daypacks have a sleeping bag compartment at the bottom that is accessible via a zipper. For daytime use, it can hold other lightweight, compressible gear that you’d like to reach easily.

Strap Adjustments

It is best if the backpack features multiple strap adjustments. All daypacks have adjustable shoulder straps. Furthermore, most daypacks have waist straps. Technical daypacks, however, provide additional adjustments like sternum straps and load lifter straps. Although, load lifter straps are only present on packs that use a framesheet or have an internal frame.

Load Lifter Straps: Load lifter straps are a feature of some larger daypacks. These attach to the top of the pack frame and are stitched into the tops of the shoulder straps. Your shoulder straps and the pack should ideally form a 45° angle. They can aid in preventing the upper part of the pack from pulling away from your body, which would cause the pack to sag on your lumbar region.

Sternum Strap: Most packs have a mid-chest strap that you can connect your shoulder straps to, which can improve your stability. When traversing uneven terrain, it can be helpful to do this because a clumsy movement could cause your pack to tip to one side and knock you off-balance.

How Much Capacity?

There is no justification for purchasing a pack with a larger capacity than is absolutely necessary unless you enjoy carrying heavy loads. Long day hikes can easily be completed with packs that have a capacity of 1000 cubic inches or less thanks to today’s ultralight and multipurpose equipment. You should keep in mind that the pack uses a hydration bladder to store water, freeing up the entire pack to carry other items. Few hikers need a pack with a capacity greater than 1000–1200 cubic inches for typical day hikes in the summer. Purchasing a pack with the smallest capacity is also advantageous because it will likely weigh less and be more comfortable to carry.


A pack’s color selection is a personal decision. Anyone looking for a new daypack will find that they come in a dizzying array of colors and patterns. Pick the color that you like the most. Just keep in mind that the high visibility “fluorescent” colors that many packs use are there to help rescuers if something unfortunate happens.

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