After hiking boots or hiking sneakers, a quality backpack is easily the most critical piece of equipment a hiker can take on the trail. The best backpacks can mean the difference between a great hike and a miserable one, so it’s worth investing in a good ruck that can efficiently haul everything you need while being easy on your shoulders, back, and hips across any terrain. For minimalist hikers and those who rarely overnight in the backcountry, a daypack is the way to go. These compact, lightweight alternatives to traditional outdoor backpacks are designed to carry everything you need and nothing you don’t. These are our favorite daypacks for toting your most essential gear in 2021.
We’ve long been fans of Osprey. Every product across its entire line is durable, well designed, and built with avid hikers in mind. The Talon 22 is no exception. It’s a versatile daypack that works as a daily driver for almost every brand of hiker. The 22-liter capacity strikes a good balance between an ultra-minimalist pack and a full-sized overnight bag. The addition of a real hip belt with cushioning (compared to the thin webbing found in “ordinary” daypacks) is a nice touch and one that ensures all-day comfort over any terrain. Multiple pockets and an expandable stretch-mesh harness pocket provide plenty of organization opportunities too.
Hardcore day hikers will no doubt balk at the idea of a 30-liter daypack. But for a versatile pack that’s lighter than an expedition-worthy bag but larger than a traditional daypack, Gregory’s Citro 30 is near perfect. The size is ideal for overpackers, for anyone who appreciates the luxury of bringing extra layers (or hiking snacks), or as a light overnight bag. It’s surprisingly lightweight at just over 2 pounds, yet it’s roomy enough to fit the included 3-liter soft-molded hydration reservoir. The long list of features includes innovative comfort tech, plenty of organizational pockets and pouches, and bungee attachment points for toting tools and trekking poles.
For day hikes in less than ideal conditions, it’s hard to beat Hyperlight’s aptly named Daybreak. In rain, hail, sleet, and locust swarms, this daypack is built to take a beating thanks to a Dyneema Composite Fabric shell that’s durable and water-resistant. The 17-liter capacity might seem meager — indeed, it’s one of the smallest on this list — but multiple expandable pockets on the outside provide plenty of extra storage space. The only downside is its $200-plus price tag.
CamelBak cut its teeth making the world’s best hydration bladders for outdoor adventure lovers. The brand’s catalog has evolved to include a selection of excellent daypacks too. The CamelBak Rim Runner 22 is our go-to hydration-centric daypack. With a 22-liter cargo capacity, it’s just right for day hikes. Plus, it includes a built-in 2.5-liter Crux Reservoir for quick hydration top-ups with H20 or your favorite on-the-go drink mix.
For a no-compromises daypack that’s fast, light, and damn near bulletproof, there’s Salomon’s XA 25. With 25 liters of capacity, it’s one of the largest daypacks on this list. The exterior is cleverly designed, with compression straps and a roll-top enclosure to cinch everything down tight before heading out. Plus, it’s hydration reservoir compatible and boasts water bottle storage on the front (with two soft flasks included). To be sure, this is a technical pack for those who appreciate minimalist packing for speed hiking and tackling summits.
Kelty’s Redwing 22 is another bag that slots neatly between the design of most ultracompact daypacks and a full-fledged overnighter. This, the brand’s most popular bag, is newly redesigned with an AMP-Flow ventilated back panel for added comfort. The 22-liter capacity is bolstered by dual side pockets and a front pocket that stretches to accommodate additional gear. With sleek looks, a durable exterior, and just the right amount of cargo space, it’s a steal at less than $70.
The Flash 22 Pack is REI’s answer to $150-plus brand-name daypacks. Despite its 13-ounce weight, it boasts many of the same features as its pricier competition, including a padded back panel, hydration reservoir sleeve, and a removable sternum strap and hip belt. It’s bluesign approved, meaning it uses eco-friendly materials that help conserve the planet’s natural resources. It’s also backed by REI Co-Op’s bulletproof return policy. The best part? It’s under $60.
Sea to Summit’s Ultra-Sil Travel Day Pack is for weight-conscious hikers (and travelers) who value pounds, or the lack of them, above all else. The featherweight, 2.5-ounce pack collapses down into its own stuff sack, making it small enough to snap onto your keyring. You could also throw it into your main backpack or carry-on and forget about it until you need a little extra room. Fully unfurled, it’s good for hauling a surprisingly generous 20 liters of gear. The only downside is that it’s not the most comfortable on this list due to thin shoulder straps and the lack of a hip belt.
If you’re the sort of hiker who rarely needs more than water, car keys, a smartphone, and a fistful of energy bars for a day hike, a waist pack — we won’t dare call it a “fanny pack” — might do the trick. Patagonia’s Nine Trails 8L Waist Pack is designed to carry precisely what you need and not an ounce more. The low-profile design makes for fast, agile summit assaults either on foot or by bike. Plus, the built-in 1.5-liter HydraPak reservoir ensures you stay well hydrated along the way.
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