the author in a pink shell with a Deuter daypack hiking along a trail
Photo credit: Mary Murphy.

The Best Daypacks of 2021

Going on a hike, bike ride, or simply commuting? You’ll need a daypack to carry all your gear (or at the very least, snacks). Check out our review for the best daypacks of 2021.

Daypacks are a simple piece of gear, but it can be tricky to find the right one based on style, fit, and your needs. We’ve broken down the best daypacks into a few different categories to help you choose.

What I love most about all of these best daypacks is the versatility. Grab one when taking your dog on a walk, heading into the office or the classroom, or hitting the mountains for a day hike, bike ride, and more. The trick is to find one that hits these four criteria: comfort, fit, included features, and ideal price.

For review purposes, we considered and tested the best small backpacks that hold between 14 L and 30 L. To choose the best of the best, we ranked each pack on quality, feedback from our testing, the volume of positive reviews across four major retail platforms and, lastly, price.

comparing packs in testing
A sampling of daypacks we tested, running from 16-22 L. Photo credit: Mary Murphy

We didn’t include lumbar packs in this list. If you’re looking for something really small, check out our article on the best fanny packs. And if you’re looking for a pack with more volume, check out our best backpacking packs. Otherwise, read on for our best daypack selections.

The Best Daypacks of 2021

Best Overall: Deuter Speed Lite 16

deuter speedlite 16 pack

This daypack ($65) exceeded our expectations in testing, mainly because of its versatility. It has a lot of simple features — a main compartment, two mesh side pockets, a sternum strap, and an interior hydration bladder (or laptop) sleeve — and each one really delivered.

The main compartment is spacious yet compact (so your items don’t get lost in the void). Plus, the top zippered pocket provides quick access to a wallet or keys, and the pack worked well across a variety of activities. We took this pack hiking, biking, commuting, and more.

We also found the pack to be nice and durable after over a month of testing — no snags or zipper issues, and the nylon and PU-coated exterior held up in unexpected light rain. New for 2021, the 16L size ($65) also nicely complements Deuter’s existing 12L, 20L, and 24L daypack sizes.

This pack already has over 60 5-star reviews, with an average rating of over 4.75 stars.

Check Price at Amazon

Runner-Up: Osprey Daylite Pack

daylite pack

This pack is not only a popular and trusted option but also comes with a great price tag. The Daylite pack ($60) has a suspension frame, a durable 210-denier ripstop nylon exterior, and a large main compartment.

The pack comes in a variety of colors and has thoughtful features like an emergency whistle built into the sternum buckle, as well as compression straps on the side to secure water bottles or extra gear when your pack is on the fuller side. The mesh back panel design is also breathable.

While this 13L pack is on the smaller side, it can pack in more than you think and is plenty big enough to carry an extra layer, water, and a first-aid kit — the minimal day hiking basics.

Osprey’s classic go-to Daylite Pack has rustled up over 1,400 positive reviews with an average rating of 4.6 stars.

Check Price at REICheck Price at Backcountry

Best Budget: REI Co-op Flash 18

REI Co-op Flash 18 Pack

This pack may not have exterior pockets, but it’s got just about everything else. The REI Flash 18 pack weighs just 9 ounces and has a drawcord top closure, detachable sternum and hip straps, a hydration reservoir compartment, and a daisy chain gear loop. It’s made with recycled materials and ripstop nylon.

This Flash 18 ($40) offers great quality for the price and is a great “town-to-trail” option. There’s no bulky padding or internal frame, which helps keep the weight down and makes it another fairly packable option.

This pack also has an impressive 4.9-star rating on REI.com.

Check Price at REI

Best Commuter: Cotopaxi Luzon Del Dia Pack

Cotopaxi Luzon Del Dia backpack

This simple and durable no-frills pack is one of our favorites factoring in comfort, price, and style. The Luzon 18L pack ($55) is comfortable to wear when walking and biking, and it also works as a great travel pack with one main compartment (no loose pockets or sleeves).

Cotopaxi makes the pack with a ripstop nylon shell fabric, a top-loading drawstring compartment, an adjustable sternum strap, and mesh shoulder straps.

On top of all the physical features, each Luzon pack is 100% unique, as they’re made from cuts of repurposed fabric. We like that the pack is on the more slender side but doesn’t get too chunky when carrying a variety of items.

In addition to this pack, Cotopaxi uses its scrap fabric to make other gear items (like its Teca windbreaker).

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Most Technical: Black Diamond Trail Zip 18

BD Trail Zip 18

In most outdoor pursuits, you want to avoid “danglers,” or items hanging from your body or pack. Loose straps can get caught up in bike chains or chairlifts, and items clipped or swinging from a backpack can throw off your balance. Black Diamond’s newest Trail Zip pack ($70) is a sleek, “everything-is-integrated” option.

There are no side pockets — instead, store your water in a bladder with hydration hose access. In place of side pockets, there are two sleeves designed to store BD’s Z poles (or any other folding trekking poles that fit), meaning you won’t have to rig them to the pack’s exterior.

The Trail Zip 18 also has an integrated visible headlamp stash pocket. Plus, four connection loops along the back panel attach to larger packs when on longer multiday missions.

It’s super durable and holds a lot more than you think — from extra layers for a friend to your gear for the crag. The pack’s straps are also tailored nicely to fit a variety of body types — not too narrow and not too wide around the shoulders.

If you frequently find yourself without pockets (and you like a pack with lots of them), this probably isn’t the pack for you. But if you pack smart and have your system dialed, this pack is a great choice.

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Most Packable: Matador Freerain24 Packable Daypack

matador freerain 24 pack

“Packable” is in the name, and for good reason. We’ve taken this pack snowshoeing, running, hiking, to and from the office, and more. The waterproof exterior and roll-top closure are especially great if you get caught in rainy or snowy weather — all your layers and pack contents will stay dry.

It’s also great for travel or impromptu adventures. Packed down into its tiny pocket sleeve, you can stash this bag just about anywhere.

Matador has achieved the near-impossible with this pack — offering storage for 24 L of gear while packing down to just 5 x 3 inches and weighing only 6.6 ounces.

Several of our editors have used the Matador Freerain24 pack ($65), and all had positive feedback. The only con we had was from our female tester: the shape of the wider mesh shoulder straps makes it harder to find the right fit across the chest compared to other packs. Due to this, the straps aren’t as comfortable. Still, its packability won us over.

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Best Women’s Specific: Osprey Women’s Tempest

tempest 20 women's day pack in dark purple

Osprey’s Tempest 20 ($130), a sister to the Osprey Talon (men’s) pack, won our best pick for women’s-specific pack. This pack has close to a perfect 5-star title across multiple retailer platforms, thanks to features like its breathable back panel, lumbar support and padded hip belt, and accurate (and adjustable!) fit around the torso and hips.

Osprey equipped this women’s pack with a BioStretch hip belt (seamless fabric) and wrapping harness, allowing both to be adjustable. There’s also an adjustable sternum strap to fit different size chests.

On top of the perks of a women’s fit, testers also really like this pack’s stretch mesh pocket on the shoulder strap and good-size hip belt pockets. Trekking pole and bike helmet attachment points (plus other loops and pockets for stashing a variety of gear), as well as an external hydration bladder compartment (works with a 2L or 3L bladder), round out this pack and make it a fantastic do-all option.

This year, the Tempest also comes in a new size (24L), if you’re looking for a bit more room. We are in the process of testing, but assume we’ll like it just the same.

Check Price at REICheck Price at Backcountry

Best of the Rest

There are hundreds of daypacks out there. While the ones below didn’t win overall, they are still highly rated and great-quality packs. Read more below on why we gave these packs a mention.

Kelty Redwing 22 Daypack

kelty redwing 22L pack in black

Marketed for commuting and travel, the Kelty Redwing 22 is a perfect size pack for a variety of activities. We like ours for commuting to the office but have also used it for hiking and travel. It holds up great in adverse weather and even winter hiking.

The Kelty Redwing 22 ($69) has a large external mesh drop pocket, great for stuffing a layer or storing something lightweight like a pair of sunglasses or a hat. It has two zippered side water bottle pockets (again, versatile and can hold many things).

There’s an internal laptop or tablet sleeve and a good size zippered pocket on the top of the pack too. Overall, we found it capable of toting lots of different gear, versatile, and comfortable.

A note from our tester: “I used to have an older model Kelty Redtail 27L, which I used frequently but didn’t totally love. The pocket design felt off, and the overall shape didn’t do it for me. However, this Redwing pack blew me away — it’s super functional and a pretty great price point. The enclosed side pockets are also a cool (and still accessible) touch.”

This just goes to show not all packs will be everyone’s favorite, and it’s worthwhile to shop around within a brand’s daypack line.

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The North Face Chimera 18 Backpack — Men’s & Women’s

the north face chimera 18

The North Face’s Chimera 18 was also a frontrunner for us in our testing. The Chimera is in the middle of the pack in terms of volume, meaning it’s great for quick dog walks all the way up to 5-hour hikes.

The pack has a cinch compression system, two side water bottle pockets, and mesh stash pockets on the straps. It’s also a good price point for those who want a high-quality pack with lots of on-trail functionality.

The North Face Chimera 18 ($100) has nearly all 5-star reviews across the board. Reviewers especially love it for hiking and commuting.

Check Men’s Price at BackcountryCheck Women’s Price at Backcountry

Fjallraven Kanken

Fjallraven Kanken 16L backpack

The undisputed champ of the back-to-school season is Fjallraven’s on-trend Kanken. A favorite among youngsters and college kids alike, the Kanken ($80) comes in a bajillion colors — 39, to be exact.

It’s durable, stylish, and will last through many schoolyard tussles. The Vinylon fabric withstands dirt and repels water. It also has a removable seat cushion, extra pockets for stashing, and is designed for ergonomic correction.

Additionally, the logo is reflective, adding an extra layer of safety for kids who might have to travel at dusk or dawn.

Check Price at REICheck Price at Backcountry

Patagonia Nine Trails 18L — Women’s

Patagonia Nine Trails 18L

More of a technical daypack, the Nine Trails pack ($129) made it on our list because of its great design and construction.

The Nine Trails 18L has a lot of great features, like a hip belt and hip belt pocket, compression straps, an exterior stretch compartment, and padded shoulder straps. This pack is a great option if you want something for more technical adventures like climbing 14ers or quick overnights in the backcountry.

Reviewers love the durable CORDURA ripstop nylon material, the capacity to carry lots of gear, and the breathable back panel. The pack is also available in two sizes based on torso length.

While the pack has high ratings, some reviewers have noted they don’t like the width, padding, or fit of the shoulder straps.

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Mystery Ranch Market Pack

Mystery Ranch Market Bag

Available in two sizes and multiple colors, Mystery Ranch’s Market Pack ($69) is a favorite. We’ve day hiked, commuted, and grocery shopped with the Market on our back, and it’s outlasted a pile of other packs. The simplicity of a zip-top that you can leave open allows for ease of access and stuff-ability.

Made of textured polyester with YKK zippers and a water-resistant liner of 210-denier high-density nylon, it features the burliness of Mystery Ranch’s mountain line while taking on the slick appearance of a city-worthy pack. And it’s one of the more affordable packs on the list.

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Decathlon Quechua Nature Hiking Backpack

decathlong quechua backpack

A rival for our best budget option, this pack offers 20 L of storage for just $13. This pack isn’t going to last forever and isn’t waterproof, but it is a great daily knockaround option.

Decathlon made this pack with polyester and polyurethane. And despite the price, the Nature Hiking backpack still has features like adjustable straps and a chest strap.

If you don’t hike very often and want something with some versatility for off-trail adventures, check out this option.

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Gregory Citro and Juno 30L Hydration Packs

citro H2O packs

This pack is another popular option for day trips, whether you’re running, hiking, or biking. The Gregory Citro (men’s) and Juno (women’s fit) 30L packs ($150) focus on hydration design and ease of access to gear.

This pack made it on our list because Gregory has tons of iterations of hydration packs, but this one stood out in our testing. It’s compact and has great features like a ventilated back panel and magnetic bite valve attachment for properly storing that hydration hose out of the way.

This pack usually retails for $150 (keep in mind it comes with a 3L bladder), but it’s on sale now for $90. Gregory’s Citro and Juno packs also come in a larger 24L size.

Check Men’s Price at REICheck Women’s Price at REI

Osprey Talon 22

osprey talon 22

Osprey’s Talon 22 is pricey at $130, but its durability and light weight might be worth it — this pack has over 670 positive reviews with an average rating of 4.6 stars. Consumers rave about this pack’s nearly perfect fit and performance across a variety of terrain. Its volume is also on the upper end, with a capacity to store 22 L of gear.

We added this pack to the list because of its lightweight construction, an abundance of pockets (including the harness strap stash pocket), and high volume of reviews.

You should definitely consider this pack if you’re looking for something more sport-specific like biking or climbing — the pack has a helmet attachment point as well as trekking pole and ice loop attachments.

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Arc’teryx Granville 16 Backpack

Arc'teryx Granville 16 zip backpack

You’re probably wondering why a 16L pack that’s $219 made it on our list. Arc’teryx designed and streamlined the Granville 16 for urban-to-outdoor travel.

The pack is also one of the few we’ve seen that can stand up to really harsh weather — it’s got a laminated, waterproof construction with taped seams as well as a watertight zipper on the main compartment, so it’s really durable.

The interior has a padded laptop sleeve and a zippered organizer pocket with a key clip. It’s also really packable.

This is definitely a nice pack that offers lots of versatility for shorter daily pursuits, but it’s pricey. If you’re looking for a similar-sized daypack with a lower price point, check out the Arc’teryx Index 15, for a sweet $50.

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Buyer’s Guide: How to Choose a Daypack

Whether you’re choosing a pack to take you from work to the mountains or a daypack that can fill one specific use, let’s break down the best way to choose the right daypack for you.

Pack Size

One of the most important items on the trail is your pack — it’s how you’ll carry all your gear and support yourself on the trail. For this review, we included daypacks from 12 L to 30 L, but that’s a huge range.

Consider what gear you’ll want to carry: the basics like water, a first-aid kit, wind/rain layer, snacks, glasses, and a cellphone. You might also carry extras like your kids’ layers, a doggie bowl, sun hat or sunscreen, camera, trekking poles, and water reservoir.

5 different sized and colored daypacks leaning against an oak tree trailside
Different sized daypacks in testing on the trails. Photo credit: Mary Murphy

You’ll only have space for the essential items with an 11-13L pack, but these are usually a little more versatile for daily use. This is a good size if you’re commuting or going on a shorter hike or bike ride.

Meanwhile, a daypack around 20-30L allows you to bring more water for longer trips in hotter environments or extra food and heavier layers if it’s spring or fall.

Larger packs also have better and more features if you’re traveling in alpine terrain — like headlamp pockets, trekking pole sleeves, ice axe loops, a hip belt, and a helmet compartment or exterior stretch pocket. Packs of this size are also better for quick overnights and multi-activity trips like hiking and climbing or short-term travel.

Apart from the volume, or carrying capacity, of a pack, there’s also pack sizing for your body. Daypacks are usually one size, as they’re meant to be adjustable and versatile yet streamlined. We had multiple testers of different body types try on these daypacks for comparison.

Any good daypack will have adjustable straps that help with fit. And even though they are day packs, many have sternum straps or hip belts as well.

If a pack does come in multiple sizes (usually S/M or M/L size ranges or plus or tall sizes), make sure to check the brand’s size chart. Measure your torso or back length and find a pack that will fit your size and height. Things to look for: packs with sternum straps or a removable hip strap.

Features, Pockets, and Closures

a red daypack with a first aid kit, layer, water bottle, and wallet visible
A pack with enough room for the 10 essentials. Photo credit: Mary Murphy

What features does the pack offer? Look for how many pockets the pack has or if it has internal pockets or compartments. These features are great to have when it comes to organizing your gear. Is there an exterior pocket? Are there side pockets?

Things to look for: My first thought when I examine a new pack in testing is to look for where I’ll store my water source, whether that’s a reservoir or bottle. Also, check to make sure the pack’s internal sleeve will fit your reservoir (which can run anywhere between 0.75 L and 3 L).

The second thing I check is the back panel. Almost all the packs that made it on our list have ventilated mesh or breathable back panels — this is a really great feature for almost all adventures.

Also, are any exterior pockets accessible without taking off the pack? Are there any compression straps? Picture or, even better, lay out your gear and visualize if your chosen pack will work for you.

Again, all of the daypacks on our list are tried and tested, and they’ll work for most outdoor activities. That being said, if you want a pack to put through the paces year after year, consider one with a higher-denier material (like tight-weaved polyamide, polyester, or ripstop nylon). Deniers from 100 to 200 are a great sign a pack will be durable in the long run.

Hydration Compatibility

the author wearing a GearJunkie t-shirt, reaching for her hydration tube
Photo credit: Mary Murphy

Hydration-oriented packs will have separate compartments for bladders, sometimes with insulated sleeves or hooks for securing a bladder, and routing for a hydration tube. Some packs, like Gregory’s H20 Series, have magnetic or quick clip attachments for easy sippin’ on the go.

You’ll want to check the sizing of your daypack with the size of your bladder. For example, a large 3L bladder might not fit in a 16L pack. See what the brand recommends and check the sizing.

Waterproofness

Do you live in a climate where there’s lots of rain? Are you looking for a daypack that’s more durable and can stand up to travel and use in different places? Check the waterproofing on the pack.

Look for a DWR coating, polyamide, or PU abrasion resistance coating (these packs will be more durable), taped seams, and waterproof or sealed zippers.

Don’t forget to check the quality of the zippers and zipper pulls as well as the overall construction of the pack. Also, check the material on the pack bottom for durability.

Women’s-Specific Daypacks

Women are built differently than men. Women’s packs tend to have a shorter torso length, narrower shoulder width straps, and different hip measurements to reflect that. For some, having a women’s pack makes all the difference.

Be sure to check to see if a brand offers a pack series in men’s/women’s specific, and see which measurements or size offerings will best fit you.

FAQ

What Is the Best Daypack?

The best daypack is hard to define because the sizing will vary based on your needs. Some days, I’ll reach for my 16L Deuter. On other days, I might need a 24-30L depending on the activity.

That being said, the Deuter Speed Lites, Cotopaxi Luzon, and Osprey Talon/Tempest packs were some top staff favorites.

What Size Pack Is Good for Day Hiking?

As we mentioned in the intro, you’ll want a 15-30L daypack for hiking. Any larger, and it will be a heavier load to carry; any smaller, and you won’t have room for the ten essentials.

Based on experience and what’s on the market, 20-24L packs tend to be the most popular choices.

What Should Be in a Daypack for Hiking?

Great question — we’ve got an article on this exact topic, with a handy, comprehensive list you can even print out!

But you can expect to always start with the basics: extra layers or a rain layer (depending on the season), water, food, a small first aid kit, and sun protection.

What Should I Look for When Buying a Hiking Daypack?

For the daypack itself, look for durable — maybe even water-resistant — fabric, a breathable back panel, straps or loops for securing gear, and a good mix of internal and external pockets.

Other features that are great to have on a daypack are a hip belt, sternum strap, key clip, hydration sleeve, and attachment points for trekking poles.

Now that you have all the tools you need to choose the right pack, get out there and enjoy the outdoors!


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