How to Choose a Daypack for Hiking

Looking for the perfect daypack? Camping & Hiking expert Francis Long breaks down everything there is to know when making this essential purchase.

Two women wearing Deuter AC Lite backpacks sit in front of a lake.

Photo by Deuter

There are many tricky decisions or obstacles that you might run into while on the path towards purchasing a backpack for your day hiking adventures, such as what brands to consider, how many liters it should be, the weight range, how many straps it has...just to name a few! These options can easily make the purchase seem daunting and overcomplicated, but fear not, we've created this simple flowchart to streamline the process and help you find the perfect daypack that fits your specific needs!

Like most big gear purchases, it's key to find that perfect balance between quality and budget for your daypack so the first step is...

1. Determine Your Price Range

This will almost immediately eliminate certain brands or additional features. It should be noted that brand recognition is important to many in the outdoor gear industry, and there's a good reason why certain names are routinely mentioned in this conversation (Osprey, Deuter, Black Diamond, Camelbak, Gregory all come to mind). These brands have been put to the test over the years by experienced gear enthusiasts and industry professionals and have consistently performed in their quality, durability, and functionality. While prices between these packs may vary significantly, you can't put a price on true excellence! Try thinking of your daypack purchase as a long-term investment and something you might pass down to your children or even grandchildren one day! Be prepared to spend anywhere between $50 to $200 on your new daypack.

Since the primary reason for lugging around a backpack is to have a place to securely hold your stuff, your second decision is...

2. Determine Your Storage Capacity

This will commonly be measured in liters, just like your favorite soda, and the majority of your pack's open space will be confined to the main compartment. This will help narrow down the options between a simple hydration pack (typically under 15L), ideal for short hikes and trail runs, or a full-fledged daypack that will fall anywhere between 16 liters to just under 40—talk about range! When making this decision, keep in mind what your typical day hike essentials include, such as extra layers, snacks, lunch, emergency aid, and of course water! If you usually prefer to only carry the bare minimum, then you don't need to worry about extra space or compartments. However, if you're fond of lengthy dusk-to-dawn hikes that might include overnight camping or if you're just the kind of person that likes to be prepared for any unplanned situation, then additional storage space is your friend!

Your third, and possibly most challenging, crossroads decision is...

3. Determine Which Features You Need (Or Just Want!)

Certain components and customizations can be considered "must-haves" for your hiking experience, i.e. customized torso length, padded shoulder straps, hydration bladder sleeve, a simple hip belt or padded waist belt, lightweight body construction, sternum strap, top lid opening, built-in rain cover, hiking pole loops...the list is endless! We are very lucky to be living in an age where comfort is prioritized and special features are readily available for most products, so why should your daypack be any different? The great thing about a hiking pack, versus a trail running or climbing pack, is that you have the flexibility to carry a built-out pack with extra zippers and storage without the worry of it slowing you down, and you can prioritize a more durable body fabric, even if it adds weight. Having said that, it's perfectly okay to prefer a more efficient, minimalistic, and lightweight design for your day hiking needs, and there are some really great options if you choose to go in this direction.

Now that we've covered the three crucial deciding factors, let's get into some daypack options. This is the fun part!

Gear Options

Smaller Daypacks

If your price range is around $100-$130, your ideal capacity is somewhere around 20L, and you prioritize a custom fit with convenient features but not too much added weight, then two options come to mind instantly! The Osprey Talon 22, men’s model, or Osprey Tempest 20, women’s model, and the Deuter Speed Lite 22 SL, a women’s specific design, or the Speed Lite 24, for men. These daypacks are staples in the industry and have been for some time, due to their ideal capacity and features. They come with gender-specific models, a vented back panel, a hydration sleeve, compression straps, hip belt pockets, and comparable prices. The notable difference between the two lines is the weight: the Talon/Tempest packs are around 2lbs while the Speed Lites are closer to 1.5lbs. Worried 20 liters might not be enough space? No fear! Both of these backpack lines come in larger sizes, with editions going well into the 30L range and even one that breaks the 40L barrier (Talon 44), more suitable for an overnight trip. The Talon/Tempest series offers smaller versions as well, with volumes of 11L and 9L, but I find that the price cut is too insignificant to justify the loss of storage space.

Two people stand next to each other with their backs away from the camera. They both are in Osprey backpacks and look towards a snow-dusted mountain with dark clouds above.

Hikers in Osprey daypacks. Photo by Malachi Brooks

A more tricked-out version of the Talon in the Osprey backpack-verse is the Osprey Stratos 24 / Sirrus 24. With a capacity of 24L and all the additional features you could ever want in a daypack, this just might be the ultimate daypack. Notable features include a fully suspended mesh back panel, built-in rain cover, and a seamless hip belt integration that gives you the ultimate comfort and load-free experience. One possible drawback for this pack is the weight, which is close to 3lbs. This series also includes the Stratos / Sirrus 36 versions, ideal for any hikers who are drawn to the AirSpeed Suspension system but prefer more storage space and a top-lid, who also don't mind investing more money on their gear.

The counterpart of the 24L Osprey options is Deuter’s newly improved Futura 24 SL and Futura 28. The packs come in at the same Osprey price point and include a very similar suspended back panel design with an integrated padded hip belt and included rainfly. These packs differ in that they are designed with versatility in mind in order for them to be used in urban settings, with smaller inner compartments and a key clip to keep your valuables safe and easily accessible. This series also includes packs in the 30L range, such as the Futura 32 and the Futura PRO 34.

The most streamlined, ultra-lightweight 20L daypack is probably the Black Diamond Magnum 20. This pack is ideal for hikers who commonly find themselves climbing or scrambling on the trail. Weighing in at an impressive 1lb 3oz, its super minimalistic design includes very limited zipper pockets, an extremely basic hip belt, and body material constructed from a mix of ripstop nylon and twill. With a budget-friendly price, this pack is hard to beat for any hiker who prioritizes efficiency and a trusted industry name! If you're looking for a climbing/scrambling specific pack, Black Diamond also offers the Speed 22, which has been an industry standard for many years. Cotopaxi, a newer brand on the scene, offers a super lightweight daypack called the Luzon that only weighs 10.6 oz with a capacity of 18L. With their reduced weight, don't expect anything fancy, like side water bottle pockets, vented back panels, or hip belt pockets on these packs.

Three hikers walk into the lefthand side of the image, all 3 wear AC Lite backpacks. They walk on a trail above a lake with pine-covered hills and a mountain in the background.

Hikers in the Deuter AC Lite series. Photo by Deuter

Similarly, the recently redesigned, Deuter AC Lite series cuts down on heavy material and features to offer a 21L, 22L, and 23L lightweight pack, all around 900gm. The Osprey Talon Pro 20 was designed with a similar concept in mind but carries a much steeper price stamp.

Any hikers who are prioritizing their budget but still want the full daypack experience from a high-quality trusted brand should consider the Gregory Inertia (men’s model) or Swift (women’s model) both available in 20L or 25L, or the Osprey Skimmer 20 (women’s) or Skarab 22 (men’s). Also worth mentioning is the Camelbak Rim Runner 22, a very similar pack. It should be noted that all five of these packs come with a 2.5 or 3L hydration reservoir included! That handy accessory is an additional $32-$42 if added to any of the previously mentioned packs in this article, though they are all designed to easily work in tandem with their brand's specific reservoirs.

If you can survive day hiking without a padded waist belt or a vented back panel, a couple of economical options that are worth noting are the Lowe Alpine Tensor 23 pack or the Deuter Speed Lite 20, both of which are total steals! If you're a light packer, the Deuter Speed Lite even comes in a 16L edition.

Larger Daypacks

Looping back to Step 2 from the initial daypack selection flowchart, if you require a larger capacity for longer hikes or versatility for possible overnight camping, then your ideal range is probably somewhere between 30-40 liters. The price range for this class of daypacks jumps up but the features are usually fully loaded!

Again, Osprey tops the list with their Kestrel/Kyte series, specifically the Kestrel 38 and Kyte 36. These packs have a very transitional design between hiking daypack and full-fledged trekking pack, which includes a fixed top lid that has multiple zippered pockets, sleeping pad straps, and durable construction to withstand backcountry exposure. With an average weight of 3.3lbs, these packs are not ideal for hikers who prioritize lightweight design. The Tempest 30 or the newly released Talon 36 are solid lighter-weight, more streamlined options from Osprey.

Gregory offers a similar design with their Zulu 35 pack which features the innovative FreeFloat ventilated suspension system that mirrors the natural movements of your body! This pack offers most of the other standard comfort features and for only 2.8 lbs.

Two people hike uphill. The woman in the foreground wears an Osprey backpack and scrambles up the rocks. A dog stands and watches from above.

Photo by Holly Mandarich

Final Thoughts

Luckily, even with so many great daypack options out there, it's hard to go wrong! If you’re new to hiking, it might be helpful to rent or borrow a daypack from a friend just so you can get a feel for how they function and what works or doesn’t work for your specific body and hiking style—let your individual experiences on the trail make the decision for you! However, if and when you have further questions or just want some simple advice based on personal experiences out on the trail, do not hesitate to contact a Camping & Hiking expert on Curated!

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Written By
Francis Long
Francis Long
Camping & Hiking Expert
Hi, I'm Francis! I was born and raised in northern Louisiana but fortunately had the opportunity to spend almost every Summer of my life in either the Blue Ridge Mountains of Western North Carolina or the Teton Mountain Range in Jackson Hole, WY. Through the years and many adventures, I have develop...
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