What Is A Daypack?

A daypack is a small backpack designed to carry your essential gear for a day’s planned activities.

The size of daypacks varies quite significantly, depending on the activity you intend to undertake. The more rigorous the activity, then smaller backpacks tend to be more suitable, particularly if your are running or cycling etc.

Whilst we mainly focus on daypacks for use while hiking, your daypack can be utilised for any number of activities.

What Size Is A Daypack?

Daypack sizes (capacity – normally measured in liters) varies greatly. Generally they range from the high teens (15+ liters) all the way up to almost 50 liters.

What Size Daypack Do I Need?

This should be your first consideration when selecting a daypack for hiking or your other outdoor activities.

To determine what size you need, run through the gear that you plan to carry. In fact it is probably a good idea to get the gear out that you intend to take, this will give you a very close estimate for the size of daypack that you will need.

Remember that you should ideally carry the following when day hiking.

  • GPS or your smartphone (Navigation)
  • Additional clothing layers (Wind, rain protection, warmth)
  • Torch
  • Lighter or matches
  • Snacks
  • Water (maybe a hydration pack in your backpack)
  • Sunscreen and hat
  • First aid kit (Basic)
  • Knife or multi-tool

Can the pack accommodate a rain jacket, another layer of clothes? How long is your trip and will it carry enough snacks and water?

What Capacity Daypack Do I Need?

Following are some considerations for when looking at daypack capacity:

Less than 10 liters

These small packs are mainly designed for ultra lightweight pursuits like running, road biking and very short hikes.

The majority of this size daypack is that they are normally hydration packs as well, making them ideal for use during exercise.

Their designs tend to be compact and low-profile providing space for a handful of essentials.

11 to 20 liters

These compact packs are more at the hiking, mountain biking, running or travel market.

Their slightly larger capacity allows you carry an extra layer, food and essentials for an easy day hiking and maybe even some light wet weather gear such as a rain jacket in case of light showers. Some daypacks in this range feature extra pockets allowing you to organize your gear into easily accessed areas.

21-35 liters

The majority of hiking and travel daypacks are in the 20-35 liter capacity range. These are proving to be very popular as they are suitable for so many uses.

Many people use this size daypack daily for commuting and for work.

These backpacks allow enough room to easily hold food, clothing, with some room for some luxuries, like a camera or a book.

36-50 liters

These packs represent the top end of the daypack range and are ideal for trips that require additional clothing and gear. Typically climbing, mountaineering or non-summer hiking require larger packs to carry enough warm clothing for changes in conditions. Often, parents who need to carry clothing and gear for their kids will choose one of these packs.

Some 36-50 liter daypacks can be used for overnights if you’ve invested in ultralight, compact gear.

Which is better top or front access for a daypack?

The majority of daypacks are designed with top loading access. When using a top access daypack items need to be placed into the backpack in the correct order to allow easy access during your hiking trip. Items that you don’t need until the end of the day go in first into the bottom of the pack.

Some designs have an extendable top that allows you to pack a bit more in then would otherwise be the case.


Front or ‘panel’ access backpacks offer easy access to the main storage compartment via a U or C-shaped zipper. When the zipper is fully opened, the front of the backpack opens up like a flap. This makes it easy to load and easy access when you’re searching for something.

They’re good for light hiking and travel.

Some daypacks are designed to allow access through the bottom of the backpack, into the interior in addition to the usual top or front opening access. This is handy for accessing gear or clothing at the bottom of your pack without having to take everything out first.


A handful of daypacks are even designed with a side access-point to the interior. Again this is in addition to top or front access. Side access just makes it that little bit easier getting to gear and clothing packed deep inside your pack.

Does my daypack need a frame?

Internal frame:
Daypacks with an internal frame are designed to help support the weight you’re carrying. Some packs achieve this by the use of plastic frame-sheets that add an internal lightweight structure. Others use aluminium rods to support the load.

The more substantial the frame, the more weight the pack can typically handle, however the internal framework does add up to additional weight.


Frameless packs tend to be lightweight and compact, and they do great job of molding to the shape of your back. An added benefit of many of these frameless backpacks is that they themselves can be folded up and stowed away easily.

However, their suppleness and lack of internal frame doesn’t allow them to support weight as well. This means the frameless packs are more suited to carrying lighter loads.

Whilst hiking; like undertaking an moderate exercise it is important to ensure that you maintain adequate fluid intake. Whilst the volume of water intake required varies in proportion to the ambient temperature and the intensity of the exercise you undertake. A day’s hiking should see you start out with 2-4 litres of water to remain adequately hydrated.

This is where a hydration pack becomes handy. Rather than carrying a couple of bottles of water (that become uncomfortable) in your pack, you can easily carry a hydration pack that moulds to your body.

The majority of modern daypacks have an internal sleeve that allows you to insert a hydration reservoir. Hydration reservoirs are normally sold as a separate item.

Some daypacks include a reservoir and are typically sold as a “hydration pack”.

How To Get A Daypack That Fits Correctly?

The correct hiking pack fit should be:

  • A size appropriate for your torso length (not your overall height)
  • A comfortably snug grip on your hips

You can get a friend or your partner to help you find your torso and hip size.


Many daypacks are available in multiple sizes, designed to fit a range of torso lengths. Torso length is measured from the C7 vertebrae (at the base of your neck) down to the top of your illiac crest (level with the top of your hips).

The following table shows the approximate backpack size for your torso length.

Some packs feature an adjustable torso that lets you fine-tune the fit. If you’ve struggled to find a pack that fits you correctly, consider purchasing one with an adjustable torso.

Waist size: 

Hip-belts on modern daypacks are designed to be adjustable to fit a wide range of hip sizes, from mid-20 inch to mid-40 inch waists.

Women-specific backpacks:

Female torsos are generally shorter than men and therefore female backpacks tend to be shorter than men’s or unisex packs.  Women’s packs often work best for young hikers, too.

Additional Backpack Fitting Adjustments

Load Lifter Straps: 

Some larger daypacks include load lifter straps. These are stitched into the top of the shoulder straps, and they connect to the top of the pack frame. These straps ensure that the backpack load is positioned correctly and doesn’t sag.

Sternum Strap: 

Many backpack come fitted with a sternum strap. This strap connects between your shoulder straps and ensures that your backpack remains properly positioned in the centre of your back. The sternum strap keeps your backpack properly positioned even when you stumble or become off balance.

Suspended mesh back panel: 

Many modern daypacks have much improved ventilation. This is achieved by the use of a mesh panel that is designed to remain clear of you back, allowing the air to move freely. This allows a steady flow of air to combat the feeling that you are wearing a warm sweater that is collecting sweat.

Many of new hiking backpacks use a tension system in the back panel design. This is a rigid mesh panel that sits against the back and a frame that pushes the load slightly away from the back, leaving airspace between.


Rain-covers are designed to cater for either expected or even unexpected rain showers during your days outing.
These will cover the pack body, helping ensure that its contents will remain dry. Some packs come fitted with a rain-cover included usually stowed in a small dedicated pocket.

Sleeping bag compartment: 

Some larger daypacks have zippered access for a sleeping bag compartment at the bottom of the pack. Whilst you will not normally carry your sleeping bag on a day trip, it can still be used to hold other light, compressible gear that you’d like easy access to.

Consider Your Activities Before Purchasing a Pack

A daypack is an essential piece of gear if you are going to enjoy outdoor activities. A good day hiking pack allows you to easily carry the additional pieces or gear for your day out. Some daypacks are tailor-made for specific uses.

Selecting a daypack requires that you determine your primary purpose for the pack to ensure that you select one suitable for your needs. If you anticipate undertaking a variety of activities, you may need to select a more multi-purpose pack.


Selecting a pack for hiking look for one that can carry everything you need for a day hike (water, extra layers of clothing, first aid kit, etc.). It also must maintain a level of comfort and support.

Typically, hiking packs will range in capacity of around 15 to 30 liters. Look for compartments for smaller items (phone, maps, compass), a hydration compartment, and some side pockets for additional pieces of gear.

If are looking to complete longer treks in your day’s hiking then look for a pack that is super comfortable to wear, paying extra attention to cushioning and ventilation.


Climbers tend to look for for smaller packs around 12 to 20-liters that would allow you the mobility required to carry with you on multi-pitch routes.

However, if you need to trek to get to the base of the climb you may be looking for a slightly larger pack that will carry your gear. Either way, climbers tend to look for a backpack that has a more narrow profile.

Attention should be paid to comfort and consider a pack that has plenty of structure to handle heavier loads. Climbing packs may also have additional features such as attachments to quickly clip your gear to the outside of the pack.

Alpine and Ski Touring

Packs for skiing tend to be on the larger side, 20 to 40-liters. Look for a pack with, a smooth and narrow profile, a sternum strap and hip belt are essential. Packs suited to this type of activity will have room to stow your ice axe, and sometimes compartments for crampons, a shovel, and a probe.

If you are looking for a ski touring pack, look for the ability to attach your skis to the pack.

Trail Running and Adventure Racing

Typically, these types of packs run on the small side (25-liters or less) and are really for essentials only.

Around Town, Commuting, and Travel

All of the daypacks we tested can fit into this category. Some of them, however, definitely work better than others for around town use. Ideally, an around town pack will have a compartment to fit a laptop.

Look for a few other organizational compartments for writing utensils etc. A padded back panel is also helpful in keeping stuff from poking your back. You may even want some cycling specific features, such as a bungee helmet clip and blinker attachment.

How to Choose a Daypack

Here are the main factors to consider when selecting your pack.

  • Capacity
  • Ventilated Back Panels
  • Weight vs. Features
  • Top-Loader vs. Panel-Loader
  • Rain Cover

Other Uses For Daypacks

The primary appeal lies in the fact that they are so versatile. Few other products can transition smoothly from the outdoors to office.

These are the types of packs that can go with you anywhere, from a short shady hike to an afternoon reading a book on the beach, to a stroll to the grocery store. We evaluated these packs for their usefulness on day hikes. There are several other reasons you may want to consider a daypack.

Ultralight Backpacking

Backpacking gear is becoming lighter and more compact, and the trend is to take less gear in a minimalist pursuit. If you carry ultralight sleeping bags and ultralight tents, you may find that you you can go for a 3-4 day trek with just a larger daypack.

Carry-On Airline Baggage

Larger daypacks can substitute for your carry-on luggage and are durable enough to slide under a seat.