Updated September 2017
This fall we added in our favorite fanny pack as a daypack alternative: the Osprey Talon 6. Waist packs are not for everyone, but they can offer a much more liberating hiking experience. They also just encourage you to take less stuff (which we think is always a good thing). We also add in our favorite option for everyday use and travel: the Patagonia Arbor. We have taken this around the world and still use it more than any other pack. It's full review is in our laptop backpack roundup. which offers some great daypack alternatives.
Best Overall Daypack
Osprey Talon 22
Tons of features
Separate hydration compartment
Small side mesh pockets
The Talon 22
keeps evolving, and we love all changes and upgrades. It's lighter, more comfortable and more breathable than last years model. It remains firmly at the top of our ratings. No matter what activity we embarked on, this pack remained comfortable and well ventilated along the shoulders, waist, and back. If you're looking for a smaller option that moves with you during multiple sports, travel, and commuting around town, the Talon 22
is an awesome choice. If you're looking for a larger pack, check out the Talon 33
Read full review: Osprey Talon 22
Best Bang for the Buck
REI Co-op Flash 18
Difficult access during activities
Thin waist belt and shoulder straps
Offering plenty features and broad versatility, but at half the price of all other contenders, is a combo we love. The minimalist REI Co-op Flash 18
is an ideal companion on multi-pitch climbs, doubles as a stuff sack inside your larger pack while still being useful for your summit bid, or can be used as your gym bag. It has a simple, top-loading design and is the lightest pack tested, weighing only 10 ounces. This also comes in the larger Flash 22
. It's sibling, the Stuff Travel Daypack is our favorite compressible travel pack
Read full review: REI Co-op Flash 18
Top Pick Award for Balance of Low Weight and Features
Deuter Speed Lite 20
Many lashing options
Thin waist belt
Weak front pocket
The Deuter Speed Lite 20
wins our Top Pick award for being simple with a comfortable carry. In contrast to our feature-filled Editors' Choice winner, the Osprey Talon 22, the Speed Lite has minimal but useful features. For the fast-and-light hiker, simplicity and weight are preferable to heavily featured packs. The Speed Lite is easy to compress due to compression straps, and it can be stowed in a larger backpack or loaded up with items for a day hike. It's not too heavy or complicated, yet still provides enough carry and lashing options to be useful on a longer hike. The Speed Lite also comes in two smaller sizes; check out the Speed Lite 10
and the Speed Lite 15
Read full review: Deuter Speed Lite 20
Best Fanny Pack / Waist Pack
Many lashing options
Uncomfortable when fully loaded
Want a more free feeling when hiking? If you don't carry much stuff and want unrestricted upper body movement, the Talon 6
is your best bet. It's our favorite waist pack (or lumbar pack) for day hikes. It has just enough capacity for some snacks and hiking essentials. There are numerous compression straps to get the load tight and lash on a rain jacket. Just keep in mind this pack is small and won't fit a larger camera or too many extra layers. Also, like all waist packs, when fully loaded they can be uncomfortable and put a strain on your lower back, especially the first few times you use it. The Talon 6
is expensive and there are some great daypack options for half the price. That said, waist packs can deliver a much more liberating hiking feeling, and they encourage you to travel with less extra stuff. If you're going to trade your daypack for a waist pack, the Talon 6
is the best option.
Timeless Design for Everyday Use and Travel
Poor breathable on back panel
After testing over 100 backpacks over nearly a decade, the Arbor
is still the one we use the most on a day to day basis and when traveling. This is surprising as the Arbor has never scored that high and has some drawbacks like poor back breathability and very rudimentary straps. But what the Arbor does have is a timeless design that is both stylish and has all the features you need with no extras. It has just enough pockets and a sleeve that fits a 15-inch laptop. After many years and many trips through the washer, the pack still looks great. When fully loaded, we use it as our carry-on when flying and it fits in the smaller overhead bins of regional aircraft. If you fill it halfway and cinch it down, it can count as a personal item. Is it worth $100 when higher performing pack cost half? In our case, since we have now used it for 1000 plus days and 50+ flights, the answer is "Yes!"
Read full review: Patagonia Arbor
Analysis and Test Results
Throughout the three-month testing process, we donned these packs in a wide range of activities and uses. Our lead author devised tests and scoring metrics to push the products to their limits and assess the on a level playing field. The key areas of performance were Weight, Comfort, Versatility, Durability, and Ease of Use/Organization. The above table displays the overall score tally, while the text below explains how we tested the models in each metric and highlights the top performers.
From left to right: Osprey Daylite, REI Flash 18, Deuter Speed Lite, Arc'Teryx Cierzo 18, Osprey Talon, Osprey Stratos, Gregory Salvo 24, Granite Gear Virga 26.
The greatest trade-off for a tricked out pack is the added weight. This year, we tested several lightweight packs. The REI Co-op Flash, Arc'teryx Cierzo 18
, Osprey Daylite, and Granite Gear Virga
are all super lightweight. These are great for short hikes, but can work for longer hikes and heavier loads if you are a fastidious packer.
Make your pack more comfortable and take a seat
A lot of these packs save weight by reducing material in the back panel. One solution is to pack carefully. For example, fold up a layer into a shape that covers key areas on the back. Another option takes a little more time but is worth it in the long run: cut out a section of Ridge Rest or foam pad to the dimensions of the pack panel. The foam is very light and protective. It also doubles as a great butt pad when taking a break or hanging around camp.
The heaviest pack tested was the Osprey Stratos 26
(39.5oz), mostly due to its highly ventilated aluminum frame system, followed by the Gregory Salvo
(38.4oz). Two of our award winners were lightweight: the Flash 18
(10oz) and Deuter Speed Lite
As you can see, the pack is frameless and has a small hip belt. If you pack it with rigid objects like climbing cams, care must be taken that they don't press into your back! This sack packs the best with soft items.
The comfort of a pack relies on adjustability, load carrying ability, and ventilation. Our favorite, the Osprey Talon
, is the only pack with a fully cushioned hip belt and load lifters, both of which add comfort. As far as adjustability goes, the Osprey Talon
is the easiest and most adjustable option out of the packs tested. You can simply un-Velcro the straps, move them where you want them, and stick them back on, allowing it to fit just about anyone.
The Salvo is the most comfortable pack we tested! The airflow back panel and excellent hip belt proved supportive and breathable.
is the only pack tested that offers different frame sizes (S/M and M/L), so it is important to accurately measure your torso before purchasing. For a full explanation on fit and measurements, check out the fit section in our Buying Advice
As you can see, the straps on the REI Flash are much wider than the Cierzo that subsequently has more rigid straps. These straps tended to pinch. Also notice, that the back distance from the waist belt to the top shoulder strap is a couple inches shorter on the Cierzo.
For load carrying, the Arc'teryx Cierzo 18
is the least comfortable, with minimal padding and support, while the Gregory Salvo is the most supportive.
The Osprey Stratos (left) and the Gregory Salvo (right) both have air flow back panels. As you can see, the Stratos takes up much more internal volume and allows a lot more air through. The Salvo is a good balance between airflow and retaining internal storage capacity.
The Talon, Stratos, and Salvo have back panels designed to allow for airflow, which is more comfortable while hiking in warm weather. The Deuter Speed Lite
has padded, meshy back panels that are breathable and still protect objects from jabbing you in the back.
The Osprey Daylite was the perfect size for short day hikes in Haiti.
Though most of the products reviewed are designed for hiking-specific pursuits, equipped with some handy features like trekking pole attachments, a few could also double as a briefcase or school tote.
Unlike a climbing- or snow-sports-specific backpack, a day-specific pack is more versatile and can be used for travel, summiting mountains, and carrying your laptop to your favorite coffee shop. Many of these packs don't have a laptop sleeve but will still work. For a pack designed for a laptop and travel (but often not intended for hiking) see our laptop backpack review.
Though on the smaller side, the Deuter Speed Lite comfortably held skis either on the back or in A-Frame configuration.
We found that the Osprey Talon performed best for the most athletic activities, easily crossing-over between biking, hiking, and peak bagging. The Gregory Salvo 24
also works well for hiking, but crosses over for most other activities, such as traveling or using as a work, school, or errand bag. The Granite Gear Virga and Osprey Stratos are more specialized packs and are best for hiking long distances in comfort. While the Flash 18 is simple, the open compartment fits many different t items. It works well for urban applications, such as a daily gym bag or purse replacement, but it also serves as a great stuff sack to have along with you on overnight trips to use for summit bids and day outings.
The Arc'teryx Cierzo was the best pack in this review for technical rock climbing.
Each product in this review proved to be durable over months of use; what it comes down to is the materials. Six out of the seven designs are made from either nylon or nylon blend with tough ripstop fabric reinforcements to prevent tears from spreading.
Most of the durability issues were with buckles. A couple of the brands, such as Deuter and Gregory, use proprietary buckles, meaning that if one gets broken they will be difficult to replace. Typically, your local gear shop sells buckles for just a few cents and they can be switched out on many packs, but with proprietary buckles, both sides of the buckle will need replacement if one side is damaged. Also, each model uses easy-to-adjust slider buckles for the sternum strap, which is handy at first but tends to be the first thing to go on a product that is frequently used.
The Cierzo's tough shell withstands abuse.
Ease of Use/Organization
To test ease of use, we performed a packing test for carrying the "10 Essentials." Carrying these items is the entire reason to own a daypack. So we compiled our version of the 10 essentials and packed each one with the whole collection of items to see how easily each pack could carry it all. All of the packs tested were able to carry these items no problem, but it proved to be a snug fit for a couple of smaller packs. A few models have special carry features, so we were able to add a couple of items, such as trekking poles or an ice axe, to those packs.
Here are the essentials we chose to bring:
- Navigation- map and cell phone with compass and GPS.
- Call for Help- whistles come on all the packs, but we have our cell phone in case we have service to call for help.
- Hydration- all of the packs we tested came equipped with hydration sleeves for a bladder system, though a soft sided 1-liter option, such as the Platypus Softbottle allowed more room in some of the smaller packs like the Flash 18 and Speed Lite 20.
- Nutrition- snacks while hiking; we have beef jerky, Nature's Bakery Fig Bars, and a sleeve of Clif Bar Shot Blocks (with caffeine!).
- Sun Protection- sunglasses, small bottle of sunscreen, and a hat with a brim
- Insulation- a technical soft shell that also protects from the wind and a little rain.
- Shelter/Weather Protection- an emergency bivy.
- Illumination- headlamp with fresh batteries.
- First Aid- we carried a small first aid kit tailored specifically towards hiking.
- Fire- emergency fire starter and a little dry kindling.
All of the packs tested held our version of the "10 Essentials"needed for a day out in the mountains.
As can be expected, the larger packs, like the Gregory Salvo and Granite Gear Virga, fit the essentials comfortably. The Talon has extra pockets and organizational features that were ideal for smaller items. However, the smaller packs, such as the Deuter Speed Lite 20, REI Co-op Flash 18, and Osprey Daylite, still held all of the essentials. The Osprey Stratos was the most difficult to pack because of its unique frame structure.
The back pocket on the Flash 18 is accessible without completely taking the pack off. This makes it a great place to store your headphones or a snack.
The Osprey Talon 22 is the only model with waist belt pockets, which is handy for quick access to snacks and sunscreen while hiking; it even has an extra pocket on the shoulder straps for a compass, GPS unit, or a snack.
All of the packs are hydration bladder compatible and all but the Flash 18 and Cierzo 18 have water bottle pockets on the sides.
Most pack companies offer a compatible rain cover to go with their packs. Rain covers are a great thing to throw in your pack in case you get stuck in an unexpected downpour and want to protect the contents of your pack. One of these is the Osprey Hi-Vis Raincover
. The Osprey Stratos is the only pack reviewed that included a rain cover, and even provided a stowaway pocket for it. Generally speaking, these daypacks were not designed to be completely waterproof, but can stave off light moisture. The Gregory Salvo uses water resistant materials, but the zippers proved to be a weakness.
Don't get bogged down on soggy days, the REI Trail 25 comes with a rain cover!
All of the packs we reviewed are compatible with hydration bladders you must purchase separately. We recommend the Geigerrig Hydration Engine
. It matches ease-of-use and easy cleaning with the durability we all want in a water bladder. For a more in-depth look, check out the full Hydration Bladder Review**.
Whether you're an avid hiker, a climber, or a student, you probably need a daypack for one or more of your activities. With so many options to choose from, we hope this review helped you find the right product for you. Note that we have another 8+ backpack review categories
on the site from laptop backpacks
to backpacking backpacks