For a simple way to get outside, nothing tops a good hike. But unless you’re just taking a quick stroll, you’ll want to bring a few essentials along, like a water bottle, snacks, and maybe even a can of beer for the summit. An extra layer, like a rain shell, is also a good idea, just in case conditions change mid-hike. And where do you carry all this gear? That’s where daypacks come in.
For shorter day hikes, opt for a smaller, simpler pack, but for longer treks, choose something that can stash lots of gear and handle a heavy load. There are tons of bags to choose from, but no matter what you pick, make sure it has features like adjustable straps and padding for your shoulders and back—they’ll make your hike much more comfortable. Additional perks, like a hydration reservoir, will make your pack even more functional on the trail.
Below, we’ve broken down the best daypacks for different kinds of trips, from hiking with your kiddo to speeding up to the summit.
The Best Daypacks for Hauling Your Gear on the Trail
1. Best overall pack: Helly Hansen Transistor 30L Pack
Whether you’re tackling a mellow two-mile or an ambitious 12-mile trek, the Transistor pack outshines other similar models. We love how light it is (just 1.8 pounds empty), but it also comfortably carries a large amount of gear, everything from water to jackets to trekking poles. In addition to the main 30-liter cavity, pockets are plentiful: There’s one on the bottom panel, two on the hip belt, and an interior mesh pocket as well. Zippers are easy to pull even with gloves, and all the straps are adjustable for a comfy fit.
2. Best lumbar pack: Mountainsmith 2020 Tour
Fanny packs are in again, both as a retro fashion statement and as a functional alternative to the traditional backpack. For a day on the trail, Mountainsmith’s nine-liter bag can fit a 32-ounce water bottle, your phone, and other small valuables. The adjustable waist belt and compression system keeps it from bouncing around, even on steep scrambles, and the heavy-duty nylon fabric holds up against scrapes. For a smaller version of the same pack, try the 2020 Tour Small.[$80; mountainsmith.com]
3. Best camera pack: WANDRD FERNWEH Backpacking Bag
A 50-liter bag might seem excessive for a day trip, but not if you’re packing your best lenses, a tripod, and extra camera batteries along with you. This cavernous bag can store all your photography gear for a day of scouting and shooting, and with its four access points, you can grab what you need without digging. (WNDRD’s Camera Cubes offer extra protection for your camera, too.)
It doesn’t skimp on other features, either: It’s built with a water bottle pocket, a hydration sleeve, adjustable chest and shoulder straps, a breathable foam and mesh back panel, and even a secret passport pocket.[$350; wandrd.com]
4. Best child carrier: Osprey Poco LT Child Carrier
Time to take your kiddo on their first hike? As long as they weigh under 48 pounds, consider carrying them in Osprey’s Poco pack. A pop-up sun shade keeps them protected from rays when the trees thin out, and a drool pad keeps you protected when they doze off. Top and side handles help you hoist the pack, it comes with several storage pockets, and foam and mesh back panels keep you comfortable as you haul your kid around.[$260; rei.com]
5. Best fast and light pack: Six Moon Designs Flight 30 Ultra Running Pack
Six Moon Designs created the Flight 30 with trail runners and speed hikers in mind, and it’s loaded with features to help you pick up the pace. A vest-style harness keeps it from bouncing around, large shoulder strap pockets offer quick access to necessities, and the bag’s slim profile means it won’t get caught on branches or rocks. It also sits higher above the waist than most packs, which prevents it from interfering with the motion of your hips as you run, and it features an adjustable torso length, so you can dial the fit to your exact needs.[$200; sixmoondesigns.com]
6. Best town to trail pack: Fjällräven Ulvö 23
Looking for one pack to do it all? Enter the Ulvö. With its padded 15-inch laptop sleeve and an attachment loop for a bike light, it’s great for commuting or posting up at a coffee shop. When you’re done working, it’s also ready for the trail: Cushioned shoulder straps made of ventilating airmesh will keep you comfortable, and Fjällräven’s water-resistant Bershell fabric will keep your gear dry when rain moves in.[$125; fjallraven.com]
7. Best hydration pack: Camelbak Classic Light 70 oz
Camelbak is known for making some of the best hydration products on the market, and the Classic Light is no exception. This small pack comes with a two-liter reservoir and tube that makes it easy to hydrate on the go; it also offers an additional two liters of cargo space. Reflective details keep you visible in low-light conditions, and an external zippered pocket stores your keys or phone, too.[$65; camelbak.com]
8. Best budget pack: REI Co-op Flash 18 Pack
When all you need is one medium-sized compartment for stashing layers and other essentials, the Flash 18 makes a great choice. The shoulder straps and back come with padding for a comfy fit (bonus: the back pad is removable and can be used as a seat), it offers 18 liters of cargo space, and the simple drawcord closure makes it easy to access your stuff. Plus, you can upgrade it with a hydration reservoir and hose and leave your water bottle at home.[$40; rei.com]
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