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The 9 Best Backpacks for Day Hiking
I always thought any day in the woods was a good day. Until I got stuck with a sub-par backpack and made the mistake of loading it full of gear and trying it out on a mountainous 15-mile day hike. In my defense, I was given the pack for free.
Suffice to say, it was a nightmare. Straps digging into my shoulders. Gear constantly off-balance. Buckles repeatedly loosening themselves. An ocean of back sweat thanks to poor ventilation.
It was a mistake I’ll never make again. Choosing a great hiking backpack is like choosing a hiking partner. Make the wrong choice, and it can ruin your whole day. Luckily, there are a lot of great hiking backpacks out there.
The backpacks on this list, for the most part, are day packs. A few also cross over into overnight hiking territory, but a pack with a capacity somewhere in the neighborhood of 30L should be suitable for both. That being said, the ideal size for you depends on your own needs and how much gear you like to carry.
1. Arc’teryx Brize 32 Backpack
Arc’teryx makes some really great high-end hiking gear, and their Brize 32 backpack is a perfect option for day hikers who like to be well-stocked for a long trail day. Spacious, lightweight, and durable, it’s a reliable hiking companion if ever there was one.
This is a 32L backpack, with a top-accessed main compartment, zippered front pouch, and extra pockets that are perfectly sized for water bottles, trail snacks, and essentials like a headlamp and first-aid kit.
The padded shoulder straps are comfy under heavy loads, and the back panel is made of Arc’teryx’s trademark Aeroform foam, which is form-fitting as well as breathable, helping you avoid the dreaded sweaty-back syndrome.
The Arc’teryx Brize 32 Backpack is essentially a scaled-up version of their very similar Brize 25 model. But those extra few ounces of storage space can make all the difference for a long day on the trail. The pack itself weighs 2.6 lb.
2. Hyperlite Mountain Gear 2400 Southwest Pack
One of the toughest and most lightweight packs in its size class, the Hyperlite Mountain Gear 2400 Southwest Pack is made for grueling hikes over challenging terrain. It weighs just a hair over 2 lb, making it an excellent choice for ultralight hikers.
The 2400 Southwest Pack is made with 50-denier Dyneema, with 150-denier reinforcement in some of the more vulnerable areas. That creates the perfect balance of weight and strength. The main compartment is as close to 100% waterproof as it gets.
The pack has a generous 40L capacity, which is great for anyone whose day hikes are prone to occasionally stretching overnight. It comes in four sizes – small, medium, large and tall – for hikers of all dimensions.
The roll-top closure on the main compartment makes it watertight and easy to access your gear. The pack is hydration bladder-compatible. It also has a variety of exterior buckles and loops for attaching gear, and compression straps to keep the load stable.
3. Sea To Summit Ultra-Sil Travel Day Pack
The Sea To Summit Ultra-Sil Travel Day Pack is a solid, budget-friendly pack for day hikes and bike trips. It’s made of 30D siliconized Cordura Nylon, which is lightweight and packs down to about the size of a softball.
With a 20L capacity, the Sea To Summit Ultra-Sil Travel Day Pack has plenty of room for a day’s essentials, like a light jacket, water bottle, and a few snacks. It’s water-resistant and weighs just 2.5 lb.
A lot of backpackers and mountain climbers use something like the Ultra-Sil Travel Day Pack as a summit pack. You can easily pack it inside a larger backpacking pack, taking it out in situations where you need to travel light and leave your heavier gear behind.
This pack isn’t quite as rough-and-tumble as some on this list, but it’s a well-made and reliable pack if you treat it well (and have realistic expectations). It’s vulnerable to tears and abrasions, and the recommended maximum load is 15 lb.
4. REI Co-op Trail Hydro 30L Hydration Pack
A comfy and versatile day pack for strenuous hiking trips, the REI Co-op Trail Hydro 30L Hydration Pack is lightweight and rugged. It’s perfect for tough hikes in hot climates where you need to know your water supply won’t run out.
A 3-liter hydration reservoir is included, with a 36″ drink tube with a bite valve so you can slurp on the go. The pack weighs 2 lb, 1.5 oz (not including reservoir) and its 30L capacity is perfect for all your long-day hike gear.
A sternum strap, padded shoulder straps, hip belt, and lightweight internal frame offer a stable, comfortable carry. The hip belt also has zippered pockets for quick access to essentials. Overall there are six external pockets in addition to the spacious main compartment.
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5. Osprey Skarab 30 Hydration Pack
There’s a lot to love about the Osprey Skarab 30 Hydration Pack. It has a simple design and streamlined profile, with intuitive pockets and a spacious top-loading main compartment. It’s also super lightweight, tipping the scales at just 1 lb, 8.6 oz.
The Skarab 30 Hydration Pack has a dedicated hydration compartment with an included 2.5L reservoir. The padded shoulder straps and adjustable sternum strap are great for comfort, and the breathable back panel helps ward off swamp-back.
One thing to watch out for is that it’s easy to over-pack this backpack. It’s made to comfortably carry up to 25 pounds, but the 30L capacity makes it quite possible to load it way beyond that weight, resulting in a very uncomfortable carry.
6. The North Face Basin 36 Daypack
The Basin 36 Daypack from the North Face has a straightforward design and ample room for all your gear. It’s a great backpack for long day hikes, crossing over into short overnights. The shoulder straps and waist belt are generously padded for comfort.
This backpack has a spacious main compartment with internal organization compartments, plus several external stash pockets. It makes organizing all your gear simple, and the pack is also hydration bladder-compatible. The sternum strap has a built-in emergency whistle.
The North Face Basin 36 Daypack is made of abrasion-resistant Nylon ripstop fabric with a DWR coating for water resistance. It also has its own integrated rain cover, which tucks away into its own little compartment. Pack weight is 2 lb and 6 oz.
7. Granite Gear Scurry Ultralight Day Pack
The number one thing that makes the Granite Gear Scurry Ultralight Day Pack stand out is its weight. At a trim 1 lb 1 oz, it’s about as light as a backpack gets, and it still manages to offer 24L of storage space. That makes it great for trail running and scurrying up rocks.
The pack has a hydration port and internal sleeve, and a roll-top closure with light-yet-tough 100-Denier ROBIC high tenacity nylon fabric. This thing is built to move. There is, however, a slight sacrifice in comfort that comes with keeping weight down.
The back panel and shoulder straps are modestly padded at best, and the hip belt is essentially a plain nylon webbing band with a simple clip. But the Scurry Ultralight Day Pack is still plenty comfortable as long as you don’t over-pack it.
8. Patagonia Black Hole 32L Travel Pack
The Patagonia Black Hole 32L Travel Pack blurs the line between a hiking pack and an everyday travel backpack. It’s equally at home on the trail or on the subway and has a hydration bladder compartment that doubles as a laptop sleeve. It’s adaptable.
It’s an eye-catching pack too. The Black Hole has a sleek design, with a spacious main compartment that opens via a half-moon zipper, plus an internal mesh pocket and a large front and top stash pockets. It has comfortable padded shoulder straps and a form-fitting molded back panel.
Another cool thing about the Black Hole is that the body fabric, lining, and webbing are all made with 100% recycled materials. It’s extremely durable and weather-resistant and weighs just 1 lb, 12.57 oz.
9. Deuter Futura Pro 36 Pack
The Deuter Futura Pro 36 Pack could be called a large day pack, but it’s really a small overnight backpack. It even has a separate sleeping bag compartment on the bottom, so it’s made with overnights in mind.
The top-loading main compartment and ample smaller pockets give you lots of room. It’s compatible with a 3L hydration reservoir. The pack weighs 3 lb and 8 oz, which is a little on the chunky side, but the trade-off here is that the Futura Pro is abundantly padded for supreme comfort.
In addition to Deuter’s patented Aircomfort Sensic Pro ergonomic back system, this pack has self-adjusting shoulder straps and flexible hip fins. You can pack this thing with all the gear its 36L space can hold, and it still rides comfortably on your back.
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Hiking Backpack FAQs
The most important factor is size, and there are two important aspects of size to consider. The first is capacity, which is to say, how much the pack can hold. The second is length. Backpacks are sized based on the torso length of the person who wears them. Of course, there are other important characteristics to look for as well, including:
- Weight – As a general rule, you want the lightest pack possible. But if a pack is heavier, that tends to suggest that it can carry heavy loads more comfortably.
- Comfort and padding – Well-padded shoulder straps and back paneling make a pack more comfortable but can also add weight. So there’s often a trade-off there.
- Water-resistance – Most hiking packs offer some degree of water-resistance, but few are truly waterproof. Look for one with a rain cover if you really want to keep your gear dry.
- Ventilation – A well-ventilated back panel, hip belt, and shoulder straps help to keep you from sweating too much.
- Style of opening – Top-loading packs are the most common design for hiking packs, but some have front-opening zippers or roll-top closures.
- Pockets – Consider the number of pockets, as well as their configuration. Some hikers like a lot of compartments for all their gear, while others prefer a simple design with as few extra pockets as possible.
The capacity of most hiking backpacks is measured in liters. As a general rule, a 20L to 30L backpack is perfect for day hiking, while a 30L to 40L pack is just right for overnight hikes. If you’re planning on spending multiple nights on the trail, you’re getting into backpacking territory, and you’ll probably need a 50L or larger pack.
When it comes to a backpack’s fit, you need to start by measuring your torso length. This is how hiking backpacks are sized, and if you check a pack’s specifications on the seller or manufacturer’s website, you should be able to find the torso length range that the pack is designed to fit. Some hiking backpacks come in multiple sizes, and many are adjustable.