Are you looking for the best day hiking backpack? As a family of 5, we’ve tried so many day hiking packs over the years and are sharing our absolute favorite designs below. We’ll break down exactly what to look for when selecting a pack and share our absolute favorite backpacks.
You can also find our favorite youth hiking backpacks as well as the reviews of women’s hiking day pack and backpacks specifically for men.
You can find our favorite hiking gear here.
Quick Look at the 9 Options for the Best Day Hiking Backpack
Best Overall Day Pack
Best Hiking Daypack with Waterproof Cover
Best lightweight, and colorful daypack
Excellent design and comfort
Best day backpack for travel
Best big hiking daypack
Best lumbar hiking pack
Best daypack hiking bag for kids
Best day pack for older kids and small women
What To Consider When Selecting the Best Day Pack for Hiking
There are many things to consider when selecting the best day pack besides just the cost. If you select a day pack that works for you, you won’t need to purchase another backpack for many years, so it’s worth spending some time finding the best options and understanding the different characteristics of day hiking packs.
Selecting the Right Size for the Best Day Backpack
The first consideration is size. Most packs will have the size right next to the name in liters. The best backpacks for day hiking will fall between 20-35 liters. This is about the right size to carry everything you will need for a day hike. If you will be doing a lot of winter hiking, you should plan on the larger size and if you want to do mostly trail running, you can get by with one of the smaller sized packs.
On occasion, we will hike with a small hydration pack (closer to 15 L), but this is generally for short walks rather than proper day hikes.
What Makes the Best Day Packs for Women Versus Men
Many day packs are marketed to men or women specifically. Besides sizing, a women’s hiking backpack will have straps and a harness system with the female figure in mind. It often depends on the brand and your own figure whether you are more comfortable with a gender-specific daypack. The best women’s hiking backpack is often just a slightly adjusted version on the men’s pack and vice versus.
Ventilation and Suspension
The comfort of the daypack depends mostly on the suspension, the back panel, and the material. The best daypacks will have cushioning on the should straps. They should also be adjustable both in the shoulders and in the waist straps. Some bags will be waterproof, water-resistant, or made from quick-drying fabric.
Waist straps will often carry most of the weight of the backpack so they should be comfortable and not just thin straps (unless it is a very small pack). I also like when there is a small pocket on the hip strap to carry things you might want access to while you hike. It’s nice to have a pocket on the waist strap that will fit a phone/camera.
The material and structure of the back of the pack are important as well. Flexible foam panels will be the lightest and provide the best ventilation. You might also see plastic or metal panels on the back – these are more rigid and generally heavier. Some of the smaller packs won’t have any panel in the back. These are great options for a packable pack if you are traveling.
Lastly, the type of material will impact how durable the bag is. The best day hiking pack can take a beating, get set down on rocks, survive scraping from sticks and not tear.
Compared to older day packs, most daypacks now have a built-in spot of a hydration bladder pocket. Since water will likely be the heaviest thing in your day pack, it’s helpful to have a designated spot for a large (up to 3 L) hydration bladder. There will also be a spot to attach the flexible straw to make it easy to drink. The best packs have a separate space for the hydration bladder to make it easy to remove and refill. You can also look for an external pocket for a water bottle.
Storage is where it really gets fun and choosing the best day hike backpack means figuring out what pockets and straps you want on your bag. Try to think through what you will use the bag for and exactly what you want on the outside of the pack.
Some packs will have a zipper top while others will have a roll top. The roll-top is more secure but more difficult to pack and unpack. You will also see pockets on the outside where you can stuff layers or wet items, or pockets in the top of the bag to store items you want access to. Some packs come with bungees or other straps where you can secure hiking poles.
As much fun as it is to have loads of pockets and other fun items, every ‘extra’ adds to the weight of the pack. If you are planning to do long hikes and don’t want the extra weight you will want to select a more streamlined pack.
How to Select the Best Kids’ Backpacks for Day Hiking
The best kid’s hiking backpack will have many of the same elements as the adult-sized packs. Kids will naturally carry less weight but should still be able to carry extra layers, water, and snacks. Like the best daypacks for women, kids’ backpacks will have the straps adjusted for small body size (for example, the shoulder straps will likely be closer together). For this reason, carrying a kids backpack is uncomfortable for adults!
Having their own well-fitted backpack will encourage kids to carry their own gear and add to their enjoyment on the trail. You can look at the last few options on the list below for suggestions on the best youth hiking backpack.
Read below for the details on the 8 best day hiking backpack options based on these features.
Details for the 9 Best Day Hiking Backpack Options
You can find our top suggestions below for the best day hiking backpack. Note that if you like one of the bags, there are often several different size options available, but make sure the bag has the same features when the size changes.
This is an excellent hiking backpack for women. This sleek bag has all the important elements but is also incredibly light. Built for durability and comfort this is my favorite overall bag.
- Excellent ventilation, comfort, and durability
- Well thought out structure with daisy chains and storage pockets
- Space for hydration system
Osprey makes excellent day packs and this is an exceptionally well-designed bag. Featuring a selection of pockets and a space for a hydration system, this bag also features a waterproof cover, making it the best waterproof hiking backpack.
- Mesh for ventilation and comfort (bag actually stays off your back)
- Excellent pockets and straps for attaching gear
- Lightweight and durable
Simple and colorful, this lightweight bag is definitely the most colorful on the hiking trail! Each bag has a unique design, so no two are alike. Without some of the extra straps and pockets of the other best hiking daypacks, this pack has a drawstring top, side pockets, and a hydration reservoir.
- Lighweight with minimal straps and extra pockets
- Colorful and fun design
- Pockets for waterbottles and space for hydration bladder
This is an all-around excellent bag with all the features including pockets, straps, and a spot for a hydration bladder. The bag is also designed to stay away from the body for added ventilation. This would have ranked higher on our list but the higher price point doesn’t match the durability.
- Excellent ventilation and comfort
- Well positioned waist pocket for phone or other neccessities
- Good structure on the waist belt keeps the bag comfortable
Smooth design with all the necessary pockets and a lightweight design. The bag stays away from your body for ventilation and has space for a 3L water bladder. This is one of the best day hiking packs for this weight.
- Comfortable and lightweight
- Gregory makes quality, long lasting packs
- We really like the design of this for travel as well as adventure activities
This is the best women’s day hiking backpack if you are looking for a larger pack. This makes a great winter hiking pack and has more capacity and excellent storage pockets. This bag comes with a waterproof cover and space for a 3L hydration bladder.
- Excellent pockets and storage for more gear
- Comfortable waist strap with small gear pockets
- Good ventilation and comfort for a larger pack
If you are looking for a small day hiking backpack, you may also want to consider a waist pack. These style packs keep the weight on your waist and off your shoulders. This is ideal if you only have a small amount to carry and has the capacity for a hydration pack.
- Excellent pack for short hikes without much gear
- Great pockets for storage and stowing small items
- Good choice for someone who displike wearing a traditional backpack
Best Day Hiking Backpacks for Kids
This youth hiking backpack is ideal for young hikers. We’ve always encouraged our kids to carry their own packs and have slowly increased what they carry as they get older. This bag comes with many of the features of their adult bags including comfortable straps, plenty of storage space, and pockets.
- A high quality excellent bag for kids ages 5 and up
- Enough storage capacity to grow with your child
- Excellent pocket design
This is another excellent youth hiking backpack and is ideal for older kids and even smaller women. The bag is sleek with the necessary pockets and water hydration space, and since it’s made by Osprey you know it is high quality. This is the best day hiking backpack for tweens and will grow with your kid.
- Mesh hip and shoulder straps for great ventilation
- Stylish and lightweight
- Zippered pouch for easy organizing
Best Hiking Backpack Brands
There are many outdoor brands that make or specialize in daypacks for hiking. Many of our favorite brands have bags in the list above. So what makes a great backpack brand and how do you choose the right brand when you are searching for the best day hiking backpack?
When we looked at all the brands out there, we came up with several criteria that really set the top backpack brands apart:
- Innovative Features
All the bags listed above meet this criterion. If you want to look for packs from some of the best brands, you can check out most bags from each company at the links below:
You can see more hiking information on our Complete Guide to Hiking for gear reviews, hiking destinations, and how-to guides.
Did we miss your favorite pack in our list of the Best Day Hiking Backpack? Leave a comment below.
Summary of the Best Day Hiking Pack
In summary, there are many things to consider when selecting the best day hiking backpack, and not every bag works for every person. My favorite hiking backpack is made by Osprey and is what I take on 80% of my hikes. It also doubles as a great overnight back when I’m visiting a mountain hut or hostel.