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What To Look For In A Daypack for Hiking?

So what do you need to pay attention to when choosing a daypack for hiking? Making a choice is not obvious when you see the sheer number of small backpacks that are available on the market! Here we will be focusing on backpacks designed to be used for shorter hikes that last a few hours to a whole day.

I always do tons of day hikes when I am traveling, and I have been frustrated more than once with low-quality and poorly designed packs. We all like dirt cheap stuff but for something as essential as a backpack, it is better to spend a little bit more and seek a good value for money, instead of going for the lowest price.

Some day hikes have been highlights in my trips and I know that a good, reliable, and durable backpack can only make it more pleasant, comfortable, and hassle-free. Luckily, it is possible to find great daypacks at a very affordable price.

Everyone has different needs and personal preferences, but I believe that you can find on this page 5 daypacks that are really good and suit the needs of most day hikers.

What Are The Factors to Consider When Choosing a Hiking Daypack?

Experienced hikers know that a good daypack is essential and saves a lot of hassle on the road. But what do you need to pay attention to when choosing your next hiking daypack? Let’s take a closer look at the most important factors to consider:


This is of course an important factor to consider since this weight directly ends up on your shoulders! Obviously, the most lightweight the better, but you need to pay attention to the backpack’s quality. Some daypack models are incredibly lightweight, but this is sometimes achieved by employing extremely thin materials to make the pack. I wouldn’t trust the durability of very thin fabric in very rough conditions or if you need to carry heavy gear.


A hiking daypack absolutely needs to be reasonably waterproof. I know that 100% waterproof is hard to achieve unless you take a dry bag with you, but it is still important to have ways to keep your stuff dry inside your daypack as well.

Nowadays, most daypacks designed for hiking are made of water-resistant fabric – they can take some rain and prevent the water from going into your bag. But it usually works to some extent only and if you are under a heavy downpour, I really doubt a so-called water-resistant fabric alone is going to keep your gear dry. For this reason, I think it is better to rely on a good rain cover.

If your daypack is made of water-resistant fabric AND has a rain cover, it’s even better!

Hydration Bladder

Hydration packs are more and more popular these days and make great hiking daypacks. Some of the daypacks presented on this page (including our top pick!) are hydration packs. Personally, I would consider a hydration bladder as a nice-to-have feature, and the priority would remain on the quality and potential durability of the backpack.

However, this is entirely a personal choice. I know some people wouldn’t leave on a hike without their bladder. If you choose to have one, make sure it is FDA-approved, and that its quality is excellent to avoid leaking (obviously). A large opening is an important element, both for easy access to clean the inside of the bladder and for the possibility to put some ice cubes in your water.

Some hydration packs even include an insulation layer to keep your water cool for up to 4 or 5 hours which is pretty smart and very interesting for us hikers.

Compression Straps

Compression straps are a nice little feature that is often underrated but can significantly improve the level of comfort during the hike. The goal of these straps is to make sure the stuff in your pack doesn’t move around as you are walking. Not only it is never cool when the gear in your pack becomes a mess, but moving gear can be really uncomfortable and doesn’t help you balance.

Waist Belt

A waist belt is always good to have on a backpack, whether it is a large backpacking pack or a smaller day hiking backpack. Even if you don’t load your daypack with lots of heavy things, at the end of the day you do feel the weight accumulating on your shoulders.

A waist belt helps take a part of the weight off your shoulders, distributing it evenly between your shoulders and your hips. In addition, it helps avoiding your pack to move too much while you are walking, complementing the compression straps.

Back Panel

It is a good idea to choose a daypack that has a good quality back panel with foam for comfort and an aeration system to evacuate the sweat on your back. Nothing worse than having your back drenched in sweat when your skin can’t breathe because of a badly designed backpack!


Of course, price is an important factor to consider as well. Daypacks come at various prices, and you always get what you pay for… but I think it is definitely possible to find a very good hiking daypack for less than $50. Unless you go for the super cheap ones that will break apart or have a faulty zip after a couple of hikes, most decent backpacks nowadays offer a good value for money.

What Is The Perfect Size for a Hiking Backpack?

That’s a tricky question because the answer is… it depends! Hiking daypacks usually are between 18 and 40 liters. This is of course smaller than backpacking backpacks.

For a “normal” smaller backpack for someone who doesn’t have that much to carry, I would say 15-25 liters is fine. If you need to carry more stuff that typically takes a lot of volume such as a rolled jacket, plus a big DSLR camera, plus a big bottle of water, etc… I would look at 25-35 liter daypacks.

But generally, I would say around 20 liters is a good size for a daypack.

Final Thoughts

This is the end of this quick guide to choosing a good daypack for hiking. There are many great daypacks on the market these days and it’s really not easy to be sure we are making the best choice possible. This guide is here to help you and I hope it was valuable to you.

Whichever daypack you end up choosing, I believe you can’t go wrong if you follow the advice on this page, and you’ll be ready for some awesome hikes.

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