The Best Day Backpack of 2017 for Hiking and Travel
Intimidated by the countless daypack options? We hear you. That's why we researched 65+ top models and bought the best 8 for detailed testing. Knowing that you may wear these products through a huge array of activities, our expert testers used them in almost every way imaginable, from hiking and climbing to biking and running in urban and backcountry environments while carrying water bottles, gear, books, and even our laptops to work on this review. Through our side-by-side tests, we discovered which models best balance weight and features, provide incredible value, or simply perform great all-around to help you find the right pack for your individual needs.
Read the full review below >
Test Results and Ratings
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Analysis and Award Winners
Updated April 2017
We bought and tested the updated Talon 22 and confirmed that the new model still warrants the Editor's Choice award. Also, each test metric is outfitted with graphs and tables to display the comparative performance differences between the competitors in the major areas. Lastly, we included links to different sized versions of these packs in the individual reviews, in case you're looking for something a bit larger/smaller.
Best Overall Daypack
Osprey Talon 22
This year the Osprey Talon 22 gets a bunch of changes and we like them all. It's lighter, more comfortable and more breathable than last years model. It remains firmly at the top. 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.
Tons of features
Separate hydration compartment
Small side mesh pockets
Read full review: Osprey Talon 22
Best Bang for the Buck
REI Flash 18
Offering plenty features and broad versatility, but at half the price of all other contenders, is a combo we love. The minimalist REI 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 pack also comes in the larger Flash 22 and the new looking Flash 18 Special Edition!
Difficult access during activities
Thin waist belt and shoulder straps
Read full review: REI Flash 18
Top Pick Award for Balance of Low Weight and Features
Deuter Speed Lite 20
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.
Many lashing options
Thin waist belt
Weak front pocket
Read full review: Deuter Speed Lite 20
Analysis and Test Results
We tested contenders that range from minimalist to tricked out, and what makes these packs stand apart are their features. Some are geared towards hiking-specific needs, while others have details allowing them to be more versatile.
All of these packs come with hydration bladder compartments, as well as hip belts and sternum straps. If you're also in the market for a bladder, check out our Hydration Bladder Review to find the perfect companion for your pack.
Most of these packs also came with external lashing options to increase the amount of gear you can tote and make hiking easier. The Osprey Talon and Osprey Stratos both come with bungee attachments for trekking poles. The Talon, Flash, Stratos, Salvo, and Deuter Speed Lite are examples of packs with ice axe attachments. Though the Talon is the only pack tested with biking features, the Speed Lite has loops to attach a helmet holder (which is sold separately).
If you're looking for a pack that can transition off the trail and into the office or classroom, The North Face Recon hs the most organizational options, like extra pockets for small items. Additionally, the Talon has an extra pocket on a shoulder strap that can hold a phone, GPS, or mp3 player.
The greatest trade-off for a tricked out pack is the added weight. This year, we tested several lightweight packs. The REI 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.
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 (18oz).
The comfort of a pack relies on adjustability, load carrying ability, and ventilation. Our favorite pack, 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 Talon is the only pack tested that offers different frame sizes (S/M and M/L), so it is important to properly measure your torso before purchasing. For a full explanation on fit and measurements, check out the fit section in our Buying Advice.
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 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.
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 toting your laptop to your favorite coffee shop.
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 REI Flash 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.
Each product in this review proved to be durable over months of use; what it really 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.
The only durability issues we noticed have to do 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 to be replaced if one side is damaged. Also, each pack 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 used frequently.
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 smaller packs. A few models have special carry features, so we were able to add a couple items, such as trekking poles or an ice axe, to those packs.
Here are the essentials we chose to bring:
As can be expected, the larger packs, like the Gregory Salvo and Granite Gear Virga, fit the essentials easily. The Talon has extra pockets and organizational features that were great for smaller items. However, the smaller packs, such as the Deuter Speed Lite 20, REI 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 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.
All of the packs we reviewed are compatible with hydration bladders, which will need to be purchased 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 have a need for 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 and more.
— Jeremy Bauman, Jessica Haist, and Gentrye Houghton
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