Choosing a Daypack for Travel and Hiking

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Last Updated on February 18, 2024 by Grant

Like every traveler, I am constantly looking for better bags, better gear. When I find something I like which works for me, I stick with it for years. A daypack is no different.

Finding a good daypack is all about what you are going to use it for. I use daypacks for both hiking trails in national parks and for touring cities on foot all day. Finding a daypack that meets all of those demands is pretty tough.

When I started this search, I was looking for the ONE pack which could do it all well. Our experience over the past several years has taught us that daypack simply doesn’t exist. So, we have ended up with multiple daypacks which we use for different purposes.

Here’s a rundown of all of the different daypacks we have hanging around, what we like and dislike about them, so you can find the one (or more) that best suits your needs.

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What I Look for in a Daypack

Ideally, I want my daypack to be all things. Unfortunately, that daypack simply doesn’t exist.

So, I am left looking at various bags to suit different purposes for different trips.

I need a daypack that is good for hiking I also want a pack I can easily toss a change of clothes in for an overnight stop or a trip to the beach. When flying, I want a daypack that can pack down to nothing and stuff in my luggage for a month-long overseas trip.

Hiking Requirements

When I am looking for a daypack for hiking, I am looking for something that would be good for hiking a nine-mile trail in the backcountry of Yellowstone National Park and be comfy the entire time.

My main requirement for hiking is a hydration bladder sleeve. Bonnie and I both have a three-liter hydration bladder which we take to make sure we have plenty of water for a day of hiking. This is essential.

Gregory 3D Hydro 3L Reservoir
  • 3D QuickDry: Soft-molded 3D design prevents contact between top and bottom layers when hanging open, dramatically speeding drying time and discouraging bacteria growth.
  • QuickDry Hanger: A convenient option for storage or hang drying on or off the trail, integrated into the reservoir itself.

The next requirement is the ability to take rain gear, cold weather gear, food, a camera, a small tripod, a first aid kit, a map and a compass, plus some basic emergency gear (ie the Ten Essentials… click here to see what we carry).

Grant hiking through thicker brush on the Caprock Coulee Trail.
Grant hiking the Caprock Coulee Trail.

Travel Requirements

Walking around a city does not require everything needed for a good day hike but a lot of the requirements are similar.

We need to be able to carry water. Whether that is a full water bladder or a water bottle depends greatly on where we are going and how long we plan to stay out.

Saguaro National Park trail selfie
Selfie along the trail in the eastern part of Saguaro National Park. We were traveling light for this trip so did not have our normal hiking daypacks. We ended up using our Stowaway 30L packs for this trip.

Rain gear is a must. Unless you are traveling to the desert, having basic rain gear handy is essential for spending the day exploring a city. For some folks, that is a good packable raincoat. For others, an umbrella will do. Both are useful and we are looking for a good travel umbrella to add to our gear.

In the middle of a hail storm at Stonehenge.
Grant seriously regretted not bringing his raincoat (it was on the bus) and a hat when the hail storm came along at Stonehenge.

On a recent trip to London, Grant left his daypack on the bus while visiting Stonehenge. The weather looked great. He greatly regretted that decision as a hail storm rolled through while visiting the site.

An additional layer is always a good idea. Even in the summer, it can get cool at night very easily. Bonnie sometimes likes to carry a scarf. I prefer a pullover or a long-sleeve thermal shirt.

I also want the pack to handle my bridge camera, a small tripod and a selfie stick. While this is a lot of gear, it is not as much as I take when hiking in the backcountry. Indeed, most packable daypacks would struggle to hold the Ten Essentials plus plenty of food, water and layers comfortably for long distances.

Bonnie with a monkey on her back at the wildlife park in Roatan, Honduras.
Having a good daypack is essential when doing a variety of activities in one day, like this one in Roatan. We visited a wildlife park, drove ATVs and then spent time on the beach. We needed a lot of stuff!

The daypack should pack into our large travel packs easily. Bonnie carries an eBags Mother Lode Weekender Convertible and I use a Tortuga 40L Travel Backpack.

Read more about Bonnie’s travel backpack here.

eBags Mother Lode Travel Backpack | Fits Laptops Up To 19 Inches
  • KEY FEATURES: Padded laptop sleeve fits up to 19″, zip expansion for an extra 1.5″ and stowable backpack straps
  • TRAVEL BENEFITS: 2 exterior quick-grab zip pockets, side zip water bottle pocket and bottom and side carry handles and 4 exterior compression straps
  • ORGANIZATION: Easy access front zip compartment with several interior pockets and key leash, large main compartment with compression straps & fold-down shelf and interior zip-around mesh panel pocket
  • BREATHABLE & COMFORTABLE: Breathable back panel for comfort; removable, adjustable sternum strap
  • DIMENSIONS: Exterior Dimensions – 22″ X 14″ X 9″; Linear Inches – 45″; Laptop Compartment Dimensions – 19″ X 11.75″ X 1.5″; Weight: 3 lbs, 15 oz; Capacity: 3299 cu. in.

Hiking Packs

REI Flash 18

We bought our first Flash 18s back in 2012 and they have served us well for many years. They are light packs with a hydration sleeve and have held up over many uses. The packs have gone through a few design changes over the years, but you can basically count on the bag to be an 18-liter, lightweight pack.

It loads from the top, has a hydration sleeve, has a couple of mesh interior pockets and some very thin padding on the back. The chest and waist straps are removable, but we keep the buckle of the chest strap since it can be used as a whistle.

Bonnie on the Path of the Gods
Bonnie on the Path of the Gods with her Flash 18.

The current model weighs about 10 ounces and is designed to easily carry about 10 pounds of gear. We generally like how easy it is to open the pack and reach in to grab something; but, if what you need is at the bottom of the pack, it will take some digging.

For hiking, this pack is excellent. The addition of a zippered pocket on the outside makes for a great place to stuff a map or guidebook for easy access. Unfortunately, our packs don’t have this new feature.

For traveling, the pack folds down reasonably well and holds everything you could want… Except for a water bottle. If you want to carry a bottle of water, you have to just stuff it in the back. Not very convenient and you have to worry about the bottle leaking on your gear.

We have hiked all over the place with this pack and took it on both our month-long trips to Italy and Eastern Europe.

REI Flash 22

The next step up is the Flash 22. I bought this to take on our week-long trip to Italy in 2017 and it impressed me. 

Like the Flash 18, the pack is lightweight and designed for small loads and use on the trail. It is a 22-liter pack, so it adds some additional capacity, but also adds some additional weight (14.5 ounces vs. 10 ounces).

Grant hiking at Empire Bluffs
Grant hiking at Empire Bluffs with his Flash 22.

So, what do you get for nearly 50% more weight? The pack has a hydration sleeve, just like the Flash 18, but also has two mesh water bottle pockets on the side. The pockets are designed for a Nalgene-style bottle, so were a tad loose when I used my Kleen Kanteen. It wasn’t bad, but you do need to be mindful when setting the bag down.

The pack also has a pair of mesh pockets inside which are perfect for a first aid kit or a compass. Additionally, it has a “lid” which covers the main compartment. The lid has a zippered pocket for essentials and there is a large second zippered pocket that is perfect for snacks on the trail or a guidebook in a city.

The pack’s chest and waist straps are removable and the buckle for the chest strap is a whistle, just like the Flash 18. The padding on the back is more robust and has air channels, unlike the Flash 18.

Grant taking pictures on the Emerald Lake Trail on of the best Rocky Mountain National Park hikes.
Grant taking pictures on the Emerald Lake Trail in Rocky Mountain National Park.

My one grumble with the straps is the retention loop for the hydration bladder tube is higher on the pack and at an angle, compared to the Flash 18. It is not any easier to get the tube through the loop and makes it useless for attaching important gear to it. I typically would attach my knife to the strap on my Flash 18 when hiking. Now, a knife will fall off easily, so it must be stored inside the pack or on my belt.

For summer hiking, this pack is just about perfect. While it does weigh more, the additional features, including loops for trekking poles, more than make up for the weight. For winter hiking, though, the pack just does not have the room to store bulkier layers, like my softshell jacket. While hiking in Zion National Park in December, I was constantly shifting between layers and this pack simply was just not quite big enough.

Walking along the Scenic Drive at Zion National Park.
Walking along the road in Zion National Park. Note I have taken off my shell and it is hanging off the shoulder strap for my pack.

For travel, it does not fold down quite as well as the Flash 18, but the flexibility of using either a water bottle or a hydration bladder makes it a solid choice. Additionally, the exterior pockets are a welcome improvement over having to dig in the pack for little essentials.

I broke in this pack on a week-long trip to Italy followed up by a summer hiking all over the American West. If I were only to get one pack, this would be the one. It does it all reasonably well.

Mardingtop Hydration Backpack

We’re not really sure where we got this backpack but Bonnie used it for her trail pack for about two years. 

The Mardingtop Hydration Backpack has a reasonably stiff frame sheet and nice has venting on the back. The shoulder straps are well-padded and comfortable. The pack has a chest strap with a whistle, which I always appreciate. 

It’s a 20L pack, so a bit smaller than the Flash 22.  Bonnie struggled to fit everything she wants in terms of layers into the pack but most of the time, the pack worked fine. 

Bonnie's Mardingtop 20L pack.
Bonnie’s Mardingtop 20L pack.

It weighs 14.4 ounces, so it is pretty close to the Flash 22, weight-wise, but unlike the Flash 22, it does not fold down at all. The frame sheet is simply too rigid.

The main compartment is zippered and less accessible than the top-loading Flash packs. It does have a hydration sleeve but it does not have a hook for the hydration bladder, meaning it will sag in the pack as you consume the water. 

It does have two zippered pockets on the front of the pack, one smaller and one larger with a divider. That is useful for accessing small gear. It also has two mesh bottle pockets on the sides, perfect for water bottles. For those that use trekking poles, it has loops for two poles.

Bonnie walking along the beach part of the Cowles Bog Trail.
Bonnie walking along the beach part of the Cowles Bog Trail.

What really makes this pack a winner is the shove-it pocket, a large open pocket that is great for shoving wet rain gear or other stuff. 

All that said, it started to wear out after two years of use, so Bonnie replaced it.

Osprey Daylite Plus Pack

Bonnie’s current daypack is the Osprey Daylite Plus Pack. This 20L pack is one of the sturdiest packs either of us has used. Of course, with that comes a little extra weight (16 ounces vs the Flash 22’s 14.5 ounces). The functionality is worth the extra weight, though.

The main compartment easily holds your essential gear without being too big or bulky. The front compartment has a few pockets for a cell phone, wallet or other small items that you want to be able to reach easily. There is yet another smaller front pocket for the smallest items that you want within reach. Additionally, there is a stuff-it pocket on the front for quick access to trail maps or when you’re ready to shed your outer layer.

Bonnie and her new daypack, an Ospery Daylite Plus.
Bonnie and her new daypack, an Osprey Daylite Plus.

An exterior sleeve easily stores a hydration bladder. Two mesh side pockets hold water bottles for shorter hikes. 

There’s even a padded sleeve for a tablet or a small laptop. Granted, you probably won’t need that for hiking. But, that additional feature makes this a very versatile pack that could easily be used as a carry-on or around town.

The pack has several straps to help you get everything adjusted just right. The breathable mesh back panel provides comfort even when packed full.

In terms of taking it for travel, it does not fold down or pack easily, so it would not make a good travel pack unless you are using a suitcase and have plenty of room.

Bonnie hiking with her new daypack, an Osprey Daylite Plus.
Bonnie hiking with her new daypack, an Osprey Daylite Plus.

Bonnie has used this pack extensively on the trail and is very pleased with the purchase.

Sale
Osprey Daylite Plus Commuter Backpack, Black
  • Premium efficiency and design
  • Storage tuned to the each season
  • Purpose designed to help mak the most of each exploration; Internal hydration sleeve
  • Large panel loading main compartment provides accessibility to inside contents

REI Trail 25

After struggling with the Flash 22 in terms of storing winter layers, I decided I wanted a pack with a little more room. So, I upgraded to the REI Trail 25 pack. This pack is a good bit heavier (32 ounces!) but has more room and good organization.

The straps on this pack are far more robust and padded than either of the Flash packs and the padding on the back is better suited for long hikes, with much better breathability. The back of the pack has built-in lashings for hiking poles, as well as daisy chains for attaching small pieces of gear. You could get some shock cord and weave it through the daisy chains to create more storage.

East Rim Trail at Dead Horse Point SP
Grant hiking with his Trail 25 pack in Dead Horse State Park in Utah.

In terms of hydration, the pack also has mesh water bottle pockets on the side. On one side there’s just one but on the other, there are two pockets, one on top of the other. This interesting configuration makes for a great spot to stash small things you need to frequently grab. Inside the pack, you will find a water bladder sleeve. The port for the drinking tube, however, has been moved to the right side of the pack and is a little awkward with our hydration bladders.

There are a few organizational pockets, mostly located on the top flap, which adds weight to the flap and makes it awkward when opened. Still, the pockets work well and you can easily put some essential gear in those pockets. There is also a long mesh pocket that runs along vertically along the side of the pack, which is good for my packable raincoat or other essentials you need to separate from the main compartment.

Be sure to bring water and a fleece on the trail at Timpanogos Cave National Monument.
Grant on the trail wearing his new daypack, an REI Trail 25. In his pack, he has water, a fleece, snacks and a few other hiking essentials.

The main compartment is quite spacious. It is easy to pack anything you could need for a day hike in this pack. So much so that I grabbed one of my stuff sacks to collect all of my 10 essentials into one spot. I have been using this pack since 2021 and I have really enjoyed it. I fully recommend the pack.

Packable Daypacks for Travel

New Outlander 20L Daypack

For our 2017 trip to Italy, Bonnie picked up the New Outlander 20-liter daypack. The daypack packs down to next to nothing. That said, it does not have a hydration sleeve and the mesh pockets on the sides are just “ok” for holding a water bottle.

Because it is so collapsible, the pack itself does not have much form to it when not fully packed. As a result, a full water bottle can easily fall out. In terms of capacity, at 20 liters, it is solidly in between the Flash 18 and Flash 22. In terms of weight, it is one of the lightest of our daypacks at 7.4 ounces.

The pack has a main compartment and two exterior zippered pockets. The two exterior pockets are well-designed and provide good access to essentials.

In terms of hiking, this pack is not well-suited at all. There is no padding or venting on either the straps or the back. While you can hike with a couple of water bottles, you would need to be conscious of how you set the pack down every time to ensure the bottles don’t fall out.

In terms of travel, the pack’s packability makes up for a lot of the other shortcomings. Bonnie liked the pack well enough on our trip to Italy, but my Flash 22 impressed her as well.

Outlander Packable Handy Lightweight Travel Hiking Backpack Daypack, Black
  • Water-resistant and DURABLE. The backpack is made from highly rip and water-resistant nylon fabric, which provides strength and long-lasting performance, with minimal weight. Stress points are reinforced with bar tacking for increased longevity. We use durable 2-way Abrasion Resistant SBS Metal Zippers across the backpack.
  • COMPACT. Folds into zippered inner pocket to fit anywhere. Unfolds from pocket to backpack. A must-have on any trip.
  • LIGHTWEIGHT(0.46 Pounds) and ROOMY(20 Liters). A true space saver. Stuff the bag into its own pocket for storage and unzip it when you reach your destination. Avoid overweight baggage charges by simply unfolding it from your luggage and using it as a carry on for your excess baggage.
  • MULTIPLE COMPARTMENTS. Features a classic shape with several pockets for storage and organization. This backpack has a roomy main compartment, two front zipper pockets to hold small accessories, one internal zippered security pocket for valuable items and two side pockets for water bottles or umbrellas.
  • NEW VERSION Includes a carabiner clip so you attach things or clip it to things.Ultra-light. Ultra-durable. Ultra-awesome.

Eagle Creek Packable Daypack

We got a couple of Eagle Creek Packable Daypacks as freebies when we attended the Bloghouse Memphis conference. We made use of the packs later that summer on our Alaskan cruise. 

Like the New Outlander pack, this one packs down to almost nothing. It has a 13L capacity and it weighs 5.6 ounces, so it is the lightest of our daypacks. 

Bonnie packing the Eagle Creek Packable Daypack.
Bonnie packing the Eagle Creek Packable Daypack.

In terms of pockets, it has the main compartment and the pocket it stuffs into. It also has a single but really good mesh pocket for water bottles.

That said, it doesn’t have a hydration bladder sleeve and it doesn’t really hold up, form-wise, when not loaded. I would not want to hike for an extended period of time with the pack and that’s not really what it’s designed for. It’s designed, and does quite well, at being a quick pack for walking around town. 

Eagle Creek Packable Daypack
Eagle Creek Packable Daypack

As the smallest of the daypacks, I keep these in the truck as a “just in case” packs. 

Eddie Bauer Stowaway 30L

I saw this thing at our local Eddie Bauer outlet and decided to pick it up on a whim for $20. Boy, I am glad I did!

The Eddie Bauer Stowaway 30L easily wins as the most versatile of the daypacks. It has padded straps, a padded, vented back, a hydration sleeve, a small secondary pocket (which it packs into) and a large shove-it pocket. The pack has two mesh water bottle pockets which are deep enough for my Kleen Kanteen.

It packs down to a pretty small size and easily fits in my Lowepro Highline 400AW. That makes it an easy choice for overseas travel.

Grant carrying the Eddie Bauer 30L Stowaway Backpack.
Grant got a new packable daypack from Eddie Bauer called the Stowaway 30L. It packs down well and is large enough for a trip to the beach.

It has the largest capacity of our daypacks at 30L but weighs only 13 ounces. What’s nice about the larger capacity is it means you can easily use it for a trip to the beach, with a suit and towel, and still have plenty of room left over. 

I took it first on our Bahamas cruise. It went kayaking with me in Lucayan National Park and it impressed Bonnie enough to where she bought one herself. In 2019, we used the packs as overnight bags on our trip to Isle Royale National Park and were easily able to handle what we needed for an overnight stay. 

These have become our go-to packs for travel. While they are not perfect for hiking (the hydration sleeve does not have a loop for the bladder to hook into), the pack was perfect for light hiking in southern Arizona on a Spring Break trip.

Coronado Pass selfie
Selfie overlooking Coronado Pass wearing our Eddie Bauer Stowaway 30L packs.
Eddie Bauer Stowaway Packable Backpack-Made from Ripstop Polyester, Dark Smoke, 30L
Eddie Bauer Stowaway Packable Backpack-Made from Ripstop Polyester, Dark Smoke, 30L
DIMENSIONS: 19″ x 12″ x 9″ (open), VOLUME: 30L
$55.00 Amazon Prime

Final Thoughts on Daypacks

We have been pleasantly surprised at the capabilities of the Eddie Bauer Stowaway 30L. It is ALMOST the perfect companion for just about any traveler who needs a packable daypack. If you are needing something a bit more technical, the Flash 22 from REI is kinda packable but it is not ideal.  

Grant taking a picture near Scoville Point.
Grant taking a picture near Scoville Point wearing his Flash 22.

While it will handle use as a pack on the trail, we have definitely decided on purpose-built trail packs. We have found it makes longer hikes better and more comfortable. I presently use the REI Trail 25 and Bonnie continues to use her Osprey Daylite Plus, which are both excellent packs.

So, if we are traveling by plane, we will most likely be using the Eddie Bauer Stowaway 30L. If we are traveling by car, I will use the REI Trail 25 and Bonnie will take the Osprey Daylite Plus Pack.

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