For us occasional hikers, it can be hard to lay down serious cash for a quality day hiking pack. So, the trick is to get the best backpack for day hiking AND other things, too!
When I was just starting out as a hiker, I had no idea what made a decent day hiking backpack. Why not just use that beautiful leather backpack I got for commuting to work? While you can use just about anything you want as a day hiking pack for short treks, a longer all-day hike is definitely more comfortable with a few features that only come in a hiking backpack.
So, I’ll break these features down, and then get into the really fun stuff!
- Day Hiking Pack FEATURES: What to Look For
- 15 Best MULTI-PURPOSE Day Hiking Packs for Occasional Hikers
- Best Day Hiking Pack for BEGINNERS: Osprey Talon 22 Men’s Backpack and Osprey Tempest 20 Women’s Backpack
- Runner Up Best Day Hiking Pack for BEGINNERS: MEC 24 Hour Pack
- Best Day Hiking Pack for STUDENTS: North Face Borealis Backpack
- Best Day Hiking Pack for GYM GOERS: Under Armour Hustle 4.0 Backpack and Lululemon Out of Range Backpack
- Best Day Hiking Pack for CYCLING COMMUTERS: Roll Top Pack from Cass
- Best Day Hiking HYDRATION Pack for CYCLISTS: Osprey Raptor 14 Men’s Backpack and Osprey Raven 14 Women’s Backpack
- Best Day Hiking HYDRATION Pack for RUNNERS: Camelbak Octane 25 Backpack
- Best Day Hiking HYDRATION Pack for MINIMALISTS: Gregory Nano 18 Backpack
- Best Day Hiking Pack that Attaches to OVERNIGHT BACKPACKS: Osprey Daylite Backpack
- Best LARGE CAPACITY Day Hiking Pack: Gregory Zulu 30
- Runner Up Best LARGE CAPACITY Day Hiking Pack: Patagonia Nine Trails 28 and Patagonia Nine Trails 26
- Best Day Hiking Pack for FREQUENT FLYERS: Osprey Farpoint 40 Men’s Backpack and Osprey Fairview 40 Women’s Backpack
- Best Day Hiking Pack for INTERNATIONAL TRAVELERS: Travelon Anti-Theft Classic Backpack
- Best Day Hiking Pack for BUSINESS TRAVELERS: Roll Top Backpack from Minnim Accessories
- Best PORTABLE Day Hiking Pack for Travelers: Cloud Up Camping Backpack
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Day Hiking Pack FEATURES: What To Look For
- Mesh back and straps: This is what sets a good day hiking pack apart from other travel bags and backpacks. If you want something that breathes while you sweat, go for a proper backpack for day hiking. Below are a mixture of hiking backpacks with mesh back and straps and those without. If you choose one without, pick material you’ll be able to stand up against your back when you’re hot and sweaty!
- Padded Back: My top regret with my current backpack is that it doesn’t have any padding on the back. So, when I carry containers of food, I’ve had it rub a sore spot on my back that lasted long after my hike. Unless you expect to use your day hiking pack very occasionally for hikes, pick a backpack with back padding. It also gives your backpack some structure when you set it down.
- Wide adjustable, padded straps: All day hiking backpacks have wide adjustable, padded straps. But I mention this in case you’re looking for a fashion backpack that can double for a day hiking pack. You definitely don’t want straps that’ll cut into your skin if you’re hiking – or shopping – with a tank top.
- Volume: Generally, the recommended volume for day hiking packs is 20 liters to 35 liters. If you tend to do more half-day hikes, you’d be fine with the smaller size. But if you want the option to comfortably carry extra water, food and clothing for full-day hikes, go with a bigger size. Depending on the style of day hiking backpack you get, it’ll still look and feel great when you only need it to carry a few things.
- Lots of pockets: I’m a huge fan of lots of pockets to organize my stuff. For example, keeping first aid supplies in a small exterior pocket, car keys in a zippered interior pocket, and extra clothes separate from food and liquids. But if you like the clean, minimalist look, you might consider waterproof bags to keep everything organized.
- Hydration reservoirs: I tried a hydration reservoir once and it felt way too intense for most of the short little hikes I was doing. But, it’s perfect if you also like cycling, running or climbing. Also, hydration pack pockets are often padded, doubling as a perfect laptop sleeve!
- Sex-specific backpacks: Should you go with a unisex, men’s or women’s backpack for day hiking? Consensus among avid hikers seems to be that sometimes it’s not so clear. Women’s backpacks tend to have a shorter torso and contoured hipbelts and shoulder straps. But this can also be perfect for younger hikers, shorter men and men with bigger pecs. Note that many unisex hiking backpacks have an adjustable torso, too.
Overall, the best multi-purpose day hiking pack is something you’ll feel comfortable wearing in multiple situations. Let’s go through them!
Best 11 MULTI-PURPOSE Day Hiking Packs
1. Best Day Hiking Pack for BEGINNERS
If you’re looking for the best day hiking pack for beginners, I suggest going with a mid-sized backpack that you can use for lots of other uses, too. My backpack for day hiking has been my carry-on bag, gym bag and diaper bag, too!
The Osprey Talon 22 men’s backpack and Osprey Tempest 20 women’s backpack come up over and over on recommended best-of day hiking backpacks. While they have a lot to offer as hiking backpacks, they’re also super versatile for other types of travel and sports. And Osprey is a very well-respected brand for hiking packs, so you know you’re getting one that’ll last.
Osprey backpacks are known for their Airscape backpanel and Biostretch straps and hipbelt, which give the Talon and Tempest backpacks a great ventilation system. Both backpacks have an external hydration pocket, attachments for helmet and trekking poles, side stretch pockets, top zippered pocket, and handy small pockets on the straps and hipbelt for quick access to a compass, hand sanitizer or snack. Plus, bungee tie-offs, an ice-axe loop, light attachment, and sternum strap with a safety whistle.
The only difference between the Talon and Tempest is that the Tempest is slightly smaller and its straps and hipbelt fit the female figure better.
Key features of Osprey Talon 22 men’s backpack:
- Volume: 22L
- Weight: 1lb 12oz
Key features of Osprey Tempest 20 women’s backpack:
- Volume: 20L
- Weight: 1lb 10oz
NOTE: If you’re unsure about the Talon or Tempest Osprey backpacks, check out the Packfinder feature on Osprey’s website. It makes it as easy as possible to find the best backpack for day hiking that suits you. Sort by user, primary activity (including everyday, hiking, travel, etc), and features (desired or required).
2. Runner Up Best Day Hiking Pack for BEGINNERS
I’m a fan of the Mountain Equipment Coop (or MEC) Canadian brand for outdoor gear. My MEC day hiking pack has been with me for more than 20 years of travel, school and gym. And while it’s definitely time to change it out, isn’t that seriously impressive?! MEC is a co-op with a quality guarantee and $5 lifetime membership, which goes back into the community.
My eye is now on the MEC 24 Hour Pack. The MEC 24 Hour Pack’s minimalist, low-profile design and handy extra features make it perfect for many uses, including day hiking, school, work and a travel carry-on. Carry your tablet in an inner fleece-lined sleeve, your laptop in a separate zippered compartment, and phone in a fleece-lined outer pocket. Use the side pocket for a water bottle or umbrella, and hidden daisy chains to attach a cycling reflector. And slide it onto rolling luggage with the rear strap.
Reviewers love its durable, water-resistant material, clamshell pull zippers that easily work with gloves, and rubberized fabric on bottom for durability.
Now, for some possible cons. It doesn’t have back ventilation, but it has moulded foam shoulder straps and a stretch-woven overlay on the back panel that make it pretty comfortable. Also, it doesn’t have a waistbelt and it doesn’t stand on its own. But these negatives are also kinda positives if you want a less technical day hiking pack that transitions well to other uses.
Key features of MEC 24 Hour Pack:
- Volume: 15L
- Weight: 1lb 4oz
Prices at $79CDN. Find it at MEC.ca (Canadian retailer).
3. Best Day Hiking Pack for STUDENTS
A great day hiking pack you’ll also love as a student will not only look great but comfortably carry heavy textbooks and have both a laptop sleeve and organizer for your phone, pencils and other accessories.
North Face Borealis is sleek and packs a ton of features. It has a padded fleece-lined 15” laptop sleeve, two extended water bottle pockets, front compartment with organization sleeves and zippered pocket, and an external fleece-lined pocket for your phone. Comfort isn’t a problem, either, with breathable, padded mesh back panel and straps, removable hipbelt, and sternum strap with whistle buckle. Reflective details and lifetime warranty, too.
Plus, it has the fun elastic bungee system in the front that keeps everything in place and makes it look great!
Key features of North Face Borealis backpack:
- Volume: 28L
- Weight: 2lbs 11oz
- Men’s (slightly smaller 27L women’s version)
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4. Best Day Hiking Pack for GYM GOERS
Most of the best day hiking packs on this list could also double as great gym bags. But, if you’re mostly looking for a great gym bag you can also use as a backpack for day hiking, here are two other great options to check out. (Though I already hear the hard-core hikers cringing!)
Under Armour Hustle 4.0 Backpack
Under Armour makes some pretty great clothes, so it makes sense they’d also make a pretty great backpack. The Under Armour Hustle 4.0 backpack is water-resistant and durable, with an abrasion-resistant bottom. Although it doesn’t have a ventilated back, it has breathable HeatGear shoulder straps and is made of a comfortable polyester/elastane blend.
You also have plenty of spots to store stuff, including a soft-lined sleeve that fits a 15” laptop, two water-repellant front pockets for valuables, and two side water bottle pockets. Plus, a large pocket at the bottom for laundry and shoes, and a D-Ring to attach hiking accessories, too.
Key features of the Under Armour Hustle 4.0 backpack:
- Volume: 26L
- Weight: 1lb 4oz
Prices at $55US. Find it on Amazon.
Lululemon Out of Range Backpack
Another fantastic company you can be confident in is Lululemon. They have a number of different gym backpacks for men and women, but my favorite is the Out of Range backpack.
The Lululemon Out of Range backpack is 20L, which is great for a day hiking pack. It has an exterior padded pocket that fits a 15” laptop, interior pockets, a quick-access phone pocket, and side pockets for water bottles. Plus, extra features like a hard shell top pocket for sunglasses. It has a back mesh panel and nylon shoulder straps for comfort. And it’s water-repellent and easy to wipe clean.
Key features of the Lululemon Out of Range backpack:
- Volume: 20L
- Weight: n/a
Prices at $148US. Find your favorite Lululemon backpack.
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5. Best Day Hiking Pack for CYCLING COMMUTERS
If you cycle to work, you’re going to love this beautiful roll top backpack. Handmade in Montreal, Canada, this day hiking pack for cyclists easily takes you from bike to work to happy hour, all in style. This backpack includes a laptop pocket, side Velcro pockets, cushioned back, side-compression straps and a double-layer, reinforced bottom. It’s made from waxed cotton, making it water-repellent. Bags are lined with recycled material, so let the owner know if you prefer classic or funky designs!
Key features of Roll Top backpack for cyclists:
- Volume: 18L
- Weight: unknown
Prices at $170USD. Find it at Cass’ Shop on Etsy.
6. Best Day Hiking HYDRATION Pack for CYCLISTS
Many day hiking backpack features cross over into what you want in a cycling backpack. You still want breathable material, easy-to-access compartments, and maybe a hydration pack. Extra features to look for in the best day hiking pack you’ll also love for cycling include reflective detailing and attachment loops for things like locks and lights.
Generally, the slimmer and lower capacity backpacks are best for cycling (as long as you don’t need to carry much) but obviously not as useful as a backpack for day hiking.
Cyclists recommend the Osprey Raptor 14 Men’s Backpack and Osprey Raven 14 Women’s Backpack (both are $150US). The wing-shaped shoulder strap is most comfortable when in the cycling position, keeping the pack close to your body, but reviewers say it’s good for everyday use, too. Its AirScape suspension system and back panel keeps you vented, and features a very handy, removable tool pouch. Includes a 2.5L hydration pack with a separate compartment, plenty of zippered pockets, reflective patch, helmet attachment and loop for a light.
The difference between the Osprey Raptor 14 and Raven 14 is only in the shape of the straps and hipbelt.
Key features of Osprey Raptor 14 backpack:
- Volume: 14L
- Weight: 1lb 12oz
Key features of Osprey Raven 14 backpack:
- Volume: 14L
- Weight: 1lb 10oz
7. Best Day Hiking HYDRATION Pack for RUNNERS
The best hydration pack for runners is usually a vest that’s low-weight, form-fitting, has great storage in the front and comfortable hydration pack and system.
The Camelbak Octane 25 fuses this runner’s vest with a great day hiking pack. It’s lightweight at only 1lb 2 oz, has a dual-adjustable sternum strap for extra stability, and is well-ventilated with 3D mesh and a breathable hip belt. And it has tons of pockets, including on the vest and hip belt, a secure phone pocket, and a spot to secure trekking poles. Plus, it has reflectivity and includes an integrated rain cover.
Key features of Camelbak Octane 25 backpack:
- Volume: 22L plus 70oz hydration reservoir (included)
- Weight: 1lb 6oz
8. Best Day Hiking HYDRATION Pack for MINIMALISTS
I had to include this great little hydration pack. For one, because I LOVE the color! But obviously it packs a lot more features than looking great.
The Gregory Nano 18 backpack features a 3L hydration pack, an easy-pull top drawcord, and padded tubular webbing for comfort. It also has a top zippered pocket with key clip, zippered side stash pocket, and two water bottle pockets. Plus, reflective loops to attach extra accessories.
Key features of Gregory Nano 18 backpack:
- Volume: 18L
- Weight: 1lb
Retails at $49US. Find it on Amazon.
9. Best Day Hiking Pack that Attaches to OVERNIGHT Backpacks
If you expect to do some overnight hiking with day hiking in between, consider a day hiking pack you can easily attach to bigger overnight hiking backpacks. A great option is the Osprey Daylite, which is meant exactly for this purpose.
The Osprey Daylite is one of the lightest day hiking packs you can get, at only 1lb, has handy side-mesh pockets, interior pocket organizer and key clip, and that fantastic Osprey mesh-covered back panel. Includes a whistle on the sternum strap. Use the internal sleeve for a hydration pack (not included) or a laptop, too.
Specifically designed to attach to the following Osprey overnight backpacks: + Aether/Ariel Series + Volt/Viva Series + Ace 75 + Shuttle Series + Sojourn Series + Farpoint 80 + Porter Series.
Key features of Osprey Daylite backpack:
- Volume: 13L
- Weight: 1lb
10. Best LARGE CAPACITY Day Hiking Pack
If you think you might use your day hiking pack as a weekender bag, you might consider a larger capacity backpack for day hiking. These day hiking backpacks typically sacrifice outside pockets in favor of one big compartment, often with a U-shape zipper to easily see everything inside.
A great example of a larger day hiking pack is the Gregory Zulu 30, which gets very strong reviews. It has a ton of comfort features, including low-profile ventilation, trampoline suspension and lumbar foam on the back. Plus, breathable foam padding on the shoulder straps and hip belt. It’s made of a durable ripstop nylon, with an abrasion-resistant nylon on the bottom.
As for organization, Gregory Zulu 30 includes two exterior stretch pockets for water bottles, a front stretch pocket, zippered top pocket with key clip and hipbelt pockets. Other features include compression straps, loops on the bag and shoulder strap for sunglasses and gear, ice axe/pole attachment and rain cover.
Gregory Zulu 30 daypack is unisex, and comes in two sizes (small/medium and medium/large) with torso height adjustment. It’s also sized as a carry-on backpack, compatible with hydration packs, and can carry up to 16kg/35lbs.
Key features of Gregory Zulu 30 backpack:
- Volume: 30L
- Weight: 2lb 11oz (Medium/Large)
11. Runner Up Best LARGE CAPACITY Day Hiking Pack
Another large capacity day hiking pack on my radar is the Patagonia Nine Trails 28 (or 26 for women). Patagonia is one of the most environmentally-friendly gear companies out there and has a lifetime guarantee on its products.
This is another comfortable backpack for day hiking, with a super breathable mesh back panel and padding on the shoulder harness and waistbelt. Reviewers really like how the hipbelt fits. The soft and durable material resists abrasions, punctures and water.
Patagonia Nine Trails 28 and 26 have a U-shaped zipper to easily access everything in the large main compartment, along with a large inside pocket for a laptop and small inside pockets for your phone and keys. Plus, a large exterior stretch pocket perfect for shoes or wet clothes, two stretch pockets on the sides for water bottles and zippered pockets on the waistbelt. Other features include side compression straps and hydration pack compatibility.
Both the men’s and women’s versions come in two sizes (small/medium and large/extra-large), with a fit guide on their website to help you decide.
Key features of Patagonia Nine Trails 28 Men’s Backpack:
- Volume: 28L (also comes in 36L)
- Weight: 2lb 3oz
Key features of Patagonia Nine Trails 26 Women’s Backpack:
- Volume: 26L
- Weight: 2lb
12. Best Day Hiking Pack for FREQUENT FLYERS
Osprey Farpoint 40 Men’s Backpack (and Fairview 40 for women) meets all these requirements as a fantastic day hiking pack for frequent flyers. In fact, it was named as Best Overall Travel Backpack for 2020 by US News & World Report.
This day hiking pack has lockable sliders to the main compartment, an inside padded laptop sleeve and small mesh pocket, a scratch-free zippered front panel slash pocket, two front mesh pockets, and dual compression straps to keep your stuff in place. I love that the harness and hipbelt can be stowed under a zippered panel, so you don’t have to worry about them catching on stuff. And padded top and side handles to easily grab it and go.
You’ll also love its features as a more technical backpack for day hiking, too. It has a ventilated mesh back panel, frame suspension to transfer weight from the harness to hipbelt, and mesh on the harness and hipbelt to reduce chafing. Plus, places to attach extra gear and a rescue whistle built into the sternum strap.
Both the men’s and women’s versions come in two sizes, with a fit guide on their website to help you decide.
Key features of Osprey Farpoint 40 Men’s Backpack:
- Volume: 40L (small is 38L)
- Weight: 3lbs 3oz
Key features of Osprey Fairview 40 Women’s Backpack:
- Volume: 40L (small is 38L)
- Weight: 3lbs 3oz (medium)
13. Best Day Hiking Pack for INTERNATIONAL TRAVELERS
While the best day hiking pack for frequent flyers mostly applies to international travelers, too, there are a few more features you may want to consider. For example, a backpack with anti-theft features you can lock. Also, hidden pockets either inside or tucked right up against your back. These features prevent slashers and pick-pocketers from getting your stuff.
Travelon is a well-respected and very reasonably priced brand for anti-theft backpacks. The Classic style has all the anti-theft features you’d want: slash-proof adjustable straps, slash-proof body panels, locking zippers and RFID blocking pocket. Plus, it’s water-resistant and has lots of great storage. A large main compartment with a zippered pocket and large padded sleeve for a 13” laptop, side water bottle pocket, side zippered pocket, and front zippered pocket with an organizer and tethered key clip and LED light. Easily wipes clean.
Its comfort features are pretty minimal as a backpack for day hiking, so you likely won’t love it for all-day hikes. Straps are wide and adjustable, but it’s nylon and the opposite of breathable.
Key features of Travelon Anti-Theft Classic backpack:
- Volume: n/a
- Weight: 1lb 4oz
- Dimensions: 6x12x16”
Prices at $39US. Find it on Amazon.
14. Best Day Hiking Pack for BUSINESS TRAVELERS
If you want a day hiking pack that’s a little less outdoorsy and transitions well to the office, here’s a beautiful one to check out.
This Roll Top Backpack from Minnim Accessories is simple and elegant, but also has serious style and features. I love the roll top with buckle and vertical zippered pocket on the front! It’s made of waxed canvas, making it water-resistant, and has a leather reinforced bottom, an interior organizer for phone and accessories, and two water bottle pockets. Plus, the separate laptop pocket is right on the back, making it a great security pocket for travel documents, too.
Features of Roll Top backpack:
- Volume: 17L
- Weight: n/a
- Dimensions: 5.5×11.4×19.6”
Prices at $99US. Find it on Etsy.
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15. Best PORTABLE Day Hiking Pack for Travelers
Now, if you’re really an occasional hiker or just want a super portable day hiking pack to take along on your travels, here’s a fantastic one to check out.
Even though it folds up into a tiny little pouch and is a mere 4.2oz, it’s has a ton of great features. It’s 18L capacity, water-resistant, tear-resistant, and even has padded, breathable and adjustable shoulder straps. Plus, outer and inner zippered pockets, and two side mesh pockets for water bottles. Not bad, eh?
Definitely a handy backpack for day hiking to stow in your luggage!
Key features of Cloud up Camping backpack:
- Volume: 18L
- Weight: 4.2oz
Priced at only $17US. Find it on Amazon.
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Featured photo credit: Holly Mandarich from Unsplash.