The Best Daypacks

June 23, 2015

  • by
  • Drew Zieff

Daypacks top the list of essentials, working hard in every season. From storing extra layers and snacks on hikes to books and laptops on airplanes, they make certain our necessities remain only a zip or two away.

Longer journeys require more volume (40+ liters) and load management. However, when adventure is on the horizon and you plan to be home by sundown, 20-38 liters will deliver the goods. Check out our top picks below, and don’t forget to sign up for Active Junky for exclusive deals and cashback on your gear purchases.

Daypack Universal Attributes

The selected packs possess all five of these attributes, with one designated as a “key attribute.”

Comfort: adjustability, padding and pressure points all contribute to a pack’s comfort level.

Convenience: what’s the point of a daypack if you can’t conveniently access your gear? This is where smart design and useful features show up.

Durability: solid daypacks take a beating – as brambles, rock and general wear are to be expected.

Style: while not a huge factor on the trail, style is a bonus in urban, commuting and travel scenarios.

Value: a value-based pick offers comparable quality at a price point that’s easier to stomach – or extra features at the same price.

Black Diamond Magnum 20

Bd magnum20 003 Black Diamond Magnum 20 $79.16 - $80.96 If fast and light is in your nature, Black Diamond takes you deeper. The Magnum 20 is an ultralight solution with remarkable storage volume for a 20-liter pack, namely due to its external mesh pocket, side pockets (ideal for water bottles), ice ax loop and compression web. Magnum impressed both male and female testers with this customizable package, made even lighter by removing the waist belt. Active Junky tested Magnum in Colorado’s Rockies before shipping it out to Olympic National Park; a National Forest Service Wildlife Biology Technician toted Magnum on off-trail missions scouting for Fishers. In fact, the Fisher crew spotted a martin for the first time since 2008, verifying the species is not yet extinct in ONP. After a hundred plus miles (and a rare martin sighting), Magnum still packs a punch.

Key Attribute: Convenience

Best For: Fast and light day hikes

The North Face Aleia 22

Tnf aleia001 The North Face Aleia 22 $87.96 - $94.96 This TNF 22-liter daypack surprised testers before they even loaded it with gear. “It’s light,” said one, balancing the empty pack in her hands. “Lighter than I’d expect from this style and at this price.”  At less than 2 lbs., the trail- and city-ready Aleia handles a full load with grace. Hikers got methodical to consolidate gear throughout the main compartment and six additional internal and external locations. However, the sheer number of organizational options might stymy stuff-and-go nature lovers. A fashion-forward tester who took Aleia on trail hikes and commutes from office to gym gave props to TNF, saying, “I’m loving the overall aesthetic and design.”

Key Attribute: Style

Best For: Alternating between concrete and dirt

Black Diamond Bolt 24

Bd bolt 24 3 Black Diamond Bolt 24 Starting at: $127.36 When 24L acts like 48L, capacity-wise, the company is on to something. With Bolt, external storage options (namely the enormous front stretch pocket) seem to double up space. When morning rain turned to sun, testers shed two wet rain jackets and hats before stashing them in Bolt’s outer pocket; side stretch panels open wide for accessories or water storage. Back panel, waist belt and strap ventilation were impressive and practical for testers trekking beneath New Mexico’s relentless desert sun. Tough, durable and stylish to boot, Bolt is an electrifying offering from one of the most trusted names in the industry.

Key Attribute: Convenience
Best For: Confidently striding with speed into the unknown

Platypus Sprinter XT 25

Platypus sprinter xt25 2 Platypus Sprinter XT 25 $68.64 - $81.44 On a four-day bikepacking trip, this padded pack competently held more than its specified capacity thanks to an array of external storage options. Thank the three stretchy mesh pockets, gear loops and compression straps that proved long enough to secure additional necessities.  Waterproof nylon and sealed zippers kept internal gear dry through relentless wet weather (including hail and lightning), while hip-belt pockets provided quick, pack-on access to snacks and tools. The hydration sleeve (3L bladder removed) creates ample space for a laptop, making the Sprinter XT 25 a worthy do-it-all daypack in both front and backcountry.

Key Attribute: Durability

Best For: Hydrating as you hike, bike and scramble

Marmot Aquifer 28

Marmot aquifer 4 Marmot Aquifer 28 Starting at: $108.46 This is Marmot’s biggest hydration daypack, coming stocked with a 3-liter reservoir. In addition to a hike’s worth of H2O, Active Junky testers comfortably stashed a DSLR camera, rain jacket, long sleeve t-shirt, bag lunch and other small essentials with room to spare. “It’s got a hydration sleeve AND two water bottle holders,” said one tester, “which is rare and appreciated in a hydration pack.” From day hikes and photo missions to climbing forays into Front Country crags (the 28L size fit a tester’s sport climbing rack), Aquifer shined as both a serious thirst quencher and a burly load carrier. Big ups to Marmot for the hefty hip belt and ventilation channel that encourage longer, harder objectives.

Key Attribute: Convenience

Best For: Long days where water is scarce

Deuter 28L Airlite

Deuter airlite 28 1 Deuter 28L Airlite $104.72 - $108.29 Airlite 28L merits a Pablo Neruda poem, comparing the pack’s ventilation to the welcome breeze of the Chilean sea. Seriously, the Aircomfort FlexLite suspension system stretches mesh across a light metal frame for an unparalleled ventilation system. Combine this revolutionary tech with reinforced mesh shoulder straps and a mesh waist belt and it's pure poetry for your shoulders. Active Junky testers relied on the Airlite across a myriad of conditions from a four-day bikepacking trip in Utah to daily Denver jaunts with laptop in tow. Compression straps ensure a slosh-free fit, even if you deploy a 2- or 3-liter hydration bladder in the inner pouch. Intuitive pockets include some of the best hip belt pockets we’ve tested along with an expandable outer pocket.  Call it a top pick for do-all adventurers, notably for those prone to perspiration.

Key Attribute: Comfort

Best For: Anything and everything, comfort and confidence

Coleman Glacier Basin 30L

Coleman glacier basin 1 Coleman Glacier Basin 30L By far the most affordable pack on this list, the Glacier Basin isn’t as technical or burly as some. Coleman’s done an admirable job of including features we’ve come to expect in mid-high range packs: mesh water bottle pockets, a hip belt with pockets and decent padding throughout. The pack also comes in a 23L and 15L size, making it a levelheaded choice for the whole family.  Carry this one in your long-distance luggage to break out on hike and sightseeing upon arrival at your destination.

Key Attribute: Value

Best For: Outfitting two for the price of one

Bergans of Norway Rondane 38L

Bergans rondane 383 Bergans of Norway Rondane 38L $104.91 - $115.64 For a 38L pack, the Rondane is surprisingly slender. A tubular design distributes weight vertically, which led testers to comment on the pack’s stability on uneven terrain. Zipper operation and material durability were also standout features, though testers noted the sleek strap and belt design couldn’t keep pace with heavy loads, comfort-wise. For technical days of scrambling, smart hikers who don’t overload their packs look to the Rondane 38L.

Key Attribute: Convenience

Best For: Scrambling, high-volume and low-weight expeditions.

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