10 best daypacks for hikes: Lightweight bags to store your walking essentials

·10-min read
You’ll need something comfortable and robust for a day spent outdoors (The Independent)
You’ll need something comfortable and robust for a day spent outdoors (The Independent)

If you’ve found yourself extending your weekend stroll around the park to a hilly Sunday hike, you’ll need a good daypack. It’s a piece of kit that’s also ideal if you commute on foot or by bike, with many daypacks tucking a laptop sleeve away beneath the emergency whistle. If you’re a climber or a scrambler, a light and technical daypack should give you easy access to your chalk and your shoes without getting in your way.

If you’re serious about walking and you plan to cover any real distance – anything over a couple of hours – a commuter rucksack won’t do. Even a short walk with an unsupportive pack can strain muscles and ruin your hike. All the backpacks below are perfect for a full day’s walking, with some – like the Osprey tempest (£150, Ospreyeurope.com) – perfectly capable of taking you further.

We tested these packs on walks that ranged from quick trips to the shops to day-long hikes. We ran the bags that are best for climbing and scrambling through tests to check their durability, weight, and loading when full of kit.

You don’t need to worry quite as much about fit as you do with a larger backpacking bag because it will never be as heavy, but it’s worth getting the essentials right: the bag should sit a couple of inches above your waist when packed, with wide shoulder straps that will help spread the load. A hip strap is great for longer walks or if you have any back issues: some of these bags have a removable hip strap, ideal if you want to use it for commuting or shopping as well.

Weight is only a consideration if you’re going to be walking for a very long time, or if you’ll be scrambling or climbing. Frill-free technical packs are ideal, with a slim profile that will keep you fast and light.

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Daypacks range in volume from about 20-40l, and we’ve included a variety of sizes in this round-up. Smaller bags will carry lunch and a waterproof; larger packs, and those with extra storage like bungee cords, will take a sleeping bag and mat.

We tested all the larger bags in this review with our most minimal wild camping kit – the basics for one night, including a sleeping bag, mat, bivvy and small stove.

The best daypacks for 2021 are:

Osprey tempest 34

Best: Overall

Volume: 34l

One of our all-time favourite women’s daypacks, the recently redesigned tempest is a remarkable, technical pack. Built to get you through some seriously rugged terrain, it’s got the best support structure at the back that we found, with a solid panel, comfy foam ribs and a mesh layer.

We loved the big opening at the top, which Osprey calls the “bucket zip access”, and which makes stuffing the pack and removing layers simple on the move. A comfortable hip strap, generous front pocket – easily enough room for a waterproof layer and a map, generous side pockets with hoops for walking poles, and plenty of discreet zipped pockets make this the ultimate hiking pack for a short trip.

Buy now £150.00, Ospreyeurope.com

Gregory women’s jade 28

Best: Daypack with a water bottle holder

Volume: 28l

Thoroughly tried and tested, our reviewer has taken this ultralight pack on week-long walks with no trouble. Sleek and feature-heavy, its already generous 28l capacity is augmented by a super stretchy front pocket and two very large side pockets – ideal for water bottles or extra layers. The lid is great if you’re expecting bad weather – it also comes with a full rain cover. The carry system is one of the best we’ve tried, with comfortable hip and shoulder straps as well as a sternum strap for heavier loads. Ideal if you’re hoping to gradually extend your walks.

Buy now £141.95, Alpine Trek

Jack Wolfskin kingston 30

Best: Daypack with a rain cover

  • Volume: 30l

A stunning, feature-heavy pack that – in less pandemic-y times – would be ideal for short holidays and weekends away. Our reviewer felt it had two modes: one with all the straps in use, which gives you excellent support if you’re taking it walking with a heavy load (and at 30l this bag can fit quite a lot of luggage), and another with the straps stashed away, for a more streamlined, commuter-ready shape.

Lightweight and made from recycled fabrics, we loved the separate base compartment, with an inbuilt raincover and more than enough room for anything you want to stash separately – like wet kit or laundry.

Buy now £80.00, Jack-wolfskin.co.uk

Osprey archeon 24

Best: Weekend bag

  • Volume: 24l

A stylish, versatile pack with impeccable ethical credentials that’s as suited to city life as the wilderness. We love the big, zippable lid-like top, which made it supremely easy to make the most of the 24 litres of space, and the stripped-back simplicity of its design.

One big compartment, two generous side pockets, sturdy straps and a robust back with good ventilation and zero fuss – everything you need for a long walk. A discreet laptop sleeve, with a zipped compartment for other valuables, makes it a good weekend or commuting bag. The recycled canvas fabric feels super durable, but looks amazing.

Buy now £120.00, Ospreyeurope.com

Vango trail 25

Best: For short walks

  • Volume: 25l

Classic, vintage style meets modern hiking tech. Part of Vango’s Heritage range, its durable, recycled outer, metal buckles and sewn-on labels are inspired by the golden age of exploration. Your own adventures might only take you as far as your local park, but this pack is still perfect for your picnic.

With a 25 litre capacity, it’s the ideal size for a short day’s walk, and robust straps – including a sternum strap – keep the pack comfortable even if it’s heavy. Extra zipped pockets – including in the lid and on the sides – are great for valuables and a waterproof layer.

Buy now £30.00, Cotswoldoutdoor.com

The North Face jester backpack

Best: Daypack for commuting

  • Volume: 27.5l

The perfect pack if you’re looking for a bag to commute with and also use on weekend walks. We loved its large, flat base, which means the bag can stand upright while you rummage: packed trains are a distant memory, but if we were still riding them, this would be our bag of choice.

Multiple pockets and organisers – for everything from a laptop to pens and notebooks – make it great for the office, while the durable water resistant outer, generous bungee straps, water bottle pockets and firm back and straps mean it segues effortlessly onto a long walk.

Buy now £35.00, Thenorthface.co.uk

Lowe Alpine airzone active 22

Best: Lightweight daypack

  • Volume: 22l

A well-thought out bag that balances lightweight construction with Lowe Alpine’s legendary suspended mesh carry system, one of the very few rucksack back systems we’ve found that keeps your back cool no matter how hard you’re walking.

A sleek, minimalist design, with plenty of cinchable straps, make this a good low-profile pack for tougher terrain; but there’s still everything you could need for a serious hike, like a rain cover, sternum strap, pole attachments, multiple zipped pockets and a stretchy stash pocket on the front.

Buy now £63.00, Trekitt.co.uk

Fjallraven high coast totepack

Best: Daypack for everyday use

  • Volume: 23l

Versatile and beautiful, like everything Fjallraven makes, this ingenious bag is every pack you’ll need for a short trip combined. Two thin but comfortable straps on the bag mean you can wear it as a backpack; a longer handle means you can wear it as a shoulder bag; and two grab handles on the top mean it works as a tote.

Plenty of pockets and a laptop sleeve mean it works for commutes – there’s even an attachment for a bike light – as well as on longer walks, with a waterproof outer that can resist the worst weather. Best of all, it folds up into its own front pocket, to about the size of a small clutch: we could stash it in a big coat pocket.

Buy now £70.00, Fjallraven.com

Columbia tandem trail backpack

Best: For sweaty backs

  • Volume: 22l

A well-thought out bag that balances lightweight construction with Lowe Alpine’s legendary suspended mesh carry system, one of the very few rucksack back systems we’ve found that keeps your back cool no matter how hard you’re walking. A sleek, minimalist design, with plenty of cinchable straps, make this a good low-profile pack for tougher terrain; but there’s still everything you could need for a serious hike, like a rain cover, sternum strap, pole attachments, multiple zipped pockets and a stretchy stash pocket on the front.

Buy now £55.00, Columbiasportswear.co.uk

Millican Smith the roll pack

Best: For long hikes

Volume: 15l

Sustainable and stylish, Millican’s range of retro packs just get more beautiful with age and heavy use. Smith is the daypack, a canvas pack with all-metal features and no plastic, that’s stuffed with useful features. It’s really comfortable: the recycled canvas looks tough, but we experienced no friction at all from the straps after a day’s hiking.

The rolltop means you can stuff it full, if you don’t have to worry about sealing the top against rain. A discreet laptop compartment and a reflective cycle strip make it truly versatile. Millican are spearheading a brilliant project that re-houses old bags (any brand) with their social project partners, after fixing any bumps and bruises. Send in your bag for free and get 10 per cent off a new one.

Buy now £125.00, Homeofmillican.com

What to look for in a daypack

When purchasing a new daypack, it’s important to consider the capacity, weight, comfort and waterproofing aspects as well as what you plan to be using it for. If it’s for longer hikes and weekend mountain walking, then you’ll want something big enough to fit bottles of water, chalk, food, a change of clothes and even sleeping bags. Typically daypacks range between 20l to 40l in volume.

It’s also worth looking out for hip or chest straps that will help distribute the load, relieve shoulder pressure and reduce swaying when you walk.

Depending on how much stuff you’re bringing with you, the number of compartments will also help keep your valuables, like a phone or bungee cords, safe and dry, and essentials such as water within easy reach.

If you’re heading somewhere that’s likely to rain, a rain cover or daypack made with a waterproof layer will stop your belongings from getting wet.

The verdict: Daypacks for walking

Osprey’s tempest was our favourite technical bag, packed with features that experienced hikers will love but that won’t intimidate new walkers. Millican’s canvas pack was the most stylish we tested, and we love their bag recycling initiative.

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