by Diane Spicer
Looking for the best daypack for your next hike?
Follow up question:
Yeah, me, too.
So to put the best daypack into your hands, let's make this a straightforward process by using a reliable gear source: REI Co-op.
Hiking For Her has been using REI Co-op gear for day hiking since 1977.
Also, Hiking For Her is proud to be an REI affiliate.
This means you pay nothing extra when you purchase the best daypacks through the links on this website, and Hiking For Her receives a modest percentage of the cost.
Hiking For Her has literally worn out many day packs, so these recommendations for the best packs are built around what really works and lasts on the trail over many seasons.
Let's get to it.
So what's a hiking day pack?
It's a lightweight backpack to use for day hikes, with a smaller volume than a backpacking pack.
Every hiker has a different set of "must haves" for her best day pack.
Here's a list to get you started:
Which one of these is your top priority?
Keep prioritizing to create a shopping list to work from.
And since you're here, let's imagine that we're shopping together.
Size can mean fit, which is covered next.
But for hikers, size really means volume - like a Big Gulp compared to a sippy cup.
This leads into an important question:
How much stuff do you want to carry on your hike?
If you're just starting out as a hiker, and plan to stick to short well maintained trails, you need a minimalist backpack:
Best daypack for you: Patagonia's Nine Trail 18L pack.
Once you begin to tackle longer trails with varying terrain, you'll start carrying safety and comfort items.
That means a slightly larger volume is necessary.
To hold the ten essentials (recommended for any hike exceeding a few miles) and not much more, you need something like the Patagonia pack mentioned above, but in the larger 26L version.
Or check out my review of an ultralight (UL) women's day pack which can expand to 35L, or cinch down to a mere 15 liters.
Every serious hiker should be.
You're going to need extra room in your backpack for these:
You might also be a photographer, geologist, botanist - someone who wants to bring along specialized equipment on a day hike.
Your ideal volume range will be around 30 liters, no more than 50L tops. Keep reading for some recommendations.
Now let's transition into how to pick a backpack with the proper fit.
The glory of being a female hiker is that it truly doesn't matter what size and shape you are.
Eternal female hiking truths:
Except, not quite.
Females have unique chest dimensions, which can vary quite a bit over the years.
Ditto for waist and hip dimensions.
(See Adjustable Packs discussion below for more details.)
So while all worthy women's backpacks have contoured shoulder straps, a shoulder harness, a variety of compartments, and hip belts, you have to do some detective work to find the combo that suits your female body's unique dimensions best.
You need a pack with a shorter torso length.
You have the reverse problem from petite hikers, and there are only certain packs which will fit your longer torso.
So be sure to zoom in on the correct backpacks before you go shopping, to avoid wasting time or being disappointed with fit.
For step by step instruction for finding your torso length (and other fit recommendations), use these REI tips.
Every day pack has straps and buckles for creating a customized fit.
But sometimes, those are not enough when your weight and dimensions fluctuate due to pregnancy or a fitness regime.
You need to find the packs which give you a wider range of options for dialling in that perfect fit before you hit the trail.
This Osprey Skimmer comes in two sizes, with a woman's contoured fit.
And it doesn't hurt to mention its 2.5L hydration reservoir, in case that's important to you.
Not interested in using a water bladder?
Then this Osprey Tempest is a small backpack which offers the same sizing options as the Skimmer.
Looking for L/XL sizing in a small (18L) day pack?
If you're fitting a growing girl, or want to share your pack with someone else who is taller or shorter, an adjustable torso backpack is the way to go.
The Osprey Mira AG 26L pack has a 17 - 20 inch torso range.
No doubt about it, hikers are great shoppers.
We don't want to pay too much, but we also know that underbuying a pivotal piece of gear like a daypack can come back to
bite haunt us.
For this reason, we'll skip cheap, flimsy daypacks and go to the ones that deserve your attention.
This Refugio 25L day pack has a small price point, around $90 U.S.
The fact that it's a Patagonia pack is a good sign - they've been making quality gear for a long time now.
Another good sign: water repellent finish on the nylon fabric.
A few extras with this modestly priced pack:
Note: This pack won't support a lot of weight on your back, due to its lack of a hip belt, but it's enough to get you started on day hikes.
Now let's consider a large pack.
REI's Trail 40L pack comes in at just a bit over $100 U.S., and delivers some nice features for that price.
Heads up: If you're looking for a hydration reservoir compatible pack, this won't suit you.
However, if you'd like a rain cover, several size options, and a low weight yet higher volume day pack, take a look!
Many of the day packs from Deuter and Osprey mentioned above are at the higher end of the price spectrum: $125+ U.S.
So what do you get for that extra cash?
Keep reading for the comfort features you're paying for - and enjoying - on the trail.
You'll need to prioritize what's most important for your comfort on the trail during day trips.
Higher end daypacks differ in the:
But which features make the best daypack for you?
As you can see from the list, the type of day hiking you do matters quite a lot when picking out a pack.
If you hike in high summer with practically zero chance of rain, why pay for a rain cover?
If you hike in cloudy, cool conditions, ventilation might not be a huge deal to you.
No need to carry an ice axe or poles? Then a myriad of attachment points on your pack are useless to you.
Clearly, you're going to need a shopping strategy.
It's easy to compare and prioritize daypacks on the REI website.
Just select what's most important to you before you start looking at packs, and before you know it, you'll arrive at the best daypack for you.
True story from a seasoned hiker: You'll save yourself a lot of frustration by being strategic.
To find the best daypack on the planet for you:
Make a list of the features you absolutely must have (go back through the list above and take notes).
Go to REI's easy to navigate website and drill down to the volume of pack you want.
Select the features that really matter to you: torso length, volume, easy access to gear, etcetera.
Utilize their "compare packs" feature to narrow your search even further.
Before you know it, you'll have several reasonable choices.
Here's the daypack I reach for hike after hike:
I love how it checks pretty much all of the comfort boxes above, and how it stands up to rock abrasion, trail mud, and indelicate tosses into the back of the jeep at day's end.
The hip belt hugs me like none other, and I find it easy to get into and back out quickly, even in the rain.
The mesh back panel directs heat away from the core.
Note: This day pack fits torsos 15 - 19 inches, which works for me because I'm 5'3".
not work for you if your torso is longer, so be sure to check out the
adjustable packs noted above.
Heed this humble advice:
If a pack doesn't fit, don't wear it.
You're going for the BEST daypack, right?
Shopping at REI Co-op makes your quest easier: great customer service and generous return policies.
And fair warning:
Day hikes just won't be enough after a few seasons.
Before you go, why not enjoy more tips on how to pick the best daypacks for women!
Your Best Daypack
About the author
Diane is the founder of Hiking For Her.
She’s been on a hiking trail somewhere in the world for nearly five decades & loves to share her best hiking tips right here.
All rights reserved.
Photo credits: All photos on this website were taken by David Midkiff or Diane Spicer except where noted.
As an Amazon Associate, Hiking For Her earns from qualifying purchases.