In our excitement about expedition packs and multi-night trip packs, and, well, every other awesome piece of gear for backcountry hijinks, daypacks can sometimes be relegated to the “eh, whatever works,” category.

But that’s a shame.

The right daypack can be a crucial piece of gear. Too big, and you’re carting around a bunch of floppy, useless fabric and straps. Too small and you either have to leave important bits of kit behind or have an overstuffed albatross weighing you down.

Are you intending on moving quickly, athletically, maybe scrambling off trail, riding a mountain bike, or trail running? You want a pack that’s narrow and moves with you. Need a daypack to stuff inside a multi-day pack so you can go on exploratory day hikes from a backcountry base camp? You’ll want something small. Fishing for a day deep in the wilderness, and need a pack to handle lunch, fishing gear, lots of water, maybe a change of clothes? Get a big daypack.


One of the three packs below ought to be able to handle just about whatever your day can throw at you.

Patagonia Nine Trails 20L ($129)

This might be my favorite daypack ever. Simple, no fuss, and comfortable. The Nine Trails is a top-loader pack with zippered pocket on the lid, one inside the pack, a big mesh pocket on the outside, two water bottle holders, a hip belt with pockets, and a roomy 20 liters of storage space. It slings easily between the shoulders, and when the chest straps and hipbelt are cinched down, along with compression straps to keep the load in place, it’s game for a long trail ride, a trail run, or a vigorous hike. Like a larger multi-day pack, it has a well-ventilated mesh back panel, perfect for keeping you cool when sweating through a scramble. Patagonia offers this pack in a range of sizes, but this 20L model is firmly in the goldilocks zone.

Granite Gear Crown2 38L ($185)

This pack is the little brother, or sister, of the multi-day 60 liter version, though, you could overnight this pack too if you wanted. But really, it’s awesome big hauler for complicated day-long forays when you’re returning to a car or house at the end of the day. It’s a rolltop bag with a removable lid and a detachable hipbelt, so really it can be lots of packs in one. Supremely useful for, say, packing waders, lunch, extra shoes, and fishing equipment on long hikes to backcountry fly fishing streams. Or for nordic skiing when you want to bring multiple layers of clothes and plenty of food. About as big a daypack as I’d ever want to use, but also suitable for a huge range of activities.

Mountainsmith Scream 20L (On sale for $38!)

What a versatile, tough, little pack. The Scream 20 doubles as a daypack and a compression sack. It’s small enough to stuff inside a larger pack for use during day hikes on a backpacking trip, or, use it to scrunch down your extra clothes, then shake it out, attach the stowable shoulder straps, and throw it on for a day hike. A big front zipper allows for easy access without having to unroll the roll top closure. Weighs less than a pound, and with a tough outer fabric, it’s ideal as a little afterthought pack to throw in on longer adventures.