Daypack Buyer's Guide

News & Tips: Daypack Buyer's Guide

When it's time to take a hike down a trail, the most important choice you'll face (next to what you plan to carry with you) will be what you will carry everything in. When a fanny pack is too small, and a backpack is too big, what should you do?

DaypackBG 1Turn your attention to a daypack.

The great news is that you have many options when it's time to select a daypack. There are now daypacks to fit outdoor enthusiasts of any size and with any interests. Today's daypacks are also often packed with features. And while some "old-timers" prefer standard water bottles for hydrating, many modern daypacks offer the option to utilize more user-friendly hydration bladders secured inside the pack. Long gone are the one-pocket, lacking-in-options daypacks that resembled big cloth buckets in which that one item you required always seemed to be at the bottom of the load. Today's daypacks have many pockets and compartments to help you stay organized and help your trip go much smoother.

That First Selection

The first step in picking the perfect daypack is to decide what you'll use it for. A small, lightweight pack designed to carry a few basic clothing items and other light loads will not be a good choice to carry a heavier load such as technical climbing gear, a telescope and tripod, or a large load of photography gear complete with heavy lenses. Decide what you plan to pack, how much the load will weigh, and then how much space (volume) is needed to secure the load.

If you will carry heavy loads — ranging up to approximately 25 pounds — look for bags with padding that permits venting against your back via soft, thick ridges and grooves, and daypacks with some type of inner frame or support sheet. These features help keep the load from pressing against your spine and generally help keep your back cooler by permitting air circulation.

You will also want a daypack that is no wider than your back, fits comfortably on your shoulders (not too narrow or wide where the shoulder straps are attached), and a daypack that does not extend lower than your belt line or so low that it interferes with walking or the natural movement of your hips and legs. Measure from the base of your neck to the small of your back; this is your general torso length measurement. Some pack manufacturers provide this number to aid you in making a better selection and fit. Some daypacks can be too long for some smaller and shorter framed hikers.

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Daypacks should hold only what you need to take along, without too many extras to weigh you down.

Daypacks that provide the highest level of user comfort have padded belts and an across-the-chest harness system or buckled sternum strap to help distribute the load bearing points and keep the shoulder straps in line. Wide padded shoulder straps also make carrying a load easier. Thin simple shoulder straps tend to dig into your upper shoulders and become uncomfortable.

When you will pack multiple items, a pack with an inner divider-or second floor-can help keep things organized and accessible. If you need something in a hurry, just lay the pack down and unzip the compartment where the item was stored. Outer pockets can also help you stay organized and do less digging for items you tend to use more often, like a GPS unit, flashlight or small binocular. Just be certain that the outer pockets have zippers to secure your gear, and have waterproof zippers in case you do not want the contents to become damp should it rain while you are afield. Consider buying a rain-fly as well. Note that most quality daypacks are constructed of Codura or denier ripstop nylon and have a waterproof coating on the interior. Canvas is outdated as a pack building material since it is heavy and less flexible.

One other key consideration is whether the daypack is hydration system compatible. If it is sold with a rubber or flexible plastic water bladder inside, you are ready to go after filling the bladder with water or your favorite drink. Some daypacks permit installing a flexible container that is sold separately. You'll need to be certain that the bladder or bag you buy will fit in the area where the liquid and container should be secured. This compartment is normally separated from the other gear so there are no puncture problems and no leaks. Those drinking hoses that run out from the pack and bladder and are then secured on a shoulder strap can definitely make hydrating while you hike a simple process. Multitasking efforts like those can also help you use time efficiently as you strive to reach your destination. Plus staying hydrated reduces the chances of leg cramps, so drink up!

Most hikers and pack bearers tend to buy a pack bigger than what they need, and then stuff it full with stuff they might not need. This pushes the load weight up. Thus, if you have a smaller pack, you tend to take less and have a lighter load. Don't be a camel and over pack, but do take the essentials for the trip you have planned. Some hikers have more than one daypack and select the one that best suits the load they plan to carry. You can also select a hybrid that has a smaller fanny pack on the lower half that can be unzipped or removed and used separately. This offers up many options.

On The Go, More Often

Another option is a daypack that serves double duty. You can obtain daypacks, usually around 3,000 to 3,500 cubic inches of inner space, which also serve as carry-on luggage. (A pack this size is edging into the backpack category, though.) There are also daypacks that double as child carriers-more of a specialty item and not for the average hiker. And there are simple hydration daypacks that are designed to hold an inner water bladder that also offer a small area-often an outer pocket-for storing additional gear.

If you will be climbing in difficult terrain or scrambling over boulders, you will want a daypack with side securing or compression straps so you can cinch the pack surface down tight and keep the inner load from shifting and possibly causing you to be off balance.

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Some anglers find daypacks are the perfect place to store all that gear while providing much wearer comfort.

When you look at standard daypacks, you'll discover that most will offer from 1,400- to 2,500-cubic inches of gear storing space. You can't go wrong when selecting a daypack from manufacturers such as Camelbak, The North Face, Coleman, Jansport, Kelty and others. A good day pack that will provide years of service should cost around $100.

Another feature many hikers like in daypacks are lock systems-often small square pads-on the pack's exterior that permit the attachment of specialty pockets and accessories. When you do not want the extra pockets or attachments, simply twist and remove. These swivel-and-secure attachments (sometimes referred to as Buddy-Lok or Tech-Lok systems) can truly help you create a custom daypack.

Believe it or not, daypacks generally have handles. In most cases this is a thick, multi-layered loop of material or a soft rubber handle that's attached to the pack at the top and between the shoulder straps base. This handle permits easy pick-up of the pack for transporting in one hand. Look closely to be certain this handle is reinforced with stitching at the base and open enough to permit your hand inside. You'll use this more than nearly any other pack feature.

While daypacks are available in colors ranging from burning orange to passionate purple, you'll possibly find more options and sizes in the camouflage gear area. Hunters have discovered daypacks and the models from manufacturers are nearly endless. Many of the packs are loaded with features that most general hikers have overlooked. And since "green" is in, it's acceptable to be less obtrusive in the backwoods and wear camouflage. Take a look at your many daypack options and you'll not be disappointed.