Choosing the right daypack for travel or adventure

27 October, 2014

Whether you’re commuting, travelling, hiking, cycling, climbing, or running, you’re going to find a need for a daypack at some point in time. Choosing the right daypack is not easy though, with hundreds of brands and designs to choose from. So to help you make the right choice, answer the questions below and have a read through our article.

How often is your day pack going to be used?

A daypack that is going to be worn everyday needs to be more robust and durable than a daypack that you throw on your back for 30 minutes once a week or is used occasionally. If you use your backpack for commuting then it is certainly going to see more use and should have good quality zippers and abrasion resistant fabric in heavy wear areas such as the bottom of the pack.

How long will you be wearing your daypack for, and how heavy will it be?

This will determine how comfortable the pack will need to be, and what features you really will require. If you are going to be just using the day pack to pop in a few lightweight items for a brief ride or walk, then you won’t require ergonomic harness systems, hip belts, and back support. If however, you intend to have the pack on your back for a full day’s use with some weight in it, you are going to appreciate good quality ergonomic shoulder straps, waist or hip belts, and good back support and ventilation. 

What activity is the daypack going to be used for most of the time?

Have a think about what you will be using your daypack for most of the time. If you are on your bike a lot of the time then purchasing a daypack specifically designed to go on your back when cycling is a good idea. If however you are only on your bike on the weekend, and use a daypack to commute to work every day, then purchasing a daypack that is going to suit for commuting should be the primary consideration. There are a number of daypacks that can be used for a range of activities such as hiking, cycling, travelling and commuting, so you won’t have to purchase a daypack for each individual activity. 

Parts of a Daypack

Let’s familiarise ourselves with all the different parts of a daypack, and their functions:


Shoulder straps

The shoulder straps on a day pack will carry the majority of the weight of the backpack, transferring the weight onto your shoulders. Larger daypacks that have hip belts will transfer some of that weight off the shoulders and onto your hips. The heavier the load in your pack, then the broader the shoulder straps should be. Look also for thicker and better quality foam in the shoulder straps when carrying heavier loads for longer periods.

Sternum strap / chest strap

The chest strap or sternum strap sits across your sternum and is connected to your shoulder straps. Connecting and tightening the sternum strap helps to keep your shoulders from being pulled back by the weight of your pack. Sternum straps usually have some elastic material in the strap to allow for dynamic movement in your arms, chest and shoulders. 

Hip Belt

The hip belt on larger daypacks and backpacks is designed to move the weight of the backpack off your shoulders and down onto your hips. As your pack load increases a hip belt becomes more important. Smaller daypacks that carry less weight will tend to have a waist belt rather than a hip belt. The waist belt helps to stabilise the back on your back and stop your day pack from bouncing and moving around when you are active.

Compression straps

Compression straps on day packs are used to squeeze your pack down and bring the load of the pack closer to your back. It also aids in preventing items shifting around in your pack. Compression straps can also be used to attach items to the outside of your pack, such as sleeping bags, mats, tools etc.

Hydration system

Some daypacks will have a built in hydration system or a special pocket to house the water bladder with a hole for the hydration tube to come out through the day pack.

Rain cover

As many daypacks are generally not totally waterproof, some will have a built in rain cover that attaches around the daypack to keep rain and water from entering the pack. These rain covers can also be purchased separately and come in a range of sizes to fit over different sized packs.

Bungee cord, gear loops & equipment straps

Day packs may have bungee cord, gear loops and equipment straps on the outside of the pack so that you can attach equipment such as hiking poles, sleeping bags, ice axes, crampons, skis to the day pack.

Water bottle pockets

You will find some day packs have external pockets large enough to hold a water bottle. These are generally located at the base of the pack so they are easy to access while walking.



Features to look for in specialised day packs

 Primary Activity Good for the daypack to: Useful features to look for:
Adventure Racing / Trail Running / Multi Sport • be light
• be well ventilated to allow perspiration to escape
• be able to be stabilised to prevent the pack from bouncing around
• be comfortable
• Hydration system or easy access to water bottles
• A couple of pockets to stash keys, phone,etc

• sit comfortably on the lower back

• be well ventilated


• Helmet holder
• Reflective material
• Waterproof/splash cover
Hiking / Bushwalking • have a comfortable and ventilated harness system
• have a narrow profile
• padded back
• have a capacity between 20 and 30 litres
• Water bottle holders or hydration system compatible
• Side pockets
• Compartments for organising gear
• Hip belts
• Sternum straps
• Trekking pole attachments
Overnight Hiking • padded and comfortable hipbelt
• supportive harness system with internal frame
• Water bottle holders or hydration system compatible
• Side pockets
• Compartments for organising gear
• Hip belts
• Sternum straps
• Trekking pole attachments
• Side compression straps to stabilise load
• External straps to hold sleeping mats and sleeping bags
Rock Climbing / Scrambling / Mountaineering • have a narrow profile
• have a lower centre of gravity
• Ice axe loops,
• Crampon straps
• Daisy chains for lashing gear
• Ground sheet
• Compression straps
Ski Touring • have a narrow profile • Hip belts
• Sternum straps
• Pockets
• Ski attachment points
• Compression straps
Travelling / Commuting / School / University • be large enough to hold books, laptop, iPad
• be lightweight,
• be durable, and well-made,
• be secure
• have a padded back panel to prevent items from digging into your back
• Large zip openings
• Good quality zippers
• Anti-theft features such as slashguards, secure zippers, RFID protection
• Padded iPad or laptop compartment
• Compartments for organising gear
• Padded back panel


Daypack sizes (volume)

Daypacks generally range between 15 and 30 litres in capacity. Day pack sizes vary depending on the activity – running packs can be as small as 6 litres, where as climbing packs can be up to 50 litres. 40 to 50 litre packs tend to be used for overnight use. Keep in mind that the larger the daypack, the heavier it will be both empty and when filled. 

Types of daypacks


Top loading daypacks

Top loading daypacks have access to the main compartment of the pack through the top. It is common for these types of packs to have a drawstring closure with an expandable gusset that fits in under the lid of the daypack. This is useful if extra gear is required to be squeezed into your pack as the pack is expandable. One of the major benefits of a top loading daypack is that you can squeeze or jam in gear from the top of the pack leaving nowhere for the gear to escape. This is a lot harder to do with a side loading daypack however, where your items will tend to want to pop out through the zipper opening, placing excessive strain on the zipper. It is not as easy to locate items with a top loader as the access is only through the one opening. For this reason, these packs typically tend to have some external pockets to help you organise your gear. Top loading daypacks will typically keep gear in your pack drier than a side loading pack, as there is no zipper where water can enter in through. This will also depend on how waterproof the pack material is. Some top loaders may have an extra access point through to the bottom of the pack, which is handy to have. Top loaders may also have compression straps located on the sides of the pack to aid in stabilising the pack load, and can be used for stowing larger bulkier items such as skis, trekking poles, etc.

Side loading daypacks

Side loading daypacks have a main storage compartment that opens like a suitcase with a zipper that goes around the pack. When the day pack is fully opened, one panel of the daypack falls away like a flap. One of the major benefits of a side loading daypack is the easy access you have to your gear. It makes it easier to locate items and you don’t need to pull everything out of the pack to access an item, which you tend to be doing with a top loader if the item you require is packed at the bottom of your bag!

Hydration packs

Hydration packs can range in size from 1.5 litres to over 20 litres. The smaller hydration packs have a couple of small pockets to house a couple of items such as keys or an energy bar. Hydration packs have a removable reservoir or bladder that slips within the pack and attaches to a drinking hose that clips onto the pack’s shoulder strap for easy access. This means you don’t need to remove your pack to take a drink. Some daypacks will include housing for a hydration bladder to slide into the pack with a spot for the drinking tube to come out through the daypack and attach to the shoulder strap.

Lumbar packs / bum bags

Lumbar packs are compact and lightweight packs that provide the benefit of minor storage without the hassle of carrying a pack. They sit down on your lower back and may have water bottle holders or a removable bladder as hydration options. As these packs don’t sit across your back, they offer more ventilation for your back and are therefore well suited to high energy activities such as running and skiing.

Sling bags / courier bags

Sling bags or courier bags are made to be worn over one shoulder and are a popular choice for cyclists. They offer easy access with a large top opening.

Women specific day packs

Some day packs have been specifically designed for women with contoured shaped shoulder straps, narrower profiles and harness systems to suit women.

Daypack materials, fabrics and waterproof coatings

Day packs are made from a variety of fabrics, the most popular being nylon, polyester or canvas. The table below shows the various fabrics available and the waterproofing used, and the pros and cons of each fabric.

 Material Benefits Shortcomings Waterproof Coatings Used
Nylon, includes Kodra and Cordura Most durable fabric, highly resistant to abrasion and tears Waterproof coating will eventually flake off the fabric
Heaviest fabric
Polyurethane (PU)
Polyester Lighter than canvas and nylons Waterproof coating will eventually flake off the fabric
Not as durable as nylon
Ripstop Fabrics Can be made of any material, and appear as little ‘squares’ throughout the fabric. Ripstop fabrics prevent a tear from going any further than where the tear started Will be heavier than their non-ripstop counterpart, and usually less abrasion resistant than kodras and cordura fabrics Polyurethane, Silicon
Canvas – a blend of polyester and cotton material Waterproof treatment can be reapplied Not as durable as polyester or nylon, will wear quicker. Quite a heavy fabric. Waterproofing agent impregnated into the fabric


So there you have it, a bit of an overview on day packs, their features, and some things to look for when choosing your pack. I hope this helps. Pack Light has put together a good range of lightweight daypacks for a variety of outdoor and travel activities, which can be found here: If you would like some more help with choosing the right day pack or need some extra information, as always feel free to contact us.

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