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(The Gear Loop) - For us, the moment we shoulder one of the best daypacks at the start of a hike and look out towards our distant objective is a real moment of excitement. There’s something magical about setting out into the wild with your survival needs – and the odd chocolatey treat – securely fastened to your back.

The best daypacks are designed to carry your spare layers, food, equipment and everything else you need for a long day out on the trails. They typically don’t have the capacity to cope with all the bits and bobs associated with multi-day adventures, such as tents, stoves, sleeping bags, etc. In essence they sit in the sweet spot between small hydration packs for runners and larger backpacks designed for wild camping adventures.

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Alex FoxfieldThe best daypacks for hiking: lifestyle photo 3

There are various styles of daypack, from body-huggers with more pockets than Inspector Gadget’s trench coat, to minimalist alpine packs built to be light and compact for mountaineering missions. Some lean heavily towards a hybrid running and hiking approach, with handily placed compartments for soft flasks and sugary snacks. Others are more spacious, with the capacity and features to cope with winter walking.

In this guide, we feature five of the best daypacks available today. Each has its own strengths and uses. We kick off with the best small daypack, ideal for warmer adventures, before consider two excellent fast and light daypacks designed with speed in mind. We then reveal a superb, non-fussy alpine pack before finishing with a great choice for those on a budget.

The best daypacks for hiking

OspreyThe best daypacks for hiking: product photo 5

Osprey Hikelite 18

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For

  • Lightweight
  • Breathable open mesh back
  • Bladder compatible
  • Good value

Against

  • Padding could be better
  • Capacity not suited to winter use

Osprey’s daypack fleet is substantial and singling out which is best is nigh on impossible, as it really comes down to personal preference and planned use. However, if you’re in the market for a good value, quality daypack that gives you everything you need for several hours of hiking, look no further than the Hikelite 18.

The Hikelite features Osprey’s AirSpeed suspended mesh system, which is wonderfully breathable and lessens the usual sweaty back syndrome that is so often the bane of a summer hike. Anything you lose in sweat you can replenish, as the Hikelite is compatible with all Osprey’s Hydraulics reservoirs and comes with an internal hydration sleeve.

There are plenty of neat storage solutions, with mesh side pockets, a scratch resistant upper pocket for keys and electronics, while the upper compression strap doubles up as a trekking pole attachment.

At 18 litres, its capacity is at the lower end of the daypack spectrum, making it unsuitable for winter, when you’d need to carry more kit. However, there is a 26-litre version for those who’d value a bit more space. However, for summer and shoulder season day hikes, this is a great pack at an equally great price. 

DeuterThe best daypacks for hiking: product photo 1

Deuter Speed Lite 30

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For

  • Recycled materials
  • Ergonomic, ventilated fit
  • Handy smartphone pocket on shoulder strap

Against

  • Stretchy pockets could be better

Deuter’s Speed Lite series of backpacks are designed for fast hiking missions and trail running exploits. With capacities ranging from 13 to 30 litres, the Speed Lite 30 is very much a hiking backpack, but one with features that mean you’ll still be comfortable if you suddenly decide to break into a run on those gradual descents.

Comfort is key here: the Speed Lite features a vest-style Lite back system with ergonomically padded shoulder straps, supple hip fins and a fully adjustable sternum strap. This reduces movement and the possibility of chafing while on the trail.

There are plenty of clever little storage solutions, like a dedicated smartphone pocket on the shoulder strap, zippered pockets on the hip fins, elastic side pockets, trekking pole attachments and an elasticated inner for wet clothing or a compatible reservoir. All of these touches point to a well-thought-out pack that allows you to access what you need on the go. However, we found the “stretchy” pockets were a little stiff compared to some and therefore unable to take large items.

Another string to the Speed Lite’s bow is its certified environmental credentials. Its main material yarn is constructed from 100 per cent recycled industrial waste. To top it all off, while we wouldn’t say that the Speed Lite is cheap, it’s still very competitively priced and you get a lot of bang for your buck.

MontaneThe best daypacks for hiking: product photo 2

Montane Trailblazer 25L Backpack

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For

  • Body-hugging design
  • Multiple storage options
  • Robust and durable

Against

  • Small shoulder straps not large enough for all smartphones

Endorsed by the British Mountaineering Council, British brand Montane has a reputation for creating quality kit for hikers, climbers and mountaineers. Its Trailblazer packs are designed for speed and comfort, featuring a body-hugging design and multiple storage options.

Montane has really focused on fit and freedom of movement with Trailblazer packs and this one is no different. It’s designed for a barely-there feel, with chest straps and a customisable waist harness that work in tandem to effectively transfer weight away from the shoulders.

In terms of storage, zippered, wraparound mesh side pockets are ideal for bottles, flasks, Trek bars and energy gels. Both the chest straps and waist harness feature zippered pockets too, so it’s fair to say there’s plenty of places for your valuables and easy access options for quick energy hits or for items like a compass or a head torch. However, unlike some of the competition, the shoulder strap pockets aren’t large enough for a phone. 

The North FaceThe best daypacks for hiking: product photo 3

The North Face Verto 27L backpack

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For

  • Ultralight
  • Features designed for climbing and mountaineering use
  • Tough fabrics built to withstand rock abrasion

Against

  • Minimal storage options
  • Back design not as comfortable as some

Designed with weight saving high on the agenda, the ultralight Verto pack is a very effective summit pack. Those who value having multiple storage pockets and compartments should look elsewhere. The Verto is a minimalist alpine-style backpack that does away with the likes of shoulder pockets and mesh side compartments in favour of a compact design, a tough, durable body and simplicity.

There is a secure and spacious pocket in the lid for storing valuables – tellingly there’s an integrated key-holder here. Beyond that, it’s just the main, top-loading compartment, which is protected by a Durable Water-Repellent (DWR) finish. This doesn’t make the Verto totally waterproof, though it will withstand a modest amount of precipitation.

The need to save weight also means there’s no back frame or mesh and, while chest straps are used to transfer weight away from the shoulders, there’s no hip belt here either. This makes it less suited to bursting out into a run than the other daypacks in our selection, as you won’t have quite as much of a body-hugging fit.

Instead, there are little touches that nod towards its mountaineering applications, such as ice axe attachments that feature robust slots to shield everything from the picks – the sharp ends of your axes. In summary, if you’re a climber or mountaineer, or you like the idea of an uncomplicated, lightweight yet high quality backpack, the Verto is a solid choice.

QuechuaThe best daypacks for hiking: product photo 4

Quechua Mountain Hiking Backpack 20L

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For

  • Ridiculous value
  • Ventilated back design
  • Bladder compatible

Against

  • Heavier than some
  • Rain cover sold separately
  • Question mark over sustainability

Coming in around at least a third of the price of the other packs featured, Quechua’s Mountain Hiking Backpack represents great value. Unsurprisingly, it’s a fairly basic pack but it does have a number of good storage solutions and useful features.

First of all, let’s consider comfort. The padded back is designed to maximise airflow, though it’s still a little sweatier than a quality mesh frame. There’s a hip belt and a chest strap that work in tandem to transfer weight from your shoulders, meaning you can carry a substantial load without discomfort.

There’s ample storage. A zippered pocket in the hip belt that gives quick access to a phone; two open mesh side pockets hold items like bottles; a decent sized zippered lid pocket will hold your shades, compass and map; while its front compression straps are ideal for shoving a waterproof jacket into.

Decathlon says it is working towards more responsible products but admits that "this product is not eco-designed". However, it does come with a 10-year guarantee, and it also points out on the website – under the heading "Don’t throw it, fix it!" – that compatible buckles and chest clips can be bought for repair. This is a welcome message. After all, the most sustainable piece of outdoor kit is the kit you already own.

OspreyThe best daypacks for hiking: lifestyle photo 6

What to look for when buying a daypack

Volume

At what point does a hydration pack designed for trail runners become a daypack that has enough capacity for long hikes? Well, there’s plenty of crossover, with many smaller daypacks featuring hydration solutions also seen in running packs.

The capacity you’ll need will depend on where and when you plan to hike. Winter walkers carrying crampons, a helmet, down jackets, blizzard shelters and the rest will need a pack upwards of 35-litre capacity, whereas you’d only need around 10-15 litres for a summer jaunt along the coast. 

With the additional layers and food that you’d typically carry for a hike in the UK’s mountains in spring, summer and autumn, we’d say a pack between 20 and 35 litres is optimum. A larger pack can end up weighing you down, as there’s always the temptation to take more than you actually need. If your perfect day in the hills involves a fair bit of running as well as hiking, anything from around 12 litres upwards suits this kind of approach.

Storage and compartments

Some people prefer a simple, minimalist design with perhaps a main compartment and a couple of zippered pockets. Others like to have multiple storage options, with items like their phone, soft flasks, energy gels and compass within easy reach. Consider which camp you are in before making your choice.

Typically, a modern daypack will come with quite a few zippered pockets, which are great for storing valuable items. These are often in easy-to-reach places like the hip belt or shoulder straps. Other common features are stretchy mesh side or back pockets for quick and easy access to items like bottles and flasks.

Trekking pole attachments are the norm and these systems can double up as ice axe attachments for colder adventures. However, it’s worth checking that this is the case if you do plan to head out with the pack in winter.

Hydration

The ongoing trend towards fast and light means that daypacks typically feature the kind of hydration solutions seen in trail running packs. This might be in the form of pockets designed for soft flasks or in the form of internal sleeves that allow you to store a bladder and thread a hydration tube up towards your mouth.

These days, many backpack brands have their own range of hydration products that their packs will be compatible with, so this is something to consider. For example, if you’ve already got a few Osprey Hydraulics products, it makes sense to obtain an Osprey pack to match. 

Writing by Alex Foxfield. Editing by Leon Poultney.