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Daypack vs Backpack: Which Is Better For Hiking & Travel?

So, you’re planning a hike and you need a pack to carry your water, some snacks, and maybe some other things like sunscreen, a compass, and your cell phone.

Do you just grab any old backpack out of your closet, or do you head to REI to get yourself a daypack just for hiking?

Does it really matter if you use a backpack instead of a daypack for your hiking?

If you don’t want to carry around extra weight on your hike, then yes, it does matter.

Let’s look at the best pack for each situation.

How They Differ

osprey travel backpack

If you pop over the packs and bags section of your local REI, then you’ll notice right away that size is the major way that backpacks and daypacks differ.

Daypacks are smaller than backpacks.

In fact, a daypack is usually no bigger than around 25L capacity.

Anything more than that and you’re looking at a backpack.

I know that REI sells some daypacks with a 38L capacity, but let’s be honest – most day hikes don’t require that much stuff so that size is more into backpack territory.

If you’re looking for something to travel with, then you can find daypacks that have tablet pockets and laptop pockets – but definitely don’t look for this feature for day hikes.

Daypacks are not designed for long treks or heavy loads of gear.

You’ll notice that daypacks are a lot more lightweight than backpacks. And you rarely find padded straps on a daypack.

As a result though, daypacks are usually cheaper than backpacks.

Another way these two trail packs differ is the way that you can pack them – specifically, how you access the storage space.

Daypacks are always top loading, but many backpacks designed for long treks have side and bottom openings.

Some backpacks are designed with internal or external frames to help make the load easier to carry. Daypacks never have frames.

Another feature that is great for comfort and a better fit are adjustable hip belts and chest straps.

You rarely find these on daypacks, but they are a common feature on backpacks.

Which One To Choose?

Still not sure which of these packs best meets your trail or travel needs? Let us give you some scenarios that are a good fit for each type of pack to help you decide.

When to choose a daypack:

  • short hike
  • day trip walking around a museum, city, etc.
  • day trip to the beach, lake, park
  • meeting a friend for coffee
  • commuting (when you don’t need to take your laptop)

When to choose a backpack:

  • long trekking or camping trip
  • commuting (when you need to take your laptop, other stuff)
  • long travel, such as on a plane or train for a few days away
  • you have heavy gear to transport, including camera gear

As you can see, you’ll need to decide what you need to carry in the pack and how long you’ll be gone in order to determine which option is best for you.

Our Recommendations

There are a lot of great options available to you when shopping for daypacks and backpacks for hiking and travel.

As you might expect, we have our favorites.

Lately, my go-to daypack when I’m doing short hikes is the Osprey Daylite Plus Pack.

It’s ultra lightweight and has just enough room for all the day hike essentials that I need with me.

For traveling on planes and trains (and even on road trips), my preferred travel backpack for the past few years now is the Osprey Porter Travel 30 Pack.

It’s got tons of space inside, plenty of pockets to keep things organized, and it easily fits under the seat in front of me when I am flying.

For short trips, you can even use it for your clothes and skip the suitcase.

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