backpack sizes, hiking pack size guide

Hiking Pack Size Guide

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You are in the market for a new hiking backpack, but you are not sure what size is right for you.

This hiking pack size guide gives you an overview of the main backpack sizes and appropriate ranges depending on how you plan to use it!

It doesn’t matter if you are planning a multi-night backpacking trip or a summer full of day hikes.

This guide has you covered!

backpack sizes, hiking pack size guide

What Size Backpack Do I Need For Hiking

This is a common question for hikers, both new and experienced hikers.

The answer isn’t always simple because a backpack may work perfectly in certain circumstances, but it may not be as perfect in others.

It can depend on how much weight you are carrying on your trip, the weather conditions, how long you plan to hike for, and a ton of other factors!

The easiest way to break it down is to categorize backpacks into their general use and the backpack sizes most commonly best for that use.

Daypack Category

small and large daypacks, day hike backpacks

Determining the daypack size for you comes down to the intended use/duration of your hike.

In my experience, it is best to have at least one day pack and one overnight backpack, if you are interested in both.

If you only plan to do day hikes, then stick with that category of backpack size.

Short Day Trips

The range for shorter day hike packs hovers around 20L. A lot of daypacks you find on the market range from around 18L- 25L.

This range will suffice for 90% or more of hikers.

If you are an experienced hiker and have your essential gear dialed in, you could get away with something a little smaller. Though unless you move to an alternate type of pack, (chest pack, waist pack, etc.) you will mostly find that packs under 18L are designed for kids.

Having a larger backpack than the 25L range is more beneficial for longer hikes, but you can opt for that size if you feel more comfortable with one in that range.

Longer Day Trips

There is a small sweet spot between smaller day packs before you start getting into backpacks for overnight trips.

I think of this range from about 25L-30L (though up to about 35L would straddle both usages)

This backpack size is perfect for hikes that you anticipate being out for 6+ hours, if you need to carry extra clothing or gear, or if you want to carry the essentials for multiple people.

beach view during day hike

Overnight Trips

Single Night

In my experience, anything in the range of 30-40L capacity is ideal for single-night trips. (Or weekend backpacking trips, if you like packing light)

This size range gives you enough space for the essentials, plus a sleeping bag, tent, and a couple of other pieces of gear, if you pack strategically.

If you are on your first backpacking trip, you may want to opt for a larger backpack (40L-55L) as it will afford you more space. As you gain experience, you can dial in your personal gear list and move to something smaller if you prefer.

Additionally, if you are anticipating carrying extra gear (extra food, clothing, bulky gear, or any other gear), I would recommend starting with a little larger pack.

I used one that was in the 48L range for my first backpacking trip, and it worked out perfectly!

picture from one of many weekend trips, lakeside trail


This is probably the category with the most flexibility.

For multi-night trips, I have used as small as 38L and as much as 55L. It really comes down to personal preference and how much camping gear and clothing you plan to bring.

It is also dependent a bit on how packable your sleeping bag, tent (plus tent poles), and sleeping pad are because some can compress down into a stuff sack nicely. Others are not as packer friendly.

If you are going to need extra clothes, a rain jacket, and a large tent, you will want something in the 50L+ range.

If you have favorable weather and have your gear list narrowed down to everything you need and nothing you don’t, then you may be fine with something closer to 40L.

It is also worth mentioning that you have a lot more flexibility with a larger pack.

Carrying 30+ pounds in a 40L pack is going to feel really heavy. (It is not designed for that much weight)

Whereas if you only need to carry 20 pounds, a 55L backpack will feel quite comfortable! (It is designed to carry a bit more weight)

backpack for camping gear, 65 liter backpack

What Is Included In Backpack Volume

The advertised volume of a hiking backpack includes the main compartment, any exterior mesh pockets, any exterior zippered pockets, and hip belt pockets. (if applicable)

It is important to know this measure of carrying capacity because a lot of people assume that the volume of a pack is just the interior part.

How Is Backpack Volume Measured

Backpack volume is generally measured in liters, though you may see some measurements in cubic inches. (1L = about 61 cubic inches)

There are two main ways you can measure the volume.

The first being just taking the length, width, and height of the backpack. Multiplying these measurements together gives you the total volume. This can be done for the main compartment and any pockets.

The other method would be to fill the backpack with small pellets (or any small object) and then pouring all the pellets into a measuring cup.

It is important to note that however you determine the volume of the backpack, that is the maximum space available. It is practically impossible to fill every nook and cranny of your backpack with gear.

Choosing The Right Pack Size

Choosing the right pack size comes down to how you will use it and your comfort/experience level.


Are you looking for a pack just for short day hikes, one that specializes in multi-night backpacking trips, or one that can serve multiple purposes?

If you are looking to purchase one pack that can cover multiple different trips, then something closer to the middle range would work best (30L-45L).

You won’t be able to do longer trips with a 22L pack. Alternatively, you don’t want to have to be carrying a 65L pack around your local park on your Saturday morning hike.

If you want a pack with versatility, I would recommend something around 40L. If I could have only one pack, it would be in this range.

lakeside picture from backpacking trip

Experience Level

I remember starting out on my first hikes years ago with a reasonably sized backpack (around 20L) and having it filled with anything I thought I might need. Over time, I started to remove things I noticed I was never using and really dialing in my essential gear list for hiking.

Generally, as hikers gain more experience, they shrink their equipment to fit their preferences from that experience.

For me, this meant I could do longer trips with shorter packs. (and the weight savings made the hikes more enjoyable!)

I recommend people to naturally go through this process. Don’t take someone’s 50-piece gear checklist and think that you need that for every hike.

I recommend people start with 4 pieces of essential gear for every hike. Depending on the circumstances, you may need more. I have found that things I like to carry, some people think is unneeded, and vice versa.


Deciding the size of your backpack that you need for your first hike can feel daunting.

There are a lot of options out there, and they generally all fall under “Hiking backpacks”.

Knowing your intended usage and your gear list goes a long way to determining the right size for you.

Whether it’s a weekend camping trip or a leisurely day hike, find the right hiking backpack size for you and enjoy your next outdoor adventure!

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Hiking Chest Pack

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Looking for a unique method of carrying your essentials on your next hike?

A chest pack may be the right option for your next hike!

They allow you to carry some low weight, essential items (a map, your phone, some snacks, etc.) on your chest rather than your back.

They can be a versatile option to stay organized, but that is not to say that a chest pack does not have drawbacks.

navigate, backpacking

What Are Chest Packs?

chest pack, straps, bag

Simply put, chest packs are small packs (or pouches really) that sit on the front of your torso. You may also see them referred to as a kit bag or multi-pack.

They are usually quite smaller than normal daypacks, and they can be worn in conjunction with a daypack or as a standalone piece of gear!

Wearing a chest pack gives you a pouch on the front of your body that gives you quick access to items that you may want to use often without having to rummage through your backpack. (map and compass, phone, snacks, etc.)

bag, chest, kit bag

Pros and Cons Of A Chest Pack

There are a few reasons why someone may prefer to carry their essentials in a chest pack versus a backpack.

In my experience, a chest pack is just not very comfortable and feels a bit awkward to wear. Though that is not to say it is not right for you.


  • Minimalistic

  • Easy access to essentials

  • Lightweight

The pros of a chest pack boil down to it being an easy, lightweight way of carrying some gear that you want to access quickly. It is an alternative to a waist pack/fanny pack.

This can be a particularly interesting option if your backpack does not have hip belt pockets and your shorts/pants do not have secure pockets.

I often hike in shorts without or with loose pockets, but I usually use a pack with hip belt pockets that I use to store my phone and other hiking essentials. (electrolyte tabs/powder and snacks)

If you have a pack without a substantial hip belt, a chest pack is a possibility.

They are also rather lightweight and, if used as a standalone option, come with a comfortable harness.


  • Can interfere with movement/balance

  • Not good for carrying more than a couple of essentials on your hike

  • Not many size and material options

If you are using a chest pack as your primary method of carrying items, it can be a bit awkward to have weight on your chest versus your back.

This can be particularly problematic if you are hiking on difficult terrain. The pack takes a little bit of getting used to because it can impede your vision and balance a little bit.

Because of this it is not practical to have a large one, so the size options are fairly limited. If you are planning to carry more than just a couple of items, you will want a backpack to store the larger pieces of gear.

Additionally, it is difficult to find one in a wide range of materials.

One workaround is getting a daypack and getting a chest pack that can be attached to the pack with straps. This will offset the balance of weight while providing a removable pocket for small pieces of gear or accessories.

Is A Chest Pack Right For You

Consider a couple of factors before deciding whether a chest pack for hiking is right for you.

  • Personal comfort

  • Usage

  • Difficulty of hiking trails

Personal Comfort

Put simply, if you do not like the idea of having a pocket on your chest to carry stuff, then steer clear of a chest pack.

Like I mentioned, I find the fit to be a bit awkward and not compatible with my preferences.

I like to have the weight of my pack on my back and have had no experience to change that preference.

If you do not mind the idea, a chest pack can be a convenient option for you. Some people like them, but it really does come down to personal comfort preference.


If you are planning multi-hour hikes over difficult terrain, a chest pack is probably not for you.

It is much more of an option for shorter hikes or in conjunction with a backpack.

They tend to be more popular for individuals with tactical or hunting uses, and they are not too popular among day hikers.

Difficult Of Trails

Because of the increased balance difficulty and vision limitations, I would not recommend a chest pack for rocky or difficult terrain.

Having weight worn on your chest is not as natural of a feel as having a pack on your back, so I would not consider one for anything other than smooth, easier terrain.


Using a chest pack for hiking is not a common way to choose to carry your essentials during a day hike.

There are advantages to using this method to carry some items, though. It can be convenient to have your phone, snacks, or other low weight pieces of equipment in an easy to access location.

You can find a chest pack that is compatible with a backpack or as a standalone pack.

Should you choose a chest pack for your hike, make sure to select one that you can fit to your body and is large enough to hold the essential gear for your hike!

Packing For A Day Hike

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Packing for a day hike? Ask 50 hikers what you need to bring, and the chances are you will get about 50 different lists of items.

In my experience, you do not need a 20-item hiking checklist before you head out on your first hike.

I have scaled back my list over the years, and I think that hiking is a lot more enjoyable when you find the perfect balance of gear to bring. Enough to feel safe should an issue come up. But not too much to feel that you will never make it to the summit because of how heavy your pack weighs.

Packing For A Hike: The Essentials

  • Water + Electrolytes

  • Nutrition

  • Navigation

  • First aid kit

I would consider these the 4 essential pieces of gear/things that you should have with you on every hike, no matter the conditions.

There are definitely more pieces of gear you should consider taking, depending on the conditions and other factors.

But you could be fine with these 4 things on shorter day hikes in ideal conditions.

Water + Electrolytes

Whether it is a water bottle or a hydration reservoir (bladder), you need to make sure you have enough water to get you through your hike.

On mild days and easy terrain, I recommend taking 1/2 liter (roughly 17 oz.) of water per hour.

For harder terrain and hotter days, you will want to anticipate taking around 1 liter of water per hour.

These estimates can vary depending on if there is a water source along the trail. Make sure to bring along a way to filter water if you will be collecting water from natural water sources. (rivers, lakes, etc.)

Water is fairly heavy (1 liter of water = 1 kilogram or 2.2 lbs), so it is advantageous to be able to resupply with water along your route. But do not skimp on the amount of water you take with you just to save a pound or two. I have found myself miles from the car with no water left, and it is not a desirable scenario to find yourself.

Along with water, consider bringing an electrolyte mix/tablets or an electrolyte drink. Particularly when it is hot and you are sweating a lot! If you do not replenish electrolytes, you will find yourself starting to cramp up and feeling like your energy has been drained.

You can also supplement sodium loss with salty snacks, which can help balance your sodium loss while providing calories.


Depending on how long your hike is, you may just need a small snack, or you may need to account for multiple meals out on your hike.

There are endless possibilities for what you can bring on a day hike!

It could be more traditional backpacking food. (bars, nuts, TRAIL mix, jerky, etc.)

Or it could be a more elegant option. (hummus and pita, chips and guac, meats and cheeses, etc.)

I like to target 400-500 calories per hour of hiking, and I like a variety of options so I usually switch it up each time depending on what sounds good!

Regardless of what you decide to take, remember to hike out your trash and dispose of it properly. Finding litter out in nature is such a buzzkill.


Cell phone apps are the most common way to navigate trails.

There are some paper maps and compass folks still out there. (and there is definitely a place for those!) But if you are on a popular or often-traveled trail, you will survive with a cell phone as your map.

I like to take a picture of the trail map before I hike so that I have a screenshot of an overview of the trail system. This ensures that I don’t have to rely on having internet if I need to double-check a turn-off or trail junction.

I would advise against going out onto a trail blind. (with no reliable map of the area)

Even if the trails are traveled regularly, you do not want an innocent wrong turn to leave you lost out in the wild.

First Aid Kit

My rule of thumb with first aid kits is to have enough to treat common conditions and be familiar enough with the equipment to be able to use it.

Common medications, bandages, antibacterial cream, etc. will do fine for a first aid kit.

As you gain more experience hiking, you can tailor your first aid kit to your specific needs. Adding and subtracting to make it best suited for yourself.

Don’t think you are the person who doesn’t need a first aid kit. Also, there is no need to try and pack a hospital’s worth of supplies in your pack.

You can get a hiking first aid kit, there are often prepackaged and come with all the basic first aid kit supplies.

Items That You May Need For Your Day Hike

  • Sun protection

  • Rain protection

  • Extra insulating layer

  • Lighting

  • Hand Sanitizer

  • Toilet paper

  • GPS device

  • Extra clothing

These are items that I would consider bringing on a day hike, but I would not say they are essential items for every hike.

My suggestion is to pack to your level of comfort. If you are the type that wants to play it very safe and prepares for every possible scenario, then do that! And if you are the type that likes to fly by the seat of their pants, there is no shame in that either!

Sun Protection

This is a rather wide-encompassing suggestion. It could mean sunscreen, a sun hoody, a sun umbrella, or anything else that provides shade.

If you are hiking in a heavily forested area, sun protection may be something you can be fine without.

Rather, if you are hiking in a high-elevation, exposed area, extra sun protection is a must! Otherwise, have fun with your sunburn peeling the next week. (no fun!)

Just consider the conditions of the trail, the weather forecast, and the duration of your hike.

Rain Protection

This category can also include a lot of items.

A rain jacket, rain pants, rain pack cover, or any other rain gear you can think of! (yes an umbrella can double as sun and rain equipment!)

Consider the conditions and forecast when deciding what to bring. It isn’t a bad idea to bring a waterproof bag for your valuables, particularly when there is a chance of rain.

I like a poncho because it can double as a rain jacket and a pack cover!

Extra Insulating Layer

Like the two above, this is weather dependent.

When in high-elevation areas or during winter, it is a good idea to have an extra layer to keep warm.

Especially if you plan to be hiking in the morning or evening, these times can experience rapid temperature increases/decreases. I often like starting with an extra jacket in the morning to stay and then stowing it in my pack when I warm up from hiking or the temperature increases.

Additionally, if you are planning to hike into the evening, definitely consider bringing an extra layer in case you find yourself stranded overnight.

If you are in a warmer weather area, you may not need an extra insulating layer.


This is one that is more essential backpacking gear, but for day hikes, it is more dependent on the scenario.

If you are hiking in the early morning or late evening hours, then I would strongly consider some sort of lighting. (headlamp, flashlight, etc.)

In most cases, a light from a cell phone will be sufficient. (I once hiked 3 miles off a pass with my phone flashlight, no ideal though!)

It doesn’t hurt to have one in your pack if you are hiking in the evening, just in case you have to stay an unplanned night out.

Hand Sanitizer

Another one that is essential for backpacking, but not necessarily so for day hikes.

It is nice to have if you use the bathroom while out on the trail or if you want to just clean your hands.

It is pretty easy to tuck a small bottle in your first aid kit or in a pocket. If it is a short day hike, you likely will be okay if you forget it though.

Toilet Paper

Like the past two items, a must-have for backpacking, but not for a day hike.

It is not a bad idea if you regularly go on long hikes; you never know what can happen out there!

But if you are sticking to a shorter hike, take it if you feel like you need to. Otherwise, you will likely be okay without it. (famous last words…)

GPS Device

These are particularly helpful if you commonly hike outside of cell service range.

This could range from a GPS watch/tracker to an emergency locator beacon.

It can be handy to have a way to view a map or send an emergency message without the need for service.

If you are doing your first hiking trip in a remote, rugged area, I would consider purchasing or renting (as they are expensive) a GPS or locator beacon. It provides peace of mind for yourself and your loved ones.

Extra Clothing

This encompasses any clothing item.

It could be hiking pants, hiking socks, hiking shoes, or anything that you may want an extra of while on your day hike.

For me, the most common is extra socks. It is super nice to have a change of socks after you have to pass through a knee-deep creek.

Extra shirts can also be nice, particularly on longer hikes or hot days. Being able to change out of your sweaty shirt during your hike can be a surprisingly huge morale boost!

Items For Specific Circumstances Or Personal Preferences

  • Bear spray

  • Bug spray

  • Hiking poles

  • Fire starter

  • Emergency shelter

These are things that I would consider bringing on a day hike in certain circumstances, but they could also be brought for personal preference.

Bear Spray

If you are hiking in grizzly bear country, then yes, you will want to strongly consider bringing bear spray. You can rent it in/near popular hiking destinations. (Yellowstone and Glacier National Park being two popular places)

If you are hiking in an area with just black bears, make sure to check the park regulations, as bear spray is actually illegal in some places. (Yosemite National Park being the most popular)

As with all equipment, make sure you know how to use it before stepping onto the trail.

Bug Spray

Some people prefer a bug net and long sleeves to bug spray, so go with whichever you feel most comfortable.

Personally, I like a bug net and wearing pants/long sleeves (it is lighter and more versatile for backpacking trips as well) when in areas where mosquitos are prevalent. Unfortunately, there is nothing you can do to make it more enjoyable when you run into a cloud of mosquitos.

Hiking Poles

Also referred to as trekking poles, some people use them on every hike, while others never use them.

They come in particularly handy on steep hikes and hikes with uneven, rugged terrain. There are a lot of options for trekking poles, some heavier and sturdy, while others are more lightweight.

You would be fine without on many hikes (it is rather rare for me to use them), but it’s completely a personal preference decision.

Fire Starter

If you are into the more survival side of hiking, then chances are you have a fire starter of some sort.

It is something more relevant to backpacking than a day hike, but if your preference is to carry something to help you start a fire to stay warm, there is nothing wrong with that!

As I have noted before, make sure you know how to use it if you are going to bring one.

Emergency Shelter

Like the fire starter, this is something you would consider bringing for worst-case scenarios. You can get emergency bivy shelters that are pretty cheap and very light, so it is not really going to set you back too much from either perspective.

But if you are just going for a few-mile loop through a nearby park, odds are you will not need one.

I do not carry one on a day hike, but again it comes down to personal preference.

Factors To Consider For Additional Hiking Gear

  • Terrain

  • Weather

  • Duration

  • Experience/Comfort level


Are you hiking easy, smooth trails? Rocky, steep trails? Sandy, coastal trails?

The specific hiking gear that you want to bring will depend on the trail terrain and conditions.

From hiking footwear and clothing to hiking gear/equipment, the trail ultimately decides what is best for you.

If you are on easier terrain, you may be fine with trail runners or hiking shoes and the bare essential hiking gear.

Tougher terrain may call for hiking boots and a lot more day hiking gear and snacks. (can anyone really complain about more snacks)


Rainy? Snow? Sunny?

This determines whether you need that rain jacket, sun umbrella, or cold weather gear.

Make sure to check the forecast in the days leading up to your hike and the day of your hike. If you are hiking in high-elevation areas, know that the weather can change quickly. (I once went from sunny skies to being hailed on in a matter of 20-30 minutes when summiting a peak)


This is a big one for knowing what hiking gear to bring.

If you are going on a three-mile hike, your pack will look (and feel much lighter) than when going on a 12-mile hike.

Tailor your day hiking gear to your hike, no two hikes are the same, nor should two gear lists be the same.

Experience/Comfort Level

This is maybe the biggest factor to consider.

If you are on your first ever hike, you may be under-confident or over-confident in your abilities. Both can lead to a less than enjoyable hike.

It is not fun to carry around 20 pounds of gear that you never use. Likewise, it is not fun to get caught in the rain with no way to keep yourself and your equipment dry.

My day hiking essentials have changed over the years as I have gained more experience. I find things that I like to carry and things I find myself never needing. Over time you will add/subtract things and find your essential day hiking gear.

What Not To Bring On A Hike

  • Anything that you do not know how to use

You can find lists of things that people say not to bring on a hike, and most are decent advice. But as far as I am concerned, if you want to wear expensive diamond earrings to look good on a hike, more power to you.

I just say do not bother bringing anything that you do not know how to use.

If you have no clue how to use a compass and paper map, why bother bringing them other than just to portray the image of someone who does.


There are endless personal preference items out there that people like to bring on a hike, but I could never cover them all.

This article gives you a rather comprehensive overview of day hiking essentials and many things that are dependent on the situation.

Often times people bring a lot of gear when they first start out, and over time, they widdle down their gear to their essentials. This comes with experience over time and in different conditions.

Chances are, if you have a pack with water, food, first aid supplies, and a way to navigate the way, you will have an amazing hike!

Don’t let the feeling that you need a 50-item checklist of essentials stop you from getting out and exploring!


day hiking, landscape

What Is A Daypack?

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Interested in hiking? Want to upgrade your current hiking pack? And what is a daypack?

A daypack can make the world of difference between falling out of love with the outdoors and feeling inspired everytime you get out for a hike.

Carrying a heavy pack (that isn’t designed for it) for a couple of hours can make hiking feel like not your thing. Nobody likes slogging away in the sun for hours with your right shoulder strap digging into your shoulder.

But having a pack designed for carrying heavy loads, that has a water bladder, and that has enough pockets (to access your snacks without taking off your pack) can make your experience in the outdoors a lot more memorable and inspiring.

day hiking, landscape

What is the difference between backpacks and hiking daypacks?

The quick and easy answer is that daypacks are meant to hold enough supplies for a hike that will be completed within one day. While backpacking packs are meant for trips that involve spending nights in the wilderness while completing a hike.

There are a couple of major differentiating features between the two:

  • Size

  • Weight Capacity

  • Frame


A hiking daypack is usually less than 30 liters, whereas a backpacking pack can be as large as 80+ liters.

There are packs that fall into sort of that “bridge” size of 30-38 liters. These could be used for either. (Usually as a daypack for multiple people or a backpack for short trips or ultralight backpacking)

My first daypack was an old Marmot brand daypack that was 20 liters, and it suited me great for solo day hikes. There is a general way of thinking that “more space is better”, but use caution with this because people tend to fill the space of their pack. This simply means, more space = more weight.

hiking backpack, hiking pack

Weight Capacity

Depending on how much gear you are bringing on your hike (and for how many people or pets), you may end up with a relatively heavy pack. For most hikers, you want to avoid having your daypack weigh more than around 20 pounds.

Once you start getting above that, you would want to consider a backpacking pack as they are designed to better help distribute weight.

Water tends to sneakily be the heaviest item you pack, so remember to factor that into the equation while packing.


There are a couple of exceptions, but for the most part, daypacks are frameless packs, while backpacks have an internal frame.

An internal frame gives the backpack more structure and helps distribute the weight more evenly.

frameless, daypack

What are the features of a daypack?

With more and more pack companies entering the market, there are also unique features of daypacks out there.

Most daypacks have the same core features/characteristics:

  • 10-30 liter capacity

  • Frameless

  • Padded shoulder straps

  • Basic hip-belt

  • Exterior pockets

  • Hydration bladder sleeve

Padded shoulder straps

Most daypacks nowadays have padded straps, designed for a comfortable experience. If you were just using the pack as a work bag or a gym bag, you could get away without padded straps. But since you will be hiking with more significant weight and potentially for hours at a time, padded shoulder straps are a must!

Basic hip-belt

You can find daypacks with nicer hipbelts (padded + pockets), but many daypacks have a simple nylon strap as a hipbelt with no hipbelt pockets.

If you anticipate carrying a heavier load on a regular basis, I would splurge a little for a pack with a more substantial hipbelt and has two hipbelt pockets. They can help distribute some of the extra weight, plus it is nice to have a zippered pocket for snacks and one for your phone easily accessible!

waist belt, hip belt, pockets

Exterior pockets

Most daypacks and backpacks feature multiple exterior pockets. These could be zippered pockets or side/water bottle pockets.

External pockets are a great way to bring along extra gear without using up all of the space in the main compartment. I like to put water bottles, snacks, first aid equipment, maps, and any other item I don’t want to have to dig around for in external pockets.

Hydration bladder sleeve

More and more packs are coming with a hydration reservoir sleeve/pocket. These are sleeves/pockets that make the pack compatible with a hydration bladder. They are usually found on the interior of the back, along the back of the pack. (closest to you)

Some people love the convenience of using a hydration bladder (I have never been the biggest fan of them), so you will want to make sure your pack has one if use a bladder!

hydration pack, bladder sleeve

How big should my daypack be?

When deciding how big your pack should be, consider a couple of factors:

  • Anticipated weight

  • Usage

  • Carrying bulky items

Anticipated weight

If you are planning to regularly carry 15-20+ pounds, you will want to look at packs with more substantial shoulder straps and hipbelts. These will help ease the load a bit and make the pack more comfortable to carry.

You could also consider a smaller backpacking pack (35-42 liters) because they will often have more extensive suspension systems designed to better distribute heavier loads.

If you don’t anticipate carrying a lot of weight in your pack, something in the 20 liter range would work great!

packable backpack,


Similarly, how you plan to use your pack will help guide you toward the right size of pack. If you will only be using it for hikes of less than a few hours, something in the 20 liter range would again make a lot of sense.

If you plan to use it for work and/or traveling, you could consider a travel pack or a packable pack. I like having a packable backpack because they can fold down to fit in your hand, making them easy to stow away when not using them while providing a basic pack for quick hikes or trips around town.

Carrying any bulky items

It is important to consider what items you will likely be carrying in your pack. For example, if you are taking extensive camera gear, you will likely need more space.

Or if you plan to take a puffy coat or winter coat while you hike in cooler conditions. These items don’t always pack down small, so you may want to consider getting something on the larger size (22-28 liters) to accommodate the extra layers/gear.

enough space, outdoor gear

Do I need a daypack for hiking?

In my experience, not everyone needs a daypack for hiking. There are circumstances when a daypack is a must, and there are some when one is not needed.

no pack, essential gear

Yes, you need a daypack

If you are a frequent hiker or do not already have some sort of backpack, you will want to invest in getting a daypack.

Daypacks have many features that a standard school backpack does not. Having a daypack designed for hiking that has the features and is the size that is right for you makes a huge difference in the hiking experience.

Getting a hiking daypack does not mean you have to spend tons of money either; there are plenty of quality daypacks out there for under $65.

No, you can consider not using one

If you are an infrequent hiker or someone who isn’t sure hiking is for them, I would caution against putting money into a quality pack right away.

Start with a cheap school backpack from Walmart or Target or one you have around the house. If you enjoy the experience of hiking, you can always upgrade later to a pack specifically designed for hiking.

Also, if you are never hiking for more than an hour or so, you can likely get away without a daypack. You would be fine with something like a fanny pack/hip pack to store your keys, phone, etc.

Can I use any regular backpacking for hiking?

There are no trail police that will stop you from using a regular old backpack. If you want to use your kid’s school pack to toss a couple of things in to have during your hike, go for it!

Hiking daypacks are designed with features in mind to make carrying weight more comfortable and provide adequate storage for whatever you may want to bring along with you on the trail.

But if you get along just fine without those features, there is no good reason to change!

regular pack


If you are interested in hiking more, getting a designated hiking daypack is something you will want to explore.

There are a ton of hiking packs on the market, and it is easy to get overwhelmed by the number of options and daypack features.

Keep it simple and think about what features you need and maybe some that you would like to have. If you hate carrying around water bottles, look for hydration compatible packs. If you will be taking larger items, make sure you find one with a spacious main compartment.

More is not always better, but ensure you are getting everything you need. It will go a long way to making sure your outdoor adventures are enjoyable for years to come!