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Choosing a Daypack for Travel and Hiking

by Grant
Choosing a Daypack for Hiking and Travel

Like every traveler, I am constantly looking for better bags, better gear. When I find something I like which works for me, I stick with it for years. A daypack is no different.

Finding a good daypack is all about what you are going to use it for. For me, I use one for both hiking trails in national parks and for touring cities on foot all day. Finding a daypack which meets all of those demands is pretty tough.

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What I Look for in a Travel Daypack

I want my daypack to be all things. It should be good for hiking a nine-mile trail in the backcountry of Yellowstone National Park. I want it to be something I can easily toss a change of clothes in and go up to my folks’ place in Dahlonega for the night. It should pack down to nothing and stuff in my pack for a month overseas.

To be honest, I have yet to find a pack which does all of those things well.

Hiking Requirements

My main requirement for hiking is a hydration bladder sleeve. Bonnie and I both have a three-liter CamelBak which we take to make sure we have plenty of water for a day of hiking. This is essential.

The next requirement is the ability to take rain gear, cold weather gear, food, a camera, small tripod, first aid kit, map and compass, plus some basic emergency gear (ie the Ten Essentials… click here to see what we carry).

Lastly, the pack must be comfortable and easy to carry.

Travel Requirements

Walking around a city does not require everything needed for a good day hike but a lot of the requirements are the same.

We need to be able to carry water. Whether that is a full CamelBak or a water bottle depends greatly on where we are going and how long we plan to stay out.

Gelato is a must on any visit to Italy!
Gelato is a must on any visit to Italy! We both had extra layers in our packs for when the sun went down and we are glad we did!

Rain gear is a must. Unless you are traveling to the desert, having basic rain gear handy is essential for spending the day exploring a city. For some folks, that is a good packable raincoat. For others, an umbrella will do. Both are useful and we are looking for a good travel umbrella to add to our gear.

An additional layer is always a good idea. Even in the summer, it can get cool at night very easily. Bonnie sometimes likes to carry a scarf. I prefer a pullover or long sleeve thermal shirt.

I also want the pack to handle my bridge camera, a small tripod and a selfie stick.

Grant wearing a fully-loarded Lowepro Highline BP 400 AW.
Grant wearing a fully-loaded Lowepro Highline BP 400 AW.

The daypack should pack into our large travel packs easily. Bonnie carries an eBags Mother Lode Weekender Convertible and I use a Lowepro Highline BP 400 AW.

Finding what I want in one bag is hard and Bonnie and I have looked at several different packs along the way and none of them check every box.

REI Flash 18

We bought our first Flash 18s back in 2012 and they have served us well for many years. They are light packs with a hydration sleeve and have held up over many uses. The packs have gone through a few design changes over the years, but you can basically count on the bag to be an 18-liter, lightweight pack.

It loads from the top, has a hydration sleeve, has a couple of mesh interior pockets and some very thin padding on the back. The chest and waist straps are removable, but we keep the buckle of the chest strap… it’s a whistle.

Bonnie on the Path of the Gods
Bonnie on the Path of the Gods with her Flash 18.

The current model weighs about 10 ounces and is designed to easily carry about 10 pounds of gear. We generally like how easy it is to open the pack and reach in to grab something; but, if what you need is at the bottom of the pack, it will take some digging.

For hiking, this pack is excellent. The addition of a zippered pocket on the outside makes for a great place to stuff a map or guidebook for easy access. Unfortunately, our packs don’t have this new feature. Bonnie still uses hers as her hiking daypack.

For traveling, the pack folds down reasonably well and holds everything you could want… Except for a water bottle. If you want to carry a bottle of water, you have to just stuff it in the back. Not very convenient and you have to worry about the bottle leaking on your gear.

We have hiked all over the place with this pack and taken it with us on our month-long trips to Italy and Eastern Europe.

REI Flash 22

The next step up is the Flash 22. I bought this to take on our trip to Italy back in 2017 and it impressed me. 

Like the Flash 18, the pack is lightweight and designed for small loads and use on the trail. It is a 22-liter pack, so it adds some additional capacity, but also adds some additional weight (14.5 ounces vs. 10 ounces).

Grant hiking at Empire Bluffs
Grant hiking at Empire Bluffs with his Flash 22.

So, what do you get for nearly 50% more weight? The pack has a hydration sleeve, just like the Flash 18, but also has two mesh water bottle pockets on the side. The pockets are designed for a Nalgene-style bottle, so were a tad loose when I used my Kleen Kanteen. It wasn’t bad, but you do need to be mindful when setting the bag down.

The pack has a pair of mesh pockets inside which are perfect for a first aid kit or a compass.

The pack also has a “lid” which covers the main compartment. The lid has a zippered pocket for essentials and there is a large second zippered pocket that is perfect for snacks on the trail or a guidebook in a city.

The pack’s chest and waist straps are removable and the buckle for the chest strap is a whistle, just like the Flash 18. The padding on the back is more robust and has air channels, unlike the Flash 18.

Grant taking pictures on the Emerald Lake Trail on of the best Rocky Mountain National Park hikes.
Grant taking pictures on the Emerald Lake Trail in Rocky Mountain National Park.

My one grumble with the straps is moving the retention loop for the hydration bladder tube higher on the pack and placing it at an angle. It is not any easier to get the tube through the loop and makes it useless for attaching important gear to it. I typically would attach my knife to the strap on my Flash 18 when hiking. Now, a knife will fall off easily, so it must be stored inside the pack or on my belt.

For hiking, this pack is just about perfect. While it does weigh more, the additional features, including loops for trekking poles, more than make up for the weight.

For travel, it does not fold down quite as well as the Flash 18, but the flexibility of using either a water bottle or a hydration bladder makes it a solid choice. Additionally, the exterior pockets are a welcome improvement over having to dig in the pack for little essentials.

I broke in this pack on a weeklong trip to Italy followed up by a summer hiking all over the American West.

Mardingtop Hydration Backpack

We’re not really sure where we got this backpack but Bonnie used it for her trail pack for about two years. 

The Mardingtop Hydration Backpack has a reasonably stiff frame sheet and nice has venting on the back. The shoulder straps are well-padded and comfortable. The pack has a chest strap with a whistle, which I always appreciate. 

It’s a 20L pack, so a bit smaller than the Flash 22.  Bonnie will occasionally struggle to fit everything she wants in terms of layers into the pack but most of the time, the pack works fine. 

Bonnie's Mardingtop 20L pack.
Bonnie’s Mardingtop 20L pack.

It weighs 14.4 ounces, so it is pretty close to the Flash 22, weight-wise, but unlike the Flash 22, it does not fold down at all. The frame sheet is simply too rigid.

The main compartment is zippered and less accessible than the top-loading Flash packs. It does have a hydration sleeve but it does not have a hook for the hydration bladder, meaning it will sag in the pack as you consume the water. 

It does have two zippered pockets on the front of the pack, on smaller and one larger with a divider. That is useful for accessing small gear. It also has two mesh bottle pockets on the sides, perfect for water bottles. For those that use trekking poles, it has loops for two poles.

Bonnie walking along the beach part of the Cowles Bog Trail.
Bonnie walking along the beach part of the Cowles Bog Trail.

What really makes this pack a winner is the shove-it pocket, a large open pocket which is great for shoving wet rain gear or other stuff. 

All that said, it is starting to wear out after two years of use, so Bonnie recently replaced it.

Osprey Daylite Plus Pack

Bonnie’s current daypack is the Osprey Daylite Plus Pack. This 20L pack is one of the sturdiest packs either of us has used. Of course, with that comes a little extra weight (16 ounces vs the Flash 22’s 14.5 ounces). The functionality is worth the extra weight, though.

The main compartment easily holds your essential gear without being too big or bulky. The front compartment has a few pockets for a cell phone, wallet or other small items that you want to be able to reach easily. There is yet another smaller front pocket for the smallest items that you want within reach. Additionally, there is a stuff-it pocket on the front for quick access to trail maps or when you’re ready to shed your outer layer.

Bonnie and her new daypack, an Ospery Daylite Plus.
Bonnie and her new daypack, an Osprey Daylite Plus.

An exterior sleeve easily stores a hydration bladder. Two mesh side pockets hold water bottles for shorter hikes. 

There’s even a padded sleeve for a tablet or a small laptop. Granted, you probably won’t need that for hiking. But, that additional feature makes this a very versatile pack that could easily be used as a carry-on or around town.

The pack has several straps to help you get everything adjusted just right. The breathable mesh back panel provides comfort even when packed full.

In terms of taking it for travel, it does not fold down or pack easily, so it would not make a good travel pack unless you are using a suitcase and have plenty of room.

Bonnie hiking with her new daypack, an Osprey Daylite Plus.
Bonnie hiking with her new daypack, an Osprey Daylite Plus.

This is a recent purchase and has only been used on a few hikes in Rocky Mountain National Park and Custer State Park, but Bonnie is very pleased with the purchase and looks forward to future hikes with this pack

New Outlander 20L Daypack

For our 2017 trip to Italy, Bonnie picked up the New Outlander 20 liter daypack. The daypack packs down to next to nothing. That said, it does not have a hydration sleeve and the mesh pockets on the sides are just “ok” for holding a water bottle.

Because it is so collapsible, the pack itself does not have much form to it when not fully packed. As a result, a full water bottle can easily fall out. In terms of capacity, at 20 liters, it is solidly in between the Flash 18 and Flash 22. In terms of weight, it is the lightest of our daypacks at 7.4 ounces.

The pack has a main compartment and two exterior zippered pockets. The two exterior pockets are well-designed and provide good access to essentials.

In terms of hiking, this pack is not well-suited at all. There is no padding or venting on either the straps or back. While you can hike with a couple of water bottles, you would need to be conscious of how you set the pack down every-time to ensure the bottles don’t fall out.

In terms of travel, the pack’s packability makes up for a lot of the other shortcomings. Bonnie liked the pack well enough on our trip to Italy, but my Flash 22 impressed her as well.

Eagle Creek Packable Daypack

We got a couple Eagle Creek Packable Daypacks as freebies when we attended the Bloghouse Memphis conference. We made use of the packs later that summer on our Alaskan cruise. 

Like the New Outlander pack, this one packs down to almost nothing. It has a 13L capacity and it weighs 5.6 ounces, so it is the lightest of our daypacks. 

Bonnie packing the Eagle Creek Packable Daypack.
Bonnie packing the Eagle Creek Packable Daypack.

In terms of pockets, it has the main compartment and the pocket it stuffs into. It also has a single but really good mesh pocket for water bottles.

That said, it is doesn’t have a hydration bladder sleeve and it doesn’t really hold up, form-wise, when not loaded. I would not want to hike for an extended period of time with the pack and that’s not really what it’s designed for. It’s designed, and does quite well, at being a quick pack for walking around town. 

Eagle Creek Packable Daypack
Eagle Creek Packable Daypack

As the smallest of the daypacks, I am going to stick one of these in the truck as a “just in case” pack. 

Eddie Bauer Stowaway 30L

I saw this thing at our local Eddie Bauer outlet and decided to pick it up on a whim for $20. Boy, I am glad I did!

The Eddie Bauer Stowaway 30L easily wins as the most versatile of the daypacks. It has padded straps, a padded, vented back, a hydration sleeve, a small secondary pocket (which it packs into) and a large shove-it pocket. The pack has two mesh water bottle pockets which are deep enough for my Kleen Kanteen.

It packs down to a pretty small size and easily fits in my Lowepro Highline 400AW. That makes it an easy choice for overseas travel.

Grant carrying the Eddie Bauer 30L Stowaway Backpack.
Grant got a new packable daypack from Eddie Bauer called the Stowaway 30L. It packs down well and is large enough for a trip to the beach.

It has the largest capacity of our daypacks at 30L but it does weigh 13 ounces. What’s nice about the larger capacity is it means you can easily use it for a trip to the beach, with a suit and towel, and still have plenty of room left over. 

I took it first on our Bahamas cruise. It went kayaking with me in Lucayan National Park and it impressed Bonnie enough to where she bought on herself. This past summer, we used the packs as overnight bags on our trip Isle Royale National Park and were easily able to handle what we needed for an overnight stay. 

These have become our go-to packs for travel. While they are not perfect for hiking (the hydration sleeve does not have a loop for the bladder to hook into), the pack would certainly be comfy enough to do something like the Cinque Terre or the hiking we did in Slovenia

Final Thoughts on Daypacks

We have been pleasantly surprised at the capabilities of the Eddie Bauer Stowaway 30L. It is ALMOST the perfect companion for just about any traveler who needs a packable daypack. 

Grant taking a picture near Scoville Point.
Grant taking a picture near Scoville Point wearing his Flash 22.

While it will handle use as a pack on the trail, I, at least, am sticking to the REI Flash 22 for hiking. The Flash 22 will easily hold everything I need for a good hike including all of the essentials everyone should take on a hike. Bonnie is really liking her new pack, the Osprey Daylite Plus Pack, and that will remain her choice for the trail.

So, if I am traveling by plane, I will be using the Eddie Bauer Stowaway 30L. If I am traveling by car, I will use the REI Flash 22 and Bonnie will take the Osprey Daylite Plus Pack.

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