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Daypack vs Backpack For Hiking: Which Is Best For You?

It’s easy to get overwhelmed when picking a pack. Daypacks and backpacks are very different, and you don’t want to get stuck with the wrong product. Each one serves a unique purpose, so it’s important to consider how you’ll use the pack before you make your purchase.

A daypack is smaller than a backpack and it’s better for short hikes that don’t require a lot of supplies. A backpack is much larger and has more room for equipment and provisions and it’s the best choice for multi-day treks through rougher territory and for camping trips.

Of course, the best buy for you will depend on many factors. It’s important to consider your personal preferences and how much weight you want to carry on a hike. Read below to discover everything you need to know about backpacks and daypacks so you can hit the trail with confidence.

What Is Considered A Daypack?

A daypack is a condensed version of a traditional backpack. It’s the same size as a backpack you would take to school for example, with two shoulder straps and sometimes a waist strap. Daypacks are relatively light and easy to carry and are perfect for short hikes.

Daypacks tend to have between 20-40 liters of capacity. This is perfect for carrying a water bottle, a camera, and some lunch. As you may have guessed by their name, daypacks are designed for day trips. They don’t have enough space for your tent, extra water, and the food you would need for overnight treks.

Daypacks have a much simpler design than backpacks and are easier to handle and use. Since they aren’t meant to carry much weight, they don’t need a ton of special features or an intricate structure. They don’t have many bells and whistles and usually do not have a frame.

What Is Considered A Hiking Backpack?

A hiking backpack is a strap-on pack that’s meant to be used for longer treks. This is the sort of backpack you’ll see in pictures of people hiking the Appalachian Trail or the Pacific Crest Trail. The hiking backpack extends over the head and straps around the chest and waist.

A backpack will usually have a capacity of around 50 to 80 liters. This is enough space to carry several pounds of food, a tent, a sleeping bag, and all sorts of supplies that are necessary on hikes that take multiple days. A good backpack should hold everything you may need on long hikes.

Backpacks have a lot of extra features like straps, pockets, openings, and compartments which backpackers find useful. They are constructed with an interior frame that gives them the structure and strength necessary to carry a lot of weight.

Daypack vs Backpack For Hiking

There are several key differences between daypacks and backpacks you need to learn about before choosing your gear. Depending on what you intend to use your pack for, either one could work for you. Daypacks and backpacks each have their place, but are differentiated by strength, design, utility, and comfort.

Strength

Both daypacks and backpacks are made from durable materials. In the past, heavy canvas and cotton were blended to create the ultimate backpack, but nowadays, nylon rules over everything. Nylon is versatile and mixes well with other fabrics to create a weather-resistant space for all your essentials.

Though backpacks aren’t necessarily made from stronger materials, they are designed to hold more weight. A backpack carries between 30 to 50 pounds, and some can withstand even heavier loads. In contrast, a daypack will carry 10 to 20 pounds and maxes out soon after.

Which one is stronger? It’s clearly the backpack, and those needing more supplies have their obvious choice. However, a backpack’s superior strength isn’t just due to its larger size and bigger capacity. Backpacks are more structurally sound and have many features a daypack lacks.

Design

Backpacks are designed with strength and convenience in mind. They feature a durable metal frame sewn into the fabric that allows them to hold more weight through the added support. The frame can make it a lot easier to pack, organize, and carry a backpack. It also suspends the pack away from the body, allowing for airflow and ventilation.

Daypacks aren’t framed, because they aren’t designed to carry a lot of weight. Instead, they are designed to be as light as possible to decrease the load on your back. This isn’t ideal for those toting a ton of equipment, but it’s great for hikers who just want to carry along a few supplies.

Both daypacks and backpacks are often designed for specific genders or heights. They come in many different shapes and sizes, and not all shapes are suitable for every person. However, gender and size recommendations are much more important on a backpack than on a daypack. Since daypacks are much smaller, you can usually carry one comfortably even if it’s the wrong size.

Utility

Backpacks are meant to be used for long hikes and heavy loads. To maximize convenience, they have a lot of separated storage space and individual compartments. Oftentimes, you’ll be able to open the backpack from several different angles and areas to access different compartments.

You can tie a lot of gear to the outside of your backpack as well. Since the needs of long-distance hikers vary so much, backpacks will have outer straps to attach pots, sleeping bags, flashlights, and other gear on the outside. This helps a lot when you can’t fit all your things inside, or you want to distribute the weight to a different area.

Daypacks generally load from the top only. They might have a few different compartments, but not nearly as many. Since you won’t be carrying that much with a daypack, there’s no need for gear straps on the outside or tons of separated storage space.

Comfort

Both a backpack and a daypack should be comfortable to use. However, a backpack will have more features to provide additional comfort. Since carrying them is inherently less comfortable, it makes sense that manufacturers want to add a bit more plushness to the pack.

A good backpack should have adjustable shoulder straps, hip straps, and a chest strap. To maximize comfort, there should be several other points of adjustment across the shoulders, sternum, and hips where the straps attach to either side. There will also be extra padding in the shoulder straps and hip straps so you won’t be rubbed raw from the weight.

A good daypack should have padded shoulder straps and could feature hip straps, but there won’t be as many points of adjustment. This is more convenient for day hikers, since the weight in a daypack will distribute pretty evenly as it gets packed up. Too many straps on a daypack just ends up being a hindrance.  

What To Look For In A Daypack For Hiking

If you’re heading out for a short jaunt, a daypack is for you. However, there’s a lot to consider when picking one out. Before you decide, you need to think about what you’ll be doing with your daypack and the specific features you want. Even on a short hike, wearing the wrong daypack can be uncomfortable and frustrating.

Sufficient Capacity

Think first about what you want to carry. It’s always a good idea to bring along a first-aid kit, water, and a snack in case you get hungry on the trail. For all that, you’ll need a pack with at least 10 liters, but you won’t have much room to spare.

Those looking to take longer day trips need to bring along a pack with a larger capacity. 20 liters will leave you room for lunch and extra water. If you want to hit the sweet spot, consider going for a pack between 20 and 30 liters and taking along a camera, phone, and other essential gear.

Water Bladder

Getting a day pack with a built-in water bladder is one of the best things you can do for yourself. These handy packs eliminate the need for bottles that can spill easily. You just fill up the bladder and drink through an attached straw whenever you feel thirsty. Water bladders are super convenient on a hike.

Water bladders are great for hiking in general because they help balance the weight in your pack. Water actually weighs a lot and having a full bottle of water stuffed into a side-holder can throw you off and can even cause muscle strain or injury if you don’t hike a lot.

Adjustable Straps

You want your daypack to feature adjustable shoulder straps and an adjustable waist strap so you can tighten it up. This will help balance the load and keep you steadier on your feet, and it will also help maximize your comfort on the trail.

You don’t necessarily need to get a daypack with a chest strap. However, it’s a good rule of thumb to spring for a sternum strap if your daypack is larger than 30 liters. You’ll be carrying much more weight in this case, and the strap will help make you more comfortable.

Price

The price of a daypack shouldn’t break the bank. You can easily find affordable daypacks, but they will cost more as you get into sport-specific or lightweight daypacks. Ultimately, this is a personal decision. How much you spend should depend on the capacity, construction, and features you want.

It’s worth it to splurge a little bit for your daypack, but there’s no reason to pay top dollar for features you don’t need. Think about what you hope to accomplish with the pack and how often you’ll be using it, then figure out the price you are willing to pay.

What To Look For In A Backpack For Hiking

If you’re heading out for a multi-day adventure, a backpack is the best choice. Hikers should look for specific features when they choose a backpack. You need to consider your trip length, all the gear you want to take, the terrain, and the weather forecast in your destination of choice.

Size & Fit

When buying a backpack, the most important thing is to find one that fits you well. Backpacks come in all shapes and sizes, and what works for a shorter person may not work for a taller one. Examine the height recommendation on the backpack and make sure it’s suitable for your stature.

You should also check the capacity. In general, an overnight trip requires a smaller 20 to 30-liter backpack, while a weekend getaway requires up to 50. For long-haul trekking, go for gold with a 75-liter pack. Those hiking in winter will want to get a larger capacity, as cold-weather gear is bulkier and weighs more.

Some backpacks are female-specific, and women should consider getting one of these. Female backpacks work better for the ladies because they’re designed for the female body, and they accommodate shorter torsos and wider hips than unisex backpacks do.

Weatherproofing

Those hiking in warm, dry climes may not need to worry as much about the weather. But what about mountain hikers and wintertime trekkers? Those that want the option of backpacking through multiple seasons should consider how weather-appropriate a backpack is before they buy it.

The best backpacks will be made with water-resistant nylon, so you don’t have to stop the entire trek in case of a small drizzle. But what if a storm blows in? Your backpack should also have its own special rainfly included which attaches and detaches easily. That way, you can continue your hike knowing everything is safe.

Even if you plan on hiking in the driest desert, weatherproofing on your pack can come in handy. You can never predict the weather, and it’s better to be safe than soaking. Plus, UV-resistant coating can give added protection against harsh sunshine that can damage your pack.

External Storage

Packing a backpack can be a challenge. Everything has to go in its own special place to balance out the weight. The last thing you want to do is open your backpack on the trail just to get at some granola bars. That’s where outside storage options can make your hike easier.

External storage is a great feature to have because it allows you easy access to things you might need during your hike without forcing you to open your pack and disturb the balance. Light items like sunscreen, snacks, and water bottles should be readily available, and you should also have outer straps to fit on extra gear.

Price

How much should you pay for a pack? Backpacks prices cover almost every possible price point, from affordable to super expensive. How much you’ll pay depends on which features you want to get, how big your backpack is, and how durable it will be.

Backpacks with customized straps and framing cost the most, while basic unisex backpacks cost the least. Cold-weather packs will cost you a bit more as well, because they are more durable and expensive to manufacture.

Backpacks can get pricey quick, but they’re well worth the investment. Spending extra to get a durable, well-fitting backpack with the features you really want is the smartest move, even for more budget-minded backpackers. With a little research, you should be able to find a pack that is in your price range and has all the bells and whistles you need.

Can You Take A Daypack Camping?

You can take a daypack camping if you want a way to lighten your load, but it’s not a good idea unless you’re camping in favorable conditions. Since daypacks hold fewer supplies, you should know the camping area and your camping experience level before using one for anything longer than a few hours.

When taking a camping trip with a daypack, it’s better to go when the weather is warm and mild. If you can sleep outside in comfort, your tent might not be a necessity. You can ditch it at home, along with weighty cold-weather gear like jackets and four-season sleeping bags.

When you’re camping somewhere with safe drinking water sources on the trail, you won’t need the extra space for water. And if your route intersects with towns, you can resupply with food along the way. Though this sounds tempting, it’s important to remember that camping with a daypack does have its drawbacks.

Camping with just a daypack means you can’t bring along all the equipment you need to be fully self-sufficient. For a successful multi-day camping trip with just a daypack, you need to be an experienced camper and know the area well. If you’re certain that food, water, and shelter will be available, embarking on a longer journey with a daypack is safe.

Final Thoughts

A Daypack is a smaller version of a backpack. Both daypacks and backpacks are good options for hikers, and you should pick the one you need based on the length of your trip, trekking style, and personal preferences. Both come with features to make hiking with supplies more comfortable.