When the mountains call, you simply must go. And regardless of weather or season, you can always reap the benefits of hiking if you're well prepared. Before you hit the trails for a day hike, you'll need a good hiking backpack to store essential hiking gear.
"Every pack is essentially built the same way: a large-capacity sack holds a majority of your weight and a variety of smaller compartments help separate and manage your gear," says hiker Wade Morris, a Salewa and Wildcountry athlete. "But they will all feel different to each individual person." Meanwhile, everyone needs something just a little different from their packs based on their hiking style and packing preferences.
With so many hiking backpacks on the market, it can feel overwhelming when you start doing research and reading reviews. To make things easier, we asked mountaineers and outdoor experts to recommend the best hiking backpacks for day hikes and tips on how to shop for one.
1. Most Versatile Hiking Backpack: Ultimate Direction Fastpack 35
The large front compartment of this hiking backpack can fit things like your phone, wallet, a map, an extra set of clothes and a first aid emergency kit. It also has loops on the sides for attaching your hiking poles and two large side pockets for easy access to your water bottle and a snack.
Perfect for a day hike, it's lightweight, has a breathable mesh back and is made with a durable ripstop material in case you hit some tree branches or scrape against a boulder while on the trails.
"The Fastpack is the most 'runnable' pack in our field," Morris says. "Ultimate Direction has been at the forefront of innovative designs and it shows with the Fastpack. It doesn't offer the same support as some of the other backpacks in our field, but when packed right, you'll never leave it at home."
Buy it: UltimateDirection.com; Price: $184.95
2. Best Hiking Backpack with Easy Storage: Osprey Talon 22
Whether you're running or biking on trails, consider this 22-liter pack for your next outdoor adventure. It not only has tons of pockets for all of your belongings, but it comes with attachments for your bike helmet, poles and a flashlight and features a convenient external hydration sleeve.
"What's not to love — it's lightweight, well-ventilated and versatile," says California-based yoga, Pilates and barre instructor Vanessa Dunn, who has thru-hiked the Pacific Crest Trail and Tour du Mont Blanc.
Her favorite feature is the hip belt pockets, which allow you to store the items you need most — lip balm, ID, phone or energy bars — within arm's reach. No more having to remove your pack for every little thing. Most other backpacks in this size category don't offer hip pockets.
While this hiking backpack is marketed for men, it's a great option for anyone.
Buy it: Osprey.com; Price: $130
3. Best Backpack for Hiking Through Tough Elements: Mammut Ducan Spine 50-60
If you're hiking in inclement weather, this backpack is your ultimate companion. It comes with a detachable rain cover and has an extra waterproof pocket that you can attach to multiple places on the bag.
It also has a zipper pocket on the hip belt, where you can stash valuables or things you need quick access to, like your phone or compass.
"This backpack is excellent for its main feature of having even distribution of weight across your hips and shoulders," says Holly Roser, CPT, a certified personal trainer and owner of Holly Roser Fitness Studio in San Mateo, California. This ensures that no one body part bears all the weight of your pack.
Buy it: Mammut.com; Price: $249.95
4. Best Hiking Backpack for Daily Use: Fjällräven Classic Kanken
This Swedish pack has a simplistic everyday design, but its spacious pockets and foam cushioning is also well-suited for short adventures in the woods.
"Kanken packs were designed to prevent back pain in children, and this pack has done just that. It's surprisingly comfortable to wear daily, whether it's to town or to the trail."
And while it does have a school vibe to it, it can fit adults as well.
Buy it: Fjallraven.com; Price: $80
5. Best Hydration Pack for Hiking: Camelbak Rim Runner 22 85 oz Hydration Pack
Made for day hikers who want to prioritize hydration but still be able to pack a few other necessities, this backpack is compact and lightweight but also equipped with multiple storage areas for packing snacks and your lunch. Plus, the hip belt transfers weight to your hips instead of your back.
"I love how this pack is so versatile. It's very easy to adjust, and the water bladder doesn't leak," Roser says. "It also holds 2.5 liters of water, which is really important when hiking."
Buy it: Camelbak.com; Price: $100
6. Best Small Backpack for Hiking: Gossamer Gear Vagabond Trail
Small but mighty, you can use this backpack for hiking and everyday commutes. It's made with a durable nylon fabric that can withstand years of hikes and has a waterproof coating to keep your belongings dry on even the rainiest adventures.
"At only 23 liters and 17.5 ounces, this pack can take you almost anywhere," Dunn says. "It's well-designed and extremely durable — it's not only a beautiful bag; it's light and strong, too."
Buy it: GossamerGear.com; Price: $99
7. Most Supportive Backpack for Hiking: Osprey Raptor 14 Men’s Hydration Pack
The backpack has comfortable padded straps, a sternum strap and a hip belt, for supportive and comfortable carrying.
"It can hold enough water for a two- to four-hour hike and has plenty of extra pockets for snacks, first aid supplies, extra socks and an extra lightweight layer," says Natasha Caleel, an occupational therapist and avid hiker based in Santa Barbara, California. "I use this backpack on rigorous hikes uphill, as it doesn't get in the way, doesn't hurt my back and has plenty of easily accessible pockets."
Although this hiking backpack is marketed to men, it works great for all genders.
Buy it: REI.com; Price: $150
8. Best Hiking Backpack for Women: Patagonia Women’s Nine Trails Pack 26L
This women's pack is lightweight and allows you to move freely — you can even scramble uphill with it still feeling secure. It's fit for a smaller frame and has padded shoulders for extra support. And its breathable mesh back panel keeps you cool and dry while stretchy pockets hold bulkier items.
"This pack is a great, stylish bag for hiking uphill, giving you the ability to pack just a few items for your favorite trail," Roser says.
This pack is designed with women in mind, sitting up nice and sturdy away from the hips. But it's a solid choice for men as well.
Buy it: Patagonia.com; Price: $78.99
9. Best Hiking Backpack for Flexible Storage: REI Co-op Flash 55 Pack
The flexible shell in this backpack conforms to the shape of your belongings so you don't ever feel like you're shoving in things that don't quite fit. The pockets on the straps and hip belt make it easy to access things like your phone or a map.
"This backpack has a variety of convenience features, such as front pockets, places to stash water bottles so they are easy to reach, as well as room for a hydration pack," Caleel says. "You can use the tie-down straps to contour the backpack to your load and the backpack comes in three different sizes. Overall, this is great for a long day hike or short adventure."
Buy it: REI.com; Price: $199
What to Look for When Shopping for a Hiking Backpack
When you're looking for the best hiking backpacks for day trips, it's important to keep in mind how much storage space you'll actually need, the type of material for the weather you'll be hiking in and how convenient the pockets and straps are for keeping your essentials readily available.
Before you purchase a hiking backpack, follow these tips.
1. Choose the Right Fit
It doesn't matter if it's your favorite color or not, if a pack doesn't fit correctly and isn't comfortable, it has the potential to completely ruin your day of hiking. That's why experts recommending testing out potential pack before buying or purchasing one online with a flexible return policy.
"There's no substitute for trying on a backpack and loading it down with some weight," Morris says. Just because reviews of a pack are great doesn't necessarily mean that pack will be the right fit for you.
"Avoid other people's opinions when it comes to selecting your pack," Dunn says. "Sure, you can listen to people's advice, but in the end, you are the one who's going to wear the pack, so you have to decide how the fit and feel work for you. I strongly suggest shopping in-store so you have an opportunity to test out and try on different packs."
2. Balance Weight and Padding
A lightweight pack means you'll be carrying less on your shoulders, but it may also sacrifice padding and support.
"Going lighter saves you energy so you can hike farther, but have you ever had something from your pack rubbing into your back? Those five ounces for extra padding maybe would have made your day a lot better," Morris says.
3. Factor in What You'll Pack
"Before buying a hiking backpack, you want to consider how long you plan to hike for and in what conditions," Caleel says.
With day hikes, you won't need a ton of supplies like you would with overnight or multiple-day hikes, but you also don't want to leave the house with nothing. Be sure to pack water, a first aid kit, some snacks, an extra layer of clothing and a map of the trail at the very least.
"If you are taking relatively short, day hikes on easy trails in moderate weather, you can get away with a smaller lightweight backpack," Caleel says. "If you are planning to traverse rocky terrain, hike in hot or cold weather or do a longer overnight hike, you will want something with ample storage, space for a water reservoir and supportive padding."