What Size Backpack Do I Need For Day Hiking?

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So, how big of a daypack backpack do I need for a day hike? For most adventures, the sweet spot lies in the 20 to 30-liter range. Daypacks in this size range offer enough room for a variety of outdoor adventures. There is plenty of space for essential items needed during the hike. In addition, the daypack is not so large that it cannot be taken on shorter excursions.

My favorite daypack for size and weight is the Osprey Talon 22. (REI). My female hiking friends like the Osprey Tempest 20 (REI).

Day hiking has become popular with all age groups recently.  Whether it is a stroll along the beach or a trekking adventure in the mountains, hikers explore nature in ever-increasing numbers.

So how big of a daypack backpack do I need? The answer to that question depends on the nature of the hike.

So, let’s explore all the why’s to help you determine the right size pack for you.

group of people hiking with daypack backpacks on a trail with large rocks.

Why Do I Need A Daypack Backpack?

You might ask yourself, why do I need a daypack backpack? When you strike out on the day’s adventure you quickly learn that everything you need cannot be carried in your hands. A daypack offers the ability to carry necessities on your back instead of having to carry them in your hands.

For instance, a rain jacket may not be needed at the start of a hike. But what happens later in the day when it starts raining? Where do you carry that rain jacket?

What is a Hiking Daypack Backpack?

In simplest terms, a daypack is a bag or knapsack with shoulder straps and sometimes a hip belt. It is much smaller than a backpack.

Hikers use them to carry things on their backs. But daypacks are not limited to hikers. Travelers, bike riders, students, and others use daypacks as well.

Daypacks carry hikers’ personal items. You determine its size by how much stuff you need to carry.

In addition, how long you hike affects what you need to carry. How much water will you need? Do you need to bring food with you? What about extra clothing?

How Much Does A Daypack Hold?

A daypack’s capacity lets you know how much it will carry. Its size is usually measured in liters. Sometimes, however, daypacks list cubic inches instead of liters as the capacity.

Daypack backpack sizes are grouped around various activities. Mentally calculate everything you will likely take on a day hike to see what size daypack you need.

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The most common sizes are:

  • 10 liters or less: Their small size and weight are excellent for high-intensity activities. These small daypacks are excellent choices for runners and mountain bikers. Staying hydrated is the primary concern. In addition to water, you can carry essentials like car keys, energy bars, gloves, and an ultralight jacket.
  • 11–20 liters: These compact daypacks let you carry additional water, extra food, clothing, and miscellaneous extras for day trips.  These daypacks are excellent choices for hiking, mountain biking, running, or travel.
  • 21–30 liters: This is the sweet spot for most outdoor day-hiking adventures. These packs easily hold a day’s worth of food, water, clothing, and additional items such as camera equipment.
  • Over 30 liters:  Larger daypacks are great for winter activities such as snowshoeing and cross-country skiing.  These outdoor activities require additional clothing and gear. In addition, a larger daypack enables you to carry extra gear for others. As a hiking group leader, I often carry extra water, food, and first aid equipment for emergencies. Parents also appreciate the extra room for carrying extras for their kids.

How comfortable are daypack backpacks?

Most daypacks are comfortable for the first mile or two of hiking. After that, a poorly designed daypack hurts your shoulders, back, and hips. Your comfort level depends on several things.

Most importantly, a good daypack allows you to adjust it both before, and while hiking.  This is a function of how well it carries and distributes weight. In addition, your back needs air circulation to minimize sweating. A mesh liner and air channels on the back of the daypack provide ventilation.

The Geez’s favorite is the Osprey Talon 22(REI).  In addition, the women’s model of the Osprey Tempest 20(REI) pack is the one I would recommend for female hikers.

These daypacks have cushioned hip belts and shoulder straps. In addition, the weight can be adjusted with load lifter straps.

Finally, the packs have mesh liners and air channels that rest against your back to provide air circulation.  Daypack comfort is to hiking as properly fitting trail shoes is to foot comfort.

8 features you need in a daypack backpack

  1. Sized according to your torso length, not your physical height: The shoulder harness must allow the hip belt to rest comfortably on your hips. If the daypack is too small that cannot happen.
  2. An internal frame: Daypacks with internal frames are more comfortable. Without a frame, the daypack has little to no structure for carrying weight on your back.
  3. A padded hip belt that provides a comfortable, flexible grip on your hips:  The primary function of a hip belt is to distribute the daypack’s weight to your hips. This reduces the strain on your shoulders and neck. Many budget daypacks, if they even have a hip belt, are not padded. Moreover, the entire weight of the daypack rests on your shoulders instead of being shared with your hips. This leads to back, neck, and shoulder pain after a short time of hiking.
  4. Padded shoulder harness:  Shoulder straps that are not padded dig into your shoulders and contribute to neck and shoulder pain. Combined with a padded hip belt, you can adjust your daypack to carry more or less weight on your shoulders.
  5. A sternum strap:  A chest strap will keep the shoulder straps from sliding off your shoulders. An added bonus is one that includes an emergency whistle. In addition, ones with elastic sections provide a little give and take.
  6. Multiple compartments to segregate items:  A majority of daypacks are top-loading. Without multiple compartments, all items go into a proverbial “black hole.” Zippered compartments enable you to segregate items and have quick access to them without rummaging through the entire pack.
  7. External straps and tie-downs for attaching items such as hiking poles, water shoes, etc: Stow bulky items on the outside of the daypack. For example, snowshoes are generally too big to fit inside a daypack when not in use. The same holds true for hiking poles, water shoes, a hammock, etc. Use straps and tie-downs to carry these items with you.
  8. A ventilated back panel:  Look for a daypack with a suspended mesh back panel or foam padding with air channels. These designs provide airflow to your back and decrease the amount of sweat. Hikers sweat enough already without adding to it.
day pack backpack in color Eclipse Grey
Men’s Osprey Talon 22
Product Image of color Jasper Green
Women’s Tempest 20


Do I need a sleeve for a hydration reservoir in the daypack?

Whether you carry a water bottle or use a hydration reservoir is a personal choice. The Geez used to carry water bottles. However, it is much more convenient to sip water from a hydration reservoir without having to take off my pack.

If you prefer using a hydration reservoir, make sure the daypack is designed with a sleeve for it. Without being designed for one, the reservoir competes for space with everything else in the daypack.

Related Article: How Does A Gravity Water Filter Work

In addition, without a sleeve the hydration reservoir is apt to get crushed, preventing water from flowing.

Also, the water tube must be fed through an access hole in the pack. Otherwise, you would need to leave the pack unzipped to allow the tube to feed to the outside.

Does a daypack backpack need to be waterproof?

Most daypacks are not waterproof. At most, they will shed water from a dense fog or light drizzle. Heavy rain will quickly soak through. You can purchase a rain cover for your daypack.

However, even a rain cover does not provide 100% protection. It is best to place items in waterproof dry sacks or plastic bags that can be sealed. One of the “tricks of the trade” is to place everything in a plastic trash compactor bag.

two older hikers carrying daypack backpacks forest tress in background

Summing it up

A great daypack backpack can make your day hike a fun pain-free adventure, especially if you are a senior hiker.

The Geez is due for a new day pack. After my research, the one I am buying is Osprey Talon 22 (REI). My color of choice is Eclipse Grey because this geezer is not a fashionista – haha.  But for you ladies that like to be fashionable, the Osprey Tempest 20 (REI) is the perfect daypack backpack as it comes in several colors.

Check them out today and see if it is the right daypack backpack for you!


Can You Take A Daypack Backpack As A Carry On?

Although there is more to know, the simple answer is yes. I have traveled many times with my daypack. You can learn about the travel requirements in this popular post.

What do you pack in a hiking daypack?

Pack the ten essentials in your daypack. These include a map, sunscreen, jacket, headlamp, first-aid kit, matches, repair kit, food, water, and emergency shelter. These ten items have been identified as essential for years. With technology today, I would add a communication device as well.

Is the color of a hiking daypack important?

A daypack’s color is only important if you wish to make a fashion statement. There is a reason manufacturers make daypacks in multiple colors. It has nothing to do with functionality. It has everything to do with sales. Fashionista hikers wouldn’t be caught dead in an ugly daypack backpack.

Are there daypacks for dogs?

Dogs often accompany hikers on trails where animals are allowed. Just like humans, animals need food and water. Extra food and water must be carried for pets if they hike with you.

Backpacks are available for dogs in different sizes and colors. As a result, they allow your dog to carry their own necessities so you don’t have to.

I don’t hike with a dog mostly because as an older hiker, I need to be 100% focused on myself and my safety on the trail. However, if you do hike with your pooch check out this small or medium pack for canines. My buddies that hike with dogs like this brand.


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