Advice on choosing a daypack
Review 19 March

Traveller's guide to: Daypacks

The right daypack is an essential piece of travel gear, here we give you some advice as to what to look out for and review 6 of the best

Key features to look for when choosing a daypack

1) Wand pockets and compression straps

These pockets are really key features. They can be used to store your waterbottle, keeping it easy to reach, plus they’re a good place to stash rubbish away from the rest of your items when you’re out walking.

Compression straps are designed to pull a pack closer to your back, but they also enable you to securely stow walking poles or a tripod to the pack when placed in the pockets so that they don’t wobble around, when you’re walking.

2) Back length and system

Some bags are made to be one size fits all; others come in different sizes (ie XS, S, M, L). Finding the one that’s right for you is what’s important. Try a range of packs on – with some items inside them – before you buy one, to make sure you chose the one that fits you comfortably.

Most packs have a ventilated back system. This is usually sculpted foam and mesh panels or a curved shape that holds the pack away from your body allowing air to circulate so you don’t get too sweaty when you’re walking.

3) Shoulder straps and hip belts

The straps balance the pack (you actually carry most of the weight on your legs and hips). Look for padding for maximum comfort and, when you try it on, make sure the shoulder straps don’t contour into your armpits too sharply as they could be painful.

The hip belt helps support the load and stabilise the pack to your back so make sure it’s comfortable and fits well without restricting your natural movement

4) Lid

Not all daypacks have lids – they may have a simple zip entry. However, having a lid can be handy: you can keep frequently needed items in the lid pocket or place wet garments under the lid so that the main contents stay dry.

5) Size

Look for something that’s around 25 litres – this capacity size should be large enough for all your key items but also small enough to fit into the overhead lockers on planes or buses.

6) Pockets

Daypacks can be simple, with minimal pockets, or boast many. Pockets are useful for organising your things, though too many can be confusing.

Inside, most daypacks have a pouch at the back that is compatible with hydration bladders (an alternative to using a water bottle); even if you don’t use one it can be a great place for your important documents or an iPad/tablet.

7) Fit

Some packs are unisex, while others come in specific women’s versions. These are cut with a female shape in mind – women carry weight differently to men due to their muscle structure. Bear in mind, though, that we’re all different: some men may find a women’s pack more suitable, while some ladies might prefer a male-cut model.

VANGO – Elixir £30 – Wanderlust Value Buy

THE TEST: Not only is this pack the cheapest on test, it’s also the second lightest (unpacked weight 0.75kg). A lighter weight can mean fewer features – but not so with the Elixir.

This pack is certainly well designed. It boasts bungee straps on the front (perfect for stashing wet items away from the dry ones inside); a decent-sized front pocket complete with organiser pockets for your passport and tickets; and two separate compartments inside – including a cushioned pouch that easily takes a small laptop/tablet or, if walking, a hydration bladder. The mesh panels on the back help create ventilation and the shoulder straps are comfortable and mesh-padded too.

The only real downsides are the unpadded hip belt and the overall length of the pack, which means that tall items – walking poles, camera tripods – packed in the side pockets will stick out, which can be a nuisance.

THE VERDICT: A great feature-packed bag that, providing you don’t require the extra length to carry a tripod or poles, is excellent value for money.

IN BRIEF
Features: ★★★★★
Design: ★★★★✩
Comfort: ★★★★✩
Value: ★★★★✩
Overall: ★★★★✩

BERGHAUS – Remote £55

THE TEST: If you’ve got a bit more budget and want to shave o_ a few more grams (this one is the lightest on test – unpacked weight 0.70kg) then this is a great value pack.

There’s a good range of features for your money: bungee cords on the front (ideal for stowing wet gear), a good size front pocket and a well-sized main compartment that includes organiser pockets and an extra zipped pocket for items you want to keep secure. It has a pouch inside that takes a hydration bladder or a tablet or laptop, while the generously padded back is vented.

The extra money buys you some padding on the hip belt, as well as a pocket on the shoulder strap (useful for an MP3 player). There’s also an attachment point for cyclists to secure a light. The side pockets easily take a water bottle and there are Velcro attachments that help secure walking poles, though larger tripods may still be tricky because of the length.

THE VERDICT: A lightweight pack with lots of features including some added extras for those happy to pay a bit more.

IN BRIEF
Features: ★★★★★
Design: ★★★★✩
Comfort: ★★★★★
Value: ★★★★✩
Overall: ★★★★✩

LOWE ALPINE – AirZone Quest £80 – Wanderlust Best Buy

THE TEST: You get what you pay for with the AirZone Quest. For a start it comes with a handy raincover. The front compartment is expandable, giving you options for fitting in quick-access items; better still, it also has its own pocket – ideal for tickets. There’s also a side zip that gives you access to the bottom of the main compartment which can be handy.

The side pockets are deep, taking a water bottle easily. The compression straps are at a good height and secure tripods or poles well. The back system holds the pack away from your body so air can circulate well. It’s also padded at the lower back with cushioning on the hip belt and shoulder straps which both have an extra pocket too. The rucksack lid has pockets on the outside and underneath (ideal for passport). Internally there’s a pouch that takes a hydration bladder or a tablet.

The only downside is these extra features add grams: with an unpacked weight of 1.25kg, this is the second-heaviest pack here.

THE VERDICT: This feature-loaded pack is comfy, practical and transitions from plane to day-walk without compromising on function.

IN BRIEF
Features: ★★★★★
Design: ★★★★★
Comfort: ★★★★★
Value: ★★★★✩
Overall: ★★★★★

Arc’Teryx – Spear £80

THE TEST: This quirky Canadian brand has abandoned both the traditional lid top and zip entry and instead gone for a roll down closing that’s secured by tightening two straps. Inside, the design twists continue with a pouch that’s great for a small laptop, tablet or hydration bladder, plenty of space in the main compartment, smaller pouches for pens etc, and a discreet internal pocket perfect for a passport. Externally, there’s an almost hidden pocket on the front that opens up to a large ticket-made space.

Both the comfortable back and the shoulder straps are cushioned and meshed for ventilation – though not as much as the other packs in this price bracket. The hip belt is not padded and there are no compression straps but the well-angled pockets take a large water bottle easily and even a small tripod. Poles fitted OK due to the pocket angle, though compression straps would have helped.

THE VERDICT: A unique design that still boasts most of the key features needed in a daypack – perfect for those who don’t need the compression straps or a padded hip belt.

IN BRIEF
Features: ★★★★✩
Design: ★★★★✩
Comfort: ★★★★✩
Value: ★★★★✩
Overall: ★★★★✩

Fjällräven – Funäs £80

THE TEST: This is another pack that proves paying a little more gets you a lot of great features. The Funäs has bungee cords on the front for stashing a jacket or wet kit. The side pockets are deep and the compression straps well angled to help secure a tripod or poles. The back is well vented via a ridged foam and mesh system, as are the shoulder straps and the hip belt, making the pack sit comfortably. There is no front pocket but it does come with a raincover. The lid offers both external and internal zipped pockets.

Inside, the main compartment easily takes all walking gear. The pouch is fairly narrow – designed to take a hydration bladder – which means fitting in anything bigger than a small tablet could be tricky. There is a zip pocket inside near the top – great for a passport. Unpacked this is the heaviest daypack on test (1.35kg) but then it does have some great features.

THE VERDICT: A streamlined pack with many key features, though its narrower internal pouch and lack of a front pocket means it just misses out on the top spot.

IN BRIEF
Features: ★★★★★
Design: ★★★★✩
Comfort: ★★★★★
Value: ★★★★✩
Overall: ★★★★✩

Kelty – Shrike £90

THE TEST: The outstanding feature of this pack is its opening. Thanks to the zip design, it has the widest entrance of all the items on test, making packing a doddle. It’s also the third lightest here (unpacked weight 0.90kg).

Designed to flip between commuting and trekking, it has a number of other excellent features, such as the sturdy handle on the front for an alternate way of carrying it. There’s a front-zipped pocket, which can take a tablet, as well as a smaller top pocket for essentials. Inside there’s a cushioned pouch – perfect for a larger laptop – with an organiser on the front for pens etc; it doesn’t take a hydration bladder.

Outside, the side pockets hold a bottle and the compression straps are good, doubling over to really secure walking poles or a tripod. The back system is a series of vented mesh panels and the shoulder straps the same. The hip belt is partially vented and padded, but not as much as some on test.

THE VERDICT: Well-designed, with a wide opening that makes it a breeze to pack, but the higher price may be a turn-off for some.

IN BRIEF
Features: ★★★★✩
Design: ★★★★★
Comfort: ★★★★✩
Value: ★★★★✩
Overall: ★★★★✩

How we did the test...

We asked a range of gear manufacturers to send us the 25L-capacity daypacks that they felt were most suitable for travellers – that is, versatile enough to take on a plane as hand luggage, and then out on a walking trail. Sixteen arrived at Wanderlust HQ; editor Phoebe Smith then took them out on the road to see which performed best.

The six here are all ‘Wanderlust Approved!’, with our Value Buy and Best Buy indicated.