The Quest for a Great Daypack

Once in a great while, you have to bite the bullet and upgrade your gear. And right now, I’m in the market for a new daypack. My trusty old EMS backpack has served me well for more than 15 years, but now I need something a bit more flexible, a bit more rugged, and a bit less haggard. So I’m doing a little research, culling together a short list of daypack manufacturers from friends’ recommendations and my own personal research. The bag makers on this list will only be ones I’ve heard about. So while this is not a comprehensive list, it’s a start, and that’s what I need.

I’m looking for a traditional shoulder strap type daypack. I already have a fantastic messenger bag from Timbuk2 that I never leave home without, and I have no interest in a slingpack.

Here are a few must-have qualities–in no particular order–that I’ll be taking into account:

  • Price – the bag has to be affordable. I’m not rich, so I can’t afford to drop hundreds on a bag that’s going to get beat up fairly quickly.
  • Capacity – It’s got to be able to store the basics and a few extras comfortably and offer easy access to them.
  • Accessories – I’ll need one or two things to make this useful.
    • Water bladder – while it’s not a deal breaker, it would be much easier to carry a bladder than a water bottle, although I’d like to have a spot for a bottle too.
    • Lash points/gear loops – Occasionally I like to take a photo tripod or a fly rod with me, so being able to lash those on, along with a carabiner and a pocketknife, is essential.
  • Ruggedness – It’s got to be tough. And not just the fabric. Zippers should be self healing and easy to open and close. Zipper pulls should be large and easy to grasp, as well as durable. Gear loops, lash points, and pull tabs all need to have bomb proof stitching. And it’s got to protect the gear inside.
  • Weight – It must be lightweight while still being rugged enough to withstand some pretty harsh abuse.
  • Organization – the bag needs a few interior pockets for organizational purposes. Nothing fancy, just two or three areas to stash items. Accessibility to gear is important, so folding open completely is a plus.
  • Fit – I have a pretty long torso and short lower body, with broad shoulders and a large chest. I know I’m going to have a tough time finding a good, comfortable pack that fits properly.

That seems like a pretty comprehensive list. Let’s take a look at some day pack manufacturers I’ve noticed and see how they measure up to the list.

  • L.L. Bean – The past couple of decades has seen L.L. Bean go from a revered outdoor outfitter to a fashionable clothier. Speaking as a former employee, I would love to see them focus more on the outdoor gear side again. That being said, they do still care about the products they sell, and there are a couple good options available for daypacks. I know they carry a line of super lightweight, collapsible models, and one or two more rugged options, and of course there’s the tried and true L.L. Bean Bookpack.
  • GORUCK – My friend C.C. Chapman sings high praises for the GORUCK series of day packs. These guys certainly meet the rugged and organizational categories, but the price is very high (most over $200). The packs were developed by a former member of the U.S. Military, and were tested by his military friends and colleagues. Despite the price, I’d love to give a GORUCK pack a shot.
  • The North Face – The North Face has a series of packs that are pretty lightweight and have good capacities. I’m not sure how durable they are, however. And the last North Face pack I saw had so many pockets, nooks, loops and hooks that I just couldn’t stand it.
  • Camelbak – The only manufacturer on the list that makes hydration packs exclusively. They seem to have a good selection of full on day packs with the added bonus of a built in hydration system made specifically for their packs. One small issue I imagine is having to pack up & secure the hydration system when using the pack for air or train travel.
  • LoweAlpine – Lowe makes some fairly good camera bags in their LowePro series, and I have a full on internal frame backpack from LoweAlpine that has quite a few bells and whistles. But I was never truly happy with that pack, mostly because it had too much going on. I’d be interested to see what they have in their daypack line.

The next step is to do a little shopping. You can’t really appreciate a pack, nor get a good feel for how it will work with your body type, unless you physically try it on. All the manufacturers above are available at retailers local to me, except for GORUCK, so I’ll make a trip in the next few weeks to try some on for size. As for GORUCK, I’m not really sure what to do. I can’t just order one and hope it works. More on that later.

What are your favorite daypacks? Let me know your thoughts on the bags pictured or one of the bags that you’ve tried and just can’t live without. Make some recommendations in the comments.

Chris Cavallari

About Chris Cavallari

Chris is a longtime digital content producer based in Maine. Since 1999, he has been an early adopter and active participant in blogging, podcasting, and social media, and has been guiding small and mid-sized businesses in leveraging video, social media, and digital publishing to the fullest. With an avid love of travel and the outdoors, Chris started in 2009 to give him a platform to showcase his outdoors and travel adventures, and to help educate others in doing the same.