December 15, 2016
Patrick Brown

Day Packs Buyer’s Guide

Day packs are the perfect size for short adventure, overnighters and everyday essentials. Active Junky gathered the best backpacks from top outdoor brands to help you narrow down your search.

Editor's Pick Deuter Groden 32

Deuter Groden 32

Best for – Long day hikes when all-day comfort is necessary to keep pushing
$129.00 + 12% Cash Back
Buy Now
Also Great High Sierra Olmsted Elmwood Rucksack

High Sierra Olmsted Elmwood Rucksack

Best for – Commuting and on-campus use that transitions seamlessly to mountain trail
$76.50 + 3% Cash Back
Buy Now
Best Value Kelty Ruckus Roll Top 28L

Kelty Ruckus Roll Top 28L

Best for – Four season use with versatility to fit multi activities and situations, increasing its overall value
$67.46 + 12% Cash Back
Buy Now
Ortovox Haute Route 32

Ortovox Haute Route 32

Best for – Backcountry skiing and cross-country touring with features designed for skiers
$169.00 + 6% Cash Back
Buy Now
Arc’teryx Cierzo 18

Arc’teryx Cierzo 18

Best for – Summit climbing, ice climbing, mixed routes and other pursuits when low bulk is key
$69.27 + 4% Cash Back
Buy Now
Columbia Titanium Trail Elite 22

Columbia Titanium Trail Elite 22

Best for – Day hiking in all weather conditions, and mountain biking on long all-day rides
$129.00 + 8% Cash Back
Buy Now
Mountainsmith Day Lumbar Pack

Mountainsmith Day Lumbar Pack

Best for – Rock scrambling, day hikes when extra freedom of movement is needed along with volume
$70.99 + 12% Cash Back
Buy Now
Fjallraven Rucksack No. 21

Fjallraven Rucksack No. 21

Best for – Urban adventures and relaxed trails when light precipitation may threaten to fall
$149.95 + 12% Cash Back
Buy Now

No piece of gear is more synonymous with the outdoor experience than the backpack. Nearly everything we do in the outdoors requires one, from day hikes to ski tours, backpacking trips to mountain bike rides, climbing missions to beach days. Without it the day is not complete. No place to stash lunch, a raincoat, a water bottle and the rest of the gear needed for an outing. 

With that necessity and ubiquitous use comes a dizzying variety of packs from which to choose. There are day packs with highly specialized uses that don’t excel for crossover activities, while other packs are designed for multiple uses with varying degrees of success. Lastly, some brands opt for fashion over function creating packs for urban adventures, commuting and everyday carry.

Whichever your need, from sport specific to general use, traditional design to technical chops, you can rest assured there’s a pack perfect for your needs. In this buyer’s guide, Active Junky testers evaluated packs from across the spectrum to dig in to find out what makes a day pack right for you. 

Brands Evaluated by Active Junky

  • Arc’teryx
  • Columbia
  • Deuter
  • Fjallraven
  • High Sierra
  • Kelty
  • Mountainsmith
  • Ortovox

How We Tested

How to Buy Your Day Pack: Price points, brand, materials, features and benefits are the important factors when digging in to find the best day pack for your needs. Taking careful consideration to determine what you need will help you end up with a pack that offers years of happy use. 

What are you using it for: Buying a pack for an activity you know you will be using it for narrows the field considerably and is the best place to start. If you need a climbing-friendly ultralight pack for summit assaults, head for a brand like Arc’teryx that is known for creating gear for climbers. With a broader use list, we suggest getting a technical pack that can adapt to its environment and has a rich feature set that can easily transition from sport to sport. 

Where are you using it: This might not seem so obvious, but there are feature sets that just don’t translate from geo to geo. Red rock dwellers and desert rats probably don’t need a rain hood, but could certainly benefit from trampoline back systems, which are life-savers in the heat. Conversely, if Olympic National Park is your stomping grounds then don’t overlook a rain hood. 

Universal Attributes

Packability

Getting gear in and out of your pack can make or break a pack design. Circumferential zippers, multiple access point, top loaders are features that are important to take into account. Don’t overlook packs with easy access to often used items, secure compartments for valuables and with thoughtful layouts.

Materials/Durability

From traditional to technical, the best backpack brands are building packs with an array of materials. With an eye towards heritage style, brands are using leather, metals and canvas. More technical packs switch over to Cordura, abrasion resistant nylons and plastics to shave weight. 

Design

Perhaps the most important design feature of any pack is the back system. From packs with minimalist back systems to trampoline systems to full frames, back systems are key to pack design, allowing for weight to be carried well. Day packs vary greatly in size. In this test the span was from 12L to 32L. Size is not the only design feature to pay attention to though; center of gravity and dimensions are integral to how the pack carries and performs for its intended use.

Features

Design features include internal organization, separate pockets, hydration compatibility, belt pockets, safety whistles, gear attachment points, compressions strapping, ski carry systems, and much more. These are the items that define a pack’s use. 

Carry Comfort

At the end of the day, a pack is only useful if it’s comfortable. Fully loaded, a pack should be comfortable enough to carry all day. Materials, design and features, will all play an important role here. Additionally, each pack with a specific or general use should be perform in those scenarios.

Day Pack Reviews

Deuter Groden 32 Deuter Groden 32

Editor’s Pick for Best Overall Day Pack

The Deuter Groden day pack combines high-tech features with traditional styling. The pack captures a unique place on the trail by offering the technical ability to carry larger loads over longer distances in a compact, comfortable and stylish platform built on the brand’s off-the-back trampoline back system for ventilation and reduced perspiration. Generously featured with attachment points, rain cover and smaller compartments, the Groden notched out Editor’s Choice Award in the day pack category. 

Tester Comments: “The Groden is the perfect marriage of performance and design. This is a pack with all the technical chops that Deuter has built its legacy on, yet it brings to the table an authentic heritage style that is more and more coveted by today’s outdoorist. A performance oriented, modern classic.”

Looking for more information about Deuter Groden 32? Read the full review

Buying Options

12% Cash Back
$129.00
Before Cash Back
$113.52 After Cash Back
12% Cash Back
$129.00
Before Cash Back
$113.52 After Cash Back
2.5% Cash Back
$129.00
Before Cash Back
$125.78 After Cash Back
High Sierra Olmsted Elmwood Rucksack High Sierra Olmsted Elmwood Rucksack

Best Designed Day Pack

High Sierra’s Olmsted Elmwood Rucksack is a day pack commuters, campus and outdoor users will find adept at meeting their needs. Its rugged looks are authentic yet not overly traditional and marks a midpoint on the technical-traditional continuum. Inside modern convenience like phone and laptop sleeves are built in along with cord and valuables storage. The Olmsted Elmwood is a blend of outdoor style with a smart city aesthetic that proves the two are not mutually exclusive. From the mountains to the mall, this High Sierra backpack will take you there. 

Tester Comments: “When you package retro-hip styling with thought-out and clearly articulated design, you get a day pack that is functional for outdoor pursuits and easily transitions to everyday use for commuters and campus goers. This pack does exactly that – the designers at High Sierra notched a win with the Olmsted Elmwood.” 

Looking for more information about High Sierra Olmsted Elmwood Rucksack? Read the full review

Buying Options

3% Cash Back
$76.50
Before Cash Back
$74.21 After Cash Back
7% Cash Back
$90.00
Before Cash Back
$83.70 After Cash Back
Kelty Ruckus Roll Top 28L Kelty Ruckus Roll Top 28L

Best Value Day Pack

Kelty’s casual confidence building gear for the outdoor enthusiasts shines in the Ruckus Roll Top day pack. It is a simple pack, with brilliant design built for a plethora of uses. The roll-top access is user friendly, easily packable and allows the wearer to create multiple sized packs for different needs on different days. The Ruckus has a sleek and no-frills look and boasts comfortable shoulder straps and back system. With just the right amount of attachment points, loops and pockets, the Ruckus is a go-to companion whether on the trail or on the snow.

Tester Comments: “From town to trail, summits to saddles, this pack is capable of versatile use for travel on ski, foot or bikes. Comfortable in really any scenario whether I was carrying a lot of weight or just a layer and a sandwich. The simplicity of this pack is what makes it shine. It’s not over thought or loaded down with design for design’s sake.”

Looking for more information about Kelty Ruckus Roll Top 28L? Read the full review

Buying Options

12% Cash Back
$67.46
Before Cash Back
$59.37 After Cash Back
12% Cash Back
$70.99
Before Cash Back
$62.48 After Cash Back
3% Cash Back
$69.99
Before Cash Back
$67.90 After Cash Back
2.5% Cash Back
$70.99
Before Cash Back
$69.22 After Cash Back
5% Cash Back
$89.95
Before Cash Back
$85.46 After Cash Back
Ortovox Haute Route 32 Ortovox Haute Route 32

The Haute Route is as highly specialized as day packs come. A pack designed specifically for backcountry skiing, the layout, features, packability, and design are drawn to the needs of ski touring – and it excels in all of the areas. Ortovox ski backpacks are built to meet the needs of backcountry skiers with a copious array of backcountry-specific features; the pack is built for all-day epics, dawn patrols and quick jaunts out the gates at your favorite resort. 

Tester Comments: “The materials and designs of the Haute Route 32 are impeccable. You get the feeling Ortovox designers went through many prototypes before landing on the final design and feature set. Everything is right where you need it to be, nothing gets in the way and there are zero extra bells, but it does have a safety whistle” 

Looking for more information about Ortovox Haute Route 32? Read the full review

Buying Options

6% Cash Back
$169.00
Before Cash Back
$158.86 After Cash Back
Arc’teryx Cierzo 18 Arc’teryx Cierzo 18

Arc’teryx is synonymous with alpinism and mountaineering. The brand has built and staked its reputation on providing the very highest level and quality of gear for the world’s leading mountain athletes. The Cierzo 18 carries that torch by providing a sleek, pared-down, minimalist summit backpack for vertical athletes who need the lightest highest functioning gear available. That performance and quality is apparent in the build, materials and thoughtful design of the Arc’teryx Cierzo 18 Backpack. 

Tester Comments: “Everything the rock and ice athlete needs to push harder, go longer and reach higher without weighing you down with added bulk or unnecessary features. Durable yet lightweight materials, minimalist yet extremely functional design, combine in the Cierzo to offer a peak pack that will take years of abuse and still perform.”

Looking for more information about Arc’teryx Cierzo 18? Read the full review

Buying Options

4% Cash Back
$69.27
Before Cash Back
$66.50 After Cash Back
6% Cash Back
$99.00
Before Cash Back
$93.06 After Cash Back
Columbia Titanium Trail Elite 22 Columbia Titanium Trail Elite 22

Columbia Titanium series products up the ante for the serious outdoor adventurer. The line is lauded and well-known for its tested-tough quality, serious design and proven materials. The Trail Elite 22 and its trampoline back system, cored out shoulder straps and hip belt, as well as a rich feature set make this Columbia backpack an obvious choice for fast and light adventures on foot or as a mountain bike pack for longer and all-day rides. 

Tester Comments: “Pleasantly surprised at the superior comfort level of this pack as we tested as a mountain bike pack and also on short day hikes. The airflow through the off-the-back carrying system was superb in hotter and humid weather, while in cooler temps it kept us from getting cool and clammy.”

Looking for more information about Columbia Titanium Trail Elite 22? Read the full review

Buying Options

8% Cash Back
$129.00
Before Cash Back
$118.68 After Cash Back
Mountainsmith Day Lumbar Pack Mountainsmith Day Lumbar Pack

The Mountainsmith Day Lumbar Pack is not a backpack, and do not call it a fanny pack, but it’s not really a shoulder bag either. Somewhere in the middle of the Venn diagram where those three overlap, comfortably lives the Mountainsmith Day Lumbar Pack where it has resided for decades. But more accurately, it has resided on trail networks worldwide from New England to New Zealand as a steady companion to day hikers seeking the perfect balance of freedom of movement and carrying capacity.

Tester Comments: “The perfect tool for those days when you just don’t need much gear with you. Why weigh yourself down and restrict your freedom of movement with a bulky backpack. The Day Lumbar Pack is the anti-pack, built for nimbleness and speed. Not to mention the pack’s bona fide credentials as a mountain-town legitimate attaché.” 

Looking for more information about Mountainsmith Day Lumbar Pack? Read the full review

Buying Options

12% Cash Back
$70.99
Before Cash Back
$62.48 After Cash Back
12% Cash Back
$89.95
Before Cash Back
$79.16 After Cash Back
2.5% Cash Back
$89.95
Before Cash Back
$87.71 After Cash Back
1% Cash Back
$89.95
Before Cash Back
$89.06 After Cash Back
Fjallraven Rucksack No. 21 Fjallraven Rucksack No. 21

With timeless style, heritage materials and a traditional build, the Fjallraven Rucksack No. 21 is the backpack the rest of the bags mimics. And if imitation is the most sincere form a flattery, Fjallraven has clearly tapped a nerve. The pack offers a clear alternative to nylon, plastics and zippers, politely eschewing gram-counters, the latest fabrics and holier-than-thou technophile gear geeks. 

Tester Comments: “The Fjallraven Rucksack No. 21 is an homage to the brand’s storied legacy, and is designed with tradition, authenticity and heritage at the forefront. The pack embodies a look and feel that created and defined the outdoor aesthetic long before it swung wildly in an overly technical direction.

Looking for more information about Fjallraven Rucksack No. 21? Read the full review

Buying Options

12% Cash Back
$149.95
Before Cash Back
$131.96 After Cash Back
12% Cash Back
$150.00
Before Cash Back
$132.00 After Cash Back
15% Cash Back
$159.95
Before Cash Back
$135.96 After Cash Back
12% Cash Back
$160.00
Before Cash Back
$140.80 After Cash Back
2.5% Cash Back
$159.95
Before Cash Back
$155.96 After Cash Back