What Size Backpack Do You Need for a Day Hike? 

 June 19, 2023

By  Keith Terrell

Imagine heading off into the breathtaking wilderness, surrounded by tranquility and pulsating life. You’ve planned for this day hike meticulously — from deciding the route to choosing your hiking boots. But wait! What about your backpack? Figured it’s just stuffing things into a bag and you're done? Think again. 

The size of backpack you need for a day hike depends on how much gear you plan to carry. Hiking daypacks typically have a capacity that ranges from 10 to 35 liters, which should be sufficient for most day hikes. It's important to consider the fit as well, with factors such as torso length and hip size playing a major role in comfort and support.

Choosing the right size of backpack is as elemental as choosing your trail. Bigger isn't always better, and smaller can sometimes mean underpreparedness. In this blog post, we'll explore how to pick just the right sized backpack for your day hike to ensure comfort and preparedness. Let’s unpack this, shall we?

Determining the Ideal Backpack Size for Day Hikes

When it comes to choosing a daypack for your hiking trips, determining the ideal size can be a tricky task. The right backpack size can be determined by various factors. One of them is knowing the amount and type of gear you plan on taking with you. However, there are also other factors that could impact your decision, such as how long you plan on hiking and the weather conditions. Here are some tips for choosing the ideal backpack size for day hikes.

To provide a practical example, let's say you're planning on a 6-hour hike. You'll need to carry water, snacks, and additional clothes just in case temperatures drop or rain starts pouring. In this scenario, an 18-20 liters pack is probably a good choice to hold all your essentials without weighing you down.

Of course, while gear is an important factor in determining your daypack size, it's not the only one worth considering. Other factors such as activity level and personal preference can play a role as well. If you prefer a roomy bag even when carrying minimal gear, then selecting a larger option may work better for you.

Some people tend to underestimate the importance of investing in the right daypack size for their hiking trips. As an avid hiker myself, I've seen people struggling with uncomfortable bags that are too small or too big for their needs. Keep in mind that an ill-fitting backpack can not only ruin your trip but could also lead to injuries or physical strain.

Choosing the perfect backpack size can be compared to dating: finding the right match requires time and patience to avoid any unnecessary discomfort or frustration.

Now that we've covered some tips for determining the ideal backpack size, let's dive into understanding how gear plays into that decision.

Understanding the Role of Gear in Determining Size

One of the most significant factors that impact your backpack size is gear. A daypack should have adequate space to store all your hiking gear comfortably. This includes not only snacks, water, and clothes but also extras such as a first aid kit, insect repellant, maps, and navigation tools. Here's an overview of how gear affects the backpack size decision.

First and foremost, you'll need to consider the type of activity you're planning on doing. As previously mentioned, daypacks designed for specific activities such as running or cycling usually have a lower profile and are more lightweight than packs used for climbing or hiking.

Another important gear-related factor is capacity. Don't underestimate how much space you might need until it's too late. For instance, if you're going on a longer hike or trek, having extra clothing layers or emergency gear can be essential.

Lastly, take into consideration whether there are any specialized features you'll need in your daypack. This could include additional attachments like a hydration reservoir sleeve or daisy chains to hold carabiners or other attachments.

Let's say on a particular trip; you need to carry an ice axe and crampons for traversing icy terrain. In this case, choosing a pack with specialized attachment points designed specifically for carrying these items will be crucial.

The amount of gear you take with you depends heavily on your personal preference and outdoor experience. It's always wise to prepare for different weather conditions and emergencies by packing extra supplies when exploring unknown trails.

Some hikers tend to go overboard with their backpack sizes due to fear of leaving anything behind, which can lead to the unnecessary burden of carrying unnecessary items throughout their hikes.

Choosing the right backpack size based on your gear needs is similar to preparing for a job interview: you won't want to oversell yourself but ensure that you have all the necessary skills and tools required to succeed.

Now that we've covered how gear plays a role in choosing the right backpack size let's move on to exploring essential features of day hiking packs.

When choosing the size of your backpack for a day hike, it's essential to consider the gear you'll bring along. Select a daypack that can accommodate not only your snacks, water, and clothing but also extras such as first aid kits, insect repellent, maps, navigation tools and other necessary items.

Take into account the type of activity you're doing, the capacity you might need, and any specialized features required for your outdoor adventure. Don't go overboard with packing unnecessary items but be prepared for different weather conditions and emergencies by carrying essential extra supplies.

Finally, choose a reasonable backpack size to ensure comfort throughout your hike while having everything necessary for success.

Matching Backpack Size and Activity

When selecting a daypack for your next hike, it is crucial to consider the nature of your excursion. Activities such as hiking, running, traveling, and cycling require different sizes of backpacks to accommodate specific gear and equipment requirements. The size of the backpack you need largely depends on how much gear you plan to carry and the length of time you will be out on the trail.

For instance, day hiking backpacks are smaller than those used in overnight hiking/camping trips since hikers only require basic essentials such as water bottles, snacks, and extra clothing. Typically, daypacks have a capacity of 10 to 35 liters and are designed with hydration reservoir compatibility and mesh pockets on each side for water bottles. On the other hand, technical or camping daypacks can hold larger supplies such as tents and sleeping bags.

Climbing daypacks, designed for vertical ascents, tend to have specialized features such as an ice axe loop, crampon patches, and daisy chains for lashing gear. In contrast, running daypacks are designed to limit jostling while running and have pockets positioned for easy access to snacks or hydration sources. Travel daypacks have organization features like a laptop sleeve, dividers, separate compartments, and an organizer panel to hold small items.

It's essential always to consider activity when selecting a backpack for a day hike. Choosing the appropriate size ensures that you have adequate room for all your essentials without adding unnecessary weight to your trip.

For instance, my friend uses her Osprey Talon 22 as her go-to daypack for almost every outdoor adventure she embarks on because she finds it comfortable despite its limited size (22L). However, during our winter hikes where many layers are required plus extra snacks for warmth-keeping energy bursts along the way - she noticed it was getting too bulky. She invested in a larger 35L daypack for such winters adventures and found this to be the perfect size for carrying everything she needs without feeling weighed down.

It is essential also to note that regardless of any activity, ensure the backpack's weight should never exceed more than 20% of your body weight. Carrying excessive weight for an extended period may lead to fatigue and compromise your balance, increasing your likelihood of injuries.

However, many proponents argue that going well above 20% of body weight is acceptable, even necessary in hiking or camping segments—many backpackers cite averaged loads between 30-50 pounds when traversing long distances with their gear. While there are advantages gained from having all of your equipment on the trail (such as certainty you have everything necessary,) it might lead to potential harm if not approached with caution.

Now that we've discussed how to determine the ideal size for your daypack let's dive into various features to look out for when selecting a backpack.

Essential Features in Day Hiking Packs

Your backpack is essentially your trusted companion on any outdoor adventure, so it's important to choose one that has crucial features suited to your specific needs. When choosing the appropriate day hiking pack, comfort and adjustability are vital features to consider.

Day hiking packs need to be appropriately adjusted to fit securely onto your back for optimal comfort and stability while on the trail. The most critical fit factors are torso length and hip size. Most premium brands provide size charts instructing hikers to measure their torsos' length before making any purchase. Ensuring a correct torso-length measurement translates into better weight distribution across the hips instead of placing it entirely on the shoulders.

When it comes to adjustability, look into getting a backpack that can adequately contour around your body frame; many high-quality daypacks are designed with adjustable straps, padded hip belts contoured with ergonomic shapes, and ventilated back panels. These features allow proper airflow to the back, which helps reduce sweat accumulation and keep your back cool while out on hot summer hikes.

Another important feature to consider is storage compartments. Day hiking packs come with different capacities and offer a range of compartment options for storing your gear. Consider your journey's length and difficulty level as well as the number of essentials you require before deciding on an ideal size. For instance, if you will be hiking in extremely cold areas, space could be necessary even for newer layers.

For example, when planning to hike in extreme temperatures during winter months, having ample space becomes vital since jackets and other winter gear tend to be bulkier than those necessary for warm-weather hikes. Investing in a larger daypack can provide enough room to accommodate all of these other essentials without leaving behind essential items.

Think of a daypack like a house: you want it big enough to store all necessary possessions but not too large that it feels empty or you won't have enough insulation when the weather turns cold.

Importance of Comfort and Adjustability

When it comes to choosing a daypack for your hike, comfort and adjustability should be at the top of your list of priorities. No one wants to be dealing with an uncomfortable pack on a long hike, or one that doesn't fit right and causes unnecessary pain or strain.

An important factor in finding a comfortable backpack is the level of adjustability it offers. Most backpacks come with adjustable straps that can be tightened or loosened to fit your specific body shape. When it comes to finding the right fit, your torso length and hip size are the two most significant factors you should consider. The backpack's waistband should comfortably sit on your hips while the shoulder straps should not bind, chafe, rubbing against or dig into your armpits. Make sure to also check if there is any chest or sternum strap that will give additional support when necessary.

Another factor for ensuring comfort is adequate ventilation. Having good airflow around your back while hiking will prevent moisture and sweat buildup, which can be uncomfortable over time. Some packs come with mesh backs that allow air to flow freely while others provide a molded back panel that allows for breathability.

No matter how well-adjusted and ventilated a backpack may be, it won’t matter unless it’s designed with ergonomics in mind. This means that the distribution of weight matters as well. A backpack loaded with gear distributes weight unevenly across the shoulders. Therefore, having a hip belt application is crucial because the hips are better equipped to carry heavy loads than the shoulders do.

For avid hikers who go on hikes frequently, a quality daypack with great adjustability features might not seem like such a big deal until they have injured themselves because their backpack didn't fit correctly. Once you've experienced discomfort firsthand due to improper fit/adjustments, you'll never underestimate their importance ever again.

Weight and Durability: Striking the Balance

When it comes to outdoor activities, weight management is key. Nobody wants to be weighed down by a heavy backpack that's too much for your body to comfortably carry around all day. But on the other hand, you don't want to compromise durability and carry past its limit.

In finding a balance between these two factors, you might consider the size of the pack most suitable for your trip, with 20% of body weight being the advised maximum for comfortable carrying and maneuvering throughout the hike.

When choosing your daypack, make sure you decide on one that is made from high-quality materials so you can trust it will handle any terrain you throw at it. The outer material should protect against abrasion-resistant fabric since the odds are against any type of backpack staying unscathed in harsh environments. Heavy-duty zippers and plastic hardware may also work well depending on the backpack’s purpose.

One way to strike a balance between a lightweight pack and one that can hold up against wear and tear is to choose a daypack whose primary focus is the backpack’s functionality. If it aims at bringing features like hydration compatibility or specialized pockets instead of designer elements like extra padding or stitching details, then it might strike the perfect balance for your needs.

For example, if you are planning a climbing trip that includes ice ax loops or crampons patches, you will need a durable backpack that can handle this activity.

Choosing lightweight gear over heavier ones has become an increasingly popular trend among hikers as it lets them move faster even as they traverse rough terrains.

However, when it comes to durability concerns with lighter materials versus sturdy ones such as leather, canvass ad Nylon, opinions tend also weigh in differently from person-to-person as some believe not having leeway in terms of durability to be a big red flag due to the probability of wear and tear becoming an issue in the long run.

Role of Waterproofing in Hiking Backpacks

When it comes to backpacks for day hiking, one important factor to consider is the level of waterproofing. Weather can be unpredictable and you never know when you might get caught in a sudden downpour or cross a river or creek. Therefore, having a backpack that can withstand water will make your hiking trip more enjoyable and comfortable.

Imagine going on a day hike with all your essential gear packed in your backpack only to have your items soaked from a sudden rain shower. Not only would it ruin your hike, but it could also be potentially dangerous if important items such as your map or first-aid kit become waterlogged.

In addition to protecting your gear from inclement weather conditions, waterproofing also helps prevent mold and mildew growth, which can ruin your pack and equipment over time. A backpack with poor waterproofing may also result in heavier weight due to water absorption, adding unnecessary weight to your load.Some may argue that waterproofing is not necessary for hiking backpacks since many come with rain covers. While rain covers do provide moderate protection, they are often limited in effectiveness during heavy rainfall or when wading through water bodies. Additionally, rain covers may add extra weight and bulkiness to the backpack.

It's like wearing a raincoat versus walking around without one during a thunderstorm. You'll still get wet either way but the raincoat provides an additional level of protection against heavy rainfall.

Fortunately, there are many backpacks designed specifically for hiking with waterproof materials such as Gore-Tex or Dyneema fabrics that repel water while also being lightweight and durable. Many of these packs also come with welded seams which reduce the risk of water seeping through the stitch holes.

However, some may argue that waterproof hiking backpacks are more expensive than non-waterproof ones, and therefore not worth the investment. While it is true that waterproof backpacks often come with a higher price tag, keep in mind that investing in a quality pack that will protect your gear and last for years to come can save you money in the long run versus having to replace a cheaper, poorly constructed pack every year or so.

When it comes to day hiking backpacks, waterproofing is an essential factor to consider to ensure the protection and longevity of your gear. While it may require a bit of extra investment upfront, it is worth it in terms of comfort, safety, and preservation of your equipment. Remember to always check the level of waterproofing before purchasing a daypack for hiking and look for packs made from high-quality materials with welded seams for maximum water protection.

Frequently Asked Questions

Do different terrains or weather conditions affect what size backpack is needed for a day hike?

Absolutely! The terrain and weather conditions you'll encounter on your day hike are important factors to consider when choosing the appropriate size backpack.

For example, if you plan to hike in a warmer climate, you may want to bring extra water and sunscreen, necessitating a larger backpack. Alternatively, if you're going for a fall hike through a cool or damp area, you may need bulkier clothing layers which would require a bigger bag.

According to the American Hiking Society, it's suggested that hikers pack at least one liter of water per person for every two hours of hiking in mild conditions, with more water needed for hotter or higher elevations. This alone could require a larger sized backpack than if you were just doing a quick afternoon walk through the park.

Additionally, if you're traversing uneven or steep terrain, it's likely that you'll need extra gear like trekking poles or crampons depending on the season and trail conditions. These items can take up valuable space in your bag as well.

In short - yes, different terrains and weather conditions directly affect what size backpack you will need for your day hike. It's always better to err on the side of caution by bringing extra necessities rather than being underprepared during an unexpected turn of events.

Is it better to have a slightly larger or smaller backpack for a day hike?

When it comes to choosing the right size backpack for a day hike, the answer is simple: go for a slightly larger one. While a smaller backpack may seem like the better option in terms of weight and convenience, having a little extra space can make a big difference in your overall hiking experience.

First and foremost, choosing a slightly larger backpack allows you to bring more essential items with you on your hike. According to a survey conducted by REI, the top five items that hikers consider essential are water, snacks, a map or GPS device, sunscreen, and sunglasses. These items alone can take up a significant amount of space in your backpack, so having room for additional necessities like extra layers, a first aid kit, or camera gear can be invaluable.

Furthermore, a slightly larger backpack provides versatility and flexibility in case of unexpected situations. If the weather suddenly turns colder or rainier than expected, having an extra layer or waterproof jacket on hand can make all the difference in keeping yourself comfortable and safe. Alternatively, if you happen to come across beautiful scenery or wildlife that you want to capture with your camera, having enough space to store your equipment will allow you to do so without sacrificing other essentials.

Of course, it's important not to go overboard with size - you don't want to be lugging an unnecessarily heavy and bulky pack around all day. Aim for a pack that can comfortably hold all of your necessary belongings while still fitting snugly on your back. The average daypack size ranges from 20-30 liters - consider what you'll be carrying and how long your hike will be when choosing among those sizes.

In conclusion, when it comes to choosing between a slightly smaller or larger backpack for a day hike, err on the side of bigger. More space means more room for essentials and flexibility for anything unexpected along the way.

What are some essential items to pack in a day-hiking backpack?

When preparing for a day hike, it's important to pack strategically to ensure that you have everything you need without being weighed down by unnecessary items. Here are some essential items to pack in your day-hiking backpack:

  1. Water: Staying hydrated is crucial, especially when exerting yourself on a hiking trail. According to the Wilderness Medical Society, hikers should aim to drink at least half a liter of water per hour of activity.
  2. Snacks: Pack plenty of high-energy snacks like nuts, trail mix, and energy bars to keep your stamina up throughout the hike.
  3. Sunscreen: Even on overcast days, UV rays can cause sun damage and increase your risk of skin cancer. Apply sunscreen with at least an SPF 30 before hitting the trail.
  4. First Aid Kit: Accidents can happen on the trail, so it's important to be prepared with a basic first-aid kit that includes items like bandages, gauze, and antiseptic wipes.
  5. Navigation Tools: Ensure you have a map and compass or GPS device to help you stay on track and avoid getting lost along the way.
  6. Extra Clothing: Bring an extra layer of clothing, such as a lightweight jacket or rain poncho that can protect you from sudden weather changes or unexpected rainstorms.

By packing these essential items in your day-hiking backpack, you'll be well-equipped for any unexpected challenges that may come your way while enjoying your outdoor adventure.

How do you determine the appropriate backpack size for your body type?

Choosing the right backpack size for your body type can make a huge difference in your hiking experience. After all, you don't want to carry more weight than is necessary, but you also don't want to be underprepared. So, how do you determine the appropriate backpack size for your body type?

Firstly, your backpack size should be determined by your torso length. According to REI, torso length determines the distance between the hip belt and shoulder straps of your backpack. A properly fitted backpack should sit comfortably on your hips while distributing most of the weight towards your spine.

There are a few ways to measure your torso length:

  1. Using a friend or measuring tape, measure from the base of your neck (C7 vertebra) to the top of your hips.
  2. Using a mirror or wall, stand up straight with your feet shoulder-width apart and tilt your head down slightly. Find the bump at the base of your neck and mark it with a piece of tape. Then, locate the highest point on your hip bone and measure between that point and the piece of tape.

Once you have measured your torso length, use a sizing chart provided by the brand you are purchasing from to select the appropriate backpack size.

It's also important to consider volume when choosing a backpack size. Daypacks typically range in volume from 10-35 liters, depending on their intended use. If you plan on carrying more gear or supplies for longer hikes, then opt for a larger pack with higher volume.

In summary, determining the appropriate backpack size for your body type involves measuring your torso length and using a sizing chart provided by the brand. Additionally, consider volume when selecting a pack based on your intended use. By selecting the right backpack size for your body type, you will have a comfortable and enjoyable hiking experience.

Are there any backpack brands or models that are specifically designed for day hikes?

Absolutely! Many popular backpack brands have recognized the need for backpacks designed specifically for day hikes. These backpacks usually have a capacity of 20-30 liters, which is perfect for carrying all your essential gear without weighing you down.

Some of the top picks in this category include the Osprey Daylite Plus, Gregory Zulu 30, and Deuter Speed Lite 24. These backpacks are designed with features such as breathable back panels, comfortable shoulder straps, and multiple compartments to keep your gear organized.

According to a survey conducted by Outdoor Industry Association in 2022, almost 75% of hikers prefer using specialized daypacks for their day hikes rather than larger backpacks or simple bags. The survey also revealed that more than 50% of respondents favored buying a branded specialized daypack over an unbranded one.

In conclusion, while there are numerous options available when it comes to choosing a backpack for a day hike, opting for a brand that specializes in outdoor gear and offers models designed specifically for shorter excursions is highly recommended for a comfortable and hassle-free experience.

About the author

Keith is a one bag traveler and the owner of Backpacks Global. His go to backpack is the Osprey FarPoint 40.

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