The Ultimate Guide to Choosing the Best Packable Daypack for Travel in 2023

A packable daypack has become an essential item on our packing lists. It's a convenient and versatile solution for sightseeing and shopping at our travel destinations. We've tried and tested numerous backpacks, and below you'll...

A packable daypack has become an essential item on our packing lists. It's a convenient and versatile solution for sightseeing and shopping at our travel destinations. We've tried and tested numerous backpacks, and below you'll find our reviews of the best packable daypacks for 2023. Whether you prefer ultralight options or fully-featured models, we've got something for every budget.

What is a Packable Daypack?

A packable daypack is an ultralight backpack that can easily fit into your luggage or even your pocket. These backpacks are designed to compress into a small pouch, making them incredibly portable. They come in various sizes and styles, ranging from tiny and ultralight with one compartment to bulkier backpacks with multiple pockets and features commonly found in regular backpacks. You may also come across terms like foldable backpack or collapsible backpack, which essentially refer to the same concept.

Matador Freefly16 packable backpack Matador Freefly16 packable backpack

Why Travel with a Packable Backpack?

The main reason to travel with a packable backpack is the need for a smaller bag for day trips and sightseeing. While our main luggage is often too large for daily outings, a compact, foldable backpack fits neatly inside our travel bags and can be easily taken out when needed. It allows us to travel with just one carry-on bag, which is particularly useful when airlines impose strict baggage limitations. Additionally, a collapsible daypack is handy when you only require a bag for a short period. You can easily store it in your handbag or pocket and use it for shopping or when you want to remove your sweater or jacket later in the day.

Our Top Picks

After extensive testing, our top pick for the best packable daypack is the Matador Freefly16. This lightweight backpack offers exceptional durability and weatherproofing, coupled with superior comfort. It stands out from the rest of the packable bags due to its thoughtful design and construction.

If you're looking for an ultralight daypack that packs down to a tiny size, we recommend the Osprey Stuff Pack. While the Matador Beast18 offers unparalleled comfort for hiking, it is slightly bulkier and heavier compared to the other options.

Matador Freefly16 packable backpack Matador Freefly16 packable backpack

How to Choose the Best Packable Backpack

When selecting a packable daypack, it's crucial to consider your priorities. Whether you prioritize weight and packability or features and comfort, finding the right balance is key. Here are a few factors to keep in mind:

1. Capacity: Opt for a backpack with a capacity of 16 to 20 liters, providing ample space for essentials such as a fleece, water bottle, snacks, and even a Kindle. Some backpacks can accommodate laptops up to 16 and 13 inches.

2. Weight: Look for lightweight options below 250g (8.5oz). If you prefer ultralight backpacks, you can find packs weighing under 100g (3.5oz).

3. Size When Packed: Most packable daypacks can be folded into their own inside pockets, creating a compact pouch that doesn't take up much space in your main luggage.

4. Pockets: Aim for at least one zipped pocket for storing small items securely.

5. Water Bottle Holders: Convenient exterior water bottle holders allow easy access to hydration during your travels.

6. Hip Belt: A hip belt is necessary only if you plan to carry heavy loads, as it transfers the bag's weight from your shoulders to your hips. The Matador Beast18 is one of the few packable daypacks on our list that includes a comfortable padded hip belt.

7. Sternum Strap: A chest strap provides extra support and prevents the bag from moving around. While not common in packable daypacks, it greatly improves comfort during hikes. The Matador Freefly16 and our full-featured recommendations include sternum straps.

8. Back and Shoulder Strap Padding: Consider the level of padding required for your needs. Lighter loads may not require extensive padding, while heavier loads might necessitate additional support.

9. Hydration Port: If you prefer drinking from a water bladder, look for backpacks with a dedicated hydration port. While not commonly found in ultralight bags, models like the REI Flash Pack and Matador Beast18 include this feature.

10. Weather Resistance: Most packable daypacks are not completely waterproof but look for ones that offer water resistance. The Matador Freerain22 is fully waterproof, while the Freefly16 and Beast18 provide excellent weather resistance.

11. Durability: Opt for backpacks made from high-quality fabrics and durable zippers to ensure longevity.

It's worth noting that the backpacks we reviewed are suitable for both men and women.

The original packable daypacks we tried The original packable daypacks we tried: The Friendly Swede (no longer available), Gonex, and Sea to Summit

The Best Mid-Sized Packable Daypacks

If you're searching for a balance between packability, weight, and comfort, mid-sized packable daypacks are an excellent choice. These backpacks offer a good compromise, providing enough space for your essentials while remaining lightweight. Here are our top recommendations:

Matador Freefly16 Packable Backpack

Capacity: 16L | Weight: 190g (6.7oz) | Color: Black only

The Matador Freefly16 is our favorite mid-sized packable daypack. It strikes the perfect balance between packability, comfort, and style. The backpack is lightweight yet features several uncommon amenities you won't typically find in packable bags.

Matador Freefly16 packable backpack review

The adjustable sternum strap enhances comfort by keeping the shoulder straps in place. Additionally, it's equipped with gear loops, shock cord captures, and buckle compression straps, allowing you to attach hiking poles and tools to the exterior of the bag.

Other notable features include two mesh water bottle pockets, a large front zippered pocket (which spans the majority of the bag's length), and a spacious main compartment capable of accommodating a 16-inch laptop (without padding).

While the backpack doesn't pack into its own pocket, it does come with a separate mesh bag that can be conveniently squeezed into a small ball. The higher price point of $79.99 is justified by the quality materials used, including Robic nylon and YKK zippers. The backpack's bottom is reinforced with a stronger fabric to ensure durability, and it offers impressive weather resistance with UTS coating, sealed seams, and sealing zippers.

If you're looking for a high-quality mid-sized packable daypack, we highly recommend the Matador Freefly16.

Gonex Ultralight Packable Daypack

Capacity: 20L | Weight: 185g (6.5oz) | Colors: 2 available

The budget-friendly Gonex Ultralight Packable Daypack is an excellent choice for those seeking affordability without compromising functionality. While it may not be the most stylish backpack, it offers a simple and practical design in a choice of black or other colors.

The Gonex features a zipped front pocket, two mesh water bottle pockets, and a zipped inside pocket that doubles as the storage pouch. Despite the lack of padding, it surprisingly fits a significant amount of items, including a 16-inch MacBook Pro, a 13-inch laptop, and a 12-inch iPad Pro, all in protective cases.

Hiking in South Africa with Gonex, the best packable backpack

While we've since upgraded to higher-quality backpacks, the Gonex served us well for over a year of travel to eight countries. It proved durable and versatile for various activities, from hikes to day trips and shopping. However, we did notice signs of wear and tear after a year, prompting us to replace it.

With its minimal shoulder strap padding, the Gonex is suitable for short to medium hikes but may not provide sufficient comfort for extended periods. Nevertheless, it remains an affordable and practical choice for travelers on a budget.

New Outlander Packable Travel Daypack

Capacity: 20L (33L version also available) | Weight: 198g (7oz) | Colors: 10 available

Similar to the Gonex, the New Outlander Packable Travel Daypack offers a cost-effective option with a slightly larger front zipped pocket. This backpack includes two zipped pockets at the front, a zipped inside pocket, and two mesh water bottle holders on the sides.

New Outlander packable daypack review

While it receives favorable reviews on Amazon, we prefer the Gonex due to its lighter weight and the New Outlander's slightly wrinkled fabric appearance. However, if you require an extra external pocket and are on a strict budget, the New Outlander could be the ideal choice for you.

Eagle Creek Packable Backpack

Capacity: 20L | Weight: 170g (6oz) | Colors: 4 available

Note: This review refers to the older version of the Eagle Creek Packable Daypack. The newer version is slightly larger and heavier, featuring a side pocket instead of a front pocket.

The Eagle Creek Packable Daypack is difficult to categorize due to its smaller and lighter design. It falls between mid-sized and ultralight daypacks and offers a more stylish look compared to the latter.

Eagle Creek Packable Daypack review

Featuring an attractive matte grey (though described as black) fabric, this lightweight backpack is ideal for urban travel. It boasts a lockable main compartment, a zipped front pocket, and compact overall dimensions when packed down. While it lacks padding on the back and minimal mesh padding on the shoulder straps, it compensates with a sleek appearance and a lifetime warranty.

For those seeking higher-quality materials, a lighter weight, and a more stylish design, the Eagle Creek Packable Backpack is worth considering.

A comparison of the best packable daypacks Comparison of the best packable daypacks, including The Friendly Swede, Gonex, and Sea to Summit

The Best Ultralight Daypacks

If your main priority is minimizing weight and size, ultralight daypacks are the ideal choice. These backpacks prioritize packability and are suitable for occasional use or lighter loads. Here are our top picks for the best ultralight daypacks:

Sea to Summit Ultra-Sil Daypack

Capacity: 20L | Weight: 72g (2.5oz) | Colors: 4 available

The Sea to Summit Ultra-Sil Daypack is the ultimate choice if size and weight are your primary concerns. Weighing only 72g (2.5oz), it folds down into a tiny pouch, making it incredibly compact.

The Sea to Summit Ultra-Sil Daypack

While the Ultra-Sil Daypack is incredibly lightweight, its wrinkled fabric and lack of shape might be a drawback for some. It lacks pockets and structure, resulting in a saggy appearance when not fully packed. However, if weight and size are your top priorities, this backpack is an excellent option for occasional use.

Osprey Ultralight Stuff Pack

Capacity: 18L | Weight: 90g (3.2oz) | Colors: 5 available

The Osprey Ultralight Stuff Pack is slightly heavier than the Sea to Summit Daypack but offers improved functionality. It features more padding, additional pockets, and less wrinkled fabric.

Osprey Ultralight Stuff Pack review

The Osprey backpack includes a stretchy mesh water bottle pocket, an exterior zipped pocket (positioned behind the main zips for added security), and a crinkle fabric that feels more durable. While it may not be the most comfortable option, it strikes a balance between weight, compactness, and features.

Naturehike Ultralight Foldable Daypack

Capacity: 18L | Weight: 120g (4.2oz) | Colors: 3 available

For those seeking an ultralight daypack under $20, the Naturehike Ultralight Foldable Daypack is an excellent choice. Although slightly heavier than the previous options, it remains noticeably lighter and more compact than mid-sized daypacks.

The backpack features a mesh water bottle holder and a front zipped pocket with considerable depth. While it lacks internal pockets (contrary to the product listing), it folds into a small drawstring pouch that can accommodate small items like keys.

Due to its narrow and flimsy straps, we recommend the Naturehike for occasional use or lighter loads. However, it remains an affordable option for travelers seeking an ultralight daypack.

Review of the Naturehike foldable backpack

The Best Full Featured Foldable Backpacks

Full featured foldable daypacks offer additional functionality and comfort compared to other packable options. While they may be heavier and bulkier, they are suitable for travelers who require a more robust backpack for regular use or specific activities. Here are our top recommendations:

Matador Freerain22 Waterproof Packable Backpack

Capacity: 22L | Weight: 300g (10.6oz) | Color: Black only

The Matador Freerain22 is the ultimate packable backpack for those seeking waterproof capabilities. Its UTS coating, sealed seams, and zipped rolltop closure effectively keep water out, ensuring your belongings remain dry even during heavy rain.

The Freerain22 is ideal for outdoor enthusiasts, offering features such as gear loops, shockcord captures, and buckle compression straps for attaching hiking poles and tools. It also includes two water bottle pockets, a large front pocket, and a spacious main compartment.

Matador Freerain22 waterproof packable backpack

Comfort is not compromised, with a sternum strap and removable hip belt provided. The backpack packs into a separate compression sack for convenient storage and transport. Although it is slightly heavier and bulkier, the Freerain22 offers exceptional durability, weather resistance, and comfort for outdoor adventures.

REI Co-op Flash 18 Pack

Capacity: 18L | Weight: 269g (9.5oz) | Colors: 6 available

The REI Co-op Flash 18 Pack is the perfect choice for those seeking a small hiking backpack. It offers a slightly higher weight compared to budget daypacks but features numerous amenities.

REI Flash 18 Pack review

The Flash 18 provides enhanced comfort with a detachable hip belt and sternum strap, as well as light padding on the back panel and shoulder straps. It is particularly suitable for hikers who carry a hydration bladder, thanks to the hose exit port and internal reservoir sleeve.

The exterior zipped pocket and daisy chain with ice-axe loop increase functionality, while the drawcord opening and absence of a self-packing feature maintain compactness. The Flash 18 comes highly recommended by experienced travelers.

Matador Beast18 Ultralight Technical Backpack

Capacity: 18L | Weight: 595g (1lb 5oz) | Color: Black only

The Matador Beast18 Ultralight Technical Backpack is designed for outdoor activities such as hiking and climbing. It stands out from other packable daypacks due to its flexible frame suspension system, which provides exceptional support and comfort.

Cycling with the Matador Beast18 Ultralight Technical Backpack

The Beast18 features ample padding on the back panel and shoulder straps, an adjustable sternum strap, and a wide, lightly padded hip belt (removable if not required). Additionally, it offers a spacious main compartment with a hydration sleeve, two water bottle pockets, and a front compartment for additional storage.

While the Beast18 is slightly heavier and bulkier than other packable daypacks, it delivers exceptional comfort and durability. When packed down, it fits into a separate compression sack, though still larger than mid-sized options.

Overall, the Matador Beast18 is the ideal choice for hikers seeking a comfortable, packable, and waterproof daypack for outdoor adventures.

Which Packable Daypack is Best for You?

To summarize our recommendations, here's a brief overview:

  • If you prioritize minimal weight and size above all else, the Sea to Summit Ultra-Sil Daypack is the perfect choice.
  • For an ultralight backpack with improved features and style, opt for the Osprey Ultralight Stuff Pack.
  • If waterproofing is essential, the Matador Freerain22 is your ideal companion.
  • For everyday use, the Matador Freefly16 strikes the perfect balance between weight, comfort, and weather resistance.

Take into account your specific needs, budget, and planned activities to select the packable daypack that matches your requirements.

Now that you have a comprehensive guide to the best packable daypacks for travel in 2023, it's time to choose the backpack that suits your needs. Happy travels!

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