Daypack Vs Backpack: Key Differences Compared For Outdoors

Daypacks and backpacks share many similarities, namely function and general design. Both feature straps to fit on your back, and both carry everyday items or supplies.  Even price can be comparable: while daypacks tend to be cheaper, you can find quality backpacks for under $100.

That’s about where the similarities end, however—and knowing the difference between a daypack and backpack is a must when shopping for your next bag.  Read on to learn the key differences between daypacks and backpacks, the pros and cons of each, and the answers to frequently asked questions about these accessories.

two man with backpack

A daypack is actually a subcategory of backpacks. Generally speaking, it’s simply a smaller backpack, one meant to fit only what you'll need for a short period, such as a day hike. There are more differences than just size, though—many of which are beneficial, depending on your hiking needs, comfort levels, and budget.

Daypacks are popular with casual and experienced hikers alike.  They’re ideal for those traversing easy terrain, sticking close to home or camp, or who can’t comfortably carry larger packs for extended time periods.

Benefits of Daypacks

  • Size
    Again, daypacks are smaller, which means you can keep only the essentials right within reach.
  • Lightweight
    Not only will you have to pack light, but a daypack itself is lighter, too. This is extremely helpful for those with back or shoulder issues.
  • Inexpensive
    Daypacks tend to be less expensive than backpacks, although budget options of the latter do exist.
  • Wide range of materials
    Since they don’t need to withstand extreme conditions, daypacks can be made from canvas, leather, nylon, and even recycled materials.
  • Adaptable to everyday life
    Whereas hiking backpacks are bulky and emphasize utility, daypacks come in an array of styles. You can use them for way more than just hiking—and look great doing it.

Drawbacks of Daypacks

  • Less padding
    The portion of the daypack that rests on your spine usually won’t have padding or contours for your back.  Daypacks also lack cushioned straps, which can cause discomfort.
  • Fewer compartments
    If you have a lot of odds and ends that need multiple zippers and pockets, a daypack might not have enough. They load mostly from the top.
  • Usually frameless
    This is ultimately a benefit—your daypack can be flattened, rolled, and stowed away with ease—but can spell trouble for your back. A backpack designed to mitigate back pain might be a better fit.
  • Size
    If you have a great deal to carry, daypacks might prove too small.

Pros & Cons of Regular Backpacks

In a very broad sense, a backpack is any bag that you wear on your back with shoulder straps. This category can include daypacks, but may also encompass some styles of purses, diaper bags, camera gear bags, and much more. Hiking backpacks are ideal for longer hikes, camping trips, and general travel when a daypack just isn’t enough.

Although you usually see them on students, many professionals are now making the switch to backpacks over purses, messenger bags, and laptop bags.  In outdoor recreation, everyone from cyclists to rock climbers can sport a backpack, usually perfectly suited to their activity of choice.  Hiking is the largest use of outdoor backpacks, by far, due to the amount of supplies you often need to carry.

Benefits of Regular Backpacks

  • Large size
    Whatever you need to bring along, a sturdy and large backpack can accommodate it. This allows you to be as prepared as possible for whatever nature throws your way.
  • Multiple compartments
    Unlike daypacks, you can tuck small or specific items into designated compartments. Water bottles or bandages can be retrieved in a snap; no digging through on a blind hunt for your stuff.
  • Back and shoulder support
    Padded straps and internal frames make hiking backpacks exceptionally comfortable, even if you’ll be wearing them for several hours at a time.
  • Hands free
    With a daypack, you might have to carry a few items in your hands if you run out of room. Larger backpacks, however, can hold it all—freeing up your hands for your hike or other activities.
  • Weight distribution
    A frame and multiple compartments help you distribute the weight of your cargo more evenly, making it easier to carry.

Drawbacks of Regular Backpacks

  • Price
    In general, backpacks are more expensive than daypacks.  However, budget-friendly options are available, including backpacks for just $50 or less.
  • Bulky
    Some hiking backpacks can be cumbersome to carry—and even more cumbersome to store, when the trip is all said and done.
  • Specific use
    Backpacks are often designed for a specific purpose, such as hiking, school, or laptop or camera storage. Daypacks can double as purses, commuter bags, weekend bags, and more.

Daypack Vs Backpack (Key Differences Compared)

Style & Design

For the most part, daypacks offer more stylish and versatile aesthetics than hiking backpacks. This is due, in part, to the materials daypacks are made of: canvas or leather and similar materials aren’t uncommon, much like the materials handbags and purses are made from, and the designs can often be similar, as well.

A daypack can easily turn into an office bag or purse, but there’s no mistaking a backpack meant for long, strenuous hikes or camping trips. When it comes to looks, daypacks are definitely the winner.

Carrying Capacity

Smaller loads call for a smaller bag, and that’s where daypacks truly shine. You won’t have to fiddle with empty compartments, worry about storing it later, or heft around a bag that’s even heavier than your stuff. If you’re packing a substantial cargo load, however, a backpack is ideal for distributing its weight evenly and keeping your back from getting sore.

For Hiking/Climbing

Long hikes, rock climbing, and other lengthy outdoor excursions require lots of gear and supplies, from snacks to first aid kits. Daypacks just can’t fit everything you’ll need to bring, while a high-quality hiking backpack will provide ample storage room.

For Running

Although balance and comfort on longer hikes usually require a backpack, trying to run on a road or trail with one strapped to your body can compromise both: you might lose your balance and stumble with such a heavy pack on, or find the shifting weight quickly wears down your spine or shoulders. Opt for a pack specifically meant for running, instead.

For School

Most of the backpacks you’ll see students wearing fall into the daypack category: lightweight, frameless designs that load from the top, with a few small compartments for pencils or a water bottle. They’re designed to fit textbooks and notebooks above all else, with certain brands offering tablets or laptop storage.

For Travel/Commuting

Seldom will you see a hiking backpack on a commuter or weekend traveler due to the pack's large size and structured frame. Daypacks are ideal for travel and commuting to work when you don’t have much to carry—a wallet, phone, laptops or notebooks, and a few other items will all fit just fine.

Price

For the best price overall, daypacks run cheaper than most backpacks.  However, there are always exceptions: designer daypacks can cost a premium, while budget-friendly backpacks for a variety of activities can certainly meet your needs without breaking the bank.

osprey hiking backpack

People Also Ask (FAQs)

What is a good size daypack?

Although daypacks range in size from 10 to 50 liters, there is an ideal size range: right in the middle.  If you aren’t sure how much you’ll need to carry, or if you know you’ll be using your daypack for multiple activities, consider a 20-30 liter size.  This ensures you can fit typical day hiking gear without being overly large for other uses.

Can you hike with a regular backpack?

Honestly, any backpack will suffice for a light afternoon of hiking or two.  The supplies you bring along are more important than what, exactly, you put them in. Hiking backpacks are preferable, however, if you plan on a long excursion, or go hiking a lot. Over time, regular backpacks can lose structural integrity, making them more uncomfortable to wear—forcing you to either shorten your hike, or grin and bear the pain.

What is the best size backpack for a day hike?

For light day hikes—say, an afternoon or quick morning outing—you won’t need much more than 10 liters of capacity. This will allow for a few snacks, water, and a light jacket or other must-have items. If your clothing is a bit bulkier, or if you’re packing extra for kids or a longer outing, consider upgrading to 20-30 liters. Learn more about sizing here.

Does Herschel have better daypacks or backpacks?

Herschel offers an extensive selection of both backpacks and daypacks in a variety of sizes, designs, and purposes. Whether you need a small and sleek all-purpose daypack, a sturdy and nondescript tech bag for the morning commute, or travel backpacks for weekend getaways, Herschel can meet—and exceed—your expectations.


Conclusion

For hiking and traveling, the best bag for you depends on your activity, capacity needs, and even personal preference. Daypacks serve as a lightweight, stylish alternative to bulkier and often more expensive bags, while backpacks provide ample capacity and comfort for longer hikes, heavier loads, or harsher conditions.

  • Updated August 11, 2021