The ultralight packable daypack search!
A slew of technological advancements in the outdoor industry has arrived in recent years, and ultralight travel daypacks have enjoyed the trend that has thankfully depleted the gear requirements of decades past. Packs are now half the weight they were a few years ago, and just as functional.
One of the coolest developments for the ultralight backpacker, whether a hiker or traveler, is the ultralight packable daypack, which folds up into its own pocket, weighs just a few ounces, and is one of the best travel accessories you can find.
I used to spurn the extra pack, and on day trips I’d just stuff the essentials into cargo pockets, if I took anything at all. But now that ultralight travel daypacks can be found for just a few ounces, I bring one along on every trip, and I use it all the time.
So if you’re tired of carrying the “extra pack” on your front while you’ve got the “real pack” on your back, then these are for you!
Packable Backpack Pros and Cons
Although I highly recommend them to anyone traveling or hiking or doing anything else that requires a simple pack, you won’t want to use them in every situation. They’re great for daytrips while the rest of your gear sits in a base camp or a hostel. Just keep in mind they’re super thin, and the straps have minimal padding, meaning you should only carry lighter loads, and hopefully nothing fragile, unless you wrap it in a sweater or something. They’re perfect for bringing a jacket, food, water, minor medical equipment, and maybe a book or two, in which case they’ll do quite nicely. And try not to drag them along scratchy concrete.
So without further ado, here are my lightweight packable backpack top picks:
1) Matador Daylite 16: $50
My new favorite! This pack manages to cram in several extremely useful (and quite rare) features into a scant 4.1 ounces, which is only 2 ounces heavier than the lightest pack on this list, but this one has far more to offer.
- Capacity: 16 L
- Weight: 4.1 oz (116 g)
- Pockets: Main compartment + 1 exterior zip + 2 side mesh + 1 tiny interior drawstring pocket
- Water-resistant construction
The fabric is waterproof, and the zippers are water-resistant; this is something I’ve only seen on packs that are 2-3 times as heavy, and incredibly useful in variable weather conditions. It’s not water-proof, but it’s a massive improvement over some of the alternatives.
Secondly, that small exterior zippered pocket goes all the way down to the base of the pack, meaning it’s big enough to hold an entire water bottle! That’s incredibly useful, as most packs like these lack any sort of structure, meaning a full water bottle will make a pack feel lop-sided, and it’ll always feel like it’s about to fall out. Placing the heaviest item right in the center, in a zippered pocket where it can’t fall out, is just lovely, and it’s something I’ve only otherwise seen on the Tom Bihn Synapse.
I was sent a free sample to try out, and it has quickly become my first choice of anything I’ve seen out there.
2) ChicoBag Daypack15: $25
This pack was my favorite for a while, as it has a good balance of features and minimalism. Other packs with similar features can weigh twice as much. Plus, it gets extra points for being mostly recycled.
- Capacity: 15 L
- Weight: 5.5 oz (155 g)
- Pockets: Main compartment + 1 interior zip + 2 side.
- Carabiner clip attachments
- Optional sternum strap (not included)
I love the fact that it has side pockets (many others don’t!), plus its interesting closure system, which has no zipper. It closes more or less like a drawstring bag, so you just stuff your gear into the main compartment, sling it on your back and go. This cuts down on weight, which I like, though if you want a little extra security against rain and thieves, check out the big brother version below.
3) ChicoBag Travel Pack: $30
This is the upgraded version of the standard daypack. For a few extra dollars and a few extra ounces, you get:
- Capacity: 15 L
- Weight: 7.2 oz (204 g)
- Pockets: Zippered main compartment + 1 exterior zip + 2 side + 1 hydration reservoir
- Sternum strap (included)
So basically, it adds a zipper to the main compartment, puts the small zip pocket on the outside, and adds a chest strap. It’s still small and lightweight, but is pretty fully featured for something so portable. I’m a little torn on which I prefer, but I’d say the deciding factor is whether you prefer the extra security of a zippered main compartment.
4) Sea to Summit Ultra-Sil Daypack: $30
If you’re obsessed with ultralight travel gear, you will want to marry this pack. It’s easily the smallest and lightest pack I’ve ever seen, so if cutting weight is your thing, the search is over. This pack will literally fit into a teacup.
- Capacity: 20 L
- Weight: 2.4 oz (68 g)
- Pockets: Zippered main compartment + tiny drawcord interior stuff sack
The downside: Just one main compartment, and that’s about it. While it has an interior compartment (the pocket it packs itself into), it’s so small you won’t be able to store much more than some cash and keys in there. You’ll be sacrificing organization to cut weight. If that’s your thing, perfect. Oh, and I found the straps tended to loosen themselves, so I had to tie a knot to keep them in place.
There are some knockoff versions of this pack available under different branding (including one with a side mesh pocket), but I haven’t tried them.
5) Eagle Creek Packable Daypack: $30
(Minor update: This pack has been redesigned, with something quite similar, but this older version is probably still available here and there. If you like it, I’d get it while you can, since it looks a little cooler than the new one.)
Eagle Creek is a mega-leviathan in the travel product community, and its packable backpack has been popular for years. It earns extra points for having a tougher fabric than most others, and looking more “normal.”
It’s also quite slim, which some people might prefer.
- Capacity: 11 L
- Weight: 6 oz
- Pockets: Zippered main + 1 exterior zip
It’s a fairly minimal pack, but practical for those who don’t mind the lack of side water bottle pockets, or who like to carry them on the inside anyway. Its tougher ripstop fabric will keep it going longer than some of the other ones.
6) EMS Packable Pack: $40
A top-loading, full-featured pack with plenty of pockets and storage space.
- Capacity: 25 L
- Weight: 9 oz (255 g)
- Pockets: Drawcord main compartment + 1 exterior zip + 2 side
- Sternum strap
- Internal water reservoir hook
It’s quite comparable to the ChicoBag Travel Pack, though featuring a top-loading, clip-shut main compartment instead of a zipper. It’s a little heavier, and the side pockets are smaller, but it has significantly more storage space, and the top-loading design is easier to overstuff if you have lots to pack.
7) REI Stuff Travel Daypack: $30
I originally didn’t include this one in the list, as it does a couple things that bother me; but if you’re able to get around them, it’s a tough, durable design that’ll handle years of adventures.
- Capacity: 22 L
- Weight: 10 oz
- Pockets: Drawstring main + 1 zippered top + 2 side mesh
I have two problems with the design; first, the non-stretch mesh side pockets can fit a water bottle, but not if the pack is stuffed full. Secondly, I don’t like the “bridge” shoulder strap design, which limits how high you can carry it on your back. If you don’t mind those issues, however, then it’ll work just fine, and it’s made of a very tough material that doesn’t feel flimsy at all, and it’s plenty popular with the people who use it.
8) Tom Bihn Daylight Backpack: $80
This one’s heavier than the others, but it has great organizational options, with several built-in pockets and carabiner clip rings, and it’s tougher than the rest.
Full disclosure: I got this for free as a promo item, but I’m probably switching to this one, for the extra organization, tougher materials, and slimmer profile.
- Capacity: 16.5 L
- Weight: 12.3 to 13.5 oz (depending on fabric choice)
- Pockets: Zippered main + 1 exterior zip + 2 internal dividers
- Detachable waist belt included
The internal dividers in the main compartment actually form a ladder-like shelf system, allowing you to pack items vertically, which not only keeps things closer to your back instead of slumping to the bottom, but also means you can stuff softer items there, like sweaters or rain jackets, to create a cushioned back panel. I’m a big fan. You can stay better organized, the weight is stacked vertically instead of slumping down, and it all looks like a casual book bag.
9) Tortuga Packable Daypack: $54
This is another full-featured option, with more organizational areas, both inside and out, than many other daypacks out there. I received this as a test model to try out, and it’s a good one for those who prefer better organizational options, rather than having to dig through a single giant compartment.
- Capacity: 20 L
- Weight: 11.2 oz
- Pockets: Zippered main + 1 zippered exterior + 3 external mesh
- Internal laptop compartment/hydration bladder sleeve
- Sternum strap (not removable)
- Internal organizer area with pen, card, and passports slots
(Minor update: This pack has been discontinued, although I expect a successor is in the works. Check Amazon in the meantime for the few still left out there.)
More Packable Daypacks?
There are plenty more out there (even Eddie Bauer has a pretty good one), but these are some excellent choices for ultralight backpacking, and they’ll be your best friend on adventures all over the world. Some are more suited to certain tasks than others, but these won’t let you down. They’re a great step toward cutting down the gear list to a minimalist setup setup, which allows for indefinite travel with carry-on sized travel packs like these.
There are a million options out there, so feel free to chime in with favorites not mentioned here.