Best lightweight packable backpacks

The Best Lightweight Packable Backpacks

Updated for 2017!

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.

ChicoBag Daypack15
An ultralight packable backpack, ready to go.

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!

Pros and cons of packable backpacks

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.

Some of the more full-featured items on this list, however, are a lot heavier-duty than the wispy, ultralight alternatives, so this category is only getting more impressive all the time.

So without further ado, here are my top picks.

Best Packable Backpacks, from ultralight to full-featured

1) Sea to Summit Ultra-Sil Daypack: $30

Sea to Summit Ultra-Sil Daypack
Buy from Amazon

If you’re obsessed with ultralight travel gear, you will love 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. But if you want at least a little bit of organization, this one isn’t designed for that.

Oh, and I found the straps tended to loosen themselves, so I had to tie a knot to keep them in place. The fabric is also quite crinkly, but that tends to be the case with fabrics this thin and light, so don’t expect to keep hostelmates sleeping while you pack and unpack this thing. It’s really going for the ultralight crown, which some people obsessively need, and although it’s compromising on other features to get there, they didn’t compromise at all on weight or packability.

2) Osprey Ultralight Stuff Pack: $35

Osprey Ultralight Stuff Pack
Buy from Amazon

This newcomer from Osprey looks quite a bit like the Sea to Summit shown above, but without even going one ounce heavier, they’ve added a side pocket, and a more usable zippered stuff pocket. If you want the additional organization, it’s a great balance, while still retaining the ultralight specs.

  • Capacity: 18 L
  • Weight: 3.2 oz (90 g)
  • Pockets: Zippered main compartment + 1 side mesh pocket + 1 exterior zip pocket

Osprey is actually getting into the ultralight travel gear game, so they’ve expanded into packing cubes, toiletry kits, and other items of interest to travelers, rather than just mountaineers, and I’m happy to see them doing it. This one is a great example.

I will mention that although the side pocket can handle a water bottle, it’s not a great idea to put big ones in there, as the weight can become easily lopsided without a corresponding pocket on the opposite side to rebalance everything. Big water bottles will have to fit inside, and the outer pocket can handle sunglasses, an umbrella, or something like that.

3) Matador Daylite 16: $50

Matador Daylite16
Buy it from Matador, or Huckberry.

This pack offers a number of unique features you don’t often see in a packable backpack…most notably: waterproof fabric. And the zippers are all water-resistant as well, meaning it’s the most weather-protective packable daypack I’ve yet seen.

  • 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

Another feature I like quite a bit is how the 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. This is a lot more useful for larger, insulated, or reusable bottles, which tend to fall out of tiny side pockets way too easily. It also ensures the weight is carried in the middle, which is a lot more ergonomic. If you plan on using a reusable water bottle, this is definitely a great option, as you won’t have to shove it into the main compartment along with everything else.

I was sent a sample of this to try out, and it quickly become a favorite for these reasons. I will mention the crinkly fabric, which is inevitable with packs of this weight, and the shoulder straps are a bit far apart, so it’ll fit larger people a little better than smaller people. The mesh side pockets, by the way, are made with something super tough. They feel almost like a wire mesh, rather than a dainty fabric that might fall apart easily. Durability all over the pack feels quite solid to me.

They’ve also got a bigger, heavier, more full-featured one called the Beast, but I figured one entry per company was plenty here.

4) Eagle Creek Packable Daypack: $32

Eagle Creek Packable Daypack
Buy it on Amazon

Eagle Creek seems to update this design every few years, so I try to keep track of what they offer at any given time, as they’ve always got something pretty reliable.

This one has a much-appreciated feature that paranoid travelers will enjoy: locking zippers, and the additional “lazy-lock” option for more casual protection. The zipper pulls can stow in the metal ring along the top, making the bag much more difficult to open, so thieves in a crowd won’t be able to get in and run away as conveniently as they would like.

  • Capacity: 13 L
  • Weight: 5 oz (160 g)
  • Pockets: Main compartment + 1 exterior zip + 1 side mesh
  • Locking (and lazy-locking) zippers

You might notice how it has the smallest capacity on this list, so this is just for the minimalists who need just a water bottle, a jacket, maybe a map, and a book. You can certainly get by with just its 13 liter size, but some of the bigger ones are better for more intensive use. It just depends what you’re doing, but for the most part, day hikes, whether in a city or through the mountains, can be done at this capacity…unless you’re carrying more than one jacket at the same time, and need to store both in the pack if the sun comes out.

5) ChicoBag Travel Pack: $30

ChicoBag Travel Pack
Buy from Amazon

This began as an upgraded version of ChicoBag’s original daypack, but this one eventually replaced the original, offering more features and more flexibility than the first.

  • Capacity: 15 L
  • Weight: 7.2 oz (204 g)
  • Pockets: Zippered main compartment + 1 exterior zip + 2 side + 1 hydration reservoir
  • Sternum strap (included)

With those steeply-angled side pockets, this pack will carry water bottles and other taller items quite easily, which is why I wish all side pockets would borrow this idea. The hydration reservoir on the inside doubles as a laptop sleeve if necessary, and the sternum strap is helpful for smaller users, whose shoulders aren’t always wide enough for some of the other designs. Tiny people definitely need sternum straps, so keep an eye out for those options.

The fabric isn’t super weather-resistant, so this would be a good one if you don’t mind bringing an umbrella, but it’s otherwise a great all-around balance between features and packability, offering more pockets than some of the smaller, lighter designs, both inside and out.

6) EMS Packable Pack: $40

EMS Packable Pack
Buy from EMS

Finally a top loader, for all those hiking junkies who just love that stuffable, open-topped design. This one is quite spacious, too.

  • Capacity: 25 L
  • Weight: 9 oz (255 g)
  • Pockets: Drawcord main compartment + 1 exterior zip + 2 side
  • Sternum strap
  • Internal water reservoir hook

We’re definitely getting into the heavier range of the list with this entry, although at 9 ounces it’s certainly not “heavy.” The packed size is definitely going to be larger than the previous entries on this list, but if you need that extra capacity, and you want the flexibility of a top-loading design (which is easier to stuff to the max), then the extra weight will certainly come in handy. I might go with something lighter if I’m just using it as a simple daypack for wandering around town, but if you plan on serious use all the time, especially with a larger load of gear, the extra capacity is what you would need.

7) REI Stuff Travel Daypack: $30

REI Stuff Travel Daypack
Buy from REI

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 (283 g)
  • 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, 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. It’s not light, and doesn’t pack down all that small (it folds into the top pocket, in the lid), but it’s heavier-duty than many others, making it better for outdoor use. Which makes sense, given the people behind it.

Shorter people will probably get annoyed with the “bridge” shoulder strap, however, since it requires carrying it lower on your back, so I would say this is better if you’re of average (male) height or above. It’s a tall and skinny design, which is good for breathability and weight distribution, making it even more appropriate for hikes and other outdoor use.

8) Tortuga Packable Daypack: $50

Tortuga Packable Daypack
They’ve still got it on Amazon.

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 (317 g)
  • 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

Unfortunately, this pack has been discontinued, and although Tortuga has since released a similar design, I just like this one a lot. It’s still showing up on Amazon for now, so I’m keeping it here on this list until its last breath. The organizer panel on the inside allows for greater organization than most others, and along with the laptop compartment, which is a rare feature in most items like these, it’s easier to keep everything in its place with this design than many others, especially with so many exterior pockets.

9) Tom Bihn Daylight Backpack: $80

Tom Bihn Daylight Backpack
Buy it from Tom Bihn

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. I got a test sample of this pack, and really enjoy the “ladder” pockets on the inside, which allow you to stack contents vertically, so they don’t all collapse to the bottom.

  • 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 can also be used to form a back cushion, by stuffing rain jackets or fleece jackets in them. The vertical layout distributes the weight nicely as well, keeping the weight close to your back.

My only problems were the non-cushioned shoulder straps, at a fairly horizontal angle. People with sloping shoulders will feel a pressure point where the strap digs into the neck, which isn’t so comfortable, especially after a long day and a heavy load. If you’re wearing a sweater, it’ll help out quite a bit, but summer use might create that issue. Also, I’d go with one of their Halcyon fabric options rather than Cordura, since the friction of the Cordura fabric, especially on the back panel, can scratch up t-shirt fabrics pretty quickly.

10) Eddie Bauer Stowaway 30L Pack: $40

Eddie Bauer Stowaway 30L Pack
Buy it from Amazon.

Though it’s not often mentioned in travel gear communities, Eddie Bauer has some really high-quality gear, and a wonderful warranty. Their Stowaway packs have also been a favorite of many travelers for quite some time, and come in many colors, and multiple sizes. It’s also easier to find them on sale than most others, making them quite a bargain.

  • Capacity: 30 L
  • Weight: 13 oz (368 g)
  • Pockets: Zippered main + 1 exterior zip + hydration sleeve + 2 mesh side + 1 giant mesh front

Eddie Bauer makes a 20 liter version as well, though it doesn’t have the same pocket layout. I decided to include this one here, because I like the overall layout better (the 20 liter version has one of those “vertical” zippers that’s silly and pointless), and I also wanted a 30 liter pack somewhere on this list. It’s huge, and with the expanding side mesh and giant front mesh stuff pocket, you’ll be able to carry just about anything. It also has a cushioned back panel, which is more useful if you’re planning on hauling things around all day, making it a better choice if you’re expecting intensive use.

It’s completely unstructured, so if you’re loading it up all the way, it’ll help to have some organizer cubes, especially since you don’t have side compression straps to bring the weight closer to your back. The extra space can easily mean any gear will collapse to the bottom of the pack, so you’d need some internal organizers to get the load more vertical.

11) LL Bean Stowaway Pack: $40

LL Bean Stowaway Pack
Buy it from LL Bean.

At the moment I’m writing this, this is just one of two packable daypacks I’m aware of with a sternum strap and a waist belt (the other being Matador’s Beast pack). If you want full-featured performance, this is definitely one of the very few choices that’ll handle everything.

  • Capacity: 22 L
  • Weight: 14 oz (396 g)
  • Pockets: Zippered main + 2 exterior zip + 2 mesh side + 1 front stuff pocket

With a fully cushioned back panel as well, it’s definitely going to be more comfortable over long periods and under heavy loads than much of the competition. It’s heavier, but the more you’re hauling around heavy gear in this pack, the more you’ll appreciate those extra features. The side compression straps are also useful in preventing the load from sagging, which is a problem with unstructured packs like these. Tightening things up brings the weight closer to your back, and allows vertical stacking a lot more easily than a big open pocket with no adjustability.

Multiple side mesh pockets and that giant stuff pocket in front mean you can carry quite a bit of gear, and it has that top zip pocket (plus another one that’s hard to see, along the side of the front stuff pocket). If you’re planning on serious hikes with a full day’s worth of gear, but still want something packable, I think this is it. It has everything, and nothing else does.

What else?

As mentioned above, this list was updated in 2017, and I think this represents the best of the choices available at the moment. A few other, smaller companies have gotten in on the action, and some of them look quite similar to the options here (the Sea to Summit one, for example, has a million knockoffs). But each of the options listed here comes from a reputable company, and many of them are available through retailers that stand behind their products 100%, which is why I’ve included them here. Some of the no-name brands popping up for dirt-cheap prices don’t quite fill me with confidence, and lifetime warranties, available from brands like Osprey, REI, LL Bean, and Eddie Bauer are what I’d prefer any day.

About SnarkyNomad

Eytan is a pretentious English major whose rant-laden sarcastic tirades occasionally include budget travel tips and other international nonsense. You can follow his every narcissistic word on Facebook, Twitter, or Google+.

View all posts by SnarkyNomad

89 Comments on “Best lightweight packable backpacks”

  1. I use the Sea to Summit Ultra Sil Daypack. Sure, it’s a trade-off between weight and features, but it’s a trade-off I’m willing to make. Every time I pull it out in front of other travelers, they are amazed that the bag can be packed away so small.

  2. I will shortly be doing the inca trail and would like to use one of these as my daypack. It will stay in my main bag for the rest of the time I’m away. As it’s for a trek, is there one of these that you would recommend for my particular situation?

    1. The ChicoBag Travel Pack would be a good one. It has plenty of space, different sections to organize, and side pockets. The sternum strap helps hold it in place, particularly for smaller people. It’s not super water-resistant, though. The Eagle Creek should do better in that case.

      1. Thanks, I’ll take a good look at those two. I wish I’d have discovered your website a few weeks earlier. Only a couple of weeks from leaving now and I’m going to try and pack for my whole trip using what you have on here. Most useful place I have found.

  3. Very useful list.

    As an addition, I would perhaps add the “Eagle Creak 2-in-1 Sling/Backpack”, since that’s packable and has side-pockets as well.
    If they weren’t almost twice as expensive (at ~55$) the Chicobags I’d probably end up buying one of those.

  4. I picked up a Deuter Speedlight 10L backpack in Scotland a few years ago as the fold-into-its-own pouch one we’d taken with us came apart on the first day (fabric quality does indeed count). In doesn’t fit into a tiny pouch as it has some structure to it but it does go completely flat which works to slip it inside your main pack right next to the part which goes against your back.

    The structure is really nice for making it more comfortable to wear and means it doesn’t sag into a heap when you stand it up on the floor. It also has real straps with a small bit of padding and two pockets for water bottles. It’s held up very well to a European trip as well as one to North Africa and I’ve had no problems with it.

    It’s big enough for a jacket for my wife and I, a guide book, a couple of water bottles, and a small snack. It’s also set up to be camelbak compatible, which is nice.

  5. Hi, I came across this page while searching for an ultralight summit pack. My online search has been frustrating because there are hundreds of packs out there, but each lacks at least one of what I consider critical features:

    * In the ~25L range, the pack must be no more than 1 lb in weight
    * Must have at least one side pocket for a water bottle
    * Needs 2 ice axe loops/attachment points

    Do you know of any pack that fits these criteria?

    I’ve been surprised that manufacturers tend to hit the extremes — either a heavy pack with too many zippers/pockets/cushioning, or so barebones as to be impractical — and nothing in the middle (which would be perfect).

    Thanks
    RM

    1. A close call is the REI Flash 22. Only one ice axe loop, but lots of other attachment loops. Smaller packs tend to have just one ice axe loop, so it might be tricky. Check out the Stoke 19 while you’re there, but its claimed 19 liters is somewhat optimistic, in my opinion.

      1. Oh, thanks, this one looks great!

        An axe loop is easy to improvise, for example by tying a loop made of paracord to the piece of webbing running down the left side.

        Best,
        rm

  6. The Jansport Sinder 15 — http://www.jansport.com/shop/en/jansport-us/backpacks/sinder-15-t34j — at 15L and 6.4 oz is a lot more substantial (if bulkier) than the Chico and Sea to Summit packs. The weight’s not bad, though.

    Montbell’s “pocketable” pack series — http://www.montbell.us/products/list.php?cat_id=1104 — ranges from 8L to 20L and merits a look.

    Myself, I sewed some 1″ webbing shoulder straps to an REI 15L stuffsack. I’d guess it weighs 3 oz, max and cost around $10. I use it to pack my down sleeping bag when camping, then for day hikes after camp is set up. It would work fine for travel as well, of course.

    Of course, if I can get away with a 20L travel pack in the first place (I currently like the Mountain Hardware Hueco 20) then do I really need an ultralight pack besides? Not always, at least.

    1. Making your own from a stuff sack is a neat idea. And you’re right that they’re not always necessary, particularly for ultralight travelers who only bring a 20 liter main pack; but they’re so incredibly useful for when you need to go on a 6 hour day trip and you need to bring jackets for variable weather, a water bottle, maybe a book, and so on. You could simply bring the main pack, emptying it out of all but the essentials before you leave, but some of these are so cheap that it’s just fine to use them. Plus if it gets lost, it’s no big deal, whereas losing the main pack would be.

  7. Which one of those famous travel backpacks (lightweight + the ones that help pack ultralight) have options for an “add-on” daypack attached to it? Something around ~$100?

    Also a friend suggested buying backpacks from Chinese manufacturers. Mentioned they have similar models at low costs. Have you ever tried reviewing them?

    Or what about doing a review of budget travel backpacks?

    1. All the backpacks that have a smaller backpack attached to them are gigantic, and can’t be taken with you on a plane. They’re maybe 60 liters or more, plus the small backpack. I think it’s just way too much, and it makes a lot more sense to cut things down to 45, so you never have to deal with baggage claims, lost bags, and so on. There might be something out there that’s 45 with a detachable backpack, but…you can just get whichever 45 liter backpack you like, and hang an extra bag on it. Or better yet, stuff it inside.

      A lot of Chinese manufacturers are in fact the manufacturers for a lot of famous brands with great reputations. In other words, if you buy one of those high-quality designs directly from the manufacturer, it’ll be exactly the same bag, but you’ll get it at a fraction of the price. I haven’t tried this, though I’ve seen perfect clones on AliExpress. I’d recommend looking for a perfectly identical bag compared to something you’ve tried in the store; that way you know it’ll fit exactly the same way. Returning something that big and paying international shipping is going to be expensive, so it’s better to get it just right the first time, so that’s why I’d recommend finding an exact duplicate of something you already know is good. But, worst case scenario, donate a backpack to a thrift store if you don’t like it.

      The budget models for travel backpacks are the Osprey Porter 46 and Osprey Farpoint 40 (neither of which I think are amazing) and the Gregory Border 35, which I do like. Smaller, but it’s quite nicely organized.

    1. Probably, but I don’t think it’s a good idea. Anything 20 liters or more will probably do it just fine, though.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.