Panel-loading daypacks offer a main storage compartment that is accessed via a U-shaped zipper. Fully opened, one panel falls away like a flap.
Such a wide opening makes these easy to load and rummage through when you're searching for something—ideal for students, parents or trip leaders. If organization is important to you, consider a panel loader.
Top-loading daypacks generally are simpler in design and a little lighter than panel loaders of a comparable size. They usually close with a drawstring and are easier to overstuff when needed.
Some top-loaders offer a "floating" (extendable) top lid that allows you to exceed the pack's stated capacity. This is valuable to climbers who carry a lot of gear during the approach but don't want to climb with a larger pack once most of the contents (rope, rack, shoes, helmet) are in use.
Top loaders with side compression straps also do a nice job of stabilizing a load, making them appealing to climbers, scramblers and skiers. The downside? Organizing and locating gear in a top loader can be a challenge.
A few daypacks offer dual access points—top and panel. That's a handy option.
The sweet spot for most hiking and multisport daypacks is 30 liters (around 1,830 cubic inches). That's enough capacity to hold the Ten Essentials (for the list, see the REI Expert Advice article, the Ten Essentials) plus some extras.
Sizes vary by intended use. A trail-running pack may be designed to hold as little as 10 liters (610 cu. in.). A climbing pack may hold 40 to 50 liters (around 2,440 to 3,050 cu. in.).
Are you often a trip leader? Someone who carries extra gear for other members of your family such as small children? Look for a pack in the 40-liter range—perhaps even larger.
If you enjoy multiple outdoor pursuits, you may want more than one daypack. Here are the features that are best suited for each activity:
A variety of load-stabilizing compression straps and a sternum strap are also valuable. Ask your climbing companions what features work best for them.
Climbing packs often work very well for backcountry touring. Your range of travel (and extra clothing needed) will determine your capacity needs.
Trail running/adventure racing:
If you have a minimalist's mentality and the gear to match it, a technical daypack can handle an overnight load. This is typically for an elite few.
Shop REI's section of daypacks.
Women-specific packs: The chief advantage here is improved fit for women, accomplished through contoured shoulder straps and, on some packs, a narrower design.
Hydration packs: Most daypacks sold at REI are compatible with common hydration reservoir systems ranging from 1 to 3 liters. (Often the reservoir with sip tube are sold separately.) Packs labeled "hydration packs" come equipped with reservoirs and hose systems and thus likely cost a bit more than "hydration-compatible" packs.
Lumbar packs: These are waistpacks that ride on the small of your back as well as your waist. Their snug, stable design is very popular with trail runners.
Sling bags/courier bags: Designed to be worn over one shoulder, these "messenger bags" are popular among cyclists. People like their easy access.
Some packs use lightweight framing (or other engineering techniques) to suspend the load away from your back. The result: A steady flow of air can reach your back. This delivers a big bonus in comfort on warm days.
These packs may not be your best choice for heavy loads—a heavy load suspended away from your body could affect your balance. If you are shopping for such a pack at an REI store, try loading it with some weight and take a test-stroll around the store.
Many stores sell daypacks. So which is a better value: A bargain pack from a big-box store or a more technical pack? How different can they be?"
While you'll initially save money with a bargain pack, you're likely to miss out on design refinements found in top-brand packs that deliver better performance, convenience and comfort. Such as:
Another differentiator of a quality daypack can be found in the materials used. Here is a quick fabric overview:
Nylon is frequently used because it withstands abrasion and tearing. Nylon twill, which features a sturdy diagonal weave, is also commonly used.
Ripstop fabrics (nylon or polyester) are woven in a manner that creates box- or diamond-shaped patterns, creating a reinforced grid. Such "ripstop" fabric inhibits a tear from expanding beyond its point of origin.
Kodra fabrics (usually nylon) use high-tenacity fibers to enhance resistance to abrasion and tears. Their downside: The burly fibers tend to be heavy. Kodra is a generic name for such fabrics; the brand-name variation is Cordura.
Nylon oxford is a light, smooth fabric (characterized by a plain weave) that has been used in pack construction for decades.
Nylon/polyester blends are principally used to provide different colors within a single fabric. It's a fashion thing.
Hypalon is flexible synthetic rubber used to reinforce areas of high abrasion, often the edges or key touch points of packs. It is sometimes used to create patches. It is used sparingly on packs due to its weight.
Just as significant as the type of fabric is the fabric's denier. Denier is a unit of fineness for the yarn of a fabric. As it relates to a pack, denier influences its abrasion resistance and, subsequently, its weight. Higher abrasion resistance comes with a higher denier fabric, which includes a corresponding higher weight. Packs made for the minimalist or ultralight explorer may use fabrics as light as 70 denier. Rough, tough ballistic nylon, meanwhile, is often rated 1,600 denier or higher.
Fabrics often feature 1 of 2 coatings:
Polyurethane (PU) is the standard coating applied to the interior walls of packs. It provides significant water resistance (though not waterproofness—so if you dunk your pack in a lake, its contents will eventually get wet).
Silicone is a coating (or impregnation) used on lightweight, low-denier fabrics to minimize weight. It provides very high tear strength, though silicone can break down faster than a PU coating. PU coatings may also provide better water resistance.
By T.D. Wood
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Last updated: Fri Mar 15 14:43:37 PDT 2013
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