The trails are calling…so let’s go wander. Before you hit the trails be sure you have a pack that can carry all of the ten essentials as well as those extra snacks you use to motivate yourself to get around the next bend in the trail. We are going to dig into day hiking packs in this review. For the sake of narrowing down a rather vague category, we are reviewing backpacks that are 25-35 liters in size and are designed around hiking [and maybe commuting].
The six packs reviewed below were all taken out on the same three mile loop of trail as the initial trial hike. This gave me a chance to get a feel for the pack’s immediate strengths and weaknesses. From there I was able to pick and choose which packs got invited along on other adventures. Overall, they each spent 5-7 miles on the trails before any words were written.
Keep on scrolling to get all the details on the day hiking packs, then pack up and head outdoors for your own adventures!
The Gregory Juno 30 H20 day pack is designed with an alloy frame, keeping it lightweight yet supportive enough to carry the weight of all the day hiking essentials. The VaporSpan ventilation system works with the alloy frame to keep air space between you and your gear, helping to mitigate that annoying back sweat. The Juno pack has a women-specific fit with shoulder straps and a hip belt built around the curves of a women’s body. It comes with a three-liter hydration bladder, which is a noteworthy piece of gear on its own. The 3D Hydro reservoir has an inline detachment near the top so you can easily remove the bladder to refill it [using the handy, dandy handle!].
What We Loved: The Juno pack fits like a hiking pack and has the basic features of a traditional hiking pack. This is a big perk, especially if you’re planning to day hike before your transition into backpacking…the Juno will help ensure you know the ins and outs of a traditional pack.
- Fit + Feel: The Gregory Juno is a “one size fits most” with a fair bit of adjustability but if you fall on the long or short end of the torso length spectrum you may have issues getting the perfect fit. I have a longer torso and really have to let the shoulder straps out to get the weight of the pack onto my hips. However, it is an overall comfortable pack and easily carries the weight of day hike essentials, including a full three liter bladder.
- Hydration Options: This pack comes with a three liter bladder, the 3D Hydro bladder, which has a variety of useful features all on its own. These features include an inline hose detachment, a magnet at the nozzle for attaching to the front straps and a hook to hang dry the bladder.
- Trekking Pole Storage: There are bungees on the back of the pack for trekking pole or ice axe storage. Trekking poles also fit well in the side pouches if you’re not using them for snacks.
- What We Would Change: Offering a variety of sizes would help make this pack a solid choice for a wider range of sizes, especially as a women specific size.
The Black Diamond Nitro 26 hiking backpack has just enough space for an all day adventure. It is a versatile pack that allows you to stash what you need for a long day of hiking whether it’s in the desert, forest or on snowy terrain. The back panel, shoulder straps and hip belt are all made of OpenAir material that is breathable and allows for full range of movement. This pack also has straps along the side that cinch down the main pocket which makes it a great option for shorter adventures as well. The outer pouch is made with thicker material so you can safely drop the pack onto the ground or snow without the immediate concern for the gear you have stashed.
What We Loved: The shoulder straps and hip belt are more comfortable than they look and the contour of the shoulder straps fit very well for a gender neutral pack. The side pouches securely fit a water bottle but also cinch down to be out of the way if you’re not packing along much. Overall, a very versatile pack.
- Fit + Feel: The Black Diamond Nitro is a gender-neutral pack that comes in “one size fits most” so there is a lot of room to adjust the pack. The length of the pack fits well on a longer torso with the low profile hip belt fitting comfortably. The shoulder straps are also low profile with a deep contour, making them a comfortable fit on the female body.
- Hydration Options: The pack does not come with a hydration bladder but it does have a bladder sleeve between the main compartment and the back panel. There is a hook to hang a bladder and there are loops to attach the hose on the left or right shoulder strap.
- Trekking Pole Storage: There are loops and straps you can use to attach trekking poles or ice axes to the back. The official pack description mentions pole/axe attachment loops, but it does require a bit of creativity or the sacrifice of a side pouch.
- What We Would Change: There is only one pocket on the hip belt — it’s a good-sized pocket [large enough for a phone!] and it would be nice to have a similar zipper pocket on the other side, or even a stretchy pouch. There’s room, why not use it? Also, the straps that cinch the upper portion of the main compartment work best if threaded through the daisy chain…which is rather annoying to re-thread each time you open the pack
The Mountain Hardwear Tuolumne 35L Backpack is a women-specific pack that was designed to stash your gear for an adventure on the trails or a commute to the office. It offers a variety of pockets to keep everything organized. This includes a padded laptop sleeve that doubles as a hydration bladder sleeve when you swap work for play. The outer material is durable and waterproof, perfect for rainy commutes or the abuse of adventures on the trails. The main compartment is accessible from a large mouth opening at the top, closed with a drawstring. This opening is as large as the compartment so it is easy to pack the bag, but if you need access to anything at the bottom you’ll need to dump everything out.
What We Loved: If you’re looking for a pack that does a little bit of everything, this is a great option. I would recommend it as a pack to use as a carry-on adventure pack, a go-to for bike commutes or that one pack you bring on long adventure road trips. It has a variety of pockets and is sleek enough to pass as a work/commute pack with just enough technical features and durability to meet your needs on adventures.
- Fit + Feel: The Mountain Hardwear Tuolumne pack is “one size fits most” and it does offer a fair bit of adjustability in the shoulder straps. The hip belt is minimal and does not offer much support. However, the hip belt is removable, so if you’re not using it you can get it out of the way. The shoulder straps are contoured to the female body. They’re comfortable enough but fit like a standard strap without any noticeable perks.
- Hydration Options: This pack does not come with a hydration bladder. There is a padded hydration sleeve inside the pack [it has a velcro closure as it doubles as a laptop sleeve when you’re not using a bladder]. There is an advertised water bottle holder in one of the side pockets but it is not easily accessible when the pack is being worn [and is a better fit for a coffee thermos].
- Trekking Pole Storage: There is no designated trekking pole storage. You would be able to stash trekking poles in the outer pouch and possibly in the side zipper [only if you have compact z-pole style trekking poles].
- What We Would Change: There are no side pouches that allow for easy access to stashed gear or water bottles. There are a lot of pockets but you’ll need to take the pack off your back to get functional access to any of them. The top of the main compartment cinches shut with a drawstring and small waterproof covering — this covering is not large enough to truly protect your gear. A larger covering would make all the difference here.
The CamelBak Shasta is a women-specific day pack with a quiver full of features. It comes with a 3-liter Crux hydration bladder, a variety of pockets for organization and multiple easy-access compartments. The Air Support back panel offers space for air circulation as well as hip support that acts as a cheap girl’s lower back massage when you’re on the move with a loaded pack. The hip belt has two layers, one to secure the pack with the weight on your hips and one to compress the main compartment [with extra pouches for gear stashing!]. There is also a rain cover stashed in a velcro pouch on the bottom of the pack.
What We Loved: There are a lot of organizational options in this pack and the outer stash pockets are awesome…once you figure out where they all are. You can easily stash or retrieve gear on the go with this pack.
- Fit + Feel: The CamelBak Shasta comes in “one size fits most” and fits quite comfortably. The hip belt is unique with the dual wings. It secures nicely across your hips with the back panel contour fitting snug against your lower back. However, if you have hips that measure much smaller than 35 inches you may run out of space to cinch down the hip belt [my waist is 28 inches, my hips are 35 inches…the belt cinched down almost all of the strap]. This may vary with how full you fill the pack as the hip belt does also compress the main compartment, but if you ever plan to adventure with a less-than-full pack this is something to take into consideration. The shoulder straps are contoured to the female body and are comfortable but nothing to write home about.
- Hydration Options: This pack comes with a 3-liter Crux hydration bladder which has its own zippered pocket near the back panel of the pack. There are also multiple side pouches on the main compartment and dual hip belts that would hold additional hydration options [bottles, flasks].
- Trekking Pole Storage: Yes, there is a bungee cord on one side of the main compartment that works with the side pouch to hold trekking poles and possibly an ice axe [may damage the pouch, but would get the job down for a short trek].
- What We Would Change: The side pouches [on the main compartment and the secondary hip belt] are great…but the main compartment only has a pouch on one side. The number of times I mistook the side it was on and dropped gear on the ground is frustratingly embarrassing. The pack is also quite heavy [almost three pounds] due to the added straps and durable material used throughout.
The Arc’teryx Brize 25 is a multipurpose backpack made with a durable material that will survive the trails or a daily commute. It comes with one large main compartment, two side pouches, and two smaller zipper compartments. There is also an attachment for an ice axe as well as trekking poles on the exterior of the pack. The main material of the pack provides adequate protection from rain [and presumably snow, though we won’t be seeing that white stuff for another month or so]. Finally, there are a lot of adjustment options with the compression of the pack. The daisy chains along the main compartment work well with adjustable straps to secure items in the side pouches or compress the pack.
What We Loved: The material of this pack is very durable and the side pouches are the perfect size for water bottles or layers. It is easy to access the main pouch without setting the pack down — just spin it around to the front and you have easy zipper access to the main pouch.
- Fit + Feel: The Arc’teryx Brize is “one size fits most” and without a weight bearing hip belt the pack does offer adequate adjustment for a variety of body sizes. The back panel uses Aeroform technology to promote airflow; however, with a full pack the lack of structure to the pack frame inhibits all airflow between your back and the pack. Overall, the pack is comfortable enough, but the features aren’t necessarily a deal breaker in either direction.
- Hydration Options: The pack does not come with a hydration bladder but there is a sleeve for a bladder inside the main compartment with a hook to hold it up and outer access for the hose. The side pouches fit water bottles nicely and securely.
- Trekking Pole Storage: There is a trekking pole and ice axe storage space on the outside of the pack. With the bungee, straps, and side pouch you can easily carry both poles and an axe.
- What We Would Change: The shoulder straps and hip belt are quite generic. The shoulder straps are padded and contoured, but have a “general” fit. The hip belt is narrow and does not provide any weight distribution; however, it is removable if you’d like to get the straps out of the way.
The Ultimate Direction All Mountain Pack is designed around versatility. It comes with many of the well known Ultimate Direction running pack features [ahem, pockets on the shoulder straps!] with a few added features to make it a solid choice for other mountain adventures. This pack comes with an “all-season kit” which provides the attachments you need to transition this pack from summer hiking to winter snow travel. These attachments allow you to carry skis diagonally or in an a-frame. The main compartment is accessible from two points — a mouth at the top secured with a bungee and a zipper opening in the back panel.
What We Loved: The pockets on the shoulder straps are always a plus as it gives you easy access to snacks, hydration and your phone. The zipper access in the back panel is also a great feature. This allows you to get access to everything in your pack without dumping it out — something you won’t know you need until it’s snowing and your extra layers are packed at the bottom of your pack!
- Fit + Feel: The Ultimate Direction All Mountain pack comes in two sizes — S/M and M/L. It does fit true to size and there is a lot of adjustability within the sizes. The shoulder straps are padded but rigid and the hip belt is a simple, narrow belt [that is removable!]. It isn’t an overly comfortable fit, but it isn’t specifically uncomfortable. Ultimate Direction generally improves the comfort of pack fit as they launch new versions so I anticipate this pack will become more comfortable with time.
- Hydration Options: This pack is NOT compatible with a hydration bladder. There is a pouch on the front strap that will hold a soft flask, but beyond that you’re going to be opening the main compartment to get access to any hydration.
- Trekking Pole Storage: Yes, technically. This pack comes with ice axe loops and an optional bungee system that you can rig to carry trekking poles. It does have storage for two ice axes.
- What We Would Change: The shoulder straps leave a bit to be desired, especially if you have some experience with UD trail running packs. The straps are comfortable enough but they are quite rigid and offer no breathability. There is no outer pouch meaning all gear stashing requires the removal and opening of the entire pack. It does come with a “bungee cinch system” you can add, but bungees aren’t quite the same as a pouch.