What is a Daypack and How Do They Differ From Backpacks

What is a daypack and how exactly does it differ from a normal backpack?

A man wearing a daypack

Have you ever heard anyone say that daypacks are very similar to backpacks?

Well, they are right.

In some ways, they are very similar while in other ways they have some few distinctions that set them apart.

Do these distinctions have any effect on the choice you should make when deciding between a daypack or a backpack?

In this post, we would reveal all you need to know about daypacks and how different and similar they are from a normal backpack.


Can we call a daypack a backpack or vice versa?

A backpack is a bag with two shoulder straps that you can carry on your back. A daypack also has shoulder straps that enable you to be able to carry them on your back but because of this similar feature are we then to say that a daypack is a backpack?

What is a Daypack?

A daypack is the smaller version of a backpack so it makes sense when a lot of people call a daypack a backpack.

So yes a daypack can be a backpack but a backpack cannot be said to be a daypack because for it to be a daypack its size has to be reduced which would automatically make it not to be a backpack but rather a daypack.

The major and obvious difference between both of these packs is their capacities.

A daypack should have a capacity of between 20 to 35L and sometimes might even go up to 40L. Anything that makes it higher than this automatically makes it a backpack.

Here’s why:

If you intend to go on a hiking trip that would last more than one day then there is a good chance that you are going to make use of a pack with a larger capacity than a 20 to 35L pack.

A climbing daypack which answers the question what is a daypack

If you intend to buy a pack of this size then you should not be asking for a daypack but rather you should be in the market for a backpack.

For a hiking trip that would last just one day, you would not need to pack much for your trip. You would need just a day’s worth of some of your essentials for your trip thus the name “daypack”.

Day packs were designed for short trips and not for long trips so most of its features are suited for this purpose.

Difference Between a Daypack and a Backpack

There are several differences between a daypack and a backpack that would be of interest to you. Some of these differences would be more obvious than others and should give you an idea of exactly what you need.

What is a Daypack Based on Their Carry Capacity

As I mentioned earlier on, a major difference between a daypack and a backpack is their carry capacity. The carrying capacity of most daypacks is between 20L to 35L capacity and in some cases, they can go up to 40L.

Anything more than that should be regarded as a backpack. Based on packs carry capacity:

  • A daypack should not be more than 40L.
  • An overnight pack should be between 30L to 50L.
  • A weekend pack should be between 40L to 70L
  • And an extended trip pack should be above 70L.

So the next time you might be looking to buy a pack you should have an idea of how much you plan to carry so you can be given a pack that would be suited to your needs.

An adult wearing a daypack

Internal Structure of a Daypack vs Backpack

The idea of a day pack is a backpack built for a short trip which in most cases would be just a day’s trip. For this reason, day packs are not designed in a way that would enable them to carry a lot of weight, unlike a backpack.

Backpacks tend to have an internal frame that can help provide support with a sturdy and stable structure to carry your load. These were built into backpacks so you can carry heavy items for a long time.

Most daypacks don’t come with internal frames but the ones that do were placed in them with the idea that they are to be carried for a long distance even if it is just for a day.

The absence of an internal frame in most day packs can be considered as a notable difference between a daypack and a backpack.

Padding on Backpacks vs Daypacks

You might be wondering:

Do daypacks have padding.

The answer to that is yes they do have padding but not as common as backpacks. The most common daypacks with padding are usually hiking daypacks.

Hikers normally need all the comfort they can get from a backpack because of the distance and terrain they normally pass through.

For this reason, carrying a backpack that is not comfortable is not a good idea because you might also be carrying quite a lot of items.

To solve this problem on daypacks if you have ever come across a hiking daypack you would notice that it has padded shoulder straps.

A day pack used for hiking without a padded shoulder strap cannot be considered as a really good day pack.

Although other daypacks might not have this you should never neglect to get one that has this feature, especially in a hiking daypack.

Having said that, some other types of daypacks as you would find below such as skiing, cycling daypacks don’t usually have a padded shoulder strap as they were designed not to be used to carry heavy or a lot of items so the need for padding might not be necessary.

Features Present in Daypacks and Backpacks

Generally, a backpack tends to have more technical features than a daypack. The features of two daypacks might differ and based on its use a specific feature might be included.

For example, a hiking daypack might be compatible for a hydration reservoir but a daypack used for work might not have this feature.

On the other hand, an office daypack might have a compartment for a laptop but this particular feature might not be present in a hiking daypack.

Other features that can be present in a day pack are cinch straps, hip belt options, zippered pockets, and compartments, etc.

This also applies to a backpack as several features might be present in a particular backpack which might not be present in a different backpack.

Backpacks generally have a large main compartment for storing most of your items and it can also have several other smaller compartments and pockets for storing your items for quick access.

Depending on the type of backpack it might have a padded laptop compartment, padded shoulder straps, padded top and side handles, and several other unique features depending on the brand producing the backpack.

Backpacks used for adventures such as traveling, hiking, etc tend to have more features such as padded hip belts, trekking pole straps, zippered pockets and compartments, rain covers, sleeping bag straps, etc. Some of them even have the function of being backpacks with daypacks.

Pretty crazy right?

But here is the kicker:

With all these features means that if you intend to make use of most of them then your backpack can become a health risk even if you learn how to pack light.

Now that you know what a daypack is and how different and similar they are to a backpack you might be interested in finding out the types of daypacks and what they are used for.

Types of Daypacks

1. General Daypacks

A general daypack

General daypacks are the most common daypacks we can usually find around us. Some of them are categorized to have a specific use but most are not and can, therefore, be used by students, workers, shopping, moving around town, for daily commuting, etc.

They are not expensive and tend to be daypacks some of us refer to as backpacks.

Depending on what they are needed for might determine the feature they possess. For example, a daypack that is required to be taken to work might require a compartment that would be able to take a laptop or office supplies.

This particular feature might be different from the feature present in a daypack that is used for traveling or moving around the town.

2. Hiking Daypacks

A hiking daypack

Hiking daypacks are best suited for hikers and posses features perfect for a hiker looking to go for a short day hike. For example, a hiking reservoir most of the time would be present in a hiking daypack because of the distance a hiker might be trekking.

As I mentioned earlier on, a hiking daypack also tends to have a padded shoulder strap for comfort during a trek and also some of them might come with a hip belt to help with the weight of the pack.

Due to the load needed during a hike, daypacks meant for this purpose also tend to have an internal frame to help with the support of the bag for ease of carry.

These type of daypacks tend to be more expensive than general daypacks.

3. Ski Daypacks

A man wearing a skiing backpack

For those of us that ski I am pretty sure that you know it is not always wise to make use of a regular backpack for skiing. Backpacks in the form of daypacks have been specifically designed for this fun sport or activity.

They are designed with not as much attention to style than they are to how they can make your ski experience more comfortable based on your movement.

Ski daypacks just like hiking daypacks have features perfectly suited for a person looking to go skiing such as a vertical snowboard and snowshoe fastening straps for carrying your snowboard and your snowshoe and some of them even provide a place where you can store your skis.

Of course not all ski daypacks have the same features but with a little research if you know what you want then you should be able to find one that would be perfect for your needs.

Depending on how long you intend to ski should determine the size of the daypack you intend to go for.

4. Climbing Daypacks

A lady wearing a climbing daypack climbing a daypack

Day packs for climbing are built in a way that would give you flexibility while you climb. For the much-needed comfort that ought to be present while you climb, a daypack should never be a problem.

For this reason, climbing daypacks just like hiking daypacks are pretty comfortable. Their shoulder straps also with their hip belts are well padded.

Some of them come with features that should provide some aid during your climb such as daisy chains, lash points, etc.

For easy access to your gear never underestimate the access point of your climbing daypack. You would need a daypack with an access point that should be quick and easy to get to.

Besides, you don’t want to get a pack that would probably spill all your gear while trying to open it when you are hanging from an anchor.

5. Trail Running Daypacks

A guy wearing a running daypack

Most trail running daypacks tend to be smaller than the other types of daypacks. They are small because you are meant to carry only your essentials in the bag.

I am pretty sure running with a heavy pack is pretty difficult. Therefore, not having the option to overpack is the best way to go.

When choosing a running daypack you have to ensure that the shoulder straps are well-padded and they should be wide enough to distribute the weight evenly from the bag evenly and also make sure the chest straps are adjustable and should be able to move up and down.

You also need to make sure you don’t overpack your bag because an over-packed running pack can make you get tired very easily.

If you are just starting you should go for running packs between 8-12L.


Whether you intend to go for a backpack or a daypack you must know exactly what you want and how you intend to make use of it.

A daypack is just as good as a backpack and although it is smaller it can be used just as much as a backpack. It has its demerits just as much as a backpack does and whether you need a daypack for school, work, hiking, traveling, skiing, running, etc with careful research you would find a pack that is right for you.

Hopefully, with this post, we have been able to show you in detail what a daypack is and how they are different and similar to a backpack.

If you have any questions based on what has been discussed in this post please leave a comment below and I would get back to you as soon as I can.

5 comments on “What is a Daypack and How Do They Differ From Backpacks

  1. I was not entirely sure of the difference between a daypack and backpack. I think I have been using the backpack for almost all my journeys and adventures.

    Now I see what I need to be carrying on my back during my morning runs and a few marathons I am involved in. The heavy weight of backpacks always wear me down. Time to look for a trail running daypack.

    Thank you for the great pointers in choosing daypacks. Much appreciated!

  2. I think it’ll still be really hard for me to differentiate between the day pack and the back pack but one thing I can be very certain of is that the day pack is smaller than the back pack. I have seen some day packs that are made of leather though. It’s actually nice to know that this packs are really similar in use 

  3. Wow! I never knew about daypack before. Maybe it is due to their resemblance in shape with backpacks. I always rationalize every backpack to be a backpack not knowing one could be much more simpler and used for lighter events such as a day trip. Daypack seems like a pack that could be used when going on a seminar or a normal daily school activities. Thanks for this clarification in this post. Thanks

  4.  I used to think every backpack is designed for school children. I know what a backpack is and its use. all I know about it is that it is for school purposes. 

    the younger school kids use the small backpack, and the high schoolers use the big ones.

    Always thought a bag is a bag. never knew that there are types of backpack. and that the smaller ones are called day packs. this is a real eye-opener. 

     what if you have to travel for more than days? like months. would it still be the normal backpack? or a traveling bag 

    1. A traveling backpack is a type of backpack and it is best suited for traveling. A daypack is best suited short trips preferably a day’s trip.

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