Your New Hiking Backpack: How to Pick the Right Pack for Your 52 Hikes

The Best Hiking Backpacks

This blog contains affiliate links from our partner REI

Now that you’re signed up for the 52 Hike Challenge, it’s time to gear up for all of your 52 hikes!

There’s a lot of gear out there and you definitely don’t need to buy everything all at once, but there is one necessary item you may want to invest in right away: a hiking daypack.

From water and snacks to a rain jacket and sunscreen, your hiking backpack will enable you to carry the Ten Essentials and anything else you may want to bring on your hiking adventures. For example, your camera and tripod, journal, hammock, etc.

When it comes to choosing the right daypack for you, there are many options in terms of size, comfort level, colors, specific uses, material and much more.

In this blog about choosing the perfect hiking daypack for you, we will cover…

  • What to look for in hiking backpack design
  • The ideal capacity for your hiking daypack
  • Key features to look for in a hiking pack
  • How to find a backpack that fits you

Plus, we’ll gear you up with details on some of our favorite packs, including why we love them and where you can find them.

After all, a reliable daypack is necessary for a fun and safe experience outdoors.

Get ready to learn everything you need to know before you choose a hiking daypack for your 52 Hike Challenge.

Backpack Design: What to Look for in Your Hiking Pack

Choosing Your Hiking Daypack

There are so many options out there, so how do you narrow it down to the right hiking daypack for you? First, you’ll want to establish what is most important to you about your pack and what you will be using it for.

Here are some questions you can ask yourself when selecting your hiking pack:

Is sustainability important to you?

A lot of outdoor brands use recycled materials so you can rest assured you’re supporting the planet while hitting the trails. One excellent example is the Ruckpack Recycled Daypack by REI Co-Op.

Do you want to hit the trail wearing a specific color?

If you look good while you’re hiking, you’ll feel good while you’re hiking. There’s no shame in being fashionable on the trail! Cotopaxi is a great brand that makes colorful packs so that you stand out on your hikes.

Do you like to take short hikes, or are you on the trail most of the day?

If you average a couple miles per hike, you might be able to get away with using a sturdy drawstring pack or REI Co-op Flash 22 Pack. If you’re going on half or full day hikes, you’ll want something with a bit more storage space – especially since you’ll need to carry much more water. The REI Co-op Trail 25 Pack is another great option.

Do you dabble in trail running and like to keep the weight at a minimum?

If ultralight hiking is your jam, there are backpacks out there that weigh a pound or less or are specific to running you can check out. Just make sure you still have a place to store your water and the Ten Essentials. We love our REI Co-op Swiftland 5 Hydration Vest - available in Men’s and Women’s sizes. 

No matter how you answer these questions, functionality should always be a high priority.

In the next sections, we’ll help you narrow down what size your daypack should be and which features to look for in your hiking backpack.

Your Hiking Daypack Capacity: How Much Do You Want to Carry?

Hiking Backpack Capacity: How Many Liters To Carry

The size of your pack depends on how long your hiking adventures typically are and how much you want to carry with you.

Whether you’re on the trail for an hour or an entire day, be sure to look for a pack that will fit your Ten Essentials. These are lifesaving survival items you should carry with you on any hike regardless of duration. This means you want a pack that will hold your water hydration system and also has space for food, layers, etc.

As a rule of thumb, a daypack capacity is usually measured in liters, and a good starting point is getting a pack that holds 20 to 30 liters. This is an ideal backpack size if you're simply hiking and don't need a lot of extra gear. Of course, you can always opt for a smaller or larger daypack depending on your needs.

If you like to do activities on the trail like painting, journaling, photography, reading, hammocking, etc, you will need more room in your pack. As a result you might want to consider getting a hiking backpack that holds up to 40 liters.

Similarly, if you are a parent carrying food and water not just for yourself but for your kids, you’ll want to have a pack that will accommodate gear for the whole family.

Pro Tip: If you’re winter hiking, you will also need to consider a larger pack to carry all your extra gear, which may include gaiters, gloves, MICROspikes and maybe even snowshoes.

Quick Hiking Backpack Capacity Considerations

  • 10 liters or less is ideal for ultralight trail runners or hikers who go on very short treks (1-2 miles).
  • 11 to 20 liters is an acceptable backpack size for a 3-5 mile hike and can hold an extra layer, snacks and water.
  • 21 to 35 liters is a great target size for most day hiking trips as you can carry all of your Ten Essentials plus extras like a book, journal, camera or art supplies.
  • 36 to 50 liters will suit hikers who go on full day hikes, encounter lots of different weather or those who are carrying gear for more than one person.

Now that you know what size your daypack should be, let’s take a closer look at which features you want your hiking pack to have.

Key Features to Look for in a Hiking Pack

Hiking Backpack Key Features

Hydration Support

A lot of hiking backpacks have a hydration sleeve where you can securely store your hydration reservoir. They even come with an opening where you can thread the drink tube for easy access while hiking. This is helpful for staying hydrated while hiking.

Waterproof & Water-Resistant Materials

If you know you’ll be hiking in a rain-prone area, search for a hiking backpack that is waterproof or water resistant. Ripstop nylon is a reliable material to look for when searching for a weatherproof pack. Some brands even make “dry packs” that are built to withstand the elements. You can also look for a pack that already includes a rain cover. 


We recommend looking for a hiking backpack that has a ventilated back panel. This feature makes comfort a high priority by providing a mesh backing that sits a couple inches off your back so you can minimize your sweat levels.

Hip Belt & Sternum Strap

These features increase comfort and security, ensuring your pack doesn’t move around much while you’re moving on the trail. Both a hip belt and a sternum belt help distribute weight so one part of your body isn’t doing all the work. Plus, they help minimize hot spots by keeping your pack from rubbing against your shoulders or waist.

Pockets, Straps, and Fasteners

Because who doesn’t love pockets? These organizational features help you store everything easily. Some packs even come with hip belt pockets so you can access small essentials like your phone and chapstick without stopping to take the pack off.

Some packs will have straps you can hang carabiners/gear off of, your Kula Cloth, gps unit and even fasteners for your trekking poles!

So, which features are most important to you?

Once you determine your top backpack features and decide which ones are deal breakers, it will be a breeze to find your perfect pack.

The Fit: Finding a Comfortable Backpack for Hiking

How Should Your Hiking Pack Fit?

You don’t just want a backpack that looks good – you need one that feels good, too. A comfortable pack will help you go the extra mile.

So, how do you know if your hiking backpacking fits properly?

  • Size your daypack based on your torso length instead of your overall height.
  • Measure your hips and look for a pack that sits snug around them.
  • Use load lifter and sternum straps to adjust the fit of the pack.

You can always ask an associate at your outdoor retailer to help size you, or refer to this handy sizing guide by our partner REI.

Keep in mind one size does not fit all when it comes to hiking backpacks. Do your research and pay attention to the details. After all, your hiking backpack will be your best companion on the trails.

Did we mention... a good pack can last many years with proper care, maintenance and storage!

Hiking Backpack Gear Recommendations

Hiking Backpack Gear Recommendations

Now it’s time to hit the trails with your new hiking backpack! If you need more help deciding, we put together a list of some of our favorite daypacks and why we love them:

  • If you want our top pick for best overall hiking pack, we love the REI Flash series. The daypacks come in 18 or 22 liters and have lots of fun prints to choose from, including a Pride print and a limited edition Latino Outdoors design
  • If you’re looking for a hiking backpack with unique color options, the brand Cotopaxi is your best bet. You can find Cotopaxi daypacks at REI.
  • If you’re searching for a sustainable backpack option, the Ruckpack Recycled Daypack by REI Co-Op is highly rated and rugged enough for all your hiking adventures.
  • If a waterproof hiking pack is what you seek, check out the Exped Typhoon 25 Pack, which is 100% waterproof with lots of extra features.
  • If you want a backpack that prioritizes hydration, look no further than the Osprey Hydration Packs, which not only includes a hydration sleeve but also comes with a hydration reservoir by Hydrapak.

Gear Up for Your 52 Hike Challenge

Find more gear for your 52 Hike Challenge on As an official sponsor of the 52 Hike Challenge, REI Co-Op is an awesome outdoor retailer that supports us in keeping our hiking challenge going year after year. Shop for your hiking backpack and more hiking gear online or in stores at your local REI.

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