How to Choose the Best Small Hiking Backpack

Best Small Hiking Backpack

Most hikes don’t last very long and you won’t spend more than several hours outdoors. This means that you are not always required to carry a lot with you. That being said, there are some basic items that simply cannot leave home without. This includes water bottles, food, first aid kit, etc. To carry all of this with you, you are going to require a backpack. Unlike with most other excursions, however, a short hiking trip requires just a small backpack. Here are some guidelines on how to choose the best one:

Why Small Backpacks are Useful

Some people would prefer to have a single backpack for everything. This typically means getting one large backpack and using it for multiple trips. While this may save you some money, you will have to compromise on comfort. One of the advantages of smaller hiking backpacks such as daypacks is that they are lighter. Due to this, you don’t have to carry as much as load as with larger packs. As they are more compact, they fit properly and will not swing side to side as you walk. It is always best to choose a bag that is the right size for the activity you are attempting.

How Backpack Sizing Works

Backpacks don’t really come in the sizes that people are familiar with. Therefore, there is no definite term for backpack sizes such as small, medium, or large. Backpacks are sized according to the internal volume that they carry.

Therefore, when looking for backpacks, you will have to make a choice between volume and cubic inches. It can be easier to consider the volume as liters as it simpler to visualize. However, cubic inches tend to be more accurate in just how much volume a backpack can hold.

Backpacks of a smaller volume are usually referred to as daypacks. This is because they hold just enough items and tools to last you for a day. Still, there is a considerable amount of discrepancy between how much each of these daypacks can hold. The most common volumes for this type of backpack are between 6 and 25 liters, perhaps more.

It is also possible to include hydration packs under small hiking backpacks. These backpacks can hold anywhere between 1.5 and 6 liters. The majority of the space in these backpacks has been reserved either for water bottles or hydration bladders.

Backpack sizing tends to revolve around how much you can fit in the bag. At the same time, you shouldn’t discount the weight capacity of the bag either. Not all manufacturers mention just how much weight a hydration pack or daypack can carry. This can usually be determined by looking at the material that backpack is made of. The more durable the material is, the greater the load it is capable of containing. The straps of the backpack will also help to discern how much weight can be placed inside the bag.

Choosing the Best Size for You

As mentioned, there is a lot of variation in sizes regarding smaller backpacks. To decide which one is the best size for you, you will first need to consider the length and type of trip that you are going on.

Hydration packs tend to be quite small and their entire purpose is to make sure that you are carrying enough water with you. If you are only going to be on the trails for a couple of hours and you are not venturing too far away, this type of pack might work. Under these circumstances, the Osprey Talon 6 is a great option. It fits around your waist, has enough space for two bottles, and small compartments for a few other items. If your hike is going to longer than this or if you are headed to a more remote location, a hydration pack will not be enough.

If you are going on a slightly longer hiking trip but still expect to get back home before too long, you will need something a little larger. The Osprey Daylite is a great backpack, able to hold up to 13 liters. It also offers up plenty of back and hip support.

Of course, some hiking trips can last for up to a day. For these occasions, you are going to need to carry more supplies with you, thus requiring a greater internal volume. If you are looking to find a balance between weight and size, the REI Co-op Flash 22 and the Osprey Stratos 24 are good options.

These are the most common sizes for daypacks. However, there are larger ones available as well, depending on the type of hike you are going. If the weather is really cold or if you require equipment on your hike, you may require a bag that is around 50 liters. The Kelty Redwing 50 has a bag with this volume as well as lots of storage space including an extension compartment.

Similar to size, you should also consider how much your backpack weighs when completely empty. With a lighter backpack, you will be free to carry items that weigh a little more without feeling the additional load. However, when you combine a heavy backpack with a heavy load, it may be quite uncomfortable.

Kelty Redwing 50 Backpack, Twilight Blue
  • Redwing is a tried & true trail value for all day hikes or a quick overnight, a true multipurpose pack from international travel to a day on the trail
  • Perfect Fit Suspension supplies you w/ customized comfort without the hassle, accurate on body adjustments w/ 3 simple steps for pack fitting success
  • Features: Top Loading,Zippered side pockets, front pocket w/ organization, Stretch front pouch, Hydration Compatible
  • Suspension Features: Perfect Fit Suspension, HDPE frame sheet, Hex Mesh back panel, ventilating back , Sternum strap, Load lifter strap
  • Dimensions: Size (L x W x D) 26 x 16 x 12 in, Weight 3 lbs 11 oz, Volume 50 L, Torso Size 15.5 - 21 in

What Can You Fit in a Small Backpack

Of course, how much you can fit into a small backpack is entirely dependent on the type and size of the backpack. Even among hydration packs, there is a lot of choice when it comes to sizes. Some can be worn as belts and can only carry water bottles, perhaps some change. There are others, however, that are the size of a fanny pack allowing you to carry some snack bars and perhaps a travel sized first aid kit.

The daypacks are a lot like the backpacks that you carried to school. On the smaller end, you will be able to carry a bottle of water or two, a first aid kit, food, and perhaps a light change of clothing. In the larger daypacks, you will be able to carry a greater number of these items.

How a Small Backpack Should Fit You

Unless you are carrying a very small backpack, you should be concerned with how the backpack fits you. This, to a certain extent, depends on your own height and your body size. When choosing a backpack, you will need to look at the length of the pack and compare it to the length of your torso.

Most backpacks less than 20 liters will be able to sit squarely between your shoulders and your waist. It is the larger backpacks that you will need to special attention to, ensuring they do not rest well below your hips.

It is important to always choose a backpack with adjustable straps. You will be able to change the length to match your height. Women and individuals, who are quite petite, may feel more comfortable with backpacks that have specifically been designed for women.

If the backpack has chest and waist straps, ensure that these are adjustable as well. You should also check that they sit in the regions that they are supposed to. It is only then that you will be able to alleviate some of the weight that is being placed on your back.

Storage Compartments

The main purpose of storage compartments is to improve the organizational structure of the bag. When you can separate the items and place them in different pockets, it is easier to reach for what you need without disrupting all of the contents.

With daypacks, you will that a greater number of external compartments or pockets will be quite useful. This way, you will not have to keep stopping and opening up your bag. You will have quicker access to whatever you need.

It is not just about the number of pockets, however. The compartments need to be large enough to store whatever it is that you need. Therefore, you should look for sizable pockets, in particular, large mesh pockets that you can use to store water bottles.

Backpack Access

There are typically two ways to open up a backpack. The most common option is the panel loader backpack. Here, the backpack is separated into various panels and compartments by zippers and latches. The advantage of this option is that you don’t need to empty the contents of your bag just to find one item. On the other hand, due to the construction of these bags, they tend to be easier.

Top loaders utilize a drawstring on the top. It is through this opening that you will need to reach into the bag for whatever you want. As you can imagine, this can be a bit of a disorganized process. However, if you will not be carrying much with you, top loaders are actually a great option. They are usually made from incredibly lightweight material and are really easy to carry around.


There are some backpacks that allow for ventilation on their own. This is because they have been designed in such a way that the bag moves the load away from your back. In addition to making the bag easier to carry, it allows for a greater flow of air. This is helpful because there is a good chance that regardless of the surrounding temperature that your back will sweat at least a little.

For backpacks that don’t have such a feature, you should look for ventilation panels or columns. These areas are made from lightweight mesh. This makes the area cooler either preventing your back from sweating or inhibiting the accumulation of perspiration here.


This may not seem to be an important requirement but you will be surprised at just how vital a feature this is. Most small backpacks aren’t meant to carry all that much load. Due to this, there isn’t always a lot of padding on these type of bags. This is compounded with poorly cushioned hip belts. Continuing to carry a backpack with little padding means that the fabric will rub against that particular part of your body. This friction, over time, can lead to sore spots. To avoid this, always look for padded spots wherever the bag will be making contact with your body.

Additional Features

It can be easy to overlook many features when looking for a daypack. Since you know that you will not be using the backpack for long periods of time, it is easy to ignore important aspects. For instance, you should look for a backpack that is capable of withstanding the elements. It is a good idea to search for bags that are at least a little water resistant and will not discolor or deteriorate under continuous exposure to the sun.

Durability should also be of a concern to you. Even though you may not necessarily be carrying a big load with you, your bag should be made of hardy materials. Also, depending on where you are hiking, you may need to climb mountains or move through shrubbery. Due to this, you should pinpoint bags that will not tear or rip easily.

These are the most important aspects to look for when choosing a small hiking backpack. First and foremost, look for a bag that is suitable for your body size as well as the activity that you are doing. This is the best way to ensure that you get one that you are comfortable with and that is large enough to carry all of your items.

Although it easier to get a backpack that is smaller and lighter, you should always consider your safety. You should carry enough water and food with you at all times. If possible, take a first aid kit and communication device in case of emergencies.

As long as you stick to these guidelines, you will have no problem finding precisely what you need. Always consider all of your options so that you will be able to make an informed decision regarding the right fit for you. This way, you will be able to buy a bag that is great value for money.

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