The Best Packable Daypack for Travel

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We travel with just one carry-on backpack each without an additional smaller bag. We find it easier to only have to worry about one bag and not all airlines allow a personal item along with your main piece of luggage. But what do we do about a daypack when we’re out exploring?

Sometimes I empty out my backpack (packing cubes make this easy) and we use that for long hikes, taking our laptops to a cafe, or a major supermarket shop. Simon’s Tortuga Outbreaker is a little too big to use as a daypack, but my Osprey Farpoint 40 works well when we have a lot to carry.

Langhe, Piemonte -Hikes in the vineyards

Simon hiking in Italy with my Osprey Farpoint 40 backpack

Often my main backpack is overkill, though, and we want something smaller for a day sightseeing. The solution is a packable daypack that fits inside your main luggage on travel days.

For the first six years of our nomadic life, we shared a lightweight, cotton shoulder bag that packed inside Simon’s backpack (or was used on long bus journeys to store snacks and water). It had a zippered opening and a long strap so I could wear it across my body for security, and unlike a backpack, it was easy to carry along with my main backpack when needed. These kinds of bags are available inexpensively in many countries. I like taking advantage of beautiful local textiles—I’ve bought them in India, Thailand, Guatemala, and Indonesia.

Oulanka National Park, Finland

Simon (left) walking in Finland with our old cotton shoulder bag

We also travel with a packable shopping/tote bag that weighs almost nothing and packs into a tiny pouch. It’s useful for shopping, beach trips, and carrying water and food when needed on travel days.

Simon is our main daypack carrier (I carry my camera bag which packs inside my backpack on travel days) and he was finding that the shoulder bag strained his back and shoulders. He wanted to try a packable backpack instead.

Packable backpacks are ultralight backpacks that compress into a small pouch and can easily fit inside your luggage. They come in a range of sizes, some very small and light with one compartment, others bulkier with many of the pockets and features you’d expect in a regular backpack.

There are a ton of options so we bought three models from Amazon to see which worked best for us. Our priority was something compact and light as we don’t want to add much extra weight to Simon’s backpack (our cotton shoulder bag only weighed 80g/2.8oz). We don’t need many features, although a zipped pocket for small items would be useful.

Here are the packable daypacks we tried out.

A comparison of the best packable daypacks including The Friendly Swede, Gonex and Sea to Summit

The packable daypacks we tried: The Friendly Swede, Gonex and Sea to Summit

The daypacks packed down into their small pouches: The Friendly Swede, Gonex and Sea to Summit

The daypacks packed down into their small pouches: The Friendly Swede, Gonex and Sea to Summit

Sea to Summit Ultra-Sil Daypack

I really wanted to like the Sea to Summit daypack as it’s the lightest model available—just 68g/2.4oz—and folds down into a tiny pouch despite its 20-litre capacity. Unfortunately, we didn’t like how it looked. It’s made from a wrinkly fabric that rustles and feels flimsy but is actually very strong. It has no pockets or any shape or structure, so when it’s not completely full it sags and looks unattractive. It was the least comfortable of the backpacks we tried, the most expensive at $36/£25, and the bright colours stood out more than we wanted.

The Sea to Summit Ultra-Sil Daypack - the best packable daypack if size and weight are your main concerns

The Sea to Summit Ultra-Sil Daypack

Inside the Sea to Summit daypack

Inside the Sea to Summit daypack

The back of the Sea to Summit daypack

The back of the Sea to Summit daypack

The Sea to Summit is a great option if weight and size are an absolute priority or you’ll only be using it occasionally, but it wasn’t the backpack for us.

Buy the Sea to Summit Ultra-Sil Daypack on Amazon US and Amazon UK.

The Friendly Swede 25L Ultralight Packable Backpack

The Friendly Swede was the largest and heaviest of the daypacks we tried at 221g/7.8oz with a 25-litre capacity. It has a zipped front pocket, two mesh water bottle pockets on the side, and a zipped inside pocket that doubles as the storage pouch it folds into. As with most packable daypacks, there’s no hip belt. We chose the simple black, but it also comes in bright blue.

The straps are fairly flimsy but it felt more robust and comfortable to carry that the Sea to Summit. The folded down size is much larger though.

The Friendly Swede ultralight backpack review: one of the best packable daypacks for travel in 2017

The Friendly Swede ultralight backpack

Inside The Friendly Swede ultralight backpack

Inside The Friendly Swede ultralight backpack

The back of The Friendly Swede ultralight backpack

The back of The Friendly Swede ultralight backpack

The Friendly Swede is a very decent daypack and good value at $18/£16. It could have worked well for us, but it was slightly larger than we wanted.

Buy The Friendly Swede 25L Ultralight Packable Backpack on Amazon US and Amazon UK.

Gonex Ultralight Handy Travel Backpack

The Gonex is very similar to The Friendly Swede with a black design (other colours are available), a zipped front pocket, two water bottle pockets, and an inside pocket that is also the storage pouch. It is a little smaller at 20 litres, lighter at 171g/6oz, and packs down to a slimmer package that is easier to pack. It’s excellent value at $13/£9.

Although The Friendly Swede was marginally more comfortable to carry, we chose the Gonex to save space and weight.

Hiking up sand dunes in Namibia with the Gonex ultralight backpack

Hiking up sand dunes in Namibia with the Gonex ultralight backpack

Inside the Gonex Ultralight Travel Backpack

Inside the Gonex Ultralight Travel Backpack

The back of the Gonex Ultralight Travel Backpack

The back of the Gonex Ultralight Travel Backpack

We’ve been using the Gonex for over eight months now and it has worked perfectly. It’s lightweight and packs in Simon’s backpack easily, but it fits a surprising amount of stuff—we can fit Simon’s 15-inch MacBook Pro in it along with my 11-inch laptop and 12-inch iPad Pro (all in cases). There’s no padding so it’s not the best option for electronics but we do use it for them occasionally. 

The Gonex is comfortable to carry despite the minimal padding on the shoulder straps, although for long hikes with a heavy load my main backpack, the Osprey Farpoint 40, is a better option. The various pockets are convenient and it does everything we need it to.

Despite the lightweight fabric, it seems to be strong (it’s made from water and tear resistant nylon) and has stood up well to lots of use.

Buy the Gonex Ultralight Handy Travel Backpack on Amazon US and Amazon UK.

Which Packable Daypack is Best for You?

If you want the lightest possible backpack and don’t care what it looks like, go for the Sea to Summit.

If you need something more fully featured for frequent use, consider the REI Co-op Flash 18 Pack, which has a hip belt and space for a hydration reservoir, or the Outbreaker Daypack, which has padded straps and a laptop sleeve. Both of these are heavier than the bags reviewed above and don’t fold up into a pouch.

For us the Gonex ultralight travel backpack is ideal—it’s small, light, has a few pockets, and is remarkably good value.

Which packable daypack do you use?

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Packable daypacks are perfect for travelling carry-on only as you can pack them inside your main luggage. Click through for a review of the best ultralight backpacks for travel.

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14 thoughts on The Best Packable Daypack for Travel

  1. Another vote for the Osprey stuff sack. It has a good internal pockets too, and a key fob. But yeah…only one water bottle holder. I do use it to carry my laptop (in a padded case) but agree these lightweight packs don’t offer a lot of protection so caution is needed. Defo check it out if you’re in the market again.

  2. My Boyfriend and I were on the hunt for the perfect packable day pack recently and I think we found one that works out quite well! It’s the Osprey Ultralight Stuff Pack (https://www.ospreypacks.com/us/en/product/ultralight-stuff-pack-STUFFPACK.html) It’s a little bit pricey, but very good quality! It’s comfortable and (AND!) it’s water resistant! and when you aren’t using it, it’s stuffs down into a little ball! 🙂 It comes in both bright colors and you can get it in a dark shade. The only thing about this is that for some reason they only put one outer water bottle pocket. (Osprey usually falters on their choices with water bottle pockets across the board, we’ve found.) But you can off-set it by putting the bottle inside or balancing it out with strap tightness. I would suggest looking into this one if you’re ever in the market (again!) ! 🙂

    • “Osprey usually falters on their choices with water bottle pockets across the board, we’ve found”…ain’t that the truth!! Pretty much my only complaint about my Farpoint 40! As a side note to Erin, I ordered a 20L Gonex off of your Amazon link this morning, after reading your post for a 2nd time 🙂

    • I’m not sure how we missed this one as we’re Osprey fans—we’ll definitely look into it next time. The only potential issue for us is the lack of external pocket other than the water bottle holder. We use ours a lot for easy access to pens, tissue etc.

  3. I have used a Deuter Wizard (now out of production, I believe) when I’ve needed a super-light daypack to go along with me on a trip and I’ve found that it works well. I completely agree with you that having a functional, yet very lightweight daypack is super handy to have on my travels!

    • They are so useful. We’re heading off on a 5-day motorbike trip around Bali and will take just the daypack. It’s so much lighter than my regular backpack that hopefully it’ll be more comfortable to carry on my back (as a passenger on the bike).

  4. Tom Binh has a packing cube/backpack that is also an optionn, especially for infrequent use. I have an older version without the bottom compartment, and its nice knowing i have the option of the backpack when travelling, and it takes up now extra space since I’d be using a packing cube anyway! They also have a version which can be a backpack or be broken down into a smaller bag as well. Not cheap, but definitely good products! https://www.tombihn.com/products/packing-cube-backpack?variant=16455290247

    • Anything with a dual purpose is always a bonus for carry-on travellers! It’s a little heavier than we wanted but that’s partly offset by the weight saved on a packing cube. I can see how this would be great for someone who doesn’t need a daypack too often.

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