Do you ever ask yourself whether travel daypacks are worth the hassle? They take up space... and who needs one anyway?
Actually... you just might.
Without one, you might find yourself fumbling with a map while holding your cellphone in your hand and your guidebook under your arm, trying not to drop anything and staring suspiciously at everyone to make sure no one takes advantage of your confusion.
I personally like having my hands free to take pictures, look for my money, nibble on a croissant. Or to fight something or someone off if I ever needed to: an unfriendly dog, a thief, or (in my younger days) someone trying to pinch my behind.
So yes, daypacks are extremely useful, and like it or not, you'll have to carry something, right?
Think spare shoes or sandals. Medicine and creams. Tampons. Hairbrush. Sunscreen. You get the picture.
I often use a daypack, especially if I'm hiking or have bulky items or jackets to stash during the day - or if I'm going shopping.
But back to daypacks.
A daypack is essential if you plan to do a lot of walking. Not even the lightest and best women's backpack will cut it if you have to lug a heavy one around all day. Your back will hurt, and you'll constantly be aware of the elephant you seem to be carrying.
So a daypack it is.
Not only does it leave your hands free, but the right daypack, properly fastened, will keep your stuff relatively safe from theft (see box below for what happened the one time I didn't take my own advice).
If someone tries to get that daypack off your back (or your front, if you prefer to carry it there), you will notice.
So what should you look for in the ideal daypack? It should be...
There are some alternatives to travel daypacks.
You can use a combination hip bag with a photographer's vest, or a fanny pack (fine if you're slim but if you're a little more 'comfortable' in circumference as I am, this is not how you want to carry your stuff!)
One of my favorite travel accessories is a large travel backpack with a daypack attached. For years I used a Gregory front-loading backpack (it's so old I can't even find the model) with a detachable daypack, which was a godsend: extra packing space during travel, and just unzip to use it as a daypack. (And remember: no valuables!)
I shudder at the number of travel daypacks I have sitting on my shelves. Some I've loved, some less so, some I haven't even tested.
I've also talked to friends about their own favorites so here comes a mixture of their recommendations, my own thoughts, and a bit of research to make sure I give you the proper specs (I've also included Amazon links in case you want to buy any of these or read what reviewers have to say). Just remember, everything will be a compromise between security, comfort, style, size and weight.
A small-sized option (1.8lb/815g) is the tough but tiny Maxpedition Rollypoly which folds into a little pack you can fit into a large pocket but expands into something large enough for most day uses.
The new nylon Outlander Daypack is light and small and you can fold it right into a compact little pouch. Great to carry your water, books, maps, sweater or scarf... I think this is the one for me! Buy on Amazon
If security is your main concern the Pacsafe Metrosafe 350 Gii is a good bet, as are all Pacsafe products (I've been a longtime fan of the entire range). A little larger than I'd like for the day, but once you put it on you can forget about it because no one will be able to sneak in.
If you must have a hip bag, Pacsafe's Venturesafe 100 is a good choice, especially when it comes to safety.
And finally, for those professional photographers out there who need everything at your fingertips, here's the queen of bags (photographer Anne Sterck's personal opinion): the Think Tank Photo Street Walker Hard Drive. It's not the lightest thing but if you're lugging around your SSLR, a laptop, lenses and a tripod, you'll need some hefty help.
And don't forget to use a measuring tape so you can actually picture the size - a photograph can be deceiving.
North Americans often carry their daypacks on their chest, while most Europeans do not. This is really a personal matter. Wearing one on the chest might deter thieves - I certainly would have noticed that gang in Beijing - but unless you're very flat-chested, it can be quite uncomfortable.
It is also a sign that you are carrying something of value.
And please, please don't put it on the back of your chair when you're sitting somewhere public! Wrap the straps around your chair leg or your own leg. What a waste of all those efforts to get the right pack only to have it snatched while you're sipping an espresso...