Home :: Travel Accessories for Women :: Travel Daypacks :: Updated 13 January 2016

How Really Useful Are Travel Daypacks?
Small backpacks leave your hands free and (usually) discourage thieves

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.

My daypack alternative is a large-ish travel handbag with great security features - I've fallen in love with my Pacsafe Citysafe 200 Gii (I recently ordered a second one, same bag, different color).

But back to daypacks.

Benefits of using a travel daypack

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...

  • light as a feather
  • big enough to carry everything you need with a bit spare but small enough to fit in your luggage as you travel
  • secure from theft
  • quick-dry
  • color safe, with no cheap dyes
  • waterproof and dustproof is nice to have, especially if you're carrying anything electronic and don't want your stuff to be ruined by a tropical shower or dust or sandstorm (otherwise you'll need a poncho or cover for your daypack)
  • attractive, and depending on your taste, stylish, pretty, fashionable, technical, tactical - but not too expensive looking so you become a target in the street (and you can always stick a patch over the designer label)
  • appropriate: subdued rather than garish, and in a color that stays clean - black gets dusty, light colors can get dirty so stick to colors like khaki or dark beiges
  • comfortable to wear especially in hot climates
  • visible at night, with reflective stripes - you can always sew some on yourself 
  • padded inside if you're carrying anything delicate
  • well made to stand up to a tough life because you'll use it every day - check the zippers and how the straps are attached to the pack because this is where things often fall apart
  • easy to access and easy to organize, with pockets everywhere you need them
  • practical with extra external straps for spare sandals, a wet towel or a big souvenir (or at least have a place to hang a carabiner)
  • large enough to carry a water bottle

HERE'S WHAT YOU SHOULD NOT PUT INTO YOUR DAYPACK: important papers or credit cards. They should be stashed safely in your travel money belt or leg or neck wallet. Let me tell you why.

I was walking in Beijing when I was passed by a group of chatty young foreign men. Didn't give them a second thought until I got to the pastry shop and tried to pull out some money from my pack: it sat open, still on my back, with no money, no passport, no anything. I'm not sure what I was thinking. I rarely carry valuables in my day pack, and when I do I make sure my pack is slash-proof and well-fastened. I ignored my own rules, something I'll never do again. I never felt a thing!

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!)

Need some recommendations for travel daypacks?

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.


First is the Sea to Summit Ultra-Sil Dry Daypack known for being incredibly light (3.2oz/90g), small and waterproof. It doesn't have any frills or padding but if it's weight you're worried about, this is it. 
Amazon US UK CA

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.
Amazon US UK CA

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! Amazon US CA

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. 
Amazon US UK CA

If you must have a hip bag, Pacsafe's Venturesafe 100 is a good choice, especially when it comes to safety. Amazon US UK CA

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.
Amazon US UK CA

And don't forget to use a measuring tape so you can actually picture the size - a photograph can be deceiving.

One last question: back or front?

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...

travel daypacks
travel daypacks

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