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 be fumbling with a map while holding your cellphone in one hand and your guidebook in the other, 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 always use a daypack when I'm hiking or have bulky items or jackets to stash during the day.But I also use them when I'm going shopping or strolling through the city.
(My one alternative to daypacks 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. If you already know you MUST have one, here are some I recommend. If you're still not sold on carrying something on your back all day, head below to the section called "Benefits of using a travel daypack".
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 yet.
I've also talked to friends about their own favorites so I include them here as well. 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... 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 (according to 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.
Still not convinced? Let me try.
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.
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...
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!)
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. (And let's face it, it's not particularly attractive.)
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 dreamily sipping your espresso...