Become a dad and you realize one truth in a hurry—a daypack is mandatory. Kids require a lot of gear and they don’t want to be the ones who carry it. (Anyway, you can’t trust them to bring all they might need; they’ll eschew a rain jacket on a cloudy day every time.) As a dad out on the trail, you have to operate as if you were a good guide. A guide lets clients enjoy their time but can provide anything they may need — from layers to snacks to bird identification to emergency first aid — in a hurry.
"Whether going out for one or 10 nights, you need all the same stuff,” says Eric Henderson, a dad of three who runs Meteorite PR in Colorado and is a certified AMGA guide who worked Jackson Hole, Wyoming, for six years. “You need the same equipment in your packs for one hour or two days to garnish a successful outdoor adventure. The same holds true for planning a day on the trail with the kids. Always bring a rain jacket, a pad to sit on, extra food (Skittles to help make it back to the car), water, a collection of songs… and remember it's always longer than you think.”
So, the best daypacks need to be capable of hauling all of your stuff and your kids' stuff but not weigh you down too much. They must also be comfortable, whether that means more padding in the shoulder straps or additional sweat-reducing air channels in the back panel. Organization is key, too — it doesn’t matter how much your pack can carry if it a pain to access what you need when you need it.
Beyond that, any other needs depend on what you’ll be doing. Hydration reservoirs are great for cardio-heavy treks or hikes in hot weather, durability is a factor if you go out often or hit up high-abrasion hikes like canyoneering, and ultralight day packs are ideal for longer hikes where any extra weight can wear you out.
To offer some inspiration, here are our parent-tested picks for best day packs for whatever adventure you undertake. Each of the following packs are comfortable, has a range of pockets for easy organization, and, most importantly, has enough space to haul whatever you and your family need for a great day on the trail. Just don’t forget the skittles.
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This big day pack is the perfect hauler when you are in charge of a big hike with the whole family. Its 35 liter capacity provides you with enough real estate for food, water, layers, first aid, and some fun items like a fishing rod for the entire brood. The breathable, adjustable suspension makes it comfy to carry all that gear and an included rain cover keeps the cookies from getting soggy. Bonus: Stick anything your kids might need in a hurry in the accommodating mess stuff panel up front.
British Mountaineering brand Rab makes gear that excels up in the alpine but that same smart, rigged design makes it just as trusty on everyday excursions. Tipping the scales at just 1 pound, 5 ounces, this minimalist pack will haul a day’s worth of stuff for you and the kids without bogging you down and without missing the padding and comfort you'll find on heavier packs. One standout feature here is the double sternum strap design, which keeps the pack from shaking all over if you have to break into a run to catch an errant toddler.
In an increasingly specialized world, finding a do-it-all item like the Skule 28 is a rarity. This pack's clean lines and organization make it ideal as both a work or school bag, but its durable build makes it rugged enough for rambles in the hills. On hikes, the super-durable recycled polyester can hold up to branch jabs and scrapes against big rocks. When you get back home, the interior features a laptop sleeve and plenty of pockets to hold pens and other goodies. The real difference here, however, compared to your usual school rucksack is the mesh back and adjustable shoulder straps, which make carrying all your work and play accessories much more comfortable.
If you plan on really putting a backpack through the wringer, there’s no better choice than this beefy daypack designed to carry heavy loads. Credit that ability to punch above its weight to a full suspension system highlighted by the ability to adjust the straps to fit your torso length. Want to trim things down? You can remove the waist belt. The result is a smaller pack that truly can carry a ton of stuff—a necessity for big mountain adventures but even more so for dads who get tasked with bringing everything along to make the whole family happy.
A bike ride with the family is always a blast, but don’t expect the kids to carry all the water, snacks, and other surprises that will make the outing even better. This pack not only carries a bunch with 20 liters of internal space that battens down nice and compact, but it’s also designed to stay out of the way on your torso when you are on a ride—there’s no sloshing and swinging on your back. And of course, it’s a Camelbak so there’s built-in hydration to keep you hydrated while you try to keep up with the little ones.
You won’t find another daypack that will get as many nods of approval from the youth, dad. The snazzy Del Sia version of this reliable hauler features an array of different colors in each section, but—get this—the exact style and colors you get is random. You won’t know until it shows up. That makes for a fun buy with your kid and a lot of excitement when it shows up at your door. Of course, it’s a sturdy daypack with plenty of room in the main compartment and front pocket to handle school or the trail.
On long hikes, you don't want a heavy pack weighing you down. And weighing in at just under 1 pound, 5 ounces, The Daybreak Ultralight is just what the doctor ordered. This ultralight 17-liter pack can withstand a beating and will reliably carry up to 25 pounds worth of the gear your family needs on the trail. Credit that combination of durability and light weight to the pack’s Dyneema fabric, which is 15 times stronger than steel and shockingly light. The pack’s simple design means you can stuff it full of layers and snacks and two side pockets hold big water bottles at easy reach. Stuff layers that get too hot in the back strapping and grab them in a hurry when the weather gets nasty.
It may not be a hiking pack, but this travel pack will be your best friend when you and the clan fly off for distant adventures or family visits—and serve as a solid hiking pack when you get there. It’s the perfect under-the-seat pack but it has the ability to carry even more gear thanks to an expansion zipper that pumps up the volume from 32 liters to 36 liters. Keep all the stuff you need to keep them entertained on the plane inside (it has a laptop sleeve) as well as layers and swimsuits for when you land.