The Essentials of a Well-Made Daypack

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well made daypackIt seems like the daypack, in one form or another, has become ubiquitous in the United States as well as in other parts of the world. However, the daypack in its early form was an elementary affair. Mostly used by settlers and colonialists, Native Americans, trappers, and mountain men when the United States was young.  John Hart, author of Walking Softly in the Wilderness: The Sierra Club Guide to Backpacking, writes,

The traditional daypack is simple. A tough fabric bag, a couple of wide shoulder straps, and you’ve about got it.

At its core, not much has changed; the basics of what constitutes a daypack remain the same. However, through the years – particularly the last 25 – it has morphed into designs which serve us in some very new ways.

Whatever your profession, trade, sport, or activity, there is a daypack made with you in mind. There is, in fact, a dazzling array of shapes, sizes, colors, constructions, and configurations to choose from and of course, quality and price point too. This article focuses only on the core elements, the basics of what constitutes a well-made daypack; form, fit, and function. Beyond that, only you know what the specific needs are for you and your family. Moving beyond the old canvas satchel and weaved basket with two leather straps that my grandfather used on his trapline as a boy, here are some important things to consider before purchasing a daypack, today:

Form — The Body of the Daypack

In this instance, when you think form, think materials and construction. Specifically fabrics, straps, buckles, webbing, padding, sewing, and general, over-all  construction. These are key to the design and manufacture of a well-made daypack.

Materials: There are many fabrics to choose from depending on the type of daypack you are looking for. You want the body of the daypack to be made from synthetic materials, not cotton or blended fabrics. A quality rip-stop nylon , nylon oxford, or cordura are all great choices. Another important consideration is the thread count or denier of the fabric you choose. Make sure the fabric is sturdy enough to withstand the usage you have in mind. Lastly, for most daypacks, you will want the fabric to have a waterproof coating, either polyurethane or silicon based.

A daypack made of quality material doesn’t have to be expensive, as this example shows.

Straps: The shoulder straps are an all-important consideration. The majority of the load is transferred to your shoulders there. (Do you remember the feeling of your overloaded daypack or bookbag shoulder straps digging into your shoulders while you walked to and from school?) Straps should be made of a thick closed cell foam material covered in an abrasion resistant fabric like a dense nylon material that is tough but won’t easily chafe you. The padded shoulder straps should have strong flat nylon webbing tails attached to the bottom with box-x stitching, which is inserted into a strong buckle and tab attached to the bottom of the daypack. Make sure there is lots of adjustability for your body type. The top of the straps should be secured to the body of the daypack using bar-tack stitching as well as being integrated into the top seam.

Padding: The padding I’m referring to is more than just what is found in the shoulder straps. Depending on design and use, a daypack may have a padded bottom in the main compartment, a padded sleeve in the inner compartment to park a laptop, other electronics, or even a hydration bladder in some. The back may have extra padding and mesh to add support, cushion, and ventilation. If your’s is a slightly larger daypack, it may have a padded waist belt as well. Theses should all be made using dense closed cell foam material.

Here’s another example of an inexpensive, but high quality daypack with comfortable padded straps, made with high qualaity material.

Sewing: Throughout the daypack, heavy duty thread should be used. Seams should be double stitched and key stress points should be bar-tacked or box-x stitched. As much as possible, bias binding should be used on material edges. You should see raw edges heat sealed (hot-cut) and finished with a zigzag stitching. In cheaply made packs, the material is cut using a stat-cutter, not heat sealed and rarely zigzag stitched. Under heavy use, this leads to fabric fraying and seam separations. Not really what you want when toting your $500 laptop around. Take a few minutes to inspect the stitching.

General overall construction: Other considerations are closures, loops, D-rings, handles, and buckles. Most daypacks will have some kind of zippers, velcro, snaps, or shock cord. All should be made of tough durable materials (Are the zippers YKK on the pack you are considering?) and securely attached to the main body of the daypack using reinforced stitching. Buckles should be made of high-impact plastic with some give at closure points. D-rings and loops should be ergonomically placed and bar-tacked in place. The fabric for the main body and pockets of the pack should be coated to provide a measure of waterproofing.

This Swissgear daypack is an example of one that combines multiple features, making it an extremely versatile and budget-friendly choice.

Fit (size and ergonomics)

Whether you are buying a $9.99 back-to-school special from a big-box store for you kids to tote their books back and forth from school, an every day carry (EDC) or get-home bag to keep in your vehicle, or contemplating a rugged mountaineering daypack for your trek in Nepal, if it doesn’t fit right, the pack can be miserable to use and in some instances unsafe. Things to consider:

  1. Is the pack the right size for your intended use? Do you really need a $200 military-grade rucksack-style daypack for your college books? (Yes, I know it looks cool.)
  2. Are the buckles, webbing, D-rings, and zippers  on your daypack designed for ease of use and security in mind?
  3. Does the daypack fit your frame well? No two bodies are the same, and no two daypacks are either. There is one that will fit you well and meet your needs. Be picky, it will pay off in the long run.

Function of the daypack

What are you getting this daypack for anyway? Begin with the end in mind and think about what you really need versus what you want. Are you looking for a general-duty daypack or one specifically designed for your get-home bag? One specifically tailored to a woman’s build or one for your preschooler? Are you a climber, hunter, hiker, or runner? Participants and practitioners of each activity have their special requirements to consider when finding the daypack that will work best.

The Daypack Test Drive – Don’t be Nice!

When you have finally found the daypack you are considering, don’t hesitate to take it for a test drive at the store and don’t be easy on it. Turn the daypack inside out and check the coating on the material, the stitching, seams, and bar-tacking. Bring things that you will carry in the pack and load it up and walk around! How do your shoulders feel carrying weight and your hips, if you have a waist belt to help distribute the load? Do all the buckles lock and unlock smoothly? How easily do the zippers work around corners and can you close them one-handed? Are the pockets and exterior strapping configured the way you need them? The hit list goes on… You get the idea.

A daypack may be a relatively small purchase, but it fills a big need for many activities you and your family do. Don’t settle for less than what fits you and your particular requirements.

There are many other things to consider when choosing a daypack. Most have to do with the specific requirements you have or activities you do. If you want to delve more deeply into the finer nuances of daypacks check out the articles and videos below.


Additional Resources


Daypacks: How to Choose – REI

YouTube Reviews

Preschool Daypacks

Laptop Daypacks

Hiking Daypacks

Travel Daypacks

Hydration Daypacks

Running Daypacks


This giveaway is really something special. From our friends at Flying Circle, the Brazos Backpack could be a daypack, but it is also suitable for a whole lot more. Made of military grade materials, it’s the high quality pack you’ve been wanting, with multiple pockets everywhere, including a small pocket on the strap, a handy place to stash a small flashlight, cash, or keys. It also features padded compartments for a laptop or tablet, and even a hidden “pass through” compartment, perfect for carrying a concealed handgun.

You can read more about its many features here.

Flying Circle will send this extra special pack to one lucky winner! Enter the giveaway using the Rafflecopter form below. This giveaway begins on December 29, and ends at midnight on January 7.

a Rafflecopter giveaway

70 thoughts on “The Essentials of a Well-Made Daypack”

  1. I have a baby and a two year old so I carry a diaper bag with me constantly. While it is handy, it’s a shoulder bag so a backpack would be much more practical.

  2. I keep all of my every day carry items in my day pack….multi tool, knife, lifestraw, fire starter, cordage, and also my regular purse type stuff as my daypack is what I carry everywhere everyday. It also doubles as my carry on when I fly.

  3. I carry a stainless steel water bottle, my EDC pouch, a hat and gloves currently. Would love to win this as my backpack is super lightweight and would not withstand much.

  4. I’ve just started learning all I can about prepping and I would love to win this since I haven’t put a pack together yet..Thanks for having this giveaway!!

  5. I would carry chocolate, yarn, yarn hook, scissors, multi-tool, pencil sharpener, some colored pencils, paper to doodle on, a fire stricker, etc…. You know, basic stuff for survival & hobbies for entertainment.

  6. multi-tool, matches, lighter, water, protein snacks, hard candy, emergency blanket, mini sewing kit, paper/pen, mini first aid kit, women’s products, lotion, sunscreen, chapstick, felt, flashlight, magnifying glass, medicine kit, dental floss (so handy!), and cleansing towlettes. To name a few….

  7. I always have my prescription meds in a small zippered case ready to drop into my day pack at a moments notice. Sure could use a nice sturdy pack. Thank you for all the great information your blog site provides.

  8. Have an edc purse, and an edc bag that I leave in my car. The bag holds extra tools, extra clothes and meds. The bag I got from Walmart does the job. But I’m always on the lookout for something that fits better and more storage.

  9. What a great way to start the new year….with a sturdy new daypack! Since this is THE year that I get all of my prepping organized, I could really use a pack that would stay with me all of the time. Thanks for the link to Flying Circle company! Happy New Year!!

  10. I have a day pack in the jeep and am building one for the ATV – what’s in them depends on the trip and the time of year (doesn’t do much good to have summer stuff when there’s snow on the ground). Could always use a nice sturdy pack to expand to!

  11. I carry a mini kits in altoid tins, first aid, fire starting, etc. as well as extra socks, collapsible water bottle and water purification tablets, flashlight, pocket knife and other things. I also carry 72 hours worth of my prescription meds and my rescue inhaler.

  12. For hiking, I carry everything I would need if I got hurt and had to stay until found. That includes shelter, water, food, spare clothes, a first aid kit and a headlamp. I have been losing weight, so I have been adding weight to my pack to make my body stronger. A new pack would be great!!! Thanks!!!

  13. I carry everything I may need if I get caught out off guard, plus things for my kids. I always have a fair amount of things handy.

  14. I have more than the usually amount of first aid gear in my day pack since I’m a RN. I added even more (mostly different bandages) when I viewed some training vids on the matter. I also keep the usuals like small flashlight, headlamp, knife with multi-tools, water and food for me only, change of clothes, ect, and my cell of course. Thanks for the lovely giveaway!

  15. We live about 45 min away from the nearest real city and we each have a bag in the back of the car just in case we have to hike home. I still think my bed is way too heavy but at least I feel comfortable about everything that’s in it. This looks like a great bag!

  16. I have several different bags that are with me whenever I leave the house and include different sizes of first aid kits, knives, essential oils, clothing appropriate for the season, flashlights, filter straws, a head lamp, and more.

  17. This would be great for my son…he’s a Boy Scout and always needs a well made and dependable backpack for all of his hiking and backpacking trips. He’d definitely carry his first aid kit, knife, flashlight, compass, maps etc.

  18. I carry a first aid kit, tools for the car including a small air compressor, mylar blanket, extra shoes and sox, flashlight, small sewing kit, garbage bags, firestarters, notebook, pencils, knife, water bottle, hard candy, and duct tape.

  19. My daypack doubles 24hr gear for one of our volunteer organizations. Since my son has more qualifications than I do, we got him a new bag (big) and I use his old one (smaller). Flashlight & batteries, small 1st Aid Kit, chem lights, mylar blanket, whistle, compass, notepad and pen/pencil, garbage and Ziploc bags, MRE, couple small trail mix packs, TP and feminine stuff, Toothbrush and toothpaste (hate dragon breath, even just overnight), change of underclothes (tshirt, 2pr socks, underwear), and that’s about all it will hold. My son’s bag is larger and has additional pockets where he keeps his map case, extra tools, etc. I’ll be giving up my bag to the youngest when he starts with Scouts. He idolizes his big brother and wants to be just like him in every way.

  20. Kathy G Clayton

    I carry a day bag with a notebook, pen, ebook, Leatherman, sports watch, and small flash light. I also have an emergency Keychain and emergency items in my car, including a air compressor for flat tires.

  21. Thank you for this opportunity to win a daypack!
    I haven’t got one yet, but am looking. I carry a great first aid kit, that I put together myself with extra water and protein bars, a surgical kt and field surgery book from the military, emergency blanket, a small cook stove, and extra clothing, depending on the time or year. I have a knife, but need a better one. A great daypack would make it much easier to carry all this with me, and get it organized,rather than just in a plastic tote!

  22. I need to start being more prepared during the day… it feels so overwhelming sometimes, with carting around the kids but that’s ALL the more reason why I need to be more prepared!

  23. I could use this pack for a medical bag. I need something to carry all of my husband’s meds plus survival first aid books, in addition to all the other medical supplies. Thank you for offering this giveaway, Lisa.

  24. Use to carry some basic tools, emergency blanket, replacement socks & gloves, writing utensils, bandaids, legal pad, ear protection, small serving of coffee, some tea bags, and kindle. Possible a book too.

  25. In my daypack, or purse, I carry the usual stuff. I have a backpack in my car with emergency items, although being a city girl, I wouldn’t last two days in the wilderness. That’s on my list of things to do in 2017 – update my car preps.

  26. Thanks for the give away. I have packs for myself and husband. If I win this one, it would be for my eldest local grandchild. I’m trying to outfit my grands with go bags, just in case.

  27. Michelle Allstatter

    I am new at prepping and have been looking for a bag. This looks like a great bag for each of my family members..

  28. I need to carry enough gear to support a 3-day walk home in the event I’m stranded at work (i.e. earthquake). Hope I win!

  29. It ends up I have BAGS which grow but that’s just in town. So I could really use a Day Pack to continue my prepping for the unthinkable.

  30. I am fairly new to prepping and don’t have a day pack but my husband carries his school work and laptop in his.

  31. Would love this for emergency bag in the car. Currently have a tote that works well for storage, but not to carry if needed. Keep in car-spare clothes for all family, snacks, small entertainment, $10 in a roll of quarters, hand/foot warmers, fire starter, flashlight, lotion. . .probably forgetting something.

  32. I carry the basics: life straw, luminaid, headlamp, knife, dried organic food, first aid, tourniquet, deck of cards, pen & paper, pencil, zip ties, zipper bags, flint, shirt, essential oils, pants & socks.

  33. I really have been looking for a good Day Pack to take in our vehicle. I have prepared a lot at home but I have nothing to use as an everyday carry pack and don’t have most of the things that should be in it. Sure would love to win a pack so I can get started. I am a disabled veteran and my wife and I are retired so we really need to have something with us at all times.

  34. I’ve been looking for the perfect day pack and haven’t been able to find one. This looks like the perfect one, exactly what I’ve been looking for!

  35. A little bit of everything.
    Toiletries, baby stuff, food, money, clothes, notebooks, chargers, water.
    Everything lol

  36. Too bad the giveaways backpack site closes at midnight on 7 January 2017.

    When you go there (I tried at approx. 0955 am on 7 Jan 17) you are informed site giveaway close/not accepting entries.

    May be a great backpack? The company–not so hot.

    1. The Survival Mom

      I set the deadline for the giveaway. It’s been open for over 7 days. Sorry you learned about it to late. 🙁 I have additional giveaways coming up, so stay in touch. Also, if you get my weekly email, it always gives alerts to things like this.

  37. Great advice. Do you have any suggestions for those of us who are on the petite side? I love tactical stuff, but its like everything is made for people who are much taller than me, especially with daypacks.

  38. re. making hay. As a gardener, I’m always behind starting seeds. I finally learned to write on my monthly calendar the recommended dates. This took about 10 minutes and I am on track this year.

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