Everything you were afraid to ask about buying a new general hill-walking daysac from pole holders to waterproofing options and more in our latest OM Buyer's Guide.
Daysac, the name's self explanatory really, it's a pack
that's big enough to carry everything you need for the course of a
day in the hills. There are a lot out there though, so the latest in
our OM Buyers' Guide series is designed to help you decide
which one is for you - follow our advice and it'll slip on like
obvious, but the size of the pack you choose depends on what you're
going to carrying and what activities you're into. As a basic
starting point, we'd suggest around 30 litres for summer mountain use
and 40 or 45 litres for winter, when you'll be carrying spare clothes
and maybe a thermos flask of hot soup.
That's just a general average sort of guide though. If you carry
less than average or have ultra-lightweight waterproofs and other
kit, then you may be able to make do with less. If you're a kitchen
sink-style gear junkie, then you may need more.
One word of warning though, a lot of sub-30 litre pacs are scaled
down and feel like toys with a very short back length, so it may be
worth starting with 30 litres anyway. And just to make life more
complicated, different manufacturers measure capacity differently, so
don't just rely on specifications. If the pack looks small, it
Fit And Forget
You'll be carrying lighter loads with a daysac, so fit isn't quite
as vital as with a backpacking sac. For starters, most day sacs will
have thin waist belts to help keep the pack from swinging around
rather than hip-belts to transfer weight through to the hips so
length is less crucial.
with bigger packs though, properly designed and proportioned back
systems and straps will make a big difference. We look for curved,
ergonomic shoulder straps usually with denser, thinner foam
than you might expect. Soft, thick foam padding may feel nice in the
shop, but on the hill it compresses and fat straps are more likely to
move around or even roll over.
Back systems are usually more basic than with bigger packs.
Climbing day sacs may have a malleable alloy stave or two to support
more load, but most walking sacs make do with a combination of
wicking, air-permeable foam - often this is useless once it's pressed
agains the back - and some sort of stiff polythene sheet to prevent
the contents from pressing uncomfortably into your back. If you're a
master of the careless packing frenzy, it's worth seeking out one of
As with bigger packs, get the shop to load it up and try it
on. Make sure the shoulder straps aren't too narrow or widely
spaced at the top and look for general comfort and support. It should
feel 'right' with no uncomfortable pressure points. Shoulder top
adjustmesnt straps allow you to pull the top of the pack in for a
People with a long back length may need to look for a pack
brand with a range of back lengths, Macpac for example, or an
adjustable back system like Vango's Super Canyon. Unfortunately these
refinements are more common among larger packs.
If you're a lass, it's well worth taking the time to seek out a
women's specific pack. The range isn't as wide as it might be, but
women have narrower shoulders, shorter backs and wider hips, so
something like one of Lowe Alpine's Nanda Devi, women's specific
range is more likely to give an inch-perfect fit.
Air Gap Back Systems
bane of packs, particularly in summer, is wet, cold back syndrome.
Not surprising really. Virtually all pack makers now use wicking
fabrics and reticulated - air porous - foams for the areas that
contact your back, however very few conventional back systems make a
significant impact on your sweaty spinal regions...
If you're after a hot weather pack then, it's worth considering
one of the many options with a nylon trampolene style arrangement
leaving a real air gap between pack and back, for example, the
Berghaus Freeflo, though there are lots of others. These work really
well in summer, though in winter you may find your back is cooler
than you'd like.
Princess and pea types may also notice that the gap moves the
centre of gravity outwards from the body slightly, but with lightish
loads, it's not really an issue.
Shape and Design
you're a pure walker then pretty much any design that feels
comfortable to you is fine and fair enough. If you plan to do some
scrambling or mountaineering in the future though, then check out
some of the more technical, climbing-orientated packs.
These are deliberately designed to be long and slim with no side
pockets both to hold any weight in closer to the back for added
stability - compression straps help here too - and to avoid the pack
catching if you have to move through a narrow gap like a chimney.
Fast Moving Packs
Another option is one of the growing number of lightweight
adventure race packs on the market. Classics like the KIMM sack,
Berghaus 64zer0 and Lowe Alpine's Contour Event actually work well
for general use too, though the light fabrics may
mean they're not as durable as more robust, general walking
Race packs fit closely with soft body-hugging minimalist back
systems, effective belts and chest straps that hold the sac stable
for running. They may be a little sweatier in general use, but ideal
if you're the sort of person who bounds around like a frenzied
Other handy refinements include belt pockets, which are ideal for
stowing food and stuff you need easy access to, like small cameras.
Most are also hydration system compatible and many have stretchy mesh
stuff pockets that are great for storing wet clothing, hats, glove,
food, banana skins and so on.
Ye Olde Hydration System
you're a hard-core water bottle user, we'd suggest you look for a
pack which is hydration-system specific. Usually that means an
internal pocket for the bladder, plus one or more exit points for the
drinking tube as well as something to secure it to the shoulder
Points to check are what size bladder it'll handle. Most will take
two litres without a problem, but if you use a three-litre bladder,
you'll find that some packs simply won't take it. Check too that the
exit point for the tube is either central or on the side you
Finally, bear in mind that a full three-litre bladder will eat
space inside the pack, at least at the beginning of the day, so you
may actually need a slightly larger pack than you thought to
Pockets and Storage
are a personal thing. At the very least though, we'd look for a
zipped lid pocket, preferably with a key clip. You'll find it's
invaluable for storing stuff like wallets, gloves, hats, sun cream,
compass, the odd snack and so on. An internal lid pocket is also
handy and arguably more secure.
Beyond that, it's personal taste. Big side pockets are great if
you carry a water bottle there, but can catch on rocky outcrops and
if scrambling in confined spaces. Ditto pockets on the back of the
Stretch mesh pockets, as used on many race sacs, are dead handy.
Look for ones with an angled entry so you can use them without taking
off the pack - very few actually have this - and be aware that it's
possible to lose stuff from mesh if you're careless about stowage.
Very few packs are waterproof - Craghoppers Dri Packs incorporate
a dry bag arrangement which effectively means the main body of the
pack is water tight, while both Berghaus and Force Ten have packs
with taped and / or welded seams on the way.
the rest though, water will find its way through untaped, stitched
seams, which are - after all - a series of holes. You have two
options, either use a good pack liner - we like the latest dry
bag-style ones from Berghaus - or buy a pack with an integral pack
cover that you can pull out and use if it starts to rain.
Both options have pros and cons. A cover will keep the outside of
the pack dry, but has to be removed for access to pockets and won't
save your kit if, say, you fall in a pond or stream. Liners allow the
outside of your pack to get soaked, but decent ones are totally
watertight and will survive complete immersion.
It's your call...
trekking poles easily is the last great unsolved problem of pack
design. Ice axe loops and refinements of them featuring plastic rings
for the tips of the poles are fiddly and slow to use, but there are
few other options.
One we do like is the little clamp Haglofs uses on some of its
packs. Neat and effective, it lets you take poles on and off much
more quickly and with far less hassle.
urban packs are the latest wheeze - expect laptop sleeves, mobile
phone holders, lots of internal dividers and things to slot pens
into. You can use one on the hills, but they tend to place aesthetics
over practicality, weigh more than they need to and offer very
limited space for things you might actually need, like a spare fleece
or a waterproof.
We're not saying don't get one, but be aware that you might be
better off with a pack designed specifically for hill walking rather
Good materials and top level construction is the
extra you should get when you buy a specialist outdoor sac from a top
brand. They might not be immediately obvious, but stuff like top
quality fabrics and proper stitching will mean you pack is still
going strong several years down the line.
what should you be looking for? Unfortunately it's not all
immediately obvious, but watch for tough-feeling, high quality
buckles and cord grips, thick cord in any closures, tough zips,
reinforced base areas on heavier sacs and quality stitching.
The stitching should look neat and even, main seams should be
double or triple stitched for toughness. Look inside the pack, the
main body seams should be protected internally by another layer of
fabric to prevent abrasion damage from the contents. The attachment
points for things like haul loops and handles should be either bar
tacked or use serious reinforced stitching for added strength.
Buying from a specialist brand should guarantee all this, but if
in doubt, have a good rummage and trust your instincts.
Help and Advice
Hopefully this article will have given you some basic pointers.
The good news is that there's a load more advice on
- Ask on the gear
forum about general issues or specific items.
- Check the member
reviews section for user experiences of kit.
- See OM editorial reviews on the front of the site for our
Richard Gear if you have a specific question you need