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The Ideal Packable Daypack?

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    The Ideal Packable Daypack?

    I enjoy traveling, when I can make the time. And, as I'm sure this forum would agree, travel is enhanced with a good pack along for the ride, carrying whatever you need wherever you're going. No less important is having a great pack once you get there, and that's the part where I hit a snag - and what inspired this post!

    I don't pack light enough that I can carry a pack small enough to function as a tidy daypack once I'm at my destination, so I need to pack another backpack IN my carry-on. Accommodating that pushes me up into no lower than 35L capacities, and 40L is probably the sweet spot.

    As I've come to learn, there are lots of options out there for "packable daypacks." Whole 20-liter packs that ball up into a little bag not much bigger than a fist! But that kind of thing isn't what I'm looking for. There's no structure. Not much in the way of comfort, which is important if it's something I'm going to be wearing for hours at a time with some weight in it. And an embarrassing number of them have an aesthetic that calls to mind nothing so much as a rumpled garbage bag.

    That leaves me with packable daypacks of the "pack flat" variety -packs that can be reasonably smushed on top of or below your clothes and other things you pack, and taken out to hold the things you need when you're out and about. Another handy use for such a pack is to be deployed at an airport if you need to lighten your load, take out your must-haves if for some reason airline staff forces you to check your main carry-on bag, or if you bought things on your trip you need to transport back home, courtesy of your personal item.

    For me, ideally, such a pack would perform as close to a full-featured backpack as possible, with the minimum number of compromises. This grail of packable packs would have a design that wouldn't look out of place exploring a city, but could also be pressed into at least a 2-3 hour hike without any trouble. I know it seems like I'm asking a lot, and...I am. Most of the time we choose backpacks and bags well suited for one or two purposes, but this one is being asked to be a real chameleon. Still, I can't help but want it to exist!

    From the Tom Bihn catalog, two particular packs caught my eye that could potentially work for this purpose. The Daylight Backpack seems the obvious suggestion, possessing reasonably flat packability, light weight, and sturdy construction. The main hesitation here is the comfort factor. There's no back mesh, and the webbing-only shoulder straps are kind of a non-starter for me.

    The other pack is, surprisingly, the Luminary 15. It's got style, structure, and comfort. It's got the comfy edgeless straps. It's got the keen divider in the bottom! The only problem is that nothing about the Luminary says "flat packable." Even were I to "3D pack" it, shoving a packing cube or two inside like a Thanksgiving turkey and tossing the whole thing into my travel pack, I feel like it'd still be a challenging pack to pack around without the cavernous space afforded by a big duffel or *shudder*a checked-bag size suitcase.

    Both of these packs have a lot going for them. Neither are entirely what I'm looking for. But...what IF there were such a pack? A pack designed for this very purpose? What would it be like?


    First, its dimensions would have to conform to the standard airline personal item limits: 17"(h) x 13"(w) x 8"(d). Some packs scooch a half-inch or so over that in height and no one cares, but for the most part, it's ideal to stay around this size for maximum versatility. We want to be able to either keep this in our bag to use at the destination OR use it as a personal item without any worry.

    Next, let's consider capacity. For me, something between 15 and 20 liters would be the sweet spot, though even packs of similar sizes can feel different depending on how that space is distributed. I don't carry a ton when I'm out and about on vacations, but packing a layer does tend to fill up quite a bit of space, and as "the person with a pack," one is often called on to carry a thing or two for someone else, too. Between 15 and 20 liters gives enough space to fit in all the stuff you'd need, with a bit of extra room for whatever you might happen to pick up.

    The Luminary has a more structured design than the DLBP, and were I building the idea from Tom Bihn design schematics, I'd probably start there as a rough base. The Luminary is a bit thin on the whole, and I could see going a bit wider for the benefit of cramming a coat or sweatshirt into the upper half of the pack's space. I'd totally keep the Luminary's divider pockets - those three spaces created just say "water bottle, camera, guide book" to me, though what could be even better is to yoink the triple-divider front pocket from the new Paradigm pack and size it up to be taller relative to the overall size of the pack. Keeping water separate from camera is one less thing to worry about, even if you have the world's most leak-proof bottle, and having a robust front pocket would allow the central chamber to be a bit shallower from front to back (giving up an inch or two to the front pocket).

    Nix the laptop compartment. There are hundreds of daypack-sized packs that allow for laptop carry. This doesn't need to be one of them. That's not what it's for. Instead, with the weight and thickness freed up, put in a modest mesh back panel (perhaps modeled after the Synapse's) to help wick sweat. When you're somewhere that's warm, you'll sweat with a pack on your back even if you're just standing around not exerting yourself. A proper mesh back (along with adding some stiffness back in) will help deal with that, and enable the pack to be better for the lighter hiking it may be called upon to do.

    The main chamber would zip maybe 3/4 of the way down, making it easy to open it wider to access things deeper in the pack. I wouldn't keep the Luminary's side pockets - when I travel, I keep the kinds of things that one would normally be in those pockets either on my person, or in some other place where they'd be less in danger of pickpockets. I think the idea for travel is "fewer compartments that do more." Again, I must reiterate how much I dig what the front pocket of the Paradigm has going on. It's like a little Luminary stuck to the front of a Paragon...or something. It may not be a bad idea to put one of those little nylon loops on one side people use to pull the zippers through to prevent easy access from thieves as you're roaming around (especially on crowded public transit).

    Of course, we can't forget the straps. These would be the key to the hoped-for "all-day comfort." Part of me wants to say, "edgeless straps, and damn the space in my main pack!" But with the Paradigm and Zeitgeist, we have the introduction of the new Contour backpack straps. They seem fairly thin and don't take up much space, but seem like a big improvement over straight nylon webbing straps. This is one of those things that it'd be hard to guess at. Would something as cushy as edgeless straps make a bag like this significantly more difficult to pack? How comfy are the Contour straps on, say, a hike?

    Hmm...what else? How about a proper handle on top of the pack, like the Synik has? When you've already got your main carry-on pack on your back, you'll inevitably need to hold your personal item pack in some other fashion, and a handle you can fit your hand comfortably around (that isn't just a loop of nylon webbing) is a huge boon when you're standing in an airport line.

    Aye, that would be THE pack I'd want to take on all my future international trips. If Tom Bihn made it, they could call it the "Satellight," because it's...light, and it's made to revolve around your main pack (in a sense). I'd probably buy three.


    So. When you read over this, the impression you're probably left with is, "...Has this guy been sniffing glue? Your ideal packable daypack is...a backpack? You are on a site that sells backpacks right now!" Ah, if only it were that easy! Even after a lot of searching, I can't say I've found any one pack that truly fills what I'm seeking in this niche. Beyond the Daylight Backpack and the Luminary 15, Aer's Go Pack, Topo Designs' Light Pack, Arcido's Vaga, Flowfold's Large Optimist, and the Able Carry Daily Backpack are the packs currently on my shortlist. The Able Carry is the pack that delivers the greatest number of features I'm looking for, but even it has its foibles (laptop sleeve that I don't need, wouldn't even come close to packing flat, front pocket is sideways, has no organization, and using it would eat space from the interior).

    Honestly, I feel a bit sheepish, monologueing for this long to a bunch of people who have more experience with backpacks than I do. It's just...this has been on my mind for a while now; I see it every time I open up the ol' backpack comparison spreadsheet and think, "Why can't there be one pack that ticks all the boxes for this use?" This may be the only place I can unburden myself of this packsistential angst without getting weird looks. Some of you may have recommendations for packs I haven't even heard of that I can check out, and that'd be welcome too!

    But I'm also interested in opening up the floor here. When you travel, what's your daypack solution? Do you favor the compressible type that ball up really small? Do you lean more toward the hiking aesthetic or the urban aesthetic (it's hard to find packs of this type that aren't clearly one or the other!) when traveling? Do you minimalist pack and just toss your packing cubes in the hotel and set out with the pack you arrived with, or do you bring a secondary pack? What's the most important factor? Is it comfort? Organization? Aesthetic? I'm curious how you travel, and the daypack that does it all for you when you do!
    Last edited by ittoujuu; 08-18-2021, 11:59 PM.

    I lean towards just dropping my packing cubes at the hotel and zipping out for the day with my one bag (depending on the trip and carry needs it is usually the Synapse19 or PU)… I prefer more urban aesthetics that work in casual and professional environments. I don’t usually go on extreme hikes in mountains so I never need lot of gear when out and about. I find that if I use a packable daypack then it encourages random trinket purchases and, in turn, creates a trip where I have to carry two bags on the return home. I try to resist trinkets at all cost though I do love a silk scarf (packable and light) Sometimes I will choose a small cross body bag like the HLT1 or the PIKA (a long time ago I use the MCB) that I pack into my bag and just carry a small thing out and about.


      ittoujuu I mean, you had me at “backpack comparison spreadsheet”. I made one of those for summer shoes once and it totally clarified my thinking and led me to the summer shoes of my dreams, so now every year I do not fall down the summer shoe rabbit hole.

      Anyway, backpacks.

      I struggle with this one myself! For me the problem is that it will depend entirely on the trip. Is it a family trip (kids make the size of my day bag triple)? Is it to a city with lots of amenities? To the country where we will have to carry more because less is available? Is it self-catering or will meals be provided? All of these questions will change the day bag I need at my destination.

      I do prefer to use a day bag that is in my home rotation of day bags. If I don’t use a Daylight Backpack all day at home, I won’t take it as my day bag on holiday. I use it for certain things at home, but it lacks the organisation I want for all-day every day. And that means that I might orient my travel bag around my day bag. For instance, if I want my Icon to be my day bag, I could pack it into the end pocket of a Techonaut or A45, or the top pocket of a Shadow Guide. If I want my Synapse 25 to be my day bag, I can put my clothes into the main compartment and remove them at my destination, but if I need more packing space then my second bag could be… a Pop Tote or Zipper Shop Bag or one of the Duffels or a T30 in duffel mode (anything except a backpack!)

      Good luck to you in your quest. It will certainly be interesting and reveal a lot, even if you don’t find The One Bag!


        Just to follow on from my post above, since you don’t seem to carry a bag every day at home, maybe consider a running backpack? I have found those to be comfortable and lightweight. I have a 10-20L one by Salomon that I’ve had for over ten years. It has lots of pockets, a generous main compartment, and it is quite comfortable.
        Last edited by Cristina; 08-21-2021, 12:38 AM.


          Cristina - now I must know: what are the ideal summer shoes? I am good on fall and winter but summer is hard for me too!


            nsh - I appreciate the insights! I recently watched your video of ultralight packing with a Zeitgeist and was really impressed how you were able to pare everything down to the essentials. Even for a weekend trip, to fit everything into that small a pack shows that one CAN go to a destination with everything they need packed into the pack they're going to use as a daypack. For me, what always feels like it justifies larger sizes is colder-weather gear. As soon as I have to stuff in a fleece or a rain shell, that's when the space feels like it fills up really quickly. At some point, I'll probably have to look for good versions of those kinds of garments that lie flatter or compact better. That and figure out how to layer clothing better.

            Cristina - It's amazing how just seeing all the data laid out in a spreadsheet can make certain things come to the fore that wouldn't otherwise (it's how I discovered, "Wow, the Paragon is a WIDE backpack, compared with the average!"). You make a good point about how it may actually be more prudent to plan around the daypack one wants to take, rather than just trying to find something that'll work in an existing setup. On the whole, the daypack will probably be on my back for more hours of the trip than my travel pack, so it makes sense not to skimp on something one likes there. After my last long vacation with roller luggage, I swore off it and was at last ready to embrace "one-bag travel" - it's just that the hardest part for me has been that it was so easy to pair a backpack/daypack with a rolling suitcase or duffel, but much trickier when my main "luggage" is also on my back (at least during times of transit).

            I actually did carry and use a backpack daily, before I started working from home during the COVID era. Alas, my backpack has mostly been sitting idle, aside from a few trips to visit family. I intend to get a Synapse 25 to become the successor to that backpack, but the S25 also seems like slightly more pack than I'd need if I was just wanting something to hold basic daily stuff on, say, a trip to Europe - unless I was actually using it as my "one bag" for travel.

            You know...the more I look at the page for the Paradigm, the more I get this feeling like, "Hmm...you know, if they just sized this up some more, to around DLBP dimensions, it might already be 80% of the way to what I'm looking for." As a 6' guy, pretty husky with a broad chest and shoulders, it can be tricky to find backpacks in the 20L and under range that don't look too small on me (which is why I tend to stick to 15-20L, in that range). Backpack fit is such an individual thing, though. If I had any excuse to visit Washington, I'd totally go to the TB physical store to actually try out some of these models myself!


              Originally posted by nsh View Post
              Cristina - now I must know: what are the ideal summer shoes? I am good on fall and winter but summer is hard for me too!
              Hi nsh! My spreadsheet categories were something like:
              -can wear in water
              -can walk for 3-5 miles in them
              -can wear with a dress
              -supportive footbed

              The Teva Tirra fit all these categories and I’ve been quite happy with them for 3 summers of everyday wear.

              I hope this helps you find your summer shoe!


                I am not following our reasoning for having a packable daypack. I travel with eh A45 as carry-on-only with a 20l Patagonia backpack as the personal item.
                Comfortable packs require structure: padded shoulder straps and a back panel. Those are going to stack at least 25-40mm. Ultralight packs can be found at Osprey, REI, and other outdoor suppliers, I'd not be looking at travel packs. REI is liquidating the Matador Firefly, 16l and collapses into a cantaloupe-sized lump.


                  ittoujuu I know you said it's not what you're looking for, but I'd encourage you to try one of the more traditional packable backpacks if you haven't already. For a long time, I shied away from them with reasoning similar to what you laid out. However, watching my partner use one of those structureless daypacks for hiking and light errands convinced me to finally give one a try. I ended up buying a ChicoBag rePETe Travel Backpack for $30, and I've been super happy with it. It's remarkably comfortable and functional for its size / shape / cost. I often throw it into my Aeronaut 30 or Small Yeoman when I'm traveling, and it's absolutely perfect for my needs.

                  I had considered the Daylight Backpack for a long time, but rejected it because of the straps. (If Tom Bihn had a version with the Contour Straps, that probably would have convinced me to at least try it.) I used to use my Medium Cafe Bag as a flat packable day bag, but I have found that the compactness of the ChicoBag when stuffed and its utility when I take it out makes it much better suited for this role.


                    Originally posted by eekim View Post
                    I had considered the Daylight Backpack for a long time, but rejected it because of the straps. (If Tom Bihn had a version with the Contour Straps, that probably would have convinced me to at least try it.) I used to use my Medium Cafe Bag as a flat packable day bag, but I have found that the compactness of the ChicoBag when stuffed and its utility when I take it out makes it much better suited for this role.
                    A DLBC with Contour straps is apparently in testing and Darcy indicated good vibes so far
                    I like all the blues and greys...and all the happy citrus colours too! My search unicorn is the Sapphire Dyneema original Small Shop Bag...


                      I've tried to use the Luminary 12 as a packable backpack but it's really hard to flat-pack to a squishable size. The Daylight Backpack is too tall for me to use for a full day. I hope to try out the Zeitgeist at some point as a travel backpack.
                      I will always want a mesh back . . . which never happens in the more packable backpacks, I know.


                        The Daylight Backpack has been my everyday bag for about...a month now? Two? And so far it's thoroughly satisfactory. It fills a functional gap that I've been trying to fill for about five years now.

                        I wanted a bag that:

                        - carries as comfortably as a backpack. After trying crossbody bags and "back" bags and so on and so on, I concluded that the only thing that carries as comfortably as a backpack, for me, is a backpack.

                        - is either sufficiently good-looking or sufficiently unobtrusive to go to places like a moderately nice restaurant without my feeling weird. (I got the black ballistic, for "unobtrusive", and got those thingies to keep the strap tails from flopping around.)

                        - is light and un-bulky and squashable and packable. Squishes and flexes enough that I can easily pull it to me when I want something on a road trip or plane, and then easily shove it back again.

                        - but still has enough structure to carry a full load of stuff without struggling or straining or bulging out in funny ways or getting caught on things.

                        - isn't so delicate and fragile and easily dirtied that I worry if I want to drop it on the floor of a car or plane.

                        So far, the Daylight Backpack is doing all that. A month (two?) isn't much, but I've tried probably a dozen purses and crossbody bags and backpacks and crush-tiny backpacks that weren't satisfactory for that long. And I REALLY WANTED to like a lot of them.

                        I did add other things to make up for the limited organization--for purse-like stuff, a Side Effect with a wrist strap and containing some tiny inner pouches. And for other stuff, a couple of A5 Ghost Whales. And a long strap for keys. The Side Effect may turn out to be too small, but the Daylight is working great.

                        So, the Daylight Backpack is the bag I use at home. It's the bag I use after arrival on a trip.

                        The remaining issue is that while actually traveling, I carry a larger travel backpack, and I'm not going to do the thing with one backpack on my back and one like a baby in front.

                        So I bought a Daylight Briefcase as an in-transit cabin bag--I plan to shift the Side Effect and other pouches from the Daylight Backpack to the Daylight Briefcase, use the Briefcase as my cabin bag, and pack the Backpack in the travel backpack. I say "I plan" because as long as the pandemic goes on, my 'in transit' vehicle for all trips will be my car, so I'll just be carrying the big backpack from my door to my car trunk and using the Daylight Backpack as my car cabin bag. I didn't need to buy the Briefcase. I just wanted to.

                        I know that logically it seems that the simple straps on the Daylight Backpack should be terribly uncomfortable. I'm sure that there's a weight that would make them uncomfortable. But apparently I have never yet carried that amount of weight in the backpack, so for my normal use (including trips to the park with a couple of books and a few bottled drinks), the existing straps are indeed perfectly comfortable. The backpack slips on and off in a predictable sturdy way, without that flippy/twisty vibe that the straps on an ultra-light crushable backpack have. The straps don't dig in. And I forget it's there when I'm walking.

                        So my own backpack quandary is solved.


                          eekim - Thanks for the good word on the compressible packable daypacks. I do think there's certainly convenience to be had there - if one needs a pack that will eat a minimum of space in your main pack, or want to carry it in a jacket pocket to deploy if the need arises, that's where they really shine. While my initial post mainly discussed the aesthetics of these packs, the other factor is just sort of...not really seeing myself in a use case where something that packs down that small would really be of benefit to me. Of course, any of the compressible daypacks can also be laid out flat, and as such would function as a "flat-packable daypack" (which surely puts less stress on the seams and zippers), so there's always the chance that some of these could be contenders. I've heard a lot of travelers very satisfied with Matador's lightweight bags, for instance! But I think perhaps the best analogy is one with laptop computers. I prefer typing on a keyboard with full-travel keys, but in order to get the portability of a laptop, I'd have to make some concessions, which includes a built-in keyboard with scissor switches that have a much lower travel distance. But then, one can go even further, getting a seriously thin laptop with the flat, "chiclet"-style keys. There's a progression, like backpacks, where you shave off weight and bulk to optimize portability, but for someone who doesn't need the very thinnest, very lightest, they might think (as I do) that a bit thicker of a laptop with scissor-switch keys would be the preferable choice. That's sort of how it's like when I'm looking at flat-packable daypacks with a bit more heft and structure versus the ultra-light, compressible type, if that comparison makes any sense to you.

                          marbenais - Appreciate the hands-on observations on trying to pack the Luminary. I'm right there with you on really wishing there was a packable daypack out there with some sort of mesh back, because anything to help mitigate back sweat is a winner in my book, but of all my wish list features, that's probably the very hardest to find on any sort of model from any company that's sold as a "light backpack" or "daypack."

                          Poultry - Huge thanks for sharing your Daylight Backpack testimony! This is the kind of insight I'm always glad to find, listing out use expectations and how well a pack meets that. I think what you're using the DLBP for seems pretty similar to the sort of use I would put such a pack to, so knowing it's been working for you in all the ways that are important is great, even if all our big travel plans remain hypotheticals until the pandemic abates. Much agreed with your assessment that "the only thing that carries as comfortably as a backpack, for me, is a backpack." Messenger bags and slings have their place, but if one wants to have a bag/sling/purse/tote with them all day while out on a trip, it really helps for it to be as comfortable as possible. What you said about the weight in the DLBP got me thinking that perhaps, for the sort of standard load one would use such a pack for, maybe the prime factor in comfort isn't so much weight, but amount of time continuously worn. That's where straps begin to exert their differences, but as they're experimenting with the new Contour straps on the Daylight Backpack, that could be a big win. Still, it's good to know that you've found even the simple straps pretty comfy in daily use with whatever loads you've been carrying.
                          Last edited by ittoujuu; 08-23-2021, 02:09 AM.


                            I completely agree with your points on a mesh back panel and comfortable straps -- I'm very willing to sacrifice a little packing space for something that will be comfortable to carry around all day at my destination. My ideal packable daypack would have a mesh back panel, lightly padded straps, but otherwise be very minimal, and probably a lightweight material like halcyon.
                            SG23 is my walk/bike commuter bag


                              I use a non TB bag for packable day pack when flying... LL Bean Stowaway. It's ripstop nylon, mesh back, lightly padded straps. Technically can pack into it's own pocket, I never bother, just pack flat or rolled up.
                              Not as elegant a design as something from TB, but serves a purpose for me.
                              I like all the blues and greys...and all the happy citrus colours too! My search unicorn is the Sapphire Dyneema original Small Shop Bag...