Ultralight Packable Backpacks: Essential Travel Accessories

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I’ve done a lot of things wrong and a few things right in my 17+ years as a career traveler. One of the things I did right was to start traveling with a packable daypack that I could easily pack into my luggage and whip out for various uses at my destination. Ultralight packable backpacks for travel have come a long way since I started out in 2007 and over the years I worked my way through quite a few. 

In this article I’m sharing everything I learned through experience, and and I’ll compare the top packable daypacks on the market, so you can choose the best ultralight backpack for your next trip. 

See also: The Ultimate Packing List for Long-Term Travel
Check out my entire collection of Travel Gear posts

How to Choose the Best Packable Backpack


At a Glance: My Top 3 Picks for Ultralight Packable Daypacks 

Further down, you’ll read a full rundown of each of these packs as well as a bunch more. I have personally used all three of these packs and I think they’re terrific. (Buying through these links earns me a small commission; it doesn’t affect your price, and it does help to support this site, so thank you in advance). 

Sea to Summit Ultra-Sil Day Pack – packs down the smallest and is the most lightweight. 

Osprey Ultralight Stuff Pack – same capacity as the pack above but packs down slightly larger; this is because it includes water bottle pockets and more interior organizational features.

Osprey Ultralight DRY Stuff Pack – slightly larger again, but has 2L extra capacity and is waterproof. 

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Why a Packable Backpack is a Must-Have Travel Accessory

Packable backpacks are lightweight, collapsible bags designed for easy storage and portability. They’re typically made from durable, water-resistant materials that can be folded or rolled into their own pocket or pouch when not in use. 

In addition to their convenience, durable packable daypacks are also an eco-friendly alternative to disposable bags. By using a packable backpack, you can say no to disposable grocery bags (for example), thus reducing waste and promoting sustainability while exploring new destinations. See also: My Zero Waste Kit for Travel

These backpacks are essential for travel because they take up minimal space in your luggage, and at your destination they’re perfect for a variety of activities from spontaneous day trips or excursions to grocery shopping and more.

Pack More with Less: The Advantages of a Compact Backpack

In my opinion, no packing list is complete without a lightweight packable daypack. From convenience to versatility, ultralight travel backpacks are the ultimate travel companion for adventure seekers and globe-trotters alike.

Here’s why: 

Packs Into its Own Pocket

One of the most remarkable features of a ultralight travel backpack is its ability to pack into its own pocket. This is not only instrumental for travel packing, but also at your destination. It’s easy to pop a packable backpack into a small purse or bag while you’re out, and then if you find yourself buying something and you need the extra space, you’ve got your pack ready and you can skip the disposable bags! 

3 packable daypacks packed into their own pouch


Ease of Packing (Into Luggage)

You’re not likely going to want to use a packable daypack on travel days; for protecting/organizing/transporting your beloved belongings, you’ll want a travel backpack a bit better designed for the task. 

So the more compact a packable travel backpack can be, the easier it is to fit into your suitcase, which is especially important if you like to travel with carry-on luggage only. 

See also: Checked vs Carry on Luggage – Which is Best? 


Multiple Uses 

The number of things you can use ultralight packable daypacks for are limited only by your imagination. You can take them on hiking adventures, overnight trips, to the co-working space, grocery shopping, day-trip excursions, and more. No matter the situation, an ultralight packable daypack is a versatile and reliable choice.

Sea to Summit packable backpack in Bulgaria on a hike
The Sea-to-Summit Ultra-Sil Day Pack in action


Convenience & Portability

Because they pack down so small, you can take your packable backpack anywhere – which means it will always be ready when you need it. 

Great for Travel with Carry-on Only

If you prefer to travel light and avoid checking luggage, ultralight packable backpacks are downright essential. They’re lightweight and compact enough to fit in your carry-on, so you have a reliable bag with you at your destination. 

Just recently I was on a “one bag travel” trip (which means I traveled with one carry-on bag only, instead of the usual carry-on entourage which includes a carry-on suitcase plus a personal item). Not only was my packable backpack invaluable at my destination for outings and excursions, but even on my travel day it saved my skin! 

I was flying on a small plane, and because the overhead bins were tiny, they were gate-checking all carry-on backpacks and suitcases. Luckily I pulled out my packable backpack and loaded it up with valuables and fragile items like my laptop, electronics, medications, etc to take on board with me while my carry on backpack got loaded into the cargo hold. 

I’m not sure what I would have done without my packable backpack. 

Find Your Perfect Adventure Companion: Tips for Choosing a Packable Daypack

The Professional Hobo, hiking with the Osprey 20L Stuff Pack; one of the best packable backpacks on the market
Me hiking with the Osprey Ultralight Stuff Pack

Everybody’s criteria for the perfect portable daypack will differ. Here are some essential features to consider when selecting a travel daypack, so you can find the best one for your needs. 

Before you even look at the specific features, consider the nature of your trip and how you might use your pack at your destination. Are you going to be doing outdoorsy stuff like day hikes, or perhaps even taking it on multi-day excursions? Or are you an urban warrior or remote worker who will want to use it to take your laptop and essentials to the co-working space? Or maybe you want your packable backpack to help you do both? 

With this in mind, consider the features below and which will be most important to you. 

Size and Capacity

The goal when considering size and capacity, is to hit that sweet spot between the smallest possible size when packed down, and the largest possible capacity when being used as a backpack. But the reality is, the larger the capacity of the bag, the larger it will be when packed down as well – which might be an important factor if your luggage is already full. 

In the breakdown of packable backpacks below, keep an eye on the weight, because that will give you an indication of how bulky it will be when it’s packed down, since most companies don’t actually give the dimensions of their bags when packed into their pouches or pockets.  

Material and Weight

When it comes to material and weight, there’s a balance between durability and packability. The more durable or waterproof the material is, the heavier it will be and/or the bulkier it will be when packed down (ie: the more luggage space it will take up). 

The more features it has like extra pockets or reinforced shoulder straps, the more useful it might be for heavier loads, but again, the less packable it will be. 

Here are some common materials used to make packable backpacks: 

30D siliconized CORDURA® is a lightweight, durable, and water-resistant material that offers excellent tear resistance. The siliconized treatment makes it ideal for use in harsh or wet environments, although it may be less breathable than other fabrics.

40D Nylon Ripstop is a robust and lightweight fabric that features excellent tear and abrasion resistance. The ripstop weave prevents tears from spreading, making it a great choice if you’re an active traveler and/or you like to abuse your stuff. However, it may not provide the same level of water resistance as siliconized CORDURA®.

The “D” in 30D and 40D refers to the fabric’s denier, which is a unit of measurement for the linear mass density of fibres. A higher denier indicates a thicker, more durable fabric, while a lower denier suggests a lighter, more breathable material. In this context, 40D Nylon Ripstop is thicker and more durable than 30D siliconized CORDURA® but may be slightly heavier.

Additional Features and Accessories

It’s the features and accessories of your ultralight daypack that can make or break your experience. Some examples of additional features and accessories to look for include:

Water bottle pockets: Daypacks with dedicated water bottle pockets provide the convenience of carrying your water bottle securely, ensuring easy access when needed. The extra material of the pocket adds to the overall bulk of the pack, but is immeasurably handier than having to keep your water bottle in the main compartment which isn’t as accessible. Also a lack of water bottle pockets eats into the capacity of the bag itself, which may be important.

Interior pockets for organization: Keeping your belongings organized is crucial, especially on-the-go. Interior pockets offer designated spaces for your valuables, electronics, and smaller items, allowing you to locate them quickly and prevent them from getting lost or damaged.

Compression straps: Compression straps found on the exterior of daypacks help reduce bulk and secure your gear. By tightening these straps, you can maintain a compact profile, which is particularly useful when navigating through crowds or trying to fit your daypack into tight spaces.

Exterior loops for gear attachment: If you need to carry extra equipment or accessories, exterior loops offer a handy way to attach items using a carabiner. These loops allow you to attach items such as umbrellas, walking poles, or even a jacket to the outside of your daypack, freeing up valuable interior space.

Waterproof materials and construction: You never know when the skies will open up. Waterproof materials and construction protect your belongings from getting wet, ensuring your gear stays safe from potential damage. However most waterproof packs will also be a bit bulkier and heavier. 

Best Packable Daypacks for Travel

Here’s a list of top contenders for the ideal packable daypack for your next adventure. 

Disclaimer: I have personally received some of the below packs for free so that I can travel with them and provide experiential advice. In some cases, I have also included affiliate links. This means I earn a small commission if you click through and make a purchase. It doesn’t affect your price, and it helps me to keep this site up and running. Thank you in advance for your support! 

Osprey Ultralight Stuff Pack

Osprey Ultralight Stuff Pack

Key Features:

  • Material: 40D high-tenacity nylon
  • Weight: 5.26 oz (149.23 g)
  • Capacity: 18 L 
  • Size: 16.54H x 8.66W x 7.48D in

Pros:

  • Ultralight and super packable
  • 2 dual-stretch side pockets (for water bottles or extra gear)
  • 1 additional interior pocket with key clip
  • Sustainable design, featuring bluesign® approved and GRS-certified 100% recycled main body fabrics
  • Comfortable padded mesh shoulder straps with adjustable sternum strap

Cons:

  • Takes a while to get the hang of how to pack it into its pouch
  • Super wrinkly when you first unpack it (this goes away with time and use)

This is my current top pick and what I travel long-term with. 

Buy the Ultralight Stuff Pack here

Osprey Ultralight Dry Stuff Pack 

Osprey Ultralight Dry Stuff Pack

Key Features:

  • Material: 40D Nylon Ripstop
  • Weight: 6.85 oz (194.13 g)
  • Capacity: 20 L
  • Size: 17.72H x 10.24W x 8.66D in

Pros:

  • Waterproof sealed seams, making it ideal for wet environments or activities
  • Roll-top main compartment and zippered external front pocket for added storage
  • 2 stretchy side-pockets with compression straps to keep contents secure (the compression straps are a really nice touch if you have a smaller water bottle or want to keep other things in these pockets)
  • Top zippered pocket for small items, including a key clip
  • Padded mesh shoulder straps with adjustable sternum strap for added comfort and secure fit
  • Built with sustainability in mind, using bluesign® approved recycled fabrics

Cons:

  • Non-submersible, meaning it cannot be fully submerged in water (although in my recent video about this pack, I did exactly that and it held up pretty well!) 
  • Takes a while to get the hang of how to pack it into its pouch
  • Roll-top closure is a little awkward to use
  • Super wrinkly when you first unpack it (this goes away with time and use)

As the waterproof sibling to the above pack, I love this bag. 

Check out the Dry Stuff Pack here

If you want to see how the two Osprey packs above measure up, then check out my video reviewing and comparing these exact packs

Sea to Summit Ultra-Sil Day Pack 

Sea to Summit Ultra-Sil Day Pack

Key Features:

  • Material: 30D siliconized CORDURA® 
  • Weight: 2.5 oz (72 g)
  • Capacity: 20 L
  • Size: 11.0 x 7.9 x 18.9 in 

Pros:

  • Ultra-lightweight and compact, packs down to the size of a tennis ball (packs down the smallest and weighs the least of all the packs in this list)
  • Packs into an attached stuff sack with a handy carabiner 
  • Ultra-sil fabric is great for strength, durability, and water resistance
  • Reinforced shoulder straps

Cons:

  • No water-bottle pockets on the sides. This eats into the overall capacity of the bag since I have to keep my water bottle inside the pack, and it’s not as convenient to access 
  • Shoulder straps aren’t padded; maximum load limit recommendation for a comfortable carry is 15 lbs / 7 Kg
  • Not waterproof, only water-resistant; contents may get wet in heavy rain or prolonged exposure to water
  • Packs down small for a reason: there’s no external or internal pockets or organizational features

Get the (ultra-light, ultra-small) Ultra-Sil Day Pack here

Sea to Summit Ultra-Sil Dry Day Pack 

Sea to Summit Ultra-Sil Dry Day Pack

Key Features:

  • Material: Ultra-Sil 30D siliconized CORDURA® 
  • Weight: 3.9 oz (110.56 g)
  • Capacity: 22 L
  • Size: 18.9 x 11.8 x 8.7 in (unpacked); 5 x 2.5 x 1.5 in (packed)

Pros:

  • Of all the waterproof packs on this list, it packs down the smallest and is the lightest
  • Non-PFC, bluesign® approved
  • Waterproof with roll-top closure
  • Reinforced shoulder straps for increased carrying comfort
  • Packs into an attached stuff sack with a handy carabiner
  • Double stitched seams and fully tape sealed construction for added durability
  • Reflective compression lacing system for visibility and adjustable storage

Cons:

  • No external water bottle pockets
  • No internal organization features
  • Not suitable for paddle sports or environments with sharp/abrasive elements
  • Shoulder straps and pack are not padded, limiting comfortable carrying weight to 15 lbs/7 kg for short durations

This pack is the waterproof cousin to the (ultra-light, ultra-small) pack above. 

Check it out here

Matador Freerain22 Waterproof Packable Backpack

Matador Freerain22 Waterproof Packable Backpack


Key Features:

  • Material: 70D Robic® nylon PU waterproofing
  • Weight: 10.6 oz (300 g)
  • Capacity: 22 L
  • Size: 19.5 x 10.5 x 7 in (unpacked); 3.75 x 3.75 x 5.75 in (packed)

Pros:

  • Super duper waterproof (with roll-top closure) main compartment for protection in extremely wet conditions
  • Includes compression sack for travel
  • UHMWPE-reinforced wear panels for extreme durability, abrasion resistance, and tear strength
  • Gear loops, compression straps, and other features designed for more technical adventures
  • Removable hip belt and adjustable sternum strap 
  • Water-resistant front zipper pocket and side pockets for water bottles 

Cons:

  • Not intended for submersion, not completely waterproof in such cases
  • Considerably heavier and bulkier than all the packs listed above, some of which are also waterproof with the same capacity
  • Not hydration compatible (consider Freerain28, Beast18, or Beast28 for hydration compatibility)

If you want a super durable waterproof pack, this one may be for you. 

Check it out here

Patagonia Ultralight Black Hole® Tote Pack 27L

Patagonia Ultralight Black Hole® Tote Pack 27L


Key Features:

  • Material: 100% post-consumer recycled nylon ripstop with a silicone face coating and a PU back coating
  • Weight: 13 oz (370 g)
  • Capacity: 27 L
  • Size: 15.5″ x 10.25″ x 8″

Pros:

  • Lightweight, strong, and weather-resistant fabric made from 100% recycled nylon
  • Multiple pockets for gear organization, including internal zip pocket and external zippered organizer
  • Stretch water-bottle pockets on both sides
  • Comfortable, adjustable, and breathable mesh shoulder straps that can be tucked away
  • Can be carried as a tote or a backpack
  • Supports fair labor practices with Fair Trade Certified™ sewing

Cons:

  • Both the heaviest and bulkiest of all the packs listed so far (though it also has the largest capacity so far)
  • May not be suitable for carrying very heavy loads 
  • Not fully waterproof; only weather-resistant

For versatility of size and carry methods, this pack is great. But it’s a bear in terms of weight and bulk. Still though, it looks pretty nice. 

Have a gander here

Eddie Bauer Stowaway Packable Backpack

20 L Version

Eddie Bauer Stowaway Packable Backpack 20 L Version


Key Features:

  • Material: 200D ripstop polyester
  • Weight: 11 oz (311.84 g)
  • Capacity: 20 L
  • Size: 18″H x 10″W x 9″D (unpacked); 8.5″H x 7″W x 1.5″D (stowed)

Pros:

  • StormRepel® WR finish sheds moisture for added protection
  • 2 external zip pockets, 2 elasticized mesh side pockets, and 1 interior Velcro® back panel pocket
  • Lightly padded adjustable shoulder straps with breathable mesh lining for comfort
  • Four front lashing loops for attaching carabiners or clip lights

Cons:

  • For a non-technical 20L bag, this is way too heavy. Designed more for fashion/comfort than function
  • Some reviews indicate overall quality is not as high as the other packs in this article 
  • Not waterproof, only water-repellent 

Check out the 20L pack here. 

30 L Version

Eddie Bauer Stowaway Packable Backpack 30 L Version


Key Features:

  • Material: 200D ripstop polyester
  • Weight: 13 oz (370 g)
  • Capacity: 30 L
  • Size: 13in x 8.5in x 14.4in

Pros:

  • Largest packable backpack in this article
  • Durable ripstop polyester material with a water-repellent StormRepel® WR finish
  • Specially designed for plus size, with longer and specially shaped shoulder straps and waist belt
  • Hydration-compatible sleeve for convenient hydration on the go
  • 2 exterior zip pockets, 2 side mesh pockets for water bottles, and a hook-and-loop-closure interior pocket
  • Padded mesh back panel for comfort

Cons:

  • Heaviest and bulkiest pack of them all, by far
  • Some reviews say it feels cheap
  • Not waterproof, only water-repellent 

Get the 30L Pack here.

Final Thoughts and Recommendations: The Best Ultralight Packable Backpacks for Travel

I personally own a few of these packs; specifically the Osprey packs (both of them) and the Sea to Summit Ultra-Sil Day Pack. I wanted to include some others in this article to make this a comprehensive review, but to be honest, in my opinion none of them measure up. (The only other one I would consider would be the Sea to Summit Ultra Sil Dry Day Pack for its ultralight qualities, though I don’t like that it doesn’t have any extra pockets). 

The Matador pack might be an option if I required a super heavy-duty pack for a technical excursion, but it comes at a pretty heavy (literally) price of weight and bulk. 

But in the end it boils down to you and what you need in a packable backpack. For me, it needs to be ultralight, pack down super small, and be multi-functional for a variety of uses on the road. Your needs may be different. 

Have you used a packable backpack that you think deserves to be profiled in this article? Please let us know in the comments! 

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7 thoughts on “Ultralight Packable Backpacks: Essential Travel Accessories”

  1. I’m fascinated by the ability to pack a lightweight backpack it in its own pocket. That has never crossed my mind before, and that feature alone makes me want to go grab myself one of these remarkable bags. Not only does it give you extra space at your destination as you rightly explained, I also like that it does away with the need to use disposable bags which is good for the environment.

    Do you have a favorite among these recommendations Nora?

    Cheers
    Femi

    Reply
    • Hi Femi,
      My two favs are the Sea to Summit (because it’s the smallest and lightest of them all), and the Osprey (because they’re only a weeeee bit bigger/heavier but include some vital organizational components that make it a more well-rounded bag).

      Reply
      • Great choices Nora – You can always rely on Osprey to exceed expectations for the most part. And Sea to Summit is a decent brand – they do great sleeping bags. Of the two, I’m leaning towards Sea to Summit just because I already have an Osprey backpack, and I’d like to try something different:)

        Reply
  2. I really enjoyed your blog post on ultralight packable backpacks. I’ve been traveling for many years, and I’ve always found that a good packable backpack is an essential travel accessory. It’s so convenient to have a small, lightweight backpack that you can pack into your luggage and then use for day trips, excursions, or even just carrying your essentials around town.

    I’ve used a few different packable backpacks over the years, and I’ve found that the best ones are lightweight, durable, and have a few extra features like water bottle pockets and padded laptop compartments. I’m currently using the Eagle Creek Packable Backpack and I’m really happy with it. It’s small enough to fit in my carry-on luggage, but it’s big enough to fit everything I need for a day trip. It’s also made of durable materials that can withstand some wear and tear.

    Reply
  3. Nora, could you please do a review on best lightweight but sturdy checked in bags/duffels and vacuums bags for packing clothing/bulky compressible things.
    Thanks
    J

    Reply

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