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Daypacks for Travel: What Kind, How to Use, and What to Fill it With

The daypack is the most used bag a traveler will have. This is the bag that travels not only on the long journeys but on the short ones as well. Daypacks carry just about everything a traveler will need to access during the course of a day of exploring, it is the place to keep [...]

The daypack is the most used bag a traveler will have. This is the bag that travels not only on the long journeys but on the short ones as well. Daypacks carry just about everything a traveler will need to access during the course of a day of exploring, it is the place to keep the gear that is used regularly and needs to be perpetually at hand. The daypack is like a giant pocket.

My daypack is full of my daily use supplies, the things I use regularly as I travel and collect content to blog about. The daypacks I use vary between 15 and 26 liters in size. I recommend getting a high quality daypack as the zippers on the cheaper models are prone to premature breakage (advice which I don’t usually follow myself, and know the consequences of first hand). I recommend Lowe Alpine bags, but my current daypack is a Chinese no name that I picked up for $12. It does the job for now, but I question its long term endurance. If you have the cash, dumping it into a high quality, water resistant, lockable daypack could prove worth it in the long run.

Whatever bag I’m using as a daypack I always keep it packed up and ready to go. I like the idea of being able to jump out of bed in the morning, snatch up my bag, and walk out the door. Screwing around in a hotel room debating over what gear you’re going to need or not need for a day out is a real buzzkill when you’re excited to just get out in the streets to check out a new place. I’m comfortable making two or three day trips solely on the contents of my daypack.

Daypack

I don’t move gear between my bags, each thing has its place. What’s in my daypack stays in my daypack, it does not migrate to other bags or to other places in my room. My daypack has the items that I used each day when outsite exploring a place, my rucksack contains the gear that I use in my room. In this way I always know where all of my gear is at all times, and I don’t end up 25 km out of a town to discover that I left something that I want to use in a backpack that is locked up inside my hotel.

The crap that I fill my daypack with

Travel supplies

Notebook with destination information
Water bottle
Pocket knife
Headlamp/ flashlight (flashlight travel tip)
Compass (compass travel tip)
Hand sanitizer
Wet wipes
Extra t-shirt, underwear, socks
Rain jacket
Spoon and/ or fork
Snack
Toothbrush/ toothpaste

Blogging supplies

Notebook
Digital voice recorder
Camera
Mini tripod
Sunglasses video camera
Pens and pencils
Waterproof float bag for electronics
Flash drive
Extra camera battery

Being prepared saves money

It would be a real pain in the ass to carry around all of the gear that you need to be prepared for a day traveling around a village or city in your hands. It is unbelievably awkward just carrying around a jacket in your hands — let alone a water bottle, food, a camera etc . . . and everyone learns before the age of 9 that pockets are not good places to store a lunch. The choice is thus put forth: carry a small bag full of what you need and want for the day or go unprepared. Going unprepared means relying on your surroundings for sustenance: i.e. you need to buy everything you need and want each time you need or want something.

Being prepared is convenient

Having what you need with you as you travel around a place is, simply put, convenient. If you need to go find a restaurant or food stall every time you’re hungry you’re going to find yourself blowing huge amounts of time that could otherwise be spent checking out a new place. Having to find a quicky mart to buy a bottle of water every time you’re thirsty is going to delay whatever plans you have. If you need to duck for cover and wait for every little rain shower to pass because you’re not carrying rain gear you may miss out on experiencing something more interesting. Traveling so light that you’re left unprepared is a hassle. Having a daypack filled with daily essentials is an excellent way to strip down the work of travel and allow for a more refined, full experience each day out on the road.

Filed under: Travel Gear, Travel Tips

About the Author:

Wade Shepard is the founder and editor of Vagabond Journey. He has been traveling the world since 1999, through 88 countries. He is the author of the book, Ghost Cities of China, and contributes to Forbes, The Diplomat, the South China Morning Post, and other publications. has written 3411 posts on Vagabond Journey. Contact the author.

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Wade Shepard is currently in: Rochester, New York

9 comments… add one

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  • Jack May 18, 2012, 10:34 am

    I saw this video up on Youtube yesterday so I was glad to be able to read the article that went with it. This is awesome advice once again from someone who actually travels. Thanks Wade!

    I have a small EDC (Every Day Carry) bag. It’s a simple over the shoulder bag(20cm by 25cm) I picked up cheap. I keep a pocket knife, cellphone, compass, notebook, pen, pencil, baby wipes, tissue, flash drive, a couple of carabiners, a short length of paracord, USB charger and cable, and a cheap Android tablet. This bag goes with me with whenever I leave the house.

    When I go out for longer journeys, I packed the bag at the time. After reading and seeing this, I think I might just prepare a bag in advance for it. A second EDC bag?

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    • Wade Shepard May 19, 2012, 8:52 am

      Thanks Jack,

      EDC bag. That’s a cool acronym, wish I used it above, as it’s better than daypack. I was going to include a section about women’s purses above, as I modeled what I keep in my daypack off of looking at all the crap my wife permanently keeps in her purse. Having a bag of supplies with you at all times is also extra-pertinent when going out with kids. The charger, carabiners, and cord that you mention above would be good additions to my “EDC” bag.

      Thanks.

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  • Bob L May 19, 2012, 9:18 pm

    EDC is used a lot in the emergency preparedness groups. It can range from just stuff to make your day easier, through being ready for some monor disaster situations all the way through to firearms. Lots of discussions about it with no set things to carry. Flashlights, emergency numbers, emergency cash, knife and simple tools (leathermen etc) seem to be the main things.

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    • Wade Shepard May 19, 2012, 10:22 pm

      Yes, EDC bag would have been a better term to use here, as that’s exactly the intent behind my daypack. Thanks for this. Yes, emergency cash and a sheet of phone numbers/ addresses would be a good addition to this pack.

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  • Jack May 20, 2012, 8:58 am

    @Bob L: Exactly. I am into preparedness. It’s something that helps me focus when I travel. Mine is scaled down of course. 🙂 Thanks for remind me about the emergency cash! Hahah I forgot to mention that. I have a little pocket in my bag where I keep 10 yuan(not much, but it’s for a purpose). That’s enough to cover a taxi back home from anywhere in this small city.

    @Wade yeah, more than once I have left the house with a phone on low battery and have been able to use my charger in my bag to charge my phone while teaching a class.

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    • Wade Shepard May 20, 2012, 9:26 pm

      Right on, I’ve pinned a little cash in mine now. I use to keep some money in the brim of my hat like my grandfather use to do, but the inside of the bag is probably better unless in high probability for theft areas.

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  • alf May 20, 2012, 4:55 pm

    Great video and article.

    I have a couple items that I sometimes rotate between my rucksack and my EDC; for instance, if I know I won’t be needing my laptop, why take it? But some days, especially in hostels with bad internet, I need my laptop with me to go look for a cafe or somewhere I can sit unconspicuously for hours after having a coffee.

    Out more than one day, or hiking heavily? Better bring the deodorant too. Even though, now that I think about it, deodorant is small and light, and I could carry it around everyday, I am a sweaty guy anyway.

    Thanks for this article, I have been following this website since before I started travelling, and it has proven to be a valuable resource for living on the road with very limited resources (currently working at a hostel reception in Bulgaria in exchange of bed and food for 4 hours of work a day, sweet deal).

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    • Wade Shepard May 20, 2012, 9:20 pm

      Thanks for these additional tips. That Bulgaria deal sounds pretty good. Great to hear from you again.

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      • Wade Shepard May 21, 2012, 12:01 am

        I didn’t mean to make it seem like I don’t add any additional pieces of gear to this bag ever. I do put other things in it depending on the situation, but the stuff that I show above are the constant items that I always keep in the daypack.

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