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On carrying a daypack

I know there is a lot of discussion in the Rick Steves world about the right daypack to carry, what to carry in it, etc., and I certainly have seen a lot of people carrying a lot of different types of daypacks on my trips to Europe. The last several times I went to Europe, however, I didn't carry a daypack much at all. I thought about it - when I trek from the suburbs to the inner Houston area for the day on a Saturday, to go to museums, the zoo, lunch, the park, etc., do I carry a daypack with me? The answer is no. So I asked myself why carry a daypack when venturing from my hotel in a European city to see that city's sights? I can see in the past why this got started - people carried around big bulky cameras, guidebooks, translators, currency converters, etc, but when all those functions can be found on my smartphone that fits discretely in my pocket, is it really necessary to carry a daypack like a security blanket every day? Now I generally leave mine in my hotel room when I am out exploring a city, and I don't have to worry about the bag getting stolen, or accidentally leaving it at a cafe, or having to worry about checking it at a museum, etc. I have also found that I don't look like a tourist this way, so I get mistaken for a local all the time.

Now I do use my daypack if I am taking a little daytrip out of the city I am staying in, out to the countryside or something like that, just like I would take a daypack when going for a day hike in the countryside outside of Houston. My choice for that is an old classic - the Jansport Superbreak in black. I like that it is small and folds up easily, and isn't overly complicated, just two compartments - the main compartment and a small outer pocket. I like that the design is simple and doesn't have a lot of ornamentation or call attention to itself.

Now I am not saying there is anything wrong with carrying a daypack around a city with you, or that my way is "better", not at all. Just bringing this up in case someone else might want to think about whetehr they really need to carry theirs around with them.

Posted by
2768 posts

I don't carry one, but I do carry a purse. The same purse, with the same stuff, that I use every day at home. I never understood how men can go around all day without a small bag, but that applies in Europe or in Texas :) I carry my wallet, phone, camera (a small one, but significantly better quality than an iPhone, to my eye), small map, and personal necessities. I agree that there's no need to carry the kitchen sink around Prague all day.

I just carry a larger purse on days I need a "daypack". I don't really like backpacks for daypacks (unless hiking), I'd rather a messenger bag that could pass as something a local would carry to/from work. My husband has a basic black messenger bag that he actually uses at home for files and work, and on trips as a "daypack". Backpacks just call too much attention to one's tourist status, which can be a risk.

Posted by
12040 posts

Except for when I'm hiking, where I need to carry water and food for myself and my dog, I never carry any kind of bag either. I don't have any objection, I find I just don't need one. Especially in the colder months, when I have far more pockets at my disposal. Seriously (directed towards the males on this forum), what are you guys lugging around that you need a pack? Now the ladies... I'm not touching that one...

Posted by
991 posts

I do usually carry a small day pack or large purse with me when out and about in a city while on a trip. I rarely would use a day pack at home, but at home I am going everywhere in my car. My car is always parked somewhere nearby, and I can leave the extras in it. When I travel, I use all public transportation. I usually travel in the spring or fall when I sometimes need a jacket and sometimes don't. I always want to take one with me, and I would rather have it in a bag over my shoulder when I'm not wearing it than having to carry it around. I also almost always carry an umbrella in my day pack. I usually have a bottle of water or two in it, and also some maps. At home, the jacket, umbrella and extra water would be left in the car when not in use. At home, I wouldn't need any maps. So that is why I carry one when I travel, but that is just my preference. I'm not worried if it makes me stand out as a tourist. They will know once I open my mouth or start taking pictures of everything anyway. But again, that is just my preference.

Posted by
16 posts

I don't own a Smartphone (can't afford it). So, what kind of day backpack is good for me? I carry a purse most of the time (stateside) with my wallet, 'primitive' cell phone (that sends and receives calls), my check book, credit cards, etc. So, what should I leave behind and take with me?

I will be going to Ireland in the fall for 2 weeks.

Posted by
4171 posts

I find that whether I use a cross-body bag or a daypack, I tend to fill it up with stuff (=weight) that I actually don't need 95% of the time. I also find that the cross-body bag chokes me and that gets worse the heavier it gets. I have gone too big and too small and have yet to discover the "perfect" size to prevent overloading (and choking). I'm religious about wearing a money belt with the real essentials like passport, debit cards, credit card, emergency info [including contacts, health issues, meds] and more cash than I want in my pocket or in my cross-body bag. I never take a wallet or anything that I know I won't need on the trip, period.

For the past several trips, I take these shopping bag totes from that stuff into a 3.5" square pocket and weigh nothing. When I looked them up online, I also discovered this one from the same company that I don't have. When my husband first saw them, he said, "but you can see what's in there." My response was, "exactly." We use them for shopping, carrying water (rare since we usually take so many breaks) and anything else we might like to stuff in them. They can go over a shoulder or hang on an arm. I know it sounds inefficient to be carrying something extra, but they are rarely used and do come in handy when needed.

Posted by
11613 posts

I use my ancient Civita daybag as my second carryon item and when moving from city to city.

For sightseeing I downsize to a messenger bag (mine is a Mandarina Duck) that has two outside pockets (perfect for water and other easy-to-reach items, a small outside zipper compartment for tickets, change, etc., two small inside pockets and one inside zipper compartment. I take my wallet, camera, iPad, journal, water, maps, and there's room for anything I acquire throughout the day (including a picnic lunch). I've only been asked to check it at two museums, otherwise I carry it in. The bag is also water-resistant and easy to clean.

The messenger bag and the Civita bag weigh almost nothing and can be packed flat or rolled inside my 20" carryon.

Posted by
2081 posts


i dont use a day pack for my city stuff at all. I can carry all i need on my body. If i have a jacket and it gets warm, i will check it into the place if they have one, if not i carry it or tie it around my waist.

im sure everyone will have differences though.

happy trails.

Posted by
32239 posts


I don't normally use a Daypack when I'm touring within cities, as my Travel Vest serves as a "wearable Daypack". I normally carry an SLR Lens, spare battery, P&S Camera, Sunglasses, water, Sunblock, perhaps a Guidebook and an Umbrella or Poncho if the weather looks like it might turn bad. My Cellphone (smart or otherwise) is usually on my belt, but I will place it in a pocket in the Vest at times. Like you I'll take a Daypack (usually a Civita bag) if touring in another city as I may also need to pack along a coat and a bit more gear.

I've noticed that many Europeans use a "man purse" (Messenger Bag) rather than Daypacks. That's not something I'd be comfortable with but if that's what they prefer, so be it.

Posted by
5837 posts

I use a Patagonia "Lightweight Travel Pack 26L". It weights less than 12 oz and is low in bulk. It folds/stuffs into a zip pocket but I just lay it flat in my carry on pack.

A light pack is handy in many ways. I've used it to carry my XC ski boots to the trail head when bussing from hotel to ski area. Its handy for shopping in Europe where the don't give you a plastic throwaway bag with a handle. Try walking back to your hotel with 3 or 4 loose cans of beer and pretzels on a snow covered road without a bag.

And if the overheads are full and you are required to gate check your carry on, you can use the pack to at least hold some don't want to loose stuff.

Posted by
12 posts

I use a day bag that folds into it's outer bag, bought at Katmandu an outdoors store in NZ &Australia
I use it at home when I walk to the library which is my way of getting fit for travel
I do have a man bag which I would use if I thought it would allow me to pass as a local but doubt if that would work in Spain. Got away with it in the UK as we were asked for directions on four occasions last year (and yes we had the right answer on three of those )

The day bag carries a water bottle, raincoat ( it also stuffs down small) and a pack of tissues, of course I don't need that stuff at home, just books

Posted by
1976 posts

I use a cross-body LeSportSac bag when I travel. The size is perfect and it's lightweight. On vacation (in the U.S. and abroad) I carry a camera, water bottle, map, and other items that I don't bring with me when I'm out and about at home. I also like being able to tuck small souvenirs into my bag without having to carry multiple bags of purchases.

Posted by
484 posts

DayPack - I don't think there is a one size fits everyone solution. I carry a daypack, but am also carrying stuff for 3 people. (my husband, myself, and child). I find it useful on days when I'm away from the hotel all day and won't return until the end of day. I carry small binoculars (bird watching), snacks, lunches, camera, travel book, water bottles. Depending on where we are going - I also carry raincoats, tickets, fleece vests, etc.. I put cc, cash, ID, etc. into a neck pouch rather than my pack.

For myself - I prefer a small pack. Something about 14" x 13 1/2" x 4" or so. For the gang - an 18" pack.

I would test-pack. Decide what you need to carry with you. Then, put it into a bag you already have. Walk around with it for 20 minutes. Do you need more or less space? Weight? Will the strap cut into your neck after a while? Would a back pack or messenger bag or large purse be better?

I like that the backpack does not have a strap that "cuts" into my neck. Plus, it frees-up my arms and distributes the weight more evenly.
Eagle Creek and Outlander have daypacks that compact into their own pockets.

Posted by
559 posts

Got hooked on the Civita bag that Rick carries when I planned a trip to Italy in 2007 and three trips later take it with me most every day. It is small enough to wad up and stick in my RS convertible bag that I carry on the airplane (go ahead and say it... I'm a groupie), makes a nice pillow with a shirt or sweater stuffed into it, or if I want I can stuff it empty in my pants pocket if necessary. I usually carry a cell phone w/camera, water, a guide book, a small map, glasses and leave room for something I might buy. I know ladies, why don't I just get a purse? Well, in some ways that's what it is. I've even used it in my home town or domestic travel when the opportunity presents itself. Long story short, personal preferences dictate what we do when we travel and we should all do what works for us.

Posted by
2616 posts

I prefer to use the same items when I'm traveling as I do at home, so I use my regular Coach bag because it's big enough to hold my usual purse stuff plus travel-only items like camera and small guidebook, perhaps a snack, and it can hold small purchases. It's a cross-body style with a secure closure. I also have a funky canvas messenger bag purchased on Etsy that holds a bit more, and I also like Le Sportsac bags because they are light-weight, roomy and adjust from regular to cross-body lengths. I actually don't take my usual wallet when traveling, though, since it's bulky and instead I use a 5" x 7" lightweight zipped wristlet pouch; holds foreign currency with ease, coins and my ID plus a couple of credit cards.

Posted by
29 posts

Glad I saw this thread! I'm not much of a "daypack" person, but since I've never been to Europe, I assumed it would be something I'd need to do. However, you make excellent points. I usually carry a small cross-body purse (large enough to hold my smartphone, chapstick, etc.) around Chicago, and I suppose there's no real reason for it to be any different elsewhere (especially when I could probably walk 10 minutes back to where I'm staying if I need anything). Good things to think about!

Posted by
2 posts

When I travel I only bring two: a Kelty Redtail, [1,800 cubic inches, 13.5 x 21 x 13 inches] for clothes and such like regular luggage and a small messenger bag when I am out and about exploring a new city, Everest Luggage Canvas Compact Messenger [4 x 12 x 11 inches; 1.8 pounds]. Both can be found in Amazon and I highly recommend them. Frankly I think a daybag is much too big for excursions into town--overkill, but I personally need something to stash my Nikon, small tablet--for e-books when bored or checking online hours of operations etc..., water bottle on the side, I have a Moleskine [I like to draw/sketch when I travel], postcards, receipts, travel organizer, a sandwich or snacks, you know small things like that. A small messenger bag is perfect, backpacks are generally not allowed in museums but I have had better luck with my small messenger bag. Plus, you can wear it on the side so you are less likely to get pick-pocketed [unlike a backpack] or when you buy something and your far from your hotel you can put in you messenger bag as opposed to carrying it around in you hands all day.

Posted by
223 posts

I just got back from a domestic trip, but the torture of being involuntarily separated from my chargers at the gate is my new 'global issue'. USAirways, I'm talking to you. I'm 61, and just vain enough not to want to look like a hiker wannabe, but I saw an advertisement for a tote/pocketbook/backpack convertible thing with a price of $150.00. Yes, I noticed that I've remembered just about everything but the brand. Does anyone know of such an object?

Posted by
1887 posts

I found a great Longchamp bag at duty Free several trips's a super lightweight daypack that folds up into almost nothing. I pack in my carry on, and use it when sightseeing to carry my camera, water, scarf, small items.

I did use a cross body bag for a few trips, but I like the daypack better, it's lighter weight and I don't notice it on my back, but it's large enough for the things that are needed for a day out...and my rain coat can fit in it too, if necessary. it is also pretty darn secure so I don't worry about any hands getting into it. No zippers, it cinches closed at the top by pulling the shoulder straps, then there is a leather cover over that.

Don't travel with a "daypack" unless we are going on a hiking trip in Europe, and I plan to use it on the trail with hydration.

Don't really need a large bag for sightseeing.

Posted by
895 posts

My favorite travel bag is a Derek Alexander shoulder bag. It has a wide strong strap that is long enough to wear crossbody and is adjustable. It's lightweight and has lots of zippered pockets and a flap covering the zippered opening where I keep the cash I need for the day and which I wear next to my body. It's well over 10 years old and still looks good after many travels. It carries my camera, a small water bottle and change purse with ease. Also good for carrying what I need on the plane and goes under the seat while my carry-on is in the overhead. Similar bags by DA cost around $50 here in Canada. Every so often I have gone to get ready for a trip and found some money still stashed away in one of its many pockets!

Posted by
8156 posts

My travel life got a lot more pleasant when I learned that I don't need to haul a lot of stuff when out and about around town. I rarely carry a purse when traveling, particularly in fall, winter or spring when the weather is not hot. There are lots of travel clothes with hidden pockets, and in warm weather I will wear a travel shirt with a hidden pocket behind the shirt pocket. You can tuck a phone in a jeans pocket, meds in the watch pocket, a few tissues and a chapstick in the other jeans pocket and stow money in a hidden shirt pocket that is not accessible to pickpockets. With a coat (I use a lightweight trench by scottevest that has 18 hidden pockets) it is easy to have a guidebook in an outer pocket and a small camera.

When we go on day trips out of Paris or Rome or wherever, then we take a lightweight nylon messenger bag that will hold water, umbrella, sweater, guidebook etc -- but with a little planning we seldom need to carry much when in a location. If I am doing serious photography then I take the camera bag for the SLR and use it as a purse arranging it cross body and keeping it forward and under my arm in crowded settings.

For years I would get headaches or get tired lugging a giant purse on my shoulder all day with all those things you might need but usually don't. Figuring out the minimum to get by and how to carry it without luggage really makes travel more pleasant.

Posted by
3 posts

I like mandarina duck work crossover for carrying my wallet, camera, cellphone, small note pad

Posted by
1221 posts

I go with a medium-sized cross body purse when I'm around town because I hate having anything in my pants pockets, (keys poking my hip bones drives me nuts) and it's really only coats with pockets season for about four months a year. The purse gets a little bigger for urban travel because I want to put a DSL camera and one of those light raincoats that folds up to the size of a small ziploc baggie in there.

I so love being able to put guidebooks and public transit guides onto a smartphone- even in airplane mode with no wifi nearby it's still a very useful and very compact device.

Posted by
2788 posts

I carry a RS day bag every day I go out of the house, whether in Seattle, Hawaii, or Europe. I find it just too handy to carry all of the things I normally take along with me - rain coat, sun glasses, newspaper, misc. pills, camera, check book. It has become a habit ever since my first European trip in 2002.

Posted by
5837 posts

I'm guessing that you take the bus in you travels around town. Carrying a pack or bag is more necessary when walking, biking and/or using transit than when traveling by private automobile. Even if one doesn't need a day pack at the start of one's walkabout, a compact shopping bag is handy with so many places going "green" and not dispensing throwaway bags.

Posted by
502 posts

I love how some say that carrying a backpack would make you look like a tourist.

Haven't you all seen how many locals carry backpacks? In fact, my Austrian friend on face book regularly takes a backpack with her. The messenger bag is popular with men in Europe.

I take a cross body bag. There are things I want to keep with me..snacks (hypoglycaemic), sunglasses (prescription), water which I don't want to hold, and phone.