5 Points to a Great Daypack
Seems simple, but unless you define what activities you do, you'll only be trying the one size fits all method. You'll get a daypack, but not one likely to be used often. It will end up thrown in the closet between the cross-country skis you just had to have, and under the ridiculously flamboyant poncho you picked up on a whim in ol' Mexico. Are you using it to lug books to class? Love hiking the wilderness area near your house? Perhaps you work as a surveyor and need to carry the tools of your trade to lay out a new highway? Some first responders have "Go Bags," ready to leave for emergencies on a moments notice. Knowing what you use your daypack for is the first step to purchasing the right one.
Compartments & Pockets
You figured out what you want to do with your daypack, now ask yourself how many compartments you need to do it? Only School books? One large compartment for books and a small pocket for miscellaneous might do it. Professional photographer? At least 2-3 heavily padded compartments for cameras, lens, flash, and tripods. Small pockets for keys, passport, currency, and credentials, and a separate area for a water bottle. These are 2 clearly different daypacks. The second daypack might also work for the books, but the single compartment one would make the photographer very frustrated, and likely appear like a bumbling novice.
Type & Number of Straps
Huh? These days daypacks come with 1 (mono) strap, 2 straps (padded or rope type), with/without a sternum strap, and with/without a waist-belt. Espresso machine and surround sound sold separately! It's tempting to throw up your hands and say "whatever," but if you do more than walk from the curb to your door, it makes a HUGE difference. Ever hiked down a mountain without a waist-belt, daypack slamming into your back every step? Trail runners will think you're nuts if you don't have a sternum strap to keep it from slipping off you shoulders every time you dodge a rock or hole. I wouldn't want to be rocketing down the highway without knowing I've got secure, fully adjustable straps to keep my pack from tangled round the bikes rear axle either!
If your daypack is an empty bag to throw dirty undies into for laundry day, this feature isn't one you'll need to consider. Outdoor types will tell you a daypack that is hydration compatible is a necessary convenience. Carrying a water bottle in your hand, or taking off your daypack and fumbling around when you're thirsty, makes for a longer, more tedious journey when you should be enjoying yourself. Some daypacks come with water bladders, while others are "hydration compatible," and allow you to purchase a bladder to put in a special compartment that gives you access to the drinking hose. At very least, consider one with an exterior mesh pocket that holds a water bottle.
This one area separates a GREAT daypack from one that's destined for the circular bin. If you're the type of person that skips over points, #5 alone might save you from wasting money on that "bargain" daypack you planned to buy. A highly usable, extremely versatile daypack has a multitude of hooks, loops, zipper pulls, and molle strap attachment points. These features increase the versatility of the daypack by a factor of X. You can easily carry tripods, umbrellas, hiking poles, snowshoes, bike helmets, rainflys, and if so inclined... the kitchen sink! Many first aid kits, camera bags, tactical gear, and ditty bags are already compatible with these additional hooks and molle straps. These attachment points are like owning multiple packs, allowing you to customize one daypack to many different activities.
Whether you use it once a week or spend more time with it than your live-in boyfriend, addressing these points will land you a highly versatile daypack, one you can take anywhere.