What to Look For in the Best Travel Day Bag

Travelers often will put in a lot of thought into finding the right travel bag for their trip.  They want to be sure they have enough space to carry their belongings, as well as having a convenient way to transport their luggage and access items quickly.  However, many people don’t give the same consideration to their secondary travel day bag.  Yet the functionality and comfort of your day-travel bag can be even more important than your luggage!

After all, this is the bag that you will be taking with you all day long, whether it is on a hike or seeing the sights around town.  If you travel as we do, then you are on the go a lot!  Over the years I’ve had some good travel bags and some terrible bags.  So I’ve learned a lot about what works and what doesn’t.  Here are my tips on what you need to look for to find the best travel day bag for your trip!

Liz and josh dancing in the streets of Ireland with their travel day bags on their shoulders - great for exploring
Our Travel Day Bags make it easy to explore a new city & do a bit of dancing in the street!

Your Travel Day Bag Should Be Small, Yet Mighty!

Having a small profile bag as your secondary travel bag is important.  I have learned this lesson the hard way during my early years of traveling abroad.  On my first trip to London, I carried a larger daytime travel bag and filled it with everything I thought I might possibly need.   What ended up happening was that I killed my back lugging a huge (and heavy) bag around with me all day, full of stuff that I never used!  So my back pain was for nothing.

By choosing a small secondary travel bag, it’s important that it is super functional with pockets and options for the organization.  After all, you don’t want to be rummaging around in one open compartment simply trying to find your wallet!  It is also very important to consider the type of pockets in the bag and how things will stay secure from thieves.  Unfortunately, thieves are out there.  But usually, they are looking for easy targets…so don’t be one of them!  My current travel day bag has pockets within pockets.  This keeps me very organized, but also makes accessing items more difficult for pickpockets.

A look inside my Mountainsmith Rift travel day bag with many pockets
A variety of inside pockets keep me very organized!

Plenty of Inner and Outer Pockets in My Day Travel Bag

Having a variety of pockets inside your daytime travel bag isn’t enough, you also want to have options on the outside of the bag.  The main reason is that there are some items that don’t need to be as secure as others, like maps or sunglasses (at least my $5 sunglasses anyway).  And I want to be able to access these items quicker without having to open the main compartment of the bag.  With my current day bag, I’m able to store these items in convenient outside pockets.

Also, it is nice to have separate outside pockets to store liquid items so that they don’t leak all over your important items inside the main compartment.  For example, I always try to bring a small bottle of bug spray and sunblock with me on my travels.  And I don’t want those small bottles to explode and get all over my cell phone or wallet.

Lastly carrying a bottle of water is very important, especially if you will be out hiking or exploring for long periods of time.  With my previous daytime travel bags, I had to store the water bottle in the main compartment, where it would get knocked around…and usually leak all over my important stuff!  But my new travel bag has a small outer pocket that is made for water bottles, perfect!


Lots of compartments and zippers in my Mountainsmith Rift travel day bag that I use for my trips.
Outside pockets keep liquids from spilling into the main compartment.

Your Day Travel Bag Should Have a Variety of Secure Compartments

Having a combination of zippers, velcro, buttons, and buckles are great for securing items in your daytime travel bag.  Especially on the inside of the main compartment, you don’t want your valuables rolling around or falling out easily.  One of the features that I like about my current secondary travel bag is that there is a clip within a zipper pocket that I can use to hook my wallet and keys, keeping them more secure.

This outside pocket of my Mountainsmith Rift travel day bag has a zipper with a clip inside for extra security of items!
This outside pocket has a zipper with a clip inside!

For the main compartment of the bag, at a minimum, you want to have a full zipper closure or something that closes off the main compartment completely.  Personally, I love my bag because it has a flap that folds over the main pocket and fastens with a buckle.  I can also cinch it good and tight…so no one is getting a hand inside it without getting my attention!   Do not store valuable items on the outside of your bag. 

Padded & Adjustable Straps Make a Difference in Your Day Bag!

Having flexibility with the straps on your secondary travel bag is extremely important.  For Josh and I, we have a certain way that we carry our bags while we are on the road and another way we carry them when we are sightseeing.  You should be able to adjust the straps so they fit your body, but you also want the capability of changing up the format of the straps.  For example, having a crossbody strap is a secure way that I like to carry my daytime travel bag while I’m out sightseeing in a city.  But I can easily switch shoulders, adjust the height, or even hold it by a top handle if I need to.

Overhead shot of Mountainsmith Rift day travel bag while it lays on the carpet
My current daytime travel bag, pockets galore, a great padded strap, and secure closures & flaps – I LOVE it!

Josh’s daytime travel bag is a combination of a crossbody strap with a waist strap, which takes the strain off his back because the weight is carried on his hips.  The great thing about his bag is that he can carry it in the front of his body or on his back, whichever he prefers.  And he can also swap out the straps with backpack-type straps so he can wear it on his shoulders like a backpack!  Having these options are really helpful because you never know what will happen on the road.  Last (but definitely not least), be sure there is adequate padding on the straps.  Nothing is worse than having your bag cut into your shoulder, making your day of exploring miserable!

Our Current (and So Far Favorite) Day Travel Bags!

Right now I carry the Mountainsmith Rift Messenger as my secondary travel bag.  And I must say, I have been thoroughly impressed with this bag in every way!  It has all of the aforementioned features and then some.  For example, there are outside pockets for maps, sunglasses, a water bottle, and sunblock.  On the inside, there are pen pockets (a must when you are a geocacher), zipped pockets, long pockets for paperwork, and even a soft and stretchy band that holds a small laptop or an iPad!  It’s awesome!!!  For a more detailed review of this bag, check out my review of the Moutainsmith Rift Messenger in our gear section.

View of the laptop compartment of my Mountainsmith Rift day travel bag - a great option for traveling with a computer or tablet!
Yep, that’s my laptop in there! Fits items just larger than a tablet.

Josh has a couple of different secondary day travel bags, depending on our activity.  If we are just out for a day hike or to do a bit of geocaching, he brings his Mountainsmith Tour TLS (AKA our “Adventure Bag”).  It has plenty of pockets but is a smaller bag that is convenient to carry around.  It also has plenty of water bottle pockets for longer treks.  But when we are out exploring a city or doing work for the blog, he carries his Mountainsmith Tour FX, which is a larger version of the TLS and is specifically for camera equipment.  This bag has a similar fit and functionality, but the inside is separated with larger, padded pockets that store all of our many electronics and cameras. 

Josh in Grand Cayman looking at a big iguana with his Mountainsmith Tour day travel bag on his back
Josh’s bag keeps him nimble – just in case we need to run from this Iguana who is staring us down!

Everyone Has Different Needs for Their Day Travel Bag, What Are Yours?

Overall everyone has different needs for a secondary travel bag, but it is important to really think about what your needs are and find a bag that is right for you.  You will be amazed at what a difference it will make in your travel experience.  From comfort, functionality, and convenient access to the items you need don’t overlook this critical piece of travel equipment.

Have you discovered a great bag or unique feature that’s useful during travel?  Please share in the comments!

Being Mountainsmith users and fans for years, we were ecstatic to begin working with them.  However, while we may receive free products to test and review, all opinions are strictly our own.


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Pinterest image of me with my Mountainsmith Rift day travel bag hiking on a trail in the fall

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