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Women's Backpacks
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Petra S

Locale: Ohio
Women's Backpacks on 02/15/2014 13:43:41 MST Print View

Hi! I am new to backpacking and am looking for advice. My next purchase is a backpack. On my first hike in years, I rented a Kelty external frame from my son's Boy Scout troop for $3. While it was comfortable, the leader griefed me the whole time.

Now, I am looking for a pack that I can adjust to different situations. I want to do everything from overnights to a couple of weeks. Since I am only buying one pack, I am looking for something versatile. Please advise me on everything from size to what extras would be good to have on a pack.


Dena Kelley

Locale: Eagle River, Alaska
"Women's Backpacks" on 02/15/2014 14:53:17 MST Print View

My advice is don't get too hung up on the gender specific packs. They do have some advantages- somewhat narrower on the shoulder straps where they connect to the bag, the shoulder straps sometimes come in an S shape to go around the outside of the breasts which is nicer for large busted women, often the sternum strap is lower to accommodate the breasts, and the hip belt is made somewhat differently to accommodate wider hips and usually is somewhat cushier.

That said, for me the most important aspect of a pack turned out to be the length. I didn't realize until a couple years ago that I have a freakishly long torso for a woman - my torso is 21" measured from the knobby part of the spine that can be seen just below the neck when you tilt your neck forward to the line at my hipbones. It explained a lot about why so many packs just made me miserable. I got a Granite Gear Vapor Trail in a long and I love that pack. It's so incredibly comfortable. Would a Granite Gear in a women's cut feel better for me? Maybe, but I have zero complaints about this bag. The shoulder straps feel fine, their attachment points are fine, the hip belt is cushy and feels great.

Since you want just one, I'd focus just getting one that fits you well (get measured by someone who knows what they're doing) that will hold your maximum load but that has plenty of compression straps so you can adjust it for width and length. Leaving your sleeping bag loose inside the pack can do wonders for filling in the gaps when you have a small loadout. I've gotten where I prefer not to compress my sleeping bag into a stuff sack because I can feel it like a hard lump against my back, where if I leave it uncompressed and just use it to fill in the open space in the bag it's more comfortable and it keeps my load more stable to boot. It also lofts more quickly when I take it out at camp. I do use a pack liner to keep everything dry inside.

For size, I can only guess but you're probably going to want something that will do 50-60 liters. That will be less if you go full UL, and more if you have heavy/bulky gear. A lot of people like the Osprey Exos line as a nice balance between lightweight and comfort. They make a 48L and a 58L pack. Granite Gear makes some women-specific models. You probably want to steer away from frameless UL type backpacks for now unless you've already fine-tuned your weight down to less than 20 lbs. Most frameless packs cease to be comfortable once you go over the 20 lb mark. I'd avoid most Gregory, Arcteryx, North Face, etc. which are heavily stocked at REI but are generally rather heavy. Shoot for a pack that weighs less than 3 lbs - less being better. The Exos 58 I mentioned above is 2lb 6oz for a medium torso length.

For options- that's going to depend on you. Some people love to have outside pockets/mesh and others hate it because those things can snag on brush when you're walking through it. Some people like a removable top bag and some people see them as unnecessary and one more thing to fail. Some people like a zippered bag, some people prefer the more bombproof drawstring design. Personally I like to have two side pockets on my bag and rear mesh, and then on the hip belt I like pockets also so I've got access to some items without having to reach behind me (which can be awkward) or taking my pack off. Not all packs come with hipbelt pockets- my pack doesn't, but the person I bought it from added a couple in cuben fiber and they work great.

Edited by EagleRiverDee on 02/15/2014 15:05:20 MST.

hwc 1954
(wcollings) - M
Osprey options on 02/15/2014 15:50:37 MST Print View

You may end up getting two packs -- something for day hikes and something bigger for overnights. I have an Osprey Atmos 50 that I use for overnights and for winter day hikes (more room for jackets, lashing snow shoes, etc.)

The women's version of this pack is the Osprey Aura 50.

Like the EXOS 48 (and the smaller day pack Stratos/Sirrus packs), it has the Airspeed suspension -- a very light metal frame that holds the pack away from your back. All of these models are available in three sizes to accommodate the "torso length" issue mentioned above.

Compared to the EXOS, the Aura 50 weighs 8 ounces more. For the added weight, you get much more substantial (i.e. comfortable) shoulder straps and waist belt plus more zipper storage pockets and so forth. It's really a function of whether there is enough increased comfort to offset 8 ounces of weight (one cup of water). At least for me, the Atmos/Aura 50 is insanely comfortable. it's more comfortable than my smaller day pack for reasons I haven't figured out since they are basically identical except for size.

These three series (EXOS, Atmos/Aura, and Stratus/Sirrus) would be at the top of the list to look at when you go pack shopping. I use a Stratos 34 for day hiking in the summer. It's not big enough for backpacking. The Atmos/Aura 50 could be an all around pack. A little small for long backpacking trips (although people hike the Appalachian Trail with it), maybe a little overkill for day hiking.

All of these have built in pockets and access points for Osprey water reservoirs (or any other brand).

cody yochum

Locale: Nor Cal
ULA on 02/15/2014 17:44:59 MST Print View

Check out ULA. I just recently picked up the circuit and it is more comfortable for me than the osprey atmos or talon 44. They have S straps if u have a larger bust. And like others have said the right size is key. I have had poor fitting packs before and always end up with sore traps.

Jennifer Mitol
(Jenmitol) - M

Locale: In my dreams....
Re: ULA on 02/15/2014 17:53:29 MST Print View

Pack fit is a VERY personal thing. But just FYI I lent my ospreys to several female friends and every single one of them complained about the shoulder straps pulling back and digging into their collarbones. Which is why the packs were delegated to my "lend" pile...because I couldn't wear it either.

The problem is that it felt great in the was only after wearing it around for a few days did we notice it.

I really liked the S straps of ULA.

+1 on not worrying about gender specific packs. I gave up a long time ago....

Greg Mihalik
(greg23) - M

Locale: Colorado
Re: Re: Packs on 02/15/2014 18:44:52 MST Print View

Also, the general council is to tune and refine your gear, and Then buy a pack that is the right volume. Buying the pack first almost forces you to get one that May Be larger than you need.

But if a pack is high on your list, "just because", then go with one that will have good re-sale value. Then you will have the option and ease of selling it to move into exactly what works at a later date.

Edited by greg23 on 02/15/2014 18:48:26 MST.

Luke Schmidt
(Cameron) - MLife

Locale: The WOODS
Exped Lightnight on 02/15/2014 18:50:37 MST Print View

Might help to know what type of load you are carrying. I'm inclined to think it will be on the heavy side occasionally if you're doing longer trips and trips with scouts.

I am a big fan of the Exped Lighting Packs(45 and 60 liter version). They carry a load VERY well and have an adjustable torso length. There are men's and women's specific version. The women's version is for sale on Amazon right now.

The downsides are that this pack doesn't have tone of pockets and the frame is a bit tall (24 inches). That just means even on a weekend hike your pack will be a bit tall. Might be worth it though because its a really comfortable pack.

Edit - The Exped Lighting 45 is on for just $112. If you want a light internal frame pack there aren't much better deals then that.

Edited by Cameron on 02/15/2014 19:05:18 MST.

Dena Kelley

Locale: Eagle River, Alaska
And check the Gear Swap! on 02/15/2014 19:02:26 MST Print View

Once you decide what you want, if you aren't in a huge hurry, check the Gearswap for a while. I have seen lots of the packs we're discussing here on Gearswap on a routine basis. The nice thing is if you buy it on Gearswap and then it isn't the right pack for you, you can probably sell it on Gearswap for what you have in it. That won't happen with a new pack, where you're going to take a hit on the sell price even if it's new-with-tags.

Petra S

Locale: Ohio
New Pack on 02/18/2014 12:44:03 MST Print View

Thanks for all the advice! I'm going to get a friend to come with me to try them out. But, it's the need for a backpack that has made me post. I would love to get all my gear first, but the Boy Scout bag does't have the needed room for more than a weekend and then I don't carry a tent or stove right now.

It's the different additional things like pockets etc that I'm trying to decide if I need. I also want this to work for awhile since $ is tight right now.


Mark Ries
(mtmnmark) - M

Locale: IOWAHHHHHHHHH!!!!!!!!
Re: New Pack on 02/18/2014 15:10:35 MST Print View

+1 to all that's been said especially Dena comments on getting used off gear swap, I am also partial to the old vapor trails and gender specific really is dependant on the individual. Running wanted to buy threads have worked well for me here and my satisfaction with buying items off BPL has been very high. If money is tight you can't do better and most everything has been close to new in condition or acuratly described

Donna C
(leadfoot) - M

Locale: Middle Virginia
Re: New Pack on 02/19/2014 03:59:01 MST Print View

I have a ULA Circuit and really like it. The adjustability of the torso is pretty good. I have a short torso and this is the only pack that actually fits me well.

Petra S

Locale: Ohio
Packs on 02/20/2014 16:53:17 MST Print View

Had a fellow packer try and sell me his Ospry, but after just putting it over my shoulders, I said no. I'm going to get a friend to go out with me to look at packs, just so I can get an idea of what to buy and then just look for deals.

Again, thanks for the help!

Myles Booth
(mbooth0007) - F
packs on 02/20/2014 20:01:44 MST Print View

Depending on how much you are carrying, i would check out the golite jam 70, or, 50. For the price, and comfort, i dont think you can beat it. They are dont offer an external frame, and dont know what your experinence with internal frame/no frame packs is. But they do offer load lifters, which helps.Their packs are unisex. Like it was said before, i wouldnt focus so much On gender specific packs, and focus more on what is more comfortable for you, and what your realistic weight load is.also, like it was said before, go to your local outfitter, and try some things on, and compare your finds. I am currently in the process of outfitting my wife, and in some ways, feel your pain. Best of luck.

J Dos Antos
(Damager) - M

Locale: Redwoods of Santa Cruz Mts
+1 for ULA on 02/20/2014 21:36:17 MST Print View

My GF is ~6 ft tall with a medium torso and long legs. She has trouble sizing backpacking gear. She gave up on gender specific clothing/gear years ago.

When she decided to make the transition to UL, I bought her a ULA Circuit and she initially had trouble with the sizing/S straps. She went back and forth with Chris at ULA (several e-mails and pics of her wearing the pack). ULA ended up shipping her a different size free of charge, though as I recall, I think she did pay return shipping for the other pack. Not sure if I'm remembering that correctly.

Anyway, Chris is great to deal with, as is the rest of the ULA staff. I think ULA offers the best packs for people interested in transitioning from heavier loads to a lighter base weight. Their packs blend many of the comforts of larger packs with the more minimalist tone of UL packs.

Initially, I think it makes the most sense to buy a pack with a frame. Once you dial in the rest of your gear, and if you decide you definitely prefer UL style backpacking, then experiment with a frameless pack.

Good luck with your search.

Edited by Damager on 02/20/2014 21:36:58 MST.

Jennifer Mitol
(Jenmitol) - M

Locale: In my dreams....
Re: +1 for ULA on 02/22/2014 07:24:27 MST Print View

Yeah Petra, I would add on to all these folks recommending the ULA. Err on the side of it being too tall, and definitely try the S straps. I think that's what made the difference for me on my shoulders (I've had a years-long drama with packs that actually leave sores on my collarbones..either top or front, depending on the pack - I have ridiculously bony shoulders).

Anyway, after trying SO many packs (and returning/selling more than I'd like to admit) I ended up falling in love with the Gorilla. Not necessarily because of THAT pack, but because it was accidentally a teeny bit too big! The wide straps of gossamer gear helped with my bony shoulder problem, and having the torso a teeny bit too long helped keep the whole complex away from my shoulders as much as possible.

I'd strongly recommend emailing Chris at ULA. Their packs really are a wonderful way to chop about 2-3 pounds off your base weight without really having the drink all the UL kool aid. At least for now, anyway........ Ha!

Glenn S

Locale: Snowhere, MN
Yup. Circuit. on 02/22/2014 07:51:22 MST Print View

Being mostly a cycler instead of a hiker, I don't have closets full of cottage made packs. So when I started hiking, then moved closer to UL, I tried to find the crowd favorite, and anything from ULA seems to reign the market. Not that there aren't other great packs, but ULA sure seems to be on top. I went with a Circuit and everyone was right. I have no complaints at all.

The pack and hipbelt are selected seperately for size, and the height is somewhat adjustable based on where the hipbelt attaches, via monstrously industrial velcro. The only downside I found, was trying not to bring the kitchen sink on shorter hikes. It's just a tad heavy to be a true UltraLight pack, but at only a bit over 2 lbs, it gets most of its weight from its durability.

So anyway, another ULA circuit fan pulling the handle for a +1 here.

Petra S

Locale: Ohio
Picking Backpacks on 03/04/2014 11:37:25 MST Print View

Oh my. I was visiting NYC this past weekend with my daughter and came across the REI store. Of course I just had to go in and try on backpacks.

I found out that I have a 15 1/2" torso, and nothing there was great. The best was the Osprey Aura in small, but I wasn't impressed. I'm going to be looking around NEOhio now, but are there any men's packs that are small enough? I am not well-endowed by any stretch so I don't know if the S-straps are all that important. I've been looking at the kid's packs too, but they aren't big enough volume-wise.

Any more advice is helpful :) Thanks!

Eric Osburn
(osb40000) - MLife
ULA on 03/04/2014 11:49:07 MST Print View

The kids Circuit goes from 12" to 18" and the small is 15" to 18".

I own a Circuit and love it. Sounds like you have a very small frame so hopefully someone with a similar build can chime in.

Kenda Willey
Re: Women's backpacks on 03/04/2014 18:11:05 MST Print View

Yes, you can watch this forum, but if you're a beginning backpacker, I'd advise you to try on different packs at a brick-and-mortar store. REI is good for this, because they've got helpful staff and oodles of different packs to try on; so take a few things that you'll be packing in your backpack (a sleeping bag, some food & water, etc.) and go try some packs on. REI is expensive, but you can return items. I think the bpl forums will be more useful for you once you have a better idea of what you want (i.e., UL or not, women's or not, etc.).
I agree with another poster on this thread: It doesn't have to be a women's pack. I have gravitated to women's packs over the past few years, but I still think that weight and cost are more important. Two of my packs are Gregorys for women--a brand that another poster has called "heavy" and it's true they're not really light, but I like their fit. And check out the Osprey Hornets and Talons. If you're a beginning backpacker, you probably don't have ultralight gear (yet), so you probably don't want an ultralight pack (yet). Let ultralight be part of your future.