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ultralight pack that will fit very small woman well
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Dawn Bustanoby
ultralight pack that will fit very small woman well on 05/16/2014 16:49:32 MDT Print View

I'm a 5'3" 100 pound woman. I've been working had to get my base weight down over the past few years (I was raised by a mountain rescue guru to bring everything I could ever need, so it's been a major mindset-change.) I'm down to a base of about 14 pounds, which includes a hammock/tarp/quilt set (which I've been fanatically researching and reducing), and clothing for my local Pacific Northwest conditions (cold and wet..I probably have some room to go here.) It also includes a few luxury items I'm sure I *could* do without but I'm not quite ready to part with (iPhone & extra battery, quality point & shoot camera...) I think the one biggie I have yet to tackle is a pack.

I'm currently using the Deuter ACT light women's pack, which weighs 54oz. I haven't taken the scissors to it yet, as I'm not convinced I can cut that much weight from it, and wonder if selling it as is and changing packs is a better option. This pack is SO comfortable that I'm really hesitant to let it go for something without a frame and good hip belt.

A good, padded, well-fitted hip belt still seems crucial to me. I prefer to cary most of the weight in my hips and very little in my shoulders. So a pack that doesn't get the hip belt fit right and let me get most of the weight in the hips is what I imagine I want. I'm guessing most other women also want the weight in the hips. But in researching ultralight packs, I haven't found any women-specific models or ones that seem to address this issue.

I'd love to know what other women use and prefer. Is the hip belt concern as real as I imagine?

Also, where do people go to try on some of these ultra-light models for fit?

Any suggestions for the tiny hikers will be appreciated!
Seattle, WA

Elena Lee
(lenchik101) - F - MLife

Locale: Pacific Northwest (USA)
osprey on 05/16/2014 16:57:59 MDT Print View

I live in Seattle and have used Osprey Talon 33 (5-2 and 115). I do have small equipment though and everything I carry fits in (base weight of 10 pds). I've attached some extra cords on top in case i wanted to expand the carrying capacity. I've modified a pack a bit to remove extra slings, pockets, etc. I love the frame, the pack is super comfortable even though it's not technically "ultralight".

Edited by lenchik101 on 05/16/2014 16:58:39 MDT.

Valerie E
(Wildtowner) - M

Locale: Grand Canyon State
RE: ultralight pack that will fit very small woman well on 05/16/2014 17:27:26 MDT Print View

Well, firstly, I'm amazed that Elena can backpack multiple days with a 33 liter pack. Wow, rock ON, girl! When I lived in the northeast, my daypacks were larger than that!

Now, for the rest of us...

Dawn, I'm assuming that you're using the women's Deuter 60+10 Act Lite, that the capacity of the pack is about right for your gear, and that you want a FRAMED pack to transfer the weight to your hips. If that assumption is correct, a UL pack will only be 1-1.5 pounds lighter than your Deuter, at a cost of $230 - $250. Worth it? Only you can say.

There are very few places that actually stock "cottage gear" packs, so unless you live in certain areas of the country (Denver, San Francisco, L.A., Seattle) you will probably not be able to try on the pack before you buy it. That said, if you order a "standard" version of a pack and it doesn't fit you, most cottage gear companies will allow you to return it (in new condition) for a full refund (you pay return shipping).

So how do you know if it's going to fit? You don't 100%, but cottage gear manufacturers will be happy to talk to you - at length - on the phone to help ensure that you'll get a good fit. Obviously, they want you to be happy with their packs.

Very few cottage gear companies make "women-specific" packs, but many of them have options for their "unisex" packs that will help a woman get a good fit. In particular, most make "S" straps to accommodate a woman's chest, and many have dual hipbelt adjustments, which help "fine tune" the fit on a woman's curvier hips.

Take a good look at the videos on the websites for, in particular:

- Six Moon Designs (esp. the Fusion 65, which is a fully-adjustable pack like the Deuter, and weighs 2.5 lbs)

- ULA (Ultralight Adventure Equipment), esp. the Circuit or the Catalyst

- Gossamer Gear, esp. the Mariposa.

I think watching those videos and reading the spec.s on those websites will give you a much better idea of what you can get. There are MANY other choices if you want a smaller pack -- but that will depend of what type of backpacking you're doing, in what weather/terrain, and how long your trips are.

Dawn Bustanoby
thanks! on 05/16/2014 17:36:53 MDT Print View

Thanks so far! My current pack is the 45+10 and for my current gear and length of trips it seems about right. At about 3.5 pounds that seemed super light compared to my old pack, but when I look at ultralight models around 2.5 pounds, it seems I could get significantly lighter; 2 pounds seems like a big difference.

I too *wish* I could get into the Osprey 33, but that seems unobtainable without ditching my hammock...and that would make me sad.

I'll totally check out the links/packs you've suggested!

Luke Schmidt
(Cameron) - MLife

Locale: The WOODS
More Ideas on 05/16/2014 18:13:59 MDT Print View

My mom loves here Ospray Exos 46 you might check out the 58 liter version. Also you might check out the Exped Lighting 60, womens models seem to go on sale more often.

I imagine the top pocket of your pack is removable you could take that off to save a few oz. For a 14 pound kit a 3.5 pound pack isn't horrible, if it fits I'd be careful replacing it.

Susan Papuga
(veganaloha) - M

Locale: USA
Try these packs on 05/16/2014 22:10:47 MDT Print View

I'm 5'-2" and weigh 115lbs.

For a regular manufacturer, try the GoLite 50L Jam in size small. It weighs just under 2 lbs. this new unisex Jam is the same as the old women specific 50L Pinnacle, which I have been using for the past 4 years and still love. My base weight is just under 9 lbs, but I have carried almost 30lbs of water, food. & gear quite easily in it.

If you want custom, about the only cottage shop that makes packs to order for individual customers is ZPacks. Joe and his crew are a pleasure to work with and will make you anything you want. I just got a new custom fit Arc Blast and I really like it. It is rated to carry up to 30lbs and it weighs 1 lb.

Most of the other cottage guys, like SMD, MLD & GG, are really small manufacturers that make packs in batches so customizing beyond standard sizes isn't an option.

Sharon J.
(squark) - F

Locale: SF Bay area
smd fusion caution on 05/16/2014 22:19:21 MDT Print View

Just a quick caveat about the SMD fusion - you would need *really* broad shoulders to fit the yoke; at least, the straps were much too far apart for me. I'm just shy of 5'6", and of average proportions. The hipbelt is great though.

Edited by squark on 05/16/2014 22:19:59 MDT.

Dawn Bustanoby
thanks! on 05/16/2014 23:39:41 MDT Print View

Great specific suggestions, thanks! Just the kind of info I was looking for.

Donna Chester
(leadfoot) - M

Locale: Middle Virginia
Re: thanks! on 05/17/2014 05:12:59 MDT Print View

I have had a Deuter, Jam, Pinnacle and now the Circuit. Deuter was overkill for me....the Jam and Pinnacle were great until I needed to carry heavier weight over 25 lbs and found it bothered my shoulders. I now use the smaller Jam for overnight summer jaunts where I can go sub 10 Lbs, got rid of the Pinnacle and use the Circuit as my go to pack. I love that thing. I have the curved shoulder straps. The hip belt is just fine...very comfortable with double adjustable straps.

Just because a pack is 2 lbs, doesn't mean your base load will be heavy too. I can use the pack and still keep things low depending on the length of trip. Six days in Glacier and I was 24 lbs with food.

HMG makes some nice packs, too.

Edited by leadfoot on 05/17/2014 05:24:20 MDT.

Ken Bennett
(ken_bennett) - F

Locale: southeastern usa
Re: ultralight pack that will fit very small woman well on 05/17/2014 06:52:46 MDT Print View

I finally got my lovely wife into a ULA Circuit, after her decade-old Osprey Ariel bit the dust. She has been trying on lightweight packs for years and never found one that fit -- they all seemed to have very wide straight shoulder straps that dug into both her neck and her chest, and hip belts that met in the middle without tightening. (Yes, these were "small" packs.)

The Circuit is the first one that she's used that has a great shoulder harness system (the S-curve straps), and a hip belt that fits properly. It fits much like her beloved Osprey but weighs almost 2 pounds less. On its maiden voyage a couple of weeks ago, she didn't mention the pack at all except to note that it felt great the whole time.

Not sure about the sizing of ULA packs for you -- but the folks there are pretty good at customer service and pack fitting over the phone.

Good luck.

Michelle A
(mauhler31) - F
zpacks on 05/17/2014 08:27:34 MDT Print View

I'm tiny as well (4'11") and I use the zpacks arc blast. You choose the torso size and hip belt length. I've carried up to 25lbs no problem. They have a return policy if it doesn't fit. It has good support and frame for a 1 lb pack.

Previously I used the older rei flash , which was around 2.5 lbs.

Susan Papuga
(veganaloha) - M

Locale: USA
Re: ultralight pack that will fit very small woman well on 05/17/2014 10:06:22 MDT Print View

Oh yeah.

You asked where you could see and try on all the cottage industry and other UL packs we've been discussing. One such event is the ADZPCTKO held at Lake Morena Campground every year. Google it. This is the Kick-Off for the PCT thru-hiking season and happens every year at the end of April. You just missed it.

If you are not in a hurry you could go next year. There are other UL meet ups in different places thru-out the year , but I 'm not sure how many if any vendors show up like they do at Kick-Off.

Also at 14 lbs, your base weight is still high enough that it's considered lightweight , not ultra light, which is sub-10 lbs. No judgement! The good news is that you can still get the rest if your gear weight down a few lbs before getting a new pack.

Remember, you should buy your pack last. You may even find you don't need as much volume as your gear gets lighter and smaller. My suggestion is to review your entire kit and look for ways to drop another 3 lbs or so before you buy a new pack. Look at the gear lists posted here for ideas. I know many, like mine, May be out of date, but you may still get some good ideas.

Valerie E
(Wildtowner) - M

Locale: Grand Canyon State
Framed vs. Frameless Packs on 05/17/2014 10:29:34 MDT Print View

Dawn, some of the suggestions people have made are for frameless packs. If you are really interested in transferring pack weight to your hips, you'll want a pack with a frame. That said, there are still numerous choices from a variety of manufacturers, but the framed/frameless issue is something you should take into account.

stephen korpi
( - M

Locale: Portland Oregon
Ultralight Pack for Small Women on 05/17/2014 11:29:59 MDT Print View

At the shop I work at, we've had a lot of luck with the Hyperlite Mountain Gear Windrider. Their small fits smaller than most packs. You could also try the Granite Gear Blaze AC Ki is very popular, and is women specific.

Donna Chester
(leadfoot) - M

Locale: Middle Virginia
Re: Framed vs. Frameless Packs on 05/17/2014 12:59:58 MDT Print View

ULA packs are not considered frameless, just in case you wanted one that wasn't. I think they have a carbon rod and hoop for structure.
Good luck with your search!

Dawn Bustanoby
such good suggestions! on 05/17/2014 14:18:32 MDT Print View

So many good suggestions.

I'm definitely going to take my time and use what I have this season and see how much lighter (& less bulky) I can get my base before the pack purchase. Meanwhile, I'll keep researching all the options you have given. I really appreciate the small details (like shoulder width, frameless vs frame, etc. ) Very helpful!

Valerie E
(Wildtowner) - M

Locale: Grand Canyon State
Re: such good suggestions! on 05/17/2014 14:43:58 MDT Print View

Dawn, you sound very wise!

If you're keeping your Deuter for this season, give serious consideration to Luke's suggestion of removing the pack's top pocket. You'll probably get a 5-6oz weight reduction just from that (!) and it will prepare you for UL packs (which don't normally have top pockets).

Roger Caffin
(rcaffin) - BPL Staff - MLife

Locale: Wollemi & Kosciusko NPs, Europe
Re: ultralight pack that will fit very small woman well on 05/17/2014 15:45:31 MDT Print View

Hi Dawn

> This pack is SO comfortable that I'm really hesitant to let it go for something
> without a frame and good hip belt.

The really big danger comes when someone lets ideaology trump practicality. Of course there are lighter packs around, but many of them will not suit you. And the phrase 'suit you' is what you really need to focus on: how happy you feel at the end of day 5 of the trip. If you have shaved 8 oz off your pack weight but have acquired aching shoulders from your new lighter pack, have you improved your life?

I will argue that pack comfort should (easily) outrank pack weight as a criterion. I will add that this is even more important for females, especially small females.


Peter Bakwin
(pbakwin) - F
Packs on 05/17/2014 17:11:58 MDT Print View

My petite spouse has used the Jam a lot and is happy with it generally (for a frameless pack). But, the small size Jam (older model) does not fit a bear can well. She ended up getting a GG Mariposa to fit the can & for the superior suspension. She has not backpacked with it yet, but reported good results from a test hike. She also considered the Arc Blast, which I have & like a lot, but she went with the Mariposa because of the shorter lead time to get it as well as the fact that the Arc Blast is a little more "fiddley", and she hates fiddley.

Susan Papuga
(veganaloha) - M

Locale: USA
Frame versus Frameless on 05/17/2014 17:44:39 MDT Print View

There seems to an assumption that a frameless pack will automatically be less comfortable or not carry weight as well or not transfer weight to the hips as well as a framed pack. Nothing could be further from the truth!

Obviously fit and weight transfer are critical characteristics to consider for any new pack choice. I would go so far as to say my frameless packs all fit and carry weight far better than the framed packs I've used. I have GoLite 50L Pinnacle and 35L Jam and Gossamer Gear Murmur and Hyperlight. All are extremely comfortable and carry well. As does my ZPacks ArcBlast thus far.

So don't get hung up on needing a frame to avoid having sore shoulders or back. That's not really true. If the frameless pack you choose fits you properly AND you keep your base weight down, you'll be fine. That really is the whole point of the ultralight goal after all.

There will always be an occasion where the combination of fresh multi-day resupply and long waterless section will push your total pack weight towards 30lbs. Every frameless pack that people have suggested you look at will support that carry. But 30lb total pack weight should not be your norm, so don't sweat that number too much.

Again, best of luck.