The Best Women's Backpacking Backpack Review
What is the best women's backpack for backpacking? Whether heading out into the mountains for a weekend trip with girlfriends or preparing for a long solo adventure, having a pack that meets your needs is essential to both enjoyment and comfort. We have tested 11 of the top women's specific packs on the market to explore how they compared side by side, and to answer the question do you need a women's pack? The packs we tested ranged from 50 liters to 75 liters with most falling right in the middle around 60 liters in carrying capacity. We compared the comfort, weight, suspension, ease of use, adjustability, and organization options of each during numerous outdoor multi-day trips spanning several months, and then compiled the findings in the chart and review below.
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Test Results and Ratings
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Analysis and Award Winners
Best Overall Women's Backpacking Backpack
Osprey Aura AG 50
Best Bang for the Buck
The North Face Terra 55 - Women's
Top Pick Award for 4-Season Use
Mountain Hardwear Ozonic 58 - Women's
Analysis and Test Results
All of the packs we evaluated in this review are women's specific. Some of these brands, such as Granite Gear, offer these same packs in Unisex versions and some brands, such as Osprey, Mountain Hardwear, The North Face, and Gregory, offer a men's version of the same pack. The notable differences between men's, unisex, or women's backpacking packs are weight and sizing.
Women's models are sized specifically for a woman's torso, the shoulder straps and back panels are narrower, the harness/ hip belts are curved or molded for contoured bodies, and adjustment options are within the range of a woman's size. A woman's center of gravity varies from a man's, and women's specific designs are intended to optimize load carrying. Women's packs are typically ounces lighter, largely due to this decreased size. These fit and sizing changes often make a women's specific model more comfortable and better fitting than a men's or unisex model, which will make a big difference as you log miles wearing the pack.
With any pack, it is worthwhile to invest the time in getting the sizing accurate for your personal body type. Some women with larger frames and broader shoulders may prefer men's or unisex models, while most women will find the features of a women's specific pack to be most suitable.
Criteria for Evaluation
We rated all eleven packs on comfort, weight, ease of use, suspension, adjustability, and features. In addition, we paid special attention to what makes these bags women's specific and how they are different from unisex ones. Evaluations and ratings are listed side by side in the chart above.
How comfortable is your pack when empty? How comfortable is it when loaded full? Does the comfort of this pack vary by weight carried? Are there contact points that lead to discomfort, chaffing, or bruising? What is the overall comfort? These are some of the questions we posed while testing. The packs in this test are intended for multi-day use, and adequate comfort is essential unless you are interested in fast-packing or ultra-lightweight hiking. Fast and light backpackers often compromise a degree of luxurious comfort and spaciousness for the sake of covering more ground and moving faster.
Packs are designed to carry ideal weight loads. While most all are capable of comfortably carrying more or less weight, there is a spectrum for an ideal weight load. Generally speaking, the lighter the weight of an empty pack, the more comfortably it carries a lighter load of gear, and the heavier a pack, the more comfortably it will carry a heavy load. There are obvious exceptions, but this can generally be applied when considering how comfortably a pack will endure your weight load.
The Osprey Aura AG 50 is the most versatile pack in our test in regards to varying weight loads. This pack can be used as a daypack or for a single night trip, carrying only lunch, a water filter, and extra layers - or it carries a heavier multi-day load quite well. The Kelty Coyote 75 - Women's is best suited for larger weight loads as it is very stable, comfortable with adequate padding, and also offers more cubic liters of space. Similarly, the Black Diamond Elixir 60 - Women's is best for heavier loads due to its size. When carrying this pack with a lighter load, the extra material feels sloppy and loose, but when packed with all of the gear needed for a multi-day trip, it rests more comfortably on the shoulders and feels more stable overall. Our favorite pack for large loads and long distance trips is the Osprey Ariel 55 (or the Ariel in the 65 liter capacity), which has an extra durable construction and can comfortably fit all of your necessities.
The overall cushion and support of each pack was evaluated for our comfort rating. The padding on both the shoulder straps and the hip belt are important for avoiding chaffing and allowing for all-day comfort. Some models, like all three Osprey packs and the Kelty Coyote, have great padding, while others, like the Granite Gear Blaze A.C. 60 - Women's, are designed with light weight and simplicity in mind, and don't offer as much padding.
Back panels, further discussed under our suspension metric, contribute to overall comfort. Some packs have well padded back panels that are comfortable even against the skin while others have firm padding that maintains rigidity for stability and support. Mesh incorporated into the panels creates pockets of space for breathability. A puddle of sweat against your back isn't comfortable. A well ventilated back panel, like the panel found on the very well-ventilated Aura AG, is comfortable in any season and with any clothing.
We first evaluated weight by weighing each of these packs on our own scale. Then, over the duration of this review, each pack was packed with nearly the exact same gear each time we headed out for a test trip, so that the effect of the weight of the pack could accurately be considered. (For a multi-day trip, we packed a sleeping bag, a two-person tent, a couple changes of clothing, rain gear, water, a bear canister with food, and few miscellaneous items). The Granite Gear Blaze A.C. 60 - Women's is the lightest, coming in at 2lbs 14oz, while the Gregory Deva 60 is the heaviest by a fair margin, coming in at 5 lbs 8oz - a pound heavier than nearly all of the others we reviewed and twice as heavy as the Blaze. In some instances, the weight is noticeable, as with the Gregory Deva, while with other packs, like the Kelty Coyote at 5lbs, the weight is not as noticeable due to the stability and comfort of the pack. The extra weight of certain packs may be attributed to materials used or details such as heavyweight zippers, extra padding, or frame design. Unless you are a lightweight or ultra-lightweight hiker, weight should be a consideration, but should not dictate your decision when choosing a pack. Each will carry differently, and comfort should be a more important factor. As mentioned above, your weight load also influences the need for a heavier or lighter weight pack. Consider your range of objectives. Reference our How to Choose a Women's Backpack article for more details on how weight should play a factor in your decision. In regards to the models we tested, they all range from 2+ lbs to about 5.5lbs.
Arc'teryx Altra 62 has a similar hinging system that is centralized at the lower back and also moves with the hips while stabilizing the pack on the shoulders. This feature is excellent, although over time the hinges start to squeak. This can be remedied with a lubricant that some pack distributors include. It should also be noted that when fitting this pack, a correct fit is necessary for the hinging design to function properly. This newer system creates a more stable and evenly distributed weight suspension, though it adds weight to the pack.
Another suspension design is the reActiv Suspension System found on the Black Diamond Elixir 60 - Women's (and other newer models of Black Diamond packs). The shoulder straps are connected to a Swing Arm system that distinctly separates your hip rotation and movement from your shoulder sway. It allows the pack to be carried in a more natural way- one movement doesn't pull the rest of your body. It is intended to offer greater stability and support. In our experience, it allowed for an unhindered range of motion but often compromised overall stability.
Lastly in regards to suspension, is the back panel design. This part of the pack rests directly against the back and is also an important aspect of comfort. Most all of the packs we evaluated are designed to allow for airflow between the hiker's back and the pack itself. This is accomplished with a curved frame design so that the pack rests on the shoulder blades and lower hips while opposing the natural curve of the back in the center. Models like the Deuter ACT Lite 60 - Women's are customizable so that it creates the best airflow, while packs like the Granite Gear Blaze A.C. have compromised better venting technologies in the name of simplicity and therefore lack an adequate airflow design. The Osprey packs have elaborate airflow designs that greatly reduce the sweat that forms on the back during a full day of hard hiking. Airspace is featured on the Ariel- ridged padding with mesh overlay. Anti-Gravity (AG) is a highlight of the Aura AG pack. It features a tightly suspended mesh back panel that is inches apart from the back of the main compartment. This creates unparalleled ventilation and comfort. The space between the body and the main compartment doesn't compromise any stability except with very heavy pack loads. The closer the pack is to the body, the better it will contribute to stability under heavy weight, which is why packs that were intended for heavier carrying capacity rest closely against the back, incorporating ventilation into the padding.
Ease of Use and Organization
The organization ranged from super simplistic with the Granite Gear Blaze A.C.- this model has a single main compartment and no other enclosed pockets (with the exception of the interior, zippered hydration pocket that we found more suitable for things like our phone, map, and journal)- to very complex with the Arc'teryx Altra, Mountain Hardwear Ozonic and Kelty Coyote- all having more than 5 enclosed compartments and additional pockets that are not enclosed. The Editors' Choice award winner, the Osprey Aura AG, has five pockets: two medium and two small pockets, in addition to the main compartment. The Osprey Ariel has only two enclosed pockets, including the main compartment. We found that when we pre-organized our gear into stuff sacks, the organization of the design was better enjoyed in a simpler form. When we didn't organize into stuff sacks prior to packing, the pockets and extra organizational help was greatly appreciated in some models.
Osprey Viva 50, Kelty Coyote, Mountain Hardwear Ozonic, Arc'teryx Altra, and Deuter ACT Lite offer adjustment options for torso length and/or shoulder width which is great for those who have wider shoulders, wider hips, and/or short or long torsos that don't fit well into a specific sizing category such as 'Medium'. Having these options are not only great for initial fitting, but also for versatility as our bodies and preferences change over time.
With the exception of the waterproof Mountain Hardwear Ozonic 58 - Women's, which features a new waterproof construction that can withstand hours of pouring rain and moisture, the other ten packs are water-resistant at best: not waterproof. Use a garbage bag to get through bad weather in a pinch. If you're planning on extended bad weather, consider a pack cover fitted for your pack. Here are a few options:
Having the right pack on your back can make the difference between an enjoyable time in the outdoors and a great deal of annoyance. Choosing the right pack, however, can be pretty tough. Your personal needs will vary depending on the environment and climate where you spend your time, as well as your packing habits and body type. And while we can generally agree that we need a pack that will perform well on our outdoor excursions, we tend to prefer products that won't drain our bank accounts as well. It is our hope that this review will provide valuable insight as you search through the marketplace.
— Briana Valorosi
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