Picking out the right women's backpacking backpack is often a complicated process, but we can help! We looked at over 50 different options before purchasing and testing the top 11 models. We took the best women's specific packs out there and used them side-by-side for months. We wore them on long backcountry hikes, weekend excursions, and even traveled internationally to help you find the best one for your next adventure. We evaluated them on some essential criteria, such as how comfortably they carried a heavy load over long distances, and whether their features were useful or not. We've got some great recommendations below, including the best overall model, a good value pick, and other options to consider should you want something for traveling or that provides top of the line comfort.
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Test Results and Ratings
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Analysis and Award Winners
Updated April 2018
Backpacking season is right around the corner — are you geared up yet? We've gone over our review to make sure everything is up to date as you go about preparing for your summer adventures. And if you don't have a good backpacking backpack, what are you waiting for? A comfortable (and light) pack will make a huge difference on the trail, letting you focus on the journey and not just count down the miles to your destination. While we still loved the Osprey Aura AG and kept it as our Editors' Choice award winner, we have some new recommendations for travel and for those who want the most comfortable option out there.
Best Overall Women's Model
Osprey Aura AG 65
The Osprey Aura AG 65 once again won our Editors' Choice award for the best women's specific pack out there. It can carry a wide range of load sizes comfortably and has a supportive and breathable suspension system. The pack's overall design is sleek and simple but still provides plenty of features and pockets to keep your gear organized. We especially loved the large, stretchy mesh outer pocket because it adds tons of external storage space.
Incredible back ventilation
Removable top lid
Wide range of fitting options
Great feature set
Waistband is attached to back panel
The things we didn't like about this pack are minor quibbles. The pockets on the hip belt are on the small side. Most of us like to keep our phone there when hiking, as it is often our camera, so it's nice to have easy access to it. However, it was a tight squeeze to get a full-sized smartphone in and out of those pockets. The hip belt is also on the bulky side and is integrated into the back panel, making it a little awkward to put on sometimes. All in all, the Aura is hard to beat in its breathability, overall comfort, price, and support. It's an excellent option for short overnight hikes, month-long thru-hikes, and many things in between.
Read review: Osprey Aura AG 65
Best Bang for the Buck
The North Face Terra 55
It's hard to find a well-designed, durable backpacking pack for under $200, and it's even harder to find a contender that fits these specifications better than The North Face Terra 55. This was the least expensive pack in our test group, but it was still a top competitor in all our metric ratings. The Terra's simple design is not over-complicated by excess features, though it still has six separate storage pockets. The pack has a large main compartment and a sleeping bag pocket on the bottom, which is roomy enough to accommodate most backcountry endeavors.
Design not versatile for different sized loads
Limited adjustment options
The Terra is a little smaller than most of the other models that we tested (55L) and cannot expand. The lid is sewn into the pack, so you can't overstuff it. The cut is narrow and doesn't fit a bear can widthwise, so it'll take up more room and make packing more of a challenge if you do need to carry one. If you're only out for a day or two usually, you'll still have plenty of space for your gear though, and we loved the combination of simplicity, versatility, and intuitive design. It's just icing on the cake that this pack is the lowest priced option in our entire review. For $170, The North Face Terra is a great, comfortable pack for a reasonable price.
Read review: The North Face Terra 55
Top Pick Award for Travel
Thule Versant 60
Thule is known for making cargo boxes and bike racks, not backpacking packs, but it turned out their Versant 60 was one of our favorite options. It's a versatile model that is easy to pack, and the understated design makes it easier to blend in when traveling. The Versant does well whether its stuffed with backpacking gear for a few nights out or filled with clothes and books for an international adventure. There are lots of adjustment options, so no matter what size load you have, the pack will sit well on your back. It also has a large front opening that gives it a duffel bag feel and makes it easy to pack and organize your gear.
Easy access with large U-shaped zipper
Suitable for light and heavy loads
Removable lid is hard to use on its own
Less padding than packs with bulkier suspension
While the lid on this model is removable, it's not that usable as a summit pack. You can sling it over one shoulder, but we wouldn't want to hike for very long with it that way. There's less padding in the suspension system than other models, but it still provides enough support and comfort for heavy loads. It also makes it less bulky, and you can pack it down a bit, letting it fit in storage compartments on trains, planes, and automobiles a little better than most. These factors all add up to make the Thule Versant our Top Pick for Travel.
Read review: Thule Versant 60
Arc'teryx Bora AR 61
The Arc'teryx Bora AR 61 was one of the highest rated models in our review. In stood out in almost every category that we tested it in, and was the most comfortable model of all 11 in our test group. The thick foam on the waistbelt and back panel provide a ton of cushioning, and the suspension system works best with a significant load.
Most comfortable option in our review
Sleek and spacious design
Multiple adjustments let you dial in the fit
Adjustments are complicated
It's not the lightest option, and dialing in the fit can be a bit of a hassle. There's a lot of adjustment options, but it was a bit finicky to get them all sorted to each tester, and since we passed them around a lot this became even more obvious. Finally, it is really expensive, costing twice as much as other models in this review. But, if you're looking for a highly-comfortable pack that is well-made and sure to last a long time, the Bora is an excellent choice.
Read review: Arc'teryx Bora AR 61
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. We rated all 11 packs on comfort, weight, ease of use, suspension, and features. We also 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.
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 the 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, primarily 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 body type. Some women with larger frames and broader shoulders may prefer men's or unisex models, and who knows — some men may get a better fit in a women's model if they can get past the pink and purple colorways!
In addition to all of the testing criteria listed below, we also take a look at the price of the items we are testing. While we always want to recommend the best possible item, we realize that if it is also the most expensive one, then it is not going to work for everybody. (Note, if there's one thing we've learned here at OutdoorGearLab it's that a higher price does not automatically equate to a higher performance score.) That's why we always include a range of sticker prices in our review, and make recommendations for those looking for value out of their purchase - i.e., a good performing product for the price. Our Prive vs. Performance chart below can help you determine which packs have a great value. Simply look for ones that are to the right of the chart but also towards the bottom. Those models performed well in our tests without costing too much money. In this case, our Best Buy winner, The North Face Terra 55 offers a great value at $170. The North Face Banshee 65 is also reasonably priced at $240. On the other end of the spectrum is the Arc'teryx Bora AR 61 which retails for $550 but scored similarly to packs that were half the price.
How comfortable is your pack when empty? When loaded fully loaded? 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 models 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 transporting 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 amount of gear, and the heavier a pack, the more comfortably it will carry a heavy load. There are obvious exceptions, but this can be applied when considering how comfortably the competitor will endure your weight load.
The Osprey Aura AG 65 is the most versatile model in our test in regards to varying weight loads. This contender 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 more massive multi-day load quite well.
The Lowe Alpine Manaslu 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 Gregory Deva 60 is best for heavier loads due to its size. The pack is relatively bulky, and with a small load, it can feel sloppy and excessive. The most comfortable in the fleet was the Arc'teryx Bora AR 61, which has a great waistband. The Bora combined a sleek and straightforward design with tons of comfort in a way that surpasses most other packs in this review.
The overall cushion and support of each model was evaluated for our comfort rating. The padding on both the shoulder straps and the hip belt are essential for avoiding chaffing and allowing for all-day comfort. Some models, like the two Osprey packs and the Gregory Deva 60, have great padding, while others, like the REI Co-op Traverse 65 and The North Face Banchee, are designed with light weight and simplicity in mind and don't offer as much padding. We also considered the width of the shoulder straps, along with the thickness. Packs with thinner shoulder straps, like the Thule Versant 60, may be more comfortable for those with narrower shoulders, while wide straps can be more suitable for those with an athletic build.
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 one found on the very well-ventilated Aura AG, is comfortable in any season and with any clothing. It's incredibly comfy because the pack itself doesn't rest on your back. Some models, like The North Face Terra or the Deuter ACT Lite have a more straightforward back panel that relies on rigidity for comfort and support.
We first evaluated weight by placing each of these packs on our OutdoorGearLab scale.
Then, over the duration of this review, each model was packed with nearly the same gear each time we headed out for a test trip. Thus, the effects 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 of changes of clothing, rain gear, water, a bear canister with food, and few miscellaneous items.
The three lightest packs are the Mountain Hardwear Ozonic 60, The North Face Banchee 65, and The North Face Terra 55 (though fewer liters than some), coming in at 3.81 pounds, 3.88 pounds, 4.13 pounds, respectively.
The Lowe Alpine Mansalu, Gregory Deva, and the Osprey Ariel 65 are the three heaviest packs in this review, weighing over five pounds. Most models fall in the 4-pound range, and vary how heavy they feel. Some contenders, like the Arc'teryx Bora AR 61, feel much lighter than they appear on the scale, due to the overall simplicity of the 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 critical factor. As mentioned above, your weight load also influences the need for a more substantial 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+ pounds to about 5.5 pounds.
The suspension of a pack relates directly to the frame. All of the women's specific models that were reviewed are framed packs. Suspension distributes the weight across the back from shoulders to hips.
The Osprey Aura AG has an excellent suspension system that distributes the weight evenly, lending itself to very comfortable hiking and load carrying, especially for longer days. The Anti-Gravity design is our favorite new feature on any competitor and is a large part of why this model won our Editors' Choice award.
Some companies use a newer hinging system at the lower back; it's attached to the hip belt and allows the pack to remain stable in the shoulders, with synchronized movement in the hips. The Gregory Deva 60 has a decentralized system called the Response Auto Fit Suspension, which rotates independently on the waist belt.
The Arc'teryx Bora AR has a similar system that hinges at the lower back and also moves with the hips while stabilizing the pack on the shoulders. This pack was our runner-up in top suspension systems for its simple, yet supportive design. It should also be noted that when fitting this Arc'teryx model, a proper fit is necessary for the hinging design to function correctly. This newer system creates a more stable and evenly distributed weight suspension, though it adds weight to the pack.
Lastly, in regards to suspension, is the back panel design. This part of the pack rests directly against the back and is also an essential aspect of comfort. Most all of the competitors we evaluated are designed to allow for airflow between the hiker's back and the pack itself. This has been accomplished with a curved frame design so that the contender rests on the shoulder blades and lower hips while opposing the natural curve of the back in the center. The Deuter ACT Lite is customizable so that it creates the best airflow, while packs like the Mountain Hardwear Ozonic OutDry 60 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 significantly reduce the sweat that forms on the back during a full day of hard hiking. Anti-Gravity (AG) is a highlight of the Aura AG and Ariel AG packs. 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 cumbersome pack loads. The closer the pack is to the body, the better it will contribute to stability under heavy weight. This is why models that were intended for heavier carrying capacity rest closely against the back, incorporating ventilation into the padding.
Ease of Use
The ease of use rating assess how simple each model is to adjust, pack, access, and personally configure to maximize enjoyment, comfort, and space utilization.
Plainly said, how easy is this pack to live with, day in and day out? We also looked at overall adjustability in this metric to compare each model's ability to be customized to the hiker's specific build. The better the pack fits your body, the more comfortable and enjoyable the overall experience will be - simple!
Most packs rated well in this regard since many contenders follow the same basic principles regarding design. That said, there are many nuances and small differences that make some models stand out. Ease of use is an essential consideration because few things can be worse than finding yourself thirty miles in the backcountry, unsure of how to use your pack. The Osprey Aura AG and The North Face Terra rated high due to user-friendly adjustment points, multiple access points, including sleeping bag compartments, and very few if any, excessive design features.
These models are easy to use while packing and preparing for a trip as well as on the trail. The Thule Versant received the highest score in this category for its simple design, multiple access points, and roomy compartments. Packs that received low ratings in this metric were the Osprey Ariel 65 and the Lowe Alpine Manaslu because we found them to be overly complicated and excessive in their feature set and overall design.
Also considered in this metric was each pack's ability to adjust. Some competitors are easy and intuitive to customize the suspension system, like the Thule Versant, the Arc'teryx Bora AR 61, and the Osprey Aura. Others, like the Mountain Hardwear Ozonic Outdry 60 and the Lowe Alpine Manaslu are less intuitive and take some fiddling to make the proper adjustments.
We compared the feature set of all 11 women's packs by considering the size, shape, location, and number of pockets, the quality of the buckles, the number and placement of the straps, and the lid design, to come up with each pack's score in this rating category.
By utilizing (or in some cases, not utilizing) all of the unique organizational designs of these contenders, we found that simplicity is great and lightens the pack, but having the ability to separate different gear is also an advantage for efficiency.
The organization ranged from super simplistic with the Arc'teryx Bora AR 61 and the Thule Versant, to very complex with the Osprey Ariel 65, Mountain Hardwear Ozonic and Lowe Alpine Manaslu- all having more than five enclosed compartments and additional pockets that are not enclosed.
Our Editors' Choice award winner, the Osprey Aura AG, has five pockets: two medium and two small pockets, in addition to the main compartment.
The Arc'teryx Bora 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 more straightforward form. When we didn't organize into stuff sacks before packing, the pockets and extra organizational help were much appreciated in some models.
Except for the waterproof Mountain Hardwear Ozonic 60, 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.
— Jane Jackson
Still not sure? Take a look at our buying advice article for more info.