Whatâ€™s the deal with women-specific packs?
Do I really need one?
Are they really that much better than unisex packs or are they just a marketing ploy to appeal to women?
Trust me women-specific backpacks are much more than backpacks with pretty colors and designs. Women-specific packs are designed to conform to the unique shape of a woman so they can push themselves further and deeper into the great outdoors in comfort.
Foremost, women tend to have shorter torso lengths than men so women-specific packs start out with a shorter frame length. Torso length is the most important factor in choosing a correctly fitting pack. If your pack is too big for your torso length (like with most unisex packs) it simply wonâ€™t be comfortable.
To find your torso size, measure from the top of your 7th cervical vertebrae (the bony bump at the base of your neck) along your spine to the top of your iliac crest (top of the hipbone). Once you have your torso size you can check the specs of any backpack to see if the pack is a right fit for you.
Secondly, womenâ€™s bodies are a lot curvier than menâ€™s so women-specific backpacks are designed with hipbelts and shoulder straps that conform to the female body. A contoured hipbelt provides more contact with the hips so it transfers more of the pack weight to the hips. More contact essentially means more efficient load carrying so more comfort for you.
Third, men are broader in the shoulders than women so a menâ€™s pack will be too wide in the shoulders causing the straps to slide off and chafe the heck out of your upper arms. Unlike torso size there is no pack spec that will tell you how wide the shoulders are so you just need to try the pack on.
So yes I would say there are some definite advantages to choosing a women-specific pack for your adventures, but that isnâ€™t to say that every woman needs a womanâ€™s specific pack. Torso size is definitely the biggest determinant for pack selection so if you have a larger torso size you may be okay with a unisex pack. Just make sure your torso size fits the pack and then other than that feel free to choose a pack that simply feels the best.
Here are some of the best women’s packs for 2010 and why they are fabulous for women.
Deuter Futura Pro 34 SL Womenâ€™s Pack
The slim-fitting Deuter Futura Pro is an excellent choice for petite women. The narrow shoulder straps and shorter torso length makes the Futura a perfect pack for smaller women. The shoulder straps and hip pads are nicely padded for comfort and Deuterâ€™s Aircomfort design promotes airflow between your back and pack keeping you cool, dry, and comfy. Plenty of pockets and gear loops will keep you seriously organized on the trail and 34 liters of storage space gives you enough room for an overnight backpack trip.
Torso Size â€“ 14.5 â€“ 18 inches
Average weight â€“ 3 lbs. 9 oz.
Volume â€“ 34 Liters
Price – $135 at REI
Number of pockets â€“ 8 + main compartment
>> Buy REI: $135
REI Flash 50 Womenâ€™s Pack
The REI Flash is light and fast just like its name and is the lightest weight pack of the bunch. The pack fits smaller torso sizes but is a bit broader in the shoulders than the Deuter Futura and Gregory Jade. A specially curved hipbelt conforms to a womanâ€™s hips and helps distribute pack weight evenly without sagging. With 50 liters of space and plenty of pockets for your goods, the REI Flash is a great for a long weekend backpacking trip or a month-long train traveling trip.
Torso Size â€“ 15 – 17 inches (small) 17-19 (large)
Average weight â€“ 2 lbs. 10 oz.
Volume â€“ 50 Liters
Price – $149 at REI
Number of pockets â€“ 5 + main compartment
>> Buy REI: $149
Gregory Jade 50 Womenâ€™s Pack
Awarded best all around pack by Backpacker Magazine this 2010, the Gregory Jade was updated this year to include a new suspension system and an adjustable hipbelt for superb comfort. A flexible harness matches a womanâ€™s shape and is mesh-covered for excellent breathability. Plenty of pockets, a hydration compatible design, gear straps, and hardcore, durable design earned the Gregory Jade a place in my gear closet this year.
Torso Size â€“ 14-16 inches (x-small) 16-18 inches (small) 18-20 inches (medium)
Average weight â€“ 3 lbs. 11 oz.
Volume â€“ 50 Liters
Price – $199 at REI
Number of pockets â€“ 7 + main compartment
>> Buy REI: $199
Osprey Ariel 65 Womenâ€™s Pack
The Osprey Ariel is designed to haul heavy loads with incredible comfort. The Ariel forgoes most of the features of the other packs to deliver amazing load stability and support. A custom heat moldable hipbelt and contoured design gives women the support they need for serious backcountry treks. Available in three sizes, the Osprey Ariel is one of the few womenâ€™s bags that fit women in the larger torso range.
Torso Size â€“ <18.5 inches (small) 16-20.5 inches (medium) >20 inches (large)
Average weight â€“ 4 lbs. 15 oz.
Volume â€“ 65 Liters
Price – $249 at REI
Number of pockets â€“ 4 + main compartment
>> Buy REI: $249
[Photo: The author with her Deuter Futura in Coyote Gulch, Escalante, UT – By Chris Call]