by Diane Spicer
Here's what you're looking for: useful tips on how to purchase a womens backpack for hiking.
But let's start out with the truth:
Hiking backpacks can be a real pain to shop for.
There are an overwhelming array of options, hiking brands, sizes, and styles.
If you don't know exactly what to look for, you can end up with the wrong pack.
Our species has two genders, and those genders have anatomical differences.
Luckily, many hiking gear companies have caught on to why backpacks designed for women are essential.
We're not just smaller versions of men!
Having said all that, I'm going to take some of it back: a non-curvy, broad shouldered woman may find that men's packs fit best.
So will other females whose anatomical curvature just happens to fit a particular manufacturer's specifications.
So don't be adamant on finding a woman's backpack - fit will dictate everything.
Stay open to trying on MANY backpacks until that magical moment when you say "Ah, this is the one."
Here's a quick list of the parts of the hiking backpack you must pay attention to when you try it on:
a) shoulder straps (padded is preferable)
b) back panel (ventilation is good)
c) hip belt (padded, adjustable)
d) sternum (chest) strap (adjustable)
e) carrying capacity (volume and dimensions)
f) weight of empty pack (stripped down versus all bells & whistles)
g) frame: internal frame is common, but it's not unheard of to find an external frame backpack
Note to self: Color is not a feature!!
Don't fall in love with a pack because it's a pretty hue unless it ALSO has every single feature you need.
Although if you reject a great pack because it's just not your color, I understand.
Which of these describe the type of backpack you might be looking for?
If you're shopping for one particular type of hiking backpack, don't waste time with the other types of packs.
Give up the idea that there is one general purpose hiking backpack that will take you on day hikes, backpacking, and rugged backcountry adventures.
So which pack are you interested in shopping for right now?
Keep in mind that you may have to try on a lot of packs.
OK, to be brutally honest, you SHOULD and MUST do that (it's that important).
But before you get near any packs, figure out exactly what kind of hiking pack you need.
A few hints on how to pick the best backpack for hiking will get you rolling.
How much carrying capacity ("how big") do you need?
Depends upon your hiking plans, right?
If you're planning a multi-day backpacking trip, your pack needs are large.
Or maybe you just need a generously proportioned daypack. Some of them can be cinched down for smaller loads but will expand to handle bigger ones.
Be aware that packs are advertised by their volume:
Be prepared to look at all of the numbers on the tags.
Tip: Numbers make you cross eyed? When you hit your favorite gear store, just ask the sales staff to show you the small/medium/large capacity packs which fit your frame and hiking situation.
How much does the empty pack weigh?
You shouldn't go above 2 or 2.5 pounds empty for a day pack, but will probably need to go a bit higher for longer trips in rugged terrain.
There's ultralight gear you can consider, but be prepared to pay extra for a pack that weighs less (ironic, isn't it?).
Ah, now we're getting down to the tug of war between wants and needs.
What you want to buy might not match with the amount you have in your budget for that particular piece of hiking gear.
All great questions!
Only you know the answers.
But a word of counsel: Some gear is worth the extra money, and some isn't.
Read my tips on this website, consider my gear reviews, and don't be shy about sending me your questions so you will get a good deal on worthy hiking equipment.
Do a bit of background research and if you're partial to certain brands with good reputations in the outdoor community, call ahead and make sure those are in stock.
And do those brands carry gear specifically designed for women?
You want to try one lots of women's backpacks, not generic ones.
Unless you can't find one that fits.
Then fall back on trying on the men's versions of the brands you gravitate toward.
And if you're a small woman, a large kid's pack might fit your shorter torso (and some of them adjust nicely).
Words of wisdom:
Every hiker has a unique constellation of trail preferences, and you're no different.
So not every hiking pack will be able to satisfy you.
Examples are in order:
If you use a hydration system, you'll need a hydration pack built to accommodate it, with a hydration sleeve or appropriately sized hydration compatible features.
Maybe you need more than one internal compartment (probably not in a day pack, but a reasonable need for backpacking).
Or you prefer two roomy side mesh pockets for water bottles.
Perhaps you want to lash gear such as trekking poles, sleeping bags, crampons or an ice axe to the outside of the pack - you'll need to consider attachment options.
Does the pack come with a rain cover?
If you're bony in the shoulder area, well padded shoulder straps are a necessity, not an option.
Some of us (not mentioning any names) are fussy about how to get into the pack:
This may sound picky, but if you're frustrated every time you try to get something out of your pack, it will erode your enjoyment of hiking.
Then you'll have to go into Backpack Avoidance therapy.
It won't be pretty.
So make a quick list of options you know you'll want to use, and then keep track on your hikes (use your hiking journal) of what your ideal backpack looks like for the next time you go pack shopping.
But before we get inquisitive, here's a pro tip:
Be sure to load up the pack with some weight before you put it on. It's a fast way to find out the pack isn't for you.
REI stores (a gear co-operative) have an assortment of bean bags for this purpose, but other stores might let you put heavy items into the pack and walk around for awhile.
You should take many, many steps and bend over in the loaded pack (the "tie your shoe lace" motion) several times.
Try to simulate trail conditions as much as possible.
Again, REI stores have an area in the store with uneven terrain and steps so you can get a feel for whether or not you and the pack have become one.
(They are one of the few hiking gear outfitters that get this part of the equation right.)
Be sure you go up AND down these inclined planes.
Or perhaps there are stairs somewhere in the store that you could use for this purpose.
For more tips on how to choose a suitable pack, read the wisdom of REI.
Now that you have some familiarity with how backpacks are made and marketed, let's turn to getting the best fit possible in your quest for the perfect hiking backpack.
Making a spreadsheet of the questions, great idea! Go old school and record your answers with a pen (gasp!) as you try on various packs.
KIDDING! Just kidding!
(Or am I?)
Don't fret if Round One of gear shopping hasn't gone well.
The perfect pack is now closer to reality.
You just have to explore a wider range of brands.
And write down your observations and notes on the packs you didn't like (use your spreadsheet or trail journal).
Consider finding the right pack every bit as important as finding the right mate, and devote the same amount of brain power and time to the job.
If you think I'm overstating my case, we should talk (either about finding a mate or a pack, I'm game for either one).
Not be a buzz kill, but don't wait until the day before you leave for the trail head to find your perfect backpack.
Ready to be even more purposeful in your search for the right pack? Hurrah!
Allow me to pose, and answer this question:
"When is a backpack more than just a pack?"
When it's a cherished memento.
Do you remember your first pack? (kinda like a first kiss memory)
My parents bought it at a gas station in town (we call them convenience marts now) in 1971 just before I went on my first backpacking trip.
I thought it was the most beautiful thing I had ever seen.
As a young teenager, I learned to backpack wearing that clumsy, over sized pack.
Somewhere along the way, over many household moves, I lost the pack. I'm still sad about that.
It represented so many good memories for me:
... and so much more.
It would be fun to wear that pack one more time.
At least I have one picture of my youthful self in it (me on the left), looking a bit overwhelmed by the bulk of the pack.
If you need more gear shopping suggestions, send me your question(s).
I hope you believe it when I insist that it really is worth the time investment to get a properly fitted pack that will add enjoyment, not agony, to your trail time.
Happy Gear Shopping!
P.S. Carrying the ten hiking essentials inside your pack makes it even more perfect.
Best Backpack For You
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Photo credits: All photos on this website were taken by David Midkiff or Diane Spicer.
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