Enjoy Happy Trails, the free monthly newsletter from Hiking For Her

Best Adjustable Hiking Gear: Customize To Your
Personal Specs

By Diane Spicer

Optimize and customize your hiking gear and clothing to suit your needs and body with tips from Hiking For Her #adjustable gear #hikinggear #hikingtips #hikingforher

Did you know there's no need to suffer with hiking gear that kinda sorta but not really suits you?

The best adjustable hiking gear will give you options to optimize and customize for your particular contours and preferences.

This solves the "but what if I lose or gain weight" problem when shopping for the best hiking gear.

This is a valid concern for many hiking women.

  • Because why invest money in a pack or rain pants that might not give you an optimal fit six months from now, right?

The biological truth

As females, we're prone to weight fluctuations:

  • monthly menstrual cycles
  • pregnancy
  • menopause
  • medication side effects
  • thyroid issues
  • stress
  • inactivity due to injury or recovery

And because our dimensions differ vastly from the male gender, women specific customizable hiking gear is the way to go.

Your male trail buddies might look at you sideways when you take the time to research maximally adjustable female specific gear, but who cares?

  • If the pack fits, wear it!

Here's how we're gonna roll

Hiking For Her along with REI is going to show you some of the best adjustable hiking gear for women on the market today, and how you can put it to work on the trail.

As an REI Co-op affiliate, Hiking For Her receives a small percentage of your purchase price when you use the links on this website - without costing you extra.

Anything on this website has earned a trusted spot on the HFH gear list, and REI makes it easy to dial down to exactly what you need.

  • Including the best adjustable hiking gear.

Because a great fitting backpack is an essential achievement for any hiker, let's start there.

Best adjustable hiking gear:

Which dimensions on a backpack are adjustable?

Glad you asked!

Torso length, for starters.

Torso terms

When you see a backpack offered in sizes ranging from extra small to large, it does not mean the volume (interior space) of the pack.

Rather, it clues you in to the range of torso lengths available in each size for the pack.

That's an important dimension for a female who may be "short waisted" but has long legs.

Or vice versa.

In general, women specific backpacks will have torsos designed to be shorter and more narrow when compared with male specific packs.

Hiking For Her's advice on how to avoid a poorly fitted pack:

  • Never assume you know your torso length.
  • Instead, watch this REI video on how to find the magic number - before you go shopping for a backpack.

Shopping tips

On the REI website, check the specifications of every pack you're interested in trying on. That's where you'll find the torso dimensions.

Roughly*, you're looking at these fixed torso numbers associated with pack sizes:

  • extra small means 15 inches in length, perhaps a bit more
  • small offers 16 to 17+ inches
  • medium provides 18 to 19+ inches
  • large = at least 20 inches

*Roughly, because there are no hard and fast "rules", only brand specific ranges.

The day I looked at the REI online women's backpack selection, there were 71 choices of adjustable torso packs.

  • Things can get mighty confusing in the land of Torso Length!

That's why you want to know your length: to zero in quickly on the best adjustable hiking gear that will not make you cry on the trail.

What if I'm an
in between size?

Lucky you!

Your search for the perfect backpack contains an additional thrilling twist:

  • an adjustable frame system you can customize to the  length of your torso

Keep swimming (Dorrie song flashback, sorry) reading.

Trail tip:
Shopping for a growing girl?

  • A pack with an adjustable torso length, rather than a fixed length backpack, is a must!

Best adjustable hiking gear:
backpack recommendations

We'll tackle this in two waves:

  • worthy day packs
  • backpacking packs

Best women's daypacks
for torso adjustments

Osprey has three choices, based upon the volume of pack you want.

Think of volume as storage space: if you're hauling a lot on a day hike, you need a volume somewhere around 25 to 36 liters.

Not fond of carrying a lot of weight?

  • Choose a petite 20L pack.

Just to keep life interesting, the torso dimensions vary with the "model" of the pack within one brand.

Here's an example:

The Osprey Sirrus 24 pack, in the mid range of volume, has a torso range between 15 and 18 inches. That's not going to cut it for long torsos.

However, two other Osprey choices have both a small/extra small version and a small/medium version, giving you not only a choice of volumes but also fixed torso length ranges:

Osprey Tempest 20 Pack

Osprey Sirrus 36 Pack

Best backpacking pack
recommendations for women

Customizable torso length becomes really important for larger capacity packs used for overnight hikes and backpacking.

That's because comfort is the key to a great hiking trip.

So please, please, please take the time to dial in the perfect torso length on your backpacks.

Here are two higher volume backpacks worth your time to consider:

This REI Co-op Traverse 60L pack gives you an adjustable torso dimension, but you can also swap out the shoulder straps and hipbelt.

Another option

Want a smaller pack?

The Osprey Aura AG 50L pack offers an adjustment for torso length along with customized hipbelt fit and a modest volume for your camping equipment.

Available in a 65L version, too, if you can't bear to leave your espresso maker behind ;)

Best adjustable hiking gear:
the right hipbelt

The waist (hip) belt on a backpack is critical to your success as a hiker, because it transfer the load from your back to your strong pelvic bones.

  • Or not, if it's too tight or too loose.

It should be contoured to mold to your particular curves.

Trail tip:

If you're a non curvy female, a men's backpack belt might cinch down tight enough to give you a good fit on your straight(er) hips.

  • Just be sure you get the torso length of the pack right.

No need for hacks!

In my decades on the trail, I've seen some creative use of towels, shirts, bubble wrap and in one memorable case, a sock wrapped rock, to attempt to achieve a better hipbelt fit.

  • If you're a veteran of blisters and chafing on your hip bones from a poorly fitted pack, you know exactly what I'm talkin' about.

An interchangeable hip belt will solve the problem of your hips being too narrow or too wide for the standard hip belt sizing.

...which IMHO is too restrictive to accurately reflect female hiker hip reality - any gear designers out there listening??

An example of modifications

Sticking with Osprey packs for the moment, here's their IsoForm5 CM heat moldable foam and nylon hipbelt.

This little beauty gives you the power to customize the belt fit over a wide range of hip sizes for their Ariel backpacks:

  • XS: 24 - 28 inches
  • S: 27 - 31 inches
  • M: 30 - 34 inches
  • L: 33 - 37 inches

Best adjustable hiking gear:
trekking poles

If you're not using poles, read why it's a good idea here.

Ready to pick a pair for the trail?

These Black Diamond Trail Ergo Cork lovelies are worth a close look for many reasons:

  • Lightweight in your hands
  • Aluminum stands up to trail forces, including your body weight when probing or descending
  • Cork absorbs shock from rough surfaces
  • Fully adjustable to your preferences in 3 sections
  • 26 - 49 inches in length
  • Easy to lock (and unlock)
  • Interchangeable tips and baskets for 4 season versatility
  • Collapse to a small footprint to lash to your pack
  • Easy to pack in your suitcase when traveling to an outdoor adventure
Find out what makes the best adjustable hiking gear for your happy trails at Hiking For Her. #hiking #hikinggear #backpacking

Best adjustable hiking gear:

Does outdoor clothing count as gear?

You bet it does!

Versatility is what you're after here.

Any outdoor clothing that you bring along on the trail needs to stand up to the weather, but also accommodate your oft changing layers.

  • It should also gracefully adjust to your changing body weight.

Let's glance at a few examples of hiking clothing which will expand or shrink as your needs change.

Rain pants

If you're a hiker, chances are really good that you'll be caught out in a rain storm.

  • Or will hike through early morning dew laden meadows.
  • Or find yourself bushwhacking through knee deep brush when the trail detours around wet or snow laden blown down trees.

So it makes sense to have rain pants that you can cinch down, or expand, depending on the weather and how many layers you're wearing.

There are 2 important adjustment features to watch for:

  • the waist band
  • the legs, from hip to ankle

I recently reviewed my brand new REI rain pants here.

  • These pants exemplify one of my best adjustable hiking gear choices!
  • The review gives you a feel for why adjustable waist band, full length leg zips, and ankle cinching are wonderful features to shop for.


Please don't make the mistake of buying a jacket because it's snug and flattering for your body type.

Instead, look for hiking jackets that can be enlarged, or tightened, according to how many layers you have beneath them.

Here's a great example of a jacket that will perform well throughout the hiking seasons.

The North Face Arrowood Triclimate 3-in-1 Jacket

Versatility is delivered in multiple ways:

3-in-1 design for layering options

Adjustable hood to accommodate different types of hats

Tabs at cuffs and hem: tweak until perfect for the conditions

Hiking pants

The waist band on your hiking pants is a big deal.

So are the closure methods:

  • Zippers?
  • Buttons or snaps?
  • Velcro tabs?

These provide, or rob you, of expansion and contraction opportunities.

Next time you pull on a pair of pants, think about whether their comfort would be enhanced by a different closure method.

For a hiker, life just gets better when you have options!

A highly adjustable pair of pants would be these:

REI Co-op Activator V2 Soft-Shell Pants

Stretchy fabric can tolerate a base layer beneath it.

But not baggy, so will slip easily into rain pants.

Waist has a drawstring for customized fit, along with a zip fly and snap closure.

Who among us has not hiked with unbuttoned pants after second lunch??

Or an unzipped zipper in the first trimester?

Or both on a bloat day, for that matter!

Available in these sizes:

  • womens
  • petite
  • tall
  • plus

Hiking shirts can be your
best adjustable hiking gear

I've watched hikers pull several shirts out of backpack, and when asked about them, the answer usually runs along the lines of "but what if the weather changes? or the bugs start biting?"

Dear hiker, one gentle suggestion:

  • Bring but one shirt, and enjoy it several ways.

Wide range of sizes & colors

This long sleeved REI Co-op Sahara shirt is a perfect example.

Fold up the collar to ward off a chilly breeze.

Wear it unbuttoned over a tank top for the same reason.

When the sun comes out, the sleeves roll up and stay above your elbows, with easy to use button tabs.

Combined with the moisture wicking fabric and fast drying underarm panels, this shirt earns a place in your backpack for adjustable three season hiking comfort.

Best adjustable hiking gear

So what makes something the best adjustable hiking gear?

I would argue in favor of:

  • Versatility in fit
  • Customization of dimensions
  • Suitable for more than one season

When you're in the market for new gear, always think about contraction and expansion possibilities, along with sizing modifications.

This type of gear gives you an extra little edge for squeezing the most out of your trail time (and your hiking budget).

Check out these additional tips for choosing the most versatile athletic clothing for female hikers.

  • Or hop over to the REI Co-op website and put all of the best adjustable hiking gear tips you just learned to work for you!

You might like to read these next

Home page > Best Hiking Gear >

Best Adjustable Hiking Gear For Female Hikers