Buying guide: Backpacking backpack for women

The Best Backpacking Backpacks for Women

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If there is one item you physically cannot go backpacking without, it’s gotta be a backpack, right? But backpacks come in all shapes, sizes, and configurations. For the avid adventure traveler, getting the wrong backpacking backpack can lead to all kinds of discomfort and problems further down the line.

For a long time, backpacks were mostly unisex and best suited to the male anatomy. But as the world progresses, so too do backpacks! Nowadays, you can find not only backpacks specifically for women, but also for different body types. Finding the right fit has never been easier!

In this guide, we’ll take a look at 6 of the best backpacking backpacks for women, as well as discussing the various different features and systems to look out for. So, take a load off, and let’s get started!

Why Trust This Guide?

Ever since we met, we knew that adventure travel was going to play a huge part in our lives. When we decided to hand in our notice and set off on a never ending trip around the world, we spent a long time looking at the different types of backpacks out there. Our research led us to what we believe is one of the best backpacks for women in the world, a theory we have tested time and again on our travels!

We’ve spent a long time on the road, camping in Iceland, trekking in the Arctic, mountain climbing in the Alps, and exploring Australia. Throughout this time, we’ve tried several backpacks, and now have a good idea of what to look out for. While we do love our current backpacks, we’re aware that technology is always changing, so we frequently have a look at what’s new on the market!

As 2 women who are exploring the world already for several years, often with our backpacks firmly strapped to our backs, we know exactly what works and what doesn’t when it comes to women’s backpacks. So, read on to see what we’ve learned!

What Is a Backpacking Backpack?

A backpacking backpack differs from other types of backpacks, in that they’re designed to be used for long periods of time, and in rougher conditions compared to, say, a work backpack. They’re typically larger than normal travel backpacks, normally ranging from 30 to 70+ liters. In addition, comfort is prized, as these backpacks will generally be worn on rough trails for many hours at a time.

Backpacking backpacks for women differ from men’s versions in a few ways. Often, the shoulder straps are slightly narrower and are shaped to fit around the chest. Also, the back length is generally shorter to accommodate a female torso. Another major difference is the hip belt, which will usually be shaped slightly differently, and provides additional padding.

Why You Need a Backpacking Backpack

If you’re planning a multi-day hike, a camping trip, a mountaineering expedition, or a year or 2 of traveling the world, a decent women’s backpacking backpack is essential. In fact, it’s perhaps the most important thing you could buy, because without it, you can’t carry much else!

For long distance hikes and camping trips in particular, you’ll need the space and comfort offered by a good backpack. A normal backpack probably won’t be able to fit everything in it, and even if it could, the weight distribution would be terrible, causing strain and probably injury.

Different Kinds of Backpacking Backpacks

Backpacking backpacks don’t typically differ drastically from one another, except for capacity, which is generally measured in liters. In general, the different kinds of backpacking backpacks for women are as follows:

  • Daypack: with a capacity of 30 liters or less, these are ideal for day-hikes. They may lack some of the additional features that you’ll find on larger packs.
  • Weekend Pack: between 30 and 50 liters capacity, which makes them ideal for camping trips and hikes ranging 1 to 3 days.
  • Multi-Day/Adventure Backpack: these packs normally have a capacity of between 50 – 70+ liters and are suitable for long-term travel, and extended hikes and expeditions. They may offer additional features, such as straps and loops for storing ice axes, hiking poles, and even helmets.

What to Look Out for When You Want to Buy Backpacking Backpacks for Women

Modern backpacks offer a wide array of awesome features to look out for. Here are the essentials:

Capacity

As discussed, different sized backpacks are suitable for different purposes, and most women’s backpacking packs range from 30 to 70 liters. It’s not common to see 70+ liters in women’s backpacks, as it’s not advisable to carry so much.

Organization

When you’re carrying a lot, it’s important to be organized, and great backpacks offer a variety of pockets and compartments to help with that. A zippered sleeping bag compartment is a good addition, as are hip belt pockets, which are great for snacks! Many models also come with an integrated hydration system, though you’ll normally need to purchase the reservoir separately.

Weight

Backpacking backpacks range from the ultra-lightweight to the heavy and sturdy. There’s no right or wrong, and it often comes down to personal preference. Most backpacking backpacks for women weigh between 3.5 and 5 lbs, though lightweight versions can be as little as 2 lbs.

Materials

High quality materials will always last longer than cheaper ones, and top-end backpacks use tough, tear resistant nylon to ensure durability. Also, look out for breathable materials, especially on the back panel, while waterproofing is also a nice touch. High quality buckles, zips, and hardware will prevent breakages, whereas polycarbonate frames help reduce the weight while adding strength to the support system.

Support

A good backpacking backpack offers plenty of support and distributes the weight, reducing strain and preventing injury. Adjustable hip belts, shoulder straps, and chest straps should come as standard, allowing you to tailor the pack to your form. Backpacks with an adjustable back system are superb, especially if you’re petite, as you can really find the fit that works for you.

Ventilation

The best backpacking backpacks can help reduce perspiration and a sweaty back by offering innovative ventilated back panels. The best encourage warm air away from the body through open foam layers, while allowing cool air in, preventing hot spots and increasing your comfort.

6 Best Backpacking Backpacks for Women

Now that we’ve seen why a women’s backpacking backpack is an important investment, and the key features to look out for, let’s take a look at 6 of the best on the market right now. All our recommended backpacks are well tested by friends of us who also live a active outdoor lifestyle.

Osprey Ariel 55 | The Best All-Round Backpacking Backpack

  • Capacity: 55l
  • Weight: 4.7 lbs
  • Dimensions: 31.1 X 14.96 X 12.2” (small)
  • Recommended load range: 35-60 lbs 

Interested in this backpack? Check out our review!

Osprey are well-known for producing a wide range of high quality backpacks for both women and men. The Ariel series is lightweight and comes packed full of features that make this one of the most versatile backpacks we’ve ever used. In fact, we have both used this very backpack for several years; from the frozen Arctic, to the Australian Outback, it’s always been a trusty companion.

It’s amazingly comfortable to wear, even when it’s packed full of camping gear, and is great for multi-day hikes. The fit is fully customizable, with an adjustable IsoForm5 harness and CM hip belt to ensure the perfect fit for your body. When you remove the top-lid, it converts into a really handy daypack, ideal for those shorter excursions, or even tackling the summit from base camp. 

One key feature is the Anti-Gravity (AG) suspension and back panel, which provides a tensioned frame and suspended mesh that hugs to your body to offer a fully integrated fit. At the same time, it provides excellent ventilation and really does transfer the weight of the backpack away from your shoulders, making even the heaviest pack seem weightless. This feature doesn’t always come as standard, so look out for it — you won’t regret it, it has allowed us to hike for days in utter comfort!

Available in 3 sizes; extra small, small, and medium, the Osprey Ariel provides ample storage and excellent organization. There’s a separate sleeping bag compartment, zippered hip belt pockets, ice axe holders, and an array of internal and external compression straps to ensure you fit everything in. Finally, the pack comes with an internal 3L hydration reservoir sleeve, though the reservoir is sold separately.

Osprey Xena 70 | The Best Backpacking Backpack for Heavy Lifting

  • Capacity: 70L
  • Weight: 5.35 lbs (small size)
  • Dimensions: 29.13 x 14.96 x 15.75”
  • Recommended load range: 40 – 70 lbs

Interested in this backpack? Check out our review!

The Xena 70 is Kelly’s backpack of choice, and it has served her extremely well over the years. Boasting a 70 liter capacity and loads up to 70 lbs, it’s a true workhorse, and a top choice for long treks and multi-day hikes. Organization is key in such expeditions, and the Xena 70 makes it easy to keep all the essentials close to hand, while protecting everything within.

There are 2 zippered front pockets, as well as a stretch mesh compartment for wet weather gear. At the bottom of the pack is a zippered sleeping bag compartment, while sleeping mat straps make it easy to keep your camping gear contained. The main compartment is extremely spacious, protected by an integrated FlapJacket if you choose to remove the lid, which doubles up as a day pack.

Additional access to the main compartment is provided by two side zips, making it easy to grab things without unloading the entire pack. There are also handy zippered pockets on the hipbelt, ideal for snacks and useful gadgets. The trekking pole straps keep your hands free on steep climbs, while an external hydration reservoir sleeve allows for an additional 3 liters of water.

As well as the excellent organizational features, the Xena is extremely comfortable to wear. Made to fit a woman’s body, the fully adjustable support systems provide amazing comfort and distribute even the heaviest loads evenly. As a result, even if your pack is full, you won’t feel overburdened or uncomfortable.

Deuter Aircontact Lite SL | The Best Multi-Day Backpacking Backpack

  • Capacity: 60 + 10L
  • Weight: 4.2 lbs
  • Dimensions: 33 x 12.5 x 10”
  • Recommended load range: up to 40 lbs

This is a superb choice for longer trips, with a spacious 70L total capacity. Designed for women by a team of female athletes, this is a pack that is made to measure. It features a narrower shoulder harness, shorter back length, and a conically shaped hip belt. It’s also fully adjustable to fit any build, ensuring comfort and proper weight distribution for days on end.

The Aircontact Lite back system is another key feature that provides additional comfort along the way. It’s designed to bring the weight of the backpack as close to your body as possible, and thus closer to your center of gravity, for better control and efficiency when carrying those heavier loads. But the best part is the Aircontact cushion layer, which features an open chamber of foam for supreme ventilation.

Besides great comfort and weight distribution, there are plenty of other awesome features. This looks like a 60L pack, but, if you’re short on space, there’s an extendable collar that offers an additional 10L. The zippered bottom compartment is perfect for storing your sleeping bag, while handy stretch side pockets are ideal for water bottles. It’s worth noting that the Deuter Aircontact Lite SL is also hydration system compatible.

A number of straps make it easy to carry everything from a helmet to ice picks to hiking poles, while compression straps ensure everything fits. The double base layer prevents your sleeping bag from getting soggy when you put the backpack on the ground — even in the snow. Overall, it’s a top choice for long trips and multi-day hikes.

Arc’teryx Bora AR 61 | The Best Waterproof Backpacking Backpack

  • Capacity: 61L
  • Weight: 5 lbs
  • Dimensions: 29 x 23 x 15”
  • Recommended load range: up to 60 lbs

Out of all the backpacks on this list, this one offers by far the best waterproofing. As such, it’s perhaps also among the best packs for mountaineering and hiking in harsh conditions, or extra-long trips. With a lot of padding on the shoulders and hips, plus fully adjustable straps that are fitted to the female form, it’s a comfortable backpack to wear in even the roughest terrain.

The RotoGlide hip belt is designed to rotate and slide with your body as you hike, reducing chafing and offering improved balance. It protrudes slightly from the pack, leaving plenty of room for air to circulate. Combined with the ventilated back panel, this does a great job at reducing perspiration and hot spots. In addition, the robust Tegris frame-sheet and aluminum stays do a great job at distributing the weight evenly between shoulders and hips.

The Arc’teryx Bora AR 61 excels in durability, using high-quality 420-denier nylon throughout, with abrasion resistant 630-denier nylon on the sections that’ll see the most abuse. The top and front of the backpack use waterproof fabric, keeping your gear safe from rain and snow. It’s a tough backpack that’ll last many years of hard use, and is ideal for harsh conditions.

Storage is rather simplistic, with one cavernous, top-loaded main compartment and a few additional external pockets for water bottles, wet gear, etc. Compression straps help to keep everything in place, while a number of straps and loops allow you to carry mountaineering gear with ease. The pack is also compatible with a hydration reservoir, though this must be bought separately. The only caveat is the price; it’s by far the most expensive backpack in our list, but it’s built to last a lifetime.

Osprey Renn 65 | The Best Budget Backpacking Backpack

  • Capacity: 65L
  • Weight: 3.4 lbs
  • Dimensions: 26.4 X 14.6 X 14.2”
  • Recommended load range: 30 – 40 lbs

It’s becoming increasingly difficult to find a good backpacking backpack for under $200, but not yet impossible. That’s where the Osprey Renn comes in! It may lack some of the additional features of its pricier cousins, but it comes complete with all the essentials. Specifically designed with women in mind, it features contoured shoulder straps and hip belt, plus an adjustable back panel to suit your torso.

The adjustable AirSpeed Suspension back panel system is easy to adjust, and provides excellent ventilation. Weight is well distributed via the LightWire frame, which transfers loads to the hips, rather than straining the shoulders. This all combines to offer amazing comfort for a pack that costs well under the average price on this list.

It’s natural to assume that with a pack at this price point, Osprey would skimp on the extras. However, the Renn offers plenty of features to get excited about. It boasts a large main compartment that will quite easily fit all the gear you’d need for a multi-day camping trip, as well as one large external pocket. In addition, there are 2 zippered hip belt pockets, ideal to keep snacks close to hand, as well as a sleeping bag compartment at the bottom.

In case of bad weather, an integrated rain cover can be pulled out to protect your belongings. The side compression straps maintain a streamlined profile, while stabilizing the load, and an inbuilt hydration system fits a 3L reservoir. Finally, the Osprey Renn 65 is compatible with the Osprey Daylite pack, enabling day-hikes from camp.

Granite Gear Blaze 60L | The Best Lightweight Backpacking Backpack

  • Capacity: 60L
  • Weight: 2.6 lbs
  • Dimensions: unknown
  • Recommended load range: up to 50 lbs

The Granite Gear Blaze 60L backpack underwent a pretty hefty overhaul in 2019, and since then it has been recognized as one of the best lightweight packs out there. At just 2.6 lbs empty, it’s far lighter than most of the competition, which makes it a good choice for heavy loads and long roads. It doesn’t sacrifice too much to drop that weight either, and remains a top choice for a wide variety of trips.

In fact, it boasts an array of features to ensure a comfortable fit mile after mile. The polycarbonate A.C. (AirCurrent) frame is adjustable, allowing you to precisely fit the pack to your torso size. Meanwhile, the Re-Fit hip belt is shaped to accommodate female hips, and is also adjustable. Finally, the molded foam back panel provides a close fit to your body, providing stability and distributing the weight evenly across your hips and shoulders.

It’s also a really durable pack, using triple rip-stop 210-denier nylon in high abrasion and impact areas, reducing scuffs and holes. Meanwhile, the lid is removable and can be used as a handy chest pack, ideal for keeping those essentials where you can see them. This can also be used as a light day-pack for short excursions.

In terms of storage, there’s plenty of space in the main compartment, which is top-loaded, but can be accessed using a vertical zip, to get those buried items. External pockets include two large side pockets, perfect for water bottles, stretch mesh on the front, 2 zippered hip belt pockets, and a zippered pocket on the lid. Compression straps keep everything in place, and it’s also compatible with an internal hydration system.

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Thanks for checking out this buying guide on the best backpacking backpacks for women. I hope you found the information useful and hopefully this makes it easier to find the right backpack for you! Let us know in the comments below where your next adventure is heading or if there is anything else you want to know or share. And don’t forget to check out more of our travel gear posts!

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