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Backpacking Gear Recommendations for Short Women

Which is the Right Pack for Me?
Which is the Right Pack for Me?

I’m helping a small (dare I say short) 5′ 2″, 110 pound female day-hiker named Lisa gear up for backpacking.

Lisa knows she has to go lightweight in order to enjoy backpacking. There’s no way she can carry anything heavier than a 25 pound pack for a 3-day long backpacking trip. That’s close to 25% of her her body weight. So we need to help her find some lightweight alternatives that she can buy that will let her carry food and water, and still stay under a 25 pound maximum pack weight that includes her gear and consumables.

I’m interested in your suggestions here – particularly if you’re a small man or woman who has wrestled with the same questions.

There are a few constraints that you should keep in mind. Lisa doesn’t have any backpacking experience although she has been hiking her entire life. She’s not adverse to learning the skills for going ultralight, but she’s not there now, and I’d be hesitant to recommend that she buy an  expensive custom-made product that requires a lot of skill and judgement to use. I’ve wasted a lot of money going down that road, buying ultralight gear, before I understood what I really needed.

That said, I’ve told Lisa that she’s probably going to want to buy an second set of new backpacking gear within a year or two, after she gets used to her first gear list and understands its limitations. She gets it. She’s got enough disposable income to absorb the cost and knows she’ll be able to sell off some of her used gear.

Lisa likes to research a lot of different products before she chooses one. That’s good, because that’s part of the fun!

Lisa also has a few preferences when it comes to what she wants:

  • She’s not interested in sleeping on a hammock.
  • She’s a side sleeper, but not keen on trying a backpacking quilt.
  • She wants to go backpacking during the cooler months in New England, particularly in the Spring and Fall seasons when it’s not too hot and there aren’t any bugs. She HATES bugs.
  • She’d like a tent or shelter that she can share with her sister or use solo.
  • She’s not freaked out by wearing one change of clothes for an entire backpacking trip, but acknowledges a pre-disposition to over pack clothing just-in-case.
  • She’s never cooked on a backpacking stove.
  • She has no idea what her torso size is, but you should assume it’s pretty short.
  • She’s never had to filter or purify her own drinking water.
  • She’s a grown woman and doesn’t expect to get taller than she already is.

How would you outfit Lisa for lightweight backpacking? What specific products would you recommend she investigate?

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64 comments

  1. – for backpack : Gossamer Gear Murmur 2012
    – for tent: Big Agnes Flycreek UL 2

    • The flycreek wouldn’t be my first choice, but unlike a tarptent, you can return it at REI if you hate it. BA has a new version of the Flycreeks which is under 2 pounds but very expensive. http://www.rei.com/product/827911/big-agnes-fly-creek-2-platinum-tent

      I also suggested she look at some of the NEMO tents and of course Tarptent.

    • surprised you suggest a murmur – I consider that an ultralight pack for very light loads. It does not have a padded hip belt for instance and requires some packing skills she just doesn’t have yet. I’m not sure what I would recommend – really depends on what”s available for people with short torsos – but I’d steer her toward something that had stays that inserted into a padded hip belt, at a minimum – for load transfer. Am I being too conservative?

    • Osprey makes some good light weight packs, my favorite being the Exos. Granite Gear also has a wonderful line of women’s packs for a few REI suggestions. I use a Six Moon Designs Swift and there are several cottage gear makers that will make a pack to fit a certain torso size, like Zpacks.com. I recommend Big Agnes for the sleeping bag or if she’s willing to spend the extra The Mont Bell Super Spiral. Both are great for side sleepers. Also tell her to look into kids items. I’m 5’3″ and I fit in a TON of kids bags and sleeping pads and clothes and they are usually cheaper. My first pad was the REI Kids pad and it fits me perfectly. Henry Shires Tarptent has some awesome 1+ person tents that are great for the occasional family member joining you and they are very roomy for shorter people. For women, it’s not unusual to take an extra pair of clothes, more so than most men. A change of underwear is a good idea always and it’s easy to take a light pair (4-6oz) of quick dry shorts and a tank top (3-5oz) without adding much more than 1/2lb in weight. I usually take a pair of long underwear as my change of clothes. The other stuff, she’s just going to have to get out there and try it. Even being a avid camper and outdoors woman my whole life, I didn’t start backpacking until a few years ago but with enough research and some help from people like yourself, I got the hang of most things pretty quick.

      I would be happy to help her out if she wants. I’m always available though the email on my blog’s Contact Me button! If she lives anywhere in the SE US I can get her plugged in with a few other backpacking women here and she can come on trips with us!

  2. This is more about a process than specific suggestions:
    1) Let’s start by removing one item from the “preferences” list. Get her torso measured! That will shorten the list of packs to consider.
    2) Aim for less than 25 lbs at the trailhead, the 25% of body weight rule of thumb should be viewed as an upper limit, not a target
    3) Ease the expense that comes with a newbie learning about backpacking by making opportunities for her to try things in situations provide backup or backout options. Examples: trying a tarp shelter when car camping and have a tent in the car in case she hates it or trying a CCF sleeping pad but having a neoair along

  3. On the plus side, being short means you can save weight by geting the smaller size of some gear. For instance, the manufacturer-recommended number of people actually fit in a tent if they’re small and narrow. I got a 3/4 length Thermarest sleeping mat and its nearly full size on me (I’m 5 foot 3). A full length one would have been totally wasted. There are shorter sleeping bags available for teens. I would so have got one of these if I weren’t so wide!

  4. Andrew Gustafson

    Since she hasn’t had any experience cooking in the backcountry I would suggest that she first spend some time researching how to prepare simple backpacking meals from shelf stable items at home (i.e. rice, couscous, dehydrated veggies, spices, tuna, salmon, etc.). A canister stove would have the lowest learning curve, and a Jetboil system would eliminate the overwhelming multitude of pot/stove combinations. If she’s looking at going solo then the Jetboil Sol Ti would be a good idea. I don’t have any experience with the Jetboil Sumo Ti but I would assume that it would be a good option if she was planning on doing a lot of backpacking with her sister.

    • I think the Jetboil is about a good as you can get for a beginner backpacker on trips that last less than a week since resupply is not required. Packs up quite small too. Good suggestion.

  5. Andrew Gustafson

    How about an Exped Symmat UL 7? The short is 64 inches (5′ 4″) with an R value of 3.1 (good down to about 30 deg, and weighs in at 15.2 oz. I know it’s not as light as some Neoairs but the length is perfect for a very minimal weight difference.

  6. I am with Anwar about the packs. The GG Murmur is relativly short and fits my wife (5’1″.) About 9oz. Shoot for a base weight of ~10 pounds.

    A short womens sleeping bag and pad will work. Get good down. It will easily last for 20 years of use. Insure she knows how to maintain it. A 20F bag will work for spring and fall. Lighter bags (say a 30F or 40F bag) require more skill in campsite selection, layerd clothing that doubles as sleeping clothing, and a better pad. But, they will also offer greater comfort range in warmer weather. I would suggest the NeoAir Xlite for a pad at around a 66″ length. About 2#8 total weight.

    Suggest starting with a fully enclosed tent. Many different models and makes, but also she will fit into a “childs” tent. After 10 nights out in it, she will know what she wants in a tent. Her sister *might* require a different tent, though. Sleeping out in the woods is really no different than sleeping at home. Once she gets by that psychological point, tents do nothing but provide a dry spot to sleep in, her bag provides warmth, and her pad provides comfort. There is a lot of overlap on all of these. Use ti sheperds hooks for stakes. About 3-4 pounds for a tent.

    This is the basics for about 7 pounds. I would add a 8’x10′ tarp if she will be spending a large amount of time in camp. Around 1#3 to 1#8 for a tarp to cover her camp area.

    A small saw will help with fire wood. Most campsites need something more than broken branches. But, if she will be moving a lot, it isn’t worth it. The SvenSaw makes a good one at around 14oz.

    The canisters make a good starter system. A stove, 2 canisters, pot, cup and spoon are wanted, but a smaller pot will double as a cup. With two people, a larger pot is needed though. The KMart grease pots make great two peron pots when coupled with bannock, and other foods. Works well for one, too. About 2pounds for the entire cook kit.

    For water, two .5L bottles works well. A larger 2L platipus works for dry camps. Aquamira drops works well for water treatment. Bear line & clip, flashlight (small LED,) a tube of suber glue (cuts, scrapes, blisters,) 2 bandaids, 5′ of wide duct tape, bandana (table cloth) 2oz pocket knife, pencil, 4-5 pieces of note book paper, toothbrush, piece of candle (2″), small salt shaker (table salt, lite salt, 75/25%,) Afterbite, DEET, comb, 2 hairties, E+Lite, vitamins, 2 Benadryl capsules, a small bottle of soap, a piece of a scrubbie, rounds out the ditty bag (also used to throw over branches for bear line.) About 10 ounces.

    This should all weigh about ten pounds, including the pack. Rolling the tent and tarp will add some structure to the pack for carrying.

    Usually, food is figured about 2 pounds per day. So, this all fits into the pack. Light without being overly fussy about UL gear and the skills needed for reducing her gear. As she learns she can reduce to mini-dropper bottles, drop the tent (in favour of permethrin and DEET.) She can reduce her food to around a pound per day using all dehydrated, or, high density foods (pepperoni/salami/beef jerkey.) The reduction is “fresh” foods means a reduction in vitamin C, A, etc. Vitamins become increasingly important. Pritiens for muscle regeneration prevents some “stiffness” in the early hours. Often, Advil or other pain pills work with lighter pads (Nightlite or Z-Lite and drop the neoair for example to add more structure to the pack.)

    Anyway, the skills needed for UL camping will develope themselves after about 30 days in the woods. Have her try different arangements in her pack and for sleeping. Point out to her that her gear, no matter what she buys, should be good gear, or, rugged enough for their purpose. Cleanliness in the woods? Show her how to wash with her bandana, rinse it out and dry it in the sun using a pot of warm water. Never put a wet/dirty bandana in the pot, wring it out first. Body modesty serves a purpose, take your *duty* away from camp, but don’t be afraid to get caught with your pants down. We all gotta go and wash the sweat off. Bugs are best detered with permethrin treated cloths and DEET. But she may be more comfortable in a fully enclosed tent than sleeping under a tarp. Black bears are relativly timid, but keep a clean camp. No food bits on the ground, no spilled food around the camp. No wrappers around camp, pick up what is there to be safe. Keep your spoon and pot in the tent after washing/drying. Banging the two together will chase off most critters. ‘Coons can be more difficult to shoo off. Often a stick tossed in his direction is needed. Creatures often anounce their presence, coy dogs, red squirrels, even fishers make noises. Nice to listen too at night, but, can be frightening to the uninitiated. A mouse at 3′ can sound like a deer at 30’ at night. You can tell the difference, but again, this is a skill to be learned. Lean-toos are poor to sleep in. Floors are hard, often dirty and infested with critters (mice, chipmunks, ground squirels, etc.) Nice in rainy weather, though. Watching the clouds & sky will usually tell you where it is best to camp for the weather. Again, a skill that is not easily learned, but really handy to have.
    Water runs down hill. Avoid low lying camps, and choose a piece of ground slightly raised. I have been amazed at the number of hikers out there that miss this basic skill. Look for blow downs and hangers above you. Evaluate which way a dead tree will likely fall or shed limbs, choose a safer spot if needed. Again, it takes some time in the woods to autiomatically pick out the best spot.

    My thoughts only . . .

    • Given that she’s a side sleeping, I pointed her at the super spiral down bags from Montbell that flex around you are you move at night. They really will last for 20 years if cared for unlike synthetic fill bags that lose their loft if they are compressed frequently in a stuff sack.

      • I just came back from a mini vacation in Great Basin National Park. This was my first experience sleeping in a mummy style bag (I’m 49, never too old to learn new things). I bought the Montbell Super Spiral Down Hugger #1 and am so happy I did. I’m a side sleeper also and I did plenty of shifting and rolling around to try to get comfortable. By the third night, I was very cozy and slept well. I highly recommend the Super Spiral for side sleepers. My sleeping mat is the Big Agnes Q Core in the petite size (I’m 5″4′) and it is so comfortable!! My husband said he slept better on his Q Core than he does at home.

      • I’m glad we were able to help. Thanks for the note!

      • I just found your website and am SO happy to find this kind of information. I’ve been hiking since I was young, but getting into backpacking is a new thing. My “bucket” item is to do a multi-day hike for my 50th birthday, so I’m preparing for next summer.

        My day pack is an Osprey Kestral 28 and is perfect for my small frame. I can adjust they way I carry my load, it packs great, has nice outside pockets and more importantly..is a wonderful shade of green that blends in with the outdoor environment.

  7. Many backpacking items are the same regardless of size, for example an LED headlight. The equipment where a persons size, and height in particular, matter are; shelter, sleeping bag, sleeping pad, and pack. Lisa is actually in an advantageous position. Lisa is very close to a ‘normal’ size woman.

    She does not like bugs( neither do I) so a fully enclosed tent is probably more desirable than a tarp. She wants to camp during the shoulder seasons( my favorite time also) so she should be prepared for more interesting weather than a summer backpacker. If she camps at altitude then interesting weather is even more likely. A sturdier tent may appropriate in those circumstances. Lisa is lucky. She is unlikely to find the mythical ‘two person’ tent is undersized.
    People rarely complain about a too warm sleeping bag but an inadequate one can spoil a trip. My cold sleeping wife loves her ten degree Feathered Friends sleeping bag. She has the Petral model. It is a womans bag that comes in small and medium sizes. The bag is cut for women and it is just a bit warmer than the standard 20 degree bag. It weights 2 pounds two ounces.
    Thermarest has a variety of Neo sleeping pads in various sizes and temperature ratings. I sleep on my side and find the Neo pads 2.5 inch thickness welcome. The NeoAir All Season size medium weighs one pound two ounces and is 66 inches long. It has a R value of 4.9 which will work even in cooler shoulder season weather.
    For someone just starting I believe the pack should be particularly comfortable, even if it weighs a little more. Start with the torso measurement and then try packs on for size. The process is similar to buying shoes. Fit matters most.

    Does Lisa appreciate how much money and grief you are sparing her?

  8. I would suggest getting the Sawyer squeeze filter right off the bat. I is substantially lighter than most regular filters, easy to use, and comparably priced. I love mine.
    Comfort would be my big recommendation for that first backpack. Get that torso measurement.

  9. Tarptents are hard to beat as a lightweight, easy to use, bug proof shelter. Almost any of the conventional pole/two-layer tents will be too heavy and too much of a pain to set up. If bugs weren’t an issue I’d look at a shaped tarp like the trailstar or duomid. In any case you want something a neophyte can set up quickly in the rain without getting the inside soaked – I’ve used my tarp for a lunch break in inclement weather and being able to get out of rain gear for a bit can be very nice.

    I love my sawyer filter too. Remember to pack an extra baggie to use as a scoop to fill the reservoir when there isn’t a strong flow.

    I might look at a lighter canister stove than a jet-boil. Compare the weight (and size) of a stove with a Al or titanium cup to the jetboil. If she’s adventurous you can always try Esbit tabs, but that may be a little too far out. I’d give any sort of alcohol stove a miss.

    Pacific outdoors makes a nice light air mattress – and the “small” size is for a women (I’m a 5-11 man and it is my 3/4 pad).

    Frogg toggs or their equivalent?

    A cheap dry-container solution is using ziploc plastic containers (not the bags, but little round boxes with screw-top lids). They’re good if you need crush-resistance or have something that is sharpish and would otherwise pierce packs and pack-liners. They are smell resistant enough to keep esbit tabs in. (I’ve used them for stoves, fuel tabs, matches/lighters, and fishing gear (not all at once))

    I know she’s not excited about quilts, but it might be worth trying to get her to try one out with a loaner. I’ve found they work very well and are now my preference. The volume saved could be important.

    • Excellent point about single walled tarptents Rob – I have seen it take over an hour for a beginner to pitch a double walled tent (with an external fly) in pouring rain, and the results – a very wet inner tent – were not pretty.

    • > Frogg toggs or their equivalent?

      Sadly, Frogg Toggs doesn’t make rain gear in Lisa’s size. I know, because it is my size as well, and I WANT to give Dri Ducks my money if only they’d produce for my size. I’ve begged them to take my money, but it isn’t enough of a market.

  10. Interesting how people like to recommend what they like – even when they’ve been told the person wants something else. I think if someone has expressed a preference its best to leave them to make their own discoveries/mistakes. Taking a random (and not particularly strong) example – if someone doesn’t want a quilt, theres no reason why they need to try one yet. There are plenty of other variables to mess with that would give greater weight savings, and trying to convince someone out of a belief before they’ve even had a go their way tends to fail. Its nice to avoid some pitfalls, but you have to make some mistakes yourself. It’d be interesting to see what out of the “ideal” kit list she’ll be using 6 months from now…

  11. This post caught my interest since I am 110lbs & 5′ 3″ female gear junkie. While I do sleep in a hammock – I have no suggestions for shelter — but my first thoughts for a top quilt would be hammockgear.com Their burrow TQ can be made to specific length & for ground sleeper I would suggest a little wider than his standard. his quilts pack down nice

    RE: cooking. use dehydrated meals – boil water with esbit. light & no fiddle factor. or for alcohol Zelphs Fancy Feest is solid/ easy to use IMO. snow peak 600 for a pot, mac & cheese container works well for oatmeal or a hot beverage

    The ULA CDT pack model from this yr small size fits me great!

    here’s a video I posted the other day with some of my gear might give her a few ideas. http://youtu.be/pCN6b8Y_VS8

    Good luck!

  12. (more thoughts after re-reading the original post and comments).

    Aqua-mira or similar chemicals for water purification. Somewhat more foolproof, lower upfront cost, lighter weight, and something I carry a few of as a backup anyway. The downsides are flavor and waiting time. As long as she flushes the threads it will work.

    Volume will be more important with a smaller pack – because there are some things that have to be brought along no matter what. That’s why i was suggesting trying a quilt. I’m not that keen on compression sacks and other ways to minimize volume at the cost of more weight and wear on the gear. The down bags would work too and my son’s have used a mountain hardware ultralamina-32 as a decent lightweight synthetic (which might be better if she plans to hike in the rain).

    Since she’s planning to hike with her sister (solo hiking is probably not a good idea for a first trip), some things can be shared. This tends to tip my mind towards a canister stove just because it would be relatively fool-proof and the pair would only need one of them.

    I carry a spare packliner to wash clothes in and some safety pins to clip the wet ones to a pack for drying. That way you can feel pretty clean without carrying a lot of extra clothes. Rainpaints work pretty well for preserving decency in mixed company – though I wouldn’t want to hike in them if it weren’t bucketing down.

  13. When I was first starting out backpacking, I tried renting gear. This allowed me to try a few different models before committing to a purchase.

    The available selection may not be the fanciest gear out there, but I found it helpful in determining which characteristics were necessary, and which I was willing to pay extra for

    REI members are able to rent from stores, and I’m sure there are other options as well depending on your location.

  14. Tarptent has plenty of nicely designed, lightweight tents that are easier on the budget than some of the mainstream ones… and Henry Shires is very helpful and pleasant to work with.

    GoLite has a number of packs and down sleeping bags on sale for pretty reasonable prices. I have a 2 lb. 20° down bag which I dearly love but just purchased a 40° down bag on GoLite’s sale that weighs half as much. I’m going to try it and wear more layers on the cold nights.

    Neo Air pads are light and comfy and they have come out with the XTherm model for cooler temps. Their pads are a bit pricey but it is a one time purchase. She can likely get by with the smallest one they have. She needs to make sure she has the ten dollar repair kit in the sack with the pad for added insurance.

    The JetBoil SolTi would still work for two people. It will boil over a half liter at a time, which should reconstitute a couple meals at once. If that isn’t enough, in a minute or so, the next batch will be boiling. I’ve used an alcohol stove on a number of hikes but I think I’m going back to the JetBoil for its speed and simplicity. If bringing a stove with a built in igniter, be sure to have a small lighter or some other fire starting device along just in case the piezo igniter decides to quit working right when you need that cup of hot chocolate to take the chill off after being drenched by a cold rain.

    In most of the places I hike, the water is pretty clear and the tablets work just fine. I’m still fiddling with a couple filters for my optimal pond scum water system but will always carry tablets for insurance purposes.

    I’m not a picky eater so Lipton/Knorr Pasta Sides, ramen noodles, and beef jerky is gourmet food to me on the trail. Of course, my expeditions are only a few days at at time. I also bring chocolate chips, Hot Tamales, dried mangoes, and a few other snacks.

  15. Being a woman and only 2-inches taller than Lisa, my suggestions will be quite different than those from a man, no offense guys, but women carry pack weight different and we (not all) sleep colder.

    Sleeping Bag
    I’m guessing she lives and hikes in the northeast where it’s colder, this translates into bulkier gear mainly a sleeping bag for warmth. I use a Western Mountaineering Versalite 10° down an overstuffed foot box. 32-oz

    Sleeping Pad
    I’m a Exped user all the way, currently using the UL7 model. At 5’2″ Lisa can use the 64″ size, 14-oz and have a full length pad, in the winter I add a 1/4″ Thinlight for added insulation

    Pack
    at 5’2″ she probably has a shorter torso, ULA Circuit or Catalyst both had internal frames and excellent weight transfer to hips. These packs will accommodate the bulk of winter gear, they’re light weigh and has a true hip belt for load transfer, very important especially for a beginner backpacker and female. IMO the Murmur does not have the capacity needed for a beginner nor the bulk, plus no weight transfer to the hips

    Tent
    you mentioned she would like to share it with her sister. Based on that I think a MLD DuoMid, she can add an InnerNet if she wants and it will allow her to use it as a tarp with a bivy if she chooses. We all know the Mids are proven in the wind and winter conditions, just ask Skurka.

    The smaller items
    stove- simple canister or maybe a JetBoil if all she’s going to do is boil water. I don’t have any experience with the the JB, only heard they’re not all that good for “real” cooking.

    Hydration
    AquaMira drops are my first choice although the Sawyer Squeeze comes to mind as being about as simple as it gets and light weight
    Soft sided bladders and plastic water bottle for drinking

    • That’s why I posted this post JJ – knew my advice was a bit jaded because I didn’t have the complete female picture/perspective. I was counting on some ladies chiming in.

  16. Yes the Sawyer Squeeze, for the water filter is as simple as it gets, and perfect for any one to use.

    • Philip and Lisa,
      I have found myself in this exact situation in the past. My girlfriend is 5′ and approx. 100lbs. Her torso is 16.5″ Needless to say she is extremely petite. We tried on many many packs, including the ones in XS offered by the major companies (e.g., gregory, osprey, etc). What ultimately worked for us, in terms of weight and fit, was a 2009 golite lite-speed (for weekenders) and a 2008 golite quest (for extended trips). Both in size Small. We found that most other companies had harnesses that were too wide, even in size XS, leading to the straps falling off her shoulders. For some reason, Golite discontinued the women’s size Small around 2010, instead choosing to introduce a hybrid S/M size. So if you don’t mind buying used, I think an older 08/09 golite pack in women’s small would be great. The lite-speed and quest both have aluminum stays that can be bent. Also worth noting, we also tried a frameless golite jam with poor results. Generally speaking, its very difficult for women to carry weight on their shoulders when compared to men…seems more effective to have a pack that has great hip transfer.

      Just to be clear, we have this model: http://www.backcountry.com/golite-lite-speed-pack-2400cu-in-womens

      I don’t have any first hand experience, but I bet a granite gear nimbus meridian ki would be great for extended trips. You can order custom width shoulder harness (both in the width of the strap padding, and the width of the entire harness), longer/shorter hipbelts, etc.

  17. Lots of good stuff in this thread. +1 for Exped Synmat, Tarptent and Sawyer Squeeze. All backcountry tested by yours truly :).

    While you’re at it, I’d love to see a similar post where you are outfitting your tall friend Louis, who is 6’5″.

  18. Sleeping bags: I think MARMOT down bags are excellent. 15 Deg F rating should do it fro NE 3 season.

    Tent: REI Qtr Dome T2 looks like a bomber light weight double wall. Every time I am in REI I crawl in and have no problem imagining using it in the backcountry.

    Pad: Neoair All Season was one of my best gear purchases in a long long time.

    Pack: Osprey packs have nice spectrum of choices

    Extra Clothing: if you must pack extra clothes, midweight merino wool – tops, bottoms, gloves liners, and cap. Works as an extra layer while hiking or while camping or sleeping. Adds a lot of thermal insulation at a fairly low weight penalty

    Bonus: I use a clothing stuff sack from THERMAREST that has a fleecy liner, turn inside out and it makes a great pillow, very dual use

    • As another small woman (5′ 3″, 125 lb), I would say Lisa needs to get measured before she decides on a lot of gear. I wanted a LW pack, and I came away with the Osprey Ariel pack. The Aura just did not fit right, and if I hadn’t gotten measured (and tried on 6 different packs…), I wouldn’t have found something that fit. On that note, Lisa should be ready to try on many backpacks; nothing fit quite right, and it took a while to narrow down what I needed to get most of the weight sitting on my hips.

  19. I’m sorry to say that I jumped straight to the comments section after reading the first sentence of your post. I, too, am a 5’2″ 110# lady, and I have been through a lot of different packs. The one that won was the Osprey Atomos 65 in small. A man’s pack? Yes. If you are a bitty gal, men’s packs actually fit much better in the shoulders – which is the reason I rejected all the previous packs in my arsenal.

    I hope it helps!

    • Also, per the rule about carrying a certain percentage of your body weight, because of her (and my) body weight being so low, and the weight of water and food being a fixed variable, there are going to need to be sacrifices made in other area.

      I have a Gossamer Gear The One tent and LOVE it. I can sit up fully at the peak (#shortpeopleperks) and can even fit my gear inside the tent with me because if I put my head at one end of the tent, my feet have that much of a gap to the other end. A LiteHeart tent would work similarly.

      For a sleeping pad, a torso length will be only 6″ too short to serve as a full body pad. You know what you can do with those 6″? A pillow. Torso length pads are both cheaper, and lighter, than their full size counter parts.

      For a sleeping bag, check out children’s bags. I know that sounds weird, but she should also check out children’s clothing. A L or XL boy’s pants or shirt can fit, as can some children’s bags made for the taller child scouts. Again, things for children are cheaper and lighter.

      Barring that, a quilt. As small as she (and I) is, there is enough quilt to completely wrap around to become a bag. And the quilt is likely as long as she is tall. Again, quilts are lighter than bags.

      On another note, however, the WalMart children’s tent will also fit her. Sure, it is a children’s tent, but again, she’s (as far as manufacturers are concerned) large-child sized. It weighs 2.5 lbs, so if you are looking to get her a different tent that has a comparable weight, save her $X00 and get the sub-$20 children’s tent. Tell her to sleep on the diagonal. Again, she’ll be able to sit fully upright at the peak.

    • As for sharing the tent: rent one whenever she is going out with someone else. It is not worth her spine/knee health to carry unnecessary weight since technically she is supposed to carry a 25# pack at most due to her natural weight. Tents that hold more than one person are heavier than tents that hold just one person. With a partner on those rare trips, the weight of the tent can be split across the two people.

      Filter water through a bandana and use Aqua-Mira drops. Either that or a Sawyer In-Line filter. Cannot get lighter/safer than that and those are perfectly adequate.

      Does she want to cook-cook or just boil water? A beer-can pot and a supercat stove with Carbon Felt windscreen/pot grab is the lightest (and for that matter, cheapest) freezer bag cooking setup. When I want to cook-cook, I carry a JetBoil burner (already had it, but truly any teensy canister stove will do) and canister in my grease pot. I use my bandana as a pot grab.

      If she dislikes bugs, a good smoking by sitting in a leaf-ridden camp fire will give her a good smoky smell that acts, on its own, as a bug repellant. I, too, prefer to hike in cooler, bug-free temps. If she does winter camping, it REALLY is in her best interest to get a custom bag or custom backpacking quilt that has the velcro necessary to close it up all the way as a bag (since those tend to be the best source of custom made “bags”) that is fit to her height. Otherwise, she’s heating a near foot of empty air space at the foot of her bag AND the hood, collar baffle thing, and other internal bits and bobs will NOT fit her body. For me, to get my head out of my REI kilo bag, the neck collar baffle thing is actually almost on my nipples because I’m a more compact creature than they took into account when designing the bags. And the hood can hold half another of my heads. I used to sleep extremely cold until I realized the reason that was happening was that my body was working too hard to heat up so much extra air space and the features of the bag that were supposed to be helping were all in the wrong biological place so it didn’t help anyway.

      You said she is a side sleeper, but while a backpacking quilt would be a tight fit on you, she’s so bitty that she’ll be able to sleep, with the quilt as a quilt, without any danger of it pulling up from under her sleeping pad. Think of her as your standard 11-year-old (I was my height and weight at 11 and stayed there) and you’ll see what I mean. Getting the quilt-maker to put that omni tape the entire way up the sides so that you can turn the quilt into a bag is fantastic. I sewed my own quilt using the JRB No-Sniveler specs and then edged all but the top with omni-tape and it fits me perfectly in bag mode. I’m not advocating that she use it as a quilt (though a bonus to this is that she can completely open it to “blanket” mode for any summer trips she may decide to take), but merely that the dimensions work for the size bag that she needs.

      Another thing to consider: beanies, balaclavas, etc, may be too large for her head. She may need to shop in the children’s section for that, again, or have a custom made one.

      In short: There are price-perks to being 62″ tall and 110#, but it is rather annoying as buying off-the-rack is just not as possible as it is for more “average” body types.

  20. I am short (5′ 3 1/2″) but stout (never mind the weight). My torso length is 15″ so I’m really at the short end for packs and such. As everyone else says, it’s her torso length that is important!

    Shelter–for two, why not the Tarptent Squall 2; that’s what I started with after I ditched my mid-1980’s SD Clip Flashlight (which I hated). Plenty of room for your friend and her sister; about 34 oz. after seam sealing, including stakes. While I’ve gone to a lightweight tent (Hexamid Twin), I still take the roomy Squall 2 for overnight trips or when taking out a grandchild. For a budget alternative (and double wall) the GoLite ShangriLa 2 is priced at $149 right now.

    Sleeping bag–I’m hooked on Western Mountaineering, but it’s one of the more expensive options. Watch out for ratings on unisex sleeping bags; as you know, for women the rating is 9-10*F higher than the men’s (as shown by the EN13537 ratings). In other words, for 20*F temps, most of us women really need a 10*F bag. (I don’t have to tell you that; your writeup on EN13537 ratings is what I always quote when trying to explain them!) I am deliberating selling my WM Ultralite and getting a Versalite instead, but I may try getting an overfill for my Ultralite first. A full-length zipper is important for ventilating on warmer nights. Budget alternative would be the Kelty Cosmic Down 20, recommended by BPL for beginners, Scouts, etc.

    Pad–If I had to replace my current pad (from the late lamented Kooka Bay), I’d try the Exped UL7 Downmat. A warm pad is important for backpacking in shoulder season, especially at higher altitudes. I do just fine with a 3/4 length pad, and she probably will, too, which allows for more weight savings. I tried the NeoAir and can’t sleep on the horizontal baffles–can’t get comfortable and they keep “bucking me off.” She’ll have to try different types to find out what works for her.

    With sleeping bag, pad and clothing, warmth may be more important than weight. I’ve shivered through a few 15* nights (at high altitude in the Rockies or late September in the Cascades) and don’t recommend that!

    Pack–mine (2005 model SMD Comet) is no longer made so obviously I can’t recommend it! I really like the lumbar pad, which SMD discontinued the next year. The SMD Starlite, its “big brother” is way too big for both me and my gear. My Comet has an adjustable torso with 15″ the bottom adjustment, so it fits just fine. With the “optional” stays I’ve carried up to 35 lbs. with no discomfort to shoulders, back or hips (although my knees and feet were screaming!). I have very pressure-sensitive shoulders and need load lifters to get the pressure off my shoulder tops. If I had to replace the Comet (still holding up just fine), I’d look at the ULA Circuit or the new Elemental Horizons packs (Kalais or maybe Aquilo). Granite Gear and most Osprey packs don’t work for me. Of course the pack she needs is the one that comfortably fits her and the load she will carry. IMHO, pack fit is as individual as shoe fit!

    Cooking–a regular canister stove (such as Snow Peak) affords more options than one of those JetBoil things and is lighter. That way she can either boil water for freeze-dried/freezer bag style cooking or she can actually cook and simmer stuff if she wants. I used to love backpacking cooking and it’s only in my old age that I’ve come to prefer reconstituted freezer bag meals with no dishes to wash. I’ve tried alcohol but inevitably end up taking the far more convenient canister stove. Re food, if I carry more than 1 lb. per day, I end up with leftovers.

    For starting out, I suggest she rent or borrow at least the most expensive gear items (even if heavier) and/or look for used gear.

  21. My wife is 5’1″ and 105lb, and I recently persuaded her to try backpacking after a 10 year gap. She’s a cold sleeper, and she could never get comfortable in the past. Most of my gear is too fiddly for her, which necessitated a few new acquisitions. Here’s what we agreed upon that may be of relevance to Lisa:

    Shelter: TarpTent Stratospire 2. Henry’s coming out with a solid inner for this soon which will help keep the drafts at bay.

    Sleeping bag: Western Mountaineering Ultralite, 5’6″ length. We considered the Versalite, but my wife will accompany me mostly from May – September in the Colorado high country, and the slimmer cut of the Ultralite worked better for her.

    Pad: Exped DownMat UL7. A few oz more than the SynMat UL7, but a much higher R value. Another reason we went for the Ultralite over the Versalite.

  22. Great topic! I’ve been going down that road myself lately. I am a 5′-2″ female, too, but a bit (ahem) heavier. I’ve been struggling to find someone to backpack with here in my area of WV. A great opportunity opened last week when a state park sponsored a “beginner’s backpacking workshop”. Attending the workshop allows me to join on a backpacking trip in a couple of weeks. My first one. Whoo Hoo! It’s just an overnight and the leader will supply a lot of the gear that everyone will use such as stove and water filter.

    I have a backpack that I feel fits me perfectly but I’m having a senior moment on which it is. I will check when I get home and add an update post. My tent, for now, is a Marmot. I have a 2-person because I like to have my dog along on camping trips. I also have the long Thermarest but I could easily use the 3/4 size.

    I will certainly ne following this thread.

  23. First of all, I know a short, small Lisa from New England that likes the outdoors, I wonder if you are the same Lisa!

    Secondly, as a short, small person myself (5’4 and 125 lbs), I really like the Osprey Ariel 65 pack. You could get a smaller liter-size to save some weight (i.e. 50L instead) and to save yourself from over-packing it cuz you can with all that space! I had that thing kitted out with glass bottles of wine, and lots of things you won’t be carrying on a standard backpacking trip (I was hiking to an alpine yurt, so no tent meant room for wine!), so that it weighed probably closer to 40lbs. Which is a lot for me, and the hike wasn’t easy, it was only 4 miles each way, but at a steady incline, at about 7000 ft altitude, and breaking trail through an active blizzard. I’m a size Small in that pack, I bet you’d be an XS, and you can get the waist belt heat-molded to your body ahead of time to take out that step of “breaking in” the pack. If you buy it online, you can still just take the belt to an REI or EMS or other retailer that sells Osprey gear and they should do the molding for you gratis no worries.

  24. Another small 5′ 3″ lady here. I made my own pack because I couldn’t get a good fit. I am using a Z-packs Hexamid tent with beak and a solo-plus ground sheet. I took a Neo-Air 4 seasons Large and shortened it a bit more than a foot, and resealed it with my iron. This gave me a warm pad WIDE enough for side sleeping. I use a Big Agnes pumpsack to carry and blow it up. I also use the Exped air pillow. I started with a Montbell superspiral down bag#3, have since built my own from a Thru-hiker quilt kit. The mummy hood drove me nuts when I unzipped it to use it as a quilt in warmer weather. I wear Rail riders insect shield pants and shirt for tick protection. I treated all socks and such with Sawyer permethrin. I use a homemade alcohol stove&windscreen and titainium pot, aluminum spoon, weighs right about 7 ozs. I have become obsessed with weighing everything!

  25. OK. I checked and my pack is a Millett. I don’t see that brand often but it fits me well as a short female. BTW. Load lifters make all the difference. Be sure you select a pack with them.

  26. The responses mentioning gear aimed at children brought a possible sleeping bag to mind. North Face has a synthetic mummy bag called the Tigger that is rated to 20° and weighs 2 lb. It is supposed to be for people up to 60″ height so it might be a little tight on the length. Perhaps one can be borrowed or tried at a store. I bought one online for $35.00 for my grandson. He’s used it and his sister has used it in temps down to 17° without being cold. Of course, they seem impervious to temperature and will even run around barefoot in snow, earning the “barn brats” moniker I applied to them.

  27. Another comment on the Tigger. Since it has synthetic insulation, it doesn’t pack as small as a comparably sized down bag, however, the packed size is the same as my 20° full size mummy down bag.

  28. Killer discussion! Can’t wait to hear Bill’s take on this due to the fact that my wife is 5′ 3″ and I’m 6′ 3 1/2″. (My mom calls us Mutt and Jeff.) We consider ourselves to be “light-weight” instead of “ultra-light” and we’re always looking for ways to shave a few ounces. I’ve found this thread as well as Claire’s video to be really informative. Unfortunately, now I’m jonesin’ to get into the woods and a back injury is gonna put that off for another week. And no, my UL friends it wasn’t from the pack. It happened at work. :)

  29. I am only five feet tall and have had trouble finding a backpack that fits me without banging into the back of my head. A very experienced outfitter in Portland suggested a Gregory pack. I walked from Canterbury to Rome last year and found it 100% comfortable. Since then, I have found other women who have mentioned that they like the Gregory for the same reason. Unfortunately, it seems that the outfitters make packs for women, but they don’t make them for the full size range. they may be almost perfect in all details, except for the fact that they are too long in the torso. I did another month long walk this spring and again, was 100% happy with my Gregory pack.

  30. I just bought my first overnight pack this weekend. I’m 5’2″ with a short torso. I have a hard time finding things that fit. I purchased the REI Flash 52. It fit me well, and I liked the available adjustments. The small only weighs 2lbs 12oz. Not bad.

  31. Check out the closeout sales, because often the only sizes left are very small and very large. A few years ago I got a half price GoLite windshirt from Moab Sports, only one left in XL.

    For short sleeping bags, both Western Mountaineering and Feathered Friends have standard short bags and custom options. They won’t be cheap, but they are lovely bags.

  32. The Sawyer Squeeze is so easy to use and lightweight. Bring Smart Water bottles and you drop some oz from a Nalgene. I used to use a Steripen but found it faulty and you had to have a big-mouthed bottle.
    I am a hammocker and a side-sleeper, and still recommend a quilt from HammockGear.. she can drop a lot of weight from down that is just going to get compressed & is useless.
    Buy a food dehydrator and make your own food. It is fun and you end up saving a lot of $$.
    She doesn’t have to go brand name..I have a small torso 16.5 and am 5’5” and fit perfectly into an REI women’s small pack (Ridgeline 65) It’s a good place to start, then down the line she can get a ULA or SMD. Not sure where Lisa lives, but the REI in Reading, MA has an older gentleman that knows his stuff. I had my heart set on an Osprey Ariel but it didn’t fit me since i seem to have broad shoulders. I would have bought it had he not pointed me towards the much cheaper and better fitting REI bag.
    Switch paracord for zing it line for bear bags and tent/tarp guyouts. You can get it online at reddenmarine.
    I like to pack for the what-ifs and always bring home clothing i didn’t wear. If it’s cold or raining the likelihood that you’re going to change your entire wardrobe is nil (unless it’s wet). i bring long underwear and an extra set of underwear/socks only now. This comes from someone who wouldn’t have a problem showering twice a day. You just don’t bathe as much out in the woods.
    hope this helps.. going to follow this for sure.

  33. I’m only 5’4″ and was worried about getting a good fit, light and an entry level price. I went with the Deuter ACT Lite 40 + 10. It’s adjustable and was absolutely wonderful!! The fit was superb and after 6 days on the trail, I didn’t have a single rub/blister spot. With water, I started with nearly 40lbs. since I had some lengthy distances between water early in the week. I’d highly recommend this pack!!

  34. That’s him. Good guy.

  35. I am 5 ft. 2 in. and weigh just at 100 lbs on a good day. I spent six months researching my pack for a 5 day trip on the GA section of the AT. On previous trips, I borrowed packs and had a lot of trouble. I bought the Gregory Jade xs pack, after reading a bazillion user ratings – I kept seeing that it worked well for small frames. I picked 3 packs I was interested in, went to REI and got fitted. The Jade was perfect. It’s got pockets in all the right spots (having fast metabolism – I have to eat more often so extra pockets for stashing food was a must), the hip belt is awesome, the shoulder straps are comfortable, the breast strap is adjustable, and I can detach the top section when I don’t need as much space. The downside, it’s a heavy pack. It’s got straps galore – and if you know you’re not going to gain any weight, trimming them will cut you quite a few ounces. The fabric is really strong, and the structure keeps it off of your back and very little stress on your shoulders. I was able to pack everything I needed for 4 days at 27 lbs. I even stick it in the washing machine… which is probably illegal in hiking terms. Right now I am looking to go much lighter and am interested in GoLite, which I may try out. But I doubt I will ever get rid of my Jade, it has served me so well and I highly recommend it or something similar to it. And I know you said no hammocks… but I have recently made that switch – hammock, quilts, and tarp all weigh in at less than 2 lbs and I sleep in complete luxury – even the best tent alone can’t beat that. New hammock designs allow for side sleeping and incredible comfort, but just like any other gear – the best stuff costs the most.

    • SplendidLady – I’d be interested in knowing exactly where you trimmed your Jade straps so that you wouldn’t miss them, and without removing the bits that keep them from pulling through. I’m even a little smaller than you. Same problem, but love the Jade.

    • SplendidLady, did you ever get a ultra light pack that fits you? I’m exactly your size and looking for a lighter pack.

  36. Tarptent double rainbow is lightest and incorporates poles.
    Investment in lightweight gear is necessary for small hiker
    titanium pot
    pocket rocket
    gregory pack, though heavy, fits short women so much better its worth it; cut straps down.
    My nearly-grown kids still use their osprey jib kids packs though; they like them fine.
    Thermarest neoair is needed for warmth as is expensive lightest down bag
    get light down insulator to go under rain jacket
    cold nights just may not be possible within weight limit, given warmth needs of small hiker.

  37. I am 5’4 but i have about a 14 inch torso. I use the deuter 45+10 sl and i have it on the smallest possible torso adjuster. it is the smallest torso size on an adult bag that i have seen. childrens bags fit me but always have mini hip belts that aren’t so padded. the one i have is an older model at 3lb 6 oz; the current is 3lb 12 oz.they do have a 35+10 as well for shorter backpacking trips.I use a womens petite 22 degree down sleeping bag(2lb 7 oz), with a tarp and a bug net insert(-27oz- uses trekking poles). Plus one spare set of clothing,rain coat and pants and extra sleepwear plus socks.This puts my base weight at about 10 pounds. plus 2l of water, a sawyer filter, 4oz of fuel, and food, gets me under the 25 lb mark. It worked, and still works for me, and for a beginner who doesn’t want to splurge on super lightweight gear.

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