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Elemental Horizons Women’s Aquilo Backpack Review

The Elemental Horizons Women’s Aquilo Backpack (75L) is one of the first women’s ultralight-style backpacks made by a cottage backpack manufacturer. Weighing 43.8 oz, the Aquilo is a roll-top backpack with an adjustable length torso, another rarity amongst cottage gear makers, with female-specific shoulder pads, a female-friendly hip belt, and extra-small sizing. But the thing that sets the Aquilo apart from comparable high volume lightweight packs is its unusual configuration of external pockets. If you love pockets or need to carry heavy or awkwardly sized gear, you’ll love the Aquilo.

Elemental Horizons Aquilo Backpack

Comfort
Weight
Suspension
Features
Adjustability
Sizing
Durability

Great Pockets and Fit

The Elemental Horizons Aquilo Backpack (available for men and women) is an adjustable-length UL style backpack with a great pocket layout that's far more functional and convenient than other UL style backpacks.

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Specs at a Glance

Backpack Storage and Organization

The Aquilo is a roll-top style backpack with seven pockets in addition to the main compartment. There are the usual side water bottle pockets, an open front mesh stretch pocket, and the two closed hip belt pockets found on most UL-style backpacks. The hip belt pockets are optional and removable but come standard with the pack.

The Aquilo comes with seven external pockets

The side water bottle pockets are enormous and can easily fit two 1L Nalgene bottles. I can reach back and grab a bottle and replace it while wearing the pack, while the front mesh pocket is good for drying damp items, carrying camp shoes, snacks or extra layers. All of these pockets have elastic cords running through the top that you can cinch down to prevent items from falling out.

The hip belt pockets are also enormous. One pocket can hold 6+ snack bars, providing enough space to store plenty of food for a day of hiking. My iPhone 8+ fits into the pockets which is rare because it’s so big, and I can use the other pocket to hold all of my hip belt accessories that I normally spread between two pockets on other packs.

The hipbelt pockets are large and can hold plenty of stuff. They’re also easily removed from the hip belt.

There are also two unusually tall and high capacity pockets on both sides of the pack situated under the side compression straps that are good for storing heavy, long, or bulky items. I liken them to chipmunk cheeks since they can hold a whopping 10L of gear each. The pockets are situated right behind the rods of the pack’s internal aluminum stay, so heavier items stored in them can be carried more efficiently, right on your hips, which is where you want them. They also provide much-needed extra capacity if the main compartment is hogged up with a bear canister. I’ve used them to carry a tent body and poles, but they could carry trail maintenance tools, pickets, paddles, fishing rods, or even a hunting rifle. Both pockets have an elastic cord running through the top and the pack’s compression straps run over them, securing the items packed inside.

The Aquilo has two pairs of side pockets, a short one and a taller interior one.

The main compartment is enormous, with 49.5 L of storage capacity. It closes with a roll-top anchored to buckles on the sides of the front mesh pocket with a third webbing strap running over the top. The inside of the main compartment is PU coated, which makes the Aquilo highly water-resistant, although the interior seams are not taped. I like that fact that I can roll back the extension collar and see what’s inside the pack. It also makes it much easier to pack.

There’s no hydration sleeve in the Aquilo, which I don’t miss at all. When backpacking with a full pack, hydration bladders can be a nuisance to use and fill. However, there are two loops inside of the pack that one could hang a bladder from, while the hose can be threaded out a rear hole and over either shoulder strap.

The interior of the pack is PU-coated which increased its water resistance.

Backpack Compression and External Attachment System

The Aquilo has a multi-faceted compression and external attachment system that includes side compression straps and external gear loops. The roll-top closure also provides much-needed top-down compression and load stabilization which is important on a pack of this volume.

A webbing strap runs over the top of the pack to provide top-down compression

The Aquilo has two side compression straps: one at the top, and a second that runs from a lower spot on the pack through a slide buckle to the pack’s midpoint, providing double the compression of a mere single strap. This lower compression strap is external to the tall pocket, meaning it will compress any tall object inside of it, such as a tent. The lower pockets are external to the compression straps.

The Aquilo comes with two elastic cords behind and below the side pockets which can be used to carry a sleeping pad

There are also plenty of anchor points situated around the pack if you want to create your own external attachment points or cord configurations. The pack comes with a crisscrossed cord over the front mesh pocket, as well as a pair of elastic loops under the water bottle pockets that could be used for carrying a foam sleeping pad.

Backpack Frame and Suspension

The Aquilo has an adjustable length torso so you can fit it to your exact measurements. This involves increasing or decreasing the distance between the shoulder straps and the hip belt so that the weight of the pack rests primarily on your hips and not your shoulders. The height of the shoulder yoke is controlled by an adjustable webbing strap, while velcro panels behind the shoulder straps hold the yoke to the pack and prevent any lateral slippage. Elemental Horizons includes excellent documentation with the pack for how to adjust it and it’s pretty straightforward with a little patience.

The Aquilo has a U-shaped aluminum stay which slots into the hip belt for excellent load transfer

The frame is a U-shaped aluminum stay that slots into the hip belt at the bottom, providing excellent load transfer to the hips. The stay’s top cross-bar provides added stiffness and provides an effective anchor for the pack’s load lifter straps. The hip belt is also available in multiple lengths and replaceable (including petite sizes) so you can get the fit you need.

The women’s Aquilo has S-Shaped shoulder straps for women

The Aquilo has S-shaped shoulder straps that wrap around your bosom instead of smashing them flat like some unisex backpack shoulder straps. The shoulder straps are lightly yet sufficiently padded, without being too bulky for my small frame. The sternum strap is also adjustable, which I had to do as I prefer the strap a bit lower and away from my neck. The webbing on the outside of the shoulder straps has daisy chains loops sewn into it which are good for attaching extra pockets to the pack and hanging extra gear.

The hip belt has two webbing straps that mold the hip belt to female hips. The two straps meet at a center buckle.

The hip belt has a “quad buckle adjust hip belt system” consisting of two webbing belts connected by a central buckle. To adjust it, you close the center buckle, pull all four webbing straps so they snug against your body, pull the top strap to cant the pack to the shape of your hips, and then pull the bottom strap snug. The result was a hip belt that conforms to the hips and back, snug but not tight, and provides an outstanding base for carrying heavier loads.

Comparable High Capacity Women’s Backpacks

Make / ModelVolumeWeightAdjustable LengthPrice
Deuter Air Contact Lite 60+10 SL70L4 lbs 3 ozYes$220
Elemental Horizons Aquilo70L2 lbs 10 ozYes$285
Exped Thunder70L3 lbs 9.4 ozYes$279
Gregory Amber70L3 lbs 10 ozYes$210
Gregory Deva70L4 lbs 15.2 ozYes$330
Kelty Coyote70L5 lbs 1 ozYes$200
Mystery Ranch Glacier Pack70L5 lbs 9.6 ozYes$350
ULA Catalyst75L3 lbsSort of$280
The Aquilo backpack wraps around your back and torso like a second skin

Recommendation

The Elemental Horizon Aquilo Backpack is a super comfortable 75L ultralight-style backpack with an adjustable length frame. It’s available in both unisex (male) and women’s models. The women’s model, reviewed here, is available in shorter torso ranges (down to 14″ and up) and hip belts (down to 24″ and up) to fit small and petit sized women. Being a short woman, myself, I found the Aquilo to be exceptionally comfortable and adaptable without being too complicated to use. But the pocket layout, and the extra pockets, really seal the deal. The Aquilo is a great option, well worth exploring if you’re looking for a higher-capacity and adjustable length, women’s specific backpack and for women who don’t naturally fall into the neat little sizes assumed by other backpack manufacturers.

About the Author

Beth Zimmer is an expert backpacker who's backpacked all over New England and Eastern Canada, with a long list of hiking accomplishments to her name. She's section hiked the New Hampshire Appalachian Trail, climbed the New England Hundred Highest and the New Hampshire 200 highest (mostly bushwhacks), redlined the White Mountain Guide (1440 miles), and climbed the White Mountain 4000 footers several times over. Beth also teaches GPS and off-trail navigation classes as a volunteer for the Appalachian Mountain Club and is co-chair of the New Hampshire Excursions Committee, which oversees all volunteer hiking and leadership training activities. When she's not hiking and backpacking, Beth resides in New Hampshire where she can usually be found sipping coffee and planning her next adventure.

Disclosure: The author received a backpack for this review.

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