Shrink it, pink it, call it unisex. That’s the approach taken by many backpack manufacturers who want to sell backpacks originally designed for men to women. But women have narrower shoulders, breasts, wider hips, and different proportions than men and need backpacks that more anatomically appropriate for their sex.
S-Shaped Shoulder Straps
While some women can make-do with a smaller sized unisex backpack that was originally designed for man, there’s a crying need for backpacks designed specifically for curvy female bodies. For example, backpack shoulder straps with an S-curve are often more comfortable and a better fit for women, especially for women with larger breasts. The typical J-curve often lands in the middle of the breast, squashing it. The pressure can be quite painful, and if you loosen the straps, the pack moves from side to side, defeating the intent to hold weight close to the body. Some men also prefer S-curve straps, particularly those with athletic builds, as it results in more freedom of movement around the armpit, and a shorter sternum strap.
Similarly, hip belts designed for women tend are more rounded and contoured to accommodate wider hips and sit higher up on the hip bones than men’s hip belts. Here’s a comparison (see above) of the men’s (unisex) and women’s Re-fit hip belts available for the new Granite Gear Crown2 Backpack. The women’s hip belt has a curve that flares upward and sits at a slight angle to match the hips. These modifications keep the majority of the weight of a pack on women’s hips where it belongs and make a big difference in all-day comfort.
Sizing is important too, but best when it’s accompanied by women’s specific shoulder straps and hip belts. Smaller in stature, women have shorter toros and narrower hip circumferences than men. The best fitting women’s specific packs often have interchangeable hip belts that can be swapped independent of the torso size of the pack or even adjustable length hip belts, like the RE-FIT hip belt used on the Granite Gear Crown2 (see my review of the Granite Gear Crown2 Backpack.)
|Backpack Make and Model||Women's Specific Features||Torso Sizes (Fixed Length or Adjustable Length)||Hipbelt Sizes (Fixed Length or Adjustable Length)||Weight|
|ULA Catalyst||S-Shaped Shoulder Strap Option||Fixed: 15-18", 18-21",21-24", 24+"||Fixed: 26-30", 20-34",34-38",38-42", 42+"||44-48 oz|
|ULA Circuit||S-Shaped Shoulder Strap Option||Fixed: 15-18", 18-21",21-24", 24+" & (Adjustable: 12-18")||Fixed: 26-30", 20-34",34-38",38-42", 42+"||41 oz|
|ULA Ohm 2.0||S-Shaped Shoulder Strap Option||Fixed: 15-18", 18-21",21-24", 24+"||Fixed: 26-30", 20-34",34-38",38-42", 42+"||27.5-32.5 oz|
|ULA CDT||S-Shaped Shoulder Strap Option||Fixed: 15-18", 18-21",21-24", 24+"||Fixed: <30", 30-36", 36+"||19-24 oz|
|Granite Gear Crown2||S-Shaped Shoulder Strap, Women's Specific Hip Belt||Fixed: 15-18", 18-21"||Adjustable: 28-38"||34 oz|
|Granite Gear Blaze A.C. 60 Ki||Women's Specific Hip Belt||Adjustable: 14-18", 18-22"||Fixed: 26-30", 30-34", 34-38", 38-42"||43-46 oz|
|Granite Gear Crown VC 60 Ki||Women's Specific Hip Belt||Fixed: 15-18", 18-21"||Fixed: 26-30", 30-34", 34-38", 38-42"||34 oz|
|Granite Gear Leopard VC 46 Ki||Women's Specific Hip Belt||Fixed: 15-18", 18-21"||Fixed: 26-30", 30-34", 34-38", 38-42"||42-44 oz|
|Granite Gear Leopard AC 58 Ki||Women's Specific Hip Belt||Adjustable: 14-18", 18-22"||Fixed: 26-30", 30-34", 34-38", 38-42"||46-49 oz|
|Gossamer Gear Mariposa 60||Extra Short Torso Lengths||Fixed: 11.5-15.5", 15.5-19", 19.5-23.5"||Fixed: 24-34", 30-40", 38-50"||30.7-34.8 oz|
|Gossamer Gear Silverback 50||Extra Short Torso Lengths||Fixed: 11.5-15.5", 15.5-19", 19.5-23.5"||Fixed: 24-34", 30-40", 38-50"||34.9-40.5 oz|
|Gossamer Gear Gorilla 40||Extra Short Torso Lengths||Fixed: 11.5-15.5", 15.5-19", 19.5-23.5"||Fixed: 24-34", 30-40", 38-50"||31.7-35.7 oz|
|Six Moon Designs Flight 40||S-Shape Shoulder Strap Option||Fixed: 16-22"||Fixed: 23-38", 27-39", 31-41",35-55", 27-37", 29-39",33-43", 37-57||29-43 oz|
|REI Flash 45||No information available||Adjustable: 16-18", 17-19"||Fixed: 28-38", 30-40"||44 oz|
|Exped Lightning 60||No information available||Adjustable: 14.2-20.9"||Fixed: 30.7- 55.9"||40 oz|
|Exped Lightning 45||No information available||Adjustable: 14.2-20.9"||Fixed: 30.7- 55.9"||38.8 oz|
|Osprey Packs Tempest 40||S-Shaped Shoulder Strap, Women's Specific Hip Belt||Fixed: 13-17", 16"-20"||Fixed: 27-42", 29-44"||36-38 oz|
Best Women’s Backpacks
I’m often asked which backpack manufacturers offer women’s specific backpacks that weigh 48 ounces (3 pounds) or less, which is considered to be the boundary between traditional packs and lightweight/ultralight alternatives. There aren’t as many of them available as one would hope, but here are the ones that I know about along with detailed information about the torso lengths and hip belt sizing available with each model. There’s a lot of information here, but it’s a good place to compare options and sizing across manufacturers and models.
The best pack lightweight packs for women are made by ULA Equipment, Granite Gear, and Gossamer Gear. They have the best selection of women’s specific backpacks and have a track record of investing in women’s specific features beyond the standard shrink it and pink it mentality manifested by other outdoor brands. Just calling a backpack a “women’s model” doesn’t cut it in my book. I want to know exactly how a pack is optimized for the female anatomy before I recommend it to a friend. If a brand, be it REI or Exped, doesn’t take the time to explain how their women’s packs differ from their men’s packs, I can only assume their distinction is marketing fluff.
ULA has offered S-Shaped straps on their packs for women for years and nearly 50% their customers request them. The hip belt offered on their Catalyst, Circuit, and Ohm backpacks also has two straps that allow it to be tightened flat for men or flared, which helps women get more load transfer to the hips.
Granite Gear’s new Crown2 backpack (2017) is the first lightweight backpack with S-shaped straps for women and a women’s specific hip belt. The women’s version of this pack is so popular that the Granite Gear online store sold out of in a few weeks when it became available, although you can still buy it at REI and other online retailers. Like ULA, Granite Gear has also had women’s specific packs for years (identified as “Ki”), which refers to their women’s specific hip belt.
Gossamer Gear has the best sizing for women with support for torso sizes down to 11.5″ in length with interchangeable hip belts like ULA and Granite Gear, so you can get the hip belt length you need if you have a short torso and a narrow waist. While their packs are still unisex and not women’s specific, they’ve made to changes to their shoulder straps and hip belts in an effort to make them work for both men and women. This includes changing the lateral exit angle of the shoulder straps to accommodate a woman’s chest more like an S-shaped strap, widening the hip belt, and adding extra hip belt padding.
What’s your experience been with these lightweight, sub-3 lb backpacks?
Written 2017.Editor's note: Help support this site by making your next gear purchase through one of the links above. Click a link, buy what you need, and the seller will contribute a portion of the purchase price to support SectionHiker's unsponsored gear reviews, articles, and hiking guides.
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