We researched hundreds of the best women's backpacking backpacks of 2019 and bought the top selection to test and compare. From quick overnights and week-long trips to alpine climbing adventures, we noted how easy each one is to pack and adjust for optimal support and comfort, how each pack holds up to heavy and light loads, and how accessible our water bottles, snacks, and layers stayed. Whether you are starting on your first backcountry adventure or are a seasoned veteran in need of an upgrade, this review has the pack for you.
The Best Women's Backpacking Backpacks
|Price||$255 List||$134.95 at Backcountry|
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|$269.95 at REI|
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|$269.95 at Backcountry|
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|$209.95 at Backcountry|
|Pros||Comfortable, supportive suspension, simple design, large pockets, durable, customization from manufacturer||Durable, comfortable even with heavier loads, streamlined features, great attachment points at outside of pack, integrated rain cover||Huge main compartment, customizable compression straps, super lightweight, comfortable with heavy loads.||Comfortable, plush padding, wide range of fitting options and adjustments, good number of pockets, easy-to-remove top lid,||Comfortable, lightweight, good set of features, large stow pockets|
|Cons||Non-ventilated back panel, less organizational features||Main compartment is a little narrow, water bottle holster is awkward, requires thoughtful packing||Dark material makes pack contents difficult to see, hip belt difficult to adjust, rigid padding might not last over time.||Large, spring loaded waist band is hard to get into, suspension can feel bulky, expensive, hip belt can sag uncomfortably on some users||Simple suspension, lacks support|
|Bottom Line||The ULA Circuit is a durable bag with all the right pockets and suspension that will keep your back, hips, and shoulders comfortable all day.||The Kyte 46 is a small, but mighty pack, built for a more advanced user. The comfortable wear allows you to tackle rough terrain with ease.||The Blaze does the unthinkable with the combination of a lightweight pack that can haul heavy loads and still feel comfortable.||This pack has stood the test year after year with its robust feature set, comfortable straps, and a strong yet light suspension featuring an incredibly ventilated back panel.||The Octal 55 is light, simple, and still provides for tons of storage space.|
|Rating Categories||Circuit||Osprey Kyte 46||Blaze 60||Osprey Aura AG 65||Gregory Octal 55|
|Comfort And Suspension (45%)|
|Organizational Systems (20%)|
|Specs||Circuit||Osprey Kyte 46||Blaze 60||Osprey Aura AG 65||Gregory Octal 55|
|Measured Weight (pounds) (medium)||2.68 lbs||3.42 lbs||2.63 lbs||4.65 lbs||2.58 lbs|
|Volumes Available (liters)||68||35, 45||60||50, 65||45, 55|
|Organization: Compartments||Side pockets, front pocket, hip belt pockets, main compartment||Lid, mesh side pockets, hip belt pockets, lid pocket, front mesh pocket, internal sleeping bag pocket, main compartment||Lid, front pocket, main compartment||Lid, front pocket, side pockets, dual front pockets, hip belt pockets, main compartment||Lid, front shove-it pocket, main compartment|
|Access||Top||Top, bottom||Top||Top, side, bottom||Top|
|Rain Cover Included||No||Yes||No||No||Yes|
|Women's Specific Features||S-Curve Shoulder Straps||Women's specific fit||Women's Specific fit & sizing||Women's specific fit||Women's specific fit|
|Sleeping bag Compartment||No||Yes||No||Yes||No|
|Bear Can Compatible||Yes - Vertical||tight fit||yes||Yes||Tight fit|
|Main Materials||500 Cordura||210D x 630D Nylon||210D HD nylon||Nylon||Nylon|
|Sizes Available||S, M, L, XL, Kids||XS/S, M/L||Short, Regular||XS,S,M||XS,S,M|
Ultralight Adventure Equipment Circuit
Take a bag designed for ultralight users and overbuild the suspension, incorporate durable fabrics, and load it up with capacious pockets and you have the ULA Circuit. Advertised as "the favorite child" by ULA, we tend to agree. The comfort of this model, even under beefier loads, surpasses many packs built to take more weight. The hip belt flexes to accommodate hips of varying angles and the shoulder strap options allow both men and women of different builds to get a great fit.
While there are fewer pockets than many models in our test, we found them to be just the right size and accessibility to fit all of our gear right where we needed it, and the cavernous main compartment is easy to load but lacks a sleeping bag compartment for bottom access. For hot weather pursuits, the non-ventilated back panel is likely to bring on the sweat but, because of the uncommon comfort and thoughtful organization systems, we feel confident recommending the Circuit to anyone but the heatstroke-prone rain forest explorer.
Read review: Ultralight Adventure Equipment Circuit
Best Bang for the Buck
Osprey Renn 65
These days, it's challenging to find a full-sized backpack that performs well for under 200 bucks. Enter the Osprey Renn 65. The Renn took a unique approach to design, spreading the 65L load laterally, creating a comfortable pack where even the heaviest of loads felt light as a feather. We love the Renn's simple design, complete with added extras such as roomy hip and brain pockets, and even an included rain cover. For one of the lowest-priced models we tested, you still get the incredible Osprey suspension system. The Renn 65 wins our Best Buy award for its unique, comfortable design, and advantageous extra features.
The Renn's roomy main compartment can handle whatever type of adventure you're into, from bear canisters to ropes. Unfortunately, the Renn doesn't allow for infinite adjustment, and it lacks the large stuff pocket on the back that is so handy for shedding layers. But that's a small sacrifice for a pack that is lightweight, cozy, roomy, durable, and budget-friendly.
Read review: Osprey Renn 65
Top Pick for All-Around Comfort
Osprey Aura AG 65
We took a long-beloved pack, the Osprey Aura AG, out on the trails again. Even compared to the newest models we reviewed, the Aura still excels as a favorite all-around pack. The comfort and support it provides rank highly in our tests — mostly due to the high-tech, supremely breathable suspension system for which Osprey is famous. We also love the features this pack provides. Its overall design is sleek, but it still provides plenty of straps and pockets to keep your gear organized. The sliding torso adjustment and extendable padding in the waist belt make the Aura one of the most adjustable models in our test.
If the hip belt is at a good angle for you're body, then you'll love the fit but some of our testers found it to dig uncomfortably into their bellies and bums so be sure to try on with weight before you buy. While the pack can feel bulky and is overkill for lighter loads, the Aura is still a great option for everything from simple overnight hikes to big, burly expeditions where you'll want added support.
Read review: Osprey Aura AG 65
Top Pick for Ultralight Design
Osprey Lumina 45
We have yet to see a backpack that is as lightweight as the Osprey Lumina 45. It's our Top Pick for Ultralight Design. There are more and more women's specific packs infiltrating the ultralight market, but the Lumina is the best we've seen. At 1.86 pounds, this pack is impressive even by ultralight standards. You may think that such a featherweight pack would lack support, but the Lumina has a full-frame and suspension system that provided plenty of support without adding weight.
The Lumina has three large, external pockets, which provide extra space on the outside of the pack for storage. These pockets are essential because the main body is slim, which can make it tough to pack correctly. It's is an advanced model, designed for a specific use. It's better suited for women who know how to travel in the backcountry and who are looking to pare down their kit seriously.
Read review: Osprey Lumina 45
Top Pick for Heavy Loads
Granite Gear Blaze 60 - Women's
We were ultra impressed by the Granite Gear Blaze 60. This pack offers by far the most storage space out of all the packs we tested, with plenty of ways to customize the pack and make it your own. The Blaze easily took on a trad rack and rope when we headed into the desert on a climbing trip in the backcountry. It's ultra-lightweight design also makes it the perfect choice for the advanced backpacker looking to pare down on weight for long hauls or heavy loads. It remained stable as we scrambled through canyons and offered a great amount of comfort for a paired-down pack.
The removable lid expands upwards, so you can make the pack as short or tall as you need. Both short and tall testers, along with veteran thru-hikers, loved the endless options of this bag. We wish it came in a lighter color since it was difficult to rifle through the Blaze in bright, contrasting conditions. Also, the side access is only available if the side compression straps aren't loaded.
Read review: Granite Gear Blaze 60
Why You Should Trust Us
Elizabeth travels the country, seeking outdoor adventure with her family from canyon exploration in the deserts of Utah to climbing the classics of Joshua Tree to thru-hiking Vermont's Long Trail. She has been backpacking for 20 years, including a 5-month hike on the Appalachian Trail, a honeymoon thru-hike of the John Muir Trail, and multi-week excursions in the canyons of Southern Utah to name a few. Her pack style varies from ultralight fastpacking 25 mile days to hauling loads for her two kids on multi-week trips in the backcountry. Elizabeth has also spent over a decade working in outdoor stores fitting backpacks for women and men of all shapes, sizes, and experience levels.
Meg spends several months out of the year in the outdoors backpacking, hiking, climbing, and mountaineering. Her written work focuses on empowering others to get outside by teaching relevant outdoor skills and telling compelling stories of life in the outdoors. As a writer, she spends nearly half the year in the outdoors, gaining experience and capturing stories for her clients. She heavily relies on backpacking packs not only for nights in the wild but also to tow heavy climbing and photography gear.
These packs went through the wringer in the expansive, harsh desert landscapes of southern Utah, the snowy mountains of Colorado, and the wet, muddy, rocky peaks of Vermont. Meg relied heavily on the ability of each pack she tested to carry the burden of extra gear during a cold spring, pushing some of the packs to their limits. Elizabeth tested packs while carrying heavier loads of multiple people's food to support her young kids on the rugged New England trails.
This review began with a lot of market research to find the best women's packs to test. We looked at hundreds before purchasing the top 17 to compare in the field. We identified four key performance areas to focus on and took them out to a variety of locations, such as the remote backcountry canyons of southern Utah, the rocky Front Range of Colorado, and the Continental Divide. We paid attention to things like how comfortable and easy it was to use the packs as well as their weight, suspension functionality, and available features. The resulting review is a great starting point if you're in the market for a women's backpacking pack.
Analysis and Test Results
We rated each of these backpacks on how comfortably they carry loads with their given suspension system, their weight, how each unique organizational system performed, and how adjustable they are for various body types and packing needs. We also paid special attention to what makes these bags women's-specific and how they are different from unisex or men's packs. Keep reading to find out all about the top performers.
Why Buy a Women's Pack
All of the packs we evaluated in this review are women's specific or offer components designed for fitting women's bodies. Some of these brands, like Osprey, Granite Gear, The North Face, and Gregory, offer a men's version of the same pack. The notable differences separating men's, unisex, and women's backpacks are sizing and hip belt and shoulder strap shape.
Women's models fit and are shaped uniquely for a woman's torso. Often the shoulder straps and back panels are narrower, the hip belts are curved or molded for curvier bodies, and the adjustment options are within the smaller size range of women. A woman's center of gravity is typically lower than a man's, and women's specific designs are intended to optimize load carrying. Women's packs are usually only ounces lighter, primarily due to a decreased size. These fit and sizing changes often make a women's specific model more comfortable and better fitting than a men's or unisex model. They also keep the pack weight to body weight ratio in a more appropriate range for smaller bodies. These shifts all make a big difference as you log miles.
Women with larger frames and broader shoulders may prefer men's or unisex models, but most women will find the features of a women's-specific pack preferable. With any pack, it is worth spending the time to get the correct size for your body type.
While we only consider performance during product testing and scoring, we know that value matters. While the best performing products win our Editors' Choice or Top Pick awards, our Best Buy awards go-to products that offer up the best value, providing high performance at a reasonable price. In this review, Osprey Renn 65 and Gregory Octal 55 offer a high performance to value ratio.
Most packs fall between $230 and $300. There are also outliers on both ends of the spectrum — like the Arc'teryx Bora AR 61, which is an incredibly technical, yet also costly pack. On the other hand, there are packs like the Deuter AirContact Lite, which is a well designed, durable pack for significantly less. The Renn 65 earns our Best Buy award for its unique design for still even less.
Comfort and Suspension
How comfortable is this pack when nearly empty? When fully loaded? Does the weight sit on your hips? Does the suspension system allow for air movement? Are there contact points that lead to discomfort, chaffing, or bruising? How do we feel after a long day with this pack on our pack? These are some of the questions we posed while testing. These backpacks are for multi-day use, and adequate comfort is essential unless you are mainly interested in fast-packing or ultra-lightweight hiking. Fast and light backpackers often have to sacrifice a degree of comfort and spaciousness for the sake of covering more ground more quickly.
The most comfortable packs in the fleet are the ULA Circuit, Osprey Kyte, and Osprey Aura AG The Circuit provides exceptional comfort along with some of the largest and most accessible pockets and the Kyte combines everything you want in a smaller pack with ultimate comfort in mind. The Aura has long been a favorite for its exceptional ventilation and hug-like fit.
To get these scores, we evaluated the overall cushion and support of each backpack. Padding on both the shoulder straps and the hip belt is essential to help you avoid chaffing and enjoy all-day comfort. Some models, like the two Osprey packs, the ULA Circuit, and the Gregory Deva 60, have great padding, while others, like the REI Co-op Traverse 65 and Osprey Lumina, are designed to be lightweight and simple. They don't offer as much padding. We also considered the width of the shoulder straps, along with their thickness. Packs with thinner shoulder straps, may be more comfortable for those with narrower shoulders, while wide straps can be more suitable for those with an athletic build.
Back panels do a lot to contribute to overall comfort. Some back panels are so soft that they are comfortable even against the skin. Others use firm padding, such as the Blaze 60, to maintain rigidity, stability, and support. Mesh back panels allow airflow and let your back breathe. Having a puddle of sweat held against your back isn't comfortable. A well-ventilated back panel, like the one on the Aura AG, is incredibly comfy because the pack itself doesn't rest on your back. You can wear this pack in any season and with any clothing. Some models, like the ULA Circuit or the Deuter ACT Lite, have straightforward back panels that use their rigidity for added support.
Keep in mind that packs are designed around ideal weight loads. While most are capable of comfortably carrying an array of weights, some work with a broader range than others. Generally speaking, the lighter the pack is, the more comfortably it carries light loads, and the heavier it is, the more comfortably it carries heavy loads. There are obvious exceptions like the Blaze 60 and ULA Circuit, but this will give you an idea of how well a model will handle your gear.
The Osprey Aura AG 65 and ULA Circuit are the most versatile packs in our test when it comes to weight loads. Both can be used as a daypack or for a single night trip, carrying only lunch, a water filter, and extra layers. Or they can comfortably carry a massive multi-day load. The Gregory Deva 60 works best for heavier loads due to its size. The pack is relatively bulky, and a small load can feel sloppy and excessive.
A pack's suspension system distributes weight across your back, from your shoulders to your hips, and relates directly to the pack's frame. This distribution is often accomplished using a curved frame design that rests against your shoulder blades and hips while opposing the natural curve of your back in between. Look toward the Osprey Lumina or the Gregory Octal for examples of this style back panel.
Other packs, like the ULA Circuit, effectively distribute the load to your hips with a simple, flat back panel and a rigid aluminum stay. With a hip belt attached to the stay and frame, weight is easily transferred to the hips but be aware, in this style, if the hip belt doesn't tie closely enough to the frame, the loads can sag onto your shoulders.
A new contender is the unique design of the Renn 65, our Best Buy winner. It is the only pack we tested that had a squat, lateral load distribution. Instead of stacking weight high, the Renn focuses on hugging you with the main compartment. We loved how we had free range of motion with our head when using the Renn. Even the super heavy loads felt airy and light on our back.
The Deuter AirContact Lite provides lots of lower back support. This pack has extra padding in the lower back, just above the waist belt, which we find very helpful when carrying heavy loads. Some companies now use hinging suspension systems that allow the hip belt and the shoulder straps to move independently, which helps keep your load stay stable and allows the pack to move with you as you hike or climb over obstacles. Please note that a proper fit is necessary for the hinging design to function correctly. These newer systems are very stable and evenly distribute your load, though they add weight to the pack.
The Arc'teryx Bora AR has one of these systems, which hinges at the lower back. It moves with your hips while stabilizing the pack on the shoulders. We love its simple, yet supportive design. The Gregory Deva 60 also has a decentralized system called the Response Auto Fit Suspension, which rotates independently on the waist belt. Unfortunately, it doesn't pivot as smoothly as the Bora, and its hip belt is uncomfortably stiff. These flaws limit the design's effectiveness.
The Osprey packs have elaborate airflow designs that significantly reduce the sweat that forms on the back during a full day of hard hiking. Anti-Gravity (AG) is a highlight of the Aura AG and Ariel AG packs. It features a tightly suspended mesh back panel that is inches away from the back of the main compartment. This panel creates unparalleled ventilation. The space between the body and the main compartment doesn't compromise any stability except with cumbersome pack loads. (The closer the pack is to the body, the better it will contribute to stability under heavy weight.) This fact is why models meant for larger carrying capacities rest tightly against the back, incorporating ventilation into the padding itself. Two good examples are the Granite Gear Blaze 60 and ULA Circuit.
First, we weighed each of these packs in-house. Then, throughout this review, we packed each model with very similar kits each time we headed out for a test trip. For a multi-day trip, we packed a sleeping bag, sleeping pad, a two-person tent, the 10 essentials, a couple of extra layers, rain gear, water, a food bag with food, and few miscellaneous items. Since we were carrying nearly the same gear weight on every trip, we could pay attention to the packs' weight.
We also packed the bags with additional, heavy and bulky items to see how the packs handled heavier loads and bulky gear. These items included a bear canister loaded with food, an ice axe, a rope, an additional sleeping pad (for winter conditions), a helmet, and a rope.
This review includes a ton of very lightweight models that blow the rest of the packs out of the water. The Osprey Lumina 45 is one of the very lightest, weighing only 1.86 pounds. We also tested the Gregory Octal 55, which weighs. We love these lighter models, though they do sacrifice some comfort and trim some favorite features to make this possible. Weight is a trade-off.
That said, more massive packs often provide more support — that's the case with the Deuter AirContact Lite, which weighs four pounds. The exceptions to this rule are the Granite Gear Blaze 60, which weighs 2.63 pounds but handles heavy loads like a champ and the ULA Circuit weighing in at 2.68 pounds and also being a gear-hauling beast. This capability is due to the packs' sturdy and close-fitting frames. The Osprey Ariel 65, and Gregory Deva 60 are the heaviest packs in this review, weighing over five pounds. Most models fall in the four-pound range. Some contenders, like the Arc'teryx Bora AR 61, feel much lighter than they appear on the scale due to the overall simplicity of their design.
When looking at pack weight, consider how much you'll be carrying. Are you someone who likes to bring a lot? Is your kit bulky and bigger? Is this pack going to be used for backcountry climbing missions? Or, are you excited to cut weight and slim down your kit?
The organizational systems rating assesses how easy each model is to pack and access as well as any additional features that may (or may not) come in handy. We also looked at how easy it is to customize each pack and what it's like to live with day in and day out.
Organization strategies range from super simplistic with the ULA Circuit and Arc'teryx Bora AR 61 to very complex with the Osprey Ariel 65 and Gregory Deva. The latter three packs have more than five enclosed compartments and additional open pockets. The Osprey Aura AG, has five pockets: two medium and two small pockets, in addition to the main compartment.
Most packs follow the same basic design principles, so they all tend to do well here. That said, nuances make some models stand out. The Aura AG received a high score in this metric for its design that includes an easy-to-remove lid, multiple access points, and a few handy extra pockets not seen on some of the more streamlined models. The ULA Circuit also rated well due to large, user-friendly pockets and few if any, excessive design features.
The North Face Terra 55L received an average score in this metric since many of the features weren't too useful in the field, and the materials used felt bulky and cumbersome.
Customization is important when you're wearing your house on your back. We examined anything and everything that could be adjusted, from torso adjustments and hip belts to compression straps. Does the pack have any removable elements? Can you adjust the location of different compression straps? How much range of fit does the pack have in terms of torso height and hip belt girth?
Packs that scored well in this category allowed for a full range of adjustments. The Aura AG and Gregory Maven both scored high marks since they offered not only different compression adjustments but also were easy to adjust on the fly. We also liked the Granite Gear Blaze 60 because it offers ways to quickly trim down the pack's features and move around compression straps to keep your items secure, no matter what you're carrying. However, both of this pack also had more limiting adjustability with the initial fit.
The competitors with the most natural and most intuitive suspension system adjustment points include the Arc'teryx Bora AR 61 and the Osprey Aura.
While it does come down to preference, simple pack designs are more pleasant to use over time. After fiddling around with dozens and dozens of models, our testers have come to realize that they prefer designs with fewer pockets and straps in general. The ULA Circuit is a great example of this. New packs like the Osprey Renn 65 and the Gregory Octal are slimming down on features, suggesting that the market trends are toward more straightforward models overall.
Except for Osprey Renn 65, Gregory Maven, Deuter Futura Vario and Osprey Kyte 46, which come with a built-in, removable rain cover, the packs we reviewed are water-resistant at best. If you're out in a downpour, your gear is going to get wet. Use a garbage bag to get through bad weather in a pinch. If you're planning on an extended trip in wet weather, consider purchasing a rain cover fitted for your pack. Here are a few options:
- The adjustable Arc'teryx Pack Shelter
- The sleek Osprey UL Raincover
- The simple Kelty Rain Cover
Having the right pack on your back can make the difference between an enjoyable time in the outdoors and a great deal of annoyance. Choosing the right pack, however, can be pretty tough. Your personal needs will vary depending on the environment and climate where you spend your time, as well as your packing habits and body type. And while we can generally agree that we need a pack that will perform well on our outdoor excursions, we tend to prefer products that won't drain our bank accounts as well. We hope that this review will provide valuable insight as you search through the marketplace.
— Elizabeth Paashaus, Meg Atteberry and Jane Jackson