We researched hundreds of the best women's backpacking backpacks and bought the top 17 to test and compare. From quick overnights and weekend 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
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|$123.75 at Amazon|
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|$122.95 at Backcountry|
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|$269.95 at REI|
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|Pros||Very comfortable, slimmed-down waist-belt and suspension system, easy-to-remove top lid, wide range of fitting options and adjustments, good number of pockets.||Durable, comfortable even with heavier loads, streamlined features, great attachment points at outside of pack, integrated rain cover||Roomy, inexpensive, ultra comfortable, durable.||Huge main compartment, customizable compression straps, super lightweight, comfortable with heavy loads.||Comfortable, lightweight, good set of features, large stow pockets|
|Cons||Large, narrow contoured waistband gets in the way when putting the pack on (some users complain it's too narrow), suspension can feel bulky, expensive.||Main compartment is a little narrow, water bottle holster is awkward, requires thoughtful packing||Not many bells and whistles, set adjustment points, wider pack is difficult to fit a bear can comfortably.||Dark material makes pack contents difficult to see, hip belt difficult to adjust, rigid padding might not last over time.||Simple suspension, lacks support|
|Bottom Line||This award-winning pack has stood the test year after year with its streamlined, lightweight design and incredibly ventilated and comfortable back panel.||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 Osprey Renn combines comfort, volume, and price. This simple pack will take you anywhere and won’t break the bank.||The Blaze does the unthinkable with the combination of a lightweight pack that can haul heavy loads and still feel comfortable.||The Octal 55 is light, simple, and still provides for tons of storage space.|
|Rating Categories||Osprey Aura AG 65||Osprey Kyte 46||Osprey Renn 65||Blaze 60||Gregory Octal 55|
|Comfort And Suspension (45%)|
|Organizational Systems (20%)|
|Specs||Osprey Aura AG 65||Osprey Kyte 46||Osprey Renn 65||Blaze 60||Gregory Octal 55|
|Measured Weight (pounds) (medium)||4.63 lbs||3.42 lbs||3.93 lbs||2.63 lbs||2.58 lbs|
|Volumes Available (liters)||50, 65||35, 45||50, 65||60||45, 55|
|Organization: Enclosed Compartments||Main compartment, lid, front pocket, side access pockets, dual front access pockets||main compartment, lid, 2 mesh side pockets, 2 hip belt pockets, lid pocket, front mesh pocket, internal sleeping bag pocket||Main compartment, lid, side pockets||Main compartment, lid||Main compartment, lid, front shove-it pocket|
Best Overall Women's Model
Osprey Aura AG 65
We took our old favorite, the Osprey Aura AG, out on the trails again to make sure it still deserves its Editors' Choice title. Even compared to the newest models we reviewed, the Aura still excels as our favorite all-around pack. The comfort and support it provides are unparalleled — 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 and simple, but it still provides plenty of straps and pockets to keep your gear organized. We especially love the large, stretchy mesh outer pocket that now has two layers of mesh. It adds tons of external storage space. The hip belt is rigid, which helps to contour your body, but pay attention to sizing, as the degree of contour has changed from previous models.
While the pack can feel bulky and is overkill for lighter loads, the Aura is still our Editors' Choice for everything from simple overnight hikes to big, burly expeditions where you'll want added support.
Read review: Osprey Aura AG 65
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. 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 a rain cover. Even at under $200, 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. But that's a small sacrifice for a pack that is lightweight, cozy, roomy, and durable.
Read review: The Osprey Renn 65
Top Pick Award for Travel
Thule Versant 60
A U-shaped zipper access point and spacious interior make the Versant our Top Pick for Travel. This large front zipper adds to the duffel bag vibe and also makes it easy to pack and organize your gear. This backpack is also comfortable and easy to carry. The Versant performs exceptionally well whether it's stuffed with backpacking gear for a few nights or filled with clothes and books for an international adventure. In terms of adjustability, the pack is just as versatile as it gets. It can carry both heavy and lighter loads comfortably. The Versant's sleek suspension system is supportive and comfortable but lacks the bulk of other packs in this review, which makes the Versant easy to fit in trains, planes, and automobiles, and it carries well on, or off, trail in the backcountry.
The removable lid does not work well as a deployable daypack, which is a shame since daypacks are so useful when traveling. The bag's shoulder straps are also minimally padded, which can be uncomfortable after a long day under heavy loads. Still, the travel-friendly benefits add up to make the Thule Versant an excellent option for versatile adventures.
Read review: Thule Versant 60
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
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
This review is brought to you by OutdoorGearLab contributor and professional outdoor writer Meg Atteberry. 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.
She travels all over the world in search of the best wilderness hideaways, but spends the majority of her time in Colorado and Utah. These packs went through the wringer in the expansive, harsh desert landscapes of southern Utah and the snowy mountains of Colorado. Due to an unusually cold spring, packing for overnights in these environments became paramount. Meg relied heavily on the ability of each pack she tested to carry the burden of extra gear, pushing some of the packs to their limits.
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 easy they were to adjust. 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. 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 weight and sizing.
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 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 pack in the fleet is the Osprey Kyte 45l. We especially like how the hip belt and back panel work together to create an airy feel when fully loaded. The Kyte combines everything you want in a workhorse pack with ultimate comfort in mind.
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 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, like the Thule Versant 60, 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 North Face Terra 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, but this will give you an idea of how well a model will handle your gear.
The Osprey Aura AG 65 is the most versatile pack in our test when it comes to weight loads. This contender can be used as a daypack or for a single night trip, carrying only lunch, a water filter, and extra layers. Or it can comfortably carry a massive multi-day load. In contrast, the Lowe Alpine Manaslu works best with larger loads. It is very stable, has adequate padding, and offers a generous amount of packing space. The Gregory Deva 60 works best for heavier loads due to its size. The pack is relatively bulky and with 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 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. The Osprey Aura AG has an excellent suspension system that distributes weight evenly, lending itself to very comfortable hiking and load carrying, especially for long days. The Anti-Gravity design is our favorite feature on any competitor and is a large part of why this model won our Editors' Choice award.
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 and comfort. 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. A good example is the Granite Gear Blaze 60.
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 back 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 by far the lightest, weighing only 1.86 pounds. Next is the REI Flash 45 and the Gregory Octal 55, which weigh 2.5 and 2.58 pounds respectively. 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. The difference between a five-pound pack, like the Manaslu and a 2.5-pound model, like the Gregory Octal means automatically carrying an extra three pounds every day on the trail.
That said, more massive packs often provide more support — that's the case with the Deuter AirContact Lite, which weighs four pounds. The exception to this rule is the Granite Gear Blaze 60 which weighs 2.63 pounds but handles heavy loads like a champ. This capability is due to the pack's unique back panel. The Lowe Alpine Mansalu, 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 assess 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 Arc'teryx Bora AR 61, the Thule Versant, and the Deuter AirContact Lite to very complex with the Osprey Ariel 65, Gregory Deva and Lowe Alpine Manaslu. The latter three packs have more than five enclosed compartments and additional open pockets. The Editors' Choice award winner, 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 our highest 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 Gregory Deva also rated well due to user-friendly adjustments, multiple access points, sleeping bag compartments, and few if any, excessive design features.
Packs that receive low ratings in this metric are the Osprey Ariel 65 Pro and the Lowe Alpine Manaslu. We found them overly complicated and excessive in their feature set. 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.
The competitors with the most natural and most intuitive suspension system adjustment points include the Thule Versant, the Arc'teryx Bora AR 61, and the Osprey Aura. Others, like the Lowe Alpine Manaslu are less intuitive and take some fiddling to make the proper adjustments.
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 Thule Versant and Aura AG 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 REI Flash 45 and Granite Gear Blaze 60 because both packs offered 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 these packs also had more limiting adjustability with the initial fit, with the Flash 45 performing the worst and having zero ability to adjust the torso height or increase the padding on the hip belt.
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. New packs like the Osprey Renn65 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 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.
— Meg Atteberry and Jane Jackson