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Our backpacking experts have been testing women's backpacks side by side for over 6 years, bringing you 13 of the best models on the market in this review. We hiked hundreds of miles with each of these packs, from overnight excursions in the alpine to week-long expeditions in the backcountry. We fully loaded each pack to determine how well they can handle the weight and assessed the distribution on multiple testers' frames. We used every pocket and scrutinized every strap to assess adjustability, support, and comfort. We evaluated how easy it is to reach items we need while on the trail, and how easy or hard it is to stay organized. No matter where your adventures may take you, we've found a backpack to fit your needs.
It's not often that we recommend taking more than you need into the backcountry, but with this comfortable, load-hauler you can bring as many luxuries as you'd like. The Gregory Deva is made to haul all that you need to camp in deluxe style and luxurious comfort. Touting one of the thickest hipbelts and suspension systems we've ever tested, your back and shoulders will feel fresh after many miles on the trail. We love the Deva's durable and easy-access design - especially its large u-zip opening that allows you to grab layers that you forgot at the bottom of the pack. Not only does this pack have room for all of your essentials, but it has some well-placed pockets and storage solutions that make organizing a cinch.
While the Deva's hefty suspension system makes heavy loads feel lighter, it does feel overbuilt for lighter overnight adventures. That being said, for long days with heavy loads, we would choose the enjoyable Deva again and again.
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 65-liter load laterally, creating a comfortable pack where even the heaviest of loads rode well on our hips. We love the Renn's simple design, complete with just the important features: roomy hip and brain pockets and an included rain cover. We were impressed that even though the Renn is one of the lowest-priced options we tested, it still boasts the comfortable award-winning Osprey suspension. The Renn 65 is a good choice for its unique, comfortable design and advantageous extra features.
You can fit pretty much anything you want in the Renn's roomy main compartment; bear canisters situated horizontally, full climbing ropes, you name it. Unfortunately, it lacks the large, stretchy back pocket that is just so darn convenient for layers, snacks, water filters, and more. But that's a small sacrifice for a lightweight, cozy, roomy, durable, and budget-friendly pack.
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 heftier loads, exceeds that of many packs built to take more weight. The hip belt flexes to accommodate hips of varying angles, and the choice of two differently shaped shoulder straps allows both men and women of different builds to get a great fit.
The Circuit may not have the most pockets of any bag we tested, but we feel that it has all the right ones in all the right places making gear easy to grab or stow away. The cavernous main compartment is easy to load but lacks a sleeping bag compartment with 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.
It's not often that we put on a loaded-up pack and think, "Ahh this feels nice." The Osprey Aura AG 65 is a rare gem that makes us excited to put it on and hit the trail because it fits well due to its incredible range of adjustability that fits many shapes and sizes. Our testers found this pack to be one of the easiest to adjust - even on the go.
Even the hottest days are no match for the Aura's uniquely integrated hipbelt that seamlessly connects to the back panel and maintains airflow through the whole thing. Though we absolutely love this feature of the Aura, it's not the most stable pack because the hipbelt doesn't move freely as it does on other stability packs. If you're not doing too much scrambling or log-hopping, we recommend this pack if you love the feeling of your back and hips being cradled by a breezy, comfortable pack.
We have yet to see a women's specific backpack that is as lightweight as the Osprey Lumina 60. It's our favorite 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 a mere 1.8 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 provides plenty of support even when loaded heavier than recommended by Osprey. Even though features are trimmed down, the Lumina retains three large, external pockets plus a lid.
Like other packs with trampoline-style suspension, the frame protrudes into the interior space making it a bit tricky to load. The ultralight fabric on parts of the pack needs to be treated gently to avoid tearing. It is an advanced model, designed for specific use, and is best suited for women who know what they need in the backcountry and have already pared down their kit to the essentials.
This review is brought to you by GearLab contributor and full-time traveller Elizabeth Paashaus and adventure lover adventure lover Madison Botzet. Elizabeth travels the country, seeking outdoor adventure with her family from canyon exploration in the deserts of Utah to thru-hiking Vermont's Long Trail. She has been backpacking for more than two decades, including all 2193 miles of the Appalachian Trail, a honeymoon thru-hike of the John Muir Trail, and multi-week excursions in the canyons of Southern Utah. Her pack style varies from ultralight fastpacking 25-mile days to hauling loads for her two daughters on multi-week trips in the backcountry. Elizabeth also spent over ten years working in outdoor stores fitting backpacks for women and men of all shapes, sizes, and experience levels.
Madison grew up backpacking and camping in the rugged mountains in Montana every summer. Being raised to love the outdoors, she has taken advantage of every weekend she can get to squeeze in a backcountry adventure either on foot or skis. For the past two summers, she worked with at-risk youth, leading them in whitewater rafting, hiking, and backpacking.
We began this review with thorough market research, scouring manufacturers' websites, and backpacking forums. We looked at hundreds of models before purchasing the top 13 models to put through the rigors of our hands-on testing. We identified four key performance areas to focus on. While giving these packs a beating in the snowy Colorado mountains, the harsh desert landscape of the southwestern United States, and the muddy, rugged peaks of Vermont, we paid attention to things like how easy it was to get the packs adjusted for different users, how comfortable they were when fully loaded, and the functionality of the pockets and features. The resulting review is a great starting point if you're in the market for a women's backpacking pack.
Each pack has been rated and ranked on its comfort when carrying loads, how much it weighs, the functionality of each of its organizational systems, and its adjustability for varying body sizes and types. Keep reading to find out all about the top performers.
We tested packs that are designed specifically for a woman's body shape or offer interchangeable components to get the right fit for women. Many of these brands, like Osprey, Granite Gear, and Gregory, offer a men's version of the same pack. The most important differences between men's and women's packs are the shape of hip belts and shoulder straps.
Women's backpacks are uniquely designed to better fit a woman's torso. The shoulder straps and back panels are narrower, the hip belts are curved or molded for curvier bodies, and the adjustment options are within a smaller size range for women. A woman's center of gravity is typically lower than a man's, and women's specific designs will sometimes optimize load carrying with a lower, wider bag. These fit and sizing changes often make a women's specific model more comfortable and better fitting than a men's or unisex model.
Most women will find a women's specific pack to offer a better fit, but just because you are a woman and the pack says "women" doesn't mean it will be the right fit for you. Women with larger frames and broader shoulders may find men's models to fit them better, and men with narrower shoulders may find a more comfortable fit from a woman's pack. With any pack, it is worth spending the time to get the correct size and shape for your body.
While we only consider performance during product scoring and raking, we know that price matters too. While the best performing products win our top awards, our best value awards are granted to products that offer up the best balance of performance at a reasonable price. In this review, the Osprey Renn 65 offers the best performance-to-value ratio by far, even outcompeting some of the most expensive packs.
In this category, higher prices tend to provide you with more durable materials, more substantial and comfortable suspension systems, and more pockets and organizational features. However, there are high-performing packs on both ends of the price spectrum. The Gregory Deva is our favorite overall pack for its outstanding comfort and support but is also pretty costly. On the other hand, there are some simpler packs like the Deuter AirContact Lite and REI Flash, which are well-designed, durable packs for a lot less.
Comfort and Suspension
How comfortable is this pack when fully loaded? What about when you've eaten up most of your food and aren't carrying as much weight? Does the load sit comfortably on your hips? Does the suspension system allow for air flow behind your back? Are there contact points that lead to discomfort, chafing, or bruising? These are some of the questions we looked to answer while testing each pack's comfort and suspension.
The models in this review are intended to carry your food and shelter on your back day in and day out, so comfort is essential. Fast and light backpackers often have to sacrifice a degree of comfort and spaciousness for the sake of covering ground more quickly, while the glampers will happily carry more weight to cook a gourmet meal and sit in a comfortable chair, and are more focused on a sturdy pack that rides comfortably even when heavily loaded.
Standouts in this metric are the Gregory Deva, the Osprey Aura, and the Osprey Renn. All three are plush, comfy packs that made our testers excited to put them on. With premium ventilation from the trampoline back panel and adjustability features for a custom fit, we couldn't get enough of these packs. The ULA Circuit was another top contender for comfort in our test. The Circuit's suspension and padding deliver exceptional comfort for loads of all sizes.
Some models, like the Osprey Aura and Renn, the ULA Circuit, and the Gregory Deva, have great padding, while others, like the Osprey Lumina, are designed to carry lighter loads, so they don't offer as much padding. We also considered the width of the shoulder straps, along with their thickness. Women with smaller shoulders may find a narrower strap gives them more freedom of movement, while broader chested women will appreciate the weight distribution of a wider strap.
Some packs have a suspension system with a straight, rigid frame with one or two aluminum stays tied into the hip belt, allowing the weight to transfer down to the hips where you want it. 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. The Circuit and Ariel are two of our favorites that effectively use this suspension type. Some models like the Deuter AirContact Lite and most Gregory models have an extra curve of padding in the lower back, just above the waist belt. To some, this feature is a welcome help in carrying heavy loads while, to others, it's a jutting lump in the lower back. This feature really emphasizes the variety of body types out there.
Other packs accomplish this weight distribution 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 for an example of this style back panel. Stand-off mesh back panels, like on the Osprey Aura and Renn, allow airflow and let your back breathe. The packs that offer the most breathability tend to be preferred for warmer climates and folks who tend to run hot. 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.)
Beyond a pack's suspension, the shape, padding, and adjustability of the hip belt and shoulder straps also contribute to its comfort. Models like the Deva, the Circuit, the Aura, and the Ariel provide thickly padded hip belts that help soften the squeeze. Ultralight contenders like the Lumina and the REI Flash cut down the padding to save weight, and also, because its users will be carrying lighter loads, the extra padding isn't always a necessity.
For women with larger hips, models with extendable padding go a long way to add comfort. The Gregory Maven, the Osprey Aura, and the Ariel are all packs that we tested where you can extend the padding out, so it wraps farther around wider hips.
First, we weighed each of these packs ourselves. Then, throughout our testing period, we packed each model with very similar loads as we headed out on test trip after test trip. Because we were carrying similar weights, we were able to objectively compare the feel of each model.
This review includes some very lightweight models that blow the rest of the packs out of the water. The Osprey Lumina 60 is one of the very lightest, weighing only 1.8 pounds. We also tested the REI Flash 55 and the ULA Circuit which both weigh in at 2.7 pounds. We love these lighter models, though they do sacrifice some comfort and trim some favorite features to make this possible.
That said, more massive packs often provide more support — that's the case with the Gregory Deva and Osprey Ariel, which weigh in respectively at 4.7 and 4.8 pounds. The exception to this rule is the ULA Circuit weighing in at 2.7 pounds and being a gear-hauling beast. This capability is due to the pack's sturdy and close-fitting frame.
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.
Organization strategies range from minimal with the Osprey Renn and ULA Circuit to very complex, with the Osprey Ariel 65 and the Mountain Hardwear PCT. The latter two packs have more than five enclosed compartments and additional open pockets.
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 REI Traverse has some of our testers' favorite organizational features, including not one, but two water bottle holsters. It also has a removable lid that transforms into a useful daypack. The Aura AG received a high score in this metric for its design that includes multiple access points and a few handy extra pockets not seen on some of the more streamlined models.
For organization lovers out there, the Mountain Hardwear PCT has more pockets than any pack we've tested yet. The ULA Circuit also rated well due to its large, user-friendly pockets and few if any, excessive design features.
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 Osprey Renn and the ULA Circuit are both great examples of this. In general, companies seem to be slimming down on features, suggesting that the market trends are toward more straightforward models overall.
Getting a pack fit to your unique build and packing style is critical when you're wearing your house on your back. Our testers checked out all the features that could be adjusted, moved, removed, and changed. Some models have straps galore for attaching excess gear or compressing a less than fully loaded bag. Others only offer a couple. Bags with a wide range of hip, shoulder, and torso adjustments tend to fit a wider range of body types well.
Packs that scored well in this category allowed for a full range of adjustments. The Osprey Aura AG and Ariel both scored high marks since they offered different compression adjustments and were super easy to adjust on the fly.
Those of us with curvier hips appreciated models with extra adjustability in extendable padding such as the Gregory Maven, the Osprey Aura AG, and the Osprey Ariel. Another bump in adjustability went to the Aura and Ariel because they both have extendable shoulder straps that are great for bigger chested ladies to ensure that the straps wrap all the way around their arms.
Having the right pack on your back can make the difference between an enjoyable time in the outdoors and a great deal of annoyance or discomfort. Choosing the right pack, however, can be 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. Sometimes a pack will seem just right but offer a dramatically different experience when loaded up with all your things. We hope that this review will provide valuable insight as you search through the marketplace.
As you venture into the mountains or around town, a good...
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GearLab is founded on the principle of honest, objective, reviews. Our experts test thousands of products each year using thoughtful test plans that bring out key performance differences between competing products. And, to assure complete independence, we buy all the products we test ourselves. No cherry-picked units sent by manufacturers. No sponsored content. No ads. Just real, honest, side-by-side testing and comparison.