hen it comes to outdoor gear, women have more choices than ever before. But what makes a pack specific to women? Is it just sized smaller or made with “girl colors”? Fact is, gear manufacturers have realized a need in the market for real gear that meets the demands of active outdoor women. The following clinic explains some of the key differences between men’s and women’s packs and provides tips for choosing one of your own.

Women’s packs are available a wide range of sizes: from extended-backpacking workhorses to sleek hydration packs.
These packs typically have shorter, narrower profiles and curved shoulder straps to fit female physiques comfortably.

Some have interchangeable harnesses and adjustable-angle hip belts for a custom fit.

Learn to pack and put on your pack correctly for comfort over the long haul.

Designed for Women

Most women have narrower shoulders, shorter torsos and more pronounced hips than men. Women’s pack models are typically designed with features that accommodate these differences in size and shape. Features found on women’s packs include:

Narrower profile
A narrow design not only fits the smaller frame size of many women, but it can help with gait as well. Women who tend to sway a bit while walking (a factor of hip shape and alignment) will welcome a narrower, close-fitting pack that doesn’t throw them off balance on uneven ground.

Shorter back panel and pack length
The padded, formed back panels on women’s packs are shorter to fit women’s smaller torsos. A pack that hits too far down on your back will be uncomfortable and ride improperly on your hips.

Smaller harness
A smaller shoulder harness with straps sewn closer together will help keep them from sliding off the shoulders. Narrower shoulder straps can also help prevent chafing against the underarms and pinching across the chest—problems that many women experience with the wide straps on men’s packs.

S-curved shoulder straps
Shaped shoulder straps offer a more comfortable fit around the chest. Contoured Auto-Cant™ shoulder straps on some Gregory women’s packs rotate to fit a wide range of shoulder and neck angles.

More conical hipbelt
Women’s pelvic bones have more of an angle than men’s, and since the weight of a pack should rest on these bones it follows that getting the shape and fit of the hip belt is crucial. Some women can get away with wearing a men’s pack with very little angle to the hipbelt. Others know too well how a men’s hipbelt can dig in at its lower edge and not rest against the hips along its upper edge. An ill-fitting hipbelt will tend to put more weight on the shoulder straps which will tire you out much more quickly.

Adjustable hipbelt
Gregory packs feature waist belts with an adjustable cant, the angle at which the belt rides on your hips. This is a great feature for women with more pronounced hips as it allows the belt to ride at the proper angle.

Adjustable suspension
Some larger overnight packs have adjustable suspensions to allow a good fit in the torso length since women’s torsos tend to be a bit shorter than men’s. The REI Venus features an adjustable back panel with 4″ of adjustment per size. The Osprey Ariel and Luna give you the option of choosing the frame, harness and hip belt separately for a truly custom fit.

Once you’ve chosen a pack with features that work with your figure, it’s important to make sure you load and wear it properly so it’s comfortable over the long haul.

  • When you load your pack, place heavier items lowerin the pack against your back. Let your stronger lower body do the work of carrying the load by placing the majority of the weight on your hips. Putting the heaviest weight next to your center or gravity will make the load feel more balanced, not pulling you backwards or downwards.
  • Make sure your pack’s hip belt is positioned on your hips, not your waist. It should straddle the two prominent bones on the front of your hips, known as the iliac crest. This is where a pack’s weight is most effectively carried because your skeleton, not your muscles, is bearing the weight.
  • Use the sternum strap to adjust the space between the shoulder strapsso they don’t slide off your shoulders and to snug the upper half of the pack inward. The sternum strap can usually be slid up or down to get the most comfortable fit around your bust. You can undo the sternum strap when you’re on trails if that’s more comfortable, but secure it when you get on more rugged terrain, as this helps keep the top of the pack from swaying.
  • Consider getting a pair of trekking polesto help distribute the weight of your pack and help with balance as you hike. REI carries poles sized for women’s hands.
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