Outdoor Gear 101: A Guide to Women’s Backpacks

Women's Backpacks: Female backpacker wearing a medium-sized backpack walking in a valley next to mountains

In this post, we'll take a look at:

Are you an adventurous woman gearing up for outdoor exploration? Choosing the perfect hiking or backpacking pack is essential for a comfortable and enjoyable journey.

In this post, we’ll help you navigate the world of women’s backpacks, ensuring you make the best choice for your adventures, whether they’re day hikes or multi-day treks. Let’s get started.

Women’s Backpacks: How are they different?

When it comes to hiking or backpacking, women have unique requirements that deserve attention. Your choice of a backpack should align with these specific needs for a more enjoyable outdoor experience.

  1. Body Type Matters: Women often have different body shapes compared to men, which means backpacks need to account for these differences. Women’s backpacks are designed to fit comfortably and distribute weight more effectively for female hikers and backpackers.
  2. Weight Distribution: The way a backpack distributes weight can make or break a hike. Women’s backpacks are engineered to evenly distribute weight across your body, reducing strain on your shoulders and back.
  3. Comfort is Key: Comfort is essential during long hikes. Women’s backpacks often feature padded shoulder straps, hip belts, and back panels tailored to the female form, ensuring comfort even on challenging trails.

Do I need a women’s backpack? Not necessarily, but if you’ve found past backpacks uncomfortable, consider it as an option.

Sizing and Fit

Getting the right size and fit for your backpack is crucial for a comfortable and enjoyable hike. Here’s what you need to know:

  1. Gender-Specific Packs: Women’s backpacks are designed with female hikers and backpackers in mind. They often feature narrower shoulder straps, higher sternum straps, and shorter torso lengths.
  2. Torso Length: To find the perfect fit, measure your torso length. Stand up straight and have a friend measure from the bony bump at the base of your neck (C7 vertebra) down to the top of your hip bones. Make sure the backpack’s torso length range matches your measurement. Some backpacks offer petite and tall options for a more precise fit. If measuring your torso is still unclear, see our detailed post for more info.
  3. Hip Measurement: Consider your hip measurement, not your pant size. Wrap a cloth measuring tape around the top of your hips, which is the same point used to determine your torso length. Many backpacks come with adjustable hip belts to accommodate different hip sizes, ensuring a secure fit.

It’s important to note that you can be relatively short but have a medium-sized torso, and the same applies to your hips. We all have different body types, so accurate measurements are essential.

Next, let’s explore the essential features to consider when choosing your backpack.

Backpack Features to Look For

Women's Backpacks: Female backpacker wearing a medium-sized backpack walking on a hilly trail

When selecting a backpack, prioritize features for enhanced outdoor enjoyment. Key considerations include:

  1. Pack Frame Options:
    • Internal Frame Packs: Common, provide comfort, and feature frame components for stability.
    • Removable Frame Packs: Ultralight backpackers might prefer these, as they allow you to minimize pack weight. However, they may have load limits and impact comfort.
    • Frameless Packs: These are for the ultralight backpackers with compact, yet light, gear and are usually up to 40 liters in size.
  2. Comfort Features:
    • Load Transfer Ability: Look for a pack that transfers most of the weight to your hips, not your shoulders, for better comfort.
    • Padding: Focus on the placement of padding; it should be on the hip belt, shoulder straps, and the back panel, especially the lumbar region.
    • Ventilation: Check for features like perforated foam padding and suspended mesh on the back panel for better breathability.
  3. Organizational Features:
    • Pack Access: Most backpacks are top-loading, but some offer side, bottom, or even front access, making it easier to reach your gear.
    • Organization: Look for external pockets, hip belt pockets, and base straps for attaching gear like tents, sleeping pads, or bear canisters.
  4. Max Carry Capacity: Consider your gear, body type, and preferences when choosing a backpack’s max carry capacity. You don’t need an overly heavy pack if your load doesn’t require it, and vice versa.

By understanding and considering these features, you can choose a backpack that not only fits well but also caters to your specific needs and preferences.

Choosing the Right Backpack Size

Women's Backpacks: Female backpacker wearing a medium-sized backpack and looking at a scenic mountain

Selecting the appropriate size for your backpack depends on the type and duration of your outdoor adventure. Here’s a breakdown to help you make the right choice:

  1. One-day Hikes (15-30 Liters):
    • Opt for a lightweight daypack.
    • Make sure it’s big enough to hold everything on our day hiking checklist.
  2. Overnight Trips (30-40 Liters):
    • A pack in the range of 30-40 liters should suffice.
    • Perfect for carrying essentials and a bit more, like water, food, and fuel.
    • If you have ultralight gear, you might even use a 30-liter pack.
  3. Weekend Trips (40-45 Liters):
    • Backpacks in the 40-45 liter range offer a variety of features to meet different needs.
    • Consider your gear kit and the max carry capacity when choosing this size.
  4. Multi-Day Trips (45-60 Liters):
    • A 45-liter backpack is versatile, suitable for both 3-season weekend and multi-day trips.
    • Keep in mind that specific factors, like seasonal changes, may influence your choice. Winter hiking, for example, requires bulkier gear like a 4-season tent and warmer clothing.
  5. Thru-Hiking Trips (60+ Liters):
    • Planning an extensive trek like the Appalachian Trail? Consider a pack of 60 liters or more.
    • Thru-hiking involves carrying consumables in addition to your base weight, so a larger pack is necessary.

Whether you’re embarking on a short day hike or a lengthy thru-hiking adventure, matching your backpack’s size to your adventure type is key to a successful trip.

Avoid going too big since larger backpacks are heavier. Aim for around 40 liters, which is the sweet spot for ownership. You can gradually switch to more compact gear, making 40 liters an ideal size. If it feels small, remember you can expand its capacity with extra hip belts and accessories.

If you sometimes need a large backpack, think about renting it from REI or a similar outdoor store. It saves you from buying an oversized backpack you might not use often.


In this post, we’ve covered the unique needs of female hikers and backpackers, the importance of sizing and fit, and the key features to consider when selecting your backpack.

Whether you’re planning a short day hike or a lengthy thru-hiking expedition, finding the right backpack size is crucial for a successful journey. Remember, it’s about finding the sweet spot in size to carry everything you need without overburdening yourself.

So, gear up and embark on your next adventure with confidence, knowing you’ve made the best choice for your hiking and backpacking needs.

Interested in an ultralight backpack? Check out our TOP 5 ultralight backpack guides to find the lightest options on the planet.


What size backpack is good for a day hike?

For a day hike, it’s best to opt for a daypack in the range of 15 to 30 liters. This size provides ample space to carry all the essentials you’ll need for a day on the trail, including water, snacks, a first-aid kit, extra clothing layers, a small lunch, and any personal items like a camera or smartphone. A backpack in this size range is large enough to accommodate your necessities but not so big that it becomes cumbersome.

Should backpack be on hips or waist?

When wearing a backpack, the majority of the weight should rest on your hips, not your waist. The hip belt of the backpack is designed to transfer approximately 80% to 90% of the load to your hip bones. This can support the weight more effectively than your waist. To achieve this, make sure the hip belt is snugly fastened around your hips, with the padding centered over your hip bones. This helps distribute the weight evenly, reducing strain on your shoulders and back.

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