Women have a better selection of female-specific lightweight multi-day backpacks weighing less than 3 pounds than ever before. With more and more women on the trails and in the hills, major backpack companies have responded by building new products for this rapidly growing segment of the backpacking population. Gone are the days of “shrink it and pink it,” in this latest generation of lightweight women’s backpacks.

Women’s Lightweight Backpacks

Women have narrower shoulders, breasts, wider hips, shorter torsos, and different proportions than men and need backpacks that more anatomically appropriate for their sex. Backpack manufacturers including Osprey, Gregory, REI, Granite Gear, Mountainsmith, Exped, and Kelty now make women’s specific backpacks with shoulder straps, hip belts, and torso-lengths designed specifically for women.

What do Women Backpackers Want?

While some women can make-do with a smaller sized unisex backpack that was originally designed for man, there’s a crying need for backpacks designed specifically for curvy female bodies, with S-shaped shoulder straps, female-specific hip belts, and shorter torso sizes.

S-Shaped Shoulder Straps

For example, backpack shoulder straps with an S-curve are often more comfortable and a better fit for women, especially for women with larger breasts. Male-oriented J-curve shoulder straps often land in the middle of the breast, squashing it. The pressure can be quite painful, and if you loosen the straps, the pack moves from side to side, defeating the intent to hold the backpack’s weight close to the body. Some men actually prefer S-curve straps, particularly those with athletic builds, as it results in more freedom of movement around the armpit, and a shorter sternum strap.

J Vs S-strap
While J-straps work well for most men, they’re uncomfortable for women. S-shaped shoulder straps were developed for women with a shorter non-pinching sternum strap and curves to accommodate women’s breasts. Credit: Excerpted from a ULA Equipment fitting video.

Women’s Hip Belts

Hip belts designed for women need to be more rounded and contoured to accommodate wider hips, flaring upwards at the end so they sit higher up on the hip bones than men’s hip belts. They also need to be available in shorter lengths than men’s hip belts, with properly positioned hip belt pockets, since many women have smaller hip circumferences. These modifications help keep the majority of a pack’s weight on women’s hips where it belongs and make a big difference in all-day comfort.

Granite Gear Crown2 Men's and Women's Hip Belts. Note how the women's belt flares upwards to wrap around curvier female hips.
Granite Gear Crown2 Men’s and Women’s Hip Belts. Note how the women’s belt flares upwards to wrap around curvier female hips. Photo courtesy Granite Gear.

Torso Sizes

Women tend to have shorter torso lengths than men, necessitating a different range of available sizes, including ones that are much shorter in length. While most women’s specific packs have fixed length torsos, adjustable-length frames are often the best option, since you can dial in a personalized fit that may fall between traditional sizes.

Lightweight Unisex Backpacks with Women’s Options

Some backpack manufacturers including ULA, Zpacks, and Six Moon Designs make unisex backpacks that have S-shaped shoulder straps by default, or the option to swap out certain features for more female-friendly components or sizing. That’s not quite the same as a female-specific backpack since it doesn’t change the other dimensions such as back panel width,  back panel length, hip belt length, hip belt pocket placement, or the torso lengths offered for their unisex backpacks, but it can make their products more comfortable for some women. For example, most of Zpacks backpacks have female-friendly S-shaped shoulder straps but are still only available in larger (male-targeted) torso lengths and hip belt sizes.

Conclusion

The number of women’s specific backpacks available today has grown significantly in the past 3 years since I last did a round-up of the options available. We’ve also brought on several expert female backpackers at SectionHiker.com to help review women’s backpacks and I’d encourage you to read their gear reviews. If there are specific women’s packs you’d like us to review, leave a comment below and we’ll get right on it. As RBG said once, the lack of female-specific backpacking gear “is scandalous in this day and age.” We agree and with your help, we can bring more visibility to address this issue, while helping steer women to backpacking gear that is designed for their comfort.

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