Best Overall Women's Backpacking Backpack
Osprey Aura AG 50
Excellent back ventilation
Extensive range of adjustments
Waistband is attached to back panel
Hip belt pockets are a bit tight
The Osprey Aura AG 50
is the best women's pack we have used. We awarded it as the Editor's Choice for its outstanding versatility with varying weight loads and objectives, comfort through three seasons, including hot summer temperatures, and the Anti-Gravity (AG) suspension that is supportive and far more breathable than any other pack in our review. It has a feminine design that is simple yet functional. It has plenty of organizational features including the stretch mesh pockets on the front and sides, and all the necessary adjustments for trips ranging in length from one night outings to week-long adventures in the backcountry. The Aura AG incorporates every feature we loved from the older Aura design and steps it up a notch. For a do-it-all three season pack, it's hard to surpass the light weight and comfort of a women's specific pack like the Aura, equally capable of day hikes or thru-hikes.
Read full review: Osprey Aura AG 50
Best Bang for the Buck
The North Face Terra 55 - Women's
The North Face Terra 55
Easy to use
Packing is restricted by tightly stitched seams
Not many options for adjustments or attachments
replaces our previous Best Buy award winners, as it combines many of the features of the Deuter ACT Lite and the Kelty Coyote while remaining comfortable, affordable, and versatile. The Terra has a simple design that doesn't overwhelm with features- although there are 6 well-placed enclosed compartments, they aren't overwhelming in size or placement. The compression options are limited, which reduces the number of straps dangling from every side of the pack (if you have made it through our individual reviews, you know how complicated the excessive straps become). Not only does the Terra win our Best Buy award because it is the lowest priced pack in our entire women's review, it also brings together everything we love in a women's pack- simplicity in overall design, versatility in trip lengths and seasonal outings, organization options, and ease of use. For $170, you can find yourself on the trail, fully loaded, and in full comfort with The North Face Terra.
Read full review: The North Face Terra 55
Top Pick Award for 4-Season Use
Mountain Hardwear Ozonic 58 - Women's
Ease of use
Padding on back panel is a bit chunky
Not the best choice for short trips or lightweight backpacking
Not compatible with hydration systems
The Mountain Hardwear Ozonic 58 - Women's
is the best pack for year round versatility. Mountain Hardwear has designed an aesthetic exterior that is seriously functional. The Ozonic series features a fully waterproof construction that keeps your gear dry through hours of pouring rain (trust us, we tested it during multiple summer outings in non-stop rain storms). It is suitable for four season backpacking and mountaineering as a result of this waterproof technology, but doesn't sacrifice breathability for summer outings. Spaciousness is anything but lacking here- there are six enclosed compartments, a semi-enclosed front pocket with small drainage holes at the bottom for separating wet gear from the rest, and 58 liters in the listed specs that expands to contain as much gear as the 70 liter Kelty Coyote. The back panel and hip belt is well padded, providing comfort under heavy loads, yet the Ozonic maintains stability with a light weight load as well. The Ozonic is a stand out award winner for its versatility and waterproof protection.
Read full review: Mountain Hardwear Ozonic 58 - Women's
Analysis and Test Results
All of the packs we evaluated in this review are women's specific. Some of these brands, such as Granite Gear, offer these same packs in Unisex versions and some brands, such as Osprey, Mountain Hardwear, The North Face, and Gregory, offer a men's version of the same pack. The notable differences between men's, unisex, or women's backpacking packs are weight and sizing.
Women's models are sized specifically for a woman's torso, the shoulder straps and back panels are narrower, the harness/ hip belts are curved or molded for contoured bodies, and adjustment options are within the range of a woman's size. A woman's center of gravity varies from a man's, and women's specific designs are intended to optimize load carrying. Women's packs are typically ounces lighter, largely due to this 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, which will make a big difference as you log miles wearing the pack.
With any pack, it is worthwhile to invest the time in getting the sizing accurate for your personal body type. Some women with larger frames and broader shoulders may prefer men's or unisex models, while most women will find the features of a women's specific pack to be most suitable.
Criteria for Evaluation
We rated all eleven packs on comfort, weight, ease of use, suspension, adjustability, and features. In addition, we paid special attention to what makes these bags women's specific and how they are different from unisex ones. Evaluations and ratings are listed side by side in the chart above.
Side by side comparison of the five packs that have been added to our newly updated review. From left to right: The North Face Terra 55, Black Diamond Elixir 60, Osprey Ariel 55, Mountain Hardwear Ozonic 58, Osprey Aura AG 50. The top row shows a side view of each pack, packed with the same contents. The bottom row shows a back view of each pack with some revealing different sleeping pad attachment options.
How comfortable is your pack when empty? How comfortable is it when loaded full? Does the comfort of this pack vary by weight carried? Are there contact points that lead to discomfort, chaffing, or bruising? What is the overall comfort? These are some of the questions we posed while testing. The packs in this test are intended for multi-day use, and adequate comfort is essential unless you are interested in fast-packing or ultra-lightweight hiking. Fast and light backpackers often compromise a degree of luxurious comfort and spaciousness for the sake of covering more ground and moving faster.
Packs are designed to carry ideal weight loads. While most all are capable of comfortably carrying more or less weight, there is a spectrum for an ideal weight load. Generally speaking, the lighter the weight of an empty pack, the more comfortably it carries a lighter load of gear, and the heavier a pack, the more comfortably it will carry a heavy load. There are obvious exceptions, but this can generally be applied when considering how comfortably a pack will endure your weight load.
AG stands for Anti-Gravity. While bending over for a quick cool down or a water bottle fill, the pack remains comfortably conformed to the back. The Aura AG remains stable on your back as a result of this design.
The Osprey Aura AG 50
is the most versatile pack in our test in regards to varying weight loads. This pack can be used as a daypack or for a single night trip, carrying only lunch, a water filter, and extra layers - or it carries a heavier multi-day load quite well. The Kelty Coyote 70 - Women's is best suited for larger weight loads
as it is very stable, comfortable with adequate padding, and also offers more cubic liters of space. Similarly, the Black Diamond Elixir 60 - Women's
is best for heavier loads due to its size. When carrying this pack with a lighter load, the extra material feels sloppy and loose, but when packed with all of the gear needed for a multi-day trip, it rests more comfortably on the shoulders and feels more stable overall. Our favorite pack for large loads and long distance trips is the Osprey Ariel AG 55
(or the Ariel in the 65 liter capacity), which has an extra durable construction and can comfortably fit all of your necessities.
The overall cushion and support of each pack was evaluated for our comfort rating. The padding on both the shoulder straps and the hip belt are important for avoiding chaffing and allowing for all-day comfort. Some models, like all three Osprey packs and the Kelty Coyote, have great padding, while others, like the Granite Gear Blaze A.C. 60 - Women's
, are designed with light weight and simplicity in mind, and don't offer as much padding.
Back panels, further discussed under our suspension metric, contribute to overall comfort. Some packs have well padded back panels that are comfortable even against the skin while others have firm padding that maintains rigidity for stability and support. Mesh incorporated into the panels creates pockets of space for breathability. A puddle of sweat against your back isn't comfortable. A well ventilated back panel, like the panel found on the very well-ventilated Aura AG, is comfortable in any season and with any clothing.
The stretch mesh of the new AG (Anti Gravity) suspension system is a continuous panel that spans the entire back, hips and the underside of the shoulder straps. This design offers unparalleled back ventilation and a suspension system that is light weight and conforming.
We first evaluated weight by weighing each of these packs on our own scale. Then, over the duration of this review, each pack was packed with nearly the exact same gear each time we headed out for a test trip, so that the effect of the weight of the pack could accurately be considered. (For a multi-day trip, we packed a sleeping bag, a two-person tent, a couple changes of clothing, rain gear, water, a bear canister with food, and few miscellaneous items). The Granite Gear Blaze A.C. 60 - Women's
is the lightest, coming in at 2lbs 14oz, while the Gregory Deva 60
is the heaviest by a fair margin, coming in at 5 lbs 8oz - a pound heavier than nearly all of the others we reviewed and twice as heavy as the Blaze. In some instances, the weight is noticeable, as with the Gregory Deva, while with other packs, like the Kelty Coyote at 5lbs, the weight is not as noticeable due to the stability and comfort of the pack. The extra weight of certain packs may be attributed to materials used or details such as heavyweight zippers, extra padding, or frame design. Unless you are a lightweight or ultra-lightweight hiker, weight should be a consideration, but should not dictate your decision when choosing a pack. Each will carry differently, and comfort should be a more important factor. As mentioned above, your weight load also influences the need for a heavier or lighter weight pack. Consider your range of objectives. Reference our How to Choose a Women's Backpack
article for more details on how weight should play a factor in your decision. In regards to the models we tested, they all range from 2+ lbs to about 5.5lbs.
The Ariel has an Airscape suspension allowing for proper airflow against the back and is also sturdy enough to stand upright on the ground.
The suspension of a pack relates directly to the frame. All of the women's specific models that were reviewed are framed packs (the Granite Gear Blaze A.C. 60 - Women's
has the option to remove the back frame to create a frameless, lighter weight pack, but this sacrifices the overall integrity of the pack in terms of weight distribution and comfort.) Suspension distributes the weight across the back from shoulders to hips. The Osprey Aura AG has great suspension that distributes the weight evenly, lending itself to very comfortable hiking and load carrying, especially for longer days. The Anti-Gravity design is our favorite new feature on any pack and is a large part of why we gave that pack the Editors' Choice Award.
Some companies use a newer hinging system at the lower back that is attached to the hip belt and allows the pack to remain stable in the shoulders with synchronized movement in the hips. The Gregory Deva 60
has a decentralized system called the Response Auto Fit Suspension, which rotates independently on the waist belt. The Arc'teryx Bora AR 61 has a similar hinging system that is centralized at the lower back
and also moves with the hips while stabilizing the pack on the shoulders. This feature is excellent, although over time the hinges start to squeak. This can be remedied with a lubricant that some pack distributors include. It should also be noted that when fitting this pack, a correct fit is necessary for the hinging design to function properly. This newer system creates a more stable and evenly distributed weight suspension, though it adds weight to the pack.
Fully loaded, the Ozonic's HardWave suspension system has a well padded back panel that conforms comfortably against the back. With a weight load around 20 pounds, the pack remains stable and will comfortably accommodate loads in excess of 35-45 pounds.
Another suspension design is the reActiv Suspension System found on the Black Diamond Elixir 60 - Women's
(and other newer models of Black Diamond packs). The shoulder straps are connected to a Swing Arm system that distinctly separates your hip rotation and movement from your shoulder sway. It allows the pack to be carried in a more natural way- one movement doesn't pull the rest of your body. It is intended to offer greater stability and support. In our experience, it allowed for an unhindered range of motion but often compromised overall stability.
Breathability and comfort are top considerations in the Anti Gravity design. The stretch mesh creates a tensioned panel that conforms to each individual body for maximum comfort.
Lastly in regards to suspension, is the back panel design. This part of the pack rests directly against the back and is also an important aspect of comfort. Most all of the packs we evaluated are designed to allow for airflow between the hiker's back and the pack itself. This is accomplished with a curved frame design so that the pack rests on the shoulder blades and lower hips while opposing the natural curve of the back in the center. Models like the Deuter ACT Lite 60 - Women's are customizable
so that it creates the best airflow, while packs like the Granite Gear Blaze A.C. have compromised better venting technologies in the name of simplicity and therefore lack an adequate airflow design. The Osprey packs have elaborate airflow designs that greatly 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 apart from the back of the main compartment. This creates unparalleled ventilation and comfort. The space between the body and the main compartment doesn't compromise any stability except with very heavy pack loads. The closer the pack is to the body, the better it will contribute to stability under heavy weight, which is why packs that were intended for heavier carrying capacity rest closely against the back, incorporating ventilation into the padding.
Seen resting upright on its own, the Granite Gear Blaze offers a very simple back panel that is removable, narrow shoulder straps with a sliding chest strap, and adequate waist belt padding.
Ease of Use and Organization
At 60 liters, the Deva is at the middle of our range of backpack sizes. It offers access to the main compartment from the side, front, or top (as seen by the blue zippers).
The ease of use rating assess how simple each model is to adjust, pack, access, and personally configure to maximize enjoyment, comfort, and space utilization. Plainly said: How easy is this pack to live with day in and day out?
Most packs rated well in this regard. Ease of use is an important consideration because few things can be worse than finding yourself thirty miles in the backcountry, unsure of how to use your pack. The Osprey Aura AG and The North Face Terra rated high due to user-friendly adjustment points, multiple access points, including sleeping bag compartments, and very few, if any, excessive design features. These models are easy to use while packing and preparing for a trip as well as on trail. The Granite Gear Blaze A.C. and Osprey Viva also rated high due to their simplistic designs and ease of adjustability while hiking. In this category, the Arc'teryx Bora AR 61
rated very low due to its complex design that is best adjusted professionally. The Bora
has many points for customization, is difficult to adjust while hiking, and has too many access points.
A stretch mesh kangaroo pocket on the front of the Osprey Viva secures closed with a buckle, but is still accessible.
We also considered the organizational capability of all 11 women's packs to see how many enclosed pockets were included on each and how necessary the compartments were. By utilizing (or in some cases, not utilizing) all of the unique organizational designs of these packs, we found that simplicity is great and lightens the pack, but having the ability to separate different gear is also an advantage for efficiency.
All of the backpacks in our review offer different sleeping pad attachment options as well as additional straps for attaching poles, skis, axes, coffee mugs, etc. The Terra (left) has a simplified exterior with few attachment points while the Ozonic (right) has sleeping pad straps, and multiple side straps for securing and attaching gear.
The organization ranged from super simplistic with the Granite Gear Blaze A.C.- this model has a single main compartment and no other enclosed pockets (with the exception of the interior, zippered hydration pocket that we found more suitable for things like our phone, map, and journal)- to very complex with the Arc'teryx Bora
, Mountain Hardwear Ozonic
and Kelty Coyote
- all having more than 5 enclosed compartments and additional pockets that are not enclosed. The Editors' Choice award winner, the Osprey Aura AG
, has five pockets: two medium and two small pockets, in addition to the main compartment. The Osprey Ariel
has only two enclosed pockets, including the main compartment. We found that when we pre-organized our gear into stuff sacks, the organization of the design was better enjoyed in a simpler form. When we didn't organize into stuff sacks prior to packing, the pockets and extra organizational help was greatly appreciated in some models.
The Elixir has a removable lid for trips when you dont need the added coverage, storage, or protection, although even without the lid, the pack is spacious and with three closure points, not counting the lid itself, we experienced sufficient protection from the elements.
The Viva is offered in a single size with an adjustable torso length that secures with Velcro. The size can be adjusted for extra small, small, or medium.
Adjustability refers to each pack's ability to be customized to the hiker's unique shape and size. The better the pack may be fit to your body, the more comfortable and enjoyable the experience will be. Some models, like the Granite Gear Blaze A.C.
, are very simple in design and allow for adjustment only on the shoulder straps and the waist belt, which may work very well with certain body types. Models like the Osprey Viva 50
, Kelty Coyote
, Mountain Hardwear Ozonic
, Arc'teryx Bora
, and Deuter ACT Lite
offer adjustment options for torso length and/or shoulder width which is great for those who have wider shoulders, wider hips, and/or short or long torsos that don't fit well into a specific sizing category such as 'Medium'. Having these options are not only great for initial fitting, but also for versatility as our bodies and preferences change over time.
Another great feature for adjustability is the hip belt. Most packs are sized based on the hip belt and torso length upon purchase, but some offer customizable options like the heat moldable ISOform5 CM Osprey hip belt on the Ariel and an interchangeable hip belt on the Granite Gear Blaze A.C. Osprey also has a feature called Fit on the Fly which allows a waist belt to be adjusted and extended. It can be securely attached with Velcro to suit most waist sizes, and also to account for extra layers. Some models, such as the Dueter ACT Lite, already have careful detail in the hip belt with conically shaped hip fins to best fit a woman's body. Granite Gear has also angled the hip belt to suit a woman's body.
The Altra's torso length and shoulder width is fully customizable with these detachable, padded back and shoulder straps. With multiple adjustment options, the straps use a gridlock system that can be configured up, down, and side-to-side.
After we rated all of the packs on adjustability, we determined that having a proper fit initially is as important as having the ability and ease to adjust it while on the trail and in the future.
Top view of the Elixir- the sleeping pad doesn't sit on the bottom of the pack, but rather slightly in front of the bottom. a large front pocket opens from the zipper seen on the upper right. Tightening options compress the contents of your gear down for maximizing the load capacity.
Fit on the Fly is an extendable waist belt option that allows the belt to be extended. It can be securely attached with the Velcro to suit most waist sizes and also to account for extra layers.
With the exception of the waterproof Mountain Hardwear Ozonic 58 - Women's
, which features a new waterproof construction that can withstand hours of pouring rain and moisture, the other ten packs are water-resistant at best: not waterproof. Use a garbage bag to get through bad weather in a pinch. If you're planning on extended bad weather, consider a pack cover fitted for your pack. Here are a few options:
Exploring Colorado's high country with the Top Pick awarded Mountain Hardwear Ozonic Outdry 58.
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. It is our hope that this review will provide valuable insight as you search through the marketplace.