Updated November 2017
Our experts backpacked across the Sierras, Rocky Mountains, and Wind River Range this summer, putting each competitor to the ultimate test. The Osprey Aura AG wins our Editors' Choice award for the second year in a row, while the Thule Versant 60 secures a new spot as our Top Pick for Travel, as well as second place in our review.
Best Overall Women's Model
Osprey Aura AG 65
Incredible back ventilation
Removable top lid
Wide range of fitting options
Great feature set
Waistband is attached to back panel
The Osprey Aura AG 65
holds it down as our Editors' Choice Award winner once again as the best women's specific pack out there. It received our top award for ability to carry a wide range of load sizes, incredible comfort, a suspension system that is both supportive and breathable, and a feature set that is just right. The pack's overall design is sleek and simple but still provides plenty of features and pockets to keep your gear organized. We especially loved the large, stretchy mesh outer pocket because it adds tons of external storage space. There isn't a pack that can compare to the Aura when it comes to comfort, weight, and support. These factors make the Aura our Editor's Choice for simple overnight hikes to month-long thru-hikes.
Read review: Osprey Aura AG 65
Best Bang for the Buck
The North Face Terra 55
Design not versatile for different sized loads
Limited adjustment options
It's hard to find a well-designed, durable backpacking pack for under $200, and it's even harder to find a contender that fits these specifications better than The North Face Terra 55
. This model beats out the Deuter ACT Lite 60+10 and the Osprey Aura AG 65 as the least expensive pack out there while remaining a top competitor in all our metric ratings. The Terra's simple design is not over-complicated by excess features, though it still provides six separate storage pockets. The pack has a large main compartment and a sleeping bag pocket on the bottom, which is roomy enough to accommodate most backcountry endeavors. The Terra wins our Best Buy award for its combination of simplicity, versatility, and intuitive design. It's just icing on the cake that this pack is the lowest priced option in our entire review. For $170, The North Face Terra is a great, comfortable pack for a reasonable price.
Read review: The North Face Terra 55
Top Pick Award for Travel
Thule Versant 60
Easy access with large U-shaped pocket
Suitable for light and heavy loads
Removable lid is hard to use on its own
Less padding than packs with bulkier suspension
The Thule Versant 60
turned out to be one of our favorite contenders for its versatility and packing ease. The Versant does excellent whether its stuffed with backpacking gear for a few nights out or filled with clothes and books for an international adventure. The Versant has lots of adjustment options, so no matter what size load you have, the pack will sit well on your back. It also has a large front pocket that gives the pack a duffel bag feel and makes it easy to pack and organize your gear. It also has a sleek suspension system that provides enough support and comfort for heavy loads, without the bulk found on some of the other packs in this review. This makes the Versant easy to fit in trains, planes, and automobiles, in addition to carrying well on, or off, trail in the backcountry. These factors all add up to make the Thule Versant our Top Pick for Travel.
Read review: Thule Versant 60
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. We rated all 11 packs on comfort, weight, ease of use, suspension, and features. We also 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.
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 the 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, primarily 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 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.
The wide range of suspension systems and pack designs are shown here among our 11 new packs we tested for this year's review. From left to right is the Mountain Hardwear Ozonic, the Osprey Ariel, Arc'teryx Bora, Osprey Aura, Lowe Alpine Manaslu, Thule Versant, North Face Terra,and the North Face Banchee. We couldn't fit all 11 packs in the frame!
How comfortable is your pack when empty? When loaded fully loaded? 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 models 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 transporting 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 amount of gear, and the heavier a pack, the more comfortably it will carry a heavy load. There are obvious exceptions, but this can be applied when considering how comfortably the competitor will endure your weight load.
Taking the Terra through the talus to see how the suspension system performs on uneven terrain.
The Osprey Aura AG 65
is the most versatile pack in our test in regards to varying weight loads. This contender 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 more massive multi-day load quite well.
The thick foam waistband on the Bora is one of the most comfortable waist belts we tested. This photo also shows the thin mesh hip pockets that were, unfortunately, a bit too small to actually be useful.
The Lowe Alpine Manaslu 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 Gregory Deva 60
is best for heavier loads due to its size. The pack is relatively bulky, and with a small load, it can feel sloppy and excessive. The second most comfortable in the fleet is the Arc'teryx Bora AR 61
, which is incredibly comfy, especially the waistband. The Bora combines sleek and straightforward design with tons of comfort in a way that surpasses most other packs in this review.
The wide and comfortable hip belt on the Lowe Alpine Manaslu makes this one of the most comfortably padded packs out there.
The overall cushion and support of each model was evaluated for our comfort rating. The padding on both the shoulder straps and the hip belt are essential for avoiding chaffing and allowing for all-day comfort. Some models, like the two Osprey packs and the Gregory Deva 60
, have great padding, while others, like the REI Co-op Traverse 65
and The North Face Banchee
, are designed with light weight and simplicity in mind and don't offer as much padding. We also considered the width of the shoulder straps, along with the thickness. Packs with thinner shoulder straps, like the Thule Versant 60
, may be more comfortable for those with narrower shoulders, while wide straps can be more suitable for those with an athletic build.
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 one found on the very well-ventilated Aura AG
, is comfortable in any season and with any clothing. It's incredibly comfy because the pack itself doesn't rest on your back. Some models, like The North Face Terra
or the Deuter ACT Lite
have a more straightforward back panel that relies on rigidity for comfort and support.
The stretch mesh of the new AG (Anti Gravity) suspension system, found on the Aura AG, 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 lightweight and conforming.
We first evaluated weight by placing each of these packs on our OutdoorGearLab scale. Then, over the duration of this review, each model was packed with nearly the same gear each time we headed out for a test trip. Thus, the effects 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 of changes of clothing, rain gear, water, a bear canister with food, and few miscellaneous items.
Staying out late on the trail with the Mountain Hardwear Ozonic. This contender was one of the lightest models in our review.
The three lightest packs are the Mountain Hardwear Ozonic 60
, The North Face Banchee 65
, and The North Face Terra 55
(though fewer liters than some), coming in at 3.81 pounds, 3.88 pounds, 4.13 pounds, respectively.
The Versant breaks down into three separate containers: the main pack body, the lid, and a removable, roll-top side pocket.
The Lowe Alpine Mansalu
, Gregory Deva
, and the Osprey Ariel 65
are the three heaviest packs in this review, weighing over five pounds. Most models fall in the 4-pound range, and vary how heavy they feel. Some contenders, like the Arc'teryx Bora AR 61
, feel much lighter than they appear on the scale, due to the overall simplicity of the 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 critical factor. As mentioned above, your weight load also influences the need for a more substantial 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+ pounds to about 5.5 pounds.
Here is the Terra fully packed up with a few days worth of food, clothes, and camping gear. The Terra's light weight was one of the reasons this model was our Best Buy!
The suspension of a pack relates directly to the frame. All of the women's specific models that were reviewed are framed packs. Suspension distributes the weight across the back from shoulders to hips. The Osprey Aura AG
has an excellent suspension system 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 competitor and is a large part of why this model won our Editors' Choice award.
Putting on the waist belt with the AG suspension system takes some getting used to, but once its on, this pack is incredibly comfortable!
Some companies use a newer hinging system at the lower back; it's 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 Thule Versant has a surprisingly large carrying capacity. Volume will not be a limiting factor with this pack.
The Arc'teryx Bora AR has a similar system that hinges at the lower back
and also moves with the hips while stabilizing the pack on the shoulders. This pack was our runner-up in top suspension systems for its simple, yet supportive design. It should also be noted that when fitting this Arc'teryx model, a proper fit is necessary for the hinging design to function correctly. This newer system creates a more stable and evenly distributed weight suspension, though it adds weight to the pack.
The hefty suspension system of the REI Co-op Traverse contributes to the bulk of the weight of the pack, while also making it very comfortable.
Lastly, in regards to suspension, is the back panel design. This part of the pack rests directly against the back and is also an essential aspect of comfort. Most all of the competitors we evaluated are designed to allow for airflow between the hiker's back and the pack itself. This has been accomplished with a curved frame design so that the contender rests on the shoulder blades and lower hips while opposing the natural curve of the back in the center. The Deuter ACT Lite is customizable
so that it creates the best airflow, while packs like the Mountain Hardwear Ozonic OutDry 60
have compromised better venting technologies in the name of simplicity, and therefore lack an adequate airflow design.
Our testers wore the Bora on a 10-day trip in Yosemite's northern backcountry.
packs have elaborate airflow designs that significantly 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 cumbersome pack loads. The closer the pack is to the body, the better it will contribute to stability under heavy weight. This is why models that were intended for heavier carrying capacity rest closely against the back, incorporating ventilation into the padding.
The North Face Banchee is super lightweight, but this also means the pack has a smaller capacity overall, making it great for weekend outings.
Ease of Use
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? We also looked at overall adjustability in this metric to compare each model's ability to be customized to the hiker's specific build. The better the pack fits your body, the more comfortable and enjoyable the overall experience will be - simple!
We loved the roomy lid on the Bora that seemed to fit more than most other lids in this review.
Most packs rated well in this regard since many contenders follow the same basic principles regarding design. That said, there are many nuances and small differences that make some models stand out. Ease of use is an essential 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.
The back panel of the Terra is easily adjustable and intuitive.
These models are easy to use while packing and preparing for a trip as well as on the trail. The Thule Versant received the highest score in this category for its simple design
, multiple access points, and roomy compartments. Packs that received low ratings in this metric were the Osprey Ariel 65
and the Lowe Alpine Manaslu
because we found them to be overly complicated and excessive in their feature set and overall design.
A view inside the Thule Versant from the U-shaped duffel pocket. This pack has the easiest access of any pack we tested, making it great for traveling.
Also considered in this metric was each pack's ability to adjust. Some competitors are easy and intuitive to customize the suspension system, like the Thule Versant
, the Arc'teryx Bora AR 61
, and the Osprey Aura
. Others, like the Mountain Hardwear Ozonic Outdry 60
and the Lowe Alpine Manaslu
are less intuitive and take some fiddling to make the proper adjustments.
We compared the feature set of all 11 women's packs by considering the size, shape, location, and number of pockets, the quality of the buckles, the number and placement of the straps, and the lid design, to come up with each pack's score in this rating category.
By utilizing (or in some cases, not utilizing) all of the unique organizational designs of these contenders, we found that simplicity is great and lightens the pack, but having the ability to separate different gear is also an advantage for efficiency.
The large external pocket on the Banchee holds extra clothes and gear for quick access throughout the day.
The organization ranged from super simplistic with the Arc'teryx Bora AR 61
and the Thule Versant
, to very complex with the Osprey Ariel 65
, Mountain Hardwear Ozonic
and Lowe Alpine Manaslu
- all having more than five enclosed compartments and additional pockets that are not enclosed.
The simple design of the Bora makes it easy to both pack and access gear. The large outer pocket is roomy enough for water bottles, clothes, and snacks.
The Editors' Choice award winner, the Osprey Aura AG
, has five pockets: two medium and two small pockets, in addition to the main compartment.
We loved the Aura because it was able to provide tons of features, like the sleeping pad straps shown here, without feeling overly complicated.
The Arc'teryx Bora
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 more straightforward form. When we didn't organize into stuff sacks before packing, the pockets and extra organizational help were much appreciated in some models.
Piles and piles of packs, some chock full of features.
Except for the waterproof Mountain Hardwear Ozonic 60
, 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:
The Traverse felt spacious for a 65 liter pack and does better carrying more, rather than less.
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.