- The right backpack can change if your trek is comfortable, or exhausting and frustrating.
- Your backpack should be the right size for your trip length and right shape and size for your body.
- Our top pick, Mammut's Trea Spine 50L, is well-designed for female curves, durable, and comfortable.
If you're headed out on a backpacking trip, a comfortable, well-designed backpack will make or break how happy you are on the adventure. You need it to be big enough to fit everything you're bringing - hiking clothes, toiletries, a backpacking stove, food, a sleeping bag - but smartly designed so all that weight is distributed over your back and hips in a way that minimizes strain on your body. (FWIW, choosing supportive and cushioned hiking boots plays a huge role in shouldering that load, too.)
Because female bodies have wider hips and more narrow shoulders, you will definitely be happier and less achey in a women's-specific backpack. But which model to choose is a mix of personal need and personal preference. Check out more details on what to look for when buying a backpack at the end of this guide.
Read more: The best plus-size outdoor gear
Whether you're hitting the trail for a quick overnighter or heading out on a multi-day expedition, these are the best backpacks we've tested and researched for every kind of adventurer.
Here are the best women's hiking backpacks:
- Best backpack overall: Mammut Trea Spine 50
- Best backpack for short trips: Deuter Futura Pro 38 SL
- Best backpack for big trips: Granite Gear Blaze 60
- Best budget backpack: Kelty Redwing 40
- Best ultralight backpack: Salomon Out Night 28+5 W
- Best heavy-load backpack: Mystery Ranch EX Glacier
- Best bells-and-whistles backpack: Gregory Maven 65
- Best for travel backpacking: Osprey Fairview Trek 50
The Mammut's Trea Spine 50L is the perfect capacity for a range of trip lengths, hits the sweet spot of features you both need and want, and will withstand the test of time with its durable construction.
Pros: Durable, versatile load capacity, stable design, trusted brand
Weight: 4 lb, 10.4 oz
Mammut's Trea Spine 50L is made with weather-resistant, water-shedding fabric and coated Cordura that is super durable, showing no signs of damage even after scrambling through slot canyons in Utah. It's one of the most comfortable packs I've worn, which isn't surprising considering Mammut has been thoughtfully designing adventure gear for decades.
The shoulder straps and hip harness move independently — a welcome feature for when you want your movement to be unrestricted. Regardless of how awkwardly I hiked up a hillside or rock slab, my load always felt stable, and I never felt pulled off balance.
I use the Trea Spine the most for for summer backpacking, but the many attachment points on the front, including specific ski-carry straps and ice axe fasteners, make it winter adventure-ready, allowing me to use it on a ski touring trip loaded with axes and crampons for a day of ice climbing.
I love the flexible loading options, too: Its contents are accessible via the top collar or a full-length side zipper, and I felt there were just enough pack pockets (including an oversized hip pocket) to keep me organized. There's even a gear-racking harness loop on the right hip that proved handy on a rappel — it was also a great place to attach a dog leash.
Lastly, with a 50-liter capacity, this pack is great for 2-night weekend trips as well as light packing for longer adventure. The versatility of its use and durability of its material justify the price considering you'll get many, many uses out of it.The best backpack for short trips
At 38 liters, Deuter's Futura Pro is best suited for short, warm-weather backpacking, but it's well-designed and plenty big to fit all the gear for a weekend in the woods.
Pros: Fits bigger bodies well, good weight distribution and frame design, tons of pockets, rain cover included
Cons: Not enough capacity for longer trips, smaller capacity only ideal for warm-weather trips
Weight: 3 lbs, 8 oz.
Generally, we recommend buying one backpack that will work for adventures of multiple lengths. But if you're only going to be backpacking for one or two nights in the seasons to come, opting for a lighter, smaller pack will make you much more comfortable.
Deuter's Futura Pro is a summer hiker or backpacker's dream, as its signature hammock back keeps the pack away from your body, allowing sweat to evaporate, creating a more comfortable overall fit.
It's a top-loader with long, tubular side-zippered side pockets, as well as a stuff pocket that I used to carry lunch, a jacket, and a dog leash, to name a few. Plus-size adventurers we've spoken with also love that Dueter packs have a generous fit without the need for a hip extender belt.
The best backpack for big trips
A multi-week backpacking trip requires a strategic and specific setup, and Granite Gear's Blaze 60L is the bag you want to help you hit the trail with confidence.
Pros: Lightweight, huge capacity, very comfortable, detachable daypack
Cons: Tricky to initial fit
Weight: 3 lbs
When I hiked Vermont's Long Trail, a two-week, 273-mile trek with nearly 70,000 feet of climbing, I needed a pack built for the challenge — and Granite Gear's Blaze 60L is exactly that. Getting the pack fit perfectly to my body was a little complicated but after toying with the plastic pack frame and its tethered clips, I was able to set it and forget it.
When properly adjusted, it's one of the most comfortable and functional packs available. I packed it with a little over 30 pounds of gear and it rested comfortably on the articulated, well-padded hip belt and shoulder straps. Granite Gear says it's even able to carry up to 50 pounds and still maintain a high level of comfort.
The pack's custom nylon pack fabric is also extremely durable. I threw it, sat on it, and even scraped it and it survived. I absolutely loved that it has a detachable daypack when I took side excursion and didn't want to bring the whole bag.
The pack's organization was simple and practical, too, with a big lid pocket to hold all my small items and a tip-to-tail front stuff pocket held extra layers.
Side pockets accommodated a tent and sleeping pad, leaving plenty of space in the main compartment for kitchen and clothing. The main compartment closes with a rolltop to ward off weather and when I accidentally packed my map at the bottom of the bag, I appreciated its hidden side zip access.The best budget backpack
Kelty's Redwing 40L pack not only sports an inexpensive price tag but aslso the comfort and durability of a pack that's typically much more expensive.
Cons: Bulky-looking, 40L is a small capacity
Weight: 3 lbs, 11 oz.
Cutting corners on a backpack can be hard because you need the frame to be structurally sound, the material to be durable, and the overall design to be thought through enough to keep you comfortable after hiking for hours. With the Kelty Redwing, you get high quality at an incredible value.
The bucket-style main compartment peels back to allow for hybrid top and panel loader packing, opening up halfway with a long zipper that makes the main compartment easy to access. Four large external pockets organize everything from food and cookware to toiletries and camp shoes.
Oversized daisy chains down the pack double as haul straps while its mesh side pockets are big enough to hold a sleeping pad and a lite Nalgene-style water bottle. The shoulders and back are comfortably padded and the back is also vented, for comfortable carrying. A universal Velcro torso adjustment system means one-size-fits-all.
The biggest downside to this pack is it's only 40 liters, so it is quite small for any trip longer than an overnight.The best ultralight backpack
If you're trying to stay light and fast, Salomon's frame-free and streamlined Out Night pack is comfortable and just 26 ounces.
Pros: Lightweight, versatile for use hiking and running, fits tight to the body
Cons: Not adjustable so personal fit is important
Weight: 1 lb, 10 oz.
The best attribute about Salomon's Out Night pack is that it's incredibly lightweight. But a close second is that it's fit is highly customizable, which makes it incredibly comfortable to wear. Like many of Salomon's women's products, this pack is thoughtfully designed to synch around the curves of female chests and shoulders.
However, the pack is fixed and not adjustable, so it's important to figure out your exact size before buying. Because the harness is sewn to the pack bag but not to the edges, when the pack is stuffed to capacity, it won't feel like you're carrying something torquing on your shoulders or hurting your back.
It can also be used for day trips, long runs, or day hikes when you need more pack space than what a hydration or day pack provides — or technical features, like the ability to carry an ice axe or trekking poles.The best heavy-load backpack
When you need maximum capacity for carrying the heaviest and biggest loads, Mystery Ranch's EX Glacier manages it better than any pack we've tested.
Pros: Huge capacity of 70L, tons of compartments and accessory loops
Weight: 5 lbs, 9.6 oz
Mystery Ranch makes packs specifically for hunters and military personnel who use its gear harder than anyone else, and that history has colored the design of the EX Glacier.
The pack is relatively heavy at more than 5.5 lbs. but with that extra weight comes an abundance of space. The top-loading design makes it easy to stuff all your gear (though we highly recommend using packing cubes or stuff sacks to organize it all) into the 70L capacity. The winged sleeping bag compartment at the bottom also has a divider to help separate part of the load, too. There's even a full side zipper to allow easy access to what's packed.
Its vertical torpedo pockets on the front are larger than they look, and front daisy chains let you clip on more gear. Water bottle pockets keep hydration handy, while side compression straps cinch in your load as it gets smaller.
The hip belt doesn't have side pockets but molle attachments allow compatible pouches to be added. Its hip belt and shoulder straps are a bit overbuilt, though that's to be expected with something designed for the military and hunting crowd.The best bells-and-whistles backpack
If you want a huge capacity without the weight and zero frustration, you'll love the versatile Gregory Maven 65, which has an adjustable harness, spacious side pockets, a hydration reservoir, and so much more for just $250.
Pros: Very comfortable for size, adjustable, tons of pockets, hydration reservoir tied to detachable day pack, both top and size access, included rain cover, accessory loops,
Cons: Pricier, could be overkill for some people or trips
Weight: 3.37 pounds.
It's hard to pigeonhole this pack because it does so many things right. For starters, it offers both top loading and side-access. Its frame is stable and supportive frame, its hardness well-padded and easily adjustable. And yet, it's still light considering all it offers. But most of all, this pack just felt great when worn, regardless of how heavy or light I packed it.
Where many backpacking packs have a few standout features, this pack's specs read like a wishlist of things that'll make you happier in the backcountry, including spacious side pockets, its roomy sunglasses holder, and multi-pocket lid. One of its most clever features is a hydration reservoir that converts to a fast-and-light daypack with a shoulder harness and accessory pocket. Another is how easy it is to adjust to find the perfect fit.
If you want to lighten the pack and leave the floating lid behind, the sleeping bag divider toggles in and turns into a lightweight top flap. Six pockets help organize gear, while a hidden rain cover helps protect against unwanted precipitation.
Gregory engineered designed this pack to have plenty of harness ventilation, too, and it did it without cutting into its capacity. The trekking pole loop worked just as well for a mountaineering axe and the pack itself has enough space to be used year-round. Thankfully, Gregory even made the zipper pulls and straps glove-friendly.The best for travel backpacking
Osprey's Fairview Trek 50L pack is as good at peak-bagging as it is priority boarding, working well as both an adventure and travel pack.
Pros: Wide hip belt, very comfortable to wear, large capacity without looking bulky, lifetime repair/replace warranty
Cons: Not the most fashionable pack
Weight: 4 lbs, 1 oz.
If your backpacking trip is less backcountry and more planes, trains, and automobiles, you still need a backpack that's comfortable and perfectly-sized, but with different features. The Fairview Trek 50L pack can handle running to catch trains, hours of wear while walking and hiking, and the wear-and-tear of being tossed on hostel floors as much as in tents.
Among our testing of 9 travel backpacks, the slightly smaller, 40L Fairview was named the most comfortable to carry. If your want the pack to support equal parts backpacking as travel, we recommend those extra 10 liters.
This panel loading pack also has built-in compression in the main compartment to keep your gear from shifting. When that's full, the pack stands up thanks to an extra frame built into the bottom. The sturdy waistbelt, articulated shoulder straps, and venting are comparable to what Osprey uses on its most core backpacking packs.
As is the harness adjustment system, which lets you change the bag's torso length with a simple pull of a tab. Hip pockets, oversized stretch side pockets, and a hydration sleeve complete this travel-ready pack.
Inside the top lid in a pocket marked "Aircover," there's a duffel bag style cover that fully encases the pack when you need to check it, store it at a hotel, or stash it under a bus. It not only protects the pack from wear and tear but also serves as a theft deterrent of sorts. Plus, if you overshop at a local market, the cover doubles as an extra duffel.
What else we considered
What else we recommend
North Face's Griffin ($300): We love that this pack offers both top and panel loading and a removable hip pack and day pack. It's comfortable and durable. It just didn't shine bright enough in any particular category to be a main pick at that higher price point.
Mountainsmith's Mayhem 45 ($179.95): This zip-top pack has plenty of space for the gear you'll need for any situation, including an overnighter to the backcountry, a crag pack, or just a pack around campus. It's super affordable, but was beat out for the best budget pick by Kelty's more thoughtful design.
What we're looking forward to testing
Gregory's Kalmia and Katmai: Heritage backpacking brand Gregory is launching a new plus-size line in May 2021. Unlike other extended-sizing collections or the belt extensions some brands offer, these packs are designed specifically for a plus-size hiker with details like a wider shoulder harness angle, hipbelt pockets closer to the front, and more accessible buckles.What to look for when buying a backpack
When you're shopping for a backpack, there are 4 main aspects to consider:
- Capacity: The size of your pack depends on how long you're headed out for and how much weight you're willing to shoulder. Typically, 1-3 nights calls for a 30-50L pack, 3-5 nights a 50-80L pack, and week-plus trips, 70L or bigger. You'll never be upset about going smaller as long as you can still fit all the essentials.
- Frame: The vast majority of people will want an internal-frame backpack. They hug your body better, keeping you more stable and more comfortable, and are designed to transfer the load to your hips which is better for your back. The few exceptions are that you might want an external-frame pack if you're carrying something heavy and awkward like an inflatable kayak, or a frameless if you're going ultralight.
- Features: The features of a backpack are part function, part preference. You definitely want a hydration reservoir. A few key nice-to-haves are ventilation on the back panel to keep you cool; hipbelt pockets for your phone, chapstick, and snacks; and attachment points if you want to easily secure or grab things like trekking poles or an ice axe. You may also want a side panel to access the main compartment or a zippered sleeping bag compartment.
- Fit: Backpacks are sized based on your torso length (not height) and your hip size (where the majority of the pack's weight should sit). Women-specific fits have better geometry for female wider hips and more narrow backs. Unfortunately, backpacks (like most outdoor gear) isn't very size inclusive; some brands offer a hipbelt extender, but we're excited for Gregory's new plus-size line, which was designed specifically for the geometry of a plus-size body.