Whether you’re heading out for a multi-day backpacking excursion in the woods or planning a long journey through several countries, your backpack can make or break your trip. Imagine worrying about how uncomfortable or impractical your backpack is while having the adventure of your life. Nobody wants that, so the following post is here to soothe your travel woes with a complete guide for choosing the ideal backpack for you:
There’s nothing like backpacking in the wilderness, conquering one mountain after another. It’s one of the most empowering and freeing activities I can think of, testing our limits and showing us what we’re made of, and in beautiful surroundings to boot.
I’ve been doing long-term, overnight treks for several years now covering hundreds of miles and there’s no doubt that having the right gear can be the difference between an enjoyable, successful hike and absolute misery. Your hiking backpack is basically your turtle shell — it’s your house while you’re out there. Everything that you’re using is going to be inside or strapped somehow to this backpack.
It’s imperative that a hiking backpack fits you in the right way, and is sturdy, resilient, and light. This can be a tall order, so we’ve done a bunch of research to find the best backpack for hiking, especially for women, because we have different body types and needs!
Taking all of that into consideration, these are the things to think about when making your selection, plus 10 of the best hiking backpacks for women right now.
Hike duration & volume needed for your hiking backpack
Determining how much volume you need is a good place to start when selecting the right backpack for your hiking trip.
If you’re hiking unassisted, you’ll always need a tent, sleeping bag, sleeping mat, cooking stove, gas, pots and pans, and enough food for each day, plus one just in case. If you’re like me you’re bringing along camera equipment as well, and depending on where you’re hiking, you may also need an ice axe, crampons, bear canister, sat phone, beacon, and more.
I usually use the same backpack for four days as I would for eight days in the wilderness. Why buy two backpacks, right? However I also have to be careful not to fill the extra space just because it’s there. Food is usually what adds the weight and takes up the most space, and this is where I’m always working to reduce the volume and weight.
I typically go with a 75L for a week-long trek. Check out my packing list for Patagonia, Alaska, Kyrgyzstan, Southeast Asia, and for beginners. Be realistic and put together a list (or even take out everything you absolutely need for your trip and judge if it’ll all fit) to get a feel of the volume of the backpack you need.
Design & fit of the backpack
Everyone’s body is different. The most comfortable backpack for one woman could be completely different from another. For us ladies, we generally have narrower shoulders and curvier torso than men, and our strongest asset is our hips, so the design for a woman’s backpack should take these physical differences from men into account.
One of the most important parts of the bag is the waist belt. It should be long enough to fit around your waist and shouldn’t cut into your body. It’s where you should be carrying at least 50-60% of the weight, if not more. Check the bag for extra padding and any anti-gravity technology to help with the weight distribution on your back. If you’re ordering online, I recommend ordering several, testing them at home with weight, and sending back the ones that don’t work for you. Make sure the return policy supports this first!
The best hiking backpacks for women:
Taking all of the above into account, these are the best backpacks on the market right now:
The Osprey Aura is on top of many backpack lists out there for a good reason. The design took every possible factor into consideration from fit to utility, and it is highly loved by women based on the reviews. This is my pick for best all-around bag.
What I love about it: customizable fit, durable, anti-gravity technology which makes it really comfortable to carry on the back, good ventilation, comes with attached rain cover, and a detachable daypack.
What could be better: Only 50L and 65L are available, so it may not be ideal for extended backpacking trips.
This bag is perfect for: Anyone looking for a durable, all-around bag for multi-day hikes.
Osprey Ariel’s features are pretty similar to the Aura, except that it does offer more volume variety, and top + front access to the main compartment.
What I love about it: Customizable fit, durable, anti-gravity technology makes it really comfortable to carry on the back, comes with detachable daypack, top & front access, good volume variety (55L, 65L, 75L).
What could be better: Ariel does not come with rain cover, and it doesn’t seem to be water-resistant.
This bag is perfect for: Backpackers on extended trips looking for a long lasting, comfortable backpack with good weight distribution.
Deuter Futura Vario
The Deuter Futura Vario is a well engineered yet affordable backpack for extended hiking trips, thanks to its incredibly thick and sturdy shoulder straps, as well as its weight transfer technology. This number has been around for a while now, and it remains as one of the most-loved Deuter backpacks for women.
What I love about it: Very thick and comfortable shoulder straps, excellent weight distribution from the back to the hips, extendable lid. Various sizes to choose from (34L, 45L + 10L, 50L + 10L , 55L + 10L), top, front and bottom access to main compartment, excellent airflow on the back.
What could be better: The pack itself is pretty heavy because of its construction, it also makes squeaky sounds when on the move.
This bag is perfect for: Anyone looking for a very comfortable, easy-to-carry backpack. It’s also great for beginner backpackers because of the price point.
Deuter ACT Lite
The ACT Lite is another affordable and well-designed backpack for women from Deuter. While it is a one-size-fits-all bag, its compression feature allows users to press the backpack down to 50L, and adjust the back using the torso height adjustability feature.
What I love about it: Value for money, well designed compartments and weight distribution, and the adjustable features work well for women of different heights.
What could be better: It is difficult to access things stored in the middle of the bag, there’s no rain cover (bag is water resistant but definitely not waterproof), and the tall and thin design may not be ideal for everyone.
This bag is perfect for: Anyone looking for a relatively affordable option that’s suitable for long-term backpacking.
This award-winning backpack is one amazing backpack for women, with many reviews online raving about its comfortability and thoughtful design. The attention to details is clearly shown on the bag, such as the well angled, stowaway water bottle pocket on the side, and the pre-curved harness and hip belt. The backpack provides plenty of room for bulky loads yet many mentioned that they barely felt anything on their back. I’ve seen this one often on the trail.
What I love about it: On top of the usual comfort and weight distribution, it also has adjustable lower back padding. Well-thought out compartment designs, top and front access to the main compartment, a removable day pack, and durability.
What could be better: The hefty price tag at $300
This bag is perfect for: Seasoned backpackers looking to invest in a high quality, long-lasting backpack for extended trips.
North Face Terra
This fuss-free, pocket-heavy backpack is a great option for beginner backpackers. It does everything a standard hiking backpack for women should do, though I’d say that it’s not the bag you’d want to bring to a more rugged environment. It’s not the most important thing to note on a backpack, but the Terra does come in much more stylish colors than most other backpacks out there. There’s nothing wrong with wanting to look cute in the wilderness!
What I love about it: Great compartment design, access to the main compartment from the side, adjustable features, affordable price tag, and stylish design.
What could be better: It should offer more loops for attachments, it has limited volume due to its narrow design, and I wish it came with a rain cover.
This bag is perfect for: Backpackers looking for a standard backpack for a multi-day hike.
North Face Cobra
Built with expeditions and alpine guides in mind, the Cobra is made to last and endure harsh conditions. Plus it comes with lifetime warranty! If you are a fan of alpine hiking, this is definitely the bag for you. Reviews online rave about its incredible durability, and its sleek and cool design is just the cherry on top.
What I love about it: Very versatile thanks to the removable top lid, frame, & hip belt padding which allow users to strip the weight from 1.3kg to about 0.5kg, incredible attachment options, durability.
What could be better: It’s marketed as a unisex bag, so it’s not designed specifically for a woman’s shape. It will be essential to try this one on with weight in it before hitting the trail (as it is with all backpacks) to make sure it fits properly.
This bag is perfect for: Technical backpackers looking for a backpack that is going to last a lifetime.
Hyperlite Mountain Gear 3400 Southwest
This backpack is compatible to the Cobra from North Face. It is built to last and endure harsh conditions. The backpack is waterproof, which makes it ideal for trekking in wet conditions. While this is actually a unisex backpack, its good range of sizes can help you find the right fit for your body.
What I love about it: Rollable top and compression straps help with adjusting the size of your backpack depending on your needs. It’s waterproof, durable, and one of the few backpacks out there that can be fold down to fit in a duffel bag when the backstays are removed.
What could be better: Because of how it’s designed, you only get 3 different compartments – the main, the front, and the side, which could be annoying when you want to get something that’s at the very bottom of the pack. It is also more expensive than the North Face Cobra, though both bags offer very similar features.
This bag is perfect for: Backpackers looking for a very flexible, durable and high volume backpack for technical hikes.
REI Co-op Traverse
REI’s in house brand’s superstar, the Traverse, is well loved by its users for plenty of reasons. It’s like the design team took note of all of the best backpacks out there and applied them to the Traverse. From the awesome ventilation thanks to its highly breathable back, to its uplift technology that reduces the load on your back, Traverse is an awesome backpack that should be on your consideration list. The backpack that I use, the Venus, was the precursor to this backpack.
What I love about it: The large capacity, 4 entry points to the main compartment, well designed compartments that allow organization, removable top lid which can be converted into a daypack, and value for money.
What could be better: The women’s version only comes in 65L, which is smaller than the Venus at 75L. The durability also seems slightly questionable, as a few reviews online mentioned that the bags started to show wear after just a few uses.
This bag is perfect for: Anyone looking for a comfortable, well designed backpack with large capacity for multi-day hikes.
The Kelty Coyote is the most affordable option on this list, but still offers the features and fit that are essential for a good hiking backpack. In my opinion, the Coyote has one of the best compartmental designs out there, with ample organization for you to strategically store your gear.
What I love about it: Affordable price tag, comfortable, excellent organization with its 6 enclosed compartments.
What could be better: It is not the most durable backpack out there, can only handle a light to mid-load, so it’s good for multi-day hikes but not extended trips.
This bag is perfect for: Entry-level backpackers looking for an affordable and comfortable option.
City Travel Backpacks
If you’re planning on traveling from city to city, your backpack needs will be different. For starters, you likely won’t be carrying nearly as much gear as you would if you were backpacking. That means no tent, no sleeping back, no cooking equipment. Hooray!
Traveling through different cities and countries means you’ll need a backpack that is still lightweight, but definitely has all the bells and whistles to make your travel go smoothly. The following backpacks are great for traveling between cities, especially if you’ll be using trains and/or buses to get around:
Stubble & Co. Adventure Bag
This bag is super functional. With a padded laptop pocket, card pocket for easy access, shoe compartment, and a clamshell design for optimized packing, you’ll be able to keep all of your things organized. If you’ll be on public transportation with your back on your lap, you’ll have everything you need easily accessible which makes traveling much less stressful.
Another big plus for this bag is that it’s made from recycled plastic and has a cool minimalist design. The fact that it opens like a suitcase makes it ideal for city to city travel, especially if you’ll be on the move and constantly opening it up to find your things.
Thule Subterra Travel Pack, 30L
Similar to the Stubble & Co pack, this one has all kinds of features that make traveling between cities a breeze. Count on a laptop pocket, a padded interior pocket to protect all of your devices, and a PowerPocket for your cords. Plus, this pack has several small zippered pockets to help you organize your items for easy access.
This backpack is designed to be worn all day long, so you won’t have to worry about carrying everything with you as you move from place to place. It has breathable shoulder straps and mesh-lined material on the back, perfect for warm days walking around your chosen destinations.
Sulkan The Backpacker
If you’ll be on the road for some time and know you’ll be packing a lot, consider The Backpacker by Sulkan. This pack is actually two separate backpacks: one large 45L (plus 10L extension) pack with an attachable 20L daypack. With this, you can bring everything you could possibly need for your long adventure, with the possibility of embarking on day trips where you can leave the larger backpack in your hotel.
If you’ll be flying to your destination, or taking several flights from place to place, you’ll need a pack that makes getting through the airport as easy as possible. Some backpacks seem like black holes where all things seem to disappear, never to be found again. The previous suggestions under City Travel apply here, but these next two packs are especially suited for flying.
The following packs make accessing your necessities easier than ever, plus they are all the ideal size for the overhead bin on the airplane:
Osprey Porter Travel Pack Carry-on 30L
If you travel a lot, you’ve probably seen this backpack on many a traveler. Especially those who are traveling far, for long periods of time, and between countries often, the Osprey Porter is about as ideal as it gets as a carry-on. It’s lightweight, offering all the comfort and mobility of a backpack while having nearly all the benefits of a suitcase. A quick zip opens the backpack completely, allowing you to see everything inside.
The easy access front pocket is great for storing your electronics, travel documents, and anything else that you’ll need to grab quickly while going through the airport. The padding on the inside of the pack is ensured to protect your belongings, which gives anyone peace of mind while traveling.
Tortuga Outbreaker Backpack 45L
This is another pack that unzips and allows you to see your things the same way you can with a suitcase. It’s the maximum size for US carry-ons and you can also find the same one for 35L in case you don’t need quite as much space.
The Tortuga Outbreaker is the perfect happy medium between a big hiking pack and a suitcase. You’ll have all the mobility of a hiking pack without the bulk and all the organization of a suitcase without having to lug one around. Plus, it’s waterproof!
If you’re on a backpacking trip or simply discovering a new city, having a daypack makes escaping for a day or two possible. The ideal daypack is one that is lightweight, comfortable, and easy to pack into your larger backpack. Here are my top picks for daypacks:
REI Co-op Flash 22 Pack
Small, lightweight, and foldable, this daypack is one of the most comfortable on the market. Fold it up or use it as a storage cube in your larger pack, taking it out when you want to go out for a day trip. It’s even hydration reservoir compatible if you want to connect yours.
This pack allows you to bring everything you need for a day-long adventure, without creating too much bulk in your larger bag. Plus, it has plenty of outer loops in case you want to clip on any extra gear.
Six Moons Designs Minimalist V2 Ultralight Backpack
With customized sizing where you can choose your shoulder strap and hip belt size separately, this pack is perfect for a long hike where you might want to bring your water reservoir or other heavier items. This one is extremely simple and functional, with a sleek lightweight design.
The Minimalist V2 Ultralight Backpack is ideal for travelers who want to touch down in a location and take several day trips from there. It provides the benefit of being large enough for all of your hiking essentials, but lightweight enough to pack away until you need it.
Pacsafe Stylesafe Anti-Theft Sling Pack
This sling pack has special anti-theft technology that gives travelers peace of mind. While it’s ideal for exploring a new city, it’s also great for a short hike as it is surprisingly roomy. It’s a sling back, but can also be converted into a 2-strap backpack easily. Plus, it has tons of small pockets inside for organizing everything you’ll need for a long day out and about.
I hope this post helped you to find the right backpack for you. If you’re a male reader and looking for something similar, this guide for the best backpacks for hiking for males is a great resource.
Remember, regardless of what you read online, each woman’s body is different and it’s important to test the bags with weight in them before you hit the trail or explore a new place. I’m often surprised to find that a bag might look great on the rack, but be a completely different story once I try it on, especially with weight.
The key to finding the best backpack for you is knowing what you want out of it. Backpacking for several days (or weeks!), traveling to a new city, or flying from one place to another might require a different type of backpack.
That said, this list should help you narrow it down, focusing on backpacks that are light, durable, versatile, and work for the kind of travel you want to do. Happy traveling, ladies!