Updated on April 7, 2016
2013 Lessons and Reviews About Backpacking Packs for Petite Women
Over the last few years I have been on the never ending search for the perfect 45L backpacking, traveling and trekking pack. Soon, I will again be doing some adventure traveling and backpacking, this time an extended trip to Central America. Desperate to find that perfect pack, as I sit here spending many hours reviewing pack specs over and over, visiting the local outdoor shops to try them on, and try and recall everything I’ve learned in my quest over the last couple years, I wanted to share my findings with you in hope that you too could find that perfect pack.
What I’m Looking For
At 5′ tall, 112lbs, a 15.5″ torso length, I’m looking for a 45L pack that can comfortably carry 30 lbs where the two most important things for me in a pack are:
1- The pack’s weight and
2-The performance of the packs suspension in dropping the pack weight off my shoulders to my hips.
What I’ve Found
I previously thought that I could use the same backpacking pack both on more local trails and for overseas travel. After some experience now however I believe that you really need two packs for each of these purposes. The difference I’ve found is that most people tend to pack more when going overseas whether it is because they will be doing a larger variety of types of activities or if for no other reason than being unsure if you can find certain items out of the country.
Going ultralight, ie. packs less than 2.5lbs although perfect for a thru hike or overnighter in the states isn’t practical for overseas traveling. Generally in these ultralight packs, the loss in pack weight is due to reducing the performance of the suspension. This means that although you save 1-2lbs in the pack, the 35lb load that you are still carrying now isn’t properly distributed to your hips and it will likely put a lot of strain on your shoulders and be an uncomfortable carry.
Going with heavier high end suspension packs, ie. packs greater than 4 lbs like the Gregory and Osprey packs result in nice load transfer to the hips but the overall pack weight ends up being more because the pack is simply too heavy itself.
Here’s some quick summaries of my experiences with various packs >50L (some of the general comments reflect overall experience with the manufacturer’s packs of all sizes from daypacks to these larger packs).
Pros: Women’s specific and XS (14″ to 16″) torso sizing, nice load transfer, pack doesn’t sit too tall
Deva 60 2011: I first purchased the Gregory Deva back in 2011. For a petite person, not the best pick, as although this pack was extremely comfortable and load transfer was great, the pack itself weighed 5+ lbs! There is a notable sacrifice here in weight for comfort and for smaller stature folks, this would not be the recommended option as the base pack weight is just too heavy.
Jade 60 2012: I was excited about this pack and picked it up after returning the Deva 60 as it was 3lb 11oz, notably lighter than the Deva. I took the pack on an overnight trip and although it transferred the 30lb load to my hips well, I found the lumbar padding to protrude too much from the pack, putting too much pressure into my lower back.
Sage 55 2013: I went to REI and decided to try the Sage 55. The XS Sage at 3lbs 4oz was very close to my ideal pack weight (of 3lbs) so I was excited to try it on and had it loaded with 30lbs. Unfortunately as I spent half an hour walking around REI with the pack on it just didn’t feel right with that much weight in it. The bottom of the pack sagged, a LOT of the weight sat on my shoulders no matter how I adjusted the load lifter straps and there weren’t enough compression straps in the pack to pull the load closer to my body resulting in me having to lean forward quite a bit to balance out the sagging load. Although the empty pack weight was great, the height of the pack was perfect, it wasn’t made to carry 30lbs. I’d suggest carrying no more than 20-25lbs in this pack. I own the Sage 35 and absolutely love it, if you’re looking at this pack I’d suggest getting the 35 or 45L version and try to keep the weight down.
Jade 60 2013: In a last ditch effort to land my ideal overseas travel pack, I was returning the Osprey Ariel 55 at REI and discussing packs with Dan the REI pack expert. We talked about how hard it was to find packs for petite 5 footer women like myself. I was about to leave empty handed when I decided to give the Jade 60 another go. I had tried the 2011 version and didn’t like it so I didn’t really expect much. I had it loaded with 30lbs and spent about a half an hour in it walking around the store, up and down the stairs to see how it felt. It looks like the gregory developers took some of the concerns in the previous version into account and the lumbar region they made some design changes that made the pack carry better. The lumbar padding has been reduced in size, made more compressible and felt better on my back than the previous model did. At 3lb 12 oz, and 54L for size XS it is a bit heavy, however I was impressed with the fit, the volume was close to what I was looking for and it did an acceptable job of carrying the load. It isn’t as tall as the osprey packs so no skyscraper effect and of course it has a lot of the Gregory bells and whistles. The downside to this pack is that if you are really petite like myself, when fully packed it is quite wide and sin sleeping bag it can hold tons of stuff, which isn’t that great if you are trying to minimize weight.
Jade 40 2013: Five to eight more liters, half a pound less and this would be the adventure travel backpacking pack of my dreams. With a size XS weighing in at 3lb 8oz, this simple pack has been just what I needed for a six month backpacking trip overseas. I could use just a tad more volume because the size XS is only 37 liters, but the small volume keeps me in check as to how much stuff I can pack in there and thus keeps the weight down. A little strap trimming and removing the gregory plastic zipper tabs can take another ounce or two off and it doesn’t feel too large on my back. I’d highly recommend this pack for petites like myself (110lbs, 5 feet tall)
Pros: Women’s specific and some XS sizing, nice load transfer
Cons: Pack weight, their designs are moving towards ultralight but they haven’t broken the <3.5 lb barrier
Ariel 65 XS 2012: At 4lbs 8 oz (the 2012 model) this pack has great suspension, custom molded hipbelt and transfers the load nicely but like the Gregory packs, needs to loose the bells and whistles, have thinner straps and streamline it to loose the pack weight. It is also a pretty tall pack which makes the pack a little awkward to carry for petites
Ariel 55 XS 2013: Great pack for those with longer torso’s who weigh more than 115lbs to handle the heavier pack weight. Great suspension, comfortable shoulder straps. Nice that they offered it in size XS this year but the ariel series is generally too tall for petites (skyscraper effect**) and still heavy at 4lb 2 oz. Not a big fan of the new hipbelt, like the hipbelt pockets but not the added weight and cushioning on it versus the 2012 Ariel series hipbelt.
Granite Gear Packs
Pros: Women’s specific and short torso sizing
Cons: Suspension systems need work, unless in the heaviest packs, load transfer is poor
Crown VC 60 Ki Short: This is a really sweet ultralight pack, perfect for your thru-hike or ultralite <25lb overnighters. Not so good for travelling however as the suspension is minimal and does a poor job of dropping the weight to your hips when you get above 25lbs or so. It also feels a little flimsy like the shoulder straps might come off when loaded with >30lbs. I’d suggest they make it a 50L version.
Women’s Flash 50 S : Back in 2012 I was excited about this 2lb 8oz pack from REI. It had nice features, durable material and seemed like it was going to work. REI advertised the small as fitting a 15″-17″ torso. Unfortunately after I tried this pack out, I found that the bottom of the pack was very uncomfortable and was repeatedly hitting my rear end while moving. After examining the pack I noticed the hipbelt sat a couple inches above the bottom of the stiff backpanel frame and thus the lower part of the frame was actually hanging too low. The hipbelt should also be angled more downward as well. The sternum strap placement is way too low also.
Womens Flash 65: I had the exact same experience with the 2012 version of the Flash 65 that I had with the Flash 50. Although its very lightweight at 2lb 14oz, and has really nice features, the bottom part of the frame on this pack repeatedly hit my bottom making for a very uncomfortable fit. Maybe for people with a longer torso this would fit better but not for my 15.5″ torso.
After trying out many packs, I first went with the 2013 Jade 60 for the first two months of the 6 month overseas backpacking adventure I’m currently on. When fully loaded this bad boy weighed in at around 40lbs and being my petite self I found it just too bulky and heavy for practical adventure travel. I sent it back to the states along with a bunch of other stuff as I downsized, and I then ordered the 2013 Jade 40 XS. So far carrying this pack has been great, it fits well and is almost perfect for backpacking through central america.
The only downsides to this pack is that I could really use an extra 5 to 8 liters in the main compartment but I just carry some extra stuff in my daypack instead and Gregory should really try to trim the weight of this bad boy a bit. As is however it keeps me thinkng ultralight, assessing what I truly do and don’t need and gets the job done. For all you amazingly tiny folks out there I’d highly recommend this pack!
Now, if you do need the extra volume to carry a sleeping bag for example, my recommendation would be to go with the Granite Gear Crown VC 60.
My Dream Pack
After these trial and errors with the various packs these are some features of my dream pack (which doesn’t yet exist!).
- Pack weighs less than 3 lbs with most of the weight devoted to the pack suspension.
Pack has awesome suspension with aluminum stays, a medium padded downward angled hipbelt, custom heat molded like Osprey’s Ariel 2012 would be awesome. The suspension properly drops 35lbs down to the hips with the shoulder straps loosely sitting on the shoulders.
Pack has a 45L volume in a size XS
The pack is designed only to fit a 14-16″ torso so fitting is perfect. The larger fit range on a pack the more likely there is to be problems in fit or have extra weight in the suspension and padding where not necessary.
Material of the pack is similar to the Osprey Ariel, durable but thin, but it should also be more water resistant. Gregory’s pack material is fairly durable as well.
The pack doesn’t need any special ventilation in the backpanel, unless the grooves cut out weight. When a pack is loaded up with 30+lbs and you release the load lifter straps to drop the weight to your hips, you can let it rest loosely on your shoulders and upper torso and thus have a slight gap between the upper torso and pack to give a little ventilation.
Get rid of the lumbar pack, most travellers bring a separate daypack or duffel, the lumbar pack is unnatractive and cumbersome and petite women don’t wear it, keep the lid simple.
Use the mesh stretchy material that the Granite Gear VC 60 and the Gregory Jade uses for water bottle pockets, its lightweight and perfect for the job.
Give it two hipbelt pockets, don’t skimp here, there’s no way I’m reaching back to my pack to grab something while trekking along.
Finally, let’s think ultralight, shorten straps, reduce the width of buckles and all straps on the pack, I don’t really need zippers on anything but the hipbelt pockets. Top loading only is fine!
Osprey and other manufacturers have the right idea in mind in trying to make packs taller and more narrow and this approach works great for people with average or longer torso lengths. The general idea with these tall packs is to bring as much pack weight as close to your body as possible. For those with normal torso’s say 18″ or bigger this works out great. Their torso is parallel to most of the weight in the pack with less than 15% or so of the packs weight resting at a height greater than the top of their head.
For petite individuals however, tall packs just don’t work. Our short torso’s (i have between a 15″ and 15.5″ torso length) is only in contact with the lower half of the pack. This leaves greater than 30% of the pack weight above our shoulders!! Generally in taller packs that rise above my head, no matter how I distribute the weight in the pack, when I’m carrying more than 35lbs I feel like the leaning tower of pisa! There’s just too much weight above my shoulders in the tall pack, and it makes it very awkward to carry and quite unbalanced!
Retailers need to take this skyscraper effect into account when selling packs for those with all torso sizes. For people with short torso’s they need to make the pack less tall and potentially a little wider to bring the weight down to short person level!