Help me find a women's backpacking backpack!
July 15, 2013 6:54 AM   Subscribe

Living in Minnesota for the past few years, I've finally taken an interest in camping. It's been real fun and I'd like to progress from car camping to backpacking. There are a lot of recommendations online for men's backpacks but not so much for women.

There are a few bricks and mortar stores (REI and Midwest Mountaineering) I can visit but I'd like to go in with an idea of packs I'd like to try on. I'm not opposed to buying online to try stuff on either.

Further details:
- Good for 2-3 nights of hiking/camping
- Good for summer through fall or before it gets below freezing
- Good back ventilation; sweating is inevitable but is reduced sweating possible?
- Budget of around $250, but I can go higher if you know of a super good one

I'm 5'6" with a longer torso (about 19"-20"), 135 pounds, wider hips, and not very chesty if that helps.

Bonus round: If you have recommendations for parks around Minnesota/around Minnesota that you like for backpacking, please share. Thanks!
posted by mlo to Sports, Hobbies, & Recreation (12 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: Have you looked at packs at all in the stores? People in the stores can usually help you find something that fits really well, and even individual pack models can come in a number of sizes, which will affect the fit and the carrying capacity. Sometimes fit can be a pretty big issue, so I'd highly recommend going to the stores instead of just getting one online. I ended up getting the only backpack at REI that fit me.

Your measurements are close to my wife's, and she has a Gregory Deva90 that she's happy with, but we haven't done any really serious backpacking with it. Gregory has a really good reputation, as do Osprey and Kelty. REI packs can offer a serious savings over name brands without a real dropoff in quality.

What you might want to do is go backpacking a couple times later this summer/early fall and use rented gear from REI or other stores if available, which will greatly help you figure out what you like. Make sure you get an REI membership, and then go back next March when you get your dividend and 20% off coupon and get a pack then.
posted by LionIndex at 7:10 AM on July 15, 2013 [1 favorite]

Best answer: I have a Gregory Jade 60 that meets all those requirements. I love it. I'd look for 60-70L.

But everyone's body is shaped so differently that you really need to try on the packs with weight in them. For example, I am pretty tall (5'8") but I have a very short torso (waist to shoulder length) and a very small waist but bigger hips. These things will very from person to person.

REI is THE place to go for this - they will put 6 different packs on you, with full weight in them, and look at you carefully to judge fit.
posted by amaire at 7:13 AM on July 15, 2013

I'm always drooling over the packs at Frost River and Duluth Pack (both MN manufacturers). It looks like the Duluth Pack site has a women's specific packs page that might give you some ideas and all look to be in your price range, too.
posted by jillithd at 7:22 AM on July 15, 2013

Best answer: The Superior Hiking Trail is amazing in the fall. There's dozens of campsites (and hundreds of trips) that you could take. Most of the backcountry sites are first-come, but I've never had a problem with crowded sites. During the high season (peak leaf season) you may run into some crowding on the more popular sections of the trail (Oberg Mountain, Bean and Bear Lakes) but there's a reason for it - it's freaking amazing.

Logistically, if you're only bringing one car, you can park at a trailhead, catch the Superior Shuttle, get dropped off at the end of your route, and hike back.

If you're looking for a more mellow backpacking experience or if you're interested in having a base camp, some of the state parks have hike-in sites. Lake Maria is hike-in only, and it's not that far from the Cities. Crosby-Manitou on the North Shore is a backcountry park with only hike-in sites. The DNR State Park site has a portal to learn more about the hike-in (and bike-in and paddle-in) sites.

If you REALLY want to get out there and bushwhack your way across Minnesota, there's always the Kek or the Border Route Trail. I've yet to get out to the Kek and have only been on the Border Route Trail in the winter with snowshoes. Fall would probably be the best time for both - fewer mosquitoes and blackflies, and the trails will be easier to find than they would be in the spring.
posted by Elly Vortex at 7:27 AM on July 15, 2013 [1 favorite]

Oh, and my backpack is an ancient Kelty that I hope to replace someday soon. My dream pack is a Duluth Pack - made in Minnesota, lifetime guarantee! I'll definitely be going with one of their internal frame packs - I love the look of their canoe and traditional canvas packs, but I know (from experience) that they really tend to pull on the shoulders.
posted by Elly Vortex at 7:32 AM on July 15, 2013

Best answer: amaire is correct here.

There's really no substitute for going to one of those stores you mention and trying things on.
Prepare to spend a long time there, packing the thing full of weights, adjusting things, and walking around in circles. If its really busy and the worker can't pay lots of attention to getting things fitted and packed right for you, go somewhere else or come back another time.

I have an Osprey Aura that I like quite a lot. My criteria (which you might want to consider) were:

1. Light- I didn't want the first 8 lbs of my load to be all pack. I was happy to sacrifice some padding to carry less weight.

2. Fits one of those black bear canisters (may or may not be importnat to you, depending on where you'll be going).

3. Not so much capacity that I'll be tempted to carry all of my worldly goods with me. However much capacity you have, you WILL FILL. And then you'll have to carry it.

Keep in mind that the volumes quoted by backpack companies are completely mysterious. 2 packs that both say they are 60L can carry totally different amounts of stuff. If you have gear that you know you'll be bringing, you might consider bringing it to the store with you and seeing how well it fits into you prospective new packs.

As far as trails go... depending on where in Minnesota you are, you might consider Porcupine Mountains State Park in the UP. The terrain isn't too tough and there's plenty of water in most of the park, so I think it would be good for a beginning backpacker. There are also really sweet hike-in cabins you can reserve if you plan ahead!
posted by juliapangolin at 9:46 AM on July 15, 2013 [3 favorites]

In your price range, I'll nth the suggestion to go to REI and have an experienced salesperson fit you. Not only will they help you figure out which pack to buy, they'll also adjust the straps and teach you how to do it yourself if needed.

With respect to back sweat, I recommend looking at packs with mesh back support. (Alot of brands do this but the Gregory Jade 60 is one example.) Of course, there is some trade off between the comfort features of a pack and the weight, so you might want to read up on "lightweight" or "ultralight" backpacking to see if you'd prefer that type of pack. If so, I have a Go Lite quest, which I really enjoy but has no pockets.
posted by tinymegalo at 10:06 AM on July 15, 2013 [2 favorites]

Almost all the women I know have women specific Gregory packs these days. I think they have the best system for women right now. The rest of my friends are split between Osprey, Black Diamond and old Mountainsmith packs that aren't made anymore.
posted by fshgrl at 12:21 PM on July 15, 2013

In addition to REI, be sure and check out Midwest Mountaineering and get fitted there as well. While there is some overlap, both carry different brands and they all do fit somewhat differently.

And as mentioned, the Superior Hiking Trail is incredible. Almost every state park in the state has great hiking and back country camping.
posted by misterpatrick at 1:43 PM on July 15, 2013

Osprey Ariel 65. Lightweight and expandable storage. As cool and ventilated as you could get wandering around tropical Thailand. Detachable lid to be used as a smaller pack. Wonderful for women. For travel through airports I'd prefer to use this than a wheeled suitcase. Haven't used it hiking for day walks but seems to be fairly universally praised for that task in reviews on the web.
posted by chronic sublime at 4:16 AM on July 16, 2013

Response by poster: Thanks all! I definitely will go into both places to try packs on. I forgot that REI rents gear, that would be a great option!

Looked up some more info on the Superior Hiking Trail. With the shuttle, it sounds pretty easy for one so I'm excited about trying that in the fall.
posted by mlo at 6:56 AM on July 17, 2013

My REI typically only rents REI gear, so that's a problem, but you'll at least get an idea of what features you like or what needs improvement over the rentable packs.
posted by LionIndex at 9:28 AM on July 18, 2013

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