As I mentioned elsewhere, there is a tremendous lack of writing in the preparedness and survival field for women. The first area I’d like to discuss is packs specifically for women. Backpacks seem to form the basis of everybody’s B.O.B., but no-one looks at what might be necessary for the woman or women in your group to carry loads safely and effectively. By safety I mean without injury, and by effectiveness, I mean the ability to carry a meaningful load over distance without undue fatigue or effort.
There are a number of physical characteristics that need to be taken into account when choosing backpacks for females. Women tend to have shorter torsos, curvier hips and bust, and tend to be less broad in the shoulders, proportionally, than males.
The first thing to look at is torso length. Women’s shorter torsos can make it nearly impossible to get a good ‘fit’ on a pack that is too long, even on a highly adjustable model. Better brands of packs come in varying torso lengths, and should be sized to the length of your torso, whether male or female. If your local sporting goods store doesn’t know what you’re talking about, find a store that does, and that can help fit you.
The second issue in getting an effective woman’s pack is in the hips. Generally speaking, a woman’s hips are bell shaped, as opposed to the more cylindrical hip structure in men. A good woman’s backpack will have conforming hip-belts that allow most of the load to ride on the hips comfortably. Look for a pack that rides relatively low on the hip bones, where women are most able to bear the weight. It is hard to over-emphasis the importance of this area of fit. A heavy pack with a standard belt can leave startling bruises on the hips, as well as making the wearer too sore to continue.
Also, a proper woman’s pack will be contoured anatomically to give the best fit over the chest, making breathing easier as well.
Finally, women are narrower through the shoulders than men, and a woman trying to use a pack designed for a male will often find the shoulder straps too far apart for proper fit and load bearing. Again, a well made woman’s backpack will have shoulder straps set closer together.
Another factor to consider is internal vs. external frame backpacks. Since women tend to sway at the hips more when they walk, the overall stability of the pack on the wearer is an issue. Generally an internal frame pack tends to hug the body more, giving better balance and stability in rough terrain.
When choosing a pack, go for one that has a good amount of adjustability in both harness and in keeping your load stable, especially with packs that are not crammed full. For lighter applications, a lumbar or large fanny pack might be a good choice, as it too keeps the weight low on the hips and close to the body.
There are a variety of sizes and brands available. Gregory makes a women’s expedition pack with an 80 to 90 liter capacity (see picture above), and there are a number of multi-day packs in the 60 to 70 liter range from both Arc’teryx and Gregory. There are also a number of companies making daypacks in the 15 to 35 liter range as well as packs in 35 to 55 liter capacities specifically for women.
We all hope it will never come to it, but one day the ability to carry enough supplies and equipment to sustain you may be the difference between life and death. Having load bearing equipment that is suitable for a woman to do so might be the difference between her life and death.