When buying stuff I have never cared whether a specific thing is a female or a male model. All I care about is the fit. Since I am tall, a lot of female oriented equipment, e.g. skis, wouldn't even come in my size. The clothes, on the other hand, I would usually choose from the female section, because despite them sometimes being too short, they would better fit my body shape.

What about the backpacks though? I believe that till now I have always had unisex/male bags. But when recently searching for a new backpack, I have noticed that the backpack section in the shop suddenly became very gendered.

I believe there could be some useful differences in female oriented backpacks, such as the location of the chest strap. Are there any other advantages?

I have also noticed that those bags seem somewhat small. Is it possible that female oriented backpacks would be too small for me, a 178cm-tall person? (5'10"). Should I even be considering those backpacks?

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    As a note (not enough for answer): Deuter generally advertises their SL series backpacks as women's backpacks, but explicitly states that they also fit slim males well. So I would guess that the opposite should be true, too: Don't be discouraged by marketing decisions, if male packs fit, there is no need to explicitly search for a "female pack". (WRT the chest strap: The location is adjustable on all my packs.)
    – anderas
    Commented Apr 12, 2018 at 13:12
  • Don't know what volume you are looking for but a rock climbing pack might work as they have a tighter profile. And they might not work for you but try a couple.
    – paparazzo
    Commented Apr 12, 2018 at 13:56
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    Also not a full answer, but regarding your question of even considering those backpacks with your length: Yes. My girlfriend is 1.78 as well and currently uses a 'female' backpack that fitted her better, but chose so after trying both male and female models. (I believe it's an Osprey Zenith for what it's worth).
    – Jeroen
    Commented Apr 12, 2018 at 14:04
  • Do you have wide hips and would that matter? As an overweight man, I feel having a narrow waist and wide hips would at least make most packs more comfortable. Could possibly make a difference for the style of hip belt that's most comfortable.
    – JollyJoker
    Commented Apr 13, 2018 at 10:07
  • Check the shoulder straps pitch (distance between shoulder straps). I bought a backpack that has this too wide for me (it is designed to fit someone with wider chest and shoulders), and it's really uncomfortable to wear when I'm carrying heavier stuff. And it's usually not adjustable. Commented Apr 16, 2018 at 10:05

8 Answers 8


I've hiked a lot with a lot of female trekkers. And I've never seen women trekkers having any problem with any unisex/male backpacks. Most of the manufacturers keep the chest straps adjustable so that one can adjust the position of those. So I would say it makes no difference.

Since a hiking backpack is meant to distribute the weight among your chest, shoulders, core and hips, the backpack fit matters. And this would matter independent of the gender. Some have a longer torso, in which case the shoulder straps will have to be loose to allow for the hip belt to sit on the hips. For those with smaller torso, the shoulder straps will have to be tighter to allow for the hip belt to sit on the hip (I'm assuming an average person and not someone with a ridiculously small torso). The above adjustment would remain the same for both genders (this should address your too-small-for-a-tall-person concern).

I feel the reason for the gender based difference is mostly sales driven than comfort driven.

Note: I'm a male who has worn the "female specific" backpacks as well. Made zero difference for me.

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    Another reason for gender based backpacks would be colour and style (if that matters to you).
    – everyone
    Commented Apr 12, 2018 at 13:35
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    Since the question was mostly about the fit, I left that out. However, the sales angle might actually address that point. Commented Apr 12, 2018 at 13:47
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    nah, I don't really happen to be looking for a pink backpack, it really is about the fit (:
    – april rain
    Commented Apr 12, 2018 at 14:04

To me the first and foremost concern would be comfort and carrying capacity. Everything else is only considered after those 2.

I recently went shopping for backpacks with my girlfriend and we noticed a couple of things regarding gendered models. Mostly there where no real differences between male and female versions.
We looked at several brands and found that:

  • Pink (and other "girly" colors) were usually not available as color for the male model and the mottled camouflage look wasn't always available with the female models.
  • The size range for female models started 1 or 2 sizes lower than for males. Male versions tended to have at the top of the range 1 or 2 additional extra large models.
  • The default configuration of the straps was often set for narrower shoulders, wider hips and/or a lower positioned breast-strap(s) on the female models. But they all could be adjusted to fit.

In the end my girlfriend happened to pick a male model and I ended up with a female version, just because those were the ones we felt most comfortable with.

Handy tip: When trying them on in the shop put a weight (comparable to what you would carry when trekking) in the backpack to get a better feel for how the straps tug when the thing is loaded. Can be quite different from the unloaded feel. You may have to look around a bit in the shop to find something of suitable weight for the test.
A really good shop will have some sand-bags lying around for just that purpose.

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    +1 for weights - that's a sign the shop/salesperson knows their stuff.
    – Criggie
    Commented Apr 13, 2018 at 2:51

Having worked in the industry for over 10 years, I can give the following insight. A persons' height is not the deciding factor but rather their hip to shoulder back measurement. You can be a tall person with long limbs but short torso for example. Any good outdoor show should be able to assist you. I am 6' 3" for example with a long back, I use Extended Length back packs for my frame. I have friends the same height as me that find they can use a pack designated for a woman that fits perfectly. Get fit for your pack by a professional that can give you tips and education in latest innovations within the industry.


Try them on

I feel like you are asking this question because you are buying a backpack online. In that case, I would suggest two things.

  1. If you don't backpack much, or if you don't backpack with much weight, just buy whatever pack looks nice and is cheap; it will be fine.

  2. If you do backpack much, especially with heavy weights, then your pack choice is very important and you need to try it on. Make sure you bring ~30 lbs (or whatever weight you are likely to be carrying) to put in the pack at the store to see roughly how comfortable it is.

I suspect the main comfort related difference between male and female packs would be two-fold: shoulder width and accommodation for the breasts. Shoulder width is one of the most important aspects of pack usage; you need the pack to rest on the meaty part of the shoulder, but not too close to the neck. This is where you could get in trouble if you are a tall, but thin, woman. Pack straps too far to the outside will seriously stress your shoulders after a couple hours.

But the only way to tell if the shoulder straps are just right (and that your breasts are properly respected by the straps) is to try it on. So go to a store and see how it feels!

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    If you do try it on in the store and like it, please endeavour to purchase in the store rather than hitting an online store for a cheaper deal. Show-rooming isn't ethical. Commented Apr 16, 2018 at 1:32

For your case, I would say, you should look at both male and female backpacks (as well as any unisex models). Your health, well-being and comfort should be your primary concern. And as you mentioned, your personal circumstances put you slightly farther away from the statistical median. So it is quite possible that either:

(1.) A good female backpack design could be adapted for large breasts and spare you any hassle on long treks. Breasts are delicate organs and being extra vigilant (or just too picky) by looking into as many backpack options as you can, is harmless at least.

(2.) If you however find out that a backpack designed for a male chest is comfortable enough and given its larger capacity (or any other perceived benefit over female models) is to your liking, then you should go ahead with that one.

As a personal note, and from my experience, I would like to use this opportunity and suggest:

(A.) If at all possible, try walking for 10 minutes with the chosen backpack loaded with some weight similar to your usual "payload". (e.g. borrow from a fellow hiker)

(B.) Do not go for big ("male") capacity, just because you can. Your knees will thank you, in long run, on trekking sessions longer than 3 ~ 4 hours.

(C.) Some "girly" and, generally speaking, very bright colours can improve your visibility in case of a rescue operation or wildlife encounters. This point may sound laughable in Western or Central Europe, but in Bulgaria, where I come from, few people get lost every year, to a level that a rescue operation is required. Also Bulgaria and Romania still have natural presence of European brown bear in the wild, albeit very small and (regrettably) diminishing in Bulgaria. So although the chance to encounter "dangerous" fauna close to trekking routes is very small, it is not zero. And it is a good idea for humans to appear more visible to the wildlife (not to stumble upon animals by surprise).


I find it funny that no answers so far have covered the biggest difference in the female torso. Namely, breasts.

Rucksack shoulder straps designed for the male body are always either straight or have a simple curve, following the relatively flat shape of the male body. They're designed for a flattish chest.

Rucksacks targeted at women (assuming they're proper rucksacks and not some fashion statement) have a definite cutout around the breasts. The padding on the straps starts in a similar place on the top of the shoulders, but then curves further outwards round the shoulders before coming back in again below the breasts. This is very easy to see when you place men's and women's rucksacks against each other. If you have relatively small breasts, you may well be fine with a man's rucksack. If you have relatively large breasts though, you will definitely notice the difference.

Back length used to be an issue for women's rucksacks. With even midrange packs having adjustable backs now though, this has pretty much stopped being a problem. Some manufacturers still have fixed-length backs, but there are enough good adjustable-back packs that there is no real problem finding something to fit.

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    Being a female with quite a bit of meat on the chest to be in the way, I have always used male/unisex packs and have never had any problems with the fit. I have never been able to use chest straps though.
    – Willeke
    Commented Apr 12, 2018 at 16:51
  • @Willeke Also, if one has a bigger bust, I don't see how a small curve in the strap can help. Theoretically it should be good, but practically I see no way just a small curve in the strap helping in fitting the backpack well. Commented Apr 12, 2018 at 16:54
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    Is a rucksack technically distinct from a backpack? Commented Apr 12, 2018 at 18:37
  • @Azor Ahai Here is an article on the difference, which I did not find very helpful. I think it may be mainly a linguistic difference.
    – ab2
    Commented Apr 12, 2018 at 19:40
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    @JackAidley, Maybe I should have said I have never found a pack I would want to buy or even borrow which had chest straps. So I never had the chance to work out whether they would work for me.
    – Willeke
    Commented Apr 13, 2018 at 16:50

I worked with a girls high school for a while. We used standard Serratus packs.

As another answer pointed out, the critical dimension is the distance from the shoulder to the hip bones. Girls at the school ranged from about 80 pounds to about 160; from ones that could play Tinkerbell in Peter Pan, to Brunehilde in Die Walküre We had to keep small packs in stock for girls that were short torsoed.

Many packs now have a means where you can choose where the shoulder straps attach to the body of the pack, usually by unthreading the Y and running a main support strap under more or fewer bands on the pack. While a PITA to do, this made it possible to fit the pack properly to the kids.


You should buy female backpack. Women have narrow shoulders. So women's backpacks are adapted to narrower shoulders.

Of course you can buy any backpack but the quality of product consist of small improvements. You might not notice difference immediately but you will see it after longer hike.

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    "Women have narrow shoulders". You have missed two very important words: "on average". However the difference is not very marked, so if you take a random woman and a random man, the man will have wider shoulders, what, 55% of the time? Commented Apr 12, 2018 at 13:18
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    There is a useful answer here if you point out shoulder-strap width as something women should check / think about when looking at male / unisex packs. As written though, it's not good advice. Commented Apr 12, 2018 at 13:56
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    Can we please stop bashing an answer due to ridiculously obvious statistics arguments: Obviously it doesn't apply to everyone. I always test women's shoes because I have narrow heel (btw, I am male), and women have narrower heels than man (on average...). What I disagree is the absolute statement that "you should buy female backpack", but it definitely is a relevant ergonomic difference in female backpacks (if it's accurate, which I don't know but can believe) and something to check, when testing packs. And that's the point, getting a pack shouldn't be statistical, but an individual choice.
    – imsodin
    Commented Apr 12, 2018 at 13:58
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    @Martin Bonner: do you have a proof(maybe source) that man will have wider shoulders 55% of the time? According to my knowledge, because of sexual dimorphism woman will have narrower shoulders most of the time. For example if we take 2 people (man and woman)with the same body length (let say 165cm) then man will have 37.5cm shoulders width and woman 35.6cm (according to anthropologist W.W.Bunak). Commented Apr 12, 2018 at 14:23
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    @MartinBonner The difference in Male and Female shoulder width seems to vary by country, but there's typically upwards of 1.5 standard deviations between the mean male and mean female shoulder width which suggests that the overlap is much lower than you suggest. Source: jstage.jst.go.jp/article/jhe1972/27/1-2/27_1-2_9/_pdf Commented Apr 12, 2018 at 14:34

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