Looking for a life mate...

12:00 p.m. on March 10, 2012 (EST)
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One that will carry everything I need for multiple days on the trail. Must be strong and sturdy with attractive features. =P

I’ve scoured the forums looking for recommendations and came up empty handed, so here I am with the big question: What is the right pack for me?

I was once in love with the Mountainsmith 40. It was perfect for 3-4 day trips, when I was splitting the load with another. Now that it’s just my seven year old and I, I’ll need more to properly accommodate the two of us.

I’m looking for a lightweight internal frame backpack, preferably made with a woman in mind, for a 15” torso. Lots of space, sleeping bag compartment, top and bottom access, water bottle pockets, cushy hip belt and a detachable day pack would be nice…

Spare no expense. I want the best, top of the line, hi-tech, tried and true-product out there.


Thank you for your help.



12:32 p.m. on March 10, 2012 (EST)
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Welcome to Trailspace, Autumn (fun intro, by the way).

Several of the top quality pack manufacturers make woman-specific packs. Take a look at the Osprey packs. My spouse has an Osprey Ariel that has the capacity that should work. Ospreys are generally pretty light for their load-carrying capacity.

Gregory is another good line, as is Deuter. Whatever you look at, be sure to work with a knowledgeable pack fitter. You have your torso length on your profile - that's a good starting point for sizing, though different pack makers do things slightly differently (that's why you need a good pack fitter - s/he will know how to make the adjustments and compensate for the differences between pack brands).

You have both EMS and REI in your area (in Syracuse, anyway). Both have good selections, but, being large chains, you need to have a talk with the people in the pack departments. Not all of them are really experienced in pack fitting (same with their boot departments). Sounds like you may have some experience backpacking and hiking, so a bit of chatting with the clerks should give you a good clue about their knowledge (hint: old geezers often have been backpacking for years, high school teenyboppers often were hired because the store needed warm bodies - so look for the clerks who look like they have been on the trail for a few years).

9:07 p.m. on March 10, 2012 (EST)
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You might want to look at this one-not sure it has everything you want, but I had another pack made by them and they are well made. My problem with mine was that it was very heavy. This model is a lighter design. I tried on the men's version at a local store and liked the fit.


If you want a custom pack, McHale makes them. Not cheap, but supposed to be very well made. I've never actually seen one in person. Not many people spend upwards of $800-$1000 on a pack, no one I know, anyway.


Judging from his website, McHale can make anything you want.




3:21 a.m. on March 11, 2012 (EDT)
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Hey Autumn, welcome to the wonderful world of Trailspace.

There are alot of great packs out there. Many of which have been mentioned above by Bill and Tom.

Bill mentioned some very good points in regards to fit etc.

Proper fit is key with any pack. Getting fitted by a knowledgeable pack fitter is definitely the way to go. I have actually gone into an outfitter with all of my gear that I will carry on trail for a week in winter(in stuff sacks of course) to get the right size pack volume wise for my needs.

The reason I take my winter kit is because the gear I carry for a winter trip takes up more pack volume compared to what I would take on a trip of the same length during the summer.

Once I get the pack volume dialed in I go a bit bigger. I can always compress the pack down to get it dialed in if I am hauling a lighter load but if I am hauling a larger kit I can't make the pack any bigger than it is so to me hauling in my gear makes the process of selecting what I need in regards to pack volume fairly easy.

Another thing is wear the pack with weight around the store for a bit. If you do not have your gear with you the outfitters typically have sandbags for this purpose.

Also while wearing the pack around the shop if they have an area that simulates terrain use it. This will pay dividends in regards to getting a pack that fits you well. 

Research can be crucial as I am sure you are well aware of. Anything can look great on an outfitters wall but if it blows apart on ya in the middle of the trail it can make for a real bad time and has the potential to put you in an awkward situation(BTDT.)

Pack wise I own Ospreys. I can't say whether or not they will fit you but they make a very well made product.

Anywho, I hope you find the site helpful in your endeavors and look forward to seeing ya on the boards.

Happy hiking-Rick

11:39 a.m. on March 11, 2012 (EDT)
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The wisest of the wise have already spoken here!  I just wanted to add my appreciation for your post!  Creative!  Loved it!

2:12 p.m. on March 11, 2012 (EDT)
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I think if you truly mean "spare no expense" then custom is the best way to go. You are then able to add exactly what you have described in your first post, as well as having some input from the packmaker, which if chosen carefully, will have a great deal of knowledge.

As Tom pointed out McHale seems to make great packs, although I've never seen one either so this is just word of mouth.

A little closer to me, and you as well I guess (I'm in Toronto, Ontario) is


they are in Thunder Bay. I met the owner at the Outdor Adventure Show here in Toronto and got to see some of the packs firsthand. I love the simplicity and exact dialed in fit they provide. (5 frame sizes, 5 shoulder strap sizes and 4 hip belt sizes) The aluminum stays are also removed to be molded to your back.

Just throwin another option in the mix. Its always fun to have options when buying something as important as a pack.

3:39 p.m. on March 11, 2012 (EDT)
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this reminds me of a t-shirt a friend gave me - 'why your backpack is better than a girlfriend.'  fortunately, it's a size too small, because my wife doesn't appreciate the humor.  

a number of quality brands make packs designed for women: arc'teryx, gregory, osprey, golite, black diamond, granite gear.  Mountain Hardwear, REI, & Deuter as well, but i don't know those well enough to comment.  err on the high side in terms of volume and carrying capacity if you hike with kids.  the best way to figure that out is to gather your gear, fill  your 40 liter pack, empty it, then put in all the stuff that didn't initially fit.  i'm roughly guessing you might have to size up to about 65 liter, though. (i'm assuming most normal people will not bring their gear to the store to do this).

 take the advice above that you should go for fit and comfort above all.  that means trying them on, carrying roughly the amount of weight you expect to carry.  any decent store will have bags of sand and other filling to simulate carrying your stuff.  it takes a while to do this at a store during busy shopping times....but it is definitely worth the effort to get it right. 

* * *

one person's opinionated impressions of the brands, from a combination of trying things on and walking around with them a lot.  any one of these brands make backpacks that you could use regularly for years and will have a pretty good set of features.  pockets and such are definitely a factor in getting a backpack you like, but that should be secondary to how they fit and carry.  

* * *

Granite Gear and Golite tend to be lighter weight, though Golite's larger backpacks (eg the Terrono) are pretty average weight-wise.  (granite gear makes 60 liter backpacks that are under 3 pounds and can comfortably carry a decent load).  

Gregory and Osprey tend to cover both the lighter (but not ultralight) side, but also offer a line of heavier, burlier backpacks capable of carrying more and suffering more wear and tear  (the Osprey Aura line is about a pound lighter, on average, than the ariel line; the Gregory Deva line is about a pound and a half heavier than a similar volume backpack from the Jade line).  

black diamond's DNA comes from alpine climbing; their backpacks tend to be oriented toward that kind of usage, somewhat.  they tend to be on the heavier side, weight-wise, because they anticipate some of the abuse you get from climbing.  

arcteryx tends toward the heavier side of things - even their attempts at 'lighter' backpacks are still pretty heavy-duty.  on the plus side, though, they carry a lot of weight easily and are made of pretty robust materials, so they tend to last a long time.  

* * *

i didn't mention mystery ranch as an option because i don't think they make backpacks specifically for women; trying them on would mean ordering one and having to return it if it doesn't fit, because they sell direct from their business in Montana; and because they are on the expensive side - on par with arcteryx price-wise.  But, their backpacks have been uniformly outstanding for me.  their standard backpacks are quite heavy; they make one on the lighter side, the Trance XXX, that might deserve some attention if you hike a lot and if it fits.   (would help to know if any women use and like mystery ranch.....)

happy hunting!

10:44 a.m. on March 12, 2012 (EDT)
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Welcome to the site.  As you can tell there is a dizzying array of backpacks and information.  I would stick to the big manufacturers like Gregory, Arcteryx, Osprey, Mountain Hardwear, Marmot, Granite Gear, Mountainsmith, Black Diamond, etc.  However, McHale's backpacks are custom made for each person and made from materials which literally go into bulletproof vests, if that is what you desire.  I almost purchased one but I really didn't need that specific type of fit and the "bulletproofness" they are famous for.  I fall inline with the average torso and can wear many backpacks from different manufacturers and most of them would be comfortable, so I decided against spending the money on the pack.  I was looking at the Little Big Daypack and the 0-Sarc.  I've heard good things about the Mystery Ranch backpacks.  Another member, Tipi,  has a Mystery Ranch but he is a madman when he packs it.  Look at some of his trip reports!  

As for the mountaineering aspect check out Mile High Mountaineering and Cold Cold World.  

Obviously, it is always best to try on several different packs in a store but If you have to order from the internet, as do I, then use a internet store with a liberal return policy.   

I just noticed the "spare no expense" comment.  Well, heck, if that's the case, get a McHale's.  Have fun!

10:00 p.m. on March 12, 2012 (EDT)
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Welcome Autumn and family.  

I would say you should atleast give Mystery Ranch a call.  They are the best, hi-tech, tried and true, top of the line pack out there.  Osprey, and Arc and the rest are very, very good, but MR is the best.  They make yokes and belts specific for women also.  I would take the time to call them and listen to what they have to say.   (406) 585-1428.  

10:11 p.m. on March 12, 2012 (EDT)
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MoZee, you believe the Mystery Rach packs are better made than the McHales? I'm not saying they are or they're not. Just curious.

I have seen both but can't really add much being I don't own either.

Honestly I look at it like this. The best pack out there is the one that holds up to what ya put it through season after season, has just what ya need, and most of all fits.

12:08 a.m. on March 13, 2012 (EDT)
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I have both a Mchale LBP34 and a Mystery Ranch Trance.  The Trance is more comfortable at weights over 30lbs and they are comparable at loads under.  The Mchale is very nice but to be frank, the MR was cheaper, weighs just a bit more but with more volume, and provides better overall value.  This is just my opinion, but I have found the quality similar.  The best thing about a Mchale, however, is that you can get exactly what you want in terms of fabrics, foam, and colors.  Although custom, all Mchales have a similar suspension, hipbelt design, etc.  The custom part comes from what I mentioned above and the addition of very specific accessories that can be tailored to one's specific needs.

But these are both load haulers.  If you don't plan on carrying heavier loads, there are a lot of different options out there that are cheaper.

I might look at Granite Gear and ULA Equipment (made in the USA) as they have woman specific packs that have contoured shoulder harnesses that benefit the female anatomy and simply provide more comfort.

1:17 p.m. on March 13, 2012 (EDT)
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I don't have anything to add to the pack hunt for you but remember you can still split your load a little. 

Kid's Packs

1:45 p.m. on March 13, 2012 (EDT)
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I also like the Osprey packs.

Great quality, comfortable and thoroughly tested designs. A true "partner" that won't let you down.

If you need more capacity you can buy aftermarket side pockets from some of teh lightweight pack companies and get about another 800 cu. inches of volume plus easier access to items you need quickly like water treatment, first aid, toiletries etc.


3:44 p.m. on March 13, 2012 (EDT)
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I have owned and used, even worn out a few, backpacks from most of the big name, highend makers since the early '60s and also made my living fitting packs, boots and selling gear....successfully.

I have exactly the same attitude toward gear as you do, only the best will do and cost is the least important factor in my choices. I currently own and use seven Mystery Ranch and Dana Design packs and just sold two others, of the dozen I have had since 1978. I recommend them without reservation and own one heavily used I bought in 1978 and STILL in great shape.

I intend to buy one more pack in my life and it will be a full custom "expedition" rig from Dan Mc Hale, no question, as he is a design and manufacturing genius where packs are concerned and will build exactly what I want.

Call MR and call Dan and ask a LOT of questions, then, check back if we can assist further.

1:42 p.m. on March 14, 2012 (EDT)
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My wife loves her Flash 50 from REI and we do about 30 days a year in the backcountry. It seems that different brands fit different women.

11:03 p.m. on March 14, 2012 (EDT)
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You don't have to spend a lot of money to get a top shelf Osprey Vector series from the 90s.  They commonly sell for $50-75 on eBay.  Special harness and belt for women.  model Amelia 5200c 6LB 8oz.  model Isis 4200-4400c 6LB 6oz.  But I believe all the packs in the Vector line could be had with the women's belt and harness.  The Amelia and Isis were designed with the female in mind.  For those on a budget, I cannot imagine a better specialized pack can be found.

9:02 a.m. on March 15, 2012 (EDT)
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welcome to Trailspace! Thanks for starting a great thread, and in such an entertaining way :)

I originally pulled up you post figuring it was more asian spam, and got a good chuckle out of your effective subject. I have nothing to add at the moment, as others have offered a wealth of advice above. 

Best of luck!

12:19 p.m. on March 15, 2012 (EDT)
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Wow! Big hugs and much thanks to all who responded =) I am so thankful to be part of such a great community. I appreciate all of your feedback and I admire you for sharing a plethora of excellent information. I feel well directed and confident. Thanks again to all! Love, Autumn

9:59 p.m. on March 16, 2012 (EDT)
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If cost is not a major consideration, then Mchale Packs is a good place to start and finish.  I've had two and they are excellent.  The demo process was stress free and the quality of them should last a veritable lifetime.  

6:41 p.m. on March 18, 2012 (EDT)
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Bought my daughter a Osprey Ariel 65 for trekking China, Cambodia and Thailand.  For her needs, it was perfect.  Osprey has a 100% replacement policy, even overseas.  

4:31 a.m. on March 24, 2012 (EDT)
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Hey Rick, Sorry I couldn't respond to your question sooner, I've been busy sugaring here and was only able to check out what was going on here on my phone, which I hate trying to type with. 

MoZee, you believe the Mystery Rach packs are better made than the McHales? I'm not saying they are or they're not. Just curious.

I believe that Dana sets the bar as far as suspension goes.  I used several models by him when I lived in Bozeman.  Unfortunately being a student, the funds were never sufficient for buying my very own Dana.  But I can still remember how the hike up the ridge at Bridger seemed almost effortless even with a heavier load, when I borrowed my buddys Dana instead of my roomates kelty or my JanSport.  I worked for a guy who made fiberglass driftboats in Bozeman who was a friend of Dana's.  He would let me borrow his pack occasionally when I'd take off to hit Hyalite Canyon or go up to the Bridgers and I was 120 lbs soaking wet back then and that pack loaded was about half my weight.  It is possible that a McHale pack may be better made on the outside with more custom  features, but I have yet to see my second McHale pack here on the east coast.  And the one I did see was sitting in a corner of my friends roomates room for a year and sadly, still hadn't had its cherry popped. 

My dear friend Jill, who goes a million miles per hour, got a Mystery Ranch pack and she uses it constantly.  She owns and runs her own business.  I tell you this because she will pack her work in her pack when she goes hiking so she doesn't get behind on her work but she loves to be on a trail, we'll stop for a lunch break and she breaks out a stack of papers and will go to work.  Combine that with the way she packs, bottles of wine, fresh fruit, games, frisbee, a chair, the biggest camp pillow she can find, a couple of books, and being a geology nut, she can't pass any rock that has a unique composition and sometimes adds easy 15 or more pounds of rocks to boot.  After a long day on the trail that has most of us pretty whipped she still has bounce in her step.  

So, thats what I know.  And honestly, Jill's Mystery Ranch is the only one I've ever got to see in real action upclose and personal. She put it to the test and she loves it and I completely value her opinion. She has had several high quality packs prior to this one.  Plus best as I can tell from her picture, Autumn has a similar frame.

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