Ask Kristin

Gender-Specific Packs

Do I really have to buy my girlfriend a women's-specific pack if it seems like a men's would fit?


Do I have to get my girlfriend a women’s-specific backpack if her torso size fits a men’s one? Do the shoulder strap position and waist belt flare really matter and do you wear a women’s-specific backpack?

Submitted by – Miguel – Detroit, MI


No, Miguel, you don’t necessarily have to get your girlfriend a women’s specific pack. I often wear men’s or unisex packs with great success. And I know small men who have had luck with women’s packs. Forget about the gender labels and look at the pack itself, and the way it works with your girlfriend’s body shape.

Women’s packs typically have narrower shoulder straps that are shorter, more tapered, and contoured. For petite women with very narrow frames, this can be a good thing. But for average- or larger-sized women, those skimpier straps can cause discomfort because they don’t distribute the weight over a large enough surface or wrap far enough around the chest. Shoulder strap pads should extend well below the breast, so that the buckle is down near the ribcage.

Hipbelts on women’s packs are sometimes canted (where the top edge is tilted inward and the bottom edge flares out) to accommodate a stereotypically Barbie doll shape. Problem is, most of us are not shaped like Barbie! When the hipbelt is cinched, the pads on each side shouldn’t be touching (this would indicate that the hipbelt is too big), but should extend well beyond the hipbones, so that there is only a few inches of space at the belly button between each pad.

Bottom line: In my experience, gender labels are more about marketing than fit. Make sure she tries on packs aimed at both men and women’ to see what works best. It’s true that torso length is very important—and a you should always begin pack-fitting with an accurate torso measurement (see, but it’s just as important to check that the shape, size, and position of the straps correspond with your body.