The following post on backpack choices for slim and petite women has been submitted by Tam Le.
Everyone knows, choosing the right backpack is important. The right backpack can make the travel experience more pleasant, less frustrating and ensure you do not need to see a chiropractor when you return home.
There is another great article on Her Packing List with a guide for picking a backpack. I highly recommend reading it to get the basics in what to look for in a bag.
I am 155cm (5’1″) tall and weigh approximately 42kg (92 lbs). From my measurements below, you can see that I am tiny. When one is this small, there are some unique challenges in finding the right backpacks.
What to look for in a backpack
Everyone looks for different things in a backpack depending on their needs. However, there are a few things that are crucial when you are this small.
It is important to note that being short doesn’t necessarily mean that you will have issues finding a bag. It all depends on your torso length.
There are plenty of shorter people who have “normal” range torso length and most backpacks fit them. Those with a regular torso length can often wear the travel style backpack. My torso is 42cm (16”), which puts me in the small size backpack range. I often look at the hiking backpack range because there is more flexibility.
Look for backpacks that come with different size harness eg Gregory Deva range or adjustable harness eg Osprey Tempest range. As a side note: Adjustable harnesses tend to be slightly heavier as well. If weight is important then find the right size harness instead.
To find out how to measure your torso length, I recommend reading this page and video by REI.
If you have a shorter torso length, this limits the type of bag you can get too. As said, most travel style backpacks are not adjustable. They tend to be a standard boxy size to help maximise the airline requirements and capacity. This leaves hiking bags, which are not as urban or travel friendly, but much more back friendly.
If you only have a daypack or are not planning on carrying anything heavy, you may not need to worry about hipbelts on a backpack. Personally, I look for bags with hipbelts because it takes the weight off my shoulders. They say the rule of thumb is to carry no more than 25% of your body weight. Realistically you need to be fit and healthy to carry that type of load too, so the suggestions are around 20% or less.
In my case, 25% of my body weight is only 10kg (22 lbs). To the average person, that doesn’t sound like much; most airlines allows that as carry-on luggage weight. I understand that being smaller means smaller clothes, but there are other aspects of gear that don’t really change. I normally aim for a 7kg (15 lbs) bag because I take cheap budget airlines and that tends to be a common carry-on restriction. For a lot of people I know, a 7kg bag weighs nothing to them. For me, after an hour of walking around getting to my hotel, its heavy.
This means finding a bag where the hipbelt fits is necessary for me.
Hipbelts should cover your hip bones (illiac crest) so the weight sits on your hips and takes most of the weight of the bag off your shoulders. Hipbelts can be padded, webbed, fixed or adjustable.
Fixed vs Adjustable
A lot of bags have fixed hipbelts so it’s a matter of trying on different bags till you find one that fits. I’ve tried plenty of bags where I pull the straps and the hipbelt flops because it isn’t holding onto anything. Some backpacks have adjustable hipbelts and some can be custom heat moulded to suit your specific body.
Hipbelts vs Waist Straps
Many travel backpacks don’t have hipbelts but instead have waist straps. There is a difference between the two. The waist straps are often thin and not as comfortable and they don’t bear any weight of the bag but instead bring the load close to the body.
As a petite and slim person, capacity feels like an easy decision. I can’t carry a lot therefore I don’t need a big bag. However, a lot of the great features of adjustable torsos and hipbelts, are only found in the larger capacity backpacks. This is one of the really frustrating things for me. In order to have the fully kit out adjustable everything with a padded hipbelt, the bag needs to be at least 55L.
As you get into the 40L range then you might be able to find adjustable harness or different size bags but normally fixed hipbelt and some hipbelts are padded.
While there are a lot of 42kg ladies who can carry half their body weight and carry a 60L bag around the world, I am not one of them. I think petite ladies realistically should look for bags around 40L. Anything bigger means it gets too heavy. For the light packers like me, aim for a bag that is around 28-34L.
It is important to think about what you want from the bag too.
- What sort of access (clam shell, U style, top loading)?
- How many pockets?
- Where the pockets are placed?
- Do you need it to be laptop friendly?
- Hydration bladder friendly?
- Do you need women’s specific fit?
All of these features impact how you use the bag. So, which do you prioritize since very few bags have everything a person wants?
I personally look for women’s specific fit bags because they are a little narrower in width, with shoulder straps and hipbelts for me. A bag that isn’t too high since it means losing balance. I like a bag that has the ability to add a hydration bladder, have front opening access, and side pockets for a water bottle.
Example of Bags
As you can start to see, there isn’t a large range of bags for slim and petite women. Below I outline some of the bags I’ve seen online that fit the various criteria.
Travel Style Bags
While the majority of travel bags don’t work for small frame ladies, below are a few that may work for some depending on the length of their torso and priorities on features.
Click to view full size:
See also: Tortuga Air review
Hiking bags over 50L
Need a bag for multi-day hikes or long term travel? Check out these ones below. These are either junior or women’s specific fit bags.
Click to view full size:
Bags under 40L
Want something more airplane friendly or easier to carry because it just isn’t so heavy? Take a look below.
Click to view full size:
>> Check out all the best travel backpacks for women all in one place.
About the Author: Tam was born and raised in Perth, Western Australia but after receiving a scholarship to study in Miri, Malaysia in her first year of university, she caught the travel bug and hasn’t stopped. Since then she has lived in six other countries and traveled in countless others all while working in admin. She loves to read, hike and eat. You can follow her latest adventures on instagram @leclockadventures
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