Women’s Travel Backpacks: Why Fit Matters

I huffed and shifted my shoulders under my backpack’s weight. Yet again. 

Twin raw spots were growing on top of my shoulders from where the straps rubbed over my bones.

Who knew you had pointy bones on top of your shoulders? I didn’t — until today when my travel backpack found ‘em and exploited them like a slimy Hollywood agent. I groaned under the weight of my 35L travel backpack designed for a man’s body, not my woman’s body with different curves and muscled spots. 

For the 3 decades that I’ve been traveling, I’ve used men’s travel backpacks. Partially because I’m tall (nearly 6 foot) so the men’s backpacks fit and partially because no other options existed. 

Until lately. After traveling with a travel backpack designed for men — and swapping it out for a travel backpack designed for women — I can honestly say: there’s a huge difference. 

Why You Need a Backpack that Properly Fits (As a Woman)

Okay, here’s the deal: 

Not until recently was I convinced that we, as women, need a backpack that’s designed for our bodies. I’d done just fine for nearly 30 years carrying a backpack designed for man, so why switch now?

That’s what I thought until I traveled with a travel backpack designed for my body — ahem — my woman’s body. It was like heavens opened up and a crowd of angels sang sweet praises for how light my normally super-heavy backpack felt. 

Because my backpack had been designed for my body with padding in the right spots — like the tops of my shoulders and hips — where men have more natural padding (i.e., muscle). Also, this travel backpack was designed for my womanly-sized torso. 

Even though I’m tall, my torso is still smaller than a man’s. Not to mention it comes with extra accessories, like boobs and a softer, less-muscled frame. You’ve gotta account for these accessories when sizing a backpack. 

Exhibit A: the sternum strap across your chest to keep backpack steady. On a man’s backpack, that strap doesn’t slide far enough north to be comfortable. Because, well, men don’t have boobs. On a woman’s backpack, this sternum strap accounts for your chest… and the smaller width of your rib cage.  

Not only does the padding make a huge difference, but adjusting for custom fit does, too.

How to Fit a Backpack 

How you fit your travel backpack is key. 

Think of the process like trying on shoes. You need a good fit right now with a minimal breaking-in period, otherwise you’ll hate ‘em. And your life. And your trip.

For the full breakdown on how to fit a backpack properly, watch this:

How to Adjust Backpack Straps

Look for a travel backpack that has the right torso length for you, or lets you adjust the back panel, so your backpack sits higher or lower depending on your torso size. Having this custom-fit makes your backpack ride on your back smoother and lighter. 

Hip Belt — Play with the hip belt so it rests lightly on top of your hip bones. Adjust the shoulder straps to get the right height. 

Shoulder Straps — Snug down the shoulder straps until the backpack is snug against your back, but doesn’t pinch. You want most of the weight to settle on your hip belt as designed. 

Load-Lifter Straps — Tighten these straps to bring the backpack’s top closer to your back. Aim for a 45-degree angle between your backpack’s back panel and the horizontal plane of your shoulders. 

Expect to make minor tweaks as your backpack loads with weight and you start moving. Likely, you won’t get the fit perfect on the first try, but your backpack conforms to your body over time.  

Best Travel Backpack for Women

Setout Backpack: Women’s

$179-$199

Buy the Women’s Setout Travel Backpack

This is the travel backpack that changed my mind about women’s travel backpacks. Seriously.

Now that I’ve traveled with this backpack, I can’t go back to a men’s travel backpack. In particular, the thick foam shoulder straps are my favorite. 

No more raw spots! 

Available in a 35L (what I travel with) or a 45L, this travel backpack hits the right notes for a woman’s body: suspension system to fit narrower shoulders and shorter torso, more padding in the shoulder straps and hip belt, fully adjustable sternum strap 

Oh, and did I mention no “pink tax”? Which is a fancy-schmancy way of saying: no extra charges for making it a fit specific to women.