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Women-Specific Backpacks: Necessity or Just Marketing Hype?

It's fairly well-known that women shop more than men, naturally leading them to spend the most dollars, so a good proportion of marketing is directed toward them. Outdoor product manufacturers are certainly not blind to this, and as more and more women have begun participating in outdoor sports, companies have taken notice. Products, such as backpacking backpacks, have emerged labeled as women-specific. Is there really any difference between men's and women's backpacks, or is it just a ploy to entice women to buy?

It is tempting to believe that a woman could simply buy a smaller-sized backpack and be done with it. But the fact is, women's bodies are different from men's, not just in size, but in shape and proportion, too. Here are some factors that influence the design of women's backpacks.

  • First of all, women generally have shorter torsos than men. This means that the frame size of the pack must be smaller to begin with. The suspension must be adjustable so the distance from the hip belt to the arch of the shoulder strap allows the weight of the pack to ride properly. To find the proper frame size, measure from the vertebrae at the base of the neck to a point level with the top of the hipbones.
  • Women have curves, while men are more straight up and down. Wider hips provide a good shelf for the hip belt to ride on, but as a woman's body curves in to a narrower waist, a man's hip belt will gap at the top. An angled hip belt follows those curves and provides more secure contact to transfer pack weight to the hips better.
  • Women's shoulders are narrower than men's. The shoulder straps on a man's backpack will most likely be set too wide, no matter what size frame it is. This causes the problem of the straps sliding off the shoulders or chafing on the shoulders and upper arm. A woman's pack will have the shoulder straps set narrower to avoid such a situation.
  • With the shoulder straps set narrower, there arises another issue: women have breasts. The shoulder straps must be curved in such a way as to ride correctly on the shoulders, but then avoid smashing the bust.

The success of a hike depends on the hiker's comfort on the trail, which in turn depends largely on pack fit. Pack fit is especially important for women, since they must carry the same gear as a man but, because of their smaller size, are actually carrying a larger percentage of their body weight than a man does.

So yes, there really are differences between men's and women's backpacks, and it really is important to consider them. However, not all woman are shaped alike and not all men are shaped alike. It's possible that a slim-hipped woman would do better with a man's pack, while a man with a smaller torso may find more comfort with a woman's pack. Perhaps rather than designating packs by genderPsychology Articles, it would be better to call them proportionally sized backpacks.

Article Tags: Shoulder Straps

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N. B. Shepherd has backpacked thousands of miles in the United States and Canada. Read about her Appalachian Trail hike in her Appalachian Trail book, My Own Hike.

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