Rucksacks for women
You don’t need to be a genius to notice that women are shaped differently from men and the one piece of equipment, apart from clothing, where that difference really matters is the rucksack. Rucksacks generally have come a long way from the ‘one size fits all’ notion of a few decades ago. One of the outdoors manufacturers that has put several decades of research and development into gaining a better fit, and therefore more comfortable load-carrying ability, is Gregory. This California-based company has made rucksack fitting its central mission, so it’s a good starting point if you are on the hunt for a rucksack that really suits your body shape.
The sack we tried out was a Gregory Jade 34. It is designed as a medium capacity sack capable of carrying reasonably heavy loads, so suitable for a long day out in the hills for which extra equipment is required or even for an overnight ‘wild camp’. In terms of the ‘carrying system’ the pack uses what the company calls its Jetstream DTS Suspension system (there's a man's name if ever there was one). This has a lightweight curved steel bar held in tension in a harness; as you put more weight into the sack the bar and harness help to transfer the load more effectively to your hips. The shape also holds the sack away from your back, so on hot sticky days you get plenty of airflow to keep you cool and dry. Care for ventilation extends to the harness and waistbelt which have moisture wicking mesh and perforated foams, making the whole sack very comfortable whatever the weather.
The system is certainly very clever and there are plenty of adjustments that can be made to the shoulder straps and harness to make the fit absolutely right. Being a woman of around 5ft 6ins I had no trouble adapting the pack and using it to carry quite heavy loads, for instance on a long weekend to the Isle of Man. You might need to look at other, longer length, packs if you are very tall. However while the curved steel bar does hold the pack well away from your back it also intrudes into the main compartment of the rucksack, making it seem smaller than comparable packs with simple foam back systems. You can’t have everything, of course, and to some extent it’s an optical illusion as there’s no doubt that the sack really does hold 34 litres of stuff. It’s just slightly more difficult to pack long straight things, like a lightweight tent or sleeping mat.
On the other hand, the main compartment does have a zip opening on the front of the pack which runs almost the length of the pack in an arc, so accessing something you have stored at the bottom is very much easier. This wouldn’t work if you used a single waterproof sack liner, of course, but I use sets of coloured drybags to organise my stuff so the zip works well. When the heavens open there’s a rain cover that can be slipped over the sack to help the sack itself stay dry inside.
Rucksacks these days do tend to come festooned with small compartments, loops and other dangly bits and this one is no exception. Some of these things are useful. There are, for instance, small zipped mesh pockets in the waist strap in which you can safely store car keys or, at a stretch, a compass. Two mesh pockets on either side of the pack are large enough for gloves, hat or a small drinks bottle. A larger open pocket on the back is excellent for stuffing a lightweight waterproof. There’s also a small loop at the base of the sack where the traditional ice-axe loop would be, but this one seems fairly pointless as there’s no strap at the top to hold the axe or walking pole and anyway it’s not big enough. In terms of carrying an ice-axe you would be better off putting it inside or running it through the compression straps, a better way of carrying one on any sack.
Overall this is a rucksack of demonstrable quality. It is well made and well thought out. Not everyone will go for the pale blue shade that our test sack came in (is this supposed to be a women’s colour?), but there’s a full-blooded red option if you want something bolder and less inclined to show the dirt. You will pay for this level of quality and the ability to customise a rucksack to your shape. The Gregory Jade 34 has a suggested retail price of £95; you can probably get it for less if you shop around.
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