I’m going to add a new tag in the menu to the right called “Encouraging Signs,” because this year’s batch of gear has been so very encouraging. When I started this site in 2005 (in a different iteration), women’s gear was a total cluster. There was a lot less of it, to start with, and what was available was ill fitting for the most part, with options few and far between. Don’t get me wrong, there was some great gear for women back then, but compared to what’s out there today, it was pretty shameful.
Even as recently as 18 months ago I was having trouble finding great options for women in certain categories; pants and backpacks being some of them. Technical footwear is by far the biggest offender; I still don’t think anyone makes women’s specific high-altitude climbing boots, with pants a close second. Backpacks were a little easier to find, even then, but now there are so many great options I have to say that I think the women’s backpack situation has improved tremendously. Soon backpacks might overtake jackets as the most well-designed women’s gear item. I am thrilled by this but also starting to wonder – maybe my work here is almost done? And soon we won’t need to focus on women’s specific gear because all of it is great? And then I think about that technical footwear issue, and shop for a pair of pants, and I realize we have a long way to go.
Along with the general improvements in backpack lines all over comes the difficulty in standing out in the crowd. I ended up with a pile of backpacks this year that I think are all wonderful, in large part because the reps at OR took the time to actually work with me on fitting them and explaining how they work. I had taken a new approach to OR this year and had put the kibosh on the crazy running around. I’m not a spazzy person and endless meetings with hysterically cheery PR people were driving me to the brink. It was so nice to meet with clients and reps that were familiar with my work and took the time to address the problems I’d had with products in the past, and tried to find ones that would work for me.
The standout was Deuter, whose packs I didn’t feature last year because they ones they sent didn’t fit me well enough to wear. This was very disappointing after the excellent fit of the Guide 30+ SL that I’d reviewed before. The packs that didn’t work for me were the Freerider Pro SL for snow sports, and the Trans Alpine 26SL for biking. Both of those packs, although women’s specific in fit, were far, far too big for me. The straps on the Freerider didn’t even hit my shoudlers, and the Trans Alpine’s back panel was wider than my back itself. I have a pretty well-developed muscular structure so for a pack to be that wide just wasn’t going to work. I schlepped those two packs to OR with me to return them (driving to OR is so handy for returning gear!), and chatted with the reps for a while about my problems. Unlike most reps who practically turn themselves inside out with reasons each and every product works perfectly, the Deuter guys agreed that those two packs were not a good fit for me and that my upper body is just too small for those to fit me. Well, damn. The good news is that they helped me try on their entire pack line and found two more excellent packs that work great for me; the Spectro AC 36 SL and the Cruise 26SL.
Spectro AC 36 SL
The Spectro is a marvel of modern engineering because it’s so light but structured well enough to make for a comfortable carry. It fits my short torso really nicely, and every time I dig it out of my backpack stash, the difference in weight between it and the other backpacks is astounding.
One of my favorite features is the big U-shaped zip that allows the wearer to access the front of the pack easily. The days of bucket-type backpacks seriously have to be over – who wants to grub around armpit-deep in your pack when you can just zip open, get what you need, and zip back shut? Not me! I love easy-access systems like this one. I also like the big stretchy compartment on the outside, where you can stuff your jacket for easy access.
The placement of the chest strap, a vital issue, is well done on this one, allowing the strap to be slid up as far as the wearer needs. Many an excellent pack has been rendered useless for me by a chest strap that won’t adjust high enough. Luckily Deuter gets that women have considerations in the chestal region that require extremely adjustable straps.
Cruise 26 SL
This excellent fit is also reflected in the Cruise, which isn’t as light as the Spectro but has a few more features and has more structure for the heavy carrying required for snowsports. It has a zip-out back panel, which I really like for easy access to skins and other gear (though in my opinion the zipper placement could be a bit better – the adjustment straps for the shoulder harness get in the way). Lots of loops and straps are available to affix your gear in any way you like, and you can even pull the foam out of the back panel to use as a sitting pad (if you’re a snowboarder and spend most of your time sitting on your ass in the snow, which is what the sport of snowboarding looks like to me for the most part). Admittedly I haven’t been able to take this pack out skiing yet, since I got it at the very tail end of the season when my kit was so dialed I was reluctant to shake it up with a new pack (seriously – if you are a regular backcountry visitor, get your stuff dialed and keep it dialed – you need to know where things are and how to access them, like, now) but I’m planning a trip to the North where there is ALWAYS skiing and I’ll take it out then and update the info for you.
So there you have it, two excellent offerings from Deuter which I probably wouldn’t have tried had the reps not spent so much time working with me to find just the right fit. This is the entire point of the revamped model I’m using to run Geargals for the next year – I can spend more time with my clients, get to know the gear even more thoroughly, and get to know all the options.
So, if you are on the taller side, try the Freeride pack for skiing and the TransAlpine for mountain biking – they didn’t fit me, but being Deuter they are of course great quality with lots of good features. If you’re on the sprite-ish side, give the Cruise and the Spectro a try. Those will probably fit taller ladies as well, but usually it’s the smaller people who have a harder time with fit issues, so these two are worth trying if you’re looking for a well-fitting pack.
If you click on the pictures above you’ll be taken to Backcountry.com where, if you buy stuff, I get a little kickback. This also shows Deuter, as one of my featured brands, how effective it is to have their stuff on a site like Geargals. So I greatly appreciate such actions, even if it’s just a click!