Zooey Deschanel’s character on New Girl, Jessica Day, once called a bra ‘boob jail.’ Personally, I find an ill-fitting pack to be far more imprisoning than any bra–look at me in the picture below! Behind that bright red face I am clearly hiding some pain. If money is tight or you only hike once or twice a year, I can definitely see the thought behind borrowing your roommate’s boyfriend’s pack or using a simple drawstring bag. But I strongly recommend if you go hiking more frequently–yes, even short three-mile day hikes–investing in a women’s daypack. “Women’s pack” doesn’t just mean they made a pink pack and slapped a label on it–they truly are made to better fit our shape (and not just boobs–hips too).
Because every woman is shaped differently, this doesn’t mean that any ‘women’s pack’ will fit universally. My boyfriend bought me a daypack for Christmas a couple years ago but insisted I go to REI and have them adjust the straps for me and try out other packs–and I am so glad he did, because I ended up returning his pack for one that I felt more comfortable with (to his chagrin, I got the women’s model of his pack–but it was cheaper than his pick, and at least they are different colors!). If you live anywhere close to an REI or other outdoor store I cannot stress enough the importance of testing a pack out there first. REI not only has a well-known killer return policy, but they also have pack weights they can put inside the pack so while you walk around the store with it on, you get a better feel of how it will feel once fully-loaded with water, the ten essentials, and a beer or two.
If you don’t live nearby a good outdoor store, REI’s website has some great tips here for fitting a pack properly. I admit I was embarrassed to learn after years of wearing my pack in the top picture for school and hiking that you are supposed to buckle the hipbelt first, then the chest strap! Now my Osprey Mira 18 hydration pack fits me great–I’ll write a gear review soon about why I love it.