I am an advocate for women’s specific gear, so long as it makes sense. Just because it comes in a pastel color does not mean it was legitimately designed to improve or enhance a woman’s performance on snow.
In that vein, the Osprey Kresta and Dakine Women’s Heli Pro are two women’s specific backcountry ski packs that I can vouch for. Both were designed with integrity to accommodate a woman’s body type and center of gravity. Based on my experience, the details, fit, and weight distribution made a huge difference compared to the unisex packs I’d been using before.
Osprey does one thing, and they do it well: backpacks. They’ve made huge strides for women in their backpacking and daytrip packs. And new this winter, in the name of the lady shred, they are rolling out a women’s specific backcountry ski pack. Where I would often feel signs of stress and soreness in my mid- to lower-back on the skin track, and pulling on my shoulders, wearing the Kresta eliminated much of that pain, which gave me more energy to hike longer and higher.
Start with the torso, or the length between the neck and the Iliac Crest (the top of your hip bones on the side of your body). That measurement is often smaller for women than men and the Kresta uses smaller torso lengths than its brother, the Kamber. The Kresta’s shape is narrower and deeper than the Kamber, too. Which means it doesn’t feel bulky and it carries loads at lower point, ideal for our center of gravity (which is on average one inch lower and further back than a man’s).
Women have curves, and so does the Kresta. A suspended mesh material in the shoulders, back panel, lumbar, and hip belt are contoured and thermoformed to give a custom fit for any body type. The shoulder straps have a sharp inward curve to accommodate for female anatomy in the neck, shoulder, and chest. And the Kresta’s hip belt is shaped and angled to accommodate our waist-to-hip proportions, which are more exaggerated than a man’s. Having a hip belt that actually fits is key. This is where we carry the bulk of our weight (not the shoulders).
That’s a brief overview of the technology Osprey incorporated for us ladies in the realm of backcountry ski packs. But that’s hardly the end of the Kresta’s perks. The Kresta is just as aggressive, technical, and durable as the Kamber, with diagonal ski carry (I also used it as an A-frame carry); an internal hydration sleeve; an ice tool attachment; a stowable helmet carry; a dry pocket and an avy gear front pocket; glove-friendly zippers; hip belt pockets; a soft goggle pocket; and dual upper and lower side compression straps.
Dakine Women’s Heli Pro 20L
For a slope-to-street backpack that can make the transition from a morning in the backcountry to an afternoon in the coffee shop, the Dakine Women’s Heli Pro is more your style. Adapting to a female anatomy, Dakine has also designed a signature women’s fit with a shorter torso and a wider base, storing the bulk of the weight at a lower center of gravity. The shoulder straps have a deep S curve to fit a woman’s shoulders, neck, and chest. And the sternum strap sits high (zero boob squash).
The front pocket easily accesses an avy shovel and probe, but then flips to an organizer pocket. The hydration sleeve can also carry a laptop. The fit is narrow and slim.
While the Heli Pro doesn’t come with as many tech features as the Kresta, it’s a sensible and well-made backpack that I’d wear just as often off the hill as on it. It’s a great option for ladies who are just starting to explore the backcountry and aren’t quite ready to make the full investment.
If you are looking for something more backcountry specific, check out the women’s Poacher RAS 26L, which adds function to carry a helmet and an ice axe and sells for $200. The Poacher is also avalanche airbag compatible, though the airbag is sold separately.