It's been nearly 20 years since I've upgraded my multi-day expedition backpack. When I purchased the backpack I've been wearing for years, there were few choices for women, especially small women. I had the choice between an adjustable internal frame pack (marketed as unisex but built for men) or a child's backpack. Although the child's pack fit better, it didn't have the capacity for multi-day treks, so it became my day-hiker. The adjustable pack was comically big, and although I could never dial in a perfect fit, my choice was to make it work or not go backpacking. Eventually, the shrink-it-and-pink-it movement hit backpacking, and while there were better fits available to me as a shorter woman, still nothing fit well enough to justify the price tags or the horrid color choices.
When the child-size frame pack deteriorated, Lentil gave me the thoughtful and timely gift of a Gregory Maya 30. It was my first women's specific pack and I fell fully in love. I've taken a hiatus from backpacking for the past couple years, but have been scoping the choices in Gregory's line and planning my return. Recently, I was lucky enough to be selected to receive and review the Gregory Kalmia 60 with the new 3D Hydro Trek 3L reservoir. Good people of the internet, I am ready to backpack again!
First of all, there is enough similarities between the Kalmia 60 and my trusty Maya to make moving into the new pack feel familiar. The women-specific shaping in the harness and belt, mesh ventilation, zipper and drawstring pulls that are big enough to be handled without removing your mittens (in Maine, this is IMPORTANT), the side zipper access to the main compartment, an awesome stretch pocket on the back and sleek side storage and exterior attachment points are all fantastic details that are consistent across Gregory's line.
The details specific to the Kalmia are equally wonderful. The bladder hanger is easy, sturdy and common sense. The sleeping bag, side and expanded back compartments offer organization without compromising the streamlined feel of the pack--no snagging on brush! The Kalmia has more subdivided compartments than my day-hiker, which is perfect for me to stay organized. A small detail worth noting is that the male and female buckle ends are color coded--subtly, but also differently enough that you're never fumbling with incompatible pieces. And it's a women's pack but not in tacky colors--mine's the Bordeaux Red, it also comes in Equinox Grey, and I would be remiss to point out that neither color is remotely pink!
The harness and belt easily and fully adjust to my body size and are easy to readjust in the field as my pack weight shifts along the course of a trip. I love that there is a size range for women, rather than just a single women's pack. It's worth noting that sizing is determined by the length of your spine and that the padding along the belt especially can expand or retract to fit comfortably along a range of waist measurements. If you're concerned that this might not be comfortable enough for you, check out Gregory's plus-sized line, where the harness and belt, among other details, are engineered to allow larger bodies to hike in comfort. The harness has an interesting pivot at the shoulders and a curved strap so that there's room for your curves in this bag. A final, small, woman-friendly detail that I appreciate about this pack is that the hood does not bump the back of my head--I can wear my hair in a ponytail or bun without it tapping or pulling all day!
I also received the 3D Hydro Trek 3L reservoir, which is shorter and wider than other bladders I've used in the past. I appreciate how the shape allows it to sit at the top of my pack without facing compression from the gear stuffed in below. This reservoir is constructed from a molded material that can take quite a beating but it weighs surprisingly little for such a tough reservoir. The carrying handle and Basecamp Tap are genius details. I will admit that it took me a little longer than it should have to figure out how to get the dust cover off the Basecamp Tap--just PULL--but it gets easier to remove after the first time without ever feeling loose. Once your adventure is over, the molded shape of the reservoir lets it dry quickly on a countertop, making cleanup pretty simple.
So, while part of me thinks I waited way too long to replace my backpack, the rest of me thinks that I'm in the right place at the right time. My old backpack served me well for years, but the Gregory Kalmia 60 is a real game changer. Women's bags have come a long way and by holding out this long, I feel like I've gotten everything I wanted in the Kalmia 60.