Granite Gear Cirrus Access FZ 7000
Cirrus Access FZ 7000 (courtesy, Granite Gear)

What’s the best high-capacity female backpack?

My 18-year-old niece is tackling a 30-day NOLS progr in the Wind River Range, and I’d like to help her find a pack. She’ll need 6,300 to 7,000 cubic inches of capacity and will be carrying some 60 pounds. Any suggestions? Ted Keene, New York

Granite Gear Cirrus Access FZ 7000

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My Lord, the pack will be bigger than she is. But I know that NOLS participants have to carry a lot of stuff.

Granite Gear Cirrus Access FZ 7000

Granite Gear Cirrus Access FZ 7000 Cirrus Access FZ 7000

Packs designed specifically for women seem to top out at around 5,000 cubic inches of capacity. You could go to the NOLS site and purchase the Deuter/NOLS 110+10 Expedition Pack ($285;, which is custom designed to meet the requirements of NOLS fieldwork, and at a very reasonable price. It’s a monster, capable of swallowing more than 7,300 cubic inches of gear. They also carry a 90+10 version that holds 6,100 cubic inches and costs $250. The suspension is good but not great, meaning loads of more than 50 pounds are going to be a little uncomfortable. But it’ll definitely pack the freight.

For something a little more high-end, Gregory’s Denali Pro ($459; is just the ticket. It’s a huge pack (6,450-cubic-inch capacity) with a superb suspension and rugged construction. It’ll hold all the NOLS gear imaginable, with easy interior access and lots of tie-on points on the outside. And it will carry even heavy loads in decent comfort.

I also like the Cirrus Access FZ 7000 from Granite Gear ($420; This is one of the biggest packs on the planet, with 7,000 cubes of capacity. Your niece won’t need a tent—she can just climb into the pack. Granite Gear stuff also is extremely durable, and the Cirrus has a stiff carbon-fiber frame that really does a great job of transferring the load from the back to the hips for more comfort.

Lastly, Marmot ( has taken over the venerable (and venerated) Dana Designs packs, given them a bit of an update, and put them on the market under the Marmot label. So you can get what is basically a Dana Astralplane (still called the Astralplane)—another 7,000-cubic-inch monster—for $399. The Astralplane can be custom-fitted by swapping out its hipbelt and shoulder straps, and it has a clean design that has remained largely unchanged for 20 years. I have a 15-year-old Terraplane, the Astralplane’s slightly smaller sibling, and it remains my No. 1 big pack.

The votes are in: Check out the winners of Outside‘s 2006 Gear of the Year awards, including the year’s hottest backpack.

From Outside Magazine, April/May 2021 Lead Photo: courtesy, Granite Gear