I know it might seem counter-intuitive, but if you’re on a budget one place to not scrimp is the actual bag. A good bag that distributes weight properly (onto your hips and off your shoulders) will allow you to carry more weight with less fatigue. If you can go to a place (like REI) that helps you get a proper fit, all the better. I learned the hard way when I began hiking/backpacking that 20 lbs quickly feels like 40 when it’s been hanging off your shoulders for a few hours. And for the women – sometimes a women’s model has fit and features that help – like the clasp across your chest to hold the straps sitting higher on your chest. Personally, I went with the Mystery Ranch Scree 32. I have to be thoughtful about space since it’s on the smaller side, but it 1) doesn’t look anything like a tactical bag (dead giveaway), 2) has a women’s model, and 3) almost all the weight sits on my hips.