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You do not venture out of bounds—be it sidecountry or backcountry—without the necessary safety equipment. Period. And why would you, when there are compact, lightweight, and comfortable backcountry backpacks and ski touring packs out there that make hauling your gear a piece of cake? The newest ski-specific packs come with all kinds of high tech bells and whistles, including avalanche airbag compatibility. Here are SKI’s top picks.Section divider
Best New Backcountry Skiing and Touring Backpacks
Ortovox Free Rider
The old Free Rider pack is one of our faves for how it spoons our backs even over rough terrain. Then Ortovox made it even better. The newest iteration is available in five volumes from 22 to 28 liters (the S-models are for shorter torsos) and features the brand’s new Clasp Flex Belt. This elastic hip belt keeps the pack hugging your body like an extroverted best friend fresh out of quarantine. You get color-coded zips to help you find the right pocket, a ski carry system, and back-zip for main compartment access, plus a sleeve to accommodate Ortovox’s Clasp Spine Protector (sold separately). [$170-$190, BUY NOW]
Deuter Freescape Lite 26 L
Because this 26-liter ski-touring pack was designed for moving fast in technical terrain, it only includes the design features you need for a day out in the mountains and nothing you don’t. That means a dedicated avy kit pocket, diagonal ski-carry system, stowable helmet hammock, and side-zip access to the main hold. But, in the spirit of getting rad, it also includes things that hardcore adventurers care deeply about—smartphone pocket in easy reach, a maps compartment, and not one, but two ice axe attachments. [$175, BUY NOW]
Mystery Ranch Saddle Peak
Back by popular demand, the 25L Saddle Peak got some upgrades for this season, including a reinforced front-facing panel to protect the pack from sharp ski edges when they’re attached, improved tool-carry and compression systems, and two additional zipper pockets. The old compression-molded back panel was also removed in an effort to make the pack more waterrepellent. Those upgrades add to all that the Saddle Peak already had going for it, mainly a seamless fit and slim profile that’s as tailored to chairlift adventures as it is to quick jaunts in the backcountry. [$199, BUY NOW]
Scott Mountain 35
If a hut trip is on the agenda, reach for Scott’s new Mountain 35, a fullyfeatured pack with a sleek profile yet plenty of space to stash extras. With ski-specific bells and whistles such as diagonal and A-frame ski-carry systems, a dedicated avy equipment pocket, and a stowable helmet hammock, this pack has all the essentials. But it also includes nice-to-haves like a side zipper for easy access to the main compartment, stowaway axe/pole straps, and a lined goggle pocket. Don’t need all that space? Size down to the Mountain 25. [$190, BUY NOW]Section divider
Backcountry Backpacks FAQ
How do I choose the right backpack for skiing?
1. Choose a backpack that fits your body.
Backpacks come in various sizes to accommodate different torso lengths, so measure the length of your spine from the base of you neck to the top of your hips and choose your backpack size accordingly. Backpack torso lengths generally range from 15 inches (size XS) to 20-plus inches (size L).
2. Choose a backpack that suits your skiing adventure.
If half-day backcountry tours are your norm, choose a lower volume pack (20L-30L) that fits just the essentials (shovel, probe, water, extra layers, snacks). If you typically spend full days in the backcountry, you’ll want a higher volume pack (30L-40L) that fits extra supplies for the extra time you’ll be spending out in the elements. Also consider whether you’d like to be able to secure your skis to your pack and have a helmet-carry system.
What should I pack for backcountry ski days?
Always carry avalanche safety equipment when traveling in the backcountry. That includes wearing a beacon and carrying a shovel and probe in your pack. You’ll also need extra layers, a helmet, sufficient hydration (it’s a good idea to carry some hot liquid for longer backcountry adventures), energy snacks, a first aid kit, and a multi tool.
Do avalanche airbags work?
Avalanche airbags are designed to prevent skiers from being buried in the event of an avalanche, which is key to survival because suffocation is the most common cause of death in an avalanche. By wearing an avalanche airbag and knowing how to deploy it in case of an avalanche, you significantly increase your chance of survival.Section divider
Best Skiing Backpacks of 2020
Osprey Soelden/Sopris Pro Pack
Osprey officially enters the airbag arena with packs that come equipped with the Alpride E1 electronic avalanche system. The new Soelden/ Sopris Pro are gender-specific packs designed for backcountry travel thanks to thoughtful and lightweight design elements. The men’s Soelden Pro features a 32-liter volume, while the female-specifi c Sopris Pro comes in a slightly smaller 30-liter volume. Both the men’s and women’s Pro models include Alpride E1’s super capacitor technology cleared for air travel, a front panel for your avalanche safety kit, a large main compartment for extra gear items, as well as A-frame and diagonal ski carry compatibility. [$1,200, osprey.com]
Ortovox Haute Route
There’s a lot to be excited about in the updated Haute Route pack line, but the biggest news is the improved ergonomic design and fit. An overhauled O-Flex-2 back system, combined with an adjustable S-shaped stabilizer to match the curvature of your spine, offers an individualized fit and distributes the load more evenly between the shoulders and hips. Designed to tackle everything from one-day ski tours to high-alpine missions to overnight hut trips, the Haute Route is available in 32- and 40-liter volume options as well as female-specific 30 S and 38 S models designed for shorter torso lengths. Each features more compartments and gear-carry loops than you’ll likely need, but it’s nice to know they’re there—and color-coded for intuitive use—just in case you do need them. [$190, ortovox.com]
Deuter Freerider Pro
Quality German engineering comes into play in the new and improved Freerider Pro pack line featuring a 34+ and 32+ SL model (for shorter torso lengths). Designed with the backcountry skier in mind, the Freerider Pro boasts smart new elements like an optional roll-top closure that provides expandable storage capacity (an additional 10 liters) for multi-day ski tours, as well as a rear opening for easy access to gear while skis are still attached to the pack. What’s more, the new Freerider Pro packs are PFC-free and feature a more environmentally friendly DWR treatment. [$160, deuter.com]
Patagonia Descensionist Pack
The new Descensionist is a cut-and-dried ski-touring pack that offers all the backcountry essentials and nothing more to weigh you down. The 32-liter model features one main compartment roomy enough for extra layers, snack, and hydration, along with a separate snow safety compartment for avy gear, making it ideal for day tours. The 40-liter Descensionist has a more generous main compartment designed for big missions and multi-day backcountry adventures. Whatever option you choose, rest assured the Descensionist will accommodate thanks to adjustable features like a roll-top closure that adds bonus volume and removable carry systems and back panel if you need to shave weight. [$199, patagonia.com]
More of the best skiing accessories from SKI’s Gear Guide:
Scott Backcountry Patrol AP 30 with Alpride E1
The Backcountry Patrol doesn’t compromise when it comes to safety. It’s equipped with the Alpride E1, the lightest avalanche airbag system on the market. Its supercapacitor technology and charger can be juiced up with USB or two AAs. Separate sleeves store your safety equipment and a hip belt with leg loops hugs your waist. Attach your skis A-frame or diagonally for hiking mobility. [Price: $1,100, Buy Now]
Arc’teryx Alpha SK 32
Weatherproof, lightweight, and durable, this award-winning alpinist pack is a ski-touring trifecta. The first thing you’ll notice is that all extraneous straps have been removed to minimize snagging, giving the pack a minimalist look. All that remain are patent-pending ski carry straps, which are simpler and lighter than the standard, with adjustable buckles that provide quick access and easy leveraging. [$299, arcteryx.com]
It’s available on Amazon: The Arc’teryx Alpha SK 32
BCA Float 2.0
The BCA Float 2.0 balances mobility and safety like a pro for those unforgettable off-piste days. With just 22 liters of storage space, including the Float avalanche airbag canister, this pack won’t weigh you down, but that doesn’t mean you have to sacrifice the essentials. With a dedicated shovel and probe pocket, padded waist belt pockets, and a helmet and ski carry system, the Float offers the best of both worlds. [$500, Buy Now]
It’s available on Amazon: BCA Float 2.0
Dakine Poacher RAS 26
The Dakine Poacher RAS 26 is the ultimate backcountry multitasker. Extra gear for multi-day travel is well accommodated thanks to features such as the deployable helmet carry and insulated hydration bladders. Need added support? The pack is optionally sold with a DK Impact Spine Protector and a removable Airbag System 3.0 by Mammut. Finally, diagonal or A-frame carry options seal the deal. [$210, dakine.com]
It’s available on Amazon: Dakine Poacher RAS 26
Deuter Rise 32+ SL
With a narrower shoulder harness, conical hip belt, and shorter torso length, this pack was designed by women, for women. Carry all your gear and then some with reinforced compression straps for diagonal or vertical ski mounting, daisy chains, and removable ice pick and pole attachments. A rear panel accesses the main compartment, which comes with an adjustable lid and provides five additional liters of storage. [$169, Buy Now]
Available on Amazon: Deuter Rise 32+ SL
Ortovox Ascent 40 AVABAG
For some, just one day of ski touring isn’t enough. Ortovox offers a solution with its ultralight Ascent line, capable of carrying 40 liters of gear. It comes with all the bits and bobs, including an extremely light AVABAG airbag, diagonal ski fastenings, helmet net, gear loops, and hydration system compatibility. A foam 3D back support system and hip belt keep you comfortable for days on the skin track. [$750, Buy Now]
Also available on Amazon: Ortovox Ascent 40 AVABAG
G3 Cabrio 30
The anatomy of the G3 Cabrio 30 has been engineered with the dynamic movements of skiing in mind. The result is a snug fit that keeps you evenly balanced and supports the weight of your gear. For optimal flexibility, the G3 is compatible with A-frame, diagonal, and vertical ski carrying. You can buy it with a fully integrated and removable Alpride 2.0 airbag system which, at 1.5 pounds, is one of the lightest on the market. [$229 (pack only) – $849 (with airbag), genuineguidegear.com]
Thule Upslope 35
Compatible with Mammut Airbag technology 3.0, Thule’s Upslope ensures all the essentials are at your fingertips while you adventure in the backcountry. A dedicated avalanche pocket stores your probe and shovel handle, while an insulated hydration sleeve and reservoir makes it easy to carry extra H20. Access your gear in the main compartment from a zippered back panel and grab your helmet from the bottom trap door. All this makes swapping out gear easier than ever, plus harness wings with oversized pockets hug the body for a secure and comfortable fit while on the trail. Those wing pockets are one of the best features of this pack: super-generous and offering the perfect spot to stash essentials that you reach for the most. Very smart design, indeed. [$280, thule.com]
It’s available on Amazon: Thule Upslope 35
Mammut Nirvana Pro S
The Mammut Nirvana Pro S may be the leaner sister to the Nirvana Pro, with a 30-liter capacity, but it has all the same bells and whistles for multiple touring days. Two-layer EVA back padding provides comfort, a back zipper accesses the main compartment, and the Pro S accommodates diagonal and A-frame ski carrying. Plus, your gear will sit pretty with a soft-lined goggle pocket and separate helmet compartment. [Price: $200, evo.com]