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 ski packs out there that make hauling your gear a piece of cake? The newest backcountry packs come with all kinds of high tech bells and whistles, including avalanche airbag compatibility. Here are SKI's top picks for 2018-'19.
Scott Backcountry Patrol AP 30 with Alpride E1
The Backcountry Patrol doesn’t compromise when it comes to safety. It’s equipped with the new 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. [Price: $299]
BCA Float 2.0
The Float 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. [Price: $500 Buy Now]
Dakine Poacher RAS 26
The Poacher 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. [Price: $210]
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. [Price: $169 Buy Now]
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. [Price: $750 Buy Now]
G3 Cabrio 30
The anatomy of the G3 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. [Price: $229 (pack only) - $849 (with airbag)]
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. [Price: $280]
Mammut Nirvana Pro S
The 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]
Backcountry Backpacks FAQ
How do I choose the right backpack?
1. Choose a backpack that fits your body.
Backpacks come in various sizes to accommodate for 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 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.