Whether you’re headed to the resort or gearing up for a big backcountry outing, a pack is useful for carrying your essentials: extra layers, water, snacks, and—if you’re going out of bounds—avalanche equipment. Unique design features that set ski backpacks apart include dedicated pockets for goggles and avy gear, multiple access points, and external ski or snowboard carry straps. It’s also becoming more common to find deployable airbags built in for use in the event of a slide. Below are our top ski backpack picks for the 2021-2022 season, including options for day touring and resort skiing, ski mountaineering missions, and those equipped with airbags. For more information, see our ski backpack comparison table and buying advice below the picks.
Our Team's Ski Backpack Picks
- Best Overall Ski Pack: Osprey Soelden 32
- Best Budget Ski Pack: Dakine Mission Pro 18L
- Best Resort Skiing Pack: CamelBak Powderhound 12
- Best Avalanche Airbag Pack: Black Diamond JetForce Pro 25L
- Best Ski Mountaineering Pack: Black Diamond Cirque 45
Category: Day touring
Capacities: 22, 32L
Weight: 2 lbs. 8.6 oz.
What we like: Great fit, comfortable suspension, and tons of organization.
What we don’t: Unable to accommodate oversized loads for longer tours.
For day tours, sidecountry exploration, and dawn patrol laps, the Osprey Soelden 32 is an impressively well-designed pack that quickly and easily transitions between the skin track and the downhill. The Soelden checks all the right boxes for all-round use, with a durable yet lightweight build, functional organization, and both ski and snowboard carry. Lay it on its front to access your gear via the full-zip backpanel, or prop the bag on its base to grab your shovel or probe from the dedicated avy-tool pocket. And the true cherry on top is fit: Osprey consistently nails the comfort equation, and unlike most ski packs the Osprey comes in both men’s (Soelden) and women’s (Sopris) models.
There are numerous styles to consider when it comes to ski packs (including weight-conscious designs, roll-top models, and packs of varying capacities), but we think the full backpanel access of a pack like the Soelden 32 is the best option for most skiers. And the pack nails the rest of the details too, including glove-friendly pull tabs and durable zippers, a stow-away helmet carry, and a second external pocket that is great for items like goggles or sunglasses. It’s worth noting that the Soelden/Sopris is also available in a 22-liter design (20L for the Sopris) and a “Pro” version, which includes an Alpride E1 airbag unit and retails for $1,200. Osprey knows how to make a backpack (unlike most brands here, it’s their specialty), and we’ve been very impressed with the new Soelden throughout our testing.
See the Men's Osprey Soelden 32 See the Women's Osprey Sopris 30
Best Budget Ski Pack
Category: Resort/day touring
Capacities: 18, 25L
Weight: 1 lb. 9.6 oz.
What we like: Streamlined and affordable design for inbounds use and light tours.
What we don’t: No backpanel access or compression straps.
For resort skiers, aspiring backcountry enthusiasts, and those on a budget, the Dakine Mission Pro checks all the boxes for an in-bounds/day-touring pack in an affordable $90 package. Similar to the Soelden above, the Mission Pro features a dedicated avalanche-gear pocket and padded hipbelt and shoulder straps, and tacks on a fleece-lined goggle pocket (the Soelden has a compartment for smaller items, but the fleece is a nice touch). Made with snowboarders in mind, the Mission Pro offers vertical board carry (skis are strapped in diagonally) and can easily double as a skateboard pack too.
What do you sacrifice by going cheaper? For starters, the Mission Pro isn’t as durable as the $79-pricier Patagonia SnowDrifter below, and you lose the convenience of a full backpanel zipper. Additionally, the lack of external straps means you can’t compress a half-full pack or carry skis in an A-frame configuration (although the streamlined exterior won’t get caught on the chairlift). Finally, the Mission Pro’s 18-liter capacity makes it serviceable for short missions, but the Soelden's 32 liters can better handle a full day’s worth of layers and food. But for those willing to pack light, the Mission Pro is a great value for what you get.
See the Dakine Mission Pro 18L See the Women's Dakine Mission Pro 18L
Best Resort Skiing Pack
Weight: 1 lb. 8 oz.
What we like: All you need for a day at the resort.
What we don’t: 12-liter capacity is fairly limiting for other uses.
Not everyone will wear a backpack at the resort, but it can be a nice solution if you like to stay hydrated or pack your own lunch. Camelbak’s Powderhound 12 is our favorite pick in this category for a few key reasons. First, the pack features a 3-liter hydration reservoir with an insulated hose, which is routed through an insulated sleeve that zips closed to keep your bite valve protected against the cold and out of the way while you cruise downhill. The low-profile shape and minimal straps are unobtrusive on the chairlift, and tuck-away attachments deploy to secure your skis or snowboard for the occasional bootpack to access sidecountry terrain. Added up, the Powderhoud is a small but versatile pack that works well for everything from resort skiing to snowshoeing, hiking, fat biking, and more.
Many of the packs here could pull double duty for resort riding, but 30 liters (or more) is overkill unless you’re carrying skins, a helmet, and extra layers too. In the end, those that stick exclusively to lift-accessed terrain will benefit from a more streamlined design like the Powderhound 12. On the other hand, if you’re wanting to just bring along water to stay hydrated, the 5-liter CamelBak Zoid might be a better fit—it’s so sleek that you can even wear it underneath your jacket and will save you $35 over the Powderhound. Finally, it’s worth noting that we previously had Osprey’s Glade 12 raked here, which is a slightly better-built pack with a dedicated goggle pocket and class-leading fit and comfort. However, that model is out of stock online at the time of publishing, and the Powderhound is a nice alternative for $5 less.
See the CamelBak Powderhound 12
Best Avalanche Airbag Pack
Capacities: 10, 25, 35L
Weight: 6 lbs. 8 oz.
What we like: The most cutting-edge electric airbag available; modular design allows for multiple capacities.
What we don’t: Expensive and not as simple as a canister-powered system.
There are ski backpacks, and then there are airbag-equipped ski backpacks. In short, an airbag is deployed in the event of a slide and helps you stay on the surface of the snow as it moves down the mountain. While certainly not a substitute for proper education, good judgement, and avalanche rescue gear (including a beacon, shovel, and probe), there’s growing evidence that airbags have a notable impact on survival rates. For 2021, Black Diamond’s top-of-the-line JetForce Pro is our favorite all-around design, featuring a proprietary battery-powered airbag that’s exceptionally lightweight and easy to recharge. Further, with its modular system (“boosters” can be purchased separately in 10, 25, and 35L sizes, as well as a 25L splitboard version), you can get just-right carrying capacity no matter if you’re skiing the sidecountry or on a multi-day tour.
Compared to canister airbags, an electric airbag is more convenient and doesn’t require you to refill your canister each time you pull the trigger (great for practice deployment). The fan also continues to spin once the airbag is deployed, keeping it inflated even if punctured by a rock or tree, and it’s suitable for air travel (compressed air/gas canisters are not permitted on airplanes). And with added Bluetooth capability, the Pro allows you to run diagnostic tests, update software, and customize settings, which is quite simply next level. It’ll cost you a pretty penny (and with an average lifespan of 5 years, you’ll have to ask yourself if it’s worth it), but electric airbag designs are the wave of the future, and Black Diamond’s JetForce Pro is far and away the best yet. For a full breakdown of the market, see our article on the best avalanche airbag packs... Read in-depth review
See the Black Diamond JetForce Pro 25L
Best Ski Mountaineering Pack
Category: Ski mountaineering
Capacities: 30, 35, 45L
Weight: 2 lbs. 4 oz.
What we like: A streamlined pack that sports all the necessary features for big missions.
What we don’t: Doesn’t carry heavy loads well; no snowboard carry.
Ski mountaineering objectives often require big-mileage days and an assortment of technical gear. For that, you’ll need a pack that can carry everything you need without weighing you down, and the Black Diamond Cirque fits the bill nicely. The Cirque includes all the necessary trimmings for technical missions including two easily deployable ice-axe loops, diagonal or A-frame ski-carry straps, a helmet flap, and a rope strap under the top lid. It also features an internal sleeve for rescue gear that’s separated from the main compartment by a flap, saving weight and giving the exterior a sleek and streamlined look. At only 2 pounds 4 ounces for the 45-liter version, you get a generous amount of space for the weight, making the Cirque a great choice for fast-and-light missions.
The Cirque has earned its place as our top pick for ski mountaineering objectives, but it does have room for improvement. For starters, although the largest version can accommodate 45 liters of gear, the lack of load lifters and stiff suspension means it isn’t quite as comfortable as we’d like. Further, because the top load strap doubles as the diagonal ski carry strap, we’ve found it difficult to max out the capacity while carrying our skis diagonally (and there’s no option for carrying a snowboard). Finally, the Cirque’s side zipper is almost too short to be useful, making it primarily a top-loading pack (Arc'teryx's Rush SK below features much more functional side zips). We love the Cirque’s low weight and streamlined build, but those looking for more features or a plusher suspension will be better served by packs like the Deuter Freerider Pro or Gregory Targhee below.
See the Black Diamond Cirque 45
Best of the Rest
Category: Day touring/resort
Capacities: 15, 25, 32L
Weight: 2 lbs. 5 oz.
What we like: Compact enough for resort skiing but with enough space for avalanche gear.
What we don’t: Too small for full-day tours; limited size adjustments.
We’re suckers for lift-accessed sidecountry—on the right day, almost nothing beats the experience of logging thousands of vertical feet with minimal uphill effort. To get you through an afternoon at the ski hill, the Dawn Patrol 25L from Black Diamond is a great tool for the job. This popular pack is nicely sized and shaped to carry your avalanche gear and the bare necessities, and the clean, strapless exterior means you won’t catch the chairlift when unloading.
At 25 liters, the Black Diamond Dawn Patrol is on the smaller side, although it also comes in 32- and 15-liter versions that are ideal for day tours and in-bounds skiing respectively. The 32-liter is very similar to the Soelden above and SnowDrifter below, although it lacks the convenient backpanel access to the main compartment. And like all of the Osprey designs, the two larger versions of the Dawn Patrol also feature compression straps on the sides, allowing them to maintain their comfort and shape when underpacked. It’s worth noting that some—and particularly those with broad shoulders—have reported fit-related issues with the Dawn Patrol, so we recommend trying it on before you buy.
See the Black Diamond Dawn Patrol 25L
Capacities: 22, 30, 40L
Weight: 5 lbs. 8.5 oz.
What we like: A premium airbag pack for significantly less than the BD JetForce Pro above.
What we don’t: Canister airbags are less convenient than battery designs.
Electric fan airbags are the wave of the future, but there’s still a lot to like about canister-powered designs. Ortovox’s Ascent 30 Avabag is an undisputed leader in this category for its mix of performance, capacity, and features. The highlight here is the Avabag’s unique practice deployment capability, which makes it easy to familiarize yourself with the process without churning through canisters. Additionally, the Ascent’s 5.5-pound weight is very competitive among canister-powered airbags and a full pound lighter than the JetForce Pro above. And finally, Ortovox’s proprietary airbag is removable and compatible with their full lineup of packs, meaning you can purchase one Avabag and swap it between models depending on your objective.
However, there are a number of downsides to consider with canister-powered airbags. Namely, canisters are difficult to travel with, require refilling after each use, and typically can only be deployed once per fill. But there’s no denying the savings (the Ortovox is almost $600 cheaper than the JetForce Pro above), and the Avabag addresses one of our primary complaints about canister systems: the inability to practice deployment. Additionally, many will appreciate the simple mechanical system that doesn’t use complex wiring or technology, especially for long-term use in the cold. All in all, if you’re set on a canister airbag, Ortovox’s Avabag collection is a great place to land, and unlike the Black Diamond, you can remove the airbag and use the backpack on its own.
See the Ortovox Ascent 30 Avabag See the Ortovox Ascent 28 S Avabag
Category: Ski mountaineering/day touring
Capacity: 34 + 10L
Weight: 2 lbs. 13 oz.
What we like: A well-integrated roll-top expands to fit 10L of extra space.
What we don’t: A few minor design flaws.
Like Osprey, Deuter is best known for their hiking and backpacking designs, but their Freerider series of ski packs shouldn’t be overlooked. The Pro 34+ in particular stands out for its all-around nature, and it received a noteworthy update this season that gives it 10 liters of expandable capacity via a roll-top closure. We’ve found this redesign to be very well integrated (it doesn’t get in the way when you don’t need it), and the added versatility is significant: the Freerider Pro stays compact and streamlined for casual day tours yet is still able to accommodate a rope, harness, and hardware for more technical missions.
After testing the Freerider Pro all winter, we have just a few minor nitpicks: the front pocket is a bit of a squeeze for a pair of skins (especially a bulky nylon model like BD’s Ascension), and you have to unbuckle the shoulder straps to fully unzip the backpanel, which is an extra step compared to other designs here. And while it’s true that the Pro 34+ is a bit heavy for a lightweight ski mountaineering pack, the extra ounces could be worth it for the expandable design and Deuter’s reliable comfort and fit. What’s more, for $40 less than the Black Diamond Cirque above you get more durable fabrics, significantly more organization (including backpanel access and a fleece-lined goggle pocket), and the choice between men’s and women’s sizes. It all adds up to an attractive quiver-of-one design from a dependable backpack company, and one of our go-to packs of the year.
See the Deuter Freerider Pro 34+ See the Deuter Freerider Pro 32+ SL
Category: Day touring
Weight: 2 lbs. 10 oz.
What we like: Very convenient organization for day tours.
What we don’t: Doesn’t fare well when overloaded; no women's-specific version.
There’s no shortage of ski packs to choose from, but for backcountry riders that prioritize organization and usability, Patagonia’s SnowDrifter 30L is a real standout. This is one of the most user-friendly designs we’ve tested with full-zip backpanel access to the main compartment, a dedicated goggle/accessory pocket that doesn’t get pinched down when the pack is full, and generously sized hipbelt pockets. You also get an avy tool compartment with helpful sleeves for separating safety gear, a wide U-shaped zipper at the top for secondary main compartment access, and external helmet carry. It all adds up to a very well-appointed and thoughtfully built ski pack for new backcountry riders and transition-heavy tours close to the car.
The SnowDrifter goes head to head with our top-ranked Osprey Soelden, but we give the edge to the Soelden for a few reasons. First and foremost, it’s tough to beat the premium fit and comfort of the Soelden—after all, Osprey does specialize in packs. Second, while the Patagonia is available in one capacity (30L) and two sizes, the Osprey is offered in a dedicated women’s model (the Sopris) and three distinct capacities (22, 32, and 42L for the Soelden). And finally, the SnowDrifter lacks the internal wire frame of the Soelden, resulting in a noteworthy drop in support (in our experience, the Patagonia feels overloaded with skis attached). But for top-notch organization and convenience for casual day tours, the SnowDrifter 30L is a great alternative to have on your radar.
See the Patagonia SnowDrifter 30L
Category: Day touring
Capacities: 22, 28L
Weight: 2 lbs. 8.6 oz.
What we like: Built-in back protection and body-hugging fit.
What we don’t: Pricey for the fairly limited capacity.
If you’re a skier or snowboarder that lives for the descent, the Ortovox Free Rider 28L has your name on it—literally. This pack differs from many of the standard models here with the option for an add-on foam protector that conforms to the contours of your back and hardens to absorb impacts in the event of a crash. To keep it all in place, a wide, elasticized hip strap extends high off the backpanel, hugging your body and ensuring you get protection where you need it (many critical organs can be impacted through the back). Finally, compression straps near the top and on the hipbelt cinch the load close to your back, allowing it to ride as an extension of your body. All told, for committed freeriders that want a streamlined pack for maximum agility on the descent, the Ortovox is a high-performance option.
Despite the Free Rider’s minimalist build, organization is high with both backpanel and top access to the main compartment, along with a dedicated safety tools pocket. But while the pack’s 22- and 28-liter sizes can accommodate the essentials for cat- or heli-accessed terrain, you’ll likely want a bit more capacity on human-powered days. Further, you’re paying a bit of a premium for the purpose-built design—for reference, the Free Rider is $30 more than the Osprey Soelden above, which is by far the more versatile choice. On the flip side, the Ortovox’s added protection and closer fit will be well worth it for hard chargers. And if you’re looking for a descent-oriented pack but don’t anticipate needing the back protector, Ortovov’s simplified Cross Rider 22L ($125) can save you some hard-earned cash.
See the Ortovox Free Rider 28L See the Ortovox Free Rider 26L S
Capacities: 22, 30, 40L
Weight: 5 lbs. 14.1 oz.
What we like: More affordable and lighter than the BD JetForce Pro above.
What we don’t: Overly simplistic hipbelt; disappointing access to the main compartment.
The Black Diamond JetForce Pro above is our favorite electric airbag pack this year, but Scott’s lighter and more affordable Patrol E1 is also worth a look. The Patrol features an Alpride E1 airbag that—similar to the JetForce Pro—is fully electric and rechargeable via USB (it can also be charged by AA batteries in the field). Again, compared to canister airbags, the battery design means you get unlimited practice deployments (only battery life limits you), don’t have to bother with refilling your compressed air canisters, and there’s no hassle in terms of air travel. And clocking in at 5 pounds 14 ounces for the backpack and airbag, the Scott is a reasonably lightweight design and $400 less than the JetForce Pro above.
What do you give up by going with the more affordable Scott Patrol E1? Despite being lightweight, the Alpride system still takes up a good amount of space in the Patrol pack, and we wish the main compartment had a larger zipper. Second, the Patrol’s simple webbing hipbelt provides minimal support and does not come with a convenient stash pocket. Finally, it’s only offered in one size, while many packs (like the Osprey and Deuter options above) come in both men’s and women’s sizing. But as an affordable electric alternative (relatively speaking) that’s only $190 more than the Ortovox Ascent Avabag above, the Scott Patrol E1 is a nice option that’s well-loved by many... Read in-depth review
See the Scott Patrol E1 30
Category: Ski mountaineering/day touring
Capacities: 32, 42L
Weight: 2 lbs. 2.2 oz.
What we like: Great feature set yet impressively lightweight.
What we don’t: Streamlined build gives up a little comfort and support.
North Vancouver-based Arc’teryx is known for building high-end gear for serious athletes, and their new-for-2021 Rush SK is no exception. This expertly engineered ski pack has a really impressive feature set, including a functional roll-top closure, two full-length weather-resistant side zippers (for accessing both the main compartment and avy tool pocket), an accessory pocket, external helmet carry, and a variety of customizable straps for attaching skis, a splitboard, or ice tools. And perhaps most notably, Arc’teryx managed to pull it off for an impressively low 2 pounds 2.2 ounces, making the Rush SK the lightest pack on our list at this capacity. For everything from deep-winter day tours to multi-day spring missions, Arc’teryx’s latest ski pack is well worth a look.
We haven’t yet had a chance to test the Rush SK (we’ll update this write-up when we do), but we still have some initial concerns about the design. First, Arc’teryx packs are consistently a little too streamlined, and we know a lot of skiers that would trade a few extra ounces for more hipbelt and shoulder strap padding or an internal metal frame (the Rush SK features a foam backpanel). Further, like the Cirque above, the Arc’teryx’s avy tool compartment is hidden inside the main compartment, meaning you’ll have to undo the top to fully access your safety gear (the side access is fairly limited). But we do appreciate the added volume you get with the roll-top layout (the 32L here expands to 40L), and the Arc’teryx’s accessory pocket is much more functional than the BD’s. All signs point to the Rush SK being a solid option for weight-conscious skiers, but recreational day tourers should stick with one of the more comfortable and user-friendly designs above.
See the Arc'teryx Rush SK 32
Category: Day touring
Capacities: 18, 26, 32, 36L
Weight: 4 lbs. 1.6 oz.
What we like: Quality day-touring pack with the option to add an airbag system.
What we don’t: Heavy and fairly expensive.
In contrast to their relatively simple and budget-oriented Mission Pro above, Dakine’s Poacher is among the more feature-rich ski packs on the market. To start, you get a range of carry options, including A-frame, diagonal, and a vertical snowboard set-up. Plus, organization is excellent with a zippered backpanel access, helmet attachment, and dedicated pockets for avy tools and a ski goggle. But what really sets the Poacher RAS apart is its compatibility with Mammut’s Removable Airbag System 3.0. Adding the airbag and canister tacks on another $630 to the bottom line, but at $865 all-in, you get excellent versatility for day touring or hut adventures.
What are the downsides of the Poacher RAS? The pack by itself is pretty spendy at $235, especially when you consider it’s not markedly better than the $75-cheaper Osprey Soelden above (other than its airbag compatibility). In addition, the Dakine is rather heavy for its capacity at over 4 pounds, although that does include a mix of burly 500- and 840-denier nylon on the pack body, the extra roll top closure for the airbag, and the intuitive storage layout mentioned above. Finally, if you like the design but don’t plan to get the airbag, Dakine makes a non-RAS Poacher 32 that ditches the airbag pocket and saves you about $50 (with a slight drop in capacity).
See the Dakine Poacher RAS 36L
Category: Ski mountaineering/day touring
Capacities: 20, 27L
Weight: 2 lbs. 3.2 oz.
What we like: Classy looks, streamlined build, and great access to the main compartment.
What we don’t: Expensive and lacks organizational features.
A household name in their Chamonix home, Black Crows is quickly gaining traction stateside, known primarily for their diverse collection of skis and unconventional punk-rock vibes. Thus, it comes as no surprise that the 27-liter Dorsa pack touts one of the most unique designs here, with clean styling and both roll top and front zip access to the main compartment. Cordura nylon makes for a fairly rugged exterior, and we love the metal buckle on the hipbelt, which is both durable and stylish. Looks aside, the Dorsa is fully functional, with attachments for your skis in diagonal or A-frame carry, an inner divider for avy tools, and two ice axe loops.
The Dorsa has a more streamlined shape than most ski mountaineering packs here, making it a great option for quick hits and freeride missions when you want to keep things light (it can even play double duty in the resort). Organization isn’t quite as convenient as what you get from a pack like the Patagonia SnowDrifter (which includes dedicated avy tool storage, backpanel access, and an additional accessory pocket), but on the bright side, the Dorsa clocks in at just over 2 pounds. Finally, there’s no denying the street cred that you’ll get with a Black Crows pack, especially with looks like this. At $190, it’s pricier than the competition, but the design will appeal to experienced skiers looking to streamline their load.
See the Black Crows Dorsa 27
Category: Resort/day touring
Capacities: 15, 18, 25, 30, 35L
Weight: 2 lbs. 3.3 oz.
What we like: A just-right size for sidecountry-bound resort skiers.
What we don’t: Not as performance-oriented as the Ortovox Free Rider above.
Year after year, Mammut churns out some of the ski industry’s best packs, including a complete lineup of airbag designs and their standard Nirvana series here. Perfectly sized for resort laps or days when you let the sno-cat or helicopter do the work, the Nirvana 18 packs a serious punch into a diminuitive package. Similar to feature-rich designs like the Soelden and SnowDrifter above, the Nirvana offers access to the main compartment via a full-zip backpanel, and a dedicated front pocket allows you to grab safety tools quickly and conveniently. You also get a variety of external attachment points for ice tools and trekking poles, along with compatibility with most hydration systems. Like many packs of this size, the Mammut does not accommodate skis in an A-frame configuration, but you can utilize the large buckles on the front panel for strapping skis diagonally or a board vertically.
With its fairly limited capacity, the Nirvana 18 falls short as a dedicated day touring pack, but it’s a nice option for resort skiers that dip into the sidecountry from time to time. In the end, choosing a capacity is all about finding that just-right balance between having sufficient space and keeping your pack streamlined enough for an unencumbered descent. Compared to the Ortovox Free Rider above, the Nirvana accomplishes this at a much lower cost (you save $80), although serious freeriders will appreciate the added protection and back-hugging fit that the Free Rider offers. Keep in mind that Mammut also offers the Nirvana in 15, 25, 30, and 35-liter capacities, the latter of which comes in dedicated men’s and women’s versions.
See the Mammut Nirvana 18
Category: Ski mountaineering
Capacities: 26, 32, 45L
Weight: 3 lbs. 10.6 oz.
What we like: Fully featured and comfortable.
What we don’t: Does not ski especially well; straps and pockets add significant weight.
We’ve lauded many of the packs above for shaving weight and bulk, but in reality, not all skiers are laser-focused on traveling fast and light. If you’re willing to shoulder a bit more weight, the Gregory Targhee is one of the most comfortable and fully featured options on this list. The Targhee sports a whopping six external pockets, as well as an insulated hydration sleeve, helmet-carry system, and convenient backpanel access to the main compartment. The 45-liter capacity with removable lid also gives you a bit more room for customization, making it a versatile choice for those looking for a quiver-of-one pack. Further, the Targhee’s beefy build and thick fabrics are confidence-inspiring and made to last.
As we’ve come to expect from Gregory, the Targhee carries loads quite comfortably, with an alloy frame, adjustable suspension, and compression-molded backpanel. In fact, it’s our in-house photographer’s pack of choice when hauling heavy cameras and lenses into the backcountry. Size-wise, 42 liters is great for technical days or short overnights, but it can feel a bit ungainly when skiing downhill (resort-goers and heli or cat skiers may prefer the smaller 26-liter model). Forsaking just a few liters of capacity, we’ve found that packs like the Arc'teryx Rush SK and Deuter Freerider Pro offer a closer and less ungainly fit. But for the ultimate in comfort and convenience when you need to carry more than an average day’s worth of supplies, the Gregory Targhee 45 should be on your short list.
See the Gregory Targhee 45
Category: Day touring/ski mountaineering
Weight: 1 lb. 8 oz.
What we like: Purpose-built for quick transitions and on-the-go access.
What we don’t: A very niche feature set and not very supportive.
Moving fast and light has never been more in vogue, and backcountry skiers are hot on the trend with everything from leg-burning dawn patrols and Everest-in-a-week challenges to big in-a-day spring missions. Black Diamond’s relatively new Cirque 22 meets this style head-on, combining the on-the-go ethos of a running vest with all the storage and attachment points you need for a day of skiing. The big selling point here is accessibility: with a quick-stow diagonal ski carry, side crampon/skin stash, and front pockets for water and snacks, you’ll almost never need to remove the vest throughout the day. Tack on a dedicated avy-tool compartment, removable helmet carry, and two ice tool slots, and the Cirque Vest is the complete package for fast efforts in all sorts of terrain, whether you’re skimo racing, tackling your own PR, or just enjoy moving efficiently through the mountains.
But with only 22 liters of capacity and a vest-style strap system (read: no hipbelt), the Cirque Vest is fairly limited to quick hits when you’re not carrying much in the way of layers or extra supplies. What’s more, it’s bound to feel overburdened with anything more than a fairly light ski setup (it pairs well with BD’s narrow Cirque skis), and the diagonal carry system does not accommodate a snowboard. Further, while the Cirque Vest’s on-the-go access will be a game-changer for some, most casual users will want the convenience of standard features like a full-zip backpanel or fleece-lined goggle pocket instead. Like any purpose-built design the Cirque has its fair share of tradeoffs, but skiers with a need for speed will be hard pressed to find a better-suited pack.
See the Black Diamond Cirque 22 Vest
Category: Day touring
Capacities: 20, 30, 40L
Weight: 3 lbs. 4.6 oz.
What we like: A burly workhorse with a supportive frame and great organization.
What we don’t: Heavy and only sold in one size.
Backcountry Access is one of the most trusted names in backcountry ski gear and a go-to source for everything from avalanche transceivers and probes to two-way radios. Their Stash 30 joins the ranks of packs like the Osprey Soelden and Patagonia SnowDrifter above as a functional daily driver that places a high priority on organization. You get all the requisite features, including a full-zip backpanel, dedicated safety tool compartment, fleece-lined goggle pocket, and hipbelt pockets. And similar to the Osprey, the Stash’s internal wire frame adds a sizable boost in both comfort and support for hauling your skis or a compact overnight load.
The Stash is only offered in one size, but you can tweak the torso length with the height-adjustable waist belt. Even so, fit is one area where the pack falls significantly short of the competition—for comparison, the Patagonia SnowDrifter comes in two sizes, while the Osprey is available in both men’s and women’s models. The Stash is also notably heavier than other packs, but the burly nylon (210D & 420D) puts up a strong defense against sharp tools and everyday wear and tear. And finally, many skiers will appreciate touches like the insulated hydration hose sleeve and shoulder-strap attachment for a two-way radio. At $180, we hesitate to recommend the Stash over the similarly premium yet more affordable designs above, but it’s nevertheless a solid ski pack that will last you multiple seasons of use.
See the Backcountry Access Stash 30
Weight: 4 lbs. 6 oz.
What we like: Ultralight airbag pack that doesn’t compromise too much in capacity and features.
What we don’t: One deployment per pull and each pull will cost you $50; not travel-friendly.
Most airbag packs fall in the 5- to 7-pound range and are fairly bulky and heavy for using day in and day out. For those looking for a streamlined option that doesn’t compromise on safety, Black Diamond’s JetForce UL stands out with its impressively light 4-pound 6-ounce build. This weight savings is primarily a result of the Alpride 2.0 airbag, which utilizes smaller cartridges of compressed argon and CO2. At only a pound and a half, the 2.0 is by far the lightest airbag unit available, and its simple mechanical (read: non-electric) design makes it durable and easy to maintain. Finally, the 26-liter pack—which can also be used on its own thanks to the removable airbag system—does a nice job balancing weight with a good array of features, including a dedicated avy tool pocket, helmet holder, internal accessory pocket, and ski and ice-tool attachments.
What are the downsides of the JetForce UL’s ultralight build? Most importantly, like most non-electric designs (excluding the Ortovox above), you only get one airbag deployment per pull. Further, unlike compressed air, gas cartridges cannot be refilled and will run you about $50 per set. In other words, despite its $850 price tag (add $50 for the cartridges), the JetForce UL is the most expensive airbag in terms of cost per pull. In addition, the pack’s materials are noticeably thin, and you’ll want to exercise caution around sharp objects like ice tools, snow saws, or even your ski edges. But for serious skiers who want the safety of an airbag pack without the added heft and bulk, the JetForce UL is an enticing solution.
See the Black Diamond JetForce UL 26
|Osprey Soelden 32||$160||Day touring||22, 32L||2 lbs. 9 oz.||Backpanel|
|Dakine Mission Pro 18L||$90||Resort/day touring||18, 25L||1 lb. 10 oz.||Top|
|CamelBak Powderhound 12||$105||Resort||12L||1 lb. 8 oz.||Top|
|Black Diamond JetForce Pro 25||$1,500||Airbag||10, 25, 35L||6 lbs. 8 oz.||Top|
|Black Diamond Cirque 45||$220||Ski mountaineering||30, 35, 45L||2 lbs. 4 oz.||Top, side|
|Black Diamond Dawn Patrol 25||$150||Day touring/resort||15, 25, 32L||2 lbs. 5 oz.||Backpanel|
|Ortovox Ascent 30 Avabag||$910||Airbag||22, 30, 40L||5 lbs. 9 oz.||Front|
|Deuter Freerider Pro 34+||$180||Mountaineering/touring||34+10L||2 lbs. 13 oz.||Backpanel, top|
|Patagonia SnowDrifter 30L||$169||Day touring||30L||2 lbs. 10 oz.||Backpanel, top|
|Ortovox Free Rider 28L||$190||Day touring||22, 28L||2 lbs. 9 oz.||Backpanel, top|
|Scott Patrol E1 30||$1,100||Airbag||22, 30, 40L||5 lbs. 14 oz.||Top|
|Arc'teryx Rush SK 32||$220||Mountaineering/touring||32, 42L||2 lbs. 2 oz.||Top, side|
|Dakine Poacher RAS 36L||$235||Day touring||18, 26, 32, 36L||4 lbs. 2 oz.||Backpanel, top|
|Black Crows Dorsa 27||$190||Mountaineering/touring||20, 27L||2 lbs. 3 oz.||Top, front|
|Mammut Nirvana 18||$110||Day touring||15, 18, 30, 35L||2 lbs. 3 oz.||Backpanel|
|Gregory Targhee 45||$210||Ski mountaineering||26, 32, 45L||3 lbs. 11 oz.||Backpanel, top|
|Black Diamond Cirque 22 Vest||$160||Touring/mountaineering||22L||1 lb. 8 oz.||Top|
|Backcountry Access Stash 30||$180||Day touring||20, 30, 40L||3 lbs. 5 oz.||Backpanel, top|
|Black Diamond JetForce UL 26||$950||Airbag||26L||4 lbs. 6 oz.||Front|
*Editor's note: prices and weights include batteries or canisters where applicable.
- Ski Backpack Categories
- Ski Backpack Capacity
- Carrying Comfort
- Closure Systems and Access
- Organizational Features
- Ski and Snowboard Carry
- Women’s-Specific Ski Backpacks
Skiing can take a variety of forms, from lift-served turns to quick dawn patrol laps before work, traveling the week-long Haute Route in the Alps, or seeking out powder stashes deep in the backcountry. Given the variety and the notable differences in pack designs for each use, we’ve broken our picks into four separate categories: resort, day touring, ski mountaineering, and airbag backpacks.
A resort pack is the ideal choice for in-bounds riding, sidecountry terrain, and even sno-cat or heli-accessed skiing. The main distinguishing factor here is capacity—packs in this category are around 12-22 liters in size, which is perfect for carrying your water and snacks, an extra layer, and avy tools (if needed). For lift-accessed terrain, you’ll also want to look for a clean exterior with minimal straps to avoid snagging the chairlift when loading/unloading. Most of these packs feature an insulated sleeve for storing a water reservoir, which is great for staying hydrated without removing your pack. Some of our favorite designs in this category include the CamelBak Powderhound 12 and Mammut Nirvana 18, and it’s also worth checking out smaller-capacity versions of many of the other packs above.
Packs in our day touring category are a great fit for close-to-home backcountry tours. When you’re earning your turns, you’ll be transitioning a lot from touring to skiing, so a good day-touring pack will prioritize organization with features like full backpanel access to the main compartment, external accessory pockets, and a dedicated snow goggle pocket. They also place a high priority on comfort (over the weight-savings of ski mountaineering designs), with robust backpanels and nicely padded hipbelt and shoulder straps. Most backcountry skiers and riders will appreciate a pack in the 25- to 35-liter range, which is a just-right capacity for accommodating your food and water, extra layers, avy tools, helmet (on the uphill), and skins (but not quite enough for overnight gear or technical equipment like a rope and harness).
Ski mountaineering—not to be confused with skimo racing—is a discipline of skiing that involves venturing into more technical, mountainous terrain. Ski mountaineers might encounter glaciers, ice, steep snow, and even dry trail along their route, and missions can often be multiple days long. To account for the added gear and technicality, ski mountaineering packs offer a bump in performance in more streamlined packages to shave crucial weight. Look for dedicated ice tool and pole attachments, a helmet-carry system, external straps for ski or snowboard carry, lighter-weight fabrics, and supportive suspension systems. Ski mountaineering packs will often range from 35-45 liters to accommodate technical or overnight gear. Our favorite packs in this category are the Black Diamond Cirque and Arc'teryx Rush SK, which do a great job balancing weight-savings and comfort.
One of the dangers of an avalanche is that it can pull you deep under the snow, making rescue a physical and time-consuming process. To help increase chances of survival, airbag packs include a bag that inflates to about 150 liters, allowing skiers to stay close to the surface rather than being sucked under (this is governed by the process of granular segregation, which states that larger objects will stay on top of a mixture while smaller objects will sink to the bottom). Additionally, airbags provide a barrier around the head and neck to guard against obstacles like rocks and trees. By nature, these packs are heavier, more expensive, and have limited capacities, but they're still common in heli-skiing, cat-skiing, lift-served backcountry skiing, or day-touring applications. Additionally, some designs allow you to remove the airbag mechanism completely, which gives you the versatility of traveling with or without the extra load.
There currently are two types of mechanisms used to inflate airbags: compressed air and electric fans. When a canister is triggered, it shoots air (or gas) into the bag, inflating it in about three seconds. Powered by batteries or supercapacitors, fans also are activated with a pull cord and take around the same time to inflate. Where do the two differ? First and foremost, while canister airbags are generally lighter and less expensive than electric systems, they can only be deployed once. Fans, on the other hand, can often be used multiple times on a single charge (like Black Diamond's JetForce Pro) and are easily recharged. This allows skiers to practice without the hassle and cost of expending canisters (if you don’t live near a refill location, you’ll have to mail the cartridge in for replacement). Finally, fan-powered airbags can be taken on airplanes with relative ease, while canister models are trickier and require you to empty the air beforehand (compressed gas canisters cannot be taken on a plane at all). For a closer look at the market, see our article on the best avalanche airbag packs.
Ski backpacks come in a range of sizes, from compact 20-liter packs for sidecountry or heli-accessed skiing to large 40- to 50-liter packs for overnight trips and technical ski mountaineering. Resort-goers leaving the rescue gear behind can likely get away with an even smaller pack like the CamelBak Powderhound 12. But in our experience, the sweet spot for most skiers is in the 30- to 40-liter range, which is where the majority of the picks above fall. These are perfect skiers who enjoy long days at the resort or short backcountry outings, and provide ample space and organization for avalanche gear, extra layers, skins, food, and water. We also feature a few packs in slightly larger sizes for overnight trips or exceptionally frigid days when you want to carry along your bulky puffy jacket and thermos of tea. However, keep in mind that the larger your pack’s capacity (and the more you load inside), the more cumbersome it will feel on the downhill.
Ski backpacks range from lightweight 2-pound models to heavy airbag-equipped bags like the Black Diamond JetForce Pro which clocks in at 6.5 pounds. For those focused on moving quickly on the skin track or who don’t want to be weighed down on the descent, a lightweight pack—along with lightweight gear both inside and underfoot—should be a top priority. If you want added carrying comfort or an airbag system, expect a big bump in weight. Finally, you should keep in mind that a pack’s weight is generally correlated with its level of supportiveness: the lighter the pack, the less padding and suspension it offers.
Many factors contribute to a pack’s overall comfort, including the shape and size, beefiness of the suspension, and the amount of adjustment the pack offers. For those who prioritize freedom of movement on the downhill, a pack that is streamlined and sits close to the back (look for smaller capacity, minimalist suspension, and compression straps) will perform better than a pack with a bulky suspension system that separates the load from the body. On the other hand, when weighed down with 40+ liters of gear on the skin track, you’ll be thankful to have a robust backpanel (packs like the Gregory Targhee 45 even incorporate an internal wire frame, which offers a lot of extra support for hauling heavy loads), shoulder straps, hipbelt, and features like load lifters that allow you to dial in fit.
In the end, it’s important to identify your priorities and understand that there will be tradeoffs with any pack you choose. A good place to start: Are you more focused on the uphill or downhill? For instance, the Gregory Targhee is one of the most comfortable packs on our list, but some will find that its heavy-duty suspension is too restrictive for aggressive skiing. On the other hand, many of the lightweight options above (like the Arc'teryx Rush SK 32) sacrifice support to shave weight, which can make skinning and bootpacking rather arduous. And interestingly, most manufacturers offer larger-capacity packs with the same suspension as their smaller counterparts, so don’t necessarily expect to find increased support as you size up.
One way that ski packs stand out from standard hiking daypacks or climbing packs is in their access to the main compartment. Most ski packs feature multiple access points—usually a combination of a top drawstring or zipper paired with a side zip or a back/front panel zip. Because skiing tends to be very transition-heavy and you’re in an out of your pack a great deal, multiple access points allow you to get at gear in every nook and cranny without needing to take anything out.
When deciding on a pack, think about how often you’ll need to access gear throughout the day and in what sort of environments. For those who want to open their pack on the chairlift, a top zip is great for getting at snacks, water, or a goggle wipe. Alternatively, when skiing laps in our local backcountry bowl, we prefer a pack with a U-shaped backpanel zip (like that of the Osprey Soelden 32 or Black Diamond Dawn Patrol) that allows us to see all our gear and use our pack as an ad hoc staging area during transitions. Ski mountaineers who have longer approaches and descents (and are thus transitioning less) can get away with a more streamlined opening (the Arc'teryx Rush SK 32 features a roll top and side zips, for example). Finally, speed-focused skiers and endurance athletes will benefit from the on-the-go access of a vest-style design like the Black Diamond Cirque 22.
Avalanche Gear Compartment
Many new skiers will use a hydration pack, climbing pack, or hiking daypack for in-bounds days or ski touring. However, we highly recommend that those venturing into the backcountry purchase a ski-specific pack for one main reason: safety. The vast majority of ski backpacks have a dedicated avalanche gear compartment, allowing for quick access to your shovel and probe in the event of a slide. Some, like the Osprey Soelden, feature a dedicated zip pocket, while others, like the Black Diamond Cirque 45, have a pouch in the main compartment. No matter the design, the goal is to make your rescue equipment easily accessible. When purchasing a pack, make sure the compartment is large enough to fit your gear and that it’s easy to access regardless of what you might strap onto the outside.
Most ski backpacks feature at least one pocket in addition to the main compartment and avalanche gear compartment. We find this extra pocket extremely useful for smaller items such as goggles, sunglasses, lip balm, and snacks. Often, this pocket is also fleece-lined to protect your ski goggles, which is a nice touch. Sometimes, it’s located on the inside rather than the outside of a pack, which streamlines the exterior but is less convenient to access.
Your pack’s load will likely change throughout a day of skiing as you swap layers and transition. To account for this, most ski packs are designed with compression straps along the sides that allow you to snug down a partially full load so that it rides close to your back and doesn’t feel unwieldy. These straps are also especially helpful for streamlining larger-capacity bags. For example, the Arc'teryx Rush SK 42 is a good option for overnight trips, but thanks to its roll-top and compression straps, it can be tightened down to serve as a comfortable day-touring bag.
All that said, packs with compression straps or other external straps generally aren’t ideal for resort skiers, as they’re more likely to get caught on the chairlift. Instead, look for packs with clean exteriors and minimal outer features. Further, you should always exercise caution while getting off a lift with a pack. The best method is to sling it over one shoulder rather than both, and make sure you’ve undone both the waist belt and sternum strap before unloading.
External Attachment Points
Many ski packs—and especially those tailored to ski mountaineering—are made with various external attachment points, designed specifically for convenient storage of ice tools, poles, crampons, rope, and a ski helmet. Before making a purchase, it’s important to consider whether or not you really need these features—if you don’t, they might feel unnecessary and burdensome. And it’s worth noting that standard packs generally feature some variety of compression straps or ski-carry straps, which can be used to carry gear externally in a pinch. That said, ski mountaineers will appreciate the convenience of dedicated slots and systems for their ice tools, helmets, and ropes, like those found on the Gregory Targhee 45.
All of the packs in this article are designed with external straps for attaching skis (or often a snowboard) to the outside. These straps are incredibly useful in the event that you need to hike with your skis on your back, which is common in ski mountaineering and accessing hike-to terrain at resorts. In terms of design, some packs allow you to attach lightweight skis in both diagonal and A-frame configurations, while others limit you to one setup or the other (many airbag-equipped packs, for example, do not support A-frame carry). Further, it’s not rare to find a pack that is is unable to haul a snowboard (the Black Diamond Cirque, for example).
The backpacks listed here are either unisex or men’s-specific models, but many manufacturers make ski backpacks in a women’s version as well (when applicable, the women’s model will be linked directly below the pack's write-up). Women’s packs can differ in both shape (namely of the suspension system) and capacity, and often vary in colorway as well. For example, Osprey's Soelden 32 is also available in a women’s model called the Osprey Sopris 30. The Sopris comes in different color tones, a slightly smaller capacity, and with a hip belt and shoulder straps more contoured to fit a women’s body. Many backpacks on our list are only available in unisex models, but come in a variety of sizes (the Patagonia SnowDrifter is offered in S/M and L/XL). We find that unisex backpacks work for most females relatively well, but for the closest fit, we recommend that women look at women’s-specific packs.
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