From small packs designed for lift-access skiing to behemoths built for serious backcountry use, we found the best ski and snowboard backpacks for every budget.
For skiers and snowboarders, backpacks carry avalanche rescue tools that can save lives. And other times, they just carry a few energy bars and a water bottle. So, picking the right pack for your day on the slopes depends a lot on the mission at hand.
While most packs have a lot in common — namely, shoulder straps and a pack bag — they differ wildly in size, weight, and how much they’ll comfortably carry. Packs these days are incredibly well-made. Materials are built to last, seams are heat-welded or bar-tacked, and buckles only break if they’re abused.
We tested nearly 20 packs available now. Testers racked up more than 300 ski days (at resorts, in the backcountry, and on ski hut trips) in Canada, the U.S., Japan, and Europe. We ascended and skied Oregon’s Mt. Hood and Washington’s Mt. Adams, ski and splitboard mountaineered in the Rocky Mountains, and scrambled up snow-covered peaks in the Dolomites.
While this list isn’t comprehensive of every single top-notch pack, it encompasses excellent designs across a range of volumes and styles. These packs serve a spectrum of objectives for various types of skiers and riders.
For more help choosing the best ski backpack, check out our buyer’s guide and FAQ at the end of this article. Otherwise, you can scroll through to see all of our recommended buys or jump to the category you’re looking for:
The Best Ski Backpacks of 2022
Best Overall: Patagonia SnowDrifter 30L
We love the SnowDrifter ($169) for its versatility. It has all the right features for backcountry missions, but the excellent compression makes it a worthy companion for everything from lift access to a dawn patrol skin session.
There are two ways to access the main compartment — through the back panel or from the top via a big U-shaped zipper. It’s nice to have both options in case you need to access the main compartment without laying your pack down.
On the top of the SnowDrifter, there’s a dedicated goggle pouch. It’s not fleece-lined, but we like that it’s big enough for skins when there’s little time for transitions. Bellowed hip-belt pockets fit big phones (with bulky cases), a beanie, and light gloves.
The snow safety compartment has just enough organization for people who prefer a spot for everything. However, it’s unfettered enough so the area is useful, even if you aren’t carrying a shovel and probe.
We liked the deep zipper mesh pocket on the inside of the panel, as it’s handy for securing probe and skin sacks, a beacon (when not in use), and a headlamp.
The dense foam shoulder straps and hip belt are wide enough to distribute heavy loads. And we liked the easily adjustable sternum strap with its handy drinking tube attachment.
The 6.4-ounce, 430-denier recycled nylon material has both a PU coating and DWR finish, but the zippers aren’t waterproof.
- Category: Backcountry tours
- Weight: 2 lbs. 10 oz.
- Capacity: 30 L
- Carry: Skis or snowboard
- Multiple ski-carry options
- Secure snowboard carry
- Made with 100% recycled fabrics
- External helmet-carry system
- Economic price
- Not designed for a significantly heavy or overnight load
- No torso height adjustment
Bigger is not always better with ski packs. Sometimes you just need snacks, water, and a pack that disappears onto your back. The Mission Pro 18 ($90) doesn’t have bells and whistles or a lot of space.
But if you pack smart, it has everything you need for a day on the slopes. And, with the sub-$100 price tag, you’ll have money left in your wallet for some solid après-ski happy hours.
This pack ticks all the boxes: diagonal ski carry, vertical snowboard carry, a dedicated snow-safety panel, a fleece-lined goggle pocket, and an insulated drinking tube. There’s even a whistle integrated into the chest strap.
Testers loved the Mission Pro 18L for being so lightweight. Plus, the low-profile, streamlined design makes it great for riding a chairlift or ducking through grabby deadfall in search of untracked powder pockets.
For a pack of this size and weight, the suspension is surprisingly robust. The hip belt and shoulder straps are lightly padded. Plus, there’s a plastic framesheet that helps support loads and protects your back from sharp, pointy cargo.
- Category: Resort skiing and riding, hike-to terrain
- Weight: 1 lb. 9 oz.
- Capacity: 18 L
- Carry: Skis or snowboard
- Fabric is 420-denier ripstop nylon with a water-repellent finish
Great Organization: Gregory Targhee 45
The Gregory Targhee 45L ($210) is the SUV of the pack world. The floorplan will please even the most nitpicky of organizers. There are six zippered pockets. And on the pack’s front is a handy zippered pocket where you can stash sunglasses and snacks.
Then, there’s the zippered snow-safety compartment and a roomy pocket on top of the pack (with a small interior pocket with a key fob). The main compartment, accessed through the back panel, is big enough to house extra layers, a stove, a small bivy, and a helmet.
One wing of the hip belt has a zippered pocket that’s big enough for a cellphone; the other side has a gear sling.
There’s an HDPE (plastic) framesheet and a single aluminum stay. The stay extends into the hip belt, which provides great load transfer. And we like that the straps have more padding than many winter ski packs we’ve tested.
Even with the 35-pound load we toted on a hut trip, the Targhee 45 shadowed our every movement with no sway. The back panel is a molded foam with geometric patterns designed to shed snow.
The A-frame and front diagonal ski carry options are bombproof. Straps have camming buckles that lock in place so there’s no slip. The front of the pack is reinforced with 1,000-denier CORDURA for extra durability.
The tips of the skis are closer to the body and far enough from the head that there’s no chance of banging into them, even if you’re wearing a helmet.
The beefy 1,000-denier CORDURA on the pack’s front is equal to any exposed rock or grabby tree branches. Testers skied and rode for more than 60 days with no scuffing. Tool attachment hardware and buckles for the snowboard/ski carry are aluminum.
- Category: Backcountry tours, overnight and hut trips, guiding
- Weight: 3 lbs. 11 oz.
- Capacity: 45 L
- Carry: Skis or snowboard
- Great ski and snowboard carry
- Both top and back panel access
- Hydration sleeve has insulated hose cover
- Two ice axe holders that can be stashed away
- Slightly heavy for its size
Best Durability: Mystery Ranch Gallatin Peak 40
Mystery Ranch, the brainchild of veteran pack designer Dana Gleason, is known for smart designs and bomber construction. In fact, Mystery Ranch packs are a mainstay for the military and firefighting communities in situations when a pack is truly survival equipment.
The Gallatin Peak ($265) is outstanding on several levels. First, the fabric is the toughest we’ve seen. The 840-denier nylon has a TPU coating, which gives it excellent water resistance and extra durability against sharp skis and abrasive rocks.
Oversized zipper pulls (and zippers) are all glove-friendly and indestructible. And there are handy color-coded zippers. The red pull tab on the snow safety gear panel helps prevent groping around when seconds count.
The Gallatin Peak is roomy enough to carry gear for hut trips or light multiday excursions. The densely padded hip belt and shoulder straps cushioned loads up to about 40 pounds. A couple of our more masochistic testers went heavier, but less weight means you’ll move faster.
- Category: Backcountry tours, overnight and hut trips
- Weight: 3 lbs. 13 oz.
- Capacity: 40 L
- Carry: Diagonal or A-frame for skis or split-skis or vertical carry for snowboard
- Excellent suspension
- Exterior stashable helmet carry
- Great feature set adds weight
Best Heavy Load-Carrier: Eddie Bauer Alpine Sisu 50
This thoughtfully built pack ($299) has a place for everything. At 50 L, it’s big enough for a ski around Crater Lake or a winter ascent in the Tetons.
The molded foam hip belt and shoulder straps supported loads up to 45 pounds without too much discomfort. The framesheet has a perimeter stay and a molded foam back panel.
The main pack bag of the Eddie Bauer Alpine Sisu 50 has a traditional top opening (with a wide 38-inch mouth). There’s also back-panel access via a zipper that bisects the back of the pack. This lets you access gear in wet, snowy conditions while keeping the back panel and shoulder straps dry.
The snow-safety tool compartment is accessed with two long zippers that let you peel back the entire front of the pack. You just grab a handle and pull apart the Velcro closure, and the zippers slide open. There’s a top lid with a single pocket for storing small items.
Testers wished for a hip belt pocket for cellphone storage, but the dual gear slings did come in handy for alpine climbing and glacier crossing.
- Category: Backcountry tours, ski and splitboard mountaineering
- Weight: 3 lbs. 14 oz.
- Capacity: 50 L
- Carry: A-frame for skis or splitboard skis
- Roomy snow safety compartment
- Exterior zip pocket for skins
- Extendable top makes the pack adaptable
- Full back zipper access
- Lots of straps make the exterior a bit fussy
- No hip belt pocket to tote cellphone
- Only one size available
Best for Skin Tracks: Thule Upslope 35L
The Upslope 35L ($280) might be the perfect skinning pack. Two ginormous hip belt pockets swallow skins, water bottles, and snacks. The bellowed pockets have glove-friendly zipper pulls and overlapping zipper garages, meaning your side gear stays secure and dry.
The main pack bag is a teardrop design, so heavy gear sits over your hips where it belongs. There’s a full-featured snow safety gear pocket, accessed via a big U-shaped front panel zipper. On top is a microfiber-lined goggle pouch large enough to accommodate big lenses.
An insulated sleeve keeps hydration bladder tubes from freezing, although we prefer a water bottle for cold-weather skiing. Testers really liked the Upslope’s secure ski-carry system (diagonal and A-frame).
It’s a big improvement from the original Upslope, and we like how easy it is to use when we’re wearing big, puffy gloves. Plus, the critical buckles that attach the shoulder straps and hip belt are metal, so there’s no danger of a catastrophic break in the backcountry.
This pack carries a lot of weight. We found it carries 30-pound loads easily thanks to the densely padded shoulder straps and full-perimeter stay. The hip belt is a combo of big, wing-shaped pockets and 2-inch webbing.
It’s also able to accommodate Mammut’s RAS 3.0 (Removable Airbag System).
- Category: Backcountry tours
- Weight: 3 lbs. 8 oz.
- Capacity: 35 L
- Carry: Diagonal ski carry or vertical snowboard carry
- Sleek lines
- Insulated drinking tube sleeve
- Giant hip belt pockets
- Back-panel access only to main pack bag
Best Big Load-Hauler: Osprey Mutant 52
The Mutant ($200) is one of our favorite winter pack designs. It holds an impressive amount for a 52L pack. We were able to use it for a weeklong trip in the John Muir Wilderness and didn’t have any trouble fitting in a bear canister, two-person tent, warm sleeping bag, and food.
The top-loader has a traditional drawcord opening as well as a clamshell-style back panel. Inside the pack bag is a hydration sleeve.
There are no hip belt pockets. But the big lid has two pockets, which are great for storing lunch on the top and valuables underneath. The top lid also contains a dedicated helmet sleeve.
The Mutant 52 carries extremely well. The plastic framesheet works in concert with two aluminum stays to transfer beast-sized loads to the padded (dual-density foam) hip belt. The back panel is a cushy, flexible foam with ridges and valleys that help hot air escape and thwart snow buildup.
You can strip off the framesheet, hip belt, and lid to save close to 2 pounds. Ski carry is an A-frame, and there are sweet attachment loops for poles and ice axes.
- Category: Backcountry tours, overnight and hut trips
- Weight: 3 lbs. 6.6 oz.
- Capacity: 52 L
- Carry: A-frame for skis or splitboard skis
- Roomy, unfettered pack bag
- Helmet sleeve included
- Tie-offs for ice tools
- Fits up to 3L reservoir
- Deployment of helmet sleeve limits use of top lid pocket
- Lacks hip belt pockets
Best Fit: BCA Stash 30
Most snowsport packs have fixed torso lengths. But the new BCA Stash 30 ($180) has a hip belt that can slide up or down for a bespoke fit. We sent the pack out with testers with torso lengths that ranged from 16 to 20 inches. The pack fit them all like a glove.
Also, the adjustable torso lets you drop the pack lower on your hips for when you’re doing miles of skinning across glaciers. Then, you can snug it up high and tight for better mobility when you’re hucking cliffs and dropping into couloirs.
The new Stash 30 also was a favorite for athletes who pushed the envelope in the backcountry. The flexible framesheet shadows your every movement thanks to its soft molded foam construction. The back panel consists of seven geometric pods separated with half-inch air channels.
The horizontal channels increase airflow and let the pack flex with your every movement. The hip belt wings have about an inch of play, so the pack self-adjusts as you walk or ski.
Bonus features include channels on both shoulder straps (accessed via long zippers), so you can use one for hydration and the second for your radio. The pack is designed for vertical snowboard and both diagonal and A-frame ski carry.
Testers loved the quick deployment of both skis and snowboards thanks to big, glove-friendly buckles and dedicated straps. The ski slots are reinforced, featuring compression straps in case your skis are smaller than the slots.
- Category: Backcountry tours, ski and splitboard mountaineering
- Weight: 3 lbs. 5 oz.
- Capacity: 30 L
- Carry: A-frame and diagonal ski (or splitboard ski) carry or vertical snowboard carry
- Excellent organization and comfort
- Stowable helmet sling
Best Skimo Race Pack: Dynafit DNA 16
For fast and superlight missions, uphillers and skimo racers gravitate toward the ergonomic Dynafit DNA 16 ($130). Our test laps included racing the backcountry Gothic Mountain Tour in Crested Butte, Colorado, and we were impressed.
The DNA’s design is super breathable, streamlined, and lightweight for folks craving speedy adventures with less bulk on their back. The pack is thoughtfully constructed with strategic pockets, including a small interior waterproof pocket and a large top-to-bottom mesh compartment to help organize goods.
We really liked the safety box (as we’ve deemed it) — a sturdy, rigid, protective compartment in the lower belly of the pack with Velcro side entry. The stash spot is an excellent cave for crampons or extra flasks or fuel that need to remain unfrozen while soaking up the back’s warmth.
- Category: Skimo races, uphilling
- Weight: 7.9 oz.
- Capacity: 16 L
- Carry: Skis only
- Made with 20-denier ripstop nylon
- Removable ski-carry attachments
- Ice axe attachment
- Not burly enough for the typical load carried on a regular-paced backcountry tour
Best Avalanche Airbag Pack: BCA Float 42 Avalanche Airbag 2.0
If you frequently explore avalanche terrain, it’s a good idea to invest in an airbag pack. The BCA Float 42 Avalanche Airbag 2.0 ($735) sets a high bar with a robust construction that’s comfortable and super functional.
With another step of innovation, this airbag system (the 2.0 air cylinder engine) is 30% smaller and 15% lighter than BCA’s previous iteration. That extra room is key.
On big days playing in the backcountry or on the job — like volunteer search and rescue — we need to carry additional rescue gear, food, hydration, and layers. We like that you can access the cargo through a full back panel or through the front.
The pack has a sleeve to integrate a radio and another for a hydration hose. With the internal support frame, the back panel is rigid and supportive yet comfortable. We also like the hip belt pockets and fleece-lined goggle pocket.
- Category: Airbag, backcountry tours, overnight and hut trips, ski and splitboard mountaineering
- Weight: 7.1 lbs. (with full cylinder)
- Capacity: 12 L, 22 L, 32 L, 42 L
- Carry: Diagonal carry for skis or splitboard skis, vertical carry for snowboard
- Height-adjustable hip belt
- Removable helmet carry
- Internal and external ice axe carry options
- A bigger investment
- Additional weight with the airbag setup
- Canister sold separately
Best Women’s-Specific Pack: Deuter Freerider 28 SL Snow Pack
Deuter has put their muscle into creating comfortable women’s-specific packs across recreational activities from mountain biking to hiking and backpacking. The Freerider 28 SL Snow Pack ($160) has a slim fit with ample space for backcountry gear, spared ounces, and generous comfort.
The “SL” tag means this pack is constructed for the average size of female bodies. The back length is shorter compared to men’s packs, and the carrying system — the hip belt and shoulder straps — hugs a narrower build.
The hip belt is also made in a conical shape. Our testers found this streamlined pack extremely comfortable, and despite the pack feeling light, the design carries and distributes a heavy load well.
We love that we can access our gear stash through the full-zip back panel. Inside, our avalanche gear is neatly organized in its own compartment.
The pockets are standout — there’s a deep zippered pocket in the front avalanche gear compartment and another large mesh zippered pocket in the main compartment.
A third large pocket, which is accessed from the top, is lined for goggles or sunglasses and features a divider to help collect other miscellaneous items.
There are two removable straps to use for the front vertical carry, such as for a snowboard or snowshoes, or to use for the vertical ski carry. The modular setup has its pros and cons. It’s nice to be able to customize your pack on the fly.
Though, adding an extra step — of switching the straps around — while backcountry skiing can be energy-consuming, and we’re concerned about losing the straps given they aren’t integrated. It’s best to set up the straps for the day’s needs in advance.
We also like the unique holder for glasses on the face of one shoulder strap. There’s space for a 3L hydration bladder.
- Category: Backcountry tours
- Weight: 2 lbs. 3 oz.
- Capacity: 18 L, 28 L, Pro 32 L+
- Carry: Diagonal or A-frame carry for skis or splitboard skis and vertical option snowboard
- Adjustable sternum strap
- Load adjustment straps
- Ice axe attachment
- Only one hip belt pocket
- Helmet carry accessory is not included or directly integrated in the 28L or 18L pack
- No enclosed shoulder strap protection for hydration hose or radio line
Best of the Rest
Boasting CE-certified back protection, the USWE POW 25 Backpack ($250) is a good addition to your gear closet if you gravitate toward steep, rough terrain and drop cliffs or generally like to get airborne. Unlike a bike helmet, the flexible memory foam returns to its original form after impact, increasing the product’s lifespan.
The pack features a belt and four-point harness system, which prevents the load from jostling around — regardless of how much chunder coats a slope or how fast you’re ripping the line.
Inside, there’s a dedicated section to tidily organize avalanche safety equipment. Altogether, the pack has seven pockets including a large mesh pouch with a zip closure. There’s a hydration sleeve, too.
Another luxurious addition that answers our snacking and water woes: insulated pockets that absorb body heat to protect any stored items from becoming frozen, including a hydration hose.
- Category: Backcountry tours, freeriding
- Weight: 2 lbs. 15.7 oz.
- Capacity: 16 L, 25 L
- Carry: Skis and splitboard skis can be secured A-frame style, vertical carry for snowboard
- Goggle pocket
- Removable helmet carrier
- Two pockets on the hip belt
- Chest strap expands
- Strap design is not a universally comfortable fit for busty, barrel-chested, or broad-shouldered folks
The ultralight Black Diamond Cirque 30 Pack ($180) is svelte and minimalist for skiers and splitboarders who want to explore mountain lines without any extra ounces but want the option to carry safety tools.
After testing this pack on backcountry splitboard and ski days for the past few seasons, we still grab it for uphill sessions or fast missions. Overall, we’re impressed by the pocket organization despite the lean silhouette.
Inside the Cirque 30 pack, there’s a compartment for avalanche rescue equipment that’s separated by a divider with a buckle closure. The primary chamber has an expandable pocket with an elastic band for security. There’s a second pocket that’s large enough for extra goggles with a zip entry and key clip.
Another sleek zipper-enclosed exterior pocket sits near the top, which is wide enough to hold extra goggles. It’s also a convenient spot for a snack or cellphone.
The sternum strap has a built-in whistle. Keeping things light, the hip belt is not padded but prevents pack sway. The back pad is removable for an even slimmer kit.
- Category: Ski and splitboard mountaineering
- Weight: 1 lb. 11 oz.
- Capacity: 30 L, 35 L, 45 L
- Carry: Tuck-away diagonal ski carry (or split skis) and A-frame carry
- Extremely lightweight
- Thoughtful design for organization
- Only provides top access to goods
- Not much padding or support for heavy loads
Whether you’re taking the lift up and heading out the gate for side-country laps, taking gondola spins between in-bounds runs, or taking a full-on backcountry day, the Mountain Hardwear Powabunga 32 ($200) is a versatile companion.
The frame is constructed of stable, nimble steel, which supports a load but is comfortable.
For ease, the pack can swing around without a full removal, in order to enter the pack’s primary chamber. The design features back panel or front panel access. The padded hip belt is very ergonomic and pivotable, so the pack moves with you as you skin uphill.
Tough against the elements, the pack is made with a 500-denier CORDURA nylon blend that’s lightweight. One of our favorite features is the large side pockets with zip closures, which are expandable and a great cubby for skins (or gloves).
- Category: Backcountry, side-country, resort skiing, and riding
- Weight: 3 lbs. 3.4 oz.
- Capacity: 32 L
- Carry: A-frame or diagonal ski or split-ski carry
- Tuckable helmet hammock below pack
- Includes avalanche tool pocket
- Fleece-lined goggle pocket
- Hydration reservoir-compatible plus insulated hydration sleeve
- One hip belt pocket
- No snowboard carry
- We wish there was a second hip belt pocket
If you dig comfort and support, investing in the Ortovox Free Rider 22 Avabag ($250) might be the right move. This pack features a flexible back protector constructed of eight foam pads that withstand frigid temps. The material conforms to the traveler’s back and absorbs impact in the event of a crash.
The broad hip belt carries the load well and provides comfort. The pack has a fastening system for an ice axe and poles. Inside, the pack has a compartment for avalanche safety equipment and another for a hydration system.
Bomber against abrasion, the exterior of the pack is made with a 420-denier nylon blend that’s lightweight and resistant to wear and tear.
- Category: Backcountry tours, Airbag
- Weight: 3 lbs. 3 oz.
- Capacity: 20 L, 22 L
- Carry: Diagonal fastening for skis (or splitboard skis) and vertical snowboard carry
- Compatible with an Avabag, the brand’s avalanche airbag system
- Water-resistant zipper
- Helmet carry
- Only front access to main compartment
When you need to carry extra equipment like ski and boot crampons, an emergency sled, or overnight apparel for a hut trip in addition to all the other backcountry essentials, the Mountain Hardwear Snoskiwoski 40 ($220) steps up to the job. Despite being super lightweight and minimalist, this robust design can haul.
With an aluminum frame, 500-denier CORDURA base, and recycled 210-denier high-tenacity nylon shell, this pack is durable for rigorous objectives and harsh elements. Inside, a foam insert helps protect back pressure from belongings and is removable to sit on, though it’s not as quick to extract when fully loaded.
The front smaller compartment is home to avalanche gear and features a nice zipper-access mesh pocket, though it’s not very big. One of our favorite design details is a mega side-entry zipper for a long, deep pocket that can easily stash skins or a water bottle and snacks.
The remaining gear is carried in the spacious primary compartment, which has a quick-draw top skirt opening and integrated storm flap as well as a side-entry zipper.
We really like the quick-access tool carry on the front of the pack and the reinforced A-frame ski loops for skis or splitboard skis. The shoulder straps have lash points for a radio or hydration hose, though they aren’t enclosed.
Though the ability to relocate the removable helmet hammock is helpful at times, the design poses a risk of blowing away on windy summits or getting misplaced; integration could be an improvement.
On the front of the pack, two elastic straps with slidable adjusters do a great job of holding the shaft of an ice axe. There are also two parallel horizontal rigid straps with buckle adjusters. They’re modular, which can be helpful for customizing gear organization, but the straps do not lock into place.
While setting our pack down during testing, one of the straps securing crampons slid out — so keep those super tight and try to not lose them.
- Category: Ski mountaineering, backcountry hut trips
- Weight: 2 lbs. 8.7 oz.
- Capacity: 40 L (size S/M), 42 L (size M/L)
- Carry: A-frame or diagonal ski carry (or split-ski carry)
- High volume
- Super lightweight
- Comfortably suspends heavy weight
- Roomy, convenient side pocket for skins or other goods
- No back panel entry so pack access is limited while loaded in the A-frame carry
- Detachable helmet carry poses the risk of blowing away or getting misplaced
Why You Should Trust Us
Our GearJunkie gear testing team includes a range of skiers and splitboarders from intermediate to expert who explore ski areas around the world, venture into the backcountry, and hike uphill at the resort.
Beyond our field tests and personal experience, we determined the best ski backpacks based on a variety of metrics including performance, quality, longevity, and value. These ski backpacks serve a range of athletes, applications, and budgets.
Buyer’s Guide: How to Choose the Best Ski Backpack
The trick to deciding what pack to buy is knowing what you’re going to use it for.
Do you want something small and compact you can carry for a quick uphill session at the ski hill after work? Or do you need a spacious, weight-bearing pack for an overnight hut trip or a weeklong summit snag with a remote basecamp?
Then, think about feature sets and overall capacity. Will you be carrying ice tools? A ski mountaineering axe? Crampons? Will you be on a splitboard or skis and what type? Will you be in-bounds only?
In your terrain, will you need avalanche safety equipment? Do you have room for all the necessary layers, enough food and water, and a tailored first aid emergency kit? Do you need to carry a radio? Do you prefer to drink water through a bottle or hydration bladder? These are a handful of the questions you should ask as you consider the type of pack that fits your needs.
Types of Ski Backpacks
A wide variety of ski backpacks exist. Depending on your objectives and the terrain you’ll be in, you might want a pack that’s lightweight and simplified for in-bounds use or uphill sessions at a ski area. Or, you might need a streamlined, minimalist pack for fast and light training and skimo races.
If you’re heading into the backcountry, the ski or snowboard backpack you choose will have unique features. Namely, there will be a compartment for your avalanche safety gear.
Other backcountry packs offer greater capacity, more back and shoulder support, and special organizational features for ski and splitboard mountaineering or multiday backcountry tours.
Size & Capacity
It’s important to match the pack size to your body shape and size. You don’t want a pack that’s too big or it will shift around. Nor will it be comfortable if it’s too snug.
Pack capacity is a personal choice, dependent on whether you go fast and light or you’re the type of person who wants room for plenty of gear.
In general, sub-20L packs are ideal for resort skiing and riding, uphilling, or skimo races. Some of these compact packs even have a ski and snowboard carry, which is a nice feature for hike-to in-bounds terrain, like the Dakine Mission Pro 18L.
A pack from 20 to 35 L that can schlep more is ideal for side-country, backcountry, and gear-intensive trips. A few of the packs in that house include the Patagonia SnowDrifter 30L, Thule Upslope 35L, and Mountain Hardwear Powabunga 32.
Some pack designs in the 30L to 35L realm are designed to support ski and splitboard mountaineering expeditions like the BCA Stash 30.
Packs from 40 to 50 L are more stout for backcountry overnight missions and hut trips as well as mixed alpine and mountaineering ascents.
The leanest pack among our top picks is the 16L Dynafit DNA 16 for skimo races and uphill workouts. The beefiest load-carrying pack is the Osprey Mutant 52, a 52L animal for backcountry tours, mountaineering, overnighters, and hut trips.
Suspension & Carry Comfort
Suspension refers to the shoulder straps, hip belt, and framesheet. Generally, the bigger the pack bag, the more weight you can carry. And more weight requires a more sophisticated suspension system for comfortable carry.
Shoulder straps are generally padded to help cushion your shoulders from the weight. They also help disperse the weight from the pack.
New materials provide cushioning with less bulk. Most modern shoulder straps are a combination of dense foam and breathable mesh. The more weight a pack is designed to carry, the more robust is the foam in the shoulder straps.
Hip belts are designed to help keep the pack from swinging around on your back. Packs that will carry 20 pounds or more need some sort of padded hip belt to help transfer weight to the hip bones.
Most hip belts are made of the same dense foam as shoulder straps. They’re built to snugly wrap around your iliac crest so the weight of your load is dispersed between your shoulders, back, and hips.
This is the distance (generally in inches) between the top of your shoulder to the top of your hip bone (iliac crest). Most packs fit torsos from about 16 to 20 inches.
If you have a very short or very tall back, you need to do some research into manufacturers’ recommendations. Fortunately, most packs come in small/medium, large/XL, or small/medium/large sizing.
And with shoulder strap adjustments and load-lifter straps, you can generally get 2 to 4 inches of adjustment out of any pack. Plus, some manufacturers make packs with back panels that have adjustable lengths. In most cases, this is done by moving the shoulder straps up or down the back panel or moving the hip belt up.
Most of our top choices for ski pack designs are unisex or men’s, which can work fine for many riders and skiers regardless of their sex. That said, everyone’s body is unique. Some women swear by women’s-specific packs. If you generally have a smaller frame, consider checking out a women’s-specific ski pack.
Compared to men’s or unisex packs, a women’s pack is constructed based on the average size of female bodies. The back length is shorter, and the carrying system — the hip belt and shoulder straps — hugs a narrower body figure. The hip belt is also made in a conical shape, which sits more comfortably on the hips.
Modern materials are unbelievably tough. It’s really difficult to wear a hole in a pack when it’s used correctly.
Abrasion is most likely to occur on the bottom of a pack. This is more common in packs hauling heavy loads of solid gear but naturally happens from setting the pack down on various terrain from rocks to ice or snow.
Packs designed for carrying ice-climbing equipment will generally have a padded bottom. This keeps sharp objects from poking through the bottom of the pack when you set it on a hard, rocky surface.
These specialty packs often use durable material in places where you attach an axe or crampons. Ski packs also have reinforced attachment points so sharp ski edges don’t cut into the pack.
A major differentiator between ski and snowboard pack styles is whether or not there’s a designated compartment for avalanche safety equipment — the shovel and probe. That design component is essential for backcountry and side-country recreationists because efficiency and organization are critical and life-saving.
Many ski and snowboard packs have an internal sleeve for a hydration bladder and a sleeve to route the hose but not all sleeves are insulated. Beware — the water in your hose can freeze. To be proactive, you can blow the water back through the hose after each sip, but it can help to get a proper pack, too.
Pockets add weight but are nice to keep everything in place. Again, efficiency is key when we are playing outdoors in cold, gusty, snowy elements.
Many packs offer hip belt pockets. These are handy if you want to keep a cellphone, compact satellite communication device, snacks, or glove liners handy. Most packs for backcountry or front-country use have a goggle pocket and helmet carry, too.
Ski and Snowboard Carry
Many ski backpacks have a ski-carry system and potentially one for snowboard carry, too. Generally, skis — or a splitboard — can be attached to a ski pack via an A-frame setup or as a diagonal. Some designs feature straps for one or both of these arrangements. Other packs also provide a solid snowboard carry that is either vertical or horizontal.
Most of the time, how you carry your skis or snowboard is personal preference, but terrain management can also influence your choice. For instance, if you’re bootpacking a steep slope, you might not prefer a vertical snowboard carry if the edge is digging into your calves between steps.
You’ll want to be sure to practice clipping your skis, splitboard, or snowboard onto your bag before you head to the backcountry to make sure you know how the strap arrangement functions. Be sure to pull on your pack to make sure your gear isn’t smacking the back of your calves or head.
Snowsport packs often have back-panel access via a U-shaped zipper that lets you fold back the entire back panel like a clamshell. This method of entry is handy if you’re going to throw your pack down in the snow when you open it up. This way, your shoulder straps and back panel stand a better chance of staying dry and not soaking up water.
This design is also a convenient way to access gear that’s sitting in a certain quadrant of your pack without needing to unload all the goods into the snow or wind.
Some packs have front access through a large U-shaped zipper. Other designs blend the two entries with both a front and back-panel entry, which is super helpful. A handful of designs are top-loaders or have a roll-top closure.
Extra Ski Pack Features
Additional pack details range from a helmet carry system — usually, a pouch or pocket that’s removable, stashable, or compressible — to a hydration sleeve for a bladder and an arm sleeve to protect the hose.
Compression sleeves are really nice for hugging a load and making it more streamlined. Some packs also have external and internal gear carriers for ice tools, an ice axe, poles, crampons, or a rope.
What Is a Ski Touring Backpack?
Generally, backpacks that are developed for ski and splitboard tours have a dedicated internal compartment for avalanche safety gear: the shovel and probe. (The beacon is worn on your person, not stored inside the pack.)
These packs also usually have a hip belt to help support the load and prevent pack swing on the descent. Some hip belts are generously padded or even have zipper-enclosed pockets, while other designs are slim to help trim ounces. Ski and splitboard or snowboard carry systems are also popular features.
Each pack has its own organizational features, including a potential hydration sleeve and lined goggle pocket plus various internal and external pockets for stashing items. Most conventional packs have some kind of helmet carry system that’s removable or stashable.
Some packs are larger and more robust than others in order to support a heavier load while touring for a day or more. Technical ski touring bags are outfitted with features to carry safety equipment from crampons to an ice axe or tools.
Do You Need a Backpack While Skiing?
For resort riding, it’s certainly not a requirement. But it can be nice to have for carrying extra snacks and gear or a camera.
On the other hand, if you’re skiing in the backcountry, it’s an absolute must-have. You’ll need a backpack to carry avalanche safety gear, including your shovel and probe as well as a radio, satellite communication device, and first-aid kit.
What Is an Avalanche Airbag Pack?
An avalanche airbag pack combines a traditional backcountry pack with an inflatable airbag system. For the most part, each brand has its own unique design, but each system functions similarly and for the same purpose.
When the rider or skier is caught in an avalanche, they need to manually release an inflatable airbag, which fills up through compressed air or gas or via an electric fan. When the airbag explodes through the top of the pack, the firm cushion surrounds the head and neck to help prevent trauma.
The airbag also helps the skier or rider stay atop the moving snow. After the snow settles, the airbag can also potentially keep snow from blocking the victim’s airway.
What Should I Carry in My Ski Backpack?
If you’re heading out of bounds, you’ll need more. In addition to a good pack with the right capacity and features, the list ranges from a down jacket, extra goggles, and ski straps to your shovel and probe. We’ve dedicated an entire article to the gear you need to start backcountry skiing.
What Size Ski Backpack Is Best?
While this varies depending on your adventure plans and gear needs, sub-20L packs are ideal for resort skiing and riding, uphilling, or skimo races. Some of these compact packs even have a ski and snowboard carry, which is a nice feature for hike-to in-bounds terrain.
A pack from 20 L to 35 L that can schlep more is ideal for side-country, backcountry, and gear-intensive trips. Some pack designs in the 30L to 35L realm are also designed to support ski and splitboard mountaineering expeditions. Packs from 40 L to 50 L are more stout for backcountry overnight missions and hut trips as well as mixed alpine and mountaineering ascents.
How Do You Pack a Backcountry Ski Backpack?
When you pack for a backcountry ski or splitboard day, first put your shovel and probe into their proper pockets inside their designated spots. Usually, it’s most comfortable to put heavier and lesser-used items toward the bottom of the pack like a first-aid kit, repair kit, or an extra down jacket and beefy gloves.
Make sure you keep your snacks in places you can quickly access while you’re on the skin track, so you can continue to take down fuel as you venture. Likewise, you’ll want your water in an accessible place. Sometimes that’s in a hydration bladder or in a water bottle that fits along the side of the pack next to a zipper entry so you can quickly grab and sip.
Battery packs, extra batteries for your beacon, or headlamps are nice to keep in a protective zip-enclosed pocket. If the backpack doesn’t have one, you can put those items in a tiny dry bag and put it toward the middle or bottom of the backpack. Of course, it’s a good match to put an extra pair of goggles or sunglasses in the goggle pocket.
Toward the top of the pack or in external pockets, you’ll want the layers you’ll most likely be rotating through like a fleece or buff.