Best Backcountry Ski Backpack 2019

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If you plan on going backcountry skiing or exploring it’s essential that you have the right equipment, and that doesn’t stop with your skis, helmet and clothing. If you’re going backcountry you’ll need a decent backpack in which to store all your essential equipment plus other supplies such as food and drink.

In this article, we’ll be looking at the best backpacks available for backcountry trips. So, if you want, you can jump straight into the Reviews, they’re right after this short paragraph. But, if you need a little more information then after our Reviews you’ll find a Buyer’s Guide which goes into more detail including those all important features you should look for when selecting a backpack.

Note: we haven’t mentioned avalanche airbag style backpacks in this article. Because they are such a specialist piece of kit we feel they warrant a separate dedicated article. We’ll be looking at avalanche backpacks in more detail later in the season.

It is possible to buy backpacks which have the capacity for AvaLungs, for example, so if you feel you’ll need this essential in the future, it might be worth investing in a pack that allows you to add this feature.

Product

Detail

Our Rating

Price

Ortovox FREE RIDER 24

Best Backcountry Ski Backpack

Arva Calgary 26L

Budget Option

Dakine Heli 12L Backpack

Less Than 25L

There are a surprising number of bags available suitable for backcountry adventures. As with most things, there’s also a range of sizes and features too. If you want more help in deciding which type and style of pack are right for you, head on down to our Buyer’s Guide which is packed with info which will help you out. But for now, let’s jump right into the Reviews.

Ortovox FREE RIDER 24L - Best Backcountry Ski Backpack

There was a lot of competition for the top spot but in the end, it came down to a bag that offered both flexibility and comfort along with a high level of protection which also looked great. A tall order perhaps, but this FREE RIDER was up for the challenge.

This pack has everything you could need for a great day (or days) on the slopes.

Product Highlights

Size

24L

Weight

1280g

Material

420D nylon

Ski Attachment

Diagonal & vertical

Snowboard Attachment

Vertical

Helmet Holder

Yes

Hydration System Compatible

Yes (available separately)

Impact Spine Protector Compatible

SPS Flex Back Protector

Avalanche System Compatible

No

Warranty

2 years

The Good

From it’s Bright Inside safety compartment, which will enable you to find your essential kit, faster, axe loop, compression straps and multi-ski and board attachments, there’s a lot to like about this great pack.

The straps are easy to secure and give a stable and secure fit to a pack which offers a comfortable close to the body feel that almost makes you forget you’ve got it on!

Both skis and boards are mounted simply and quickly with minimal fuss and are just as easy to remove when the powder looks good.

Central to the Ortovox ethos is the safety of its users and it offers the FREERIDER line in three different sizes to ensure that the pack fits and therefore performs, perfectly. This is done through using both the back length measurement and the user's height providing sizes:

Short (S),

Regular (R) and

Long (L).

This gives you a better fit and ensures both men and women are comfortable wearing the pack.

The Bad

It’s evident that this pack has had a lot of R&D to produce a product that has a host of features in a slim pack that offers both protection and flexible usage. Given this, it’s been difficult to find faults with the FREE RIDER 24.

Pros

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    Signal whistle
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    Snowshoe attachment
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    Hiking pole fastening
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    Axe loop
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    Range of colors available
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    Water-resistant zippers

Cons

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    No laptop sleeve
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    Not avalanche bag compatible

Arva Calgary 26L - Best Budget Backcountry Ski Backpack

When we say budget, we don’t mean low quality. There is a good selection of reasonably priced packs available which still offer a high standard and are packed full of features. And this one is no exception.

With a dedicated safety compartment and plentiful room for your shovel and axe; this bag should have room for everything you need for a great day on the slopes.

Product Highlights

Size

26L

Weight

940g

Material

210D nylon diamond & 450D polyester ripstop

Ski Attachment

Diagonal

Snowboard Attachment

Vertical

Helmet Holder

Yes

Hydration System Compatible

Yes (available separately)

Impact Spine Protector Compatible

No

Avalanche System Compatible

No

Warranty

1 year

The Good

This has been created with a lot of thought surrounding the comfort factor with ergonomically designed shoulder and waist straps to support the weight. Add to this the foam back panels and you’ll be able to wear this pack for both short and longer treks.

The Bad

Although a great allround pack, it lacks spine protection and isn’t avy compatible which might put some potential users of this particular model. Still a well-made and thought out pack.

Pros

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    Water resistant
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    Ice axe carry
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    Goggle compartment
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    Extra large, highly visible zipper loops for easy and quick access
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    Plenty of pockets

Cons

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    Front access only

Dakine Heli 12L BackpackBest Backcountry Ski Backpack - less than 25L

If you’re wanting a pack that offers the compartments and organization of a standard pack but you don’t want the bulk or additional weight, you’re best looking for a pack of less than 20L. Or you could go for a dedicated Heli pack that offers all the above but in a smaller form.

This little beauty, made from the pros at Dakine, offers everything you could want for a great day on the slopes, but in a compact form. It’s lightweight but not light on features.

There’s space for your avy gear, snacks and spare gloves all in a slimline design that’s easy on the back and looks rad on the slopes.

Product Highlights

Size

12L

Weight

700g

Material

600D polyester

Ski Attachment

Diagonal

Snowboard Attachment

Vertical

Helmet Holder

Hydration System Compatible

Yes (available separately)

Impact Spine Protector Compatible

Yes (available separately)

Avalanche System Compatible

Warranty

Limited lifetime

The Good

With a slim, low-profile, this lightweight bag is ideal for a day on the slopes or a day at the park. It’s versatile and offers you the choice of ski or board fixings or, as some have decided - it can also carry a skateboard (unofficially of course!).

There’s plenty of space for layers, extra gloves, snacks and your camelback in this surprisingly roomy pack.

The Bad

This is a great bag, that’s been well designed and packs a lot of features into its tiny frame. However, there have been some reports of users struggling with the ski carry system.

Pros

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    Goggle pocket
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    Great selection of colors available
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    The slim design makes it great for chairlifts

Cons

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    No laptop sleeve
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    Hydration tube at the shoulder isn’t insulated

Dakine Heli Pro 20L - Best Backcountry Backpack for Women - less than 25L

People often assume that any backpack is suitable for a woman to use and while, technically, that’s right, if you plan on using your pack a lot, we’d recommend you consider purchasing a pack that’s been designed specially for women.

A woman’s body is different to a man’s in more than just height so it would be simplistic to imagine that all these manufacturers have done is simply knock a couple of inches off their standard designs.

No, they’ve understood the subtle differences and designed these packs for women without compromising on style, and most importantly quality. So, while you can purchase packs which are unisex, and they’ll be great, for serious use, it’s definitely worth taking a look at the women’s ranges available.

This slimline yet surprisingly roomy pack gives you the ideal pack to use for both days on the slopes and for everyday work or study.

Created from high-quality 600D polyester, it features a great selection of compartments and pockets to hold up to a 15 laptop in its own dedicated sleeve or your sunglasses and goggles in their own fleece-lined pocket.

This is an ideal pack for heli, work, slopes or school.

Product Highlights

Size

20L

Weight

800g

Material

600D Polyester

Ski Attachment

Yes

Snowboard Attachment

Yes

Helmet Holder

Hydration System Compatible

Yes (available separately)

Impact Spine Protector Compatible

Yes (available separately)

Avalanche System Compatible

No

Warranty

Limited lifetime

The Good

With a range of colors and features, this pack is one that can truly be multifunctional. Use it on the slopes or in school or for work. It’ll be equally as comfy on a hike too so if you’re looking for a good all-around pack, you won’t go far wrong with this one.

Features both a diagonal and A-frame ski carry system along with a vertical snowboard carry.

The Bad

If you’re looking for a bag that you can upgrade to an avalanche bag, this isn’t it. While it’s ISP compatible, there’s isn’t the space for an AvaLung inside this compact bag.

Pros

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    Laptop sleeve
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    Fleece lined goggle or sunglass pocket
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    Rescue whistle on the sternum strap

Cons

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    See below comment about sizing

Note: If you’re looking for a smaller capacity heli pack, consider the Dakine Heli 12L women’s pack which has everything you need in a neat package.

Deuter Women’s Rise 32 + 8L - Best Backcountry Backpack for Women - over 25L

If you’re looking for a pack that really packs, the Rise might be the pack for you.

Product Highlights

Size

32 + 8L

Weight

3lb 2oz

Material

Duratex (40% polyester & 60% nylon)

Ski Attachment

Yes

Snowboard Attachment

Yes

Helmet Holder

Hydration System Compatible

Yes (available separately)

Impact Spine Protector Compatible

Avalanche System Compatible

Warranty

Lifetime

The Good

There’s obviously been a lot of thought put into the design of this pack. It features a Delrin U-frame and removable X-frame support which enables the wearer to disperse the load for comfort and stability.

You won’t have issues with overheating wearing this pack thanks to the channel ventilation system that runs between the back panels.

There’s a lot of well thought out touches on this pack such as the wet clothing compartment and security pocket.

The Bad

While this is a great pack, if you are wanting to upgrade later and add an AvaLung for example, this bag doesn’t have the compatibility for an avalanche bag.

Pros

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    Front pocket for quick access to safety gear
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    Emergency whistle
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    Snowshoe carry
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    External shovel and ice axe carry
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    Front and rear access
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    Wet clothing compartment
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    Padded waist belt and shoulder straps

Cons

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    Not avalanche bag compatible

Accessories

If you find the perfect backpack but it doesn’t have a safety compartment or pocket, consider purchasing a separate one to use with your pack.

CAMP USA Be Safe Backpack

This small 10L sleeve allows you to stow all your essential safety kit in one place. Withit’s own straps you can either wear it or tuck the straps away and tuck it into your own pack. It offers a quick and convenient way to always keep your safety kit accessible.

Features

  • Shoulder straps that are easy to stow if using in your own pack.
  • 10L capacity.
  • Slots for a shovel.
  • Slots for a probe.
  • Pockets for essential gear such as headlamps and first aid kit.
  • Ultralightweight design weighs only 9.5oz.
  • Double zippers for easy access.
  • Limited 3-year warranty.

Backcountry Skiing Backpack Buyer’s Guide

You might already have a backpack that you use when skiing and so, you might wonder why you need a different one for backcountry skiing. Well, the chances are that if you regularly ski you’ll probably be skiing in and around a well stocked and organized resort where supplies and essentials are available quickly and easily including the necessaries such as food and water. Not to mention help at hand in an emergency!

You might ski for a while, stop for lunch, head up in the ski lift etc. and at these times your backpack is usually dumped under the table or on your lap. Taking the strain off your back and giving your body a chance to recover.

If you’re heading out backcountry skiing you’ll be wearing your backpack a lot more and it might be heavier then normal because it may have heavy bottles and equipment etc. This is when you need a backpack designed specifically for the demands of backcountry skiing.

A lot of people question why they can’t just use their regular backpack, one you might use for hiking for example. And while you might get a good quality hiking pack stuffed full of all manner of pockets, with padded shoulder straps etc. it won’t have some of the unique and vital features that only a true backcountry pack will have. For example:

  • Ski or snowboard carry straps allow you to safely stow your skis or board while leaving both hands free for hiking.
  • Avalanche equipment storage enables you to store vital gear such as your probe in specifically designed pockets which are easily accessible should they be required.

So, will you may be tempted to use any backpack if you’re serious about backcountry skiing you really should consider getting a pack that’s been designed just for that.

Here’s a few basic things to look for in a backcountry backpack:

  • Back support
  • Weight distribution
  • Fit
  • Size
  • Durability
  • Avalanche equipment storage (NOTE: this isn’t the same as an avalanche backpack)

Size

Size is everything when it comes to choosing a backpack, you don’t want to be carrying additional weight but then again, you do want a pack which can hold all your essential safety gear and other kit too. Remember you’re more likely to be wearing your pack a lot more than a usual ski trip so the size and weight will become more of an issue.

Typically backpack sizing is by volume which is shown in liters. When deciding on which size pack to buy, think about this:

  • Duration of your trip.
  • The gear and kit you need to carry.
  • Where you are going.
  • Your access to facilities such as lifts.
  • How many people are in your group, you might be sharing the load with others which will mean you may be carrying less or more.

Back Size

As well as the volume size of the pack, you should ensure that the back size is suitable. It is possible to achieve a better fit by choosing a pack which best matches your torso length, this will give you a more comfortable experience and less stress on your body. As always, different companies will have different sizes and ways that they measure size so, ensure you follow their guidelines when deciding which size is right for you.

Having a range of sizes is important if you are considering purchasing a unisex pack. There are a good range of packs available for women so, if you plan on using your pack a lot, opting for one that’s been designed solely for women may be a good move. It will ensure that the sizing and fit are perfect and this will go a long way to improving the overall experience and comfort when using the pack.

Fit

Equally as important is how the pack fits. A great fit is achieved by understanding your needs and getting a bag that fits comfortably on your body. As mentioned above, the pack length can play an important part in the overall feel and comfort of how your pack will fit on your body.

Look for backpacks which fit close to the body for a more natural and comfortable experience. Another important factor is the straps, we talk more about straps a little later in the article.

Weight 

The type of construction, size and fabrics used will determine the overall weight of the bag. Keeping things lightweight and portable is key to a good day on the slopes. A bag that is overly heavy will soon sap your energy and could mar your enjoyment of a great day out. Of course, how much you cram into the bag will also have a huge impact so something you definitely want to keep in mind when you’re packing up for a days skiing or boarding.

It is possible to purchase some sweet lightweight bags which will allow you to have the storage you need but without the weight. The lighter weight models do tend to cost more just because of the research and design that has gone into ensuring they’re as light as possible and the fabrics and buckles etc. used in their manufacture. But sometimes it’s worth spending a bit more money to get the perfect pack.

Straps

To ensure a good fit and to evenly distribute the weight, it’s essential that you have properly adjusted and comfortable straps. Typically the straps will be:

  • Shoulder Straps - the shoulder straps help to take the weight of the pack. For comfort look for padded, breathable shoulder straps.
  • Sternum or Chest Straps - these simple straps clip across the sternum (chest) and help to evenly distribute the weight. A safety whistle is often included on the chest strap so you can attract attention in an emergency.
  • Hip Fins or Belts - again help to distribute the weight and secure the pack firmly but comfortably on your body. These should be padded if possible for your comfort and may include pockets for small item storage.

Make sure that when you are wearing your pack you adjust all the straps and belts to evenly distribute the weight and ensure the pack is comfortable to wear.

Regularly inspect your backpack straps for signs of wear or fatigue that may cause the straps to break or come loose.

Compartments and pockets

Having your kit and supplies organized and easily identifiable is crucial for any well-planned trip but out in the cold when you’re backcountry, this is essential. A good backpack will provide you with a number of compartments and pockets designed to enable you to keep your kit dry and easy to access. There should be a range of different sized pockets which may include lined pockets for sunglasses or goggles, maps and other smaller items.

When thinking about what size of pack you want to purchase, think about the items you want to carry, how much they weigh and how bulky they are. This should help you figure out how large and what sort of compartments would suit you best.

Safety compartment

Probably one of the most important aspects of a pack that’s been designed specifically for the backcountry is the safety compartment. The ability to access your kit quickly in an emergency may make all the difference.

Light bright colored safety compartments have been created to enable you to find your equipment easier.

This is another reason why it’s important to consider purchasing a backpack designed for backcountry. A good backcountry backpack will have a designated compartment for your emergency kit which is quick and easy to access.

If you choose a pack which doesn’t have a dedicated safety compartment, it is possible to purchase these separately. Products such as the Camp USA Be Safe which is a small 10L bag, are ideal and can either be used on their own or stowed inside your own pack.

Features

There are many additional features available across a wide range of packs, some you may not be interested in whereas others are essential. It is worth reading down the list as there may be something that you’ve not come across before which could prove really useful to you. These may include:

  • Safety Compartment

  • Map Compartment

  • Hydration Compatibility - a hydration bladder is an easy and convenient way in which to carry fluids. They enable you to take onboard fluids whilst leaving your hands free and unencumbered. Plus, you don’t have to stop, unzip the pack and grab a bottle. Better for the environment too as you don’t need single use plastic bottles.

If you want to use a hydration system, check that the pack you choose is hydration compatible with a port for the hose.

  • Rope Fastenings
  • Ice Axe Holder
  • Whistle - often attached to the chest strap, a signal whistle can help draw people’s attention to your location in time’s of crisis.
  • Ski Fasteners - A-frame or diagonal ski attachments.
  • Snowboard Attachment
  • Snowshoe Attachment
  • Helmet Net - securely fastens your helmet to your pack when not in use. Having a proper helmet attachment prevents it from bouncing around on your back too.
  • Gear Loops
  • Hiking Pole Fastener
  • Key Holder
  • Spine Protector - these thin and flexible foam protectors are placed inside the backpack and can help prevent serious injuries to the central back.
  • Goggle/Sunglass Pocket - keep your shades or goggles safe in a lined pocket just for them. You’re less likely to damage or lose them and they’ll be readily available right when you need them.
  • Back/Side Access - this allows you to access items at the bottom of your pack without having to unpack items which are on the top, a great time safer.

Heli Skiing

If you’re planning a backcountry heli adventure you’ll be pleased to know there are now a good range of packs available which have been specifically designed just for that. We’ll talk more about Heli Skiing and the kit in a future article.

Warranty 

Often around 2 years. If a warranty is important to you then ensure you read the manufacturer’s T&Cs so you know what it covers.

It probably seems like there’s a lot of information here just for a backpack! But, if you’ve never purchased a dedicated backcountry pack before, we hope this has been of some help in making your choice.

Now, if you’re ready, head on up to our Reviews to check out our top pick of the best packs around.

Conclusion 


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