Let’s talk about backcountry skiing safety for a minute, shall we? Diving into the world of backcountry skiing is hugely different than any shredding you’ll do at a ski resort. For starters, the terrain is variable; you won’t find any corduroy groomers out there. But more obvious, however, is the lack of chair lifts. The phrase “earn your turns” is widely used because it’s accurate: You don’t get to enjoy the swish swish of thigh-deep powder unless you put in the sweat equity during a few hours of climbing uphill. But, in order to jump into this wintry world of backcountry (or sidecountry) skiing, you need to be prepared with the proper safety equipment. This includes a backpack.
Sure, the backpack is nice to carry your snacks, water, and extra layers, but it’s more crucial because it stows away your safety equipment. Will any backpack do? I suppose, but backcountry-specific, touring backpacks have an outer pocket with specific locations for your avalanche shovel and probe. This makes the gear quick to access when you need it the most, so you aren’t stuck rummaging through your old Jansport while the clock is ticking.
Touring backpacks also have helpful features like insulated bladder sleeves, specific pockets for your touring skins, and avalanche airbag compartments, should you want one.
Now that we’ve covered all that, which touring backpack is best for you? Here are five great options. Powder days!
Clean and sleek, the Freerider boats a 30-liter capacity along with ski carries in both a vertical and diagonal direction. In addition to the avalanche gear storage, the pack also has a goggle-specific pocket (yay for no scratched lenses!), a sitting mat, and a helmet pocket. Bonus: If you’re a hardcore mountaineer who plans on skiing and climbing, there are a few climbing rack straps on the hip belt. How’s that for versatility?
The secret is in the name: G3 stands for “Genuine Guide Gear.” Knowing that, it makes sense that this ski-specific brand would double down on a fully-featured touring pack. It houses ski carries for both a diagonal and A-frame setup, and the pack swallows 30 liters of gear. For users who want the added sense of security (and have the budget), it comes with a fully-integrated Alpine 2.0 airbag system. And at just 1.5 pounds, this airbag system is one of the lightest on the market.
One plankers and two plankers, rejoice: the Dawn Patrol carries both skis and snowboards alike. This form-fitting pack is a great mid-weight choice for full days in the mountains and features niceties like ice tool pockets, a helmet holder, and a dedicated avy tool compartment. It doesn’t come with an airbag, but it is AvaLung ready if you already own one of those. And, here’s the best part: it rings in at less than $200.
If you’re the sort who heads out on multi-day tours or enjoy backcountry hut trips, the Ascent 40 may be the pack for you. It’s the largest on this list with a 40-liter capacity and three inner pockets for organization. Ortovox also accounted for other situations that crop up during multi-day adventures: hook into a rope or attach your sleeping pad onto the exterior with ease. Pro tip: It comes with an Avabag avalanche airbag.
The SkiMo Adventure Vest is a complete 180-degree turn from the Ascent 40. Skiers looking to go light and fast will appreciate the slim-and-trim design. Yet, it still houses 28 liters of gear which is more than others in this category. Smaller front pockets stash away gels and the back pocket is accessible without setting the pack down. For quick-moving mountaineers, the SkiMo Adventure also comes with a lined crampon-specific box.