To ski with a backpack, or without one… now that is the question. For me, it’s an easy question to answer. A backpack is a must for anyone in the backcountry – good luck finding a pocket big enough for an avy shovel – but even when I’m on the resort, the amount of things I like to have with me (glove liners, hat, extra buff, water, snacks, headphones, multitool, maybe a beer or two) far exceeds the number of pockets I have, even when wearing a set of bibs. And not just any old backpack will do, you don’t want to spend your time on the slopes digging snow out of the outside water bottle pocket, or have it flapping around like a fifth limb on your way down the slopes. You want a ski/snowboard backpack. Furthermore, backcountry skiing and snowboarding is a technical endeavor, befitting technical gear, including your pack.
These are the best ski and snowboard backpacks for getting out in the backcountry.
What do you want in a ski or snowboard backpack?
Stream. Lined. The best backpack for playing in the snow is the one you forgot you were wearing. That mostly comes down to straps and the construction of the backpack. You definitely want a chest strap, and a hip strap helps as well to keep the backpack close to your body to reduce flappability as you speed down the hill. Furthermore, a dedicated skiing/snowboarding backpack will be constructed so that whatever you put in the backpack doesn’t move to much either, keeping the load high and tight on your back. Fleece-lined goggle pockets are a big plus (in my opinion). Some backpacks will also have a hydration sleeve on one of the straps to keep the hose of your water bladder from freezing, a useful feature.
What do you want in a backcountry backpack?
All of the above, plus a little extra. A good backcountry backpack will also have a dedicated avalanche gear pocket/sleeve to keep your probe and shovel easily accessible in case of an avalanche. Straps to secure your board or skis to the pack should you need to do a little boot-packing or hiking is essential. On that note, back-panel access is another useful feature, allowing you to get into the main compartment of your backpack even when you have skis or a snowboard strapped to the front. I also love a good helmet carry system, allowing you to take off your helmet for the ascent and shed heat in the most efficient way possible, through your noggin.
What are the best backpacks for backcountry?
The Dawn Patrol has been the king of backcountry day packs for years. It has every feature you could think of for a backcountry pack, including ski and snowboard straps, a helmet holder, insulated hydration sleeve, and my favorite, a back-zip panel to allow easy access to gear, even when your skis or snowboard are strapped to the front.
Another incredible backcountry pack is the Patagonia Snowdrifter. As with any Patagonia product, you can rest easy knowing this backpack has been thoughtfully designed and rigorously tested, as well as produced with as little environmental impact as possible. Notable features include a hydration sleeve on the shoulder strap, zippered back panel for gear access, straps for your skis or board, a helmet carry system, hip pockets for stashing small items – to be honest I think it’s a dead tie between this and the Black Diamond Dawn Patrol.
Osprey has specialized in backpacks for decades, and it shows with its thoughtfully-designed backcountry day packs. Quick clarification – the Soelden is the men’s version, and the Sopris is the women’s. Both are awesome. The internal organization in these Osprey packs is the best that I’ve seen. Not only are there slots for your avalanche gear but additional internal sleeves in the main compartment let you secure items like a small thermos. There’s also a mesh pouch for chapstick, wallet, etc., and (my favorite) a fleece-lined google pocket. Like the above options, external straps allow for ski, snowboard, and goggle carry, the straps boast sleeves to insulate your hydration tube, hip pouches, back-panel zipper for easy access – this pack has it all, and then some. If I had to pick a favorite between the Soelden/Sopris, the Dawn Patrol, and the Snowdrifter, I’d go with Osprey for the incredible internal organization, not to mention that it’s $10 cheaper.
This is the pack that I have been using for the past couple years. While it may not have every little feature that the above packs have, the Dakine Heli Pro has all of the necessary ones, and at a lower price point. The 2021 version has internal organization, back-panel access, an insulated hydration sleeve, even a helmet carry, but lacks hip pockets (a favorite feature of mine) and is a few liters smaller than most of the other packs on the list, but for a day trip into the backcountry it gets the job done and doesn’t break the bank.
Disclosure: The Inertia may receive a small commission if you make a purchase from the affiliate links included in this feature at no additional cost to you. Our goal is always to entertain, educate, and inspire, and we hope you find this feature useful.