The 8 Best Mountaineering Backpacks 2022

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The 8 Best Mountaineering Backpacks 2022

Before you head into the mountains with a pile of gear, you need some way to carry it. If you don’t already have a mountaineering backpack, it’s one of the best investments you can make in your mountaineering kit.

While in theory any backpack you have will work for mountaineering, mountaineering-specific backpacks make moving through the alpine much easier. They’re specially designed to be lightweight and extremely durable, while offering simple mechanisms to make sure your rope, helmet, harness, and other essential items are accessible.

In this guide, I’ll highlight 8 of the best mountaineering backpacks on the market today and explain how to pick the right mountaineering pack for you.

The 8 Best Mountaineering Backpacks

I’ve tried out dozens of mountaineering and alpine climbing backpacks to see which ones offer the right combination of weight, features, price, and comfort for the alpine. Here are my 8 top picks:

Black Diamond Speed 30

Overall Best Mountaineering Backpack

My winner
Best Mountaineering Backpacks - Black Diamond Speed 30
Pros

Durable and lightweight construction

Very versatile backpack design

Rope carry system under lid

Multiple sizes available

Cons

Straps can get in the way during technical climbs

The Black Diamond Speed 30 is my top pick for mountaineering. I can’t say enough good things about this pack, which I switched to using several years ago after one of my partners got one and let me try it out. It’s versatile, extremely well-designed, lightweight, and clocks in at a fairly affordable price point.

The thing I love most about the Speed backpack is that it’s so easy to access gear throughout the day. The unique strap system means I can unlock the ice axe attachments with one hand without taking the pack off, while a cinchable lid offers a convenient place to store extra layers or carry a rope. I’ve even used the compression straps on the sides to carry skis, although the pack isn’t optimized for touring.

Black Diamond makes the Speed pack in 22, 30, 40, and 50 liter versions. I think the 30 is perfect for a wide range of mountaineering trips, but the 22 can work for light packers. If you have a lot of overnight trips in mind, go for the 40-liter version.

Black Diamond Speed 30

Osprey Mutant 38

Most Versatile Mountaineering Backpack

My winner
Best Mountaineering Backpacks - Osprey Mutant 38
Pros

Extremely comfortable carry system

Integrated ski and helmet carry

EVA foam-padded hip belt

Plenty of external attachments

Cons

Heavy

The Osprey Mutant has been one of the most-praised packs in the mountaineering world since it was first released. For good reason: this pack offers an incredibly comfortable carry system, streamlined ice tool attachments, and a lid that provides quick access to small items throughout the day.

Importantly, Osprey designed this pack to do it all. It can carry skis, it fits a 3-liter hydration bladder, it includes a helmet carry system, and it has a foam-padded hip belt that accommodates a climbing harness.

The only reason the Mutant didn’t earn my top pick is its weight. At 3 lb 4 oz with the lid attached, this pack is more than a pound heavier than many of the other options on this list. That said, the extra weight comes with extra comfort and more features. So if minimalist packs aren’t your thing, the Mutant is a great choice.

Osprey Mutant 38

Hyperlite Prism

Best Fast and Light Pack

My winner
Best Mountaineering Backpacks - Hyperlite Prism
Pros

Extremely lightweight

Includes a lid, tool carry, and ski carry

Very comfortable if packed well

Cons

Very expensive

Minimal back panel and hip belt

On the other end of the spectrum from the Osprey Mutant is the Hyperlite Prism. At 1 lb 13 oz, this 40-liter pack is ridiculously light. The only lighter pack I tested is the Arc’teryx Alpha FL 45, which lacks a lid and doesn’t have any of the adjustment straps or attachment points that the Prism boasts.

The Prism achieves its weight reduction by using ultralight materials and a very thin back panel. That means that packing this backpack becomes something of an art form, since there’s almost no framing to give it structure. It also means the pack is less durable than other options, although in my testing it held up much better than I initially anticipated.

At nearly $400, the Hyperlite Prism won’t be for everyone. But if you’re trying to squeeze every last ounce out of your mountaineering kit, the Prism can help you cut a ton of weight without reducing how much you can carry.

Hyperlite Prism

Ortovox Peak 45

Best Ski Mountaineering Pack

My winner
Best Mountaineering Backpacks - Ortovox Peak 45
Pros

Padded hip belt with zipper pocket

A-frame and diagonal ski carry

Dedicated avalanche safety pocket

Available in a Light version

Cons

Heavy

No system for strapping on crampons

The Ortovox Peak 45 is my go-to ski touring and ski mountaineering backpack and has been for years. The pack is superbly designed. It features a thick, padded hip belt with a zippered pocket on one side and an attachment point for carabiners on the other. There’s also an exterior storage pocket with sleeves for your shovel and probe, making it easy to retrieve your rescue gear in case of an avalanche.

The pack itself is spacious and offers everything I could ask for, including rope and helmet carry systems. It also supports both A-frame and diagonal ski carry, and some of the straps can be tucked into pockets sewn in the pack when descending.

The drawback to the Peak 45 is that it’s on the heavy side, even for a winter pack. It weighs in at 3 lbs 4 oz. Notably, Ortovox makes a Peak Light 40 pack that offers a similar design and saves nearly a pound of weight. Personally, I prefer the more robust pack for touring days, but the Peak Light is a great option for all-around ski mountaineering adventures.

Ortovox Peak 45

Arc’teryx Alpha FL 45

Best Alpine Climbing Pack

My winner
Best Mountaineering Backpacks - Arc’teryx Alpha FL 45
Pros

Ultralight

Expands from 32 to 45 liters

Bungee system for carrying ice tools

Cons

Not very breathable

Only one small exterior pocket

The Arc’teryx Alpha FL 45 is built for technical climbing in the alpine. It’s featherlight at just 1 lb 8 oz and sits close to your back to help you center your weight. It’s also worth noting that the 45-liter designation is the maximum capacity you can achieve by extending the sleeve. Without extension, the pack is a more comfortable and manageable 32 liters.

Another thing I like about this pack is that it doesn’t have a lot of finicky extras, like straps that you need to secure so they don’t catch on rock. A simple bungee system on the front of the pack allows you to carry ice tools and crampons securely.

The snug fit does mean that this isn’t the most breathable pack I’ve worn in the mountains. However, that’s not a major issue when you’re moving in a stop-and-go fashion as is often the case during technical climbs.

Arc’teryx Alpha FL 45

Gregory Alpinisto 50

Best Overnight Mountaineering Backpack

My winner
Best Mountaineering Backpacks - Gregory Alpinisto 50
Pros

More robust internal frame than most packs

Padded back panel and hip belt

Compatible with skis, harness, and ice tools

Diagonal zippers to access gear easily

Cons

Heavy construction

Closure system could be improved

The Gregory Alpinisto 50 is one of my favorite backpacks for multi-day trips in the mountains. The 50-liter capacity doesn’t count the extra space you get underneath the lid, so this is a larger pack than you might think. You’ll have plenty of room to store a sleeping bag and multiple days’ worth of food alongside your technical gear. Zippers running diagonally along the sides of the pack make it easy to get to your stuff without unpacking everything.

I’ve found this pack to be very comfortable, which is important when carrying a lot of weight. The back panel and hip belt are generously padded, and the internal frame is similar to what you’ll find on popular backpacking backpacks.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, this pack is one of the heaviest I reviewed. It weighs in at 3 lb 12 oz, so it’s not the pack I would choose unless I’m carrying a lot of weight and want the extra stability.

Gregory Alpinisto 50

Patagonia Ascensionist 35

Best Mountaineering Day Pack

My winner
Best Mountaineering Backpacks - Patagonia Ascensionist 35
Pros

Lightweight backpack design

Removable framesheet

Very convenient rope attachment

Can handle skis and a harness

Cons

Roll-top rather than a lid

Limited padding, especially around the back

The Patagonia Ascensionist 35 is a relatively small, do-it-all pack that’s perfect for long days in the alpine. It’s fairly lightweight at 1 lb 15 oz, and you can remove the internal padding and framesheet to make it even lighter for big pushes. The pack is comfortable to carry despite being lightweight, and I appreciated the small amount of padding on the straps and belt.

The Ascensionist features a roll-top design rather than a lid, making it somewhat unique among the packs I tested. While I personally don’t like this design as much as a lid, it does make carrying a rope simpler since you can simply coil it on top of the pack and strap it down. However, you do have to unroll the bag every time you want to grab a piece of clothing or a bar.

The pack also features straps for ice axe, crampon, helmet, and ski carry. In other words, it’s versatile enough to take on just about any adventure you have in mind.

Patagonia Ascensionist 35

REI Flash 45

Best Budget Mountaineering Backpack

My winner
Best Mountaineering Backpacks - REI Flash 45
Pros

Comfortable to carry

Front panel for stuffing a jacket

Rope ski carry options

Affordable

Cons

Front panel doesn’t have a zipper

Limited ski carry options

The REI Flash 45 is one of the most affordable backpacks for mountaineering and it includes many of the same features as more expensive mountaineering bags. It uses a lid closure that cinches down to carry a rope or helmet, and straps on the sides of the pack can be used for A-frame ski carry. The back panel and hip belt are also generously padded, so it’s pretty comfortable to carry.

The Flash also has a stretchy panel on the front that’s ideal for stuffing a down jacket and snacks, plus external pockets for water bottles on either side. The only problem with this design is that since it isn’t zippered closed, it is exposed to snow and rain. I also wouldn’t recommend putting a shovel or probe in that pocket if you use the Flash 45 as a ski pack, since your rescue gear could be lost if you take a tumble.

The Flash 45 weighs in at 2 lbs 8 oz, which isn’t bad considering the price point and padding. Overall, it’s a solid backpack if you’re on a budget, although it’s also the least mountaineering-specific pack I tested.

REI Flash 45

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How to Choose the Best Mountaineering Backpack

With so many options to choose from, how do you decide which mountaineering backpack is the best fit for your next adventure? There are a couple key factors to consider when picking a mountaineering bag.

Capacity

The best place to start when comparing mountaineering backpacks is carrying capacity. A backpack’s internal capacity is typically measured in liters. Depending on what type of gear you need, I’ve found a 30-liter pack is plenty for a day trip into the alpine. It offers plenty of space to pack extra layers, food and water, and a harness, and your bag won’t be so stuffed that it explodes open when you uncinch it.

That said, you’ll notice that most of the top packs I listed are around 40 liters in capacity. The reason for that is that 40 liters gives you more options. You can put a rope or helmet in your pack instead of carrying them on the outside. You can also more easily carry skis, since 40-liter bags tend to have taller frames. If you pack smart, you can even cram in enough extra gear for an overnight in 40 liters.

Weight

The next thing I look at when comparing packs is weight. To me, pack weight is especially important because it’s part of my mountaineering “base weight”—the weight I’m carrying on every trip, regardless of what kind of layers or gear I need.

Ultralight backpacks like the Arc’teryx Alpha FL 45 and the Hyperlite Prism weigh in at less than two pounds, but most packs will fall somewhere between two and three pounds. Added weight is usually due to designs incorporating thicker, more durable materials and stiffer internal frames. So, you’ll have to make a trade-off between comfort and weight.

Padding and Framing

Padding goes a long way toward making a pack easier to carry. Most packs have at least a little padding in the shoulder straps, and many of the heavier packs I tested use EVA foam in the hip belt and back panel to make the bag more comfortable.

When thinking about whether you need extra padding, keep in mind how you plan to use your pack. You probably won’t be carrying a ton of weight on day trips, so padding might not be necessary. But on overnight adventures, when you have the added weight of a mountaineering tent, sleeping bag, stove, and extra food, you’ll be glad to have some extra cushioning.

Internal framing is another design element that dramatically improves stability and comfort, but adds a significant amount of weight. Again, having a stiff framesheet is more important if you plan to carry heavy loads, like on overnight trips. Some mountaineering backpacks like the Patagonia Ascensionist 35 allow you to remove the framesheet, which is great for summit bids when you want to move fast and light.

Gear Carry Features

Straps and attachment points are another major thing to consider when picking a mountaineering backpack. After all, a lot of your gear—and especially sharp items like ice axes and crampons—is going to go on the outside of your bag.

Every mountaineering backpack should have a way to carry two ice axes or ice tools. Personally, I prefer a sleeve on the bottom of the pack with a plastic buckle rather than an ice axe loop, since the clip allows you to access your axe without taking your pack off. In addition, many mountaineering packs offer integrated straps to carry a helmet and bungee cord to carry crampons on the outside of your pack.

For ski mountaineering, you’ll need a way to carry your skis on your pack. Ideally, look for packs like the Ortovox Peak 45 that offer both A-frame and diagonal carry options. If you use a splitboard, make sure that your pack’s straps will accommodate the board’s extra width.

How Much Does a Mountaineering Backpack Cost?

Mountaineering backpacks can range pretty widely in price, but expect to pay around $150-$225 for a high-quality pack. My favorite pack, the Black Diamond Speed 30, costs $160.

Of course, ultralight designs tend to be more expensive. The Hyperlite Prism, for example, will run you $395.

Summary

A mountaineering-specific backpack is one of the best investments you can make in your alpine arsenal. These packs offer streamlined, lightweight designs that make it easier to move through the mountains and access your gear when you need it. Importantly, they also have attachment points so you can carry mountaineering gear like ice axes, helmets, crampons and skis.

I recommend the Black Diamond Speed 30 as the best all-around mountaineering backpack you can get today. It’s fairly affordable and lightweight, and offers a versatile set of straps and pockets to keep your gear close to hand. If you’re willing to trade some added weight for greater carrying comfort, the Osprey Mutant 38 is a great choice.

Common questions

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I live in Bellingham, Washington, at the base of the wild North Cascades. Over the last ten years, I've explored much of the region's steep terrain and endless layers of ridges and peaks, both on foot and on skis, often linking far-flung ridges together to push deeper into the range.

*The information on this site is based on research and first-hand experience but should not be treated as medical advice. Before beginning any new activity, we recommend consulting with a physician, nutritionist or other relevant professional healthcare provider.

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