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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
Durable and lightweight construction
Very versatile backpack design
Rope carry system under lid
Multiple sizes available
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
Best Fast and Light Pack
Includes a lid, tool carry, and ski carry
Very comfortable if packed well
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.
If you’re trying to squeeze every last ounce out of your mountaineering kit, the Prism can help you cut a lot of weight without reducing how much you can carry.
Osprey Mutant 38
Most Versatile Mountaineering Backpack
Extremely comfortable carry system
Integrated ski and helmet carry
EVA foam-padded hip belt
Plenty of external attachments
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
Ortovox Peak 45
Best Ski Mountaineering Pack
Padded hip belt with zipper pocket
A-frame and diagonal ski carry
Dedicated avalanche safety pocket
Available in a Light version
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 SL
Best Overall Mountaineering Gloves
Lightweight, versatile glove
Dexterous, snug design is good for climbing
Gore Windstopper outer
Durable leather palm
Cannot fit liners underneath
The Arc’teryx Alpha SL is, simply put, a glove I couldn’t live without. It’s on my hands or in my pack on virtually every trip I take into the alpine. It’s water resistant enough for spring skiing, dexterous enough for ice climbing, and ventilated enough to wear on cool summer mornings.
What really makes the Alpha SL work for me in so many situations is that it has just the right amount of insulation. The inner fleece lining and Gore Windstopper outer layer combine to keep my hands warm in below-freezing temps, but I rarely find myself sweating into them when heading uphill.
If I get too cold, it’s easy to throw a mitt on top of the Alpha SL and use them as a pair of glove liners. Just don’t expect to fit liners under these gloves, as they’re quite snug.
Arc'teryx Alpha SL
Gregory Alpinisto 50
Best Overnight Mountaineering Backpack
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
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
Lightweight backpack design
Very convenient rope attachment
Can handle skis and a harness
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
Comfortable to carry
Front panel for stuffing a jacket
Rope ski carry options
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
*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.