When you’re deep into the backcountry and high up on a technical climb, you need a backpack that can perform as well as you in the mountains. Mountaineering is a serious pursuit that requires a lot of gear, so a durable, reliable pack is a must-have on all trips to the alpine.
But there are many different mountaineering backpacks out there today, so it can be tricky to find the one that’s right for your needs. To help you out, we’ve created this mountaineering backpack buyer’s guide complete with reviews of the best mountaineering backpacks around so you can spend less time researching and more time in the mountains.
If you don't have time for the details, here are our picks for the best rated mountaineering backpacks:
Table of Contents
- Mountaineering Backpack Buyer’s Guide
- Best Rated Mountaineering Backpack Brands
- Best Mountaineering Backpack on the Market Reviews
- The Verdict
Mountaineering Backpack Buyer’s Guide
Here are some of the most important features to look for when buying a mountaineering backpack:
The capacity of a backpack directly affects how much you can carry in the mountains. Backpack capacity is expressed in terms of liters, so it’s important that you choose a pack that’s appropriate for your needs. In general, a pack up to about 50L is ideal for day mountaineering trips, while you’ll usually need a pack that can accommodate more than 50L of gear for an overnight expedition.
Top Loading v. Panel Loading
How a pack loads gear can greatly affect your ability to pack it properly. There are two main types of packs: top loading and panel loading.
Top loading packs are the more traditional model and are basically a large tube that you can stuff gear into. A panel loading pack is more like a school backpack, featuring zippered compartments for your gear. The type of pack you choose is more or less a personal preference, but top loading packs do tend to be lighter and easier to pack.
Straps, Pockets, and Clips
While some people prefer lots of straps, pockets, and clips on their packs, others can’t stand these accessories. However, most mountaineering packs will come with at least some straps for crampons and mountaineering axes.
Other potential pockets and straps include options to tie down a rope or a climbing helmet. Plus, many packs will use larger plastic buckles and clips to make it easier to operate your pack with gloves on. Others will opt for metal buckles that are unlikely to break in the cold like some plastic models tend to do.
The weight of a pack is always a concern because you don’t want to carry around more weight on your back than necessary. While it used to be true that lightweight packs sacrificed a lot of durability for weight savings, there are many modern-day lightweight mountaineering packs that are as robust as ever. However, most lightweight mountaineering packs will cost more than their heavier counterparts. Thus, weight savings are often a compromise with affordability.
An alternative to ultralight backpacks is to get a mountaineering pack that has an option to “strip-down” the pack to its bare essentials. Many modern packs will allow you to remove the top lid, the internal frame, straps, and other non-essentials to help you customize your gear and reduce your overall weight. These kinds of packs can be a good option for people who want a versatile lightweight pack that doesn’t break the bank.
The last thing anyone wants is to spend a lot of money on a pack only to find that it gets destroyed after one climbing trip. Thus, durability is of the utmost importance for mountaineering packs.
Traditionally, the most durable mountaineering packs are made with thick ripstop nylon, but these tend to be quite heavy. However, there is now a new breed of ultralight, durable packs that are made with Dyneema. While these packs can really withstand a lot of use, the downside to Dyneema packs is that they are expensive, with some models costing upwards of $400-$500. So, durability is generally a compromise between weight savings and affordability.
Best Rated Mountaineering Backpack Brands
Buying a mountaineering backpack is a major investment, so it’s nice to buy from a trusted brand. Here’s some background on four of the major mountaineering backpack manufacturers in the industry:
Black Diamond is a Utah-based brand that started out as a climbing gear manufacturing company. Since their inception, they’ve constantly pushed the envelope, creating new gear for a variety of disciplines. When it comes to their backpacks, Black Diamond’s line-up of mountaineering packs is second to none when it comes to value, durability, and quality.
Arc’teryx is a Canadian gear manufacturer that’s known for creating some of the highest quality gear in the world. Although their foray into the world of backpacks is quite recent, they’ve produced some of the best lightweight mountaineering backpacks that the world has ever seen, though they are quite expensive.
Founded in southern Germany in 1980, Ortovox is better known as an avalanche transceiver manufacturing company, but they also make a fantastic line up of outdoor gear. Their backpacks combine functionality, style, and lightweight into one great package. Plus, they make mountaineering packs for people with smaller and larger frames, so it’s easy to find one that fits your needs.
Osprey is a well-known backpack manufacturer that recently started developing packs for more technical pursuits. Although their backpacking and day packs are their most popular products, they also have a great selection of quality mountaineering packs for a variety of technical pursuits.
Best Mountaineering Backpack on the Market Reviews
Here are our reviews of the 10 best backpacks for mountaineering out there today:
1. Osprey Mutant 38
A climbing and mountaineering specific pack, the Osprey Mutant 38 is a solid all-around pack for the mountains. Designed by athletes, the Mutant 38 is perfect for long days in the alpine. It has simple ice tool attachment points and glove-friendly buckles throughout the pack to reduce frustration on cold winter days.
It also has a hip belt with built-in gear loops that can be clipped behind the pack for more technical climbing. The Mutant 38 has a harness and rope carry system, too, so packing for a day outside is even easier, regardless of the day’s events. You can even strip the Mutant 38 down to its core for a lightweight version on alpine climbing trips. The versatility of the Mutant 38 makes it one of the best winter mountaineering packs out there today.
2. Arc'teryx Alpha FL 45
Designed specifically with the ultralight community in mind, the Arc’teryx Alpha FL 45 is our pick for the best lightweight mountaineering backpack. Although it’s incredibly lightweight, the Alpha FL 45 also packs in a whole lot of performance, thanks to its comfortable back panel and highly breathable straps.
The pack itself has enough capacity for a long day in the mountains or even a minimalist alpine overnight on a remote route. Unique among mountaineering packs, the Alpha FL also does away with the traditional lid, opting for a roll-top, instead, which reduces weight and increases weather resistance. Plus, even though it’s lightweight, the Alpha FL 45 is as durable as any pack around.
3. Black Diamond Blitz 28
If you venture out into harsh conditions and don’t want to lug around a heavy pack, the Black Diamond Blitz 28 might be your answer. The Blitz 28 is a simple lightweight mountaineering pack with all the tools you need for the mountains and nothing more.
It features two easy-to-use ice tool pockets and a strippable design that lets you reduce the pack’s weight to the bare minimum. The top closure is easy to use, even with one hand, for fast trips in the mountains. Better yet, the Blitz 28 is made with ultralight Dynex, which keeps your gear dry, so it's the best waterproof mountaineering pack in our review.
4. Mountain Hardwear Alpine Light 35
Made specifically with fast and light adventures in mind, the Mountain Hardwear Alpine Light 35 is the best alpine mountaineering backpack in our review. Stripped down to its core, the alpine Light 35 features a highly durable and fully waterproof Dyneema construction that includes everything you need and nothing you don’t.
Inside, the Alpine Light 35 is like a giant tube that can absorb all your gear. On the outside, the Alpine Light 35 has two external side pockets for stashing smaller gear, as well as ice axe cradles and a crampon attachment point. You can even use the side straps for an A-frame ski carry, so the Alpine Light 35 even wins our award for one of the best lightweight ski mountaineering backpacks out there.
5. Black Diamond Speed 22
Simple and affordable, the Black Diamond Speed 22 is a great companion for quick missions on alpine routes. With plenty of options to strip down the pack to the bare essentials, the Speed 22 is specifically designed for moving fast over complex terrain. While it’s not ideal for longer trips, it’s a great pack to have with you on the more technical sections of a climb.
The Speed 22 is a top loading pack with attachment points for ice tools and small crampon straps for on-the-go storage. It’s compatible with hydration systems and even has a removable lid for lightweight adventures.
6. Black Diamond Mission 75
Our pick as the best large mountaineering pack, the Black Diamond Mission 75 is a beast of a backpack. The Mission 75 is capable of swallowing much more gear than you could imagine while remaining comfortable throughout your trip.
One of the best multi-day mountaineering backpacks on the market today, the Mission 75 features a simple, tube-like design with an exterior crampon pocket and ice axe straps, but little else. The pack is hydration system compatible and ultra-durable, so it’s a must-have on any mountaineering expedition.
7. Ortovox Peak Light 32S
The Ortovox Peak Light 32S is specifically designed for people with smaller frames, making it one of the best rated mountaineering backpacks for women. Made with alpine activities in mind, especially ski mountaineering, the Peak Light 32S uses broad shoulder and hip straps to better distribute the pack’s weight during long days in the mountains.
Along the back panel, the Peak Light 32S uses Swiss wool to help wick away moisture for added comfort. The best part? This top-loading pack even has a separate zippered front compartment, which makes it easy to store and access all of your snow safety and avalanche rescue gear for when you need it most.
8. Lowe Alpine Peak Ascent 42
The Lowe Alpine Peak Ascent 42 is a simple and affordable backpack for all-mountain adventures. It features a traditional top-loading design that’s stripped down to the basics to cut weight. The Peak Ascent 42 has glove-friendly buckles, which make it great for winter use, as well as a large grab handle that makes attaching it to belay stances a breeze.
The pack itself has a removable lid, so it’s easy to cut down on weight. It also features an under-lid strap for fastening either ropes or crampons, which makes packing on the go quick and easy in any conditions.
9. Mammut Trion Pro 35
A solid all-around pack, the Mammut Trion Pro 35 is a good companion on a variety of different mountain pursuits. Although it’s not considered a top-of-the-line performer, it features a very robust frame that can last for years, even with heavy use, thanks to its very durable ripstop nylon fabric.
The Trion Pro 35 has two separate ice axe storage systems for easy customization, as well as a large back zipper that allows super easy access to the main pack compartment. There’s also a large front zipper that provides a secondary compartment for storing your crampons or shovel in foul conditions.
10. Gregory Alpinisto 50
The Gregory Alpinisto 50 features a sleek and updated design that’s made for comfort and functionality in the mountains. The pack’s harness and hipbelt are crafted to work well with a climbing harness on technical routes for added comfort.
It also features all anodized aluminum buckles for extra durability, as well as a side zipper for easy access. If you’re headed out on a lightweight mission, you can even strip down most of the Alpinisto 50’s features for weight savings during high-octane trips into the alpine.
Mountaineering backpacks are unique. They often prioritize weight savings and functionality over style and comfort. But, when you search for a new mountaineering backpack, you have to consider the kind of climbing that you enjoy. Then, you can start to narrow your options to find the best mountaineering backpack for all of your future adventures.