If you’re in a rush and want to find out what the best mountaineering backpack is, we recommend the Osprey Aerial Pro 65 pack.
It doesn’t matter how tricked out your mountaineering kit is if you don’t have a way to carry it. Just like your ice axes and rope, a backpack is an invaluable piece of gear that can make or break your next alpine excursion.
Theoretically, any backpack will do the trick, but the best mountaineering backpacks have special features that make them even better for mountain climbing. They’re lightweight and streamlined, durable enough to withstand the harsh alpine conditions, and they have special attachments for certain gear – like ice axes, ropes, and crampons. We’ve taken a look at some of the best packs on the market to help you find the right one for your next adventure.
In this article, we’ll be reviewing the following best mountaineering backpacks:
- REI Co-op Traverse 60 Pack – Editor’s Choice
- Mountain Hardwear AMG 55 Pack – Best for Ski Mountaineering
- Osprey Women’s Aerial Pro 65 Pack – Best Overall
- Gregory Women’s Maya 25 Pack – Best Daypack
- Deuter Men’s Aircontact Core 65 + 10 Pack – Best Expandable Pack
- ALPS Mountaineering Baja 40 L Pack – Lightest Mountaineering Pack
- MYSTERY RANCH Men’s Glacier Pack – Best Bang for Your Buck
- Black Diamond Equipment Mission 55 – Best for Technical Climbs
There are few things more important than capacity when it comes to mountaineering backpacks. Capacity is measured in liters, which can be a little confusing if you don’t have any way to visualize what that would look like.
To give you some sense of what you’re working with, a 30 liter pack works well for day hikes. It’s on the smaller side, but still large enough for you to carry a day’s worth of food and water, a couple extra layers of clothes, and perhaps even a harness and rope. It’s the ideal size for quick, out-and-back trips where you know you won’t need a lot of supplies, and you value staying lightweight and mobile.
A 70 liter pack is what I use for multi-day trips into the mountains. It gives you plenty of space to pack a sleeping bag, cold weather tent, a propane burner, food, layers, harness, helmet, rope, crampons, and anything else you might need. Backpacks this size are a bit heavier, though, simply because they have a more solid frame that provides support.
50 liter packs are going to be your happy middle ground. You can still shove a lot into them, including skis, since the frame is going to be relatively tall. At the same time, staying light and mobile isn’t going to be as hard as it would be with a 70 liter pack.
You’ll notice that we’ve reviewed mountaineering backpacks that fall all across the capacity spectrum. What you end up choosing really boils down to the length of time you’re going to be on the mountain, and how much equipment you think you’ll need to bring.
Read More: How to Choose a Backpack for Your Next Trek
The weight of your pack is going to be sitting on your back every time you hike, regardless of where you go and what you decide to take with you. Most mountaineering backpacks will fall between 2-4 pounds, though there are a couple that go as high as 7 pounds.
Size definitely contributes to the fluctuation in weight, but what it mostly comes down to is the stiffness of the frame and the durability of the materials. It’s usually safe to say that the heavier the pack weighs, the longer it will last, and the more comfortable it will be to carry. So, you’ll have to make some sacrifices one way or another, depending on what features you value more.
Gear Carry Features
Mountaineering requires a few pieces of gear that are somewhat exclusive to the sport. I’m thinking about ice axes and crampons here, but even harnesses, helmets, and ropes don’t make much of an appearance outside the rock climbing world. If you’re going to be carrying these items with you, especially the sharper objects like ice axes, you need a backpack with specialized gear carry features.
Many mountaineering backpacks are designed with ice axe/trekking pole loops that allow you to securely store these items on the outside of your pack. Packing your axes in a sleeve and attaching them to the bottom of your pack with the help of a couple plastic buckles is also an option. This method makes it easier to grab them without needing to take off your pack in the process.
It’s also common to find large, zippered, front pockets that can comfortably house your crampons and other gear that you need to be able to access easily. Also look for external storage opportunities, like daisy chains, for an easy way to hang bulkier gear on the outside of your pack. This setup is perfect for items like your helmet and harness that can take up a lot of usable space on the inside of your backpack.
Your backpack is going to take a beating over time, so you should find an option that has sufficient durability. Specifically, the denier (pronounced: den-yer) of the backpack fabric is what you should be paying the most attention to.
Denier is measured in an interesting way. Take a fiber from any material, like nylon, and roll out 9 kilometers of it. Measure the weight in grams, and voila, you’ve got your denier.
For example, if you took a 9 kilometer strand of human hair, it would weigh about 20 grams. So the denier of human hair would be denoted as 20d. Thicker and heavier fabric equates to a higher denier, and by extension, greater durability as well.
To provide a little comparison, the denier of many tent floors is about 150d. That being said, most of the backpacks that we’ve reviewed below land somewhere between 200d-550d, depending on what part of the backpack you’re looking at. You’re going to get a durable option no matter what you choose, but something like the Mountain Hardware AMG 55 pack is going to give you the best results.
Padding and Framing
Padding is an essential component of any mountaineering backpack. It goes a long way toward making your trip more enjoyable, but you may be surprised to find that it’s not always necessary.
On a smaller day pack, like the Gregory Zulu 30, padding isn’t very important. You won’t be wearing it for an extended amount of time, and the weight of the pack is limited by its capacity.
However, if you’re using a larger backpack on an overnight trip, a smart use of padding will save you a lot of pain and discomfort. Look for cushioning on the shoulder straps, hip belt, and back panel of the pack if you expect to be carrying a lot of weight.
Likewise, internal framing is an important component to look at. Small and light backpacks don’t need as much support and stability as larger backpacks do, so you can typically get away without much framing in these. However, long, multi-day treks necessitate the use of an internal frame to give your pack some structure. Without it, you’ll experience a lot of discomfort when the contents of your pack are constantly shifting with every step you take.
You can expect to pay between $150-$250 for a high-quality mountaineering backpack. Certain models will be more expensive, especially if they have a lot of bells and whistles, or they fall in the “ultralight” category. As far as the products in this review go, the Osprey Aether is going to be the most expensive at $400.
Best Mountaineering Backpacks – Reviewed
Comfortable and easy to customize, the REI Co-op Traverse has all of the features that you could ever need in a mountaineering backpack, making it my personal favorite product in this review.
Reasonably priced despite being a relatively large backpack, the REI Co-op Traverse 60 is a reliable option for folks of all mountaineering ability. It sits at the top of the pack (pun intended) in a number of different ways, most noticeably in how well you’ll be able to customize it.
The internal frame provides some much-needed support for longer hikes, but it can get heavy if you’re attempting a bid for the summit. If you find yourself in a situation like that, or you just don’t see a need to use the frame, you can remove it without too much trouble. It’s also possible to take the lid off, whether you want to cut back on weight even more, or you have another reason why you don’t want it.
There are quite a few straps that can be adjusted to get the pack to sit perfectly on you. And as far as gear storage goes, there are a couple different features that you can take advantage of. The stretchy outer pocket is perfect for crampons, or other items that you want to be able to grab quickly. You can also lash your ice axes or trekking poles to the attachment loops on the front of the pack, or you could clip them to the bottom using the adjustable buckle.
When packing your backpack, try to keep the load under 30 pounds, as the hip belt and back panel start to lose effectiveness above this weight. If you follow these guidelines, though, you’re in for a pretty comfortable hike.
– Very customizable
– Comfortable to carry
– Removeable frame and pockets
– Plenty of opportunities for internal and external gear storage
– Hydration compatible
– Water resistant
– Some of the thinner fabric can shred against rock
Best for Ski Mountaineering
Specifically designed for ski mountaineering, the Mountain Hardwear AMG is highly durable, and it has a crampon pocket that can fit ski and boot crampons at the same time.
A true beast of a backpack, the Mountain Hardware AMG was designed specifically for mountaineering – in particular, ski mountaineering. It’s a good option for both A-frame and diagonal ski carry, with a crampon pocket big enough to hold both ski and boot crampons at the same time.
Some will tell you that the snow tool pocket is too small on this pack, and I would have to agree with them. It’s barely large enough to fit a shovel, let alone skis, probes, or other items that you might want to shove in there.
In terms of sheer comfort, though, it can hardly be beat. The articulating hip belt will feel good around your waist, regardless of what position you’re trying to shift your pack into. Even if you’re loading it full with 40 pounds of gear, it offers a surprisingly comfortable fit and plenty of stability. Various compression straps make it easy to sculp the backpack into the ideal shape for your particular trip, as well.
If you look at the denier of the fabric being used, you’ll find that it’s pretty tough stuff, and should last you a long time. Even more so for those of you who work primarily with snow, instead of rock. However, either way, durability is definitely a strong point when it comes to this pack.
– Great for ski mountaineering
– Comfortable fit
– Nice compression straps
– Snow tool pocket is a bit small
A minimalistic, no-nonsense pack, the Osprey Aerial is our pick for the best overall because it has everything that you need and nothing that you don’t, creating a highly efficient design.
As one of the largest (and most expensive) products in our review, you’d think the Osprey Aerial Pro 65 would be unbearably heavy. However, at just under 4 pounds, it’s not too different from a pack that’s 20 liters smaller.
I’m a fan of the Aerial because of its no-nonsense construction and minimalist design. You don’t get a lot of those extra pockets and features that add weight where it isn’t needed, but you’ll still have plenty of storage space to bring everything you need for a few days in the mountains. Your crampons, ice axes, pickets, rope, and sleeping pad can all be lashed to the outside of the pack with ease, opening up the inside for items that need a little more protection.
Because it is such a barebones product, Osprey was really able to focus on comfort and support. The internal frame is very strong, and the bag itself is made from high quality, durable materials. You’ll notice that the pack doesn’t bounce around very much when it’s on your back, partially because of the crossed hip belt and the adjustable chest strap. If you literally don’t want the pack to move around at all, all you have to do is cinch everything up tight, and you’ll be fine to walk across narrow ledges and other sketchy features.
Despite being thin and lightweight, the backpack fabric is also built to take a beating. If you get caught in a bout of bad weather without a backpack rain cover, or you left it in the snow for a little too long, the bag will dry quickly.
– Sturdy and stable
– Comfortable to wear
– Quick drying
– Plenty of gear storage
The ultimate day pack, the Gregory Maya 25 is small but effective. You certainly won’t be taking it on any overnight trips, but for quick out-and-back hikes, you won’t find anything better.
The pack is flexible, making use of the company’s BioSync suspension system, allowing it to twist and conform to your body. It’s perfect for those hot days when you need to be a little more dynamic, and the breathability keeps you from getting too clammy during the colder months as well. Despite the unique shape, it won’t sit uncomfortably on your back and hips either, spreading the weight out evenly.
The shoulder harness has a special pouch specifically designed to hold your pair of mountaineering sunglasses. You can also fit a good-sized water bottle in the side pockets, and plenty of snacks or other miscellaneous items in the hip pockets. For trekking pole or ice axe storage, you can rely on the adjustable bungee system to get the job done.
A couple more lashing points, and a larger outer pocket for crampons would be nice to have, but there’s only so much you can expect from a pack this small. For the size and the price, it does a good job of what it was designed to do.
– Comfortable fit
– Offers a lot of breathability
– Perfect for day hikes
– Not many lashing points
Best Expandable Pack
With an expandable collar on the main compartment, you’ll never run out of space with the Deuter Aircontact Core, providing a nice amount of adjustability.
The Deuter Aircontact was designed to carry heavy loads – no debate there. Not only is the Y frame great for load transfer and control, but the lumbar support also works well to shift the burden onto your pelvis. Toss all of the adjustable straps into the mix, and you’ve got yourself a highly customizable backpack that can be fine-tuned until you’ve got it just right.
As a 65 liter backpack, you shouldn’t have any trouble finding a home for all of your gear. But on the off chance that you do, I’d suggest you take advantage of the expandable collar on the main compartment. It adds another 10 liters of space, and completely tucks away when you don’t need it.
Additionally, the sheer number of pockets, loops, and straps can also be incredibly helpful when you’re trying to find places to hang your gear. If you don’t have them already, I’d suggest investing in a handful of carabiners that you can use to attach your climbing gear to the outside of your pack. On something as big as the Aircontact, you may not need them, but better to be safe than sorry.
Much of the backpack was created using recycled materials, making it an eco-friendly option that’s bluesign approved. And if you think recycled means less durable, you’re going to be in for quite the surprise. With a 500 denier polyamide making up the high wear areas on the hips and bottom, there’s no reason this pack won’t last you for years to come.
– Expandable collar
– Plenty of pockets and loops
– Very adjustable
– Comfortable fit, especially for tall people
– A bit heavy
Lightest Mountaineering Pack
Even though it’s not the smallest pack in this review, the ALPS Mountaineering Baja is still the lightest, making it ideal for quick summit bids or weekend trips.
The ALPS Mountaineering Baja pack is exceptionally lightweight, especially once you put in on a scale. At 2.3 pounds, it’s pretty shocking that the lightest backpack in our review isn’t the smallest as well – in our case, the Gregory Maya 30. Instead, it’s the sleek and tactical Alpine Light, a 40 liter pack that has plenty to like and little to dislike – though there are a few concerns that are worth addressing.
For starters, the material on the body is very thin. It’s part of reason why ALPS Mountaineering was able to make such a lightweight pack, especially when you consider its size. Unfortunately, thinner material means you’re going to take a hit when it comes to durability. If you play rough with this pack, I can practically guarantee you that repairs will be necessary sooner or later. That being said, I want to make it clear that this product isn’t super fragile either. It’s just that it will start to pick up tiny tears and abrasions if you’re constantly dragging it across sharp rocks and other surfaces.
The narrow profile helps the pack stay out of the way when you’re brushing past tree branches that are looking to snag you. In addition to that, the streamlined design gives this pack a leg up when it comes to shedding snow.
– Narrow profile
– Trekking pole loops
– Comfortable fabric
– Sheds snow
– Lack of padding
– Thin material more prone to tearing
Best Bang for Your Buck
Built for first responders, the MYSTERY RANCH Glacier is one of the most durable packs in this review, giving you the best overall value for the price of the pack.
And now we switch from the lightest mountaineering backpack to the heaviest one in this review. But don’t let the 6.5 pound weight scare you away from the MYSTERY RANCH Glacier pack before you take a look at everything it can do.
Built like a tank, you’re not going to find a more durable backpack than this one. With such a high denier on the nylon body, you can feel the thickness and know that it’s not going to tear any time soon. Of course, this contributes to the weight of the pack, but it’s one of those factors that you’ll have to make compromises on.
To significantly reduce the amount of weight you’re carrying when you want to go on a day hike or a summit bid, you can remove the top lid on the backpack. It seconds as a hip pack that you can use to carry your essentials, without burdening yourself with items that don’t need to leave your basecamp.
There’s a zip-out lower compartment specifically created for you to store your sleeping bag, which is a pretty handy feature. Various straps make it easy to cinch up any unused space inside the backpack as well, increasing its overall stability while it’s on your shoulders. And while there is plenty of storage space inside of the bag itself, you’ll also have plenty of room on the outside to attach your ice axes, trekking poles, helmet, harness, and any other gear that you need. The daisy chain and various loops make it easy to clip your gear onto the back of the bag, as long as you have a few carabiners handy.
– Built like an ox
– Detachable lid can be used as a day pack
– Lower compartment for sleeping bag
– External storage opportunities
Best for Technical Climbs
Specifically designed for mountaineering and ice cragging, the Black Diamond Mission is exactly what you want to have for technical climbs in extreme alpine environments.
The Mission series was specifically created by Black Diamond to be used for mountaineering and ice cragging. Much of the design is centered around the tools you’ll be using the most as a mountaineer – ice axes, crampons, and rope.
There’s a specific place for each of them, but we’ll start by taking a look at where the ropes are supposed to go. You may notice straps on each side of the pack, wrapping around at two separate locations. Technically, you could put anything you want here, but these areas were developed as a way to securely store your ropes.
On the very front, there’s a small pouch available to you, if you need a place to stuff your crampons. And on either side of that, there are features that can hold each of your ice axes. Custom metal hardware slides into the rings on each ice axe, ensuring a secure fit, though it will take a hot second to pull them out and put them back again.
The bag itself is made from 420 denier nylon, so durability isn’t something you have to worry about it. It’s one of their most abrasion resistant backpacks, so you can feel comfortable putting it through the wringer in rocky, alpine environments.
– Double skirt closure
– Abrasion resistant
– Secure ice axe attachment
– Crampon pocket
– Moisture wicking back panel
– Doesn’t come with rain cover
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What Size Backpack Do I Need for Mountaineering?
The size of your pack should correlate with the length of time you’ll be on the trail. For a mountaineering trek that will only take you a day, there’s no reason to go higher than 30 liters for a backpack. However, if you plan on being gone for a few days, you’ll want to upgrade to something between 50-70 liters.
What are the Features of a Mountaineering Pack?
Mountaineering packs are a lot more streamlined than your traditional backpack. They have to be lightweight, so there’s no room for extra pockets and accessories that add ounces onto the pack. On top of that, it’s also important that they’re made from durable materials, since they’ll likely be scraped against more than a few rocks in their lifetimes.
I’m going to be honest here and say that many modern backpacks have turned into an odd puzzle of pockets and straps. People are always looking for the latest and greatest thing, but when it comes to backpacks, I think we need to do the opposite. They were designed to carry gear and…that’s it.
Have something that’s comfortable and easy to manage, for sure, but don’t go overboard when it comes to tiny pockets and compartments. It’s this mentality that made me fall in love with the Osprey Aerial Pro, a minimalist’s dream come true when it comes to the best mountaineering backpacks. Despite being a 65 liter pack, it only weighs about 4 pounds, making it a good option for multi-day treks or an overnight trip into the mountains.