Top 3 Backcountry Ski Backpacks

A reader recently asked for my opinion on one of my favorite back-country ski backpacks which has motivated me to share by top three choices for back-country skiing! Here they are!

First Pick: The Ortovox Haute Route 32L Backpack

Ortovox Haute Route 34L Backpack Review
Ortovox Haute Route 34L Backpack- photo by Cait

I now have two full winters with over 70 days of back-country touring with this pack and it is my over-all favorite. I find it to be the perfect size for day trips in the White Mountains and last April’s ski trip to Iceland. The dedicated avalanche safety pocket fits my shovel and probe perfectly, and outer vertical pocket holds some of my oft used tools in an easy to get to spot; I stick my snow card, compass, Rutchsblock cord, and snow thermometer in there. The “goggle pocket” is where I stash all my food for the day, and I’m able to carry a bivy sack, large puffy, and usually fit my goggles, buff, facemask, and ski gloves inside my helmet inside the pack, though there is an external helmet carry option. Finally the back panel full access to the main compartment is super convenient!

This pack is also available in a 30 and 38 liter short torso size, and a 40 liter size here.

Second Pick: The Patagonia Snow Drifter Backpack


I reviewed this pack back in 2016 and having tested quite a few packs since this one has stayed in my memory of being one of the best designed ski packs on the market. It shares a lot of the same features as my first pick like a well designed avalanche gear pocket and back-panel access. Unfortunately it is either discontinued or simply out of stock at almost every retailer. There are a few left on sale here.

Third Pick: The Hyperlite Mountain Gear 3400 Ice Pack

Hyperlite Mountain Gear 3400 Ice Pack Review
Hyperlite Mountain Gear 3400 Ice Pack Review

This is actually my first pick if the ski mission is technical, i.e. I’ll be carrying rope, harness, a couple screws, a technical ice axe, crampons, etc. I got the ski modification on this pack and while it is the priciest of the three the materials used in construction made this a pack that will survive a decade or three of heavy use in the mountains, where as I would expect to wear our my first two picks after 5-7 seasons of heavy use. While this pack gives up some convenience features like the dedicated avalanche gear pocket it gains pure rugged simplicity. As I said in my detailed review back in 2016 this is the pack I would choose for a ski focused trip to Katahdin or a ski mountaineering day in Huntington Ravine (up Pinnacle down South or the like).

Did your favorite make my list? Let me know in the comments if it did or didn’t! I will be looking to review 2019/20 back-country ski packs early next season!

See you in the mountains,

Northeast Alpine Start


Disclaimer: The author is an Ortovox Athlete and all packs were provided for review. Affiliate links help support this blog.

4 thoughts on “Top 3 Backcountry Ski Backpacks

  1. Great post, but I have couple of questions, mainly regarding Ortovox backpack(s). As I’m looking for a new backpack I found out that not many brands have backpacks with full access to main compartment – usually they have just top opening. Given that you used backpack with that feature (Haute Route and I believe Trad also) for quite some time did you anytime had problems with circumferential zipper. I mean it is really conventional but I’m wondering wheter it ever opened unintentionally, while you were walking, climbing, skiing and you didn’t noticed what happened behind your back. I’m afraid that I’d lose gear, because on my current backpack I sometimes notice small opened gap on top side, but with full zipper can be on bottom side of backpack. Hope you understand what I mean.
    Oh, general thought on quality and durability of zippers?
    Next, how good is breathability / air control of Haute Route is backpack useful in warmer weather or sweating become issue.
    And lastly are you (still) using hydration sytem and which one? Still 100oz Camelbak?


    • Hi Domen!

      I have never had an unintentional opening of the panel zipper on any of the three Ortovox packs I have that sport that feature! With my Haute Route, which is likely my most used pack in my arsenal, it has a double zipper, and I OCD-like to zip it up so both sliders end up on the top. I don’t really do this out of any fear of them unzipping but more so I know exactly where they are when I take the pack off to gain access. Keeping them at the top can’t hurt keeping them immobile either, but again I’ve never had any of the three open unintentionally, and all three packs zippers have held up great to quite heavy use.

      As for the breath-ability I’d say the Haute Route might “feel” a wee bit warmer than some other more meshy type back pads… I don’t really like meshy type back pads though because they get filled with snow on deeper snow days and seem to hold moisture. The padding in the back panel and shoulder straps is super comfy when I’m skinning uphill in a t-shirt in fair weather or under 4 layers in nasty weather, but I don’t like to think of backpacks as “breathable”… I expect to have a sweaty back when I’m working hard and am not a fan of backpacks that go out of their way to have “maximum airflow” between the weight of the pack and my back… I like my pack to feel like it is part of me when skiing, something those packs with lots of airflow can’t really achieve.

      Finally I use 100oz Camelbak from May-Octoberish… no CamelBaks for me in true New England winter weather. Insulated or not, blow-back in tube or not, I’m a good ole’ 32 oz wide-mouth Nalgene guy for below freezing temps.

      Thanks for the questions!



  2. Dave where do you stash that nalgene? I use my pack for skiing and want to access my water without pulling the pack off which seems to be its only shortcoming.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Hi Claudia! I carry my NALGENE inside my pack close to the small of my back. These keeps it from freezing in the coldest conditions without needing a “bottle parka”. I don’t mind dropping my pack for a moment to drink, and with the back panel access it’s super accessible. I’m not a fan of carrying NALGENEs outside of the pack because they will freeze in cold conditions. A hydration system like a Camelbak might be an option for you but I’d only use that on warm Spring tours


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