Eastern Mountain Sports Wintergreen Backpack Review

EMS Wintergreen, Big Chief Mountain, Cascades, Washington
EMS Wintergreen, Big Chief Mountain, Cascades, Washington

When I first saw the new EMS Wintergreen Backpack I assumed it was designed specifically for back-country skiing given some of it’s features specific to the sport like a dedicated avalanche gear pocket and excellent ski/board carrying options. After teaching 2 avalanche courses with it and some field testing in the Cascades I have discovered it is truly more of a winter “jack of all trades” pack as EMS has referred to it.

Color: As I mentioned in my review of the EMS Prez Backpack color is important for winter use, and EMS did well with this bright red technical looking color. While the photo above from a couple weeks ago in the Cascades was about as nice weather as I have ever toured in I often find myself skiing in thick New England whiteout conditions, and visibility is key!

Features: I love the dedicated avalanche gear pocket that holds my shovel and probe, however I do have a preference for an externally accessible probe sleeve that doesn’t require accessing a zipper to gain access to. My previous back-country ski pack had a velcro sleeve along the side that made accessing my probe super convenient.

The insulated shoulder sleeve for a hydration system is a nice bonus for those who want to use bladders in the winter (I stick to water-bottles and thermos during mid-winter conditions). Glove friendly buckles throughout indicate this pack was definitely put together for cold weather use!

Fleece lined goggle pocket– This is a new luxury I look for in all my ski packs. Not only does it store my expensive goggles safely but they are super accessible so when it’s time to pull skins and shred the gnar I don’t spend any time looking for my goggles… or helmet because of a slick helmet carry system. This stow-able helmet carry system is great, though most trips I have found room in the pack for my helmet, on more involved trips it will be a great boon to be able to securely attach my helmet on the outside so easily.

Comfort: The compression molded back panel and shoulder straps are exactly what I look for in winter packs. Despite a stiff frame the pack moved well with me while dropping 40+ degree runs off of Cowboy Mountain in Washington State and was even more comfortable skinning up to Big Chief. The waist belt is nicely padded and comfortable and has one zippered pouch on the left hip (I would like it on both as that is where I stuff candy/energy gels for easy access).

Size: The size of this pack hints at it’s more general “Jack of All Trades” design. At 32 Liters (1950 cu. in) it is big enough for full day mountaineering trips, lightweight overnights, family snowshoeing, etc. For a dedicated back-country ski pack it’s a little on the big side. I would love to see a smaller and lighter version, maybe 26-28 liters and under 3lbs. This pack weights 3lbs 6oz, which is a bit heavy for a day pack.  It’s perfect for a day of ski guiding since I carry an extra layer, a bivy sack, sam splint, and group size first aid kit when guiding. It’s a bit large/heavy for a more relaxed day of touring side country.

Convenience: Side zipper access! A huge positive for me on top-loading packs, it was a surprise to find this on a panel loader that opens up as wide as this pack does. Regardless the addition of a side zipper that accesses the main compartment makes quick stops for water or warmer gloves a snap. On the other side of the pack there is a zippered side pocket that is a bit interesting. While the product description says it can hold a probe I could not find one that would fit in it. It does hold a thermos or water-bottle easily, or my climbing skins when I don’t want to put wet skins back into my pack, but to be honest since this is a panel loader I would scrap both the side zipper and zippered pocket which would probably get this pack below 3lbs.

Bottom line: This pack is great for winter hiking in the White Mountains, general mountaineering (not technical ice climbing), snowshoeing, and back country skiing. But remember “Jack of All Trades” is not King of any. I’d like to see this pack stay in the line as an winter excellent all-arounder, and see a more streamlined dedicated back-country ski/ride specific pack come out over the next year or two.