10 Best Winter Backpacking Packs of 2021-2022

10 Best Winter Backpacking Packs 2020-2021

Winter backpacking packs are more specialized than regular three-season backpacks, with a stronger emphasis on heavier weight loads, external attachment points, and durability for carrying bulky gear with sharp points like snowshoes, skis, ice axes, and crampons. They also favor more pockets and the ability to access and put away gear quickly, so you can avoid standing around between gear transitions and getting cold. Pack volumes can vary anywhere from a minimum of 50L to 100L, with 65L usually being the sweet spot for a weekend length trip.

Here are our picks for the top 10 best winter backpacking packs:

Make / ModelWeight
Mystery Ranch Scepter 50L56 oz / 1588g
Hyperlite Mountain Gear Ice Pack 70L37 oz / 1049g
Osprey Mutant 52L55 oz / 1559g
Granite Gear Blaze 60L48 oz / 1361g
The North Face Phantom 50L40 oz / 1134g
Cold Cold World Chaos 66L60 oz / 1701g
Gregory Denali 75L72 oz / 2041g
Black Diamond Mission 75L64 oz / 1814g
Mountain Hardwear AMG 5574 oz / 2098g
Sierra Designs Flex Capacitor 60-75L42 oz / 1191g

1. Mystery Ranch Sceptre 50 Backpack

Mystery Ranch Sceptre 50

The Mystery Ranch Scepter 50 is highly optimized for winter backpacking and mountaineering trips that require carrying extra climbing gear, ski mountaineering gear, and traction aids. It’s a top-loader with zippered access to the main bag and back pocket along with an adjustable length torso to dial in a perfect fit. There is a strap on the top of the pack for a rope carry, two ice tool attachment points, and two sled tie-in loops on the belt for sled towing. An interior pocket behind the shoulder straps is provided to house an avalanche rescue kit or hold crampons and other essentials.  Weighing 56 oz, the pack can be stripped to bring the weight down for shorter trips or summit attempts and for use with a climbing harness.

Check for the latest price at:
Mystery Ranch | Moosejaw

2. Hyperlite Mountain Gear 4400 Ice Pack (70 L)

HMG 4400 Ice Pack

The Hyperlite Mountain Gear 4400 Ice Pack is a winter backpacking and mountaineering pack made with ultralight Dyneema DCF fabric, which doesn’t absorb water and is very durable. It gracefully combines a minimalist sensibility with a roll-top and has an integrated crampon pocket, hip belt gear loops, numerous external attachment points,  and daisy chains. A reinforced back panel is provided to haul heavier loads. A ski mod option is also available. HMG also sells this pack in 3400 (55L) and 2400 (40L) volumes.

Check for the latest price at:
Hyperlite Mountain Gear 

3. Osprey Mutant 52L Backpack

Osprey Mutant 52 Backpack

The Osprey Mutant 52 packs a wealth of great features into a smaller volume winter and climbing backpack. It has a floating lid, wand, and picket pockets, a ski haul system, a hipbelt with gear loops, daisy chains, ice tool, and shaft holders, and a helmet attachment option. The top lid and hip belt are also completely removable to save weight or for use with a climbing harness. Priced at $200, the 55 oz Osprey Mutant 52 is a great winter backpack for fast-and-light or hut-to-hut trips where you can streamline your gear list. Read our review. 

Check for the latest price at:
Osprey | Backcountry | Amazon

4. Granite Gear Blaze 60 Backpack

Granite Gear Blaze 60 w top lid

The Granite Gear Blaze 60 is a great roll-top backpack with an optional top lid and front zippered access to the main compartment. Weighing just 48 oz, it has an adjustable torso length and an adjustable size hip belt, with a rigid frame carrying 50+ lb loads with ease. Numerous compression straps make it easy to attach snowshoes or a foam pad to the outside of the pack or to haul ice tools, ropes, and avalanche rescue gear. A women’s Blaze 60 with gender-specific shoulder straps and a hip belt is also available. Read our Review.

Check for the latest price at:
REI | Backcountry | Amazon

5. The North Face Phantom 50L

TNF Phantom 50

The North Face Phantom 50 is an ultralight, alpine-style backpack weighing 39 oz that can be configured for different types of trips ranging from winter backpacking to ski mountaineering or alpine climbing. It has a removable floating lid, ice tool holders, ski loops, hip belt loops, and numerous gear loops if you want to rig up your own attachment points. The pack can also be stripped of components including the lid, hip belt padding, or framesheet bringing its weight down even lower.

Check for the latest price at:
The North Face | Backcountry

6. Cold Cold World Chaos 66L Backpack

Cold Cold World Chaos 60L

Chances are you’ve never heard of Cold Cold World Backpacks before, but their packs are famous in the mountaineering and search and rescue communities. The Chaos 60 is a frameless, top-loading backpack with a floating top lid, front crampon pocket, ski loops, gear loops on the hip belt, dual ice ax loops w/ shaft holders, and multiple daisy chains so you can lash gear to the outside of the pack.  It has an internal sleeping pad pocket so you can use a foam pad as a frame. Custom fabrics and colors are also available on request. A stock Chaos weighs in at just 3 lbs 12 oz, which is quite respectable for a pack that’s this technical and durable. Read our Chaos Review

Check for the latest price at:
Cold Cold World

7. Gregory Denali 75L

Denali 75

The Gregory Denali 75 has a top-loading design with side zipper access. Daisy chains and expandable side pockets make it easy to carry bulky gear, while the hip belt has tubular gear loops, ice clipper slots, and sled pull loops. Strippable aluminum stays, a bivy pad, a floating lid, and hip belt padding can all be removed. The fit is excellent and highly adjustable with an auto-cant hip belt. Weighing 6 lbs, the Denali 75 is a beefy winter pack but provides a lot more comfort and adjustability than most lighter-weight packs. You might be surprised at the difference. A 100L model is also available for expedition trips.

Check for the latest price at:
Gregory |Amazon

8. Black Diamond Mission 75L Backpack

Black Diamond Mission 75L

The Back Diamond Mission is a top-loading, four-season backpack with a floating lid, front crampon pocket, hip belt loops, and a full-length side zipper for easy gear access. It features a reactive suspension system with shoulder straps and a hip belt that move with your torso to keep your load stable. The Mission 75 is also fully strippable with a removable waist belt, lid, and framesheet. A lower volume Mission 55 Backpack is also available.

Check for the latest price at:
Black Diamond | Moosejaw | Amazon

9. Mountain Hardwear AMG 55L

Mountain Hardwear AMG 55

The Mountain Hardwear AMG 55  is a bomber backpack with an adjustable length torso that’s loaded with features including a crampon pocket, wand, and shovel pocket, ice tool holders, hip belt loops, and ski loops for an A-frame or diagonal ski carry. Reinforced exterior fabrics make it highly resistant to abrasion while strategically placed haul loops and zipper pulls make it possible to use while wearing gloves. A large extension collar, together with the floating lid makes it possible to overload the pack while the heavily padded hip belt makes carrying heavy loads reasonably comfortable.

Check for the latest price at:
Mountain Hardwear | REI

10. Sierra Designs Flex Capacitor 60-75L

Sierra Designs Flex Capacitor 60-75L Backpack
The Sierra Designs Flex Capacitor 60-75L is a lightweight 42 oz backpack with a unique frame system that can haul heavy winter loads when you need to carry a lot more gear, water, food, and stove fuel, and a unique top hatch lid which makes it easy to access gear quickly. The Flex Capacitor also has an external compression system that makes it easy to adjust the pack volume and doubles as an external attachment system for carrying bulky gear on the exterior of the backpack. For example, it’s easy to strap a bulky large tent body, snowshoes, or a sleeping pad to the exterior of the pack. The pack’s burly fabrics are durable and the huge hip belt pockets are ideal for carrying spare gloves, hats, and snacks. Read our Flex Capacitor Review.

Check for the latest price at:
Sierra Designs


Backpacks tailored for winter use have a different feature set than most 3 season packs. What follows are the features that I’ve found most useful for overnight and multi-day winter trips in mountainous terrain. While I think these translate fairly broadly across winter locales, you need to be the judge on the features you believe are most relevant for your needs.

Volume and Weight

If you mostly plan on doing overnight or weekend-length winter backpacking trips, you’ll probably want a pack that has 65-85 liters of internal capacity. The sweet spot is about 70 liters, but you might be able to shave that down as low as 60 liters if you carry less gear or need less insulation. Try to get a pack that has adequate compression so you can shrink its volume if not needed while keeping the weight of an empty pack under 5 pounds. Pack and gear weight is even more important in winter than the rest of the year because you’ll be wearing and carrying a lot more of it.

External Attachment Points

Winter packs need to have a multitude of external attachment points to carry sharp, pointy, or bulky gear that won’t fit inside the main storage areas of a backpack. The most useful external attachment points include compression straps, daisy chains, hip belt webbing or gear loops, and ice ax loops with shaft holders.

Compression Straps

Compression straps serve two purposes: to help compress a puffy load and bring the weight closer to your core muscles where it can be carried more easily; and to attach sleeping pads, snowshoes, avalanche shovels, or skis to the sides of your pack instead of the front, so that the load doesn’t pull you backward and off-balance.

When choosing a backpack, try to find ones that have two or three tiers of compression straps that run horizontally across the sides of the packs. The compression straps should be adjustable and easy to undo while wearing gloves so you can slide snowshoes under them. Avoid packs that have compression straps that zig zag back and forth on the backpack using one strap to save weight. These are very difficult to use.

Daisy Chains

Daisy chains are often sewn onto winter packs and can be used to lash extra gear to the back or sides of the pack using canvas or velcro straps. They usually have many loops sewn into them that run the length of your pack from top to bottom.

Ice Ax Loops

There are two kinds of ice axes in this world – straight walking axes and curved climbing axes. If you need to carry a walking ax, look for a pack that has at least one ice ax loop at the base of the pack and a shaft holder, both off-center along the back of the pack. The shaft holder can be a simple cord lock like those found on many Osprey packs, or a more robust buckle. If you plan on carrying two climbing axes, look for packs with two ice ax loops and shaft keepers.

Hip Belt Webbing and Gear Loops

Some climbing-oriented packs have canvas or plastic gear loops on the outside of the hip belt to clip climbing carabiners to. While not a substitute for a proper sit-harness, these loops can be quite convenient to rack gear. Alternatively,  you can clip insulated water bottle holders to them so you can drink when you are on the move and don’t want to stop.  Extra hip belt webbing serves the same purpose and is often better than having belt pockets that are too small for winter use.

Crampon Pockets

Crampon pockets are a very convenient and safe place to store crampons when you’re not wearing them. Located on the side of the pack farthest away from you, they keep the crampon points away from your arms and legs, your head, and your gear where they can do real damage.

Floating Lids

It can be very helpful in winter to have a backpack that can expand in volume to carry more gear. One way to do this is to buy a pack with a floating lid, usually a top pocket that can detach from the main body of the pack but is still held down by 4 straps. Extra gear, say a coil of rope, can be sandwiched between the pocket and the top of your pack in this manner.

Backpack Pockets

Backpack pockets can be a two-way street in winter. While they can be useful for organization, they can also add a lot of unnecessary weight to a backpack. For example, having a backpack with a separate sleeping bag pocket is pretty useless, because your sleeping bag can just as easily be stored in one large main compartment without needing the extra fabric weight and zipper required for the additional pocket.

Accessory Pockets

Most of the hip belt pockets provided by manufacturers are simply too small to be of much use in winter, and there aren’t enough of them to carry everything you might need for a winter hike, such as a camera, suntan lotion, lip balm, headlamp, compass, map, altimeter, and a pencil or pen. Many hikers add accessory pockets to their packs to provide more external storage or they wear an additional fanny pack backward to provide another pocket that can store spare gloves, hats, and food.

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  1. Interesting that your list of components doesn’t include a pocket or other method for quick access to avy gear (shovel, probe, etc.)

    Maybe dedicated compartments aren’t common on larger packs, but having something with that in mind could be impotant.

    • Look closely at that first pack – go to their website and watch the product tour. It has an avy pocket. But in general, most winter backpackers stick pretty close to established trails that avoid avalanche terrain, so it’s not as big an issue as you’d expect. While I often carry an avay shovel on backpacking trips, it’s mostly to dig out a group kitchen or tent platforms. If you have to do an actual avalanche rescue on a wilderness winter backpacking trip, well, I’d say the chances of survival are going to be pretty low given the transit times of helicopters outside of ski areas. Best design a route to avoid avalanche terrain.

    • It really wouldn’t be hard to pack and extricate a shovel or probe from any of these packs, but a avy pocket feature like that is really only found on dedicated ski packs. Most winter backpackers use snowshoes or micro spikes and avoid avalanche terrain.a dedicated avy pocket would be unnecessary.

  2. Interesting list. Look up the Savotta J??k?ri lage http://www.savotta.fi It’s my go to winter backpack. Checks all the marks in your recommendations.

    When using their large side and medium hip pouches the backpack doesn’t look too military and adds an additional 18 lites.

    I love that I can carry heavy loads comfortably and the flexibility to add or subtract pouches based upon my outdoor activities. Also the ability too adjust the volume for the length of time I’ll be spending in outdoors.

    The bag is a bit pricey, but will last forever.

  3. Hi Phil,

    Was wondering if you think it would be worth picking up a pack like the Mystery Ranch Spectre from something like a hyperlite 3400 Southwest which I use for my other 3 season adventures.

    Best Regards,

    • I’m not sure I totally follow you. Are you asking whether it makes sense to buy a backpack that’s specially made for winter hiking for winter hiking instead of one that’s made for hiking in deserts? Yes, of course. One of the things I especially like about the Spectre is that it’s set up to pull a pulk.

  4. Is there one backpack that does it all? I am looking for a 4 season pack for backpacking in the Whites that fits smaller women well. I have an Osprey Tempest 40 that is great, but it seems too small and thin for snow shoes and extra winter gear.

  5. Who is the mule for all these packs? That woman or man is the tank! I am still dialing in my currant pack for winter and am down to 22lbs with the load n stuff to keep my fire burning and chill at bay for 2 days. I purchased the Aarn feather lite 50L with the small expedition front pockets and with the heavy in the front and the weight close to balance, I don’t have to compress the down or synthetics in the back. I am comparing it to my HPL southwest 40L to see if the balance vs the rear wt makes a difference in snowshoeing and snow trekking. We are close to getting the next big storm out west this weekend so I am excited to get out into the wilds! Good job on the reviews.

  6. Phillip, ever look at any of the Mchale packs?

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