10 Best Winter Backpacking Packs of 2023

10-Best-Winter-Backpacking-Packs

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 trip.

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

Make / ModelWeight
Granite Gear Blaze 60L48 oz / 1361g
Osprey Mutant 52L52 oz / 1474g
Hyperlite Mountain Gear Ice Pack 70L37 oz / 1049g
Black Diamond Mission 75L65 oz / 1850g
Mountain Hardwear AMG 5574 oz / 2098g
Gregory Denali 75L72 oz / 2041g
Mystery Ranch Scepter 50L56 oz / 1588g
Cilogear 60L Worksack67 oz / 1980g
Cold Cold World Chaos 66L60 oz / 1701g
Sierra Designs Flex Capacitor 60-75L42 oz / 1191g

1. 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.

Available from:
REI | Backcountry

2. Osprey Mutant 52L Backpack

Osprey Mutant 52

The Osprey Mutant 52 (newly updated in 2022) packs a wealth of great features into a lower volume winter and climbing backpack. It has a floating lid, wand, a ski carry 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 $225 (a steal), the 52 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. We also recommend the smaller volume Osprey Mutant 38 for winter day hiking or ice climbing.

Available from:
Osprey | Backcountry

3. 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. HMG also sells this pack in 3400 (55L) and 2400 (40L) volumes.

Available from:
Hyperlite Mountain Gear 

4. Black Diamond Mission 75L Backpack

Black Diamond Mission 75 Backpack

The Black Diamond Mission 75 (newly updated in ’22) 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.

Available from:
Backcountry | Black Diamond 

5. 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. A higher volume AMG 75 is also available.

Available from:
REI | Mountain Hardwear 

6. 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.

Available from:
Gregory |Amazon

7. 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.

Available from:
Mystery Ranch | Campsaver

8. Cilogear 60L Worksack

Cilogear 60l-worksack

The Cilogear 60L Worksack is a versatile climbing and mountaineering backpack favored by guides worldwide because it is so flexible to use and fully featured. It has a removable framesheet with an aluminum stay, a bivy pad, a removable lid, a sternum belt, and a hip belt. The strap set consists of 4 short simple straps, 2 long simple straps, 2 dual adjust side release straps that go all the way around the pack, and 2 long side release straps giving you the ability to strap all kinds of awkwardly sized winter gear to the outside.

Available from:
Cilogear

9. 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

Available from:
Cold Cold World

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.

Available from:
Sierra Designs

HOW TO CHOOSE A WINTER BACKPACK

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.

See Also:

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7 comments

  1. Hey Phil,

    The custom ski mod option is no longer available on Hyperlite Mountain Gear packs. HMG now offers the Headwall 55, a dedicated backcountry ski pack. Check it out!

    Regards,
    Tim (works for HMG)

    • You just need side compression straps to carry skis anyway. That pack is not there not because of the skiing, but because it has a crampon holder and volume.

      • Have you gotten a chance to check out the Headwall pack yet Phil? Was curious If I could use it for winter backpacking as well as backcountry skiing!

        • Looks great for skiing. You’ll probably have a hard time fitting winter backpacking gear into it though if you have to carry a 0 degree bag. It’s doable, but you’ll need a trash compactor to get it to all fit! Now, if you can stay at a cabin carry a lighter bag, go for less time, not need to melt snow that might be doable. etc.. My chief concern is that avy pocket in the front. Not sure if that’s usable for much gear storage if you actually need to carry avalanche safety equipment. People underestimate how hard it is to pack for winter backpacking.

        • I saw on you’re most recent winter gear list that you mentioned you have a 3400 Southwest that you were using for winter backpacking. I actually have that pack already and generally use it for longer food carriers and more comfort orientated trips. Is it still the case that you are using that pack successfully? I am dipping my toes into winter backpacking but don’t have the necessary experience to know If I should be looking for another pack at this point in time. Also, where do you mount your snowshoes in the 3400 Southwest?

        • Winter is only about a week old here. Not exactly sure what I’ll be using this year as a winter pack. I suspect it will be the Mutant 52, the Chaos 66, or the Mission 75 minus a few parts. It won’t be the 3400. The problem is that I have too much choice and a huge backlog of pack reviews to get through this winter. I really have a backpack problem. :-)

          The way you attach snowshoes to a 3400 is with cord and cordlocks. Find some anchors on the outside of the pack and rope them up. You might also be able to carry them under the Y-strap on top. When choosing a winter pack, the biggest variable to consider is access. The problem with a lot of rolltops is that they don’t have very good external storage to hold spare gloves, food, hats, and face protection. If you use a rolltop, Id seriously look into getting some extra chest storage to hold that stuff. That’s one of the benefits of a top lid in winter.

  2. Great post. Perfectly timed. I’m looking for a winter pack now. You have the best winter content Philip!

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