The Best Winter Packs of 2014The best winter backpacks of 2014. Topping the list are packs from Quiksilver, Scott, Dakine, Gregory, Jones, and Arc'teryx.
Quicksilver Travis Rice PlatinumBEST FOR: Snowboarders.
THE TEST: The double-zip system on this 24-liter hybrid—it’s both a top-loader and a clamshell—makes the Quiksilver Travis Race Platinum ($120) easy to pack strategically. Open the top zip for instant access to the goggle pocket, the valuables pouch, and the upper portion of the main compartment, for the items you need every time you switch from going up to going down. Or rip the main U-shaped zip to grab extra layers, a hydration bladder, or anything else stashed in the bowels. As the name suggests, snowboarders are the target audience here, with two carry options (vertical and horizontal), but the pack does skis just fine diagonally. Our only beef: no shovel-blade pocket meant snowy gear shacked up with our down jacket.
THE VERDICT: Great price for a sturdy, versatile pack. 2.7 lbs
Scott Air Free 24BEST FOR: Everything from a quick hike to a light day tour.
THE TEST: Thanks to a flexible back panel, extra-wide hipbelt, and a low profile that never bumped our helmeted heads, the 24-liter Air Free ($185) all but disappeared when we put it on. Comfort extends to the boot-pack. The diagonal or vertical ski carry is integrated into the suspension system, transferring the load directly onto the hips. And if you love highly organized packs, you’ll appreciate this one: the avalanche-tool area is orderly and quick to access, while the fleece-lined goggle/media pocket is downright extravagant, with room for a pair of goggles and several devices.
THE VERDICT: “Even I man-aged to stay organized,” noted one scatterbrained tester. 3 lbs.
Dakine BC VestBEST FOR: Resort skiing or snowboarding; in-bounds boot-packs.
THE TEST: Think of the 11-plus-liter BC Vest ($130) as a utility garment similar to what many a big-mountain ski patroller wears when speed and maneuverability are paramount. Simply load your shovel and probe and an extra layer in the back compartment; snacks, skins, and other essentials slot into six handy pockets up front. Compression straps snug it all together for unencumbered shredding. However, while a hideaway carry system makes it easy to attach skis and snowboards, they press against the shovel and probe, which in turn press into your back, making for decidedly uncomfortable carrying. More padding would help. And a pouch and slot for a hydration bladder would be good, too.
THE VERDICT: A smart but imperfect alternative to a small pack. 1.9 lbs.
Gregory Targhee 32BEST FOR: Cold-weather day tours.
THE TEST: The first iteration of this pack won Gear of the Year in 2009. This update, the Targhee 32 ($179), is even better. The new wire-frame suspension system flexes horizontally to better accommodate the dynamic movement of skiing. But it’s the attention to detail that’s most impressive, like all the hypalon reinforcements to protect against sharp ski edges and the offset A-frame ski-carry system, which keeps the tails of your skis from bumping against your calves. Also praiseworthy: the stowable snowboard-, helmet-, and snowshoe-carry systems all work well when you need them and keep out of the way when you don’t.
THE VERDICT: A solid upgrade to an already wicked pack. 3.8 lbs.
Jones 30LBEST FOR: Backcountry snowboarding.
THE TEST Our lead snowboard-pack tester really got to know the 30L ($200) last winter, putting in more than 100 days with it in the Revelstoke backcountry, on the ski hill on Vancouver Island, hut-touring in Wyoming, and yo-yoing powder shots in Idaho. His conclusion: “Best pack I’ve ever tested. Great comfort and support.” He was especially impressed with the ski-pole carry straps. The only signs of wear were two missing zipper pulls. An additional $100 gets you the beefed-up version, which is designed to hold the removable air-bag system from Mammut ($450).
THE VERDICT: A workhorse for on- and off-hill shredding. 3.1 lbs.
Arc'teryx Khamski 48LBEST FOR: Hut trips, glacier travel.
THE TEST: Skiing into a tent camp in the Yukon’s Kluane Mountains, we liked how the 48-liter Khamsk's ($325) cavernous main pocket and extendable top lid swallowed everything we needed for a three-day trip—including avalanche tools in a dedicated zip pocket. The only issue we had was with the absence of load-lifting straps on the hipbelt, which meant that, fully stuffed, the pack drooped over testers’ backsides. When we got to camp, though, we were able to ditch the aluminum stays, cinch the compression straps, and convert the Khamski to a (relatively) svelte daypack.
THE VERDICT: Built like a tank. 3.8 lbs.
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