BEST FOR: Slackcountry hot laps.
THE TEST: Like a crusty old ski bum, the 19-liter, single-pocket Side Country slid easily from job to job. Avalanche tools and a hydration bladder slipped neatly into dedicated sleeves, and insulated shoulder routing kept water flowing. Fully loaded, its slim profile disappeared during chair travel, making it ideal for resort riders looking for something to stow lunch and a spare layer. When it’s time to lash ’em, straps emerge to affix skis diagonally and boards vertically with just a couple of quick snaps.
THE VERDICT: Versatility in a small package—and a killer price. Ideal for lift-accessed backcountry. 1.9 lbs
KNOW HOW TO HOLD 'EM: Strapping your skis to your pack makes sense whenever a boot-pack will take at least 15 minutes or there's technical terrain ahead (icy steps, rocky ridges). Here are the three most common techniques and the pros and cons of each. 1. A-Frame: Strapped to the sides, cinched at the top. Upside: Stable. Downside: Setup is time-consuming. Best for: Long hauls and tricky climbs. 2. Diagonal: Angles across the back using built-in loops. Upside: Fast. Downside: Uneven load, awkward in tight spaces. Best for: Short, mellow hikes. 3. Vertical: Straight up the back. Upside: Fast and balanced. Downside: Less head and leg clearance. Best for: Snowboards.