BEST FOR: Long days in the backcountry.
THE TEST: Talk about quick access to your safety gear: a flap covering the back of the 28-liter Chuter lifts to reveal a “wet locker” with drain ports and racks for probe and shovel—no more rummaging around. It’s a smart idea made possible by a combination of straps and clips that pull triple-duty: closing the flap securely, holding skis or a snowboard vertically (A-frame carry is also possible), and compressing the pack. Our only gripe with the design is that some bigger shovel blades don’t fit.
THE VERDICT: Careful where you leave the main pocket zippers—they sometimes irritated our back. Otherwise, this is a refreshing, functional new take on how to organize a winter pack. 1.9 lbs
The Mountain Hardwear and REI packs are equipped to carry a snowboard vertically. Rather go horizontal? The Gear of the Year-winning Arc'teryx does both.
Check to make sure your shovel fits. Those with larger blades or longer shafts sometimes don't, especially in smaller packs like the Millet and Mountain Hardwear.