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The Best Packs of 2016

The Best Packs of 2016

Packs keep getting lighter, smarter, and easier to use. We ran 18 new models through the wringer, and almost every one made the final round. But while it’s easy to find a great pack, choosing the perfect one still requires careful consideration. For starters, standard or airbag equipped? If you spend more than ten days a year in avalanche-prone terrain, consider an airbag. Next there’s size. As a general rule, opt for 15 liters or smaller if you’re riding lifts, 15 to 25 for sidecountry adventures, 25 to 45 for day trips, and 45 or more for multi-day missions. Finally, do you want lots of pockets or a sleek top-loader? Your answers will lead you to a bag you’ll love—and use.

  Photo: The North Face

The North Face Snomad 34 

Gear of the Year

We knew we’d found the winner when our most demanding tester came back with nothing but compliments. Here are a few: “A plethora of well-placed pockets,” referring to the fleecy goggle holder and tool and hip storage. “The back-entry zippers are the cat’s meow”—they open the body wide, so the contents are easy to see. Full, the pack sits lightly, with soft padding throughout, compression straps to reduce jostling, and rigid stays to distribute the load. He loved the climbing-specific details, too: lots of clearance for looking up a route with a helmet on and room for a harness and crampons. “The perfect day-tripper,” he concluded. 2.8 lbs

Price $159 Carry Comfort 4 Function 5 

  Photo: Mountain Hardwear

Mountain Hardwear SnoJo 20 

Best For: Playing close to the lifts. 
The Test: The SnoJo falls into that small class of packs that feel just fine on chairlifts but have enough hauling capacity for sidecountry laps. Testers loved the big handle on the back, which made it easy to carry onto chairs, as well as the wide and comfortable shoulder straps. A back zip opens the pack for easy sorting of essentials, the tool pocket holds large shovel blades, and retention loops check dangling straps. Smart: the ski- and board-carry system can also be used to compress the bag when hauling smaller loads. 
The Verdict: A clean carrier for missions just outside the resort gates. 1.9 lbs

Price $100 Carry Comfort 4 Function 4.5

  Photo: Deuter

Deuter Rise Tour 45+

Best For: Long weekend tours.
The Test: Pack right and a 45-liter rucksack is an ideal weekender. But snow camping? That’s where the “+” comes in. With all your avy gear in a dedicated pocket, goggles and other essentials stashed in the brain, and skins in the zippered side sleeves, the Rise Tour’s cavernous main compartment is left open for a whole lotta love. “It swallows an amazing amount of gear while remaining comfortable to carry,” said one tester. Props go to the floating lid and extendable skirt, which make space for at least five extra liters’ worth of gear. 
The Verdict: A well-balanced and comfortable pack that plays big. 4 lbs

Price $195 Carry Comfort 5 Function 4

  Photo: Jones

Jones Minimalist 35 

Best For: Splitboard touring. 
The Test: The Minimalist was built to the only-if-I-really-need-it specifications of company founder and backcountry-snowboarding icon Jeremy Jones. At 2.4 pounds, this top loader is the lightest pack by volume (35 liters) that we tested this season. But despite the bare minimum of appointments, testers didn’t find it lacking. “It’s somehow also packed with smart little features,” said one. Examples: two pockets on the hips, a split top pocket, and a mesh helmet holder that works well even if you’re postholing with a board strapped vertically or A-frame style.
The Verdict: No frills, no problem. 2.4 lbs

Price $149 Carry Comfort 4 Function 4

  Photo: K2

K2 BackSide Float 8 

Best For: Downhill junkies. 
The Test: Don’t plan to go far with the Float 8. Though it looks like a 20-liter pack, with airbag and cylinder in place there’s barely room for a shovel, a probe, water, and a layer. It worked perfectly while boot-packing Terminator Ridge at British Columbia’s Kicking Horse, where we strapped our skis vertically and still managed to secure a helmet in the sling. (It can also carry skis diagonally, or a board vertically, and poles, too.) But this bag is made for hot laps from a chair, helicopter, or snowcat. When they aren’t needed, the straps stash clean out of sight. 
The Verdict: Safety in a tight, streamlined package—and at a great price. 6.2 lbs

Price $500 Carry Comfort 3 Function 4

  Photo: Dakine

Dakine ABS Vario Cover Heli Pro DLX 26L 

Best For: Tricking out your avy-airbag base unit. 
The Test: Before you get too excited about the price tag, know that this is just the storage part. It zips onto an ABS Vario Base Unit, which is sold separately and includes the airbag system ($950; Why go with a two-part setup? Because it enables you to change pack size depending on how much you need to take with you. The feature-rich Heli Pro is our favorite Vario-compatible pack, with vertical and horizontal ski- and board-carry options, lots of pockets for keeping organized, and plenty of gear room for most day trips. 
The Verdict: The best pack in the Vario ecosystem, and a damn fine daypack on its own. 1.4 lbs (6.6 lbs with base unit attached)

Price $120 Carry Comfort 3 Function 4.5

  Photo: Backcountry Access

Backcountry Access Float 32 

Best For: Pack-size versatility.
The Test: No matter where we went with the Float 32, it had our back. On a frigid tour in Alberta, there was enough room to bring all our avy essentials, an extra layer, and a thermos of coffee. The two ice-ax holders, diagonal ski-carry setup (vertical for snowboards), and helmet hammock all came in handy when climbing for turns in the Cascades. But testers’ favorite feature was the 2.4 inches of vertical torso adjustment in the hipbelt, which allowed for a perfectly dialed fit. 
The Verdict: A solid day-tripper that holds you close. 5.6 lbs

Price $550 Carry Comfort 3.5 Function 4.5

The Best Helmets of 2016

These six brain buckets manage to look slick and feel great, all while offering state-of-the-art protection.    Photo: Giro Giro Range MIPS  Best For: Oddly Shaped NogginsGiro developed a unique ratcheting system that lets wearers adjust both the exterior shell and the interior liner for a custom fit. Result: the Range is the most comfortable helmet here. Well-placed vents and mesh ear pads make the whole package plenty breathable.  Price $240   Photo: Smith Optics Smith Vantage  Best For: Season-Long UseOur favorite helmet of the test, thanks to a slick, low-profile design that’s packed with smart features, including grooves along the sides to hold goggles in place

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The Best Gloves of 2016

It's simple: better mitts equal happier hands. The engineering and tech that went into these six warmers—which deliver on warmth, breathability, and fit—is not.    Photo: Hestra Hestra Narvik Wool Terry Like most of the leather gloves here, the Narvik is made from goatskin, but unlike some of them, it’s tanned with plant tannins. Like Flylow, Hestra utilizes a wax coating rather than laminating its fabrics. It’s a touch less breathable but still adequately water resistant, provided it’s waxed periodically. The removable wool liner is exceptionally fast drying.  Price $185   Photo: Seirus Seirus HeatTouch Torche Seirus upgrades the typical battery-heated glove, adding a poly-fleece

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The Best Goggles of 2016

With these tools, you can vanquish flat light forever—improving reaction times and reducing eye fatigue. Heck, that's enough to make you a better skier.    Photo: Abominable Labs Abominable Labs Abom  Nothing ruins a ski day faster than foggy goggles. But the geniuses at Abominable Labs have a solution. The antifog Abom has a thin, invisible heater inside the double-layer lens that works like a rear-window defroster—that is to say, brilliantly. Leave it on low in wet conditions, and switch to Boost mode after a wipeout for a quick thaw.  Price $250   Photo: Scott Sports Scott Sports LCG Compact  Bluebird blower days are nice,

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The Best Base and Mid Layers of 2016

Your ability to have fun playing outside in the cold is only as good as your layering system. A good base or mid layer should be warm, breathable, comfortable, and (ideally) stink-free. These six versatile tops and bottoms deliver.    Photo: Icebreaker Icebreaker Zone One Sheep Suit onesie Onesies bring out our inner kid. Plus they’re warm and won’t ride up under a shell. The hooded wool Sheep Suit is toasty yet breathable, with mesh under the arms and at the knees. When nature calls, just use the two-way zipper and fly—no disrobing necessary.  Price $200   Photo: Under Armour Under Armour

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The Best Snow Safety Tools of 2016

Staying safe in the backcountry is mostly about good decision making. But you'll also want a few pieces of simple, reliable gear.    Photo: Back Country Access Backcountry Access Scepter 7075 Aluminum poles The Scepter is BCA’s classic two-piece adjustable metal pole, with a built-in scraper on top to help you keep your skis, skins, and boot soles clear. Because nothing is worse than dragging ten pounds of caked ice up the hill with you.  Price $80   Photo: Black Diamond Black Diamond Free Glide Skin Care wax  Spring skiing means wide temperature swings, which can cause climbing skins to soak up moisture and lose

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The Best Winter Camping Gear of 2016

There's no need to put away your camping gear come winter. Just upgrade it. Presenting everything you need to stay warm and have a blast on snowbound nights.   Photo: Western Mountaineering Western Mountaineering Snojack parka This 850-plus-fill down jacket, made from Gore Windstopper, was easily the warmest of the dozen tested. But with quilted stitching along the side panels, we never felt we were trading mobility for coziness. Bonus: the expanded hood creates better peripheral vision.  Price $775   Photo: Valandre Valandre Odin Neo sleeping bag The new Odin Neo is 10 percent lighter than last year’s but equally capable. With

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