Which backpack should I take to Mount Rainier?

What type and size backpack do you recommend for climbing Mount Rainier? Dan Ann Arbor, Michigan


That’s a straightforward question, but of course there are a few variables to the answer. It depends on the type of trip you’re planning—guided, or un-guided—and what time of year.

Kelty Tornado 4900

Tornado 4900 backpack

Let’s say you’re doing the normal routine: Paradise Lodge to Camp Muir, a night at Muir, then on to the summit the next day, and then back out to Paradise. That is a trip you will not forget, at least not until the pain in your thighs subsides, and that could take weeks. I cannot emphasize enough the sheer brutality of such a trip. It’s not getting up the thing—something most reasonably fit people can manage—it’s coming all the way down the same day.

But I digress. For that trip you’re carrying clothing, sleeping bag, probably half a tent (assuming you're with someone), cooking kit, etc. You’ll need at least 4,500 cubic inches in most cases, and maybe 5,000. That would be a pack such as Gregory’s Lassen (4,525 cubic inches, $319;, Osprey Crescent 85 (5,100 cubic inches, $379;, or Kelty Tornado 4900 (4,900 cubic inches, $180; You don’t need a “summit pack"—just carry the mostly empty big pack top the top. And all of these packs have good suspensions (pay more, get a better one), plenty of tie-on points for ropes and crampons, and good volume.

On the other hand, let’s say you’re climbing in July or August (this could apply for Scenario One as well). The weather forecast is benign (caveat: never assume good weather on Rainier), and you’re either on a guided trip and will be sleeping in a hut or using the public climbing hut at Camp Muir (recently remodeled and, for now, mouse-free). Let’s say as well that you’re packing modern, lightweight rain shell and pants (Patagonia Stash jacket, $225, and Rain Shadow Pants, $80;, maybe a soft shell jacket (Arc’Teryx Gamma SV, $259;, light down-filled 30-degree sleeping bag (Marmot Arroyo, $249;, etc. Then you might not have more than 4,000 cubic inches worth of stuff, and you could haul a lightweight pack such as REI’s Cruise UL 60 ($130;, which has just under 4,000 cubic inches of capacity in a package that weighs only three pounds, two ounces.

Hope you have a great trip! Luckily for you, there’s lots of good, steep day hikes in your area for training. Oh, wait, you live in Michigan! So I guess it’s a Stairmaster for you, pal.

You’ve got your winter gear, now get outside and use it.’s ski and snowboard guide makes it easy to find nearby slopes just begging for fresh tracks.

Filed To: MountaineeringExtended-Trip Backpacks
Lead Photo: courtesy, Kelty