The 7 Best Backcountry Packs of 2012

Salomon Quest 30 pack (Inga Hendrikson)
Salomon Quest 30 pack

Salomon Quest 30 Pack

Whether skiing in-bounds at Whistler, hustling through a ski-tour weekend in the Canadian Rockies, or bagging peaks in Wyoming, testers agreed that Salomon killed it with the company’s debut backcountry pack. Even stuffed haphazardly, the 30-liter Quest splayed open at its huge main-pocket zipper and allowed us to find food, water, and our puffy in seconds. Several organizers inside helped, particularly the discreet but accessible-in-a-flash sleeves for a probe and shovel handle and the outside pocket for skins or crampons. And we loved the oversize grab handle, which made maneuvering the pack with gloves a breeze. Most important, the Quest was so comfortable it was often all but forgotten, even with skis carried A-frame style. “A great, trim fit with excellent storage options and no unnecessary straps to flap around,” concluded one tester. 2.4 lbs

Comfort: 4.5
Interior Access: 5
Ease of Use: 5

REI Pinnacle 50 Backpack

REI Pinnacle 50
REI Pinnacle 50 Backpack (Courtesy of REI)

THE SELL: Four-season workhorse. THE TEST: Fully loaded, the 50-liter Pinnacle possessed all the features of a deluxe summer pack: side-zip access, cush padding, burly framesheet, and durable fabric. But it also satisfied our minimalists. During a two-day assault on Mount Baker, after hauling an oversize load to base camp without a whimper, we stripped off the hipbelt, top pocket, several straps, and the framesheet for the summit push, easily trimming almost two pounds. Skis carry A-frame in a snap, and while it’s possible to affix a snowboard vertically, you’ll need extra straps. THE VERDICT: Tricked out and fully convertible, the Pinnacle might just be the only midsize pack you need. 4.1 lbs

Comfort: 5
Interior Access: 4
Ease of Use: 4

CamelBak Tycoon Pack

CamelBak Tycoon pack
CamelBak Tycoon pack (Courtesy of CamelBak)

THE SELL: Tidy hydration for resort riding and short sidecountry excursions. THE TEST: Given the 18-liter Tycoon’s few neatly tucked straps and low profile, we never felt we needed to take it off for chairlift rides, though accessing the two zip holster pockets (one a probe sleeve, the other fleece-lined for goggles) while wearing it took some contortion. The included insulated hydration system—CamelBak’s Antidote, the best we’ve tried—stayed ice-free to about minus 15. And it works just as well at keeping water cool in summer. Our only complaint: having to unbuckle one of the diagonal ski or vertical snowboard carry clips to completely open the main pocket. THE VERDICT: Our favorite in-bounds pack. Just big enough for short missions outside the gate. 2.2 lbs

Comfort: 3.5
Interior Access: 3
Ease of Use: 4

Mile High Mountaineering PowderKeg 30 Backpack

Mile High Mountaineering PowderKeg 30
Mile High Mountaineering PowderKeg 30 Backpack (Courtesy of Mile High Mountaineering)

THE SELL: A fully loaded day hauler without the tangle of straps. THE TEST: Though it’s packed with features (fleecy goggle pocket, four ski and two snowboard carry -options), the 32-liter PowderKeg avoids the usual webbing bonanza with a slick system of pockets and double-duty straps (one set squeezes the pack and tightens skis simultaneously). And access to the main compartment was easy, with a wide, zippered opening in the back padding. Pack carefully, though, as pockets within pockets made it easy to misplace things. THE VERDICT: With a trim cut and excellent suspension for its size, this was the most comfortable pack in the test. 3.2 lbs

Comfort: 5
Interior Access: 4.5
Ease of Use: 4

Deuter Pace 20 Pack

Deuter Pace 20 pack
Deuter Pace 20 pack (Courtesy of Deuter)

THE SELL: A pack that’s as easy to use as it is ultralight. THE TEST: This technical, 20-liter day-pack is all about convenience. Strapping on skis is as fast as slinging them over your shoulder—just slip the tails through one loop and clip the tips with another. So while others struggled, skis in hand, up a slippery Blackcomb climb, we marched by for first tracks. More time-savers: quick-stash sleeves for safety gear, prominent front-zip access, and twin hipbelt zipper pockets. With mesh straps and no suspension, however, heavy loads were a drag. THE VERDICT: Our favorite pack for short missions. Light and quick enough on the draw to use as a randonnée. 1.4 lbs

Comfort: 3.5
Interior Access: 4.5
Ease of Use: 5

Burton AK 31 Pack

Burton AK 31 pack
Burton AK 31 pack (Courtesy of Burton)

THE SELL: Backcountry DNA and sturdiness for the snowboard crowd. THE TEST: It isn’t the prettiest pack of the bunch—“It looks like a sack,” said one tester—but snowboarders were united in their praise for the AK. Splitboarders raved about the pole clips (rare on winter packs), which use toggles to securely lash ski poles for the descent. The shuttle crowd appreciated the snowmobile-friendly horizontal carry system. And everyone liked the zip-top, pail-style top entry. “It made it really easy to access everything inside,” said one tester. The square shape carried nicely on the way down. THE VERDICT: The avalanche-tool pocket could be roomier, but otherwise this is one of the best snowboard packs we’ve tested. 3.7 lbs

Comfort: 4
Interior Access: 4.5
Ease of Use: 4.5

Millet Trilogy 32 Pack

Millet Trilogy 32 pack
Milley Trilogy 32 pack (Courtesy of Millet)

THE SELL: A rugged but light top-loader for mountaineering, ski touring, and ice climbing. THE TEST: “A refreshingly simple pack with a few key features,” one tester said. The hipbelt gear loops conveniently holstered bulky crevasse rescue accessories while we were ski-mountaineering in the Coast Range, and the pull-out helmet holder kept our lid secure. On the frigid summit, we appreciated the mitt-friendly zipper pulls. And even when we overstuffed the 32-liter main pocket and strapped on skis (diagonal or A-frame), the X-shaped aluminum suspension rods never buckled. THE VERDICT: Built for abuse (metal clips, burly zips, tough fabric), this simple, vertically inclined pack should hold up for years. 2.9 lbs

Comfort: 4.5
Interior Access: 4
Ease of Use: 4.5

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