Load them up, kick them through the snow—these haulers will serve you well no matter what.


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(Charles Dustin Sammann)

Mystery Ranch Saddle Peak ($229)

We demand a lot from our packs: they need to accommodate a variety of loads, move with us, and carry comfortably on our backs. Until pack makers design the one that can do it all, we’re left weighing pros and cons. Of all the packs we tested this year, the Saddle Peak demanded the fewest compromises. Mystery Ranch—based in Bozeman, Montana—designed it to tame the local Bridger Bowl Ski Area. There are runs right off the lifts, but the best terrain requires a boot-pack, and there’s plenty of backcountry to explore. Thus, this 21-liter bag is too small for gear-heavy excursions but just right for sidecountry day trips. The straps and hipbelt are fully padded, and the two-pocket panel design is compact, for riding the lifts and staying tight on moguls. The diagonal ski-carry system is sewn into the back panel, better distributing weight on the hips. And the adjustable torso length is one of the best we’ve seen on a pack this small. Made for Bridger, worthy everywhere. 3.6 lbs

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(Courtesy Burton)

Burton AK Taft 24 ($160)

Best For: Short snowboarding excursions into the sidecountry.

The Test: Don’t judge a book by its cover—or rather, a pack by its listed capacity. “When I  rst picked the Taft up, I thought it was too small, but I was blown away with how much it actually  fit,” said a tester who spends most of his time exploring the Whistler backcountry. Everything we needed on sidecountry missions  fit in the main pocket, accessed easily through the back panel, and there was still room to spare. Two side pockets help keep the weight centered and balanced for stable riding. Take your pick when lashing your board to the Taft: straps accommodate both vertical solid boards and A-frame splitboards. A top goggle pocket, helmet hammock, attachment points for poles, and ax loop are icing on the proverbial cake.

The Verdict: A good choice for entry-level backcountry riders doing mostly short trips. 2.7 lbs

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(Charles Dustin Sammann)

Arva R-15 Ultralight ($650)

Best For: Avy insurance without the excess weight.

The Test: Arva flipped avalanche-airbag construction on its head with the R-15, proving that safety doesn’t have to slow you down. It shed weight from its airbag system—the entire R-15 weighs less than  five pounds—while still making the bag bigger to boost  flotation. And the handle itself is ergonomically shaped, making it easy to grab even with mitts on. As for the pack, the torso length adjusts, both for comfort and to position the trigger handle at just the right height. While 15 liters of storage may not sound like much, it was just enough for us on dawn patrol at Silver Fork, in Utah’s Big Cottonwood Canyon. As one tester put it, “It’s like not wearing a pack at all and still having an airbag on your back.”

The Verdict: Given its single zipper-accessed compartment, you have to be OK with minimalism. 4.9 lbs

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(Courtesy Ultimate Direction)

Ultimate Direction SkiMo 28 ($200) 

Best For: Going fast in the mountains. 

The Test: We expected randonnée die-hards to love this race-designed pack. What was surprising: everyone else liked it, too, in large part because everything is accessible without having to take the bag off. On a sunny tour out of Verbier, Switzerland, we drank from a water bottle riding shotgun in the shoulder-strap pocket, stashed a beanie in the hipbelt, and grabbed a phone from the water-resistant main compartment. During a dicey midrace transition, a tester slipped out of the shoulder straps, spun the SkiMo around, and stashed skins in a separate pocket at the bottom of the pack. And while it comes loaded with a tow bungee for giving slower partners a pull and straps for attaching boards, poles, and a helmet, most are easily stripped away, shedding ounces from an already featherweight carrier.

The Verdict: Optimized for racing or even just bagging peaks. 1.9 lbs

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(Courtesy Ortovox)

Ortovox Ascent Avabag 30 ($720)

Best For: Both the risk averse and the organization obsessed.

The Test: This year, Ortovox ditched the airbag system it had been using and developed its own, Avabag. It’s simpler (20 pieces go into making it, versus 70), less expensive ($300 less), and lighter (tipping the scales at nearly half as heavy as the old system). It’s also safer, in three ways: the mechanical trigger can be dry-fired, so you can get familiar with what deploying it feels like without actually using up the precious—not to mention pricey—compressed air in your canister; the handle is bigger, for easier grabbing during tense situations; and the 160-liter balloon is larger, increasing float in an avalanche, where bigger items sift to the top. All that and the pack is also laid out nicely, with the 30-liter capacity dispersed across three pockets.

The Verdict: The best of both worlds: safety and storage. 5.6 lbs

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(Courtesy Deuter)

Deuter Rise SL 32+ ($169)

Best For: All manner of touring missions. 

The Test: Goldilocks would approve. Not only did our testers say the Rise was just right in many ways, but it was also the best women-specfic winter pack we tested. Credit Deuter’s effort to home in on the ideal pack shape for the female anatomy: the torso is shorter, the hipbelt is shaped to fit wider and taller pelvises, and the narrower shoulder and sternum straps better fit women’s contours. Plus, there’s plenty of room to bring along extra layers—in fact, the “+” in the name refers to the Rise’s ability to extend, adding up to five liters of capacity. “There are just enough compartments to have a place for everything, but not so many that you lose anything,” said a tester. Yet the Rise also compresses down small when carrying less. “It always seemed to be just the right size,” said another.

The Verdict: A versatile touring pack that can moonlight in all four seasons. 3.4 lbs

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(Courtesy Gregory)

Gregory Alpinisto 50 ($219)

Best For: Any time your alpine daypack isn’t going to cut it.

The Test: Gregory updated its already peerless Alpinisto for only the second time in a decade. The consensus: it’s even better. The brand cut weight while adding durability by using a higher-density nylon for the body, added comfort with a beefier suspension system, and updated the alpine-specific climbing features. Among them are a separate crampon pocket for keeping snow and ice out of the main storage area, pick sleeves compatible with any ice or mountaineering tool, and (our favorite) an extra-long side zip that opens the pack like a taco. “I could quickly see everything,” said a tester. “On a snowy ledge belay, I didn’t have to unpack everything to find what I was looking for.” The Alpinisto handles weekend peak-bagging missions without breaking a sweat.

The Verdict: The new standard in alpine packs. 3.7 lbs

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Fitness

The Best Snowsports Helmets of 2018

Just remember one thing: it’s all about fit. (Charles Dustin Sammann) Petzl Sirocco ($130) Stop thinking of helmets as accessories. They are crucial tools that have gotten so many major upgrades in the past few years it’s hard to keep track of them all. Take the new Sirocco. Weighing in at about a third of a pound, Petzl’s new lid is the lightest one we’ve ever tested. It’s also one of the most breathable, with an astonishing 24 vents. “I forgot I was wearing a helmet!” exclaimed one tester after summiting Mount Shasta on an 80-degree day.

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Fitness

The Best Goggles of 2018

Cylindrical lenses that strike the perfect balance between performance and price. (Charles Dustin Sammann) Oakley Fall Line ($190) Old-school goggle lenses were formed flat and then bent to fit goggle frames, inducing headaches by warping the light and forcing your brain to make sense of the distorted images. Then early iterations of lenses thermoformed on a cylinder (no need to bend them) took over the high end, only to be replaced with top-dollar spherical lenses that mimic the shape of the human eye. But recent refinements in how cylindrical lenses are built—less distortion for less money—have led

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Fitness

The Best Recycled Gear of 2018

Even outdoor gear deserves a second chance. (Courtesy Woolrich) Woolrich Civil War Gettysburg Wool Blanket ($115) These thick 1800s-era blankets were  first issued to Union soldiers to keep them warm. The modern version is still tough as nails, but now it’s made of 80 percent wool gathered from the cutting-room floor. Buy Now (Charles Dustin Sammann) ShotzSki Shot Ski (From $175) No après-ski throwdown is complete without a shot ski. Our favorite maker, ShotzSki has a host of recycled planks to choose from (fat, skinny, old, and new). Pick a design or get a custom

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Fitness

The Best Winter Hats of 2018

It’s true: your head loses around 7 to 10 percent of your body’s heat—whether you’re spending winter nights in the desert high country or riding Colorado’s lifts—if it’s not well insulated. Still, though you should keep your dome swaddled, there’s no reason not to look good while doing so. (Courtesy Snowshed) Snowshed 3-Season Helmet Beanie ($35) Top of our list for high-output winter activities is the 3-Season Helmet beanie from up-and-coming Chicago company Snowshed. It’s made from fine merino wool and  fits nicely into your pocket. We wore the 3-Season beneath our bike and ski helmets without

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Fitness

The Best Sunglasses of 2018

Wherever your cold-weather escape trajectory leads, these best-in-class shades improve the view. (Courtesy Sunski) Sunski Plover ($58) Sunski, as ever, delivers quality and style that could easily cost twice as much. The Plover’s synthetic lenses are both polarized and mirrored—often premium upgrades. We put the optics to the test on a relentlessly sunny weekend on and next to the Pacific, where inferior lenses would have left our eyes fried. Buy Now (Courtesy Spy) Spy Cyrus Whitewall ($130) Aggro, loud, some screamingly unnatural red-orange color—you may not love such things in your president, but we dare

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Fitness

The Best Cameras of 2018

Tools that make it impossible to take a bad picture. (Courtesy Pentax) Pentax KP ($1,100) Stop shooting vacation photos on your iPhone and use this lightweight 1.5-pound box instead. The 24.3-megapixel APS-C sensor captures bigger, richer files than your cell, making for better prints. Plus, the KP has a massive ISO range—up to 819,200—for crisp low-light shots. It can snap seven frames per second and has a weather seal to keep you firing in rain and snow. You’ll need a fast lens to get the most out of this Pentax, but it’s a setup worth building out. Buy

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Fitness

The Best Après Shoes of 2018

Comfy, classy shoes for ski-beat feet. (Courtesy The North Face) The North Face ThermoBall Traction Bootie ($60) This PrimaLoft-insulated kick was like a puffy jacket for our feet. The North Face also slapped on a lugged rubber outsole that had mind-blowing grip even while we were drinking beers on parking-lot ice. Bonus points: that outsole is made from recycled materials. Buy Now (Courtesy Vans) Vans Remedy Boot ($160) Vans ventures away from its home in Southern California and toward the wintry north with this boot that features a durable galosh-like lower section and a Sorel-like

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Fitness

The Best Après Tailgating Gear of 2018

Win the parking lot post-ski scene. Tembo Tusk Skottle Kit (Courtesy Tembo Tusk) Tembo Tusk Skottle Kit ($275) The skottle—think a shallow wok with legs—makes an ideal grilling surface for post-pow steaks and veggies. Invented by South African farmers who repurposed old disc harrows from tractors, the propane-fueled cooking tool has gained popularity among U.S. overlanders because of its simple design and giant grilling surface. Buy Now (Courtesy Patagonia) Patagonia Iron Forge Hemp Canvas Double Knee Pants ($79) Ditch your crinkly, uncomfortable ski pants for these soft, warm, nearly indestructible work pants made from industrial

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Fitness

The Best Gloves of 2018

Care for your digits. Arc’teryx Rush SV ($275) Arc’teryx debuted the Alpha glove a couple of years ago, with a revolutionary build: it sealed the membrane stitches with waterproof tape, making the Alpha the most weatherproof glove we’ve ever tested. The Alpha has now been upgraded to the Rush, with a removable quick-drying liner. Think of it as hard-shell armor for your hands. Buy Now Black Diamond Helio ($200) Versatility was on full display during a ski tour in Crested Butte, where the three-in-one Helio proved to be our best friend. We skinned

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Fitness

The Best Winter Camping Gear of 2018

Survive a night (or two or three) in the snow. (Courtesy Mammut) Mammut Trion Light 38 Pack ($160)  Mammut’s Trion lets you jam in gear for days in the backcountry but is optimized for fast-and-light summit bids. Removable hip pads and top pouch slim things down when ounces count. Buy Now (Courtesy MSR) MSR Remote 2 Tent ($800) The Remote 2’s spacious, 33-square-foot interior and cavernous vestibule made waiting out a storm almost pleasant. The burly composite poles held steady in 30-mile-per-hour winds. Buy Now (Courtesy Leatherman) Leatherman Rebar Multitool ($60) With styling

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Fitness

The Best Watches of 2018

Rugged, refined timepieces for nights out, the depths, and, yes, even space. (Courtesy Luminox) Luminox Navy SEAL 3500 ($375)  Luminox took the perennial favorite Navy SEAL model and gave it an update, with a less cluttered dial and the minor flourish of a red second hand. The 3500 is a remarkably tough piece of horology for such a reasonable price; the carbon-compound case is a perfect combination of lightweight and durable, and the luminescent markers will glow for up to 25 years. Buy Now (Courtesy Nixon) Nixon Station Chrono Leather ($250) Less rugged and waterproof

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