(Inga Hendrickson)
2021 Winter Buyer’s Guide

The Best Packs of 2021

Dialed and ready for big loads, these bags will help you keep the pace


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Gregory Targhee FastTrack 35L ($220)

(Courtesy Gregory)

Amid a lineup of packs designed for big adventures, the new Targhee FastTrack rose to the top for its superior balance of features, volume, and weight savings. It’s just as much at home on resort hike-to terrain as it is on ultralight mountaineering missions. And it fits enough for a hut trip. 

Ounce-shaving on this pack comes in subtle yet significant places, like a webbing strap with thin floating pads instead of a full waist belt. Those pads, the internal hard plastic framesheet, and a zippered brain detach to take the weight from three pounds to 1.8.

Even then you get plenty of reliable essentials, like a stowable helmet net and a tool pocket that holds a shovel and probe, spare layer, and skins. A new race-inspired ski carry allows you to transition without taking off the pack: slide your tails through a loop on the lower back and then clip the elastic top strap around your tips. The system requires practice and works best if the pack isn’t fully loaded, but it added welcome speed when we were rushing for freshies on the Revelstoke summit boot-pack. Side straps also enable A-frame rigging and compress the load on descents, while daisy chains and elastic ice-tool keepers offer functionality for other winter endeavors. 3 lbs

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Osprey Soelden Pro 32 ($1,200)

(Courtesy Osprey)

Best Avy Pack

Osprey’s debut airbag combines the brand’s proven quality and design expertise with our favorite inflation mechanism—the Alpride E1—to create an adaptable and user-friendly avy pack. The Alpride supercapacitor electric-­airbag system is easier to practice with than compressed air and more ­travel-friendly than the battery-powered kinds. (Most airilnes prohibit lithium-ion batteries.) Meanwhile, the pack body carries skis A-frame, diagonally, or vertically without excess straps flapping around. A helmet net attaches on top or out back, and the body zips open around the sides, clamshell style, for easy gear sorting. The only caveats: A-frame ski carry made accessing the main compartment slightly more difficult, and, as in many of its peers, the fan system leaves only just enough room for our standard day-tour kit. But at under 6.5 pounds, the Soelden (and women’s Sopris 30) are light for airbag packs. Credit the fabric, a feathery yet durable blend of nylon and polyethylene that’s also PFC-free. For its first avy pack, Osprey made a contender for one of the best we’ve tried. 6.4 lbs

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Patagonia Descensionist 32L ($179)

(Courtesy Patagonia)

Best for Slackcountry

Our pick for lift-accessed hot laps may seem a little pudgy for the job, but the Descensionist is a shapeshifter that carries like a much smaller bag. The secret is the roll top, which grows or shrinks to fit your needs. Filled with only water, skins, and avalanche tools (in the dedicated external shovel pocket), the pack compresses nearly flat. That plus tidy straps means it plays nice with chairlifts. But because of its thin profile, it also fits all the accoutrements of a longer adventure without turning into a basketball. Key features keep you comfortable deep in the backcountry, like a wide hipbelt and a breathable back panel, side compression straps to stabilize your load, a side zip to get at the main compartment without unbuckling the top, and vertical and A-frame ski and board carry. You could buy multiple packs for different ski missions. Or you could go with this sleek and simple beauty. 2.6 lbs

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Mountain Hardwear Alpine Light 50 ($350)

(Courtesy Mountain Hardwear)

Best for Ice Climbing and Mountaineering

Minimalism is the Alpine Light’s calling card. Mountain Hardwear ditched weight at every turn, preserving only the features you need to get through an endurance mission comfortably. What made the cut: a removable hipbelt and brain, a cinch-top main compartment, a single removable internal pocket, and two small zippered side pockets for essentials. Side compression straps pull the load close to prevent jostling during reachy moves, and massive grab handles are easy to clasp with gloves on. A generous gear loop at the belt makes for quick racking. Durability and usability didn’t fall by the wayside, though. The body is made from bomber lightweight waterproof 150-denier Dyneema, with 375-denier Dyneema fabric along the bottom for maximum shred resistance. A feathery aluminum frame and foam backsheet mean the pack holds its shape and carries well, even under heavy loads. One tester summarized it well: “A versatile, well-detailed workhorse of a pack for serious alpine objectives where ounces count.” 2.3 lbs

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Deuter Freeride Pro 34+ ($180)

(Courtesy Deuter)

Best for Hut Trips

Where Gregory’s Targhee is a multi-sport star, Deuter’s latest is streamlined for one task: long trips with lots of gear. The clean, zip-access top loader has a big main compartment, an avy-tool shed, a fleecy goggles pocket, a zippered back slot that’s perfect for skins, and a handy hipbelt pouch. One tester described it as a neat freak’s dream. It was plenty big for a frigid tour with all our glacier gear. When we needed even more space we unfurled the roll top to add ten liters to the main compartment, enough to load a hut-trip’s worth of gear­—­­­­­­six-pack included. Even then we could access all the other pockets, rack skis A-frame (or a board vertically), and dig out lunch through the back-panel zip. It carried the extra weight comfortably, with a hidden U-shaped plastic frame sewn around the back panel that distributes the load onto the nicely padded hipbelt. 2.8 lbs

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From Winter 2021 Buyer’s Guide Lead Photo: Inga Hendrickson

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