(Inga Hendrickson)
2020 Winter Buyers Guide

The Best Backpacks of 2020

Finally, a winter hauler that hits the sweet spot


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The North Face Forecaster 35 ($189)

(Courtesy The North Face)

Like you, we have a hard time locating gear that was designed just right. With packs that skew ultralight, we find ourselves wanting more space or a pocket to stash gloves or snacks. Then there are the overbuilt behemoths, but who’s looking to add weight on a ski tour? The Forecaster nails the middle ground. It’s a 35-liter hauler with a floating lid, hip pockets, and an avalanche-tool compartment, yet it weighs a mere 2.7 pounds. The North Face built it with feathery but tough ripstop fabric, a lightly padded suspension system, and a simple top-loading design. ­Consider that avy pocket: often these are too narrow or too squat for sturdier shovels or longer probes. TNF made the Forecaster’s wide enough for the fattest blades and added length by extending the pocket above the zipper. On a ski-mountaineering trip, we had enough room in the main compartment for layers, a camera, food, and water; with the pack fully loaded, the back-panel sheet distributed the load perfectly. Skinnier folks might prefer tighter hip-belt adjustment, but all told the Forecaster offers skiers everything they need without bogging them down. 2.7 lbs

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Backcountry Access Stash 20 ($145)

(Courtesy Backcountry)

Best for Slackcountry

Twenty percent matters. It’s the difference between four inches of new snow and five, flat and skiable slopes, and a mediocre winter and a memorable one. And it’s how much weight the Stash 20 lost since last season. The 20-liter pack dropped from 2.9 pounds to 2.3, a cut we noticed while skinning out of Whistler and boot-packing up to Revelstoke’s Mackenzie Peak. Backcountry Access jettisoned the torso-length adjustment and the back-panel zipper for accessing the main compartment—handy features for sure, but nothing testers missed in a pack this small. Lots of organizational hits (including tiny zip stashes in the main area and sleeves in the tool pocket) help there. As with the old Stash, this generation has a helmet net and multiple ways of carrying skis and boards. 2.3 lbs

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Black Diamond JetForce Pro 25 ($1,400)

(Courtesy Black Diamond)

Best AirBag Pack

Black Diamond revamped the JetForce Pro for this year’s edition. Its lighter, for one, curbing the weight penalty always incurred with an avalanche pack. The airbag system performs a self-check when you switch it on and signals with a green light that you’re good to go. (A red light indicates that the battery is dead or the airbag needs repacking.) Another perk: you can fly with it, since the airbag is fan controlled. You can also practice deploying the JetForce Pro without burning through expensive canisters. The bag remains inflated for three minutes before the air is expelled, leaving a 200-liter pocket beneath the snow. (Research suggests that’s large enough to survive for an hour.) 6.3 lbs

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Osprey Kresta 14 ($100)

(Courtesy Osprey)

Best for the Resort

The Kresta 14 (and men’s Kamber 16) looks minimalist, but it’s sure to appeal to the compulsively organized. Its many pockets include dedicated spots to store sunglasses or goggles in scratch-resistant fabric, to clip in keys, to stash snacks, and to run a hydration hose through an insulated sleeve. Not to mention the pack’s slim profile allows it to slide onto the chairlift without demanding a seat of its own. We used the diagonal ski-­carry system on short ridge hikes. (Snowboarders have vertical and horizontal options.) The pack will accommodate your shovel and probe in a pinch but not much else, so prepare to pack light. 1.9 lbs

Men's Women's

Mammut Niva 35 ($220)

(Courtesy Mammut)

Best for the Backcountry

Mammut poured time and attention into making sure that ladies who rip can do so with a pack tailored specifically to them. The designers started with one of the brand’s more popular ski packs­­—the men’s Nirvana 35—and spent two years testing at least four prototypes. Key tweaks were made to the shoulder straps, which in the Niva are curved to stay clear of the chest, and the tapered hip belt keeps the padding in position and squarely supports the load. Trimming pack length for a woman’s torso often results in a design that stretches away from the spine in an effort to preserve volume, but the Niva has a wide profile from hip to hip. That keeps the weight closer to the center, and we were pleased with how little it jostled when skinning up and riding down. Is your kit dialed and lean? The Niva might even work as an overnight pack. 3.4 lbs (men’s) / 3.3 lbs (women’s, pictured)

Men's Women's

From Winter 2020 Buyer’s Guide Lead Photo: Inga Hendrickson

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