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(Photo: Inga Hendrickson and Kevin Zansler)
2022 Winter Buyer’s Guide

The Best Winter Packs of 2022

These haulers can handle any winter mission

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Packs play an important role in the winter backcountry, helping us get out faster, stay out longer, and do it all more safely. This year’s crop uses every trick in the book: fabrics that lighten the load without compromising strength, new pockets that add volume without bulk, and designs that blend the space between clothing and equipment storage. In the process, packs have also become more versatile. You might just find a reason to use these bags year-round.

Mountain Hardwear Powabunga 32 ($200)

(Photo: Courtesy Mountain Hardwear)

The Powabunga changed how we pack for ski touring. At first glance, it doesn’t look revolutionary. It weighs a very average 3.1 pounds, with tough 500-denier Cordura fabric, an ­avalanche-tool pocket, a fleecy goggles-storage pouch, and zippered back-panel access to the main compartment—everything we’d expect from a backcountry ski pack of this size. The surprises are the two side pockets. Without eating up any interior space, they fit all the gear we need on the go and used to store inside our pack, including skins, snacks, a 32-ounce water bottle, a multitool, and sunglasses. They open vertically, so things don’t fall out if the pack is lying in the snow. As a result, we wound up choosing the Powabunga for days when we’d normally use a 40-liter. It carries nicely, even when it’s overloaded, thanks to a steel frame that transfers weight onto the pivoting padded hipbelt. Of the 15 bags we tested last winter, this was the only one that had us hollering its name. Powabunga indeed! 3.1 lbs

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Mystery Ranch Gallatin Peak 40L ($249)

(Photo: Courtesy Mystery Ranch)

Best for Hut Trips

The Gallatin Peak is a full-featured ­backcountry workhorse. A massive interior easily swallows an overnight kit, while the orange lining makes everything visible. Zippered pockets in the main body and lid keep small items organized. Brightly colored glove-friendly zipper pulls make it easy to find and open the avalanche-tool pocket, which fits even big shovel blades and probes. It also has a third slot for a snow saw. Those aren’t the only new features: there’s reinforced nylon to shield the pack body from ski edges, straps for ropes and ice axes, long zippers to open both sides of the main pocket, a torso and hipbelt that are both adjustable, and generous padding. All that in a pack that weighs only three pounds—impressive. 3 lbs

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Black Diamond Cirque 22 Ski Vest ($159)

(Photo: Courtesy Black Diamond)

Best for Going Fast and Light

Simply put, the Cirque made us faster. Yes, it’s light—1.5 pounds. But what sets it apart is the design, which marries a running vest and a ski pack. Without stopping, we could grab snacks from the two shoulder-strap pockets, pull skins out of a dedicated basement compartment, rack skis diagonally (plus remove them for the descent), and adjust the fit with a pull-cord side compression system. “I don’t think I took the pack off all day,” said a tester. Just don’t overload it. Pushing the 22-liter capacity caused the pack to bulge, which made for a less comfortable fit. For minimalist missions, ski-mountaineering racing, or anyone interested in doing more skiing and less standing around, this pack delivers. 1.5 lbs

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Ortovox Free Rider 28 ($190)

(Photo: Courtesy Ortovox)

Best for Day Trips

Whether you’re hiking a ridge or making quick turns through steep chutes, the Free Rider makes heavy loads disappear. That’s thanks to a host of features usually found only on bigger packs, like a wide, stretchy, ­hip-hugging waist belt, a well-cushioned back panel, and load-stabilizer straps. Even schlepping heavy alpine boards, we felt stable. A small top zipper makes essentials easy to grab from the main compartment, and a huge back-panel U-zip allows you to get to the bottom of the pack during transitions without an excavation. The ­avalanche-tool pocket is tight for big shovel blades. But with straps to carry everything from ice axes to snowshoes, the pack is ready for any outsize winter day mission. 2.5 lbs

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Black Crows Dorsa 27 ($190)

(Photo: Courtesy Black Crows)

Best for Slackcountry

You’d be hard-pressed to find a more minimalist winter pack than the Dorsa, which is exactly what makes it perfect for playing just outside the resort. To keep weight down, designers nixed a dedicated avalanche-tool area. Instead, your skins, shovel, and probe share the main compartment with clothes and water. Valuables and goggles go into the top pocket, which one tester squeezed full of cookies, granola bars, and a breakfast burrito, along with a phone and keys. A roll-top closure means you can even fit a bulky resort jacket inside if you decide to hop into the sidecountry midway through an in-bounds day, while a vertical zipper down the center of the pack body gets you to your gear swiftly when you have skis racked A-frame. 2.5 lbs

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Osprey Glade 12L ($110)

(Photo: Courtesy Osprey)

Best for In-Bounds

Last winter, COVID safety protocols meant base lodges were either closed or had restricted capacity. This lean, low-profile pack became our mobile locker for a ski season short on indoor breaks. A 2.5-liter hydration bladder tucks into a full-length back pocket with room to spare for a sandwich, skins, and a layer. (The insulated hose resisted icing well below freezing.) If you’re in a pinch, the second large compartment even fits avalanche tools. A small zippered pouch keeps hand warmers and a spare neck gaiter close at hand. But what impressed us the most about the Glade is how well it carried, even stuffed full. It didn’t balloon out, so lift rides were a cinch, and it rode smoothly zipping down our favorite bump runs. 2 lbs

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The North Face Phantom 50 ($199)

(Photo: Courtesy The North Face)

Best for Climbing Ice and Snow

The Phantom doesn’t just offer a great bang for your buck—it squeezes maximum performance out of every pound. Its organizational features are few (just two small pockets, one in the lid and one at the left hip), but the 50-liter top loader easily swallows a technical mission’s worth of gear and has enough straps to carry ice tools, skis, and a rope. The body is nearly waterproof and made of durable 210-denier recycled nylon reinforced with Spectra, with a carbonite coating on the bottom. But our favorite feature is the compression straps, which are partially ­routed through the shell fabric and encircle the pack. Tightening them squeezes the whole bag, not just the sides. “Overflowing or half full, it always felt stable,” said a tester. 2.2 lbs

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From Winter 2022 Buyer’s Guide Lead Photo: Inga Hendrickson and Kevin Zansler

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