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How to Choose a Backpack for Backcountry Skiing and Snowboarding

A mandatory accessory for any ski or snowboard backcountry trip, a backcountry backpack holds all your safety equipment and gear in a single compact package.

Things to consider when buying a backcountry backpack include:


Where are you going? How long will you be gone? The length of your trip and the amount of gear you need to carry will determine your size of backpack. Pack volume is usually measured in liters (L), and the following general guidelines apply:

  • 10-20L (lift-served side country, heli or cat accessed riding)
  • 20-35L (longer day tours)
  • 35-55L (hut touring or overnight trips)
  • 60-70L (longer mountaineering trips that require a tent, cooking and glacier travel gear)

Why not just wear your hiking backpack?

Backcountry packs differ from traditional hiking packs in these ways:

Separate Storage of Avalanche Safety Gear:
Backcountry backpacks usually have a separate compartment for your avalanche gear and provide easy access when an avalanche situation arises. Avalanche safety gear should be stored inside the backpack, not strapped on the outside, usually in a “wet-room” compartment that is vented and has pockets for your probe and shovel.

Ski/Snowboard Carry:
Ski/snowboard carry on your backpack is a must when going into the backcountry. A strap carrying system allows you to hike while leaving your hands free.
  • Ski - The two main carry systems are diagonal (skis together vertically or at an angle on the back of the pack) or A-frame (skis strapped separately to the sides of the pack and sometimes connected at the tips by a strap).
  • Snowboard - The two main methods are vertical (straight up and down on the back of the pack) or horizontal (sideways across the pack).

The style of carry is usually a personal preference, but keep in mind how and where you'll be traveling. While an A-frame carry may be more balanced, your gear might snag on brush or rocks when clearances are tight, especially if you have your boots in the bindings. This can also apply to snowboards carried horizontally. Diagonal carry systems can sometimes drag your ski tails on steep descents, especially if the straps are low. Some pack designs allow more than one style of carry for greater versatility, or allow you to carry either skis or a snowboard.


Fit also plays a part in what type of pack you’ll want. Consider the layers and outerwear you'll be wearing when using this backpack. Some backpacks come in different lengths. Your pack length should match your torso length to ensure the most comfortable fit - consult the manufacturer's fit chart to determine which length is best for you. When you try a pack on for size, put some weight inside to simulate a typical load, then see if the straps and waistbelt will adjust to fit your body properly.

Features like airbags and AvaLungs® can make the difference between survival and catastrophe should you get caught in an avalanche.


Airbag packs are built to keep avalanche victims at or near the snow’s surface. Research on avalanche airbag system packs indicates that wearing an inflated airbag greatly increases one's chances of survival in an avalanche. In the early stages of an avalanche the surface snow moves much slower than the deeper debris, therefore the skier with an airbag is usually taken for a shorter ride and experiences less trauma. Being nearer to the surface as the avalanche comes to a stop also increases the likelihood of having adequate air supply and being located quickly.


An AvaLung® is a breathing apparatus that allows a victim to pull oxygen from the surrounding snowpack while exhaling carbon dioxide away from their face. The AvaLung® can extend the duration of burial before asphyxiation occurs.

Other Features

  • Hydration Compatibility - If you plan to carry a hydration bladder, check for a separate compartment to protect the bladder and an exit port for the hose.
  • Back or Side Access Zippers - Having a way to access items at the bottom of your pack without unloading all of the contents can be a huge time saver.
  • Ice Axe Carry - A loop or loops at the front bottom of the pack along with easy-fasten tabs or straps to secure one or two ice tools is essential for ski mountaineering trips
  • Daisy Chain Gear Loops - These loops on the back of the pack make carrying climbing hardware or crampons on the exterior of the pack simple and help protect the pack fabric.
  • Specialized Touring Features - Some packs feature easy-access pockets or compartments designed for climbing skins or avalanche tools, or quick-racking ski attachments that can be used without removing the pack.
  • Helmet Carry - An elastic flap or pouch that secures your helmet while you're not wearing it and keeps it from bouncing
  • Compression straps - These side straps can be tightened to reduce the bulk of a pack for light days.

We recommend that backcountry travelers take an AIARE Level One class or equivalent and practice the skills they learn there regularly with their partners. Here are some great resources for avalanche safety education:

— American Institute for Avalanche Research and Education
— American Avalanche Association
— Northwest Weather and Avalanche Center

You should carry an avalanche beacon, shovel and probe when travelling in avalanche terrain and know how to use them. Backcountry travel requires an acceptance of the risks involved (avalanches are not the only danger) and implies a willingness to take responsibility for educating oneself about these dangers and ways to mitigate them.

This is evo. We are a ski, snowboard, wake, skate, bike, surf, camp and clothing online retailer with physical stores in SeattlePortlandDenver, Salt Lake City, and Whistler. Our goal is to provide you with great information to make both your purchase and up-keep easy.

evo also likes to travel to remote places across the globe in search of world-class powder turns, epic waves, or legendary mountain biking locations through evoTrip Adventure Travel Trips. Or, if you prefer to travel on your own, check out our ski & snowboard resort travel guides, and mountain bike trail guides


Still have questions? Please give our customer care team a call at 866-386-1590, Customer Care Hours. They can help you find the right setup to fit your needs.