Ski backpacks come in many shapes and sizes, but the primary purpose is always the same, to lug stuff around with you, whether that's a ham baguette covertly siphoned from the breakfast buffet in the morning or avalanche gear and skins.
What you should look for in a ski backpack
If you've ever tried riding with a basic pack strapped to your back, you'll know that it doesn't work all that well for skiing and snowboarding. Ski and snowboard packs are like most other outdoor sports backpacks, usually equipped with a hip belt and sternum strap as well as a range of adjusters and compression straps so that the pack and the weight within stays firmly in place on your back. This is really a minimum requirement, but beyond that look for avalanche gear compartments, back protector inserts, hydration bladder compatibility and pockets for water bottles and goggles.
How we test ski backpacks
Simple really, load em up and go ski! We rate packs on their features, how comfortable they are to wear, how stable they are when loaded up and how durable and weather resistant the material is.
The ski backpacks below represent the best in the business and will comfortably haul whatever you choose to stash in them around the slopes without undue bother.
Deuter Freerider Pro 30 | £140
If you're looking for a pack to take deep into the backcountry with a full complement of features then the Freerider Pro is a damn good option. An ergonomic back panel and well cushioned hip and shoulder straps keep comfort levels high, so when the pack is fully loaded you don't feel the weight too heavily on your back. The lower section works with the natural movement of your hips by using Deuter's Vari Flex system which lets the hipbelt pivot, this works well for skiing and snowboarding where there's a fair amount of movement in that area. You can pack a lot into the Freerider Pro thanks to two big main compartments and goggle and hipbelt pockets, as well as a hydration bladder sleeve. There's also a full clamshell opening on the backpanel to get easy access to gear stashed right at the bottom of the pack. Strapping skis or a snowboard to the Freerider Pro is simple; in side, diagonal or front carry and the webbing is durable enough to cope with sharp edges.
Overall a tough, durable and comfortable option for off-piste adventures.
Osprey Kamber 22 | £120
A classic ski and snowboard pack from Osprey that's been going for quite a few years, with only minor updates along the way, the Kamber 22 is the perfect all mountain pack for those who aren't extreme backcountry skiers. The design is clean and simple but works really well, with storage across two main compartments, the larger with a long zip opening so it's easy to access all of your kit. The front compartment gives you a large mesh pocket inside and sleeves for a shovel and probe, although we reckon the Kamber 22 is more suited to resort and occasional off-piste use. The brightly coloured back panel is snow shedding and has shallow air channels and although the shoulder straps and hipbelt are only lightly padded they're still comfortable to wear. Hydration bladder tubing runs through an enclosed insulated pocket on the shoulder strap which stops your water from freezing - a neat touch that more ski pack manufacturers should use! The ski and snowboard carry systems are intuitive and easy to use and the strategically placed rubber reinforcements saves webbing from nicks and tears. Another neat feature is the helmet carry which is stashed out of sight in the front panel but is quick and easy to deploy.
Overall a cleverly designed pack that will last an age.
Arva Reactor Ultralight 25 | £432
This is a seriously hefty investment for anyone but there isn't a price you can put on your life, and the Reactor might just save it if you get caught in an avalanche. This one's for dedicated backcountry skiers and snowboarders only then, those who think of skiing as more than just a hobby, and so are willing to invest in the right kit for the job. The Reactor comes in a few different capacities but this 25 litre version hits the sweet spot for day tours and keeps weight down to a low 1720g complete with airbag system (but not gas). It achieves this by paring down features to just a single compartment and using lighter weight (210D compared to the Dakine Poacher RAS' 550D) materials. Loaded with Arva's highly respected 150 litre double airbag and double inflation system the Reactor is designed to provide maximum lift in an avalanche situation. Bear in mind that the pack is loaded with the airbag system but you'll have to buy a gas bottle separately. It's also compatible with a helmet carry net but this isn't included either. Despite being sparse on features the back panel, shoulder straps and hipbelt make for a comfortable wearing experience even when hiking for hours, with a decent amount of cushioning and good airflow throughout. Skis can be carried diagonally and there's facility to carry a snowboard and ice axe.
Overall the Arva Reactor is a great avalanche pack for day tours which combines safety, reliability and reasonable comfort in a lightweight package.
Vaude Nendaz 20 | £100
This pack is absolutely stacked full of features for both resort and backcountry skiers. Stashing all your kit, including avalanche gear in the pack is easy thanks to two separate compartments, as well as a fleece lined goggle pocket and an additional pocket on the shoulder strap for small items. The front of the pack is uncluttered and fuss free but still has the full complement of straps for ski/snowboard carry, poles or ice axe and an innovative helmet carry system
A great pack for short ski tours and resort romps.
Dakine Poacher RAS 26 | £160
Dakine undoubtedly make some of the best ski and snowboard backpacks out there including the iconic Heli Pro but they're stepping it up a notch with the Poacher RAS 26. RAS stands for Removeable Airbag System and in particular Mammut's Removeable Airbag System 3.0 which is sold separately to the Poacher RAS for a shade under £400. So, this is really a base pack, and if you don't intend on adding an airbag there's little point in investing in it. If you do buy this pack and add the airbag, you'll find it takes up little space in the roll top closure and you can also buy slimline refillable cartridges which leaves much of your 26 litre capacity left over for other odds and sods. Although the cartridge will set you back a chunky wedge of cash (£125) a non-refillable version is cheaper and there's also a company in the UK offering cartridge hire for a very reasonable £13 a week.
There's a slightly unusual storage setup in the Poacher RAS with a rear clamshell opening accessing the main compartment but no front/top zip. This is a bit fiddly at first but once you get used to the idea it works well as you intuitively lay your pack down on its front in the snow to access the whole compartment rather than trying to balance it on its base. In the front compartment you get sleeves and plenty of space for avalanche gear and there's a top goggle and single hipbelt pocket for quick access items. Base pack weight is heavy at 1.8kg and you really feel it, the airbag system and cartridge then adds another kilo on top. Luckily the pack carries it pretty well thanks to decent padding across the shoulder straps and hipbelt and a fairly comfortable back panel. Part of the weight can be attributed to the heavy duty (550D) nylon outer material so it's a pay off for extra durability. Ski carry is diagonal and A-frame and snowboards are carried vertically.
Overall a decent effort but not the best airbag compatible pack we've seen this year.
While the Dakine Poacher RAS is a staunch contender, the award for best airbag pack this season has to go to the Arva Reactor Ultralight 25. If you're looking for a resort orientated pack then it's a tough call between the Osprey Kamber 22 and Vaude Nendaz 20 but the Nendaz just edges it thanks to a lower price point.