The Best Mountaineering and Alpine Climbing Backpack Review

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Max in the Arcteryx Alpha FL hardshell jacket and CiloGear 30:30 backpack.
Credit: Zeb Engberg
What’s the best pack for alpine climbing? To find out, we took 11 of the best and most popular alpine packs through two years of testing to see how they compared side-by-side. Each pack is scored on five criteria: weight, durability, versatility, comfort, and features. From sunny big wall rock climbs, to winter alpinism and ice cragging, these packs have seen a lot of terrain. Our awards and ratings highlight the best all-purpose pack, the best large capacity pack, and the best value pack.

If you're looking for a small pack only for multi-pitch rock climbing check out our Climbing Daypack Review. If you're in the market for a backpacking pack take a look at out Backpacking Backpack Review. For ice climbing and mountaineering gear suggestions take a look at our Dream Ice Climbing and Mountaineering Gear List.

Read the full review below >

Review by: Chris Simrell ⋅ Review Editor, OutdoorGearLab September 16, 2013

Top Ranked Mountaineering Backpacks Displaying 1 - 5 of 10 << Previous | View All | Next >>
Our Ranking #1 #2 #3 #4 #5
Product Name
CiloGear 30L WorkSack
CiloGear 30L WorkSack
Read the Review
CiloGear 30:30 WorkSack
CiloGear 30:30 WorkSack
Read the Review
CiloGear 45L WorkSack
CiloGear 45L WorkSack
Read the Review
Hyperlite Mountain Gear 3400 Ice Pack
Hyperlite Mountain Gear 3400 Ice Pack
Read the Review
Wild Things Guide Pack
Wild Things Guide Pack
Read the Review
Editors' Awards  Editors' Choice Award      Top Pick Award   
Street Price $169 - $500$219$259 - $700$295$195
Overall Score 
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100% recommend it (2/2)
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100% recommend it (3/3)
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1 rating
Be the first to rate it
Pros Perfect balance of low weight and durability, excellent features, super comfy for climbing, 4 fabric optionsMost versatile pack ever? lightweight, durable.Great features, 3 different fabric options, great weight to volume ratioExtremely light for volume, very comfortable on approach, good ice tool attachment, 100% waterproof.Simple, durable, relatively light.
Cons Could be too small for multi-day trips (unless you go ultralight)Not super comfortable when loaded, rather large for day trips.Less comfortable than HMG Ice Pack for hiking.No bivy pad, less comfortable for climbing than average alpine pack, crampon attachment is poor (but can be easily fixed), shoulder strap material uncomfortable when used over thin shirt.Some features could be improved.
Best Uses 1-2 day alpine climbs. multipitch rock, ice climbing2-4 day Alpine trips, ice climbing, winter alpine climbing.Multiday alpinism, ice climbingIce Climbing, Winter Alpine ClimbingIce climbing, alpine climbing, rock climbing
Date Reviewed Aug 29, 2013Aug 19, 2013Jun 19, 2013Aug 19, 2013Aug 26, 2013
Weight - 30%
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Durability - 20%
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Comfort - 10%
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Versatility - 20%
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Product Specs CiloGear 30L WorkSack CiloGear 30:30 WorkSack CiloGear 45L WorkSack Hyperlite Mountain Gear 3400 Ice Pack Wild Things Guide Pack
Capacity (liters) 30 40 45-75 55 26
Capacity (cubic inches) 1830 2440 2750 3400 1585
Total Weight (grams) Standard Fabrics - 590g (stripped) / 980g (max). Woven / Non-Woven Dyneema - 505g (stripped) / 940g (max). Non-Woven Dyneema - 480g (stripped) / 870g (max). Standard Fabrics - 680g (stripped) / 1230g (max). Guide Service - 700g (stripped) / 1250g (max). Standard Fabrics - 790g (stripped) / 1800 (max). Woven / Non-Woven Dyneema - 650g (stripped) / 1725g (max). Non-Woven Dyneema - 625g (stripped) / 1690g (max) 966g 793g
Total Weight (ounces) Standard Fabrics - 20.8oz (stripped) / 34.6oz (max). Woven / Non-Woven Dyneema - 17.8oz (stripped) / 33oz (max). Non-Woven Dyneema - 17oz (stripped) / 30.6oz (max). Standard Fabrics - 23.9oz (stripped) / 43.4oz (max). Guide Service - 24.7oz (stripped) / 44.1oz (max). Woven / Non-Woven Dyneema - Standard Fabrics - 27.9oz (stripped) / 63.5oz (max). Woven / Non-Woven Dyneema - 23oz (stripped) / 60.9oz (max). Non-Woven Dyneema - 22oz (stripped) / 59.6oz (max) 34oz 28oz
Weight to Volume Ratio 0.6 - 1.1 oz/L 0.61 - 1.1 oz/L 0.48 - 1.4 oz/L .62 oz/L 1.08 oz/L
Frame Type Removable foam bivy pad Removeable foam bivy pad. Compatible with CiloGear framesheet (does not come with it) Framesheet with aluminium stay (removable), foam bivy pad (removable). Two removable aluminium stays Removeable foam bivy pad
Fabric Standard Fabrics: 210d Cordura with Dyneema Ripstop in main side panels and lid. VX42 (420d Cordura laminated with dacron X-Pac) on bottom and tool attachment. VX21 (210d Cordura laminated with dacron X-Pac) on bottom sides and front panel. 210d Cordura with dyneema Ripstop on main side panels and lid (?). VX21 (210d Cordura laminated with dacron X-Pac) on bottom sides and front panel. VX100 on bottom. Standard Fabrics: 210d Cordura with Dyneema Ripstop in main side panels. VX21 (210d Cordura laminated with dacron X-Pac) on bottom sides. VX42 (420d Cordura laminated with dacron X-Pac) on center panel and bottom. 3.3 oz/yd2 Ripstop Cuben Fiber / Polyester hybrid. Waterproof VX21 (210d Cordura laminated with dacron X-Pac)
Pockets 1 internal zippered, 1 zippered lid pocket 1 internal zippered, 1 zippered lid pocket 1 internal zippered, 1 zippered lid pocket 1 zippered internal 1 zippered lid
Removable Bivy Pad? Yes Yes Yes No Yes
Lid? Yes - removable Yes - removable Yes - removable No - rolltop closure Yes - removable

OutdoorGearLab Editors' Hands-on Review


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  • All Reviewed Products
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CiloGear 30L WorkSack
$169 - $500
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Black Diamond Speed 30
$140
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CiloGear 45L WorkSack
$259 - $700
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CiloGear 30:30 WorkSack
$219
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Black Diamond Boost
$150
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Black Diamond Speed 40
$160
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Wild Things Guide Pack
$195
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Haglofs Roc 35
$130
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Mountain Hardwear SummitRocket 30
$150
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Selecting the Right Product
The packs reviewed here are “alpine” packs in that their intended use is technical mountain climbing (and mountaineering). They all feature ice tool / ice axe attachment systems and have the infrastructure to carry crampons easily. In general they are larger than a small climbing daypack intended for use on multi-pitch rock only. They range in size from 25 – 55 liters of capacity. Which alpine climbing pack is right for you? Answering this question requires some reflection on the specific type of alpine climbing you most often partake in, and the type of alpine climbs you plan to attempt in the future.

Generally speaking, the first question to ask when choosing an alpine pack is this - what capacity is best for my needs? A secondary and related question is – do I want one single pack for most (or all) of my needs? Or am I willing to purchase two packs, one small, one larger.

Your needs from a pack will greatly depend on the style of alpine climbing you do, and the mountains you generally climb in. Those who primarily climb rock in the High Sierra of California (for example) may require a high degree of fabric durability and may care less about the quality and ease of use of their ice tool attachment. Those who are primarily climbing in glaciated mountains like the Cascades may care a bit more about axe / tool attachments since they’ll perhaps use it more. Those largely climbing water ice or alpine ice climbs may choose to opt for a lighter fabric at the expense of abrasion resistance. The most basic feature of your pack however is capacity. We encourage you to read our Alpine Climbing Pack Buying Advice article for a more detailed discussion on choosing an alpine pack.

A note on pack selection: This review is primarily geared toward people looking to climb in the mountain ranges of the Lower 48 in the U.S. and areas in Canada like the Bugaboos / Canadian Rockies (and similar locations throughout the world). If you're planning on climbing in a bigger range, like the Alaska Range for example, critically consider the type and length of route(s) you intend to tackle when choosing the appropriate pack. Generally speaking, an alpine climbing trip to a place like the Alaska Range will involve more than one pack - you may need a larger pack for moving camps, and a smaller pack for climbing. Or simply different sized packs for different routes, dependent on length. Also keep in mind that even "small" routes in a place like the Alaska Range are much bigger than what you may normally climb closer to home, and consequently you may need a larger pack than you normally climb with. In giving our awards in this review, we tried to focus on what would be best for a climber spending the majority of their time in the more "local" ranges of the U.S. Lower 48 and similar locales.

Capacity
What capacity to choose in an alpine pack relies on two things – the length of the trips you intending to use it for, and the bulk of the gear you will be bringing along.

30 liter (approx.) packs -
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The Black Diamond Speed 30 pack
Credit: Zeb Engberg
A 30L pack is an excellent size for alpine day climbs - you have space for a rack, a rope, food, water, an insulating layer, perhaps a rain shell, your helmet, and maybe ice tools / mountain axe, and crampons on the outside. They are lightweight, and more importantly they are small enough to be relatively unencumbering when climbing technical terrain. 30L packs may also be the right size for trips of moderate length (one to several nights), if you are traveling with a very light bivy kit.

40 liter (approx.) packs
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The CiloGear 30:30, Stuart glacier, Mt Stuart, Cascades, WA.
Credit: Molly Ravits
This is a goldilocks size. 40L packs offer substantially more space than 30L’s and more easily accommodate the additional items you might bring along on an overnight or multi-day alpine trip – sleeping bag, shelter, food, and stove. The 40L packs in this review generally have simple and light framesheets and the ability to be stripped down. This is a good “all-around” capacity pack to have if you frequently do alpine climbs with at least one overnight as they have the necessary space but remain small enough for reasonable comfort while climbing.

45 liter and larger packs
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Todd Kilcup with the CiloGear 45L NWD WorkSack on Mt. Rainier.
These are your multi-day only packs. Generally speaking, packs of this capacity are overkill “weekend alpinism”. If however, you are planning on tackling longer trips, or climbs of moderate length in winter and you need space for bulky layers a pack this size will accommodate your needs. Keep in mind that many packs that are “45L” can actually hold much more when you extend the collar to full length. A larger pack like this might also be the ticket as a hauler to a base camp if paired with a light and compact “summit pack”.

See our Ultralight Sleeping Bag Review and Ultralight Tent Review for products than can greatly reduce the weight and bulk of your alpine kit.

Criteria for Evaluation
Each pack is numerically scored on the following criteria. Additionally, within each product review is a discussion of why the pack scored as it did in each.

Weight
The overall weight of an alpine pack is of great importance. A lighter pack is much more comfortable be to climb with than a pack that drags you down. Presumably, you will whittle down the gear you throw into the pack on an alpine climb in an effort to “go-light,” but this effort can begin with the pack itself. Packs are scored on overall weight with lighter packs scoring higher. The ability to strip down a pack to further reduce weight is also considered in this scoring. In our comparison table above we list each packs weight. Because we are comparing packs of various sizes, we have also included weight-to-volume ratios measured in ounces (oz.) per liter (L.) of capacity. The packs with the best weight to volume ratio are the Hyperlite Mountain Gear 3400 Ice Pack, and the Mountain Hardwear SummitRocket 30 which is also the lightest pack we reviewed.

Durability
Rock abrasion, bushwhacking, and careless crampon use - alpine climbing can subject a pack to all sorts of wear and tear. The primary durability concern on an alpine pack is the fabric. Of secondary concern are the features – how breakable are the small parts of the pack like the ice tool / axe attachments, zippers, straps etc. There is a large spectrum of fabric durability in this review. Generally speaking pack fabrics are like everything else, lightweight fabrics are less durable than heavy fabrics. Many packs will feature fabrics with a lower denier (D) on the upper sides as a way of saving weight, and then feature heavier weight, higher denier fabrics on the bottom of the pack, and on other high wear areas like the front where you may stow your crampons. Several packs in this review – the Hyperlite Mountain Gear 3400 Ice Pack and all CiloGear packs - are offered in Dyneema or Dyneema / polyester hybrid fabrics. These cutting edge laminated fabrics bring a lot of innovation to the outdoor industry in general and have both pros and cons.

Bare non-woven Dyneema (NWD, also known as Cuben fiber) is extremely lightweight, has tremendous tear strength, and is waterproof. NWD’s weakness is abrasion. For this reason manufacturers using NWD often use it in a hybrid fabric, laminating it with a woven face fabric to improve abrasion resistance. The HMG Ice Pack is constructed out of a Cuben fiber / polyester hybrid fabric. The CiloGear packs are offered in NWD and W/NWD (non-woven Dyneema with a woven Dyneema face fabric). CiloGear's W/NWD is extremely durable, their NWD however, and HMG's Cuben Fiber / polyester hybrid are superlight and suffer from a relative lack of abrasion resistance compared to the more traditional fabrics in this review.

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The Hyperlite Mountain Gear Ice Pack has among the least durable bottoms of all packs tested.

We awarded durability points based on the overall durability of the pack. Your durability needs will depend on the frequency with which you climb, and they type of climbing you do. In our experience, rock climbing tears up packs much quicker than alpine ice or water ice climbing.

Versatility
We scored the versatility of a pack based on its ability to adapt – removable features like lids, hipbelts, and framesheets, add to a packs overall versatility allowing you to trim weight, or add pockets/volume depending on the needs of your trip. Packs with good weight to volume ratios score well in versatility since they allow for increased capacity with minimal weight punishment. We also awarded versatility points to packs with the durability featuring to shine in both alpine rock and ice climbing situations. The most versatile pack we tested was the CiloGear 30:30 WorskSack.

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CiloGear 30L WorkSack in the North Cascades, Washington.

Features
Here we scored packs based on the quality, functionality, and ease of use of the included features. All of the packs in the review for example have ice tool / axe attachment systems – some of them, like the sewn loops and Velcro of the Wild Things Guide Pack are a bit old-school, some are a bit finicky, and some are very secure and easy to use (HMG and CiloGear). The removability of features like hip-belts, lids, frames, and straps also lead to higher scores since this allows for better versatility overall.Well-designed alpine climbing packs are generally less featured overall compared to backpacking packs. An excess of features adds weight and means there are more things to break. For this reason we gave points to packs that offered only the necessary features. We found the First Ascent Alchemist 40 for example to be overly featured for an alpine climbing pack. While it has a novel axe attachment, we ultimately feel that the excess of features adds too much weight. Be sure to read our Alpine Climbing Pack Buying Advice article for our advice on what features to look for.

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Ice tool attachment on the CiloGear 45L NWD WorkSack- the best style of any pack tested.
Credit: Chris Simrell

Comfort
There are two parts to comfort in an alpine pack – comfort on approach, and comfort while climbing technical terrain. Obviously, smaller packs tend to be much more comfortable than larger packs while climbing. Larger packs however tend to have more substantial suspension systems, framesheets, stays, padding, etc and are therefore more comfortable on approach than a loaded up small capacity pack that lacks a padded hipbelt, or frame. The two most comfortable packs to hike in that we tested were the HMG Ice Pack and the CiloGear 45L WorkSack. The CiloGear 30L WorkSack was our favorite pack to have when climbing technical terrain.

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CiloGear 30L WorkSack alpine rock climbing.

And the Winners Are…
Editor’s Choice Award: CiloGear 30L WorkSack
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Our Editor's Choice Award goes to the CiloGear 30L WorkSack. For most people who squeeze in their alpine climbing on the weekends, the 30L capacity is a great size - perfect for car-to-car alpinism, manageable for 1-3 night trips if you employ a very light bivy kit, and a dream to climb technical terrain with. We also love the features of the CiloGear WorkSacks - strippable lid, hip belt, and side straps, a removable bivy pad frame for use when you get benighted, internal compression strap, and one single internal hanging pocket for a headlamp, sunscreen and other small tidbits. As a bonus, the 30L Worksack is offered in 4 different fabric options. This is our most loved climbing pack.

Top Pick Award: Hyperlite Mountain Gear 3400 Ice Pack
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Super comfortable on the approach and extremely lightweight for the capacity, the Hyperlite Mountain Gear 3400 Ice Pack is our go-to ice climbing pack and the most comfortable large pack for walking. Made from a cuben fiber / polyester hybrid fabric the Ice Pack is ultralight, beautiful, and functionally waterproof. In our opinion, an excellent pack set-up would be a this and a CiloGear 30L WorkSack - the HMG for trips with a long approach and the Cilo 30L for car-to-car climbing. The CiloGear 45L WorkSack is also a good choice for a larger pack, and perhaps climbs a bit better, but it's less comfortable to hike with. Unless you're climbing in the "greater ranges" and need to be climbing technical terrain with a big pack, we think the HMG Ice Pack is a better all-around choice.

Best Buy Award: Black Diamond Speed 30
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Although heavy for its size, the Black Diamond Speed 30 has all the features you need, reasonable fabric durability, and cots less than the other packs in this review. It's not our favorite small alpine pack, but it gets the job done. The 30L size is a good go-to size for weekend alpine climbing and is better for technical climbing than the larger Speed 40. If you need a pack a bit bigger than a 30L for alpine climbing and also do a lot of multi-pitch rock climbing, we recommend this budget set-up: the Black Diamond Speed 40 and the REI Flash 18.

Chris Simrell
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