Best ski backpack 2021: Rugged, comfortable packs to carry any kit you might need

We sling the best ski backpacks over our shoulders to bring you the top choices for skiers and other winter wanderers

Included in this guide:

Best ski backpack
(Image credit: Giuliano Maderner | Pexels)

The best ski backpacks differ from what you might use in the summer in a number of ways. The most obvious is that they’re generally larger, for the simple reason that you need to carry more kit when heading to the mountains in winter, and it’s often quite bulky (e.g. down jackets, emergency sleeping bag etc.).

Backpacks designed specifically for skiing will also have features such as ski/board carrying systems, like the Picture Calgary, and maybe even avalanche airbag safety systems such as the Mammut Pro X. They also tend to be more rugged and weatherproof than lightweight summer packs since they’re exposed to harsher conditions. And if a daypack for both winter and summer seems a bit excessive, remember that a winter pack will work absolutely fine in summer, it will just be a bit heavier and bulkier.

Upgrading your kit? Head to our roundups of the best ski jackets and the best ski pants. Need a pack that's more general-use? You want our guide to the best day sacks.

How to choose the best ski backpack for you

Decide what you plan to do with your pack before you buy – there’s clearly no point in shelling out all the money for a pack with an integrated avalanche airbag is you only ever ski on-piste, nor do you need a ski/board carrying system, but both of these features will be of great value to backcountry skiers. Your pack should obviously be able to easily accommodate everything you’re likely to need for a full day in the mountains, but you don’t want it so big there’s spare fabric flapping around all over the place from a half-empty pack.

It’s useful to be able to carry a hydration system in your pack – even in cold weather you can become dehydrated – and since you’ll be carrying more than you would in summer you need a sturdy harness and hip belt to support the extra weight.

Other things to look out for are full-length zips for easy access to the contents of the pack whilst on the move and outer pockets for stuff like ski goggles and action camera; and also ensure you get the right size – if the pack is too small or too big the harness won’t fit properly and your rucksack is likely to be uncomfortable, especially when fully packed. Head to our how to fit a rucksack guide for learn how to adjust the straps properly.

The best ski backpacks you can buy right now

Best ski backpack: Arcteryx Alpha SK 32

(Image credit: Arcteryx)

1. Arcteryx Alpha SK 32

The best all-round ski backpack

Specifications
Airbag: No
Ski/board carry: Yes
Hydration system compatible: No
Reasons to buy
+Great minimalist design+Lightweight
Reasons to avoid
-No hydration system sleeve-Minimalist design not to everyone’s taste

The Alpha SK 32 is lightweight yet very robust thanks to the use of Arcteryx’s hard wearing, weatherproof AC2 material. This minimalist pack has a modular ski carriage system which can be used for either diagonal or A-frame carrying of skis, whilst snowboards are carried vertically. The pack’s lid allows very easy access to both the main compartment (also accessible via a large side zip) and the separate, water-resistant avalanche gear compartment. The lid will securely carry a helmet, ropes, skins and other bulky items and there’s also a zippered outer compartment for goggles, whilst the shoulder straps and waist belt provide a plenty of stability when fully laden.

Best ski backpack: Mammut Pro X Removable Airbag 3.0

(Image credit: Mammut)

2. Mammut Pro X Removable Airbag 3.0

The best premium ski backpack

Specifications
Airbag: Yes
Ski/board carry: Yes
Hydration system compatible: Yes
Reasons to buy
+Could save your life+Removable airbag system
Reasons to avoid
-Expensive-Hassle to fly with

Any backpack that could literally keep you alive has got to be worth checking out despite the price and the Mammut Pro x 3.0 is no exception. There are various options available, with perhaps the 35-liter size being the best all-round choice. It has a full rear zip for easy gear access and other features include a front pocket for storing your shovel and probe, a comfortable, stable harness and ski/board carrying loops. Since the airbag system is removable this adds to the versatility of the pack. You’ll need to remember that when flying with the air canister that powers the airbag system you’ll need to inform the airline in advance, and of course you’ll have to pay to refill the canister should you ever need to deploy it – but hopefully you won’t.

Best ski backpack: Osprey Soelden 32

(Image credit: Osprey)

3. Osprey Soelden 32

The best budget ski backpack

Specifications
Airbag: No
Ski/board carry: Yes
Hydration system compatible: Yes
Reasons to buy
+Good range of features+Lightweight
Reasons to avoid
-Backpanel entry won’t suit everyone-Only one external accessory pocket

Osprey’s Soelden 32 is a well-designed ski backpack that offers all the essential features you need for a day out on the slopes. It has diagonal and side carrying options for skis and vertical and horizontal carrying options for boards, and your safety gear can be easily accessed via a large outer zippered pocket, above which sits a zippered scratch-free goggles/sunglasses pocket; there’s also an integrated helmet storage system. 

The main compartment has a backpanel zip which gives easy access to all your kit but is a tad fiddly. The harness and hip-belt combination provide a reassuringly stable and comfortable fit, and with its sturdy build quality the Soelden 32 is a good option at a good price.

Best ski backpacks: Deuter Freerider Pro 34+

(Image credit: Picture)

4. Picture Calgary Backpack 26l

The best eco-friendly ski backpack

Specifications
Airbag: No
Ski/board carry: Yes
Hydration system compatible: Yes
Reasons to buy
+Good enviro-credentials+Lightweight
Reasons to avoid
-Roll-top closure won’t appeal to everyone

The Calgary is a 26-litre backpack produced in conjunction with snow safety brand Arva; it comes with an internal shovel and probe pocket as well as an ice axe holder and the ability to comfortably carry skis or snowboard. The pack is hydration system compatible, with the drinking tube cocooned inside the left shoulder strap. Ergonomic shoulder straps provide a comfortable, stable carry, whilst the hip belt (with small zippered pocket) is removable. Access to the main compartment is either via a rolled up top closure or a zip that runs the full-length of the left-hand side, and there’s a small zippered external goggle pocket for stuff like goggles. Most of the materials used in the construction of the Calgary are made from recycled polyester.

Best ski backpack: Deuter Freerider Pro 34+

(Image credit: Deuter)

5. Deuter Freerider Pro 34+

The best multi-use ski backpack

Specifications
Airbag: No
Ski/board carry: Yes
Hydration system compatible: Yes
Reasons to buy
+Good build quality+Versatile
Reasons to avoid
-Lots of zips and pockets not to all tastes-Quite big for a backpack

If you’re looking for a ski backpack that can also be used for multi-day trips the Deuter Freerider Pro 34+ is a good option since the already generous 34-litre capacity can be extended by a further 10 litres thanks to the expanding roll-top closure, and additional kit can also be stored under a stow-strap on the roll-top. 

The pack is stacked with features including ski/board attachments and a rear-access system which allows you to leave your skis strapped to the pack when you access the pack. There’s a dedicated avalanche gear pocket and two additional zippered outer pockets for goggles, cameras etc, and the hard-wearing, breathable, snow-resistant fabric also ensures both your gear and your back remain dry.

Alf Alderson
Alf Alderson

Alf Alderson is a freelance adventure travel journalist and an 'ambassador' for the ski resort of Les Arcs.