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To ensure that you can carry all your most important gear on a climbing trip, you need a solid mountaineering backpack.

With so many options to choose from, however, selecting the perfect mountaineering pack for your adventures isn’t as easy as it may seem.

Whether you’re looking to head out on an extended expedition or a short jaunt into the alpine, here are the 5 best mountaineering backpacks for you to check out.

What’s the difference between hiking and mountaineering backpacks?

It’s a commonly held misconception that hiking backpacks and mountaineering backpacks are more or less the same pieces of gear. However, packs designed for these two activities are very different and choosing the one that’s right for your specific needs is critical if you want to get the most out of your gear.

Understanding the difference between hiking and mountaineering packs starts with understanding the difference between hiking and mountaineering. While hiking packs are primarily designed to hold tents, sleeping bags, stoves, and other standard outdoor gear, mountaineering backpacks are filled with additional features that are unique to climbing pursuits.

For example, mountaineering packs often have ice axe/ice tool holders and crampon pouches or straps. Additionally, they’ll often have side pockets that are designed to hold snow pickets, rather than water bottles.

Unlike hiking packs, mountaineering packs often choose weight savings over comfort. Since mountaineering is a very gear-intensive pursuit, many climbers opt to save weight with minimalist backpacks with minimal padding.

Finally, many mountaineering backpacks are designed to be compatible with climbing harnesses. Often, have contoured hip belts that provide access to the harness’ gear loops. Alternatively, many of these packs have hip belts with built-in gear loops for transporting climbing gear on a route.

The 5 Best Mountaineering Backpacks

For longer trips into the mountains, the Black Diamond Mission 75 is a solid choice. Designed to swallow massive amounts of gear in its central compartment, it has enough carrying capacity for extended expeditions and winter adventures.

Despite its large 75L capacity, the pack weighs just 4lbs (1.8kg), which is a great capacity-to-weight ratio. It also features a no-frills construction with exterior ice axe loops, hip belt gear loops, and a crampon pouch for maximum functionality.

The Mission 75 is made with extra burly 420D ripstop nylon that can hold its own in the mountains. Its removable lid is also one of the largest on the market, making it ideal for carrying your most important bits of gear.

I’ve used this pack for years on everything from a 2 night winter camping trip to a 35 day expedition. I’ve been endlessly amazed by how well it holds up and how easy it is to pack with excessive amounts of climbing gear.

pros
  • Large carrying capacity
  • Oversized lid
  • No-frills design to cut weight
  • Extra durable 420D nylon fabric
cons
  • Expensive

When light and fast missions into the alpine are your MO, the Arc’teryx Alpha FL 45 is a great companion. It has a RollTop closure system that opens up to reveal a spacious main compartment for storing all your gear.

Crafted for minimalist alpinists, this pack tips the scales at just 25oz (715g) for maximum portability. Its N400r-AC2 ripstop nylon fabric is durable and water-resistant and fully seam-taped, which is ideal for wet conditions. Plus, it has an external WaterTight zippered pocket for storing your small bits of gear.

The pack itself has two ice axe loops and six integrated front lash points for strapping down various bulky items. It also comes with a compression system that can be used to carry your crampons or even a belay jacket for added versatility in the mountains.

pros
  • Lightweight, minimalist design
  • Water-resistant fabric and construction
  • Multiple gear tie-down points
  • Easy to use RollTop closure system
cons
  • Expensive for the size
  • Minimal padding or suspension for distributing weight

Light and affordable, the Black Diamond Blitz 20 is a budget-friendly option for minimalist climbers. It features an ultralight construction with burly Dynex fabrics for added durability.

The entire pack is stripped down with only the bare essentials to help its weight to a measly 14oz (398g). Additionally, unlike many roll-top style packs, this model can be opened and closed with just one hand for ease of use.

When it comes to carrying gear, the Blitz 20 has two ice tool pick pockets, and a rope strap for your bulkiest items. It also comes with a small zippered pocket for stowing your smallest pieces of gear in the mountains.

pros
  • Very durable Dynex construction
  • Can be opened and closed with one hand
  • Ultralight for minimalist mountaineers
cons
  • No crampon carrying system

Blurring the boundaries between comfort and functionality, the Osprey Mutant 38 is a mountaineering pack that’s just as comfortable on summertime alpine climbs as it is on winter ski tours.

This pack features a strippable design, which allows you to remove the floating lid and the integrated suspension system to cut weight on ultralight trips. It also has an extra comfortable back panel and a padded hip belt for better weight distribution as you approach your climb.

For gear, the Mutant 38 has an A-frame ski carry system, a helmet strap, and two ice tool clips for your most important items. The hip belt on this pack also has gear loops while the pack itself has an integrated haul system for more intense mountaineering ventures.

pros
  • Strippable design for weight savings when you need them
  • Helmet, ski, and ice tool carry systems
  • Good weight distribution on longer climbs
  • Hip belt has gear loops for climbing
cons
  • No crampon carry system

Gregory’s most technical pack offering, the Alpinisto 50 is a burly option for mountaineers that prioritize comfort in their gear.

This pack has a built-in shoulder strap harness and hip belt that are designed to work with a harness as you climb for maximum comfort. It has all-aluminum hardware for durability in rugged, cold environments.

To help you carry your gear, the Alpinisto 50 has an over-sized crampon pocket, an ice tool attachment system, a rope strap, and an A-frame carry system. The top of the pack also has a drawcord closure for ease of use with gloves, as well as enough space to store a helmet when not on a climb.

pros
  • Harness-compatible construction
  • Metal hardware for added durability
  • Purpose-built straps for climbing gear
cons
  • Heavy for a 50L mountaineering pack

How To Choose A Mountaineering Backpack

Mountaineering backpacks are difficult pieces of gear to shop for because they have so many different features that aren’t normally found on hiking packs. Here are some important things to keep in mind as you shop:

Carrying Capacity

Mountaineering packs come in a variety of different capacities, with models between 20-75L being the most popular. While required carrying capacity is determined by the amount of gear you plan to carry, here are some general guidelines to consider:

  • Day Trips: 20-45L
  • 1-2 Night Alpine Trips: 45-60L
  • Multi-Night Trips: 60L+

Weight

Weight is a concern for any piece of gear, but it is especially critical with mountaineering packs. Since mountaineers carry so much gear, keeping the actual weight of your pack to a minimum is ideal.

Thankfully, most models come with “strippable” designs. These allow you to remove the top lid, the back panel, and other sometimes unnecessary features to keep your pack weight as low as possible.

Durability

When it comes to backpacks, durability is key. This is especially true while mountaineering, as alpine environments can be harsh on gear.

Durability in a backpack mostly comes down to how thick the fabric is on the pack. Fabric is generally measured in “denier.” 

The denier of a fabric is essentially a measure of how thick it is. As you can imagine, the thicker the fabric, and the higher the denier, the more durable. Of course, thicker fabrics weigh more, so this is an important consideration, too when shopping for a mountaineering pack.

It’s also worth noting that some packs opt for fabrics that are naturally more durable, like Dyneema/Dynex. With these fabrics, manufacturers can get away with using thinner deniers for weight savings without sacrificing durability.

Features & Attachment Systems

Perhaps the most visually obvious way in which mountaineering packs differ from hiking packs is in terms of their added features. Unlike hiking packs, which normally have straps for sleeping pads, trekking poles, and water bottles, mountaineering packs are more climbing-focused.

Therefore, you’ll often find mountaineering packs that have features, such as:

  • Ice axe holders
  • Crampon pouches
  • Rope straps
  • Picket pockets (rather than water bottle pockets)
  • Helmet pouches

These added features greatly increase the functionality of a mountaineering pack. Though, it’s important to keep in mind that they also add to the weight of the backpack.

Final Thoughts

Whether you’re a seasoned alpine climber or you’re looking to get into mountaineering, a quality backpack is a must. With so many options to choose from, what’s important is that you get one with precisely the features you need for your adventures.