Best backpacks of 2023

Pack like a pro - here's our round-up of the best backpacks for winter 2023

Deuter Freerider Pro 34 + 10 | £160

The Freerider Pro from Deuter is a technical, PFC-free, ski-specific pack that works equally as well for single day tours as it does for multi-day backcountry adventures. It comes with all the features of the very best ski touring packs, with the addition of a roll-top closure that expands capacity by a whopping 10 litres, allowing you to add more gear, carry a rope, or compress the load. Clever. Also available in women’s-specific version (32+). 

Dynafit Expedition 30 | £135

This summit-chasing, super-lightweight pack comes with a roll-top closure for rapid kit access in the mountains. Weighing in at just 560g, it’s a gram-counters dream yet it’s still super durable thanks to the 210D ripstop fabric that will stand up to accidental brushes with pointy rocks and tools. Other features include a detachable ski carry system, close-fit anatomical design, and the easily accessible integrated ‘Safety Box’ for crampons, ski crampons and skins. 

Patagonia SnowDrifter 20L  | £130

Fans of slim, low-profile packs with all the necessaries and no more will want to throw on the SnowDrifter 20 this winter. Made from 100% recycled materials, it’s a simple and efficient freeride-specific pack that’s perfect for short sharp backcountry hits. A clamshell zipper provides access to the main compartment where you’ll find individual sleeves for avy tools and plenty of space for extra layers. Other features of note include multiple ski and snowboard carry options, heat-venting, snow-shedding mesh on the shoulder straps, external helmet carry, zippered hip belt pockets and insulated hydration sleeve. 

Black Diamond Dawn Patrol 25  | £140

Get up and get after it with BD’s redesigned 25L ski and snowboard pack. With a new sustainable construction, it’s a low-impact player that’s stacked with cool new features, including large hip belt pockets for skin stashing and an insulated shoulder pocket that holds a radio, soft flask or hydration tube. All the other freeride and touring features you’d expect are here, including zippered back-panel entry, diagonal ski carry, ice tool attachment points, helmet holder and a separate avy tools pocket. The suspension fit keeps the pack nice and close to your body. 

Arc’teryx Rush SK 32 | £200

Updated this winter, the new Rush SK 32 is one tough backcountry beast. Constructed using tear-proof ripstop nylon with taped seams and waterproof zippers, it’s built to deal with the burliest of big mountain days. The 32L capacity is ideal for day tours that may get technical and it comes with simple yet essential features, including a diagonal or A-frame ski carry, dedicated avy tools pocket, external helmet carry, and soft-lined goggle pocket. 

Ortovox Haute Route 40 | £189

With its slick design, O-Flex-2 Back System, and large volume, the legendary PFC-free Haute Route is a technical and sustainable pack designed for long days in the mountains. Features of note include A-frame and diagonal ski carry, front and rear panel access to the main compartment, rope and ice axe attachment points and well-designed pockets for goggles, maps, crampons and snow safety tools. 

That’s the shortlist – for our full selection of the best ski backpacks of 2023 subscribe here for access to our mega Winter 2022-23 Gear Guide featuring more backpacks, as well as skis, boots, bindings, sunglasses and jackets (and the rest…).

When it comes to choosing a pack, it’s important to be absolutely clear what you want it for and why. Once you’ve realistically identified how and where you’re going to use it, you can then get on with the business of speccing the right size, style and features for the job.  

Guide to backpacks

Size matters… as does fit

There is a law that suggests whatever size you bring, you are going to fill it, so choose carefully! Fit also matters; the best pack in the world will be overtaking you on the descent if it doesn’t fit your body shape. Here are things to focus on: 
* Back length: get it right to keep the weight on your hips and the pack strapped to your shoulders. 
* Shoulder width: essential to ensure the straps don’t slip off your shoulders at every turn and the load is comfortable to bear. The Black Diamond ‘Swing Arm’ system is a miracle of simplicity and really works! 
* Hip belt taper: if you have more than a simple strap, and especially for women’s packs, the shape matters. I have a confession that with my short back, Deuter girls’ packs fit me better than the blokes. I’m (literally) comfortable with that!

Quality not quantity

We’re talking features here. When it comes to panel dividers, avy tool holders, straps, pockets and gizmos: more is only better if you really need them and the function justifies the extra weight. Likewise, not all of us can afford a fleet of packs for every mountain sport so keep an eye on our upcoming ‘crossover packs’ review if you’re in the market for a quiver-of-one to do it all. 

Try before you buy 

In person. From a retailer. Try for fit (shape) as well as size. Be clear which features you value (and don’t be fooled by gimmicks you don’t want or need). Wear the right clothing and even better if you can add some load when you try them.