For the first many years of my ski touring endeavors, I had one pack: a 40 liter Mammut sack that had everything I needed including ski carry straps, ice ax carries, a separate compartment of avy equipment, well-padded shoulder straps and hip belt and it didn’t tip the scales in any noticeable way.
Over time and experiences on skis, I found that I sometimes needed more or less from the pack. Forty liters was overkill for fast and light training or quick morning skins. The pack unfortunately started to fall apart with buckles breaking and zippers jamming (I replaced the zippers at least once). It wasn’t even close to an airbag pack and though I’d tried to convince myself otherwise, it was a little too long for my shorter torso.
So I eventually started branching out and found that world of ski packs has come a long way. Here are a few favorites I’ve been using this season, size small-medium that fit me, a 5’5″ woman with a 16.5 inch torso. They’re all available in larger sizes for longer torsos, too.
Fast, Light, Minimal
Black Diamond Cirque 22 Ski Vest
The Black Diamond Cirque 22 pack combines the fit and accessibility of a running vest with the practicalities of a ski mountaineering pack. It features a single top accessible compartment that can be divided to make a lower compartment accessible by a zipper and velcro trap door flap, along with a separate sleeve for avy gear. It has a diagonal ski carry easily rigged up with a carabiner bungee and a removable helmet pouch.
Diagonal ski carry that’s easy to rig with the pack on my back
Side trap door that stays secure with both zipper and velcro
Easy cinch top
Sturdy removable back for extra support
Variety of tool carry options
Vest front offers easy access to snacks, water, and accessories and keeps pack securely in place
Vest buckles are small and hard to operate with gloves
Position of buckles makes it tough to stuff and keep skins under jacket
Fully featured, comfortable, customizable
Gregory Targhee Fast Track 35
Gregory has long been on the train of fully featured packs. The Targhee is constantly evolving to be refined to anticipate any needs a ski tourer might have and the latest iteration lives up to that. It has all the standard pack features: large main compartment, separate avalanche tool sleeve, detachable brain with internal zipper for keys and essentials, fully padded shoulder straps and hip belt and removable helmet carry.
Where it sets itself apart from other packs though is the multiple options for tool carries. Gregory developed its own diagonal ski carry (which, let’s be honest is the most efficient way to holster skis, so long as you don’t have a helmet in the way) with a bottom loop that tucks neatly into a sleeve when you aren’t using it, and a bungeed line the wraps around the top of the ski and attaches securely to a piece on the shoulder strap. You can A-Frame the skis, too.
Full side zip for easy access
Free moving hip belt for easy to customize fit
Lots of tool carry options
Full size ski pack with diagonal ski carry
Ski carry is a little awkward at first and takes practice to set up on the fly
More features equals more weight (1300g for sm/md)
Back pad is thickly cushioned and prone to sweaty back
Fully featured airbag pack
Ortovox Ascent 28 S AVABAG Kit
Airbag packs have come a long way over the past decade, with canisters being replaced by rechargeable fans, packs coming in smaller packages, and pack weights steadily decreasing as inflation systems evolve. Ortovox’s AVABAG won a Product of the Year award at ISPO in 2016-17 and remains a standby among balloon packs.
It features a large main compartment that shares space with the canister and has enough room for extra layers, water bottle, food, emergency kit and other essentials. There is a separate pocket for avalanche gear (with labeled sleeves). On the outside are lots of gear carry options, including A-frame and diagonal ski carries, ice axe loops and compression straps. There’s a removable helmet net.
The ‘S’ in the title indicates the pack is sized for short backs. This is not only useful for women as we’ve long had to make due with packs suited for longer male torsos, but it also works for shorter torso men.
Compatible with other AVABAG system packs
Easy to access and adjust diagonal ski carry
Distributes weight well on smaller frame people
Can practice deploying without cartridge
Typical canister issues: single use and needs to be refilled
Travel restrictions apply on flying with canisters
So there you have it, a pack for every ski touring occasion, all in some good looking colors too. Readers: what are your favorite packs?