Written By
Updated Jul 28, 2022 7:17 PM

If hiking backpacks — designed to slog heavy loads over long distances — are the generalist of the backcountry world, then climbing packs are the specialists. Climbing packs are designed with a narrow and tapered profile, use durable and abrasion-resistant material like Dyneema or Spectra reinforced ripstop nylon, and exclude comfort features like foam padding on hip belts, back panels, and shoulder straps to save weight. Climbing packs are built that way becuase mountaineering requires technical gear such as ropes, slings, carabiners, harnesses, belay devices, helmets, cams, nuts, ice axes, avalanche shovels, avalanche probes, snow pickets, and crampons, so they need specific places and attachment points to stow them all.

To that end, best climbing packs will haul all your gear from the trailhead to the base of the climb but won’t impede your ability to climb. Gear makers accomplish this by finding the right balance of storage space, durability, and wearability. Here’s how the climbing packs on our list shook out after rigorous testing — and why one of them might just be your new best friend for your next big climb.

At the top of the list is the Mystery Ranch Scepter 35. It’s a superb pack for alpine, ice climbing, and ski mountaineering, and it was designed to maximize use with gloved or cold hands. It has the most secure ice tool retention system of the bunch and the most comfortable shoulder straps and hip belts. Of all the bags we examined for this buying guide, it has the most thoughtful design.

With the Scepter 35 climbing pack, Mystery Ranch updated the Scepter series with all-new fabrics that retain strength and durability and reduce weight. The upgrade includes 320D ripstop nylon with a waxed coating for weather resistance. The body panel has been updated with compression-molded foam to reduce snow buildup. It also has a high-density frame sheet with a vertical composite stay for support. Like the previous model, the pack torso is adjustable for long and shorter climbers. The new version also features a fully removable waist belt, attachment points for pulling a sled, and ice screw clippers on both sides. The removable chest strap was redesigned for easier repositioning and retains the integrated signal whistle.

The exterior of the Mystery Ranch Scepter 35 has a rope retention strap on the top, dual compression straps on both sides to carry a rope, skis, ice pickets, and/or a sleeping pad, and the most secure ice tool retention system of all the bags we reviewed. This pack uses one continuous loop of webbing to secure ice tools — no fiddly small diameter cord or ice-clogged Velcro. The front of the pack has burly 840D laminate fabric to keep crampons and ice tools from poking through or abrading the pack material. All of the pack’s buckles are glove-friendly, and the pack has a long side zipper to allow for quick access to warming layers and water bottles.

The snow skirt on the top of the bag allows for some extended capacity, and the Scepter has two internal organization pockets. Underneath the lid, the Scepter has a quick stash pocket with three spots designed to accommodate a snow safety kit consisting of a shovel blade, shovel handle, avalanche probe, and snow saw, and there’s an additional zippered pocket with an internal clip behind the head for small items. The suspension system was the most comfortable of all the packs we reviewed, but also heavier, and we really liked the telescoping yoke which allows for a custom torso fit.

Product Specs
  • Weight: 3.3 pounds (1,496 grams)
  • Capacity: 34.4L
  • Torso length:
  • S/M: 15 – 20 inches
  • L/XL: 17 – 24 inches
  • Pack waist:
  • S/M: 26 – 36 inches
  • L/XL: 35 – 40+ inches
  • Materials:
  • 320D Phantom Ripstop body (wax-coated)
  • 840D Nylon with carbonite coating
  • Waterproof: Highly water-resistant
  • Hipbelt: Yes
PROS

Most comfortable shoulder straps and hip belt

Adjustable yoke for custom fit

Designed for snow, ice, and gloved hands

Burly materials

Best ice tool retention system

Quick-access avalanche gear pocket

CONS

Heavier than most climbing packs

The Black Diamond Speed 40 was recommended to me by an AMGA/IFMGA mountain guide and it’s great. The design is time-tested, super functional, rugged, and delivers great performance for the price. In fact, I’ve been using it since 2015 and this is the second time it’s made my best-of list (for more information, check out my in-depth review). If you need one do-it-all climbing pack, the Speed 40 is the one for you.

The Speed series comes in 30-, 40-, and 50-liter variants, but I find the 40 hits the mark for greatest versatility. It’s ideal for climbing, ice climbing, and mountaineering even if it isn’t my favorite for ski mountaineering/backcountry skiing. At a $180 price point, it delivers superb value, rugged yet lightweight construction, and premium features.

Like most climbing packs, the Speed 40 has a narrower profile and balances well. It’s plenty comfortable for one- to three-day hauls as well, and I’ve stretched six days out of it while hiking the Appalachian Trail. The pack features redesigned shoulder straps, a thermoformed back panel, and a removable lid (brain). I really like the well-designed drawcord skirt, tuck-away rope strap, micro ice tool PickPockets, and removable 20mm crampon straps. For the weight-conscious, the pack is strippable and features a removable hip belt, lid, and interior framesheet that also doubles as a bivy pad.

Product Specs
  • Weight:
  • S/M: 2 pounds 8 ounces (1,190 grams)
  • M/L: 2 pounds 9 ounces (1,210 grams)
  • Capacity:
  • S/M: 38L
  • M/L: 40L
  • Torso length:
  • S/M: 16 – 19 inches
  • M/L: 18.5 – 21.5 inches
  • Pack waist:
  • S/M: 26 – 40 inches
  • M/L: 28 – 45 inches
  • Materials:
  • 210D Ripstop main compartment
  • 420D Abrasion-resistant bottom
  • Waterproof: Light precipitation-resistant, not waterproof
  • Hipbelt: Yes, removable
PROS

Rugged construction

Lightweight

Versatile

Great value

CONS

Not waterproof

Velcro tool retainers prone to ice clogging

Not great for carrying skis

Editor’s Choice

The Mountain Hardwear AMG 55 is ideal for carrying heavy loads in alpine environments. It’s super functional and built to withstand a ton of abuse. Minimalists will think it is overdesigned, but those folks can also be masochists. We loved how every piece of critical gear has a designated storage place. The bag offers decent versatility and expandability.

The base body fabric is 200D nylon with Spectra ripstop, and the boot and the pocket fabric is a super burly and water-resistant 840D nylon with a carbonate face. The crampon pocket has two additional compression straps and is made from Dimension-Polyant DX40 to keep crampon spikes from poking through. Behind the crampon pocket is an exterior quick-access storage pocket for ski skins and avalanche rescue gear that has a sleeve for a shovel, probe, and saw. At the bottom of the crampon pocket are two ice axe loops. The sides of the pack feature two 840D reinforced water bottle pockets (one on each side) with two expandable gussets, two full-side compression straps with quick-release buckles, and two super strong webbing loops at the bottom for A-frame ski carry.

The AMG 55’s fully adjustable suspension system is plush on both the shoulder straps and hip belt for long treks with heavy loads, and also has an adjustable sternum strap. The hip belt has two PVC-reinforced gear loops, a sled loop on each side, and an ingenious rocker system that works with the aluminum frame stays to shift with your body. The top of the suspension system features a hydration system port and rugged haul loops fore and aft. The removable lid has two zippered external top pockets with two large webbing grab points to facilitate easy access with gloved hands and one internal zippered pocket. Underneath the lid is a cinch strap to retain a climbing rope and two cinch cords and an extended skirt for overloading. The inside of the pack is fairly straightforward with a large gear space and a hydration system sleeve.

Mountain Hardwear thought of almost everything when it designed the AMG series of packs. The 55-liter bag is intended for a few days in the mountains, the 75-liter bag for extended trips, and the cavernous 105-liter bag for multi-week expeditions to places like Denali or K2. All the AMG packs are well-built and well-designed workhorses that will take a considerable amount of abuse. If you are looking for minimalist packs, look elsewhere.

Product Specs
  • Weight:
  • S/M: 4 pounds 9.9 ounces (2,096 grams)
  • M/L: 4 pounds 10.8 ounces (2,120 grams)
  • Capacity:
  • S/M: 55L
  • M/L: 57L
  • Torso Length:
  • S/M: 16 – 19 inches
  • M/L: 18 – 21 inches
  • Pack Waist:
  • S/M: 29 – 48 inches
  • M/L: 31 – 51 inches
  • Materials:
  • 200D Spectra ripstop nylon
  • 840D nylon with carbonate coating
  • Waterproof: Resistant
  • Hipbelt: Yes
PROS

Built to last, super durable

Well-designed, everything has a place

Functional with gloved hands

Comfortable carrying heavy loads

Versatile

CONS

No pockets for small items on hip belt

Top skirt could be longer

A bit heavier than similar packs

Expensive

Best for Rock Climbing

When it comes to climbing packs, few companies have thought out the details as well as Mountain Hardware with the Scrambler 35 backpack. Designed for technical rock climbing, the Scrambler has everything you need to get your gear from the trunk of your car to the base of the climb for day-long multi-pitch missions. I loaded mine up with two 60-meter climbing ropes, a full trad rack, helmet, climbing shoes, lunch, and two 32-ounce Nalgene bottles and headed out.

I was immediately impressed with the pack’s ability to distribute weight evenly and close to the back. I also never felt constrained by the strap design when I moved my arms over my head. The hip belt is thin and unpadded to save weight, so expect to carry the bulk of the load on your shoulders. The removable chest strap has a bonus feature: an integrated signal whistle.

Going vertical, the pack stays snugly next to your body and doesn’t shift around much. Some testers complained about the lack of lower compression straps, but I didn’t think this made much of a difference in the pack’s performance. The back panel was comfortable and flexible but could use a bit more ventilation for hot days. I also appreciated the pack’s lightweight design — made possible through the use of thin, strong four-layer Dimension-Polyant fabric.

The pack is loaded with smart, lightweight, and functional details. At the top of the pack is a fully removable floating lid with a large exterior and a smaller interior pocket with a key lanyard. It also has two beefy haul handles fore and aft of the quick-access skirt collar opening. Down the back, the bag features dual daisy chains with integrated ice axe loops and handle keepers. On each side of the hips, Mountain Hardwear placed large polyvinyl reinforced gear loops just below dual exterior side water bottle pockets. The top access to the large main compartment has a solid lid strap and large internal gear loop, which is super handy. The storm skirt is easy to open and close with gloved hands, and the main compartment has an interior elasticized water reservoir compatible pocket.

The Scrambler 35 is ideal for those looking for a high-performance, lightweight pack for rock climbing, alpine climbing, and day hiking. It’s available in two sizes: small/medium and medium/large.

Product Specs
  • Weight:
  • S/M: 2 pounds (907 grams)
  • M/L: 2 pounds 0.3 ounces (916 grams)
  • Capacity:
  • S/M: 35L
  • M/L: 37L
  • Torso length:
  • S/M: 16 – 19 inches
  • M/L: 18 – 21 inches
  • Pack waist:
  • S/M: 28 – 34 inches
  • M/L: 33 – 39 inches
  • Materials: 4-Layer Dimension-Polyant fabric
  • Waterproof: Water-resistant
  • Hipbelt: Yes
PROS

Great design and details

Lightweight

Durable materials

Water-resistant

CONS

Thin hip belt

Interior seams not sealed

Best Alpine Climbing Pack

The Alpine Light 35 is the best pack I found for alpine ascents, sporting all the design features needed while retaining a minimalist vibe. Weight-conscious climbers have the option of removing the hipbelt, internal pocket, and aluminum backframe to save weight. This bag is ideal for one- to two-day missions in the big hills.

Mountain Hardware designed it for ultralight one-bivy ascents. Made from tough Nylon-Spectra, the pack is both lightweight and durable. The pack features a 7000 series aluminum frame with foam frame sheet that can be removed and used as a sit pad. It features a decent amount of gear organization options with two external side pockets, a hydration reservoir pocket, and an internal removable pocket inside the main compartment.

On the front of the Alpine Light 35 is a beefy haul loop, two daisy chains for additional lash points, crampon retention straps, and two ice axe retention points featuring aluminum toggles designed to pass through the heads of ice tools and keep them secure to the pack. The pack also has four (two per side) side compression straps (top two have quick-release buckles) and reinforced loops at the bottom of each side designed for A-frame ski carry. The shoulder straps are contoured and padded with dual density foam for comfort.

The top of the pack features a quick-draw open-and-close system to access the main pocket and a rope strap to enable external carry. The removable hip belt is wider and more padded than most fast and light climbing packs and features a pocket on each side for small items. I really dig the design of the pack, but it has a few quirks. One of the external side pockets is deep enough to accommodate a one-liter Nalgene bottle, but the other is about five centimeters too short to allow the bottle to be fully zipped into the pocket. Also, the pack is all white, which makes it harder to see in the snow and shows dirt quickly.

Product Specs
  • Weight:
  • S/M: 1 pound 14.9 ounces (877 grams)
  • M/L: 1 pound 15.5 ounces (894 grams)
  • Capacity:
  • S/M: 35L
  • M/L: 37L
  • Torso length:
  • S/M: 16 – 19 inches
  • M/L: 18 – 21 inches
  • Pack waist:
  • S/M: 29 – 48 inches
  • M/L: 31 – 51 inches
  • Materials: 200D Nylon Spectra Ripstop
  • Waterproof: No
  • Hipbelt: Yes
PROS

Superb design

Lightweight

Versatile

Great organization options

Advanced materials

Water-resistant

CONS

Second top pocket not deep enough for 1L Nalgene

White material is hard to see in snow, shows dirt quickly

Honorable Mention Value Climbing Pack

With the Ascensionist series, Patagonia sought to provide mountaineers with a pack that was big enough to haul all your stuff into the backcountry but small enough to climb with. For the most part, they succeeded with this minimalist ultralight alpine pack.

The Ascensionist is a pack for those used to going fast and light and cuts weight through the use of light but strong coated nylon ripstop and eschewing creature comforts in design. The toploading long dual spindrift collar allows versatility in volume depending on load requirements. The back features two ice axe attachment points and modular removable compression straps to help secure the load and provide external attachment points.

Like many alpine packs, it also features a removable three-point over-the-top rope securing system. The shoulder straps are contoured and fairly comfortable and feature a removable and adjustable sternum strap. The hip belt is just enough to do the job and has removable pads for those that want to save more weight. Inside the pack is a removable aluminum framesheet, providing versatility to those who prefer more support or those who want to cut weight.

The Ascensionist is a great lightweight pack for one- to three-day climbs and provides excellent performance and value for the price. The pack has a strong and comfortable suspension system. We loved the wide novel spindrift collar open/close system and the adjustability of the hip belt pads. It is ideal for rock and ice climbing and mountaineering, and if you want a high performance pack with a few more features than the Arc’teryx Alpha FL, this is for you.

Product Specs
  • Weight: 1 pounds 15 ounces (890 grams)
  • Capacity: 35L (expandable to XXL)
  • Torso Length:
  • S/M: 16 – 19 inches
  • M/L: 19 – 22 inches
  • Pack Waist:
  • S/M: 26 – 36 inches
  • M/L: 28 – 36 inches
  • Materials:
  • Pack/Collar PU coated 420D/70D 100% recycled ripstop nylon
  • Lining: 200D 100% recycled PU coated polyester
  • Waterproof: Highly water-resistant
  • Hipbelt: Yes
PROS

Ultralight

Well-designed, simple

Durable material

CONS

Fiddly top strap

Some folks find the double long skirt cavernous

Best Minimalist Alpine Pack

The Alpha FL 40 is an ideal pack for fast and light alpine objectives and pack weights in the 40-pound range. It’s an uncluttered, comfortable, well-built waterproof pack for the mountains.

The minimalist design has exactly what you need to pack two ice axes, crampons, a rope, a helmet, a rack of gear, water, food, and warming layers. Plus, it keeps all that stuff dry in a waterproof main compartment. Hikers and backpackers might not like the lack of exterior side pockets, cushy shoulder straps, or side compression straps, but that’s cool — this pack isn’t designed for them. So who’s it for? Mountaineers, and rock and ice climbers, that’s who.

Most professional mountain guides I know prefer packs without top lids and streamlined pack profiles that minimize weight and keep the load snug and close to the body while enabling maximum upper body range of movement. The Alpha FL 40 fits this bill to a T. The design is elegantly simple, featuring a large main top loaded compartment that’s fully seam-taped for water resistance, glove-friendly roll top closure, watertight external zippered pocket with key clip, and internal security pocket. The considerably long skirt allows the pack to be overstuffed from 40 to 52 liters for the hike in. The shoulder straps and hip belt aren’t plush, but they’re sufficient and way more comfortable over insulating layers than t-shirts. The pack rides a bit higher on the hips to avoid interfering with a climbing harness, so there’s less ability to transfer the load to the hips via the belt.

The pack’s rigid formed back panel provides decent support and is comfortable but doesn’t allow for much ventilation, so it will be sweatier in hot temperatures. The Alpha FL 40’s construction is also bombproof, made from N400r-AC2 Nylon 6 ripstop. This is a 400D 100 percent nylon ripstop fabric that is urethane-coated on both sides, which makes it 100 percent waterproof. The Advanced Composite Construction technology minimizes seams and allows for direct placement of components onto the bag using complex 3D patterning, heat-sealed seams, and micro seam technology for outstanding strength, stability, and structure at a very, very low weight. With the Alpha FL 40, you’ll pay a premium price, but also get premium performance in return. Did we mention that it also comes in a 30L version?

When you’re looking for a light waterproof pack for quick blitzes up alpine objectives, check out the Arc’teryx Alpha FL 40. Arc’teryx is known for making premium mountain gear and this pack, originally brought to market in 2014, is a time-tested top performer.

Product Specs
  • Weight: 1 pounds 9 ounces (715 grams)
  • Capacity: 40L (roll top extendable to 52L)
  • Torso length:
  • Short: 16.75 – 18.75 inches
  • Regular: 18.24 – 20.25 inches
  • Pack waist: 28 to 44 inches
  • Materials: N400r-AC2 Nylon 6 ripstop (400D)
  • Waterproof: Highly water-resistant
  • Hipbelt: Yes
PROS

Simple, efficient design

Bombproof construction

Lightweight

Weather-resistant

Comfortable shoulder straps

CONS

Expensive

Not great for heavy load hauling

Detachable side compression straps not provided

External pocket not very usable when pack is fully stuffed

Almost no ventilation on back panel

Best for Climbing in Caves and Canyoneering

I’ve been in situations where I found myself squeezing through subterranean passages, keeping only my nose and mouth above water, and wishing I had something like the Sea to Summit Flow 35-liter Dry Pack. It combines the company’s dry sack, which I use exclusively to protect my down sleeping bag and other essential equipment from water, with the functionality of a full-size backpack. Where was this when I first started caving?

This pack is tough. It’s made from TPU-laminated 420D nylon with a fully seam-sealed construction, so it can withstand scraping on rock and keep its contents dry. Inside, the bag has white interior lining, which makes finding gear easy, and it also features an internal zippered stretch fabric pocket for small items.

The pack’s ventilated quick-dry shoulder straps, sternum strap, and hipbelt are comfortable and sturdy. The two stretchy mesh side pockets on each side of the hipbelt are a bit thin for my taste, but are functional and capable of holding a one-liter Nalgene water bottle.

The bag has a burly one-inch tubular webbing handle atop the main compartment, a roomy side-zip exterior pocket, and two hook compression straps on each side to keep your load compact and close to the body or secure skis to the pack (A-frame configuration).

On the back side of the pack there are strategically located tabs for bungee or shock cord attachment and a burly Hypalon lash point welded and bar tacked to the bag. There are lighter 35-liter packs out there, but very few that are more waterproof and rugged.

The FLOW 35L Dry Pack is an ideal pack for wet conditions like caving, canyoneering, kayaking, and rafting. I can also see its utility for muddy mountain biking trips, hiking in the rain, or daily commuting in variable weather conditions. The pack is well-made, comfortable, and functional.

Product Specs
  • Weight: 2 pounds 11 ounces (1210 grams)
  • Capacity: 35L Torso
  • Length: 18 – 22 inches
  • Pack Waist: 28 – 46 inches
  • Materials: TPU-laminated 420D Nylon
  • Waterproof: Yes
  • Hipbelt: Yes
PROS

Waterproof

Comfortable

Durable construction

CONS

Heavier than other 35L packs

Expensive

Best Value Crag Bag

I’ve used Black Diamond’s Speed 40 bag for years and loved it, so I was excited to check out the Crag 40. The main difference between the two is that the Speed 40 is made for alpine ascents of mountains whereas the Crag 40 is designed for shorter distances. It’s a convenient way to keep your rope clean from the car to the base of your climb.

The Crag 40, like most crag bags, is a top loader with a drawcord skirt closure and features a full-length side zipper, zippered front flap, and internal pocket for small items that you don’t want to lose, like car keys, wallets, and cell phones. The bag’s top flap is designed to conveniently retain and transport an externally loaded climbing rope. The sides are made from heavy denier nylon and the bottom from wear-resistant ballistic nylon.

The Crag 40 has sufficient capacity to hold a full-length rope, climbing harness, helmet, rack, shoes, food, and water. The shoulder straps and hip belt are comfortable. I also like that BD designs their packs in two sizes to accommodate more body types. Just know the small version is only 38 liters, not 40.

Black Diamond has been making well-designed quality climbing hardware and soft goods for decades. Their warranty and customer service are legendary. The Crab 40-liter bag does exactly what it is designed for. Plus, at $99, it won’t break the bank.

Product Specs
  • Weight: 2 pounds 1 ounces (941 grams)
  • Capacity:
  • S/M: 38L
  • M/L: 40L
  • Torso length: 20.5 inches
  • Pack waist: up to 52 inches
  • Materials: 840D Nylon, 1,260 Ballistic Nylon
  • Waterproof: No
  • Hipbelt: Yes
PROS

Easy to load

Decent capacity

Easy-access side zipper

Moderately priced

CONS

Lacks internal organization features

Smallish inside zipper pocket

No exterior water bottle pocket(s)

Doesn’t stand up on its own well

Not super versatile

Why you should trust us

I’ve been an outdoorsman for more than 35 years. I’m an avid long-distance backpacker, rock climber, and mountaineer who understands the value well-designed gear delivers, especially when your life depends on it. I don’t get paid by the manufacturers and have editorial independence. My editor leaves it to me to recommend and prints what I write. All of this enables me to provide you, our valued readers, with our unvarnished, honest opinions on the recommendations we make.

Types of climbing packs

Climbing backpacks are specialized gear designed to haul loads somewhat comfortably over horizontal terrain and be compact and streamlined enough to provide stability and freedom of movement over vertical terrain. 

Rock climbing

Most rock climbing backpacks are designed for one-day multi-pitch climbing and have volume capacities ranging from 14 to 20 liters. They are intended to carry essential equipment like an extra rope, rack of climbing protection, harness, approach shoes, a headlamp, water, food, rain and warming layers, and a communication device. Generally, they are carried by the person belaying the leader to allow the leader to focus on leading the pitch. 

It’s important to get a rock climbing bag that’s large enough to stow all of your gear inside of it. Crap dangling off the side tends to come unattached and go dangerously hurtling down the rock face. Climbing packs ride higher off the hips to avoid getting in the way of your climbing harness and most have removable hip belts and emergency whistles built into the sternum straps. Look for packs that are made from more durable materials, as they will be frequently abrading against rock and bombroof haul loops. Crag bags and small haul bags also fit into this category.  

Alpine mountaineering packs

Alpine packs are designed to support adventures over mixed terrain like rock, ice, and snow. They all sport top-loading designs and lean towards much lighter high-tensile fabrics than rock climbing packs to save on overall weight. Alpine packs are also designed to externally carry ice axes via loop or toggle retention systems, crampons in special external pockets or with straps, and most have the ability to carry skis or snowboards. Most will have design considerations for quick access to avalanche safety kits consisting of a shovel, avalanche probe, and snow saw. They’ll also have design features for externally carrying ice pickets and ropes. For one to three day mountaineering adventures, look for packs in the 35- to 50-liter range. 

Mountaineering expedition packs

These packs generally sport all the features of alpine mountaineering packs but have much greater internal capacity (ranging from 55 to 110 liters) to accommodate for additional high altitude and cold-weather equipment. Due to the heavier loads, they are designed with more robust and more comfortable suspension systems designed to transfer the weight of the pack to your hips. The back panels are generally designed to provide more ventilation than alpine packs. They’ll also have more external attachment points, internal access points, and internal organization pockets.

Key features of climbing packs

Climbing packs are specially designed to carry specialized equipment in addition to normal gear, like warming and weather layers of clothing, food, water, and shelter.

Ice axe and crampon attachment points 

When the climb requires movement over steep, hardened snow or ice, ice axes and crampons will help keep you stuck to the mountain and prevent you from hurtling to your death. It’s important to have a place to conveniently (externally) and securely stow these items so you don’t have to rummage through your pack and waste time retrieving them. If you are just doing rock climbing, look for a pack without these features as they will just add overall weight and not be used.

Higher riding, more streamlined hip belts

When climbing, you’ll generally be wearing a climbing harness — unless you’re a free soloing freak like Alex Honnold — and you’ll want a pack with a hip belt that doesn’t get in the way of your climbing harness’ gear loops, belay device and loop, and buckle. Most climbing backpacks are designed to ride a bit higher on the hips for this reason. As such, they transfer more of the load to your shoulders than backpacking packs, which are designed to transfer the load to the hips. Many larger capacity climbing packs feature removable padded hip belts to provide additional comfort and load transference on long approaches and later be removed to save weight on ascents.

Rope attachment points

Ropes coils are bulky and heavy, and you’ll want a pack that can efficiently and securely stow them. Look for climbing packs with top rope cinch loops and also side compression straps to secure ropes to the pack.

Benefits of climbing packs

Performance and mobility

When climbing, it truly helps to have a pack designed for vertical terrain. On my first foray into the big hills in the winter, I took a Gregory backpacking pack, which was great on the approach, but when we got on the wall, I realized the pack stays and the top pocket kept me from looking up while wearing my helmet, which sucked. Transitioning to a climbing pack was transformative and I quickly appreciated how the streamlined, flat back paneled pack helped keep the load lower and closer to my center of gravity, which helped me balance more carefully on small footholds on steep pitches. It also interfered much less with my arm and leg range of motion. 

Versatility and adaptability

When working high up at altitude, shaving every ounce matters. Most well-designed climbing packs will enable you to strip off components like padded hip belts, internal frame sheets, and top pockets to be left at camp during summit bids. They are designed with extended snow skirts to allow for overstuffing the bag and increasing the carrying capacity considerably. Climbing packs also generally feature multiple external attachment points for carrying additional gear.

Ruggedness and durability

Rock walls can abraid pack material quite quickly, and most climbing packs are designed to be abrasion-resistant. They’re also designed to keep sharp metal pokey things like ice axes and crampon points from puncturing the pack fabric and damaging gear stowed within. Generally, the more abrasion-resistant the pack is, the heavier it is, so go with the lightest material that will adequately do the job over time. 

Climbing backpack pricing considerations

Budget

It’s hard to find climbing packs in a budget range because most are made with more design features, are more rugged, and are made with more advanced materials than daypacks for backpacking packs. You also have a lot more riding on the performance of a climbing pack — like your life — so it’s best not to skimp or cut corners. It’s best to wait for a quality pack to go on sale. If you can find a quality climbing pack for less than $130, it’s a steal.

Mid-range

Most quality climbing packs start around $150 full price. The least expensive one I reviewed was the Black Diamond Speed 40 which retails at $189 but can be found on Amazon for $140. I consider $150 to $250 mid-range for climbing packs. 

Premium

Premium packs generally cost more due to the use of advanced lightweight materials and increased workmanship around specialized design features. Consider anything more than $250 a premium pack. If you have Benjamins to burn, check out the Hyperlite Prism from Mountain Gear, the Arc’Teryx Alpha FL 40, or the Mountain Hardwear AMG 55.

How we chose our top picks

All the climbing packs in this review were selected based on performance reputation, hands-on inspection, interviewing other experts, and thoroughly reviewing manufacturers’ specifications. We take our time to get to know the strengths and weaknesses of each item, and also check out the reviews of other experts just to make sure we’re not missing anything.

FAQs on climbing backpacks

You’ve got questions, Task & Purpose has answers.

Q: How do I know what size pack to get?

A: There are two essential considerations on pack sizes. First, get a pack that fits your body (torso and waist measurements), and second, get a pack that’s big enough to support the climbing you are going to do. It’s useful to think of this in terms of days.

  • Up to a half day: < 20L
  • One day/all day: 20 – 39 L
  • One to three days: 40 – 56 L
  • Three to five days: 60 – 80L
  • Five or more days: > 80L

Q: Do I need ice axe and crampon retention systems?

A: Yes, if you care about living and are going to move over snow and ice. If you’re not moving over snow and ice (check the weather forecast), then you might consider a pack without them to save weight.

Q: Can I get away with just one pack?

A: It depends. There’s a lot of versatility in the 35- to 50-liter range of packs. If in doubt, go with the larger pack that has compression straps and a longer snow skirt that enables overstuffing. I’ve used one trusty 40-liter pack for years and it met most of my needs reliably.

Q: What’s the best way to determine what size I need to fit my body?

A: Check each manufacturer’s specs for the torso length and hip belt dimensions. Most manufacturers make climbing packs in small/medium and medium/large sizes. The best thing is to try them on in the store with a load in the main storage chamber. Even better is to buy them online from a reputable retailer with a solid return policy, take them to a climbing gym, treat them carefully, and see how they perform on a wall.

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