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Published Mar. 29, 2021

After a long week at work, you finally have time to get outside and enjoy the great outdoors on your terms. There’s a great big world of trails, mountains, and cliffs waiting for you. Of course, you’ll need certain gear when you get there and it isn’t going to carry itself.

Sometimes a simple day pack is sufficient, and you better believe there’s one of those on this list. Other times, you’ll want something more specialized. Camping, climbing, and shredding the gnar require very purpose-built gear, after all. When the time comes to make this kind of investment, you’ll want to put your faith (and hard-earned money) into a quality product from a reputable brand. The good people at companies like Mountain Hardware, Black Diamond, and Dakine have you covered.

It’s no surprise to see Mountain Hardware delivering a winner with the Multi-Pitch 30. Obviously, you wouldn’t drag this thing around instead of carrying it on your back, but it honestly looks like it would be fine if you did. A reinforced canvas shell and a kevlar base protect against all kinds of scuffs and snags on the way to your favorite climbing spot. Inside, there’s a waterproof lining to keep everything dry and a zippered pouch to keep your valuables safe. This isn’t the biggest bag on our list, but there is an external rope strap to make more room inside if you need it. The price might deter more budget-minded shoppers, but the build quality is definitely worth it and you might want to scoop one of these up while you can.

Score some extra cargo room and save money while you’re at it with the Black Diamond Crag 40. One of the biggest names in backcountry adventure gear lives up to expectations with a bag that can carry just about anything you might want for a serious ascent. Two different types of nylon add strength and decrease weight in all the right places. At just over two pounds, you can put energy into moving essential gear, not the bag itself. An impressive 40-liter capacity offers the most storage space of any pack on this list. It would be nice to get a little more padding and ventilation on a bag of this size, but the price is fair so there’s nothing to get upset about.

The right gear makes a world of difference in backcountry skiing and snowboarding, and the Dakine Heli Pro is definitely the right gear. Don’t make life harder than it has to be by trying to get by with a generic backpack. The Mission has heavy-duty straps to hold one ski on each side by the binding, or one snowboard mounted vertically. Save space by using the adjustable panel to carry your helmet externally. Individual pockets for your avalanche probe and shovel keep things organized. A fleece-lined pocket protects your goggles so you don’t need to risk scratching them or deal with carrying a goggle bag. The overall capacity is rated at 24 liters, which is sized perfectly for a day of earning your tracks.

If your style of climbing takes you a little further from the trailhead, make the trip a little easier with the Osprey Talon 33. This is the most mile-hungry pack on this list and the price is just right. Advanced materials keep weight down and clever storage provides a place for everything you need to carry. In addition to a generously padded hip belt and shoulder straps, the harness can be adjusted for size to fit your torso, and a ventilated back panel keeps air flowing to keep you cool. Take your pick from four colors and two harness sizes. When the itinerary calls for scaling multiple peaks in between point A and point B over several days, this is the answer.

If you just need a great all-rounder that’s built to perform, give the Deuter Speed Lite 20 a serious look. The German backpack company has been big in Europe for some time now, and they’re making a name for themselves in the United States, too. Their 20-liter daypack hits a competitive price point by keeping things small, but you won’t find any corners that have been cut here. Lightweight materials, ventilation, and padding create a premium feel. Add your favorite hydration system with the built-in pouch and hose opening. Elastic pouches allow easy access for your most frequently-used items, and zippered storage keeps your valuables safe inside. This pack isn’t as specialized as the others on this list, but that means you’ll get even more opportunities to use it.

Related: The best rock climbing harnesses to help you scale cliffs like a champ

Why should you trust us

As a lifelong outdoor enthusiast, I’ve had the pleasure of using top-notch gear and the misfortune of slogging through field exercises with worn-out standard-issue equipment (did it not occur to anyone that maybe the people who build the ILBE and the people who build body armor should talk to each other?). Drawing inspiration from those experiences, I take it upon myself to guide you to gear that doesn’t suck. Besides climbing packs, that includes bags for hiking and fishing. And, of course, we must never forget to hydrate.

The most common types of climbing packs

What does climbing mean to you? Are you going to chase chalky handholds up a rock face, scale a frozen mountain in search of powder, or blaze a path into the wilderness to sleep under the stars? Each of these is a unique adventure and warrants dedicated gear. Read on and decide which features matter the most to you.

Rock climbing packs

When you strike out for a day of scaling rock faces or bouldering, you don’t need a hundred mesh pouches and organizational dividers; you need a large compartment for your shoes, harness, ropes, and other gear. You also need to know that your bag isn’t going to fall apart under the load of all that equipment.

Rock climbing packs are designed specifically for climbers to carry the gear they need in the most efficient way possible. In addition to a cavernous main compartment, you’ll get a few small pockets for things like your phone, wallet, and keys, with a durable and waterproof shell to keep everything safe and dry. 

Backcountry skiing packs

Take a look at the packs in your local climbing store, and you’d swear it never occurred to anyone that some of us might want to strap a snowboard or pair of skis on the outside. If you plan on hitting that backcountry line you had your eye on all winter, you’re going to need a pack specifically designed for skiing and snowboarding.

The most important feature is some kind of retention system to keep your most important equipment secured for the ascent. It needs to be strong enough to bear the weight and tight enough to create a stable load. Once you click in and start the descent, you need a pack that’s snug and doesn’t let the rest of your gear shift inside and throw off your balance. Crashing because you were sending it is one thing; crashing because your backpack knocked you down is another.

Hiking packs

If you measure your climbs in thousands of feet, the pack you buy better be up to the challenge presented by miles of winding trails and elevation change. Do yourself a favor and shell out a few extra bucks to get something that can keep you comfortable and ready to go, no matter how far the journey takes you.

Hiking packs feature a large main compartment with plenty of accessible storage for smaller items that need to stay organized. Separate your dirty socks from your next meal and keep that map, compass, or GPS handy. Stay fresh with padding, a supportive hip belt, and ventilation that keeps you cool.

What to look for when buying climbing packs

Every sport and outdoor activity comes with its own challenges and requirements. You wouldn’t wear soccer cleats to go climbing, so why would you carry a pack designed for something else?

A few factors you’ll want to keep an eye on are durability, ergonomics, and capacity. Good gear doesn’t slow you down, so don’t tolerate cheap packs that are likely to fall apart and leave you hanging. You also don’t want to reach your destination too sore and tired to enjoy it, so make sure to prioritize gear with padding and ventilation where you need it most. Finally, make sure to pick the right size pack. Having too much or too little space can cause problems, so lay out your gear ahead of time to get an idea of how much cargo room you need.

Why do you need a climbing pack?

If your current pack was designed to carry notebooks and a laptop, you’re not doing yourself any favors in the backcountry. The same goes for that assault pack from supply. Remember what they say about military-grade equipment and the lowest bidder?

A purpose-built climbing pack will last longer, carry your gear more efficiently, and leave your body better rested so you can enjoy the activity that brought you outdoors in the first place. For less than $200, you can get a pack that’s built by climbers, for climbers. Whether you’re chalking up for a technical ascent, boot-packing your way to first tracks, or putting as much distance between yourself and the city lights as possible, somebody out there builds a pack just for you. Do yourself a favor and invest in the right gear for the job.

  • Carry gear efficiently
  • Put less wear and tear on that body of yours
  • Quality equipment costs less than constantly replacing cheap knock-offs

Pricing ranges for climbing packs

  • Less than $100: Entry-level packs are great for short hikes and day trips. Established brands offer big-time features with little price tags to fill this segment. 
  • Between $100 and $150: Most climbing packs fall into this price range. Whether you’re using ropes and anchors to go up or skis to come down, there’s something here for you.
  • More than $150: At the top of the price range are packs meant to sustain you for days at a time. Expect large storage capacity and lots of features aimed at increased comfort.

How we chose our top picks

The Task & Purpose team has a lot of collective experience with outdoor gear, but even we can’t hand-test every product on the market. When we need a little extra juice, we rely on the wisdom of crowds in the form of user reviews from people who own each product on our list. By combining our own knowledge with thousands of ratings and hundreds of reviews on dozens of products from the top brands, we’re able to weed out the best gear to recommend to you.

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