Skiing and snowboarding require a lot of gear, whether you’re on the mountain or just trying to get there. Thankfully, there is a huge variety of ski and snowboard backpacks and bags to help you carry everything you need and keep it with you on the slopes.
Ski and snowboard bags range from boot bags to hydration packs to large daypacks ready for the backcountry. So, choosing the right bag or backpack for you can be a difficult choice. In this guide, we’ll highlight everything you need to consider when choosing a ski and snowboard bag for the coming winter. We’ll also review eight of the best ski and snowboard backpacks and boot bags that you can use on and off the slopes.
Daypack vs. Hydration Pack vs. Boot Bag
The first big choice you need to make when picking out a ski or snowboard bag is what type of bag you’re looking for. Are you planning to use your backpack primarily to get your gear to the mountain, or do you want a backpack that can stay with you all day? Are you primarily an in-bounds resort skier, or do you have ambitions to venture out into the backcountry?
Daypacks are ideal if you want to carry a lot of gear with you on the mountain, such as an extra layer or two, spare lenses for your goggles, an extra pair of gloves, and a few snacks. A dedicated backpack is also essential if you plan to head into the backcountry, since at a minimum you’ll need to carry avalanche rescue equipment with you.
If you’re skiing in-bounds only, you may be able to opt for a hydration pack instead of a full daypack. Hydration packs are typically smaller and lighter – just large enough to carry a water bladder and potentially a few snack bars. While hydration packs won’t allow you to keep as much stuff with you throughout the day, many skiers and snowboarders prefer them for resort skiing because they are less cumbersome than full daypacks.
If you’re more worried about getting your gear to the mountain than carrying it with you all day, consider opting for a boot bag instead of a backpack. Ski and snowboard boot bags are large enough to fit bulky boots, and many can also squeeze in a helmet and some of your insulating layers. At the resort, you can typically find a place to store your boot bag for the day while you head out on the slopes.
How to Choose Best Backpacks for Skiing and Snowboarding
There’s a lot to think about if you’re in the market for a skiing or snowboarding backpack – much more so than for hydration packs or boot bags. To help you decide what’s right for you, we’ll take a closer look at the features that are important to consider when choosing a ski or snowboard backpack.
Ski and Snowboard Carry Systems
The best place to start is by looking at how your backpack can be used to carry your ski or snowboard. This is absolutely essential in the backcountry, when you may have to “boot” your way up steep sections of terrain. It’s also helpful to have carry options for resort skiing and riding, since there are often sections of the mountain that can only be accessed with a short hike from the top of the lift.
Many backpacks offer both ski and snowboard carry systems, but some offer just one or the other. Be sure to check whether the backpack you have in mind is designed for skiers, snowboarders, or both.
For skiers, there are two main carry systems available: A-frame and diagonal. An A-frame places one ski on either side of your pack with the tips meeting above your head, held together by a ski strap. An important feature to look for in an A-frame carry system is padded loops that can hold your skis against your pack – these should be easy to tighten and loosen as needed, and durable enough to withstand scraping against the sharp metal edge of your skis.
Diagonal carry instead places your skis together and clips them across the back of your pack diagonally. This is advantageous because it’s fast, but a lot of skiers prefer having A-frame carry options because diagonal carry can allow the skis to hit your calves and flop around. Ideally, a good ski backpack will offer straps to carry skis in either configuration.
Snowboard carry is a bit simpler – it’s either vertical or horizontal on the back of your backpack. Many backpacks only offer one of the two options, and there aren’t significant disadvantages to either. Horizontal carry may feel slightly more cumbersome because the board will be wider than your body, but this typically won’t matter on open mountain terrain.
The amount of space you need in your backpack will depend a lot on what types of skiing and riding you have planned. At the resort, if you’re able to keep items in the lodge or your car is relatively accessible from the slopes, you may not need any gear storage at all – in which case you might want to consider a hydration pack over a full-sized backpack. Even if you want to carry a few layers, snacks, and water for the day, you probably won’t need a pack larger than 10-20 liters in size for in-bounds skiing.
Heading into the backcountry immediately doubles or triples the amount of gear storage space you need. That’s because you need to be completely self-sufficient, with plenty of extra layers, tools to fix a fussy binding, lights and emergency supplies in case you end up outside after dark, and navigational aids. On top of that, you need to carry a beacon, shovel, and probe to be able to perform avalanche rescue if necessary – these items alone take up a significant amount of space. As a rule of thumb, ski and snowboard backpacks for the backcountry should be at least 30-40 liters in size, and larger if you are planning a multi-day trip.
It’s also important to think about gear organization. Having two main compartments is nice because it allows you to put wet gear into one and dry layers into another. In addition, it’s always helpful to have a few small, easy to access compartments for items like snack bars, sunglasses, and car keys. If you are carrying avalanche rescue gear, look for a backpack that offers a dedicated pocket for your shovel and probe so you can access them without delay in an emergency. Finally, keep in mind that you won’t want anything on the outside of your pack while you’re skiing or riding – it’s likely to get wet with snow or fall off and roll down the mountain during a crash.
The material your pack is made from is extremely important. Ski and snowboard backpacks have to balance being extremely durable, while also minimizing weight and maximizing comfort. Look for backpacks that are made with ripstop nylon or similar materials and that come with reinforcements in places that are commonly rubbed, such as the straps that hold your skis in place for an A-frame carry.
In addition, it’s worth considering whether your backpack comes with a hip belt and whether or not it’s padded. This can add some weight to the pack, but it’s well worth it if you’ll be carrying a heavy load all day.
Pack weight is another important consideration – after all, you’ll have your backpack on all day. Packs that are unnecessarily heavy can wear down your shoulders and back, and even create problems with your skiing or riding technique. Ideally, a ski backpack should weigh no more than a few pounds, although there are some avalanche airbag packs that weigh more.
Just because there’s a lot of other things to look for in a ski backpack doesn’t mean you need to throw style out the window. Many backpacks are available in multiple colors, so you can feel good about wearing your backpack on the slopes. Remember, the happier you are with how your backpack looks, the more likely you are to use it every time you go out skiing or riding.
The Avalung is a piece of safety equipment specifically designed for backcountry skiers and riders. In the even that you are ever buried by an avalanche, limited air supply and carbon dioxide buildup threatens to kill you within 15 minutes of burial. The Avalung is essentially a breathing tube that pulls air out of the snowpack and exhales carbon dioxide away from your body, giving you closer to an hour of survival time so that your partners have a chance to rescue you.
Some packs come with a built-in Avalung, which is definitely worth considering if you spend a lot of time in the backcountry. These packs aren’t that much more expensive than a standard touring daypack, and the Avalung itself is very lightweight. Also keep in mind that you can buy an Avalung torso sling later, if you don’t want it integrated into your backpack.
Avalanche airbags are a relatively new safety technology for backcountry skiers and riders that are designed to keep you from being buried in an avalanche in the first place. If you inflate the airbag right when an avalanche is triggered, the airbag can help float you to the top of the snow to keep you safe.
Airbag packs are relatively expensive and can be quite heavy, but they’ve also been demonstrated to be very effective at saving lives in the backcountry. Note that unlike Avalungs, airbags cannot be added to your backpack setup after-market.
The 8 Best Ski & Snowboard Backpacks of 2020 – Compared and Tested
1. Dakine Men’s Heli Backpack 12L – Best Snowboard Carry Backpack
- Weight: 15 ounces
- Storage Capacity: 12 liters
The Heli backpack from Dakine is a classic in-bounds snowboard backpack. It features a vertical snowboard carry system and straps for diagonal ski carry. Even better, you can use the snowboard carry space as an external pouch when you’re not taking your board for a hike.
This backpack isn’t particularly large, but Dakine did a good job of organizing the available 12 liters of space. There’s one main compartment that’s large enough to fit extra layers or a hydration bladder – but, note that the backpack doesn’t have an opening where a hydration bladder hose can fit through. In addition, two smaller compartments provide convenient spaces to carry spare goggle lenses, snacks, and other small items. One of these pockets is even fleece lined so it doesn’t scratch up your lenses.
The backpack includes a chest belt and hip belt, but both are just nylon webbing. This keeps the pack weight down, but the hip belt in particular isn’t the most comfortable for carrying heavier loads.
- Lightweight and durable
- Vertical snowboard carry and diagonal ski carry
- Fleece lined goggle pocket
- Hip belt is just nylon webbing
- No opening for hydration bladder hose
- No A-frame ski carry
2. Mubasel Gear Insulated Hydration Backpack – Best Insulated Backpack
- Weight: 1.7 pounds
- Storage Capacity: 15 liters
This backpack from Mubasel Gear is around 15 liters in size, so it’s another great option for in-bounds skiing and riding. There are lots of differences from the similarly sized Dakine Heli pack, though, including the fact that this backpack is made from entirely waterproof fabric to prevent your gear from getting wet. In addition, it comes with a two-liter hydration bladder and the main compartment is insulated to keep your water from freezing in the winter or getting too warm in the spring.
The pack doesn’t have a lot of space for carrying extra layers after the hydration bladder is filled, although you can put snacks and other small items in the front zipper pocket. Unfortunately, there aren’t any other small pockets that are shaped to fit goggles. We did like that the hip belt is padded, however, which makes this pack much more comfortable to carry throughout the day.
One important caveat to note is that this backpack doesn’t have any straps for ski or snowboard carry. It’s also not rigid enough that it would be easy to rig straps to the backpack and keep your skis or board from flopping around.
- Perfect size for in-bounds skiing and riding
- Waterproof fabric
- Insulated hydration bladder compartment
- Comes with two-liter water bladder
- Padded hip belt
- No goggle pocket
- No ski or snowboard carry mechanisms
3. CamelBak Powderhound Ski Hydration Pack – Best Hydration Pack for Skiing and Snowboarding
- Weight: 1.5 pounds
- Storage Capacity: 12 liters
This small 12-liter hydration pack from CamelBak provides a surprising amount of punch. To start, it comes with a three-liter water reservoir and allows you to run the tubing through a thermally insulated line in the shoulder strap so you never have to worry about freezing. The bag also leaves just enough room to stuff in a few extra layers and snacks, although there’s not much space to put something rigid like goggles.
We particularly liked the low-profile design of this backpack. It fits tightly against your back, which is a big plus whether you’re sitting on the lift (without having to take the pack off) or skiing through tight trees where loose pack straps could be a big problem.
Even better, CamelBak designed the Powderhound backpack with a diagonal ski carry strap system. Snowboarders beware, however – there’s no option for carrying a board on this hydration pack.
- Comes with three-liter hydration reservoir
- Thermal insulation in shoulder strap
- Low profile hugs your back
- Diagonal ski carry
- No room for goggles or extra lenses
- No snowboard carry system
4. Osprey Kamber 42 Ski Pack – Best Backcountry Ski and Snowboard Backpack
- Weight: 3.4 pounds
- Storage Capacity: 42 liters
The Osprey Kamber backpack is a terrific all-around backpack for big days at the resort or long missions in the backcountry. The backpack is 42 liters and has a dedicated J-zip pocket on the front for storing your avalanche rescue gear. On top of that, the main compartment is cavernous, so you can easily stuff in all of the clothing, food, and other supplies you need to spend the entire day in the mountains. Small pockets on the top of the pack brain and in the hip belt round out this pack’s storage capabilities and give you easy access to small items.
We particularly liked that Osprey paid attention to the details that matter on the Kamber. You can easily access the main compartment not only through the top of the bag, but also by unzipping the back panel – this gives you instant access to all of your stuff. The hip belt is lushly padded to keep you comfortable and optimally distribute weight on your body. All of the zippers are equipped with large rings so that you can open and close them even with gloves on. Finally, there’s even a divider for placing a hydration bladder inside your pack.
As for carry, this pack allows for A-frame or diagonal ski carry and horizontal snowboard carry. There are also two gear loops for ice axes or other tools.
- 42-liter pack designed for backcountry use
- Dedicated avalanche rescue gear pocket
- Top and back panel access to main compartment
- Padded hip belt with small zipper pockets
- Lots of carry options for skis and snowboards
- No insulation for hydration bladder
- No vertical snowboard carry
5. Element Equipment Boot Bag – Most Stylish Boot Bag for Skiing and Snowboarding
- Weight: 2.8 pounds
- Storage Capacity: 60 liters
This extremely stylish and uniquely designed boot bag from Element Equipment is designed to make it easy to get your stuff to and from the mountain. The bag is large enough to handle a single pair of large ski or snowboard boots, with plenty of space left over to fit your helmet, a few jackets, and anything else you need for the day. There’s even a fleece padded goggle pocket on the top of the bag to carry your goggles without the potential for scratching.
We loved that Element Equipment padded the back panel of this bag, which makes it much more comfortable to use as a backpack. It would have been nice to see a top carry handle as well, though, since without that you’re limited to carrying this boot bag over your shoulder.
The bag is extremely durable thanks to 600D polyester construction. That also makes it waterproof, so you don’t have to worry about your boots and gear getting soggy before you even hit the slopes.
- Relatively inexpensive
- Unique, stylish designs available
- Fleece goggle pocket
- Waterproof, durable construction
- Padded back panel
- No top carry handle
6. Athalon Everything Boot Bag – Best Boot Bag for Skiing and Snowboarding
- Weight: 3.8 pounds
- Storage Capacity: 58.5 liters
If we had to pick a single boot bag to recommend for every skier and boarder, this bag from Athalon would be it. The bag puts your boots separately, one on each side of the bag, in zippered and ventilated side pockets. The vents are much appreciated at the end of the day after you’ve been sweating into your ski or snowboard boots for hours. In the center of the bag is a main compartment for storing your helmet, jackets, and the rest of your gear. A small top pocket is another nice touch, since this gives you a ready place to store your car keys and find them again later.
Athalon’s boot bag also includes a padded back panel for comfortable backpack carry. For shorter distances, there are rubberized grab handles on the top and front of the bag as well. Grommets built into the bottom of the bag allow you boots to drain water without it pooling up inside the bag, and the rest of the bag is made of durable and waterproof polyester.
Overall, it’s hard to beat this bag for carrying ski and snowboard boots. It’s also available in a huge variety of colors so you can match your bag to your style.
- Excellent organization and compartment design
- Bottom grommets allow boots to drain water
- Ventilated boot pockets
- Durable and waterproof construction
- Available in dozens of colors
- No dedicated goggle compartment
7. Backcountry Access Float 42 Airbag Pack – Best Airbag Backpack for Skiing and Snowboarding
- Weight: 6.4 pounds
- Storage Capacity: 42 liters
This avalanche airbag backpack from Backcountry Access is the de facto standard among backcountry skiers and riders who want maximum safety. The Float 42 has a simple pull tab that you can yank on at the onset of an avalanche to release a wide airbag that can carry you to the snow surface to avoid burial. Keep in mind that the airbag canister isn’t included in the price of this bag and must be purchased separately for this pack to work.
It’s important to note that although this pack is 42 liters in size, it’s not very spacious. The airbag and canister take up a ton of room, and push the weight of this pack over six pounds – that’s a lot to carry for big days in the backcountry. Still, the pack features diagonal and A-frame ski carry options as well as vertical snowboard carry. It also has a dedicated compartment for avalanche rescue equipment, a fleece lined goggle pocket, and a built-in system for carrying your helmet on the outside of the pack.
- Airbag backpack for safety in the backcountry
- Lots of carry options
- Dedicated avalanche rescue equipment compartment
- Fleece lined goggle compartment and external helmet carry
- Expensive – and price does not include airbag canister
- Not very spacious for long day tours
- Very heavy for a ski or snowboard backpack
8. Thule RoundTrip Boot Backpack – Best Upgrade Boot Bag for Skiing and Snowboarding
- Weight: 2.75 pounds
- Storage Capacity: 60 liters
This premium boot bag from Thule takes design a lot further than its competitors. To start, the shape is totally different – you load your boots into the bag from a zippered back panel rather than from side or top pockets. The top does unzipper as well, which allows you to super efficiently pack your helmet, jackets, and other items around your boots once they’ve been loaded in. We also loved that the top of the pack is rigid to provide space for a protected, fleece lined goggle compartment.
One of the neat touches that Thule provided for in this bag is that the back zipper panel folds down to provide a mat for you to stand on while you get your boots on. This is nice, but keep in mind that you can get the inside of your bag dirty by using this too liberally.
What’s also cool is that this bag is designed to integrate with Thule’s ski and snowboard bags. You can use attachment loops on the bottom of the bag to strap it to one of the rolling ski or snowboard bags, and then roll all of your equipment around with just one hand. Alternatively, the back panel is padded so you can carry this boot bag as a backpack.
- Zipper back panel and top access for maximum organization
- Back zipper panel doubles as floor mat
- Reinforced, fleece lined goggle compartment
- Integrates with Thule ski and snowboard bags
- Padded back panel for backpack carry
- No top carry handle
Frequently Asked Questions
Having the right ski or snowboard backpack for your needs can dramatically improve the enjoyability of your ski day. At the resort, a good pack allows you to access hike-to terrain and ensure that you stay hydrated or ready for changing weather conditions. In the backcountry, having the right backpack can make or break your trip and even play a role in your safety if an avalanche were to occur. With our reviews of the eight best skiing and snowboarding backpacks of 2019, you can be sure to find the right pack for your time in the mountains this winter.