How to Choose a Ski Touring Pack
With so many brands and models of packs to choose from, we wanted to break down how to choose a ski/splitboard touring pack that works best for you.
Features of a Ski Pack
You might be wondering what makes a ski touring pack different than other backpacks anyway. When skiing, you want a pack that is lightweight, durable, and handles movement well. Ski touring packs also have a number of features that will make your day on the snow more efficient.
Straps - A ski-specific pack has straps to carry your skis or board. This is useful for objectives that are too steep to climb while skinning or when finding turns that require an approach without snow.
Some packs even offer multiple carrying options:
- A Frame - This is probably the most popular way to carry skis on a pack. One ski is attached to each side of the pack using the compression straps, then the top of the skis are attached together using a Voile strap. This method can take some practice, but it balances the load well and keeps weight closer to your body for better balance.
- Diagonal (see photo above)- This method is fast; however, because the weight is kept further from your center of mass, it can make you feel off-balance. Hold or strap the skis together and thread through a loop at the bottom of the pack and then through a strap at the top of the pack. This method is good on steep traverses when an A-Frame might hit the snow.
Gear storage - Gear loops allow you to bring an ax for snow climbs and mountaineering objectives. They also make it convenient for splitboard riders to stow poles for the descent. Many ski packs also feature an external pocket to store a helmet. Some even have a lined pocket for goggles.
Internal safety pockets - ski touring packs are built with compartments designed specifically for an avalanche probe and shovel. Having an organized, dedicated spot for your avalanche safety gear helps you access it quickly in case of a rescue.
Avalanche Airbag Packs
In addition to the features mentioned above, some ski-specific packs also feature an inflatable airbag designed to be deployed in case the wearer is caught in an avalanche. The airbag can help provide flotation to remain above the snow, reducing the risk of becoming buried. If you do get buried, the airbag creates a bigger air pocket for breathing beneath the snow.
***However, it is extremely important to note that wearing an airbag pack is NOT a substitute for avalanche education nor avalanche safety gear (beacon, probe, shovel). Do not let an airbag pack influence your terrain choices or lure you into a false sense of safety. Avoiding avalanche terrain is still the best practice for mitigating risk.***
How Airbag Packs Work
Avalanche airbags are inflated one of two ways: using compressed air stored in a canister or using an electric fan. There are various pros and cons for each.
Electric Airbags -
Electric airbags used a battery-powered fan to inflate. There are several pros to this technology.
- Multiple deployments - electric airbags allow you to deploy the airbag more than once (sometimes even on one charge). This offers a number of advantages, including the ability to practice and become an expert on how the bag functions.
- Airline travel - most electric airbags are acceptable to bring in a carry-on, whereas canisters have stricter regulations
- Price - While battery-powered bags come with some advantages over canisters, they tend to be more expensive.
Canister Airbags -
The canister is a cartridge filled with highly pressurized gas, which is used to fill the airbag.
- Single Use- Once a canister has been used to deploy an airbag, it must be refilled. (Airbag packs purchased at Neptune come with free lifetime refills.)
- Ortovox Avabags have a feature that allow you to test the trigger without using the canister.
- Airline travel - Canisters must be empty in order to fly with them. That means you have to check with your destination to see if you'll be able to refill before skiing.
- Low Weight - The Ortovox Avabags have the lightest canister-powered airbag systems in the world, weighing only 640g.
Ortovox Ascent Avabag (multiple sizes)
Choosing a Size
Think about what you typically bring in your ski pack and how many days you'll be using it for. For day trips, a volume of 25-35 liters is probably sufficient, but if you plan on going on overnight trips, you'll want to go bigger.
As with all packs, you'll want to visit a reputable shop (may we suggest Neptune?!) to get a proper fit. You don't want your pack hitting you in the head on steep ascents or sloshing around on descents.
Some packs, like the Osprey Sopris Pro 30 , even have a women's specific fit.