Review: Our Top 5 Alpine Packs for 2016

The 5 best packs for carrying moderate loads long distances
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James Lucas
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The 5 best packs for carrying moderate loads long distances

This story originally appeared in the July/August 2016 issue of our print edition. 

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When moving through the high country, weight, or lack thereof, becomes an integral part of an ascent. Stripped down to the essentials, a good alpine pack should be easy to carry, lightweight, big enough for all your gear, and have at least a touch of comfort for big mile days. Additionally, the pack should climb well while kicking steps, swinging sticks, and ascending couloirs. To help you choose the right pack, one that delicately treads the ridge between comfort and agility, our testers thrashed these bags for several months throughout Yosemite, Rocky Mountain National Park, the Beartooth Mountains, the Alps, and beyond to discover how each shined. 

Minimalists’ Favorite

Ortovox Trad 35 Alpine Pack Review Rock Climbing

Review: Ortovox Trad 35
Its lightweight and bare-essentials design is excellent for smash and grab missions, and ounce counters will fall in love with the ability to cut every single gram possible. Read the full review.

Adaptable Versatility

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Review: Bergans Helium Pro 40
A multipurpose pack that’s easy to carry whether it’s fully loaded with snow and ice gear, or slimmed down for a fast and light mission. Read the full review.

Burly Workhorse

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Review: Grivel Zen 40
If you’re looking for a light, tougher-than-nails pack for long days in the mountains, this pack holds its own, taking heavy abuse and still performing. Read the full review.

Best All-Around 

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Review: Hyperlite Mountain Gear Dyneema 2400 Ice Pack
For anything you’re going to do in the mountains, from skiing to single-pitch ice climbing to mixed multi-pitch, this pack has a smart way to carry your kit. Read the full review.

Comfortable Carry

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Review: Mystery Ranch Pitch 40
A perfectly comfortable pack to haul all your gear and then some to the base of a climb, the Mystery Ranch Pitch 40 is top-notch. Read the full review.

How To Pack

Before simply cramming everything you think you might need into a pack, make a checklist of all your gear. The goal is to fit everything possible inside the pack, so nothing is clanging around on the outside, but certain items (rope, helmet, crampons, ice tools) are designed to go on the exterior and might have designated straps or loops. With everything inside, think about the order in which you’ll be using it. Layers (minus your big puffy) should go at the top, as well as water and food. Below that, load any climbing gear you’ll be pulling out at the base, and place bivy gear and that big puffy at the bottom. For the most comfortable carry, have the lightest weight gear at the very bottom (sleeping bag and pad), heaviest items closest to your back (hello, climbing rack!), and midweight stuff at the top (food, water, layers).  —Breanna Keller