Gearbox: 2024 Backcountry Packs

Editors’ Choice: Hyperlite Mountain Gear Headwall 55

For those looking for a bag for overnights and layover day excursions from camp, Hyperlite’s Headwall 55 uses a rolltop and highly compressible body for a versatile size. “The rolltop does close it down to around 40 liters, so someone who carries a lot of gear on a daily basis could use it as their one pack,” a splitboard mountaineer said. “However, it seems like a quiver piece for someone who spends nights out in the mountains.”

The main fabric of the Headwall 55 is Dyneema, a high-strength, low-weight composite material used in climbing gear. To keep the weight to a measly 1,180 grams, features are few, but, per both testers, well thought out. “The avy tools pocket is big and stretchy, so I was able to stick hardboot bindings in there while skinning,” the splitboarder said after a Cascades traverse. “Hip belt stash pockets held sunscreen, maps and a whole day’s worth of snacks.” A ski guide and avalanche instructor noted that, with only one extra internal zipper pocket for keys and other valuables, this pack is “not for the backcountry newbie who hasn’t dialed in their packing yet.” The splitboarder added that, without a side zipper, “The rolltop buckles on the side of the pack, but that’s also where the planks go for bootpacking. So, once you have your board on your pack, it’s almost impossible to get in.”

Both testers were impressed with the fit and comfort when carrying upward of 40 pounds. “Chest straps felt minimalist and light, but they were comfy and durable. Same with the load adjusters, which kept a nearly 50-pound pack tight to my body,” said the splitboard mountaineer, who tested the large but found the hip belt almost too big for his 32-inch waist. The 5’2” skier used the small. “The torso length was perfect. It didn’t knock my helmet like most 40-plus liter packs,” she said, adding, “Despite the lack of structure, the foam padding along the pack contoured perfectly to my body, making for a super comfortable ride!”

Dakine Mission Pro 18L

Our tester, a splitboarder, felt seen with the Mission Pro 18L. “Beefy, integrated snowboard straps are a rarity in today’s world,” he said. “Thanks to Dakine for not using crappy, removeable ones.” Beyond its snowboarder-friendly design (it also has diagonal ski carry), the Mission packs a surprising amount of gear for its size. A separate avy tools pocket, main compartment with mesh pocket and internal sleeve, and fleece-lined goggle pocket hold enough stuff for resort-accessed backcountry laps and short tours, though our tester was sad the pack had no helmet carry. “I had to get creative to fit my first-aid kit or a thermos of coffee,” he said. “It’s comfy for any mission, as long as it’s a short one.”

Picture 26L

Our tester kept finding new depths of the, commenting, “It says it’s a 26 L, but with the rolltop it feels like at least 34.” Complementing the expansive top is a full backpanel zipper, creating a packing and access combo that is “ideal in the backcountry,” our tester said. Lightweight, recycled 210-denier Diamond Ripstop fabric with a PFC-free waterproof coating lend durability and sustainability points, and a pocket at the bottom keeps sharp crampons or wet skins separate. However, it can be opened to expand the main compartment, making the feel more like a 40 liter, per our tester. He complained that the hip belt pocket zipper is so long it’s tough to close with one hand, but that’s a small knock in the face of such versatility. 

Deuter Freerider 28 SL

“Great for the newly initiated or for the 25-year skintrack veteran,” a tester said. Between a hip belt, top access goggle pocket with two sleeves, mesh inner pocket and first aid pocket in the avy tools compartment, organization was a breeze. Plus, the main compartment has both top and back access. Skis can be A-framed with no additional attachments, but for diagonal or snowboard carrying, extra straps are included. “I like the options, but I’ll lose those straps,” our tester said. She also made the mistake of not ordering the helmet carry, which is sold separately ($20). The SL stands for Short Length, and this pack fit our tester’s 18-inch torso perfectly. She added, “I love that it’s a short person pack, not a women’s pack. The gender-neutral colors are awesome!”

Ortovox Freeride Ravine 28L

“A slender spring mission bag with a surprising capacity to accommodate ALL the stuff!” our skimo-curious tester said. With one large, top-down and side zipper-accessible compartment plus an outer avy gear sleeve—both of which close with a front flap (also great for holding a rope coil) secured by a strap and latch; a lower, bottom pocket (perfect for ski and boot crampons); and two smaller front pockets, our tester was sold, saying, “Ortovox aces organization.” She also found the basic pack components—ski and helmet carry, the adjustable chest/shoulder straps and hip belt—were all well-designed, though there is no snowboard carry. While she missed hip pockets and found the hydration sleeve too narrow, overall, she was impressed, “Effective blend of ski tour/mountaineering design elements.”

Gregory Targhee Women’s 30L

This pack includes all the needed features: a helmet carry, reinforced ski and snowboard carries and a functional avalanche pocket. But our testers’ favorite design perk was the fit. “I have a larger build and usually have to adjust the crap out of packs to get them to fit,” one said. “This was the first time in my life I’ve just put the pack on and it felt perfect. Mind blown.” The adjustability pleased everyone from this larger tester to a size XS skier who uses the Targhee as her daily touring bag. In short, the fit/features combo was a “chef’s kiss,” per a tester who also gave a “huge shout out to the clearly female designer who added functionality to the mix!”

These reviews were originally published in Issue No. 154. To read more, pick up a copy at, or subscribe to read our gear reviews earlier when they are published in print.

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