There are a lot of backpacks that can work well for in-bounds skiing at a resort, and narrowing down the options can feel a little overwhelming. Will it be comfortable and safe on the lift? Can it carry skis? Does it fit a hydration bladder? What size makes sense? The members of The Ski Diva forums have tried many ski backpacks, and based on their personal experiences and research, we recommend the following packs:
Kulkea Micro Pack
If you pack light, don’t mind external straps, or have a Kulkea boot bag, this bag is a great choice.
The Kulkea Micro Pack is a great small backpack with tons of options for attaching extra layers and your helmet on the outside of the pack. It clips onto Kulkea boot bags, making it easy to carry everything back and forth to the lodge. It has quick-release clips on both shoulder straps for lift safety. Members of The Ski Diva who are 5’0” and up have confirmed that it fits well. Read our full review of the Kulkea Micro Pack here.
Dakine Heli Pack 12L – Women’s
This pack is available in multiple sizes, extremely durable, and includes a ski carry system.
The 12L Heli Pack is big enough for everything you need for a day at the resort, but there are also 20L and 24L versions if you want to go bigger. The Heli Pack comes in both unisex and women’s versions, so make sure to grab the women’s version if you’re shorter than 5’6” for the best fit. It’s incredibly durable, shallow enough to be comfortable while skiing and riding the lift, includes a ski carry system, and also has an external avy shovel pocket if you want to venture out for some sidecountry laps.
This purpose-designed resort skiing pack is a great choice if you’re 5’6” or taller.
The Liftrider is a backpack specifically designed for resort skiing. It’s got a profile that works well while sitting on a chairlift, great pockets for organizing extra gear and snacks, a hydration system, and straps that automatically break away if they get caught on the lift. Liftrider isn’t our first choice, because it’s only designed to fit well if you’re 5’6” or taller. Fir ultimately depends on torso length, but there are women under 5’6” on The Ski Diva who have confirmed it didn’t fit them well.
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For more details about what to consider when choosing a backpack for in-bounds resort skiing, keep reading.
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What’s the difference between a unisex backpack and a women’s backpack?
Women’s backpacks are designed to fit shorter torsos, and are sometimes narrower in the shoulders. These features help women’s backpacks sit more comfortably and distribute loads more evenly on smaller bodies. If you’re shorter than about 5’6”, you might have an easier time getting a good fit with a women’s pack.
This chart gives you a rough idea of how long your torso might be based on your height. These numbers are just averages, and are the same for men and women. REI has a good guide to backpack sizing that includes instructions on how to measure your torso here.
|Torso length (in)
|Torso length (cm)
What’s a good backpack size for skiing in-bounds?
Resort skiing doesn’t require a very big pack. You can carry the essentials – some snacks, a collapsible water cup, extra goggles or gloves, your wallet and keys, and your phone – in backpacks as small as 6 to 10L. If you have a particularly short torso, staying in the 10L range is a good bet for a comfortable fit.
If you’re skiing at an area with multiple base areas, or just generally aren’t planning to head back to your car or the lodge all day, it can be nice to have a bag in the 12 to 18L range. This gives you some room for extra layers, more food, and a water bottle or hydration system.
It’s rare to see backpacks designed for skiing in-bounds larger than 24L, but if you want to be prepared for anything or are carrying gear for your family, that can be a good size.
What backpack features are helpful for resort skiing?
There are many features that are nice to have in a backpack that you’re going to use for in-bounds skiing. Which ones you care about depend on what your ski day usually looks like. These are some features to keep in mind while you’re shopping for a resort skiing pack:
A shallow or tapered profile (deeper on the top, shallower on the bottom) makes it more comfortable to sit on lifts while wearing the pack. Lifts with lower seats are more comfortable for wearing a backpack than chairlifts with taller seats or headrests.
Fewer extra straps, or straps can be easily secured or tucked away, help prevent the pack from getting caught on the lift. Some packs also have quick-release buckles on the shoulder straps, or shoulder straps that automatically break away, so you can quickly remove the pack if it does get caught. If you don’t mind removing the backpack while riding the lift, this is less important.
For larger packs, a hip strap or chest strap can help keep the pack secure while skiing, and distribute weight more evenly.
If you ski in a place with particularly deep snow or a lot of tree wells, it can be nice to have an easily-accessible place to attach an emergency whistle, or a rescue whistle built into the chest strap. For more information on tree well safety, check out this thread on tree well safety on The Ski Diva forums, or this blog post on tree wells from The Ski Diva blog.
A waterproof or water resistant pack can be helpful if you ski long days in heavy snow. Using small dry bags or water resistant packing cubes inside the compartments can keep your things dry if the backpack isn’t waterproof. Stuff sacks or packing cubes are also a great way to organize a backpack that only has one big compartment.
If you enjoy hiking to access more adventurous in-bounds terrain, a built-in ski carry system can let you avoid carrying your skis over your shoulder.
If you use a hydration system and typically ski in very cold temperatures, an insulated hydration compartment or insulated hose will stop your hydration system from freezing while you ski.
Do you need a hydration pack for resort skiing?
Staying hydrated is an important part of having a good ski day, but the amount each person needs to drink to feel good varies. When you’re skiing at a higher altitude than usual, or planning a long day without going back to the lodge, a hydration system can make it easier to drink enough to feel your best. Adding electrolyte tablets like Nuun to the hydration bladder can also help you stay hydrated at altitude.
If you prefer to skip the bulk of carrying a hydration system, adding a collapsible cup to your pack and stopping by the lodge to drink throughout the day can work well, too.
How to use a backpack to carry your skis
Backpacks with built-in ski carry systems work in two ways:
In a diagonal ski carry system, the skis are attached to the back of the pack, with a loop on the lower left and a strap on the upper right. Slide your tails through the loop on the lower left, clip the strap on the upper right around your tips, and you’re ready to hike. If your pack is very full, the weight skis can feel a bit far behind you (far from your center of gravity) with this setup, and the skis can sometimes flop around a little bit. For short hikes, this setup is often completely fine, and it’s quicker to attach your skis.
In an A-frame ski carry system, one ski is attached to each side of your pack, with the tips joined by a strap at the top. Each side of the pack has a loop on the bottom and a strap at the top for attaching one ski. Depending on how securely your skis are attached to the sides of the pack, you may or may not want to attach the tips above the pack with a separate ski strap. This system keeps the weight of the skis closer to your center of gravity than a diagonal ski carry system.
For more details on diagonal vs A-frame ski carrying, check out this blog post on StraightChuter.com.
Did we miss anything?
If there’s anything you’d like to know about backpacks for skiing in-bounds that we didn’t cover, start a thread in the Ski Gear forum and ask! The members of The Ski Diva will do our best to answer any questions you have, and we’ll update this guide to include any new information that comes up.
Some of the information in this article was adapted from the following threads on The Ski Diva forums: