Choosing the Best Climbing Backpack for You

Ready to take your climbing out of the gym and onto the crag? If so, it’s time to look into purchasing a trusty climbing backpack. Packs are designed to help you move your gear around in an easy, accessible and organized way. No matter your adventure of choice, the right climbing backpack is out there for you. To find your best one for you, consider what kinds of climbs you’ll be using your pack on, as well as considerations like fit, weight and volume.

Types of climbing backpacks

As you begin your search for the best climbing backpack for you, it’s important to understand the different types of packs available. Each of these varieties is designed for use in a different setting. For example, your pack will look different if you’re just taking an afternoon at the nearest crag versus trying to bag several peaks on a multi-day trip. The types of climbing backpacks to know include:

Crag packs

The crag pack is perhaps the one most commonly thought of when you’re talking about climbing backpacks. This backpack is designed for outdoor climbers who need to carry their gear to the crag. A good crag pack should be durable enough to handle regular exposure to the elements, as well as scrapes against rocks and branches. As a result, these backpacks are typically made from a heavy, yet sturdy material like ripstop nylon, tarpaulin or Dyneema.

Crag packs tend to be sized between 35 and 50 liters, which should be enough space to carry your essential gear such as rope, quickdraws, your climbing shoes and any food, water or extra clothing you may need.

Rope bags

While not necessarily essential, a rope bag can be a game-changer for your climbing, saving you time and extending the lifespan of your gear. Rope bags are made of tarp and, as the name implies, are designed to hold your ropes. Storing ropes in a separate bag limits their exposure to dirt, which can seep into the rope fibers and also create additional wear in any equipment your rope is moving through. Rope bags can either be carried separately or stored in some larger crag packs.

Mountaineering packs

These backpacks, also known as alpine packs, are designed for high-altitude terrain and colder temperatures. These packs tend to be a little larger than crag packs, in order to handle extra gear like ice picks, and have different opening and closing systems that can be easily handled with gloves. To compensate for the added bulk, mountaineering packs are often made with lightweight materials.

Mountaineering packs are divided between backpacks intended for single day treks and those designed for multi-day adventures. Overnight mountaineering packs are even larger, 45 liters or bigger, so they can store all the gear you’ll need to set up a campsite.

Factors to consider

Once you’ve narrowed your search for the best climbing backpack down to packs that suit the kind of climbing you’re doing, it’s time to consider the other factors that will make a backpack comfortable and practical to use. These include:


A pack isn’t going to make your climbing experience better if it’s uncomfortable. Be sure to choose a backpack that makes sense for your size and has straps that are easily adjustable. If possible, it may be a good idea to try the pack on before you make a purchase. Some companies also make packs that are designed specifically for women and feature a slightly different fit, including closer shoulder straps and a narrower waist belt.

Weight and volume

The weight and volume capacity of your backpack will often be closely linked to the type of pack you’re buying. While crag packs tend to be slightly smaller, but can also be heavier. Alpine packs, especially more expensive models, are made from featherweight materials and designed with every ounce in mind. However, they also usually have a greater volume, to hold mountaineering equipment, and possibly overnight gear.

man hiking with dog inside large backpack

Top or panel load

Top and panel load describe the openings a backpack has for adding gear. Top load backpacks have only one access point, at the top of the pack. Panel load packs, meanwhile, offer multiple options, usually with additional openings on the bottom or middle of the pack. While it may be harder to access gear at the bottom of a top load pack, the layout is more weatherproof and reduces the risk of gear spilling out if you’re climbing at an angle. As a result, the vast majority of mountaineering packs are top loaded.

Extra features

No piece of gear is complete without an assortment of added goodies. Packs are no different. Especially if you’ll be exploring at higher elevations, extra features like a crampon carrier, hydration system, or internal and external daisy chains can come in handy. Some of these features, such as axe ice loops, come standard on most alpine packs.

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