Gone are the days when climbing consisted of swami belts, hobnailed boots, and weeks spent nailing pitons into swaths of granite. Current trends in climbing gear have moved toward functionality, performance, and thoughtful design, and packs have followed suit. In this article, we break down the top climbing backpacks of 2023 into three categories: crag, follower, and alpine. Each balances different demands, but these packs all share a focus on organization (whether inside or out) and generally are lightweight and durable. For more background information, see our climbing backpack comparison table and buying advice below the picks.
- Best All-Around Climbing Backpack: Osprey Mutant 38
- Best Backpack for Cragging: Black Diamond Creek 50
- Best Follower Pack for Climbing: Black Diamond Rock Blitz 15
- Best Ultralight Alpine Climbing Backpack: Arc'teryx Alpha FL 30
- Best Work-to-Gym Climbing Pack: Osprey Zealot 30
Best All-Around Climbing Backpack
Weight: 2 lbs. 8.3 oz.
Capacities: 22, 38, 52L
What we like: Accommodates heavy loads well; extremely versatile.
What we don’t: Heavier than most alpine packs and the hipbelt is not removable.
To be honest, we didn’t think we’d ever see an Osprey—a favorite brand among backpackers and hikers—at the top of a climbing article, but we stand corrected. Their alpine-specific Mutant is a super impressive climbing pack, combining class-leading comfort with an array of technical features and a customizable build. This is a year-round, do-all pack that is up to the task whether you’re ice climbing, mountaineering, cragging, approaching a multi-pitch climb, or even skiing, and with a recent update, it’s now built with even more hardwearing and environmentally friendly materials. For a one-quiver wonder that offers a much more user-friendly experience than most sleek alpine packs, it’s well worth a closer look.
If your definition of climbing encompasses mountains or long approaches in addition to cragging, the Mutant 38 will serve you well. But not all climbers need such a versatile design: Most sport climbers will be better off with a haul-bag-style pack like the Creek 50 below, while the light-and-fast crowd will want to save weight with a stripped-down design (like the Arc'teryx Alpha FL or Mountain Hardwear Alpine Light below). It’s also worth considering the 52-liter Mutant, which offers a larger capacity for trad or overnight gear. Regardless of capacity (it also comes in a 22L follower pack), the Osprey offers a great combination of comfort and features for a range of climbing styles.
See the Osprey Mutant 38
Best Backpack for Cragging
Weight: 4 lbs. 7 oz.
Capacities: 20, 50L
What we like: Easy to pack and ridiculously durable.
What we don’t: The cavernous compartment can feel like a black hole.
If you’re anything like the average climber, you most likely spend more time at the crag than multi-pitching or schlepping into the mountains. And while any old pack will work for short hikes with a sport or trad kit, Black Diamond’s Creek 50 workhorse is by far our favorite tool for the job. With a flat base for upright loading and unloading, convenient pockets, full side-zip access to the main compartment, and the most durable fabric (1,200-denier polyester) of any model here, it's the ideal rig for day-in, day-out use at the crag.
The Creek 50 is one of the most rugged and well-built crag packs, but unless you consistently carry a massive trad rack, you may find its 50-liter capacity to be excessive. Black Diamond also makes their Crag 40: a lightweight, streamlined version of the Creek that’s less than half the price ($100), but also half the bag, in our opinion (its fabric is a lot less hardwearing). On the other hand, duffel-style packs like the Patagonia Cragsmith below allow for easier access to your gear, but the simpler Creek is easier to pack and has fewer breakable parts (we’ve been using ours for almost a decade, and it’s still going strong). Added up, the Creek 50 is the gold standard among crag packs, and well worth its $220 price tag.
See the Black Diamond Creek 50
Best Follower Pack for Climbing
Weight: 14.2 oz.
What we like: Very durable and great shape for hard climbing.
What we don’t: Pricier and heavier than the REI Flash below.
The Black Diamond Rock Blitz is a purpose-built follower pack for rock climbers, ideal for carrying a day’s worth of supplies up long routes in areas like Red Rock or Squamish. You get impressively durable materials that can handle the ins and outs of multi-pitch routes (chimneys included), along with a foam-padded backpanel and shoulder straps to keep you comfortable. Shaped like a bullet, the Rock Blitz rides high on the back, close against the body, and out of the way of a harness, allowing you to climb unencumbered. And at the belay, you can access all of your snacks and layers via the top opening—which cinches closed with a one-handed drawstring—or via the small side zip pocket.
Made with durable 840-denier nylon, the Rock Blitz offers a lot of durability in a small package. Of course it’s no match for a tried-and-true haul bag (especially if you’re tagging your pack up the route), but it will hold up significantly better than most follower packs like the cheaper REI Flash below. Further, at 14.2 ounces, it is streamlined enough to stuff away into a larger pack on the approach, and you can also remove the hipbelt and sternum strap to shave even more weight. Keep in mind that Black Diamond also offers the more alpine-oriented Blitz pack (freshly revamped last year), which comes in two capacities (20 and 28L), is built with thinner and lighter 100-denier fabric, and features ice tool attachments and a removable foam backpanel.
See the Black Diamond Rock Blitz 15
Best Ultralight Alpine Climbing Backpack
Weight: 1 lb. 6 oz.
Capacities: 30, 40L
What we like: Great durability, comfort, and waterproofing in a minimalist package.
What we don’t: Compromised carrying comfort and only comes in one size.
To create the ultralight Alpha FL, Arc’teryx merged the lidless, top-loading design of a follower pack with a rugged, medium-capacity bag. This pack is an alpinist’s dream: it’s streamlined and lightweight, carries well, and is both waterproof and highly abrasion-resistant with a 400-denier ripstop body fabric. For mountain climbers’ varying storage needs, the Alpha FL expands to 37 liters for the approach and packs down to a 30-liter (or smaller) jet pack-like shape when the going gets technical. Additionally, accessing the contents is a breeze—even with gloves on—and lash points, bungee attachments, and a top strap secure anything from a rope and crampons to a sleeping pad and extra layers to the exterior.
With a recent update to the Alpha FL line, the “30” here is the most similar option to the old “45,” which carried 32 liters in the main pack and 45 liters with the extended collar. Other changes include a larger front pocket, additional internal pocket, and revamped shoulder straps. But many of former model’s tradeoffs remain, including a slender shape that doesn’t accommodate bulky items, thin (i.e., not very supportive) webbing hipbelt, and pared-down exterior with very few organization options. And unfortunately, the Alpha FL only comes in one size, which can be limiting for those with particularly small or large frames. But despite these compromises, the Alpha FL nevertheless is one of the most fully functional and well-built designs for alpine-style missions.
See the Arc'teryx Alpha FL 30
Best Work-to-Gym Climbing Pack
Weight: 1 lb. 15.4 oz.
Capacities: 30, 45L
What we like: Dual compartments keep your chalky gear separate.
What we don't: Not large enough to tote a rope.
Nothing beats the experience of climbing outside on real rock, but the gym is an incredible resource when you’re stuck in town. And while any old pack will get the job done, Osprey’s new Zealot 30 is purpose-built for the work-to-gym commute. This pack’s best feature is its organization: Dual compartments allow you to store your chalky (and smelly) climbing gear separate from items like a laptop, hydration reservoir, or food. The climbing-gear pocket can be accessed via a long front zipper, and a roll-top closure opens both compartments (the rear features a sleeve for a laptop or reservoir) and expands to accommodate oversized loads. For the modern climber, it’s a really nice solution.
As we mentioned above, Osprey knows how to make a solid pack; everything else about the Zealot is top-notch and well-thought-out, including the two external pockets (one with zipper closure), internal pocket with carabiner loop, and bike light attachment. It’s also built to withstand day-in-day-out abuse—including wet commutes—with thick 840-denier ballistic nylon treated with a durable water repellent finish. All told, if you spend a lot of time at the climbing gym, the Zealot 30 is worth a closer look (for a cheaper, less featured option, check out the Black Diamond Bullet below). And for days at the crag, check out Osprey’s Zealot 45, which offers impressive quality, comfort, and a full suite of organizational features.
See the Osprey Zealot 30
Best of the Rest
Weight: 3 lbs. 12 oz.
Capacities: 32, 45L
What we like: Durable and allows for great organization.
What we don’t: Can be difficult to close with a full load.
Patagonia’s calls their newest iteration of a crag pack a “gear dumpster,” and we think that’s an appropriate designation. The Cragsmith’s U-shaped zipper allows easy access to the entire contents of the pack without exposing gear—or the pack’s suspension system—to dirt. It's also lined with a small layer of foam, which helps hold the structure to make loading and unloading easier. With 630-denier fabric, the Cragsmith is a strong and well-made daily workhorse that will protect your gear in most conditions.
For the right application, the Cragsmith 45L is close to ideal: it’s comfortable, sleek, and even burly and protective enough to serve as a haul bag. But while the Cragsmith is one of our most durable options, it does come with its fair share of compromises. Compared to a top-loading pack like the BD Creek 50, Patagonia’s offering is simply not as convenient. You can’t haphazardly throw heaps of gear into the Cragsmith, and we’ve often seen friends struggle to seal up the top zip with a hefty load. But for sport climbing or when you’re splitting the rope and rack between two people, the Cragsmith is one of our favorite crag packs.
See the Patagonia Cragsmith 45L
Weight: 1 lb. 14.9 oz.
Capacities: 28, 35, 50L
What we like: Incredibly comfortable and functional for such a streamlined design.
What we don’t: Expensive.
If there’s one pack in our quiver that we reach for more than any other, it’s the Mountain Hardwear Alpine Light 35. For us, this design offers a just-right balance of simplicity and features: The two zippered side pockets are a great substitute for a bulky lid, the carrying system is minimalist yet comfortable, and the external attachment points get the job done (for skis, ice tools, and crampons) without feeling overly obtrusive when not in use. What’s more, we’ve found the pack to carry a load better than most streamlined alpine designs (thanks to the aluminum frame and foam framesheet), and the nylon-Spectra ripstop fabric is impressively durable and sleek.
The 35-liter Alpine Light has been our go-to pack for approaching multi-pitch climbs (it accommodates a rope, rack, personal climbing gear, layers, water, and snacks with ease), but the cavernous main compartment and nice side pockets also lend themselves to crag convenience. And in a pinch, we’d gladly climb with this pack—the padded hipbelt is removable (a wide webbing hipbelt is a nice replacement), you have the option of taking out the aluminum frame and foam framesheet, and external compression straps cinch down a half-full load. With durable Spectra fabric, the Alpine Light isn’t cheap, but it’s a nice alternative to the Mutant above for those who want an all-rounder design with a little less weight and bulk.
See the Mountain Hardwear Alpine Light 35
Weight: 9.5 oz.
Capacities: 18, 22L
What we like: Lightweight and affordable, with an impressively functional feature set.
What we don't: Thinner and less durable than the competition.
We know what you’re thinking: REI? A climbing pack? The answer is a resounding “yes.” In fact, the Flash 18 is the lightest and cheapest model on our list yet still manages to include a bunch of useful features. Like many other follower packs, the Flash 18 has a top drawcord that can be opened and closed one-handed, a backpanel that can be taken out and used as a sit pad, removable hip and sternum straps, and even daisy-chain attachment points and an ice axe loop. For $40 and just 9.5 ounces, that's a whole lot of pack.
But despite its impressive weight and price, the Flash 18 does have its downsides, most notably in terms of durability. The thin nylon construction pales in comparison to more rugged follower packs like the Rock Blitz above. It is not made to be hauled up routes, won’t last long in chimneys, and is bound to get ripped if you’re loading it down with sharp climbing gear on the walk out. But for $40, the Flash is undeniably an excellent value, and its feature set is surprisingly functional for climbing. For those willing to trade a bit more bulk for added storage, REI also makes the Flash 22 ($60; 14 oz.), which boosts capacity by 4 liters and includes stretch dump pockets on each side and a handy top lid with a zippered compartment.
See the REI Co-op Flash 18
Weight: 2 lbs. 7 oz.
Capacities: 35, 55L
What we like: A versatile climbing pack with more comfort and convenience than the Alpha FL.
What we don’t: Not quite as durable or comfortable as the Osprey Mutant.
Cutting-edge alpinists across the world laud the Arc’teryx Alpha FL for its no-frills, lightweight build that climbs like an extension of the body. For climbing technical rock or ice with a 30-plus-liter pack, it simply doesn’t get much better. But the FL leaves a lot to be desired in terms of comfort, convenience, and capacity, and not all alpinists need that superb climbability. Enter the Alpha AR 35, Arc’teryx’s “all-round” climbing backpack. With a larger feature set than the FL, including a lid, padded hipbelt, and side compression straps, the AR offers increased organizational options and is much more capable when weighted down. Further, the framesheet and lid are removable, giving the pack the versatility needed for both the approach and the climb.
The Arc’teryx Alpha AR is over a pound heavier than the FL and does not have a streamlined, torpedo-like shape that lends itself so well to technical climbing. In fact, it’s more similar to our chart-topping Osprey Mutant both in versatility and comfort. Both packs clock in at similar weights and capacities, prioritize padded suspension systems for comfort on the approach, and feature a nice assortment of internal and external storage. The Osprey is cheaper and gets the slight edge in terms of durability with its 420-denier base, although the Alpha AR’s 315-denier Hadron liquid crystal polymer grid fabric is undeniably impressive. In the end, Arc’teryx’s all-rounder is certainly a contender for one of the best overall climbing packs on the market. For overnight missions, it’s also available in a 55-liter version, comparable in price to the Mutant 52 but slightly lighter ($250; 2 lbs. 14 oz.).
See the Arc'teryx Alpha AR 35
Weight: 1 lb. 14 oz.
Capacities: 25, 35L
What we like: Versatile as an approach or follower pack; functional feature set.
What we don’t: Not super durable and webbing hipbelt limits carrying capacity.
Mountain Hardwear’s Scrambler 25 is an attractive and versatile pack for multi-pitch climbers and those headed into the mountains. Tacking on a bit of weight compared to other packs of its size, you get a fair amount of features—including a removable floating lid, internal gear loop, and side dump pockets—in a fairly streamlined build that sits high on the torso. The result is a pack that offers convenience on the trail but still climbs reasonably well. For approaches and climbs like those found in Red Rock, Yosemite, or even the Bugaboos (the Scrambler has alpine-specific features like ice tool holders and a storm flap over the top cinch), the Mountain Hardwear is a capable all-around rig.
The Scrambler also comes in a 35-liter version, which can accommodate more gear but is less suitable on-route. However, with a similar webbing hipbelt as the 25L, don’t expect a high amount of comfort on the trail. And while neither model comes close to matching the long-term durability of a Dyneema pack like the Hyperlite below (or the Spectra-reinforced Alpine Light above), they’ll cost you significantly less. But for recreational alpine or multi-pitch climbers or those looking for a hauler that can pull double duty as a daypack, we prefer the Scrambler’s mix of affordability and features.
See the Mountain Hardwear Scrambler 25
Weight: 1 lb. 2 oz.
What we like: A durable and versatile pack for the gym, crag, and everything in between.
What we don’t: Not ideal as a dedicated follower pack.
Take a good look at any crag, climbing gym, or dirtbag hang, and you’re bound to see someone with Black Diamond’s Bullet 16 pack. The Bullet has been around forever and is much loved among climbers, thanks to its durable design, convenient access, and endless versatility. And to be sure: The Black Diamond brand cachet and sleek appearance don’t hurt. Toss in your gym shoes and chalk, load it up with a hydration bladder and snacks for a short multi-pitch, use it to tote your laptop to the coffee shop—whatever your climber lifestyle brings, the Bullet is a great tool for the job.
We love the Bullet as a do-all rig that can play double duty as a follower pack or light crag pack. It’s incredibly durable with 420-denier nylon (and 1260D reinforcements), and even comes with a stowable hipbelt and shoulder straps for hauling up a route. But the access is not ideal for multi-pitch efforts—at a hanging belay, you’ll run the risk of losing your gear if you undo the zipper all the way—and you can save some weight with a design like the Rock Blitz above. Gripes aside, the Bullet is a fantastically versatile climbing pack that’s proven its value over time.
See the Black Diamond Bullet 16
Weight: 1 lb. 13.1 oz.
What we like: Lightweight and durable.
What we don’t: Drawstring closure and lid is an archaic design.
Dyneema is among the strongest fabrics in the world in terms of strength-to-weight ratio, resists moisture to an impressive degree, and is super lightweight. Suffice it to say, we generally trust packs that utilize this material. And the Dyneema Prism is the most durable alpine option in our round-up, trumping even the Arc’teryx Alpha FL and Mountain Hardwear Alpine Light above. It also compresses better than both with a top compression strap and side straps that cinch the load close to the back, and features external crampon carry—a feature ice and alpine climbers will love. To top it off, an aluminum stay, firm foam padding, and a padded hipbelt mean the Prism carries more comfortably than a pack like the Alpha FL.
At $425, the Prism is the most expensive model on this list, and it does have its shortcomings. Most notably, we find the drawstring closure and lid to be a fairly archaic design, especially the lid’s Velcro attachment, which makes it difficult to extend with an over-full load. Most of the time, we prefer a pack without a lid for fast-and-light endeavors—it’s simply fewer moving parts to deal with each time you want to access your gear. Second, Dyneema lacks breathability: With nothing to wick moisture between the fabric and the back, you’ll get sweaty in summer heat. But there’s no denying the Prism’s durability, and it’s hard to beat the purpose-built design for climbers hauling tools and crampons. Hyperlite also makes the slightly less durable and slightly heavier 2400 Ice Pack ($359), which features a roll-top closure, hipbelt pockets, and a bungee crampon attachment.
See the Hyperlite Dyneema Prism Pack
Weight: 1 lb. 15 oz.
Capacities: 35, 55L
What we like: Lighter and more durable than the previous version, great all-rounder for multi-pitch climbs.
What we don’t: Not as comfortable as the Osprey Mutant or as streamlined as the Arc’teryx Alpha FL.
The Patagonia Ascensionist is designed with both the approach and climb in mind, so it’s no surprise that it transitions almost seamlessly between the two. When loaded down on the hike, a rope strap and side compression straps allow you to attach additional gear. Once you reach the climb, slide the pads off the webbing hipbelt, cinch the bag down tight, and you’ve got yourself a lightweight climbing machine. And at the belay, the Ascensionist hangs from its rear haul loop and allows one-handed access to the main compartment or top zippered pocket.
The most recent Ascensionist features a light yet durable build (the new version is 420D vs. the old model’s 210D), secure ice-tool carry, and customizable features throughout. One of our main gripes about the previous Ascensionist was its non-expandable collar, which Patagonia addressed with a tall spindrift collar in the new model that can accommodate varying loads. The result is an attractive all-rounder that resembles a streamlined version of our top-ranked Osprey but climbs even better (although we still prefer the Alpha FL). For those headed into the mountains on longer trips, the Ascensionist also comes in a 55-liter version built specifically for toting multi-day loads on the approach.
See the Patagonia Ascensionist 35L
Weight: 3 lbs. 12 oz.
Capacities: 15, 40, 55L
What we like: Padded design offers a very premium appearance.
What we don't: Organization is not as dialed as Patagonia and Black Diamond’s crag packs.
Arc’teryx is known for making highly technical gear for mountain environments, so it comes as no surprise their crag pack follows suit with premium materials and a refined fit and finish. The Konseal 55 is incredibly hardwearing, with 690-denier nylon (and featuring the same Hadron liquid crystal polymer grid fabric as the Alpha AR above) as well as a padded base and sides to protect both your gear and the external fabric. Like the Patagonia Cragsmith above, the Konseal 55 is also designed to stand on its base, with a large zippered top that folds open to offer access to your gear.
Just about everything Arc’teryx makes is premium quality, but it’s often fairly streamlined, too. As a result, we don’t think the Konseal is the most convenient pack for cragging: You don’t get a full backpanel zip like the aforementioned Patagonia features, and the one external lid pocket (in addition to an internal lid pocket) can’t match the accessibility of the BD Creek’s large front panel dump pocket. What’s more, although it’s advertised to have a 55-liter capacity, we can fit a lot more gear inside our cavernous Creek 50. But for those who like the Arc’teryx aesthetic, the Konseal is undeniably well built, and comfort is high with a supportive suspension system (featuring a framesheet and aluminum stay) and two sizes to customize fit.
See the Arc'teryx Konseal 55
Weight: 3 lbs. 15 oz.
Capacities: 35, 45, 55, 75L
What we like: Comfortable, relatively affordable, and updated for durability.
What we don’t: Not as lightweight or waterproof as other alpine packs here.
A true do-it-all pack, Black Diamond’s Mission comes with all the features you’ll need for all manner of mountain shenanigans, including rock and ice cragging, alpine climbing, mountaineering, and even skiing. You get a full side zip for easy access to all your gear, and the strippable design allows you to remove the lid, hipbelt (BD includes a webbing hipbelt), and frame sheet for maximum versatility—load the pack down for the approach and streamline it on the climb. And with a recent refresh, the updated Mission features BD's X-rip 420-denier nylon and a welded crampon patch, making it more durable than ever.
What are the downsides of the Black Diamond Mission 55? At almost 4 pounds, it’s certainly not our top choice for fast-and-light missions, and given the lack of DWR finish, the fabric won't keep your gear dry in a rainstorm like the Alpha FL and Prism above. Further, the Mission is lacking internal organization—if you choose to remove the lid, there’s nothing in the way of accessories storage. But aside from these minor gripes, the Mission is a moderately priced pack that may surprise you with its comfort, and it’s been around enough to stand the test of time. For a great quiver-of-one option for those who like to climb in the mountains, we really like this versatile and affordable hauler from BD.
See the Black Diamond Mission 55
Weight: 2 lbs. 12.8 oz. (1 lb. 9.6 oz. stripped)
Capacities: 20, 30L
What we like: Extremely durable and thoughtfully designed for alpine climbers.
What we don’t: Not widely available and requires time and care to customize.
If anyone in the industry is geeking out about pack materials and design, it’s CiloGear. This small and quirky Portland-based company innovates and constructs all of their packs in-house, creatively piecing together materials to maximize both weight savings and durability. The net result is long-lasting packs (we’ve put ours through the wringer for seven years) that are also extremely customizable: the lid, hipbelt, compression straps, and backpanel/sit pad are easily removable so you can hike into basecamp in comfort and then strip the pack down into a sleek alpine climbing machine (patience required).
CiloGear WorkSacks range from 20 to 75 liters, and each one is made to expand and compress to fit a range of loads. The 3030 is their most versatile design and our favorite model for alpine missions: it’s a 40-liter pack with the suspension of a 30-liter, meaning it can accommodate an overnight kit but streamlines once you’re ready to climb. Compared to the Alpha FL above, it’s a lot more customizable and a better choice for heavier loads, but you do give up the waterproof fabrics, streamlined build, and super light weight of the Arc’teryx. In terms of availability, CiloGear packs are often carried by local gear shops, but we’ve found that their website is the best place to buy (again, patience required). In the end, these packs might not look as sleek as the competition, but they will last a long time and earn you major street cred in the mountains.
See the CiloGear 3030 GS WorkSack
Weight: 3 lbs. 15 oz.
Capacities: 35, 70L
What we like: Chart-topping durability and functionality for hauling up a wall.
What we don’t: Not great carrying comfort and limited capacity.
For no-holds-barred durability and functionality, it’s hard to beat a haul bag. Originally designed to handle life on big walls like Yosemite’s El Capitan, haul bags are built with thick, laminated nylon and feature reinforced seams, multiple haul points, and tuck-away shoulder straps and removable hip belts. In short, they’re incredibly tough to kill. Most haul bags are around 70 to 100 liters in capacity (read: too onerous to carry around the crag), but we really like Black Diamond’s Stubby, which checks in at just 35 liters. Whether you’re tagging supplies up a wall for the day or need a durable crag pack for daily use, the Stubby is a great tool for the job.
But with minimal back protection and simple, non-adjustable shoulder straps and hipbelt, don’t expect the Stubby to be the most enjoyable pack to carry—the Creek 50 above offers a lot more comfort with a padded backpanel and a few different size offerings. We’ve also found that a 35-liter pack can be on the small side for cragging, especially if you’re carrying a full rack and rope (again, the Creek 50 is the superior offering here). But it doesn’t get much better for those schlepping around heavy and sharp hardware (for cleaning or bolting routes, for example), and the Stubby is our top recommendation if you’re planning to haul your pack. For more capacity for carrying overnight gear up a wall, check out Black Diamond’s Touchstone 70 Haul Bag.
See the Black Diamond Stubby Haul Bag
Weight: 3 lbs. 2 oz.
What we like: An affordable pack with convenient, crag-specific features.
What we don’t: Not as well made as the Black Diamond Creek 50.
For the everyday cragger in need of a high-capacity bag, the Trango Crag Pack 2.0 manages to cram a whole lot of features into a $120 package. A small removable tarp extends from the pack to keep your gear clean, a large external pocket fits a guidebook nicely, and an external mesh pouch can store sweaty climbing shoes. Further, the tapered, upright design—similar to that of the Black Diamond Creek 50—makes loading and unloading gear quick and painless. And with a recent upgrade, the Crag Pack got significantly more durable 1,000-denier fabric, and even features a handy micro-fiber pocket for your phone.
Unlike the Creek 50, Trango’s model uses a top zipper closure instead of a drawstring and buckle. In our opinion, this wasn’t the best choice: the durability and ease of use of a drawstring closure far surpasses the top zip. Furthermore, the zipper closure leaves the Crag Pack with no way of compressing down when only half full, which can leave a lot of empty and awkwardly-distributed space. But if you want a durable pack that can carry all your gear for way less than the $210 Creek 50, Trango’s Crag Pack 2.0 is a nice budget option.
See the Trango Crag Pack 2.0
|Osprey Mutant 38||$200||Alpine/crag||2 lbs. 8.3 oz.||22, 38, 52L||210D|
|Black Diamond Creek 50||$220||Crag||4 lbs. 7 oz.||20, 50L||1200D|
|Black Diamond Rock Blitz 15||$60||Follower||14.2 oz.||15L||840D|
|Arc’teryx Alpha FL 30||$200||Alpine||1 lb. 6 oz.||30, 40L||400D|
|Osprey Zealot 30||$130||Gym/crag||1 lb. 15.4 oz.||30, 45L||840D|
|Patagonia Cragsmith 45L||$219||Crag||3 lbs. 12 oz.||32, 45L||630D|
|Mountain Hardwear Alpine Light 35||$275||Alpine/crag||1 lb. 14.9 oz.||28, 35, 50L||200D Spectra|
|REI Co-op Flash 18||$40||Follower||9.5 oz.||18, 22L||Unavailable|
|Arc'teryx Alpha AR 35||$220||Alpine/crag||2 lbs. 7 oz.||35, 55L||315D|
|Mountain Hardwear Scrambler 25||$165||Follower/alpine||1 lb. 14 oz.||25, 35L||X-Pac|
|Black Diamond Bullet 16||$70||Follower||1 lb. 2 oz.||16L||420D & 1260D|
|Hyperlite Dyneema Prism Pack||$425||Alpine||1 lb. 13.1 oz.||40L||150D & 375D|
|Patagonia Ascensionist 35L||$189||Alpine||1 lb. 15 oz.||35, 55L||420D|
|Arc’teryx Konseal 55||$200||Crag||3 lbs. 12 oz.||15, 40, 55L||690D|
|Black Diamond Mission 55||$245||Alpine||3 lbs. 15 oz.||35, 45, 55, 75L||420D|
|CiloGear 3030 GS WorkSack||$239||Alpine||2 lbs. 13 oz.||20, 30L||1000D|
|Black Diamond Stubby Haul Bag||$180||Crag||3 lbs. 15 oz.||35, 70L||Vinyl laminate|
|Trango Crag Pack 2.0||$120||Crag||3 lbs. 2 oz.||45L||1000D|
- Types of Climbing Packs: Crag, Follower, Alpine
- Fabric and Durability
- Carrying Comfort
- Closure Systems and Access
- Pockets and Organization
- Exterior Gear Attachment
- Haul Loops
- Hydration Compatibility
- Streamlining Your Pack
Whether you’re hiking five minutes to hang out at the crag for afternoon, taking 48 hours to ascend a towering granite spire in Patagonia, or free climbing at your limit with a day’s worth of supplies, the right pack can make all the difference. To help, we’ve broken down our favorite models into three categories: crag, follower, and alpine.
In general, cragging often means walking between five and 20 minutes and posting up in one location for the entire day. You’ll not only need a pack that can carry all your gear and then some, but one that organizes it well too. Crag packs are designed with an emphasis on comfort, easy access, and durability. Some, like the Black Diamond Creek 50, have haul-bag-style bases for simple loading, while others like Patagonia Cragsmith are designed with unique back or front openings for access to all your gear at once. Look for organizational pockets, comfy suspension systems, and even crag-specific features like built-in rope tarps, gear loops, or guidebook compartments.
Most crag packs carry 40 to 50 liters, so you can fit a double rack, your down jacket, and maybe even a couple of post-send beers. Ideally, you should be able to fit all of your day’s gear inside the bag. While carrying a rope and ice equipment on the outside of your alpine pack makes sense for mountain expeditions, there’s no reason to deal with that sort of inconvenience at the crag. Get a pack that can swallow all of your gear easily without needing to stuff all the nooks and crannies or dangle things on the outside. And if you don’t carry trad gear, you can likely get away with a lower-volume bag.
Follower packs are designed to carry a day’s worth of supplies—water, food, sunscreen, extra layers, etc.—while accompanying you on a multi-pitch route. But buyer beware: “follower pack” sometimes can be a misnomer. Most parties will climb with one 16-to-30-liter pack (carried by the follower), although the leader often will carry a small pack as well on overnight or alpine routes. Others who are free climbing long routes at their limit might choose to haul their “follower” pack rather than climbing with a bigger load.
Follower packs are identified by their small capacity—generally between 16 and 30 liters—and have features like easy-to-access exterior pockets, reinforced haul loops, streamlined webbing hipbelts (or no hipbelt at all), and one-handed top drawstrings for quick retrieval of gear at the belay. Some are made with a focus on low weight and packability, while others (like the Black Diamond Rock Blitz 15) are made with high-denier fabrics for durability while scraping through chimneys or being dragged up thousands of feet of coarse granite.
When it comes to alpine packs, the focus is less on comfortable suspension systems and organizational features and more on weight savings and versatility. Because an alpine pack needs to be useful for both hiking and climbing, most have the ability to streamline, including features like removable lids, hipbelts, and compression straps (for more, see our section on “Streamlining Your Pack”). Some also come with shock cords or accessory straps for securing crampons, ice axes, or other bulky gear to the outside so you can hike with a massive load and strip down to a tight pack for the climb.
Alpine packs range from 30 to 60 liters, and most climbers will err on the smaller side to avoid added ounces and poor weight distribution. In general, stay in the 30-liter range for a day trip, 45 liters for an overnight, and 60 liters for multi-night trips when you’re carrying many days' worth of supplies into basecamp. And be sure to pay attention to load limits—they’re crucial for comfort on the trail. It’s surprisingly easy to overload an alpine pack with a rope, ice tools, crampons, and climbing helmet, but hiking with 40 pounds of gear in a pack that’s only designed to carry 30 soon will feel severely strenuous.
When it comes to gear you’re carrying on your back, weight matters. That said, it's much more of a concern when you’re climbing 2,000 feet of 5.10 in a day compared to a five-minute walk to the crag. Because of this, crag packs sacrifice a bit of weight-saving for organizational features, comfort, and durability, while follower and alpine packs shave off heavy fabrics, pockets, and cushy suspension systems to be fast and light. As always, be aware that there are sacrifices when shaving weight. If minimizing ounces is not your top priority, you should consider the slightly heavier, more durable, and more comfortable options.
In general, our three categories above provide general guidelines for capacities: follower packs are about 16 to 30 liters, crag packs are in the 40-to-50-liter range, and alpine packs anywhere from 30 liters for a day mission to 60 liters for a week. It’s important to think about what you intend to stuff inside—a pack that’s too small won’t fit your necessary gear, but a half-empty pack is a waste of material and likely won’t evenly distribute your load. We’d rather err on the side of too large for a crag pack, but prefer our alpine packs to be fully stuffed, even with gear attached to the outside. This is one reason we really like Arc’teryx Alpha FL 30—it’s a 30-liter pack with the ability to fit 37 liters when the need arises.
Durability always is a consideration when it comes to outdoor gear, but it matters even more when it comes to items that are constantly dragged across rock and dropped on uneven surfaces. While some climbing packs are designed with an emphasis on durability, others sacrifice a bombproof exterior to shave weight. The materials used to construct any given pack will help you determine if it suits your purposes: The thin nylon of the REI Flash 18, for example, makes it a clear choice for a lightweight bag, but it will shred quickly when hauled up rough rock. The Black Diamond Rock Blitz 15, on the other hand, is made of burly 840-denier nylon, which is perfect for hauling but almost 5 ounces heavier (and less compressible) than the Flash.
Because rock climbing generally is a fair-weather activity, most of the packs here are not made to be highly water-resistant or waterproof. Those who climb in the mountains, however, might find value in a more protective pack. Arc'teryx Alpha FL and the Hyperlite Dyneema Prism Pack, for example, are made with waterproof or highly water-resistant materials.
The three types of packs will also often vary significantly in terms of carrying comfort. For the most part, regardless of the pack, you’ll want your load to rest mostly on your hips rather than your shoulders. Crag packs often have fully padded hip belts, comfortable shoulder straps, and a cushy backpanel that should be able to handle a full load with ease. You can get away with added bulk and weight when you’re only hiking short distances, and will probably find that your load actually feels lighter with the beefy suspension. There’s really no reason not to crag in comfort.
On the other hand, many alpine and follower packs will forgo padding—on the hipbelt and backpanel in particular—for a more streamlined and lighter design. Some maintain a higher level of comfort than others: the Osprey Mutant 38, for example, has a padded hipbelt and shoulder straps, while the Arc’teryx Alpha FL features just a simple webbing hipbelt. In terms of climbing with a pack on, many climbers prefer to have their small follower pack sit high on their back and out of the way of their harness rather than swinging low around their waist. All of the alpine and follower packs we feature have adjustable straps to cater to different body types and carrying preferences.
A pack’s closure system is a great way to identify where it excels. Does it have a one-handed drawstring? It must be made for fast-and-light endeavors when retrieving items from your pack needs to be quick and easy. A U-shaped zip panel on the rear? Sounds like stellar organization at the crag. A removable lid with drawstring underneath? We’re thinking this would make a great pack to load up for the approach and then strip down for streamlined carry on-route.
We see the most variation in access when it comes to crag packs, and this is no surprise to us. As we’ve mentioned above, convenience is the name of the game at the crag. Packs like the Patagonia Cragsmith and Black Diamond Stone 42 Duffel are like traveling suitcases, designed to provide easy and organized access to your gear. Conversely, we’d find no need for the convenience of a duffel-style pack in the alpine. In fact, hanging from an anchor, we’d probably spill all our gear trying to open it.
Again, we’ll make a distinction here between crag and alpine/follower packs. At the crag, we’ll gladly pay the price in weight and bulk for pockets of different sizes and unique loading and access. Among top-loading packs, duffel-style bags, and full U-shaped panels, it’s generally personal preference. Some crag packs come with built-in gear tarps, and others have internal loops for organizing your gear. Because the approach is shorter, you don’t really need pockets on your hipbelt like you might want on an alpine pack (we think the Patagonia Cragsmith’s design is overkill in this respect).
When it comes to long approaches or climbing with a pack on, climbers are willing to make all sorts of sacrifices in the way of organization shave weight and bulk. Most alpine or follower packs have just one small zippered pocket, inside or out. It might seem too small to be useful, but it’s not. Having quick access to your headlamp or a bar is much better than digging around in the depths of a 40-liter pack at the belay. That said, be wary of zippered pockets on the body of the pack, like that of the Arc’teryx Alpha FL or Mountain Hardwear Alpine Light 35. These pockets are extremely difficult to access while the pack is loaded and cinched down.
Attaching gear to the outside of a pack can quickly go from organized to completely chaotic, so be careful what (and where) you attach. Generally, alpine climbers will carry an overloaded pack on the approach so that once harness, climbing shoes, helmet, rope, rack, and draws have been removed, the bag isn’t unwieldy and oversized on the climb. Most alpine-specific packs come with daisy chains, rope straps, accessory straps, and ice tool attachments for this very reason. Many follower packs also have multiple gear attachment points, which is handy if you’re climbing in Squamish and walking off the summit of the Chief with all your gear. It’s our opinion that once on-route, you should not be climbing with a heap of gear dangling from your pack.
In terms of crag packs, we strongly recommend finding one that can accommodate all of your gear in the inside compartment. Being able to throw everything into a pack allows faster loading and a more comfortable carry. But in the event that you need to hang a tag line or #6 cam from the outside, most crag packs come with a few external attachment points.
If you’re hauling your pack up a climb or hanging it from the anchor at a belay, you’ll want to make sure that it has a strong attachment point. Many climbing-specific packs are made with reinforced haul loops for this very purpose. The Black Diamond Stubby Haul Bag outperforms the rest of our top picks in this department, with large handles that easily meet over the contents of the pack, providing two separate points of attachment for added security. If a pack just has one haul loop—especially if it’s not reinforced for hauling (like that of the REI Flash 18)—we recommend looping a carabiner through both the haul loop and a shoulder strap. Two points of contact—or in climber speak, “redundancy”—is the standard when it comes to safety in the vertical realm.
We don’t mention hydration compatibility much in this article, and we have our reasons. For one, craggers likely won’t need to have water on the go during their short commute to the crag. Further, when it comes to follower packs, we don’t recommend climbing with a hydration reservoir’s tube hanging out of your pack. It can get scuffed on the rock or get in your way while you’re reaching for the next hold. And as for alpinists, most climbers we know choose not to weigh their pack down on the approach with liters of water, instead attaching a small .5-liter bottle to the outside of their pack with a carabiner and filling up beside the trail throughout the day.
That said, there certainly are times when it’s nice to have constant access to water via a hydration reservoir. In fact, most alpine and follower packs in this article are hydration-compatible, with the exception of just a couple. And crag packs are a different story—none on our list have a dedicated spot for a reservoir.
Many climbers—especially those headed into the mountains or up a long multi-pitch route—will want a pack with the ability to shed unneeded weight and bulk. Most of the alpine packs here have features like removable straps, lids, hipbelts, framesheets, stays, and more. These components allow a pack to carry more gear on the approach, and then strip down to bare bones for the climb. Essentially, you’ll want your alpine pack to look like a follower pack when you take it on-route: webbing hipbelt, no lid, and nothing more than a light backpanel/bivy pad for suspension. It will not only climb better, but also will be much lighter.
Back to Our Top Climbing Pack Picks Back to Our Climbing Pack Comparison Table