Backpacks are not only essential, but a good, well-fitted backpack will make a day or multiple days out climbing a much more pleasurable experience. Various styles of climbing backpacks are available, from large-volume mountaineering packs to ice climbing packs to daypacks for cragging.
Various day packs offer different accoutrements depending on what they are specialized for: ice climbing packs have attachments on the outside for ice axes, while some packs have removable tops that can be used as a fanny pack while climbing long ridges, for example. Alpine packs are high performers that hold sufficient supplies and equipment for one to three days, but are still stripped down so that they are as light and functional as possible. Expedition packs are larger and more comfortable. but wouldn’t be ideal for a day of cragging.
Climbing packs typically range from 2,500 to 8,000 cubic inches, though most fall in the 3,000 to 4,000 range.
What to Look for
Visit a local shop and try on as many packs as possible before purchasing one. You should consider exactly what you will be using your pack for, and then focus your research and questions on packs for that style of climbing.
Things to consider include: volume, sizing and suspension, fit, comfort, top and side loading and construction. When choosing the size of your pack, decide specifically what sort of climbing you will be doing. If you’re going to be cragging, you should get a smaller daypack; if you’re going to spend all your times doing alpine routes, you should get a pack that allows you to carry not only climbing gear, but also camping equipment.
To check the fit, fill up the pack at the shop with all the things you think you will typically carry in order to get a feel for what that pack’s suspension is like and how comfortable it is. Check out how the shoulder straps, waist belt, sternum strap and load lifter/stabilizer straps work and find a pack that can be adjusted to fit your body type. People who spend more time in the mountains might want beefier padding on their waist belts and shoulder straps, while alpine climbers will want the lightest, simplest model available.
Some packs have both top and side loading components, which make finding necessary items quick and easy. Top loaded packs are more common. If you plan on spending a lot of time scraping your backpack on the wall, you should consider getting a more durable pack with ripstop fabrics, reinforced bar tacks, taped seams and a stout pack bottom.
The only pitfall to watch out for is not doing your research and ending up with a pack that doesn’t fit well. Also, sometimes the packs with too many bells and whistles can be annoying, especially if you’re carrying that pack up a long ridge where extra long straps can get caught on things.