Expedition Packs

Big Packs for Heavy Loads

While traditional cragging packs are ideal for a single day at the local cliff, climbers venturing into the backcountry need something with more volume and greater load-carrying comfort.  In these situations, larger expedition-oriented packs are the better choice. These climbing-specific, load-haulers are durable, relatively lightweight, offer numerous lashing points for hardware and are capable of withstanding the rigours of carrying heavy gear .

Here are some of this season’s best options:

Khamsin 50 – $275

The Kahmsin 50 is really too small for serious expeditions, but it’s a good choice for climbers going light into the backcountry. Solid construction with durable materials ensures the Khamsin will withstand years of use even with heavy climbing loads. Arc’Teryx also includes specific features demanded by climbers – crampon pocket, tool holders, removable lid and hipbelt. A full-length side zipper provides quick access to the interior and the simple smooth-fabric back panel, won’t collect snow when the pack is put down.

Mission 75 – $230
Black Diamond

The new Mission 75 is one of the best large expedition packs in this review. The sleek exterior, robust construction and supportive fixed suspension-system confirm that this pack is ready for serious backcountry climbing. Initially, some climbers may question the lack of pockets, but this criticism is largely offset by the massive storage in the large lid. An exterior crampon pouch and ice tool holders secure important climbing gear during the approach while the welded fabric-reinforcements prevent punctures from sharp axes and crampon points. BD also includes a side zipper for quick access to the pack’s contents and adds thin piece of foam to the bottom pack panel, which helps prevent fabric tears when dumping the pack on scree or talus. Highly recommended.

Prophet 65 – $240
The North Face

With its easy-to-pack shape and comfortable fixed suspension system, the Prophet 65 is a good choice for climbers venturing into isolated climbing areas. A crampon pocket, ice axe holders and waistbelt-mounted gear loops confirm the pack’s climbing functionality. The North Face includes a port for a hydration-system hose while the floating lid and its two pockets provide storage for small items. Multiple compression straps secure smaller loads or items carried on the outside of the pack. This is solid expedition pack.

South Col 70 – $300
Mountain Hardwear
This big load-hauling machine delivers unsurpassed versatility thanks to its innovative compression system, lightweight Spectra fabric and comfortable suspension system. The result is a pack that easily carries big loads into the backcountry and then transforms into the light, minimalist rig for climbing. Simply remove the lid, waistbelt and framesheet and stabilize the smaller load with the adjustable compression system.  This is a very versatile and durable expedition pack.

Variant 52 – $235

At 52 litres, the Variant may be a touch too small for longer expeditions but anyone heading out for shorter, less gear-intensive backcountry climbs will appreciate its performance.  Osprey includes mandatory climbing features like ice tool holders, crampon storage, waistbelt-mounted gear loops, wand pockets and glove- accessible buckles. Once at basecamp, the pack can be stripped down, reducing weight and improving actual climbing performance.  This is a versatile mid-size pack that is a good choice for climbing and shorter and less committing routes the backcountry.