The best winter hiking packs reviewed (2022)

Winter day hikes demand more kit than in summer and therefore a bigger pack. LFTO tests the best 40-50 litre daypacks for comfortably carrying your winter kit.

The best 40-50 litre winter daypack rucksacks reviewed

by Trail magazine |

Treks during the winter months are great fun and a brilliant challenge. However, they do require more kit than summer hikes - kit such as helmets, ice axes, crampons, extra insulation layers, and waterproofs, for example.

Naturally, this extra gear demands extra volume in the pack you carry. But bigger doesn't have to mean less comfortable. Below, we have tested and chosen the best 40-50 litre daypacks for winter hikes.

How to care for your rucksack

Key features to look for in 40-50 litre winter daypacks

Function and design: Mountaineering packs generally have a slim, long shape, with minimalist external features and a close-to-the-body fit – a no-nonsense design that’s ideal for technical activities in winter. Hiking packs tend to be slightly wider, with side pockets, intricate features and high-tech back systems.

Lid: The lid covers the top main opening to the rucksack. Some lids are fixed to the backpack while others are detachable with a ‘floating’ design. A current trend is towards lidless backpacks with roll-top closure.

Weather resistance: Backpacks are usually made from waterproof materials and the fabrics will often withstand a heavy shower or two. But they aren’t infallible (particularly when seams aren’t sealed or external zippers are exposed). Some packs come with waterproof covers, while others are better paired with a waterproof pack liner.

Back panel ventilation: Back panels made from perforated foam or padding carry the load directly next to the body. This approach is comfy and stable, but sweaty. Mesh back panels, conversely, hold the pack’s bulk away from your back, thus improving ventilation – but the load can feel like it’s levering away from you.

Pockets: Zippered hipbelt pockets are handy for stashing gear you’re likely to need on-the-go. Internal zippered pockets are great for car keys or a wallet, and elasticated side pockets are perfect for a water bottle. Some packs also feature large stuff pockets made from stretchy mesh.

Straps: External compression straps, webbing loops, toggles, and bungee cords can be used for attaching items such as ice axes, trekking poles and crampons.

Shoulder straps: Shoulder straps should fit comfortably and be adjustable to your body shape. Padding thickness and contouring will affect the overall load-bearing comfort of shoulder straps. A sternum strap enables lateral connection of the shoulder straps to boost comfort and stability, while load lifter straps adjust how close the upper part of the backpack is to your back.

Back system and hipbelts: All backpack systems have the same goal: to transfer the load to your hips, and provide a comfy carrying experience. For heavier loads a stiffer frame is needed, as is a thickly padded, pre-curved belt that wraps snugly around your hips, bearing weight without feeling excessively tight. Manufacturers often state a maximum load (kg) a backpack is designed to carry.

Back length: It’s vital to pick a backpack with a size appropriate for your torso length. Trying on a loaded pack is the easiest way to do this. Some backpacks come in various length options, some are adjustable via webbing straps or Velcro, and some come in only one size.

The best 40-50 litre winter daypacks

Salewa Apex Guide 45L

Verdict: A well-designed, comfortable and supportive alpine pack for winter adventures – but it may not fit you.

Salewa Apex Guide 45L

Features 4/5 | Fit 4/5 | Comfort 5/5 | In use 5/5 | Value 4/5

Overall score: 88%

Pros: Good ventilation, excellent comfort, innovative shoulder straps, impressive features.

Cons: Back panel non-adjustable, too ventilated for extreme cold, plastic buckles.

This technical mountaineering pack is versatile, tough and practical with some innovative features. Unlike most alpine-style packs, considerable attention has been paid to airflow – the Dry Back panel of EVA foam has 3D air channels to increase ventilation, while Salewa’s split shoulder straps (which have a panel of fabric cut out) are airier than all others on test. When you’re working hard, this enhanced breathability cools you down and minimises sweating – a real positive. But in the height of winter the open construction might feel cold.

The Apex Guide 45L is made from high-tenacity ripstop nylon, which is strong, durable and of premium quality, but some weight-saving hardwear components such as the plastic buckles feel cheaper. The all-round design, however, is excellent, featuring waterproof roll-top closure below a floating and removable lid, minimalist fins that hug the hips nicely, and an internal U-shaped metal frame for structure and stability.

A two-way side zipper gives quick access to the main compartment, while a clever combo of straps and toggles (including a special pocket for an ice axe blade) accommodates all your wintry gizmos securely. Comfort levels are high, although the back length is non-adjustable (torso length 45-53cm) so it either fits well or doesn’t.

Weight 1210g | Volume 45 litres | Sizes One size | Main fabrics Robic 210-denier ripstop, Robic fabric 420-denier

Black Diamond Speed 40

Verdict: A versatile, technical and premium quality all-rounder at an excellent price – but it’s not perfect.

Black Diamond Speed 40

Features 4/5 | Fit 4/5 | Comfort 5/5 | In use 5/5 | Value 4/5

Overall score: 88%

Pros: Superb value, very versatile, excellent all-rounder.

Cons: Not enough pockets, non-adjustable torso length, top-only access.

Technical, versatile and high-performing at a surprisingly good price, the Black Diamond Speed 40 is a superb all-rounder. It has a classic mountaineering pack shape – tall, thin and streamlined – and a no-nonsense (yet elegant) design that strikes a sweet spot between simplicity and practicality.

Winter-ready attributes include snag-free crampon straps, ice axe attachments called PickPockets, and a tuck-away rope strap – a trio of features highlighting this pack’s hardcore alpine credentials. But the Speed 40 is wonderfully versatile and it works excellently for hillwalking too. It is fully stripable, with the waistbelt, lid and internal framesheet all removable to suit your exact needs, while all-round, all-day comfort for hiking is very respectable.

The back system – a thermoformed, foam back panel plus internal framesheet with aluminium stays – feels reasonably rigid, delivering good structure and load-carrying capacity despite the minimalist approach. The hip fins are pared back and not too chunky, but still hug your figure and feel supportive, and the shaped shoulder straps do their job well too. The lid, meanwhile, is top-loading with drawskirt closure and two zippered pockets. Annoyingly this means the pack has no pockets (bar a hydration bladder sleeve) if you use it without the lid.

Weight 1190g (small/medium) | Volume 40 litres | Sizes Small/medium, medium/large | Main fabrics 210-denier ripstop main, 420-denier abrasion

Exped Black Ice 45

Verdict: Ultralight and waterproof, this pack is a dream for gram-counting adventurers – but it’s way too simplistic for heavier loads.

Exped Black Ice 45

Features 4/5 | Fit 4/5 | Comfort 4/5 | In use 5/5 | Value 4/5

Overall score: 84%

Pros: Waterproof, very light, innovative design.

Cons: Not suitable for heavier loads, flimsy hipbelt, very simplistic back system, no lid.

As an ultralight obsessive myself, I was immediately drawn to the Exped Black Ice 45 – it has an eye-catching minimalist design and a supremely impressive weight of just 820g (less than half the weight of the Gregory pack). Absolutely everything is stripped back with this approach, meaning any superfluous features or unnecessary bells and whistles are omitted – and instead you’re left with a waterproof, durable and super-simplistic pack that works excellently at the lowest weight possible.

Almost like a gigantic dry-bag with shoulder straps, the Black Ice 45 is billed as 100% waterproof with a 10,000mm hydrostatic head rating – making it the most waterproof pack on test. This is achieved through the use of a thick, 400-denier, waterproof ripstop nylon, factory sealed seams, and a generous TPU coating.

The rest of the pack is characteristically minimalist, including roll-top closure, thinly-padded shoulder straps, a thin foam back panel and a fin-less webbing strap around the hips. The latter two form a very basic suspension system, which is comfortable for lighter loads but ineffective for heavier loads. You also get ice axe loops, toggles and daisy chain straps for attaching gear, as well as two zippered pockets (one internal, one external).

Weight 820g | Volume 45 litres | Sizes Small, medium, large | Main fabrics 400-denier ripstop nylon

Osprey Tempest 50 W

Verdict: A cleverly-engineered, high-tech pack for year-round hillwalking – but it’s a tad pricey.

Osprey Tempest 50 W

Features 4/5 | Fit 4/5 | Comfort 5/5 | In use 4/5 | Value 4/5

Overall score: 84%

Pros: Fully featured, versatile, excellent back system, good for general hiking.

Cons: Expensive, quite heavy, over-engineered for alpine activities.

Not everyone has the inclination, or budget, to own both a technical winter pack and an everyday hillwalking pack. If that’s the case, you need a versatile product that can double up as both. The Osprey Tempest 50 women’s pack (or the men’s equivalent, the Talon 44 or 55) fits that bill nicely.

Compressed down, it feels petite and sleek enough to be a comfy daypack, yet the design, shape and technical expertise also make this pack capable in winter. The biggest selling point is the sheer amount of clever tech in the AirScape Suspension back system – it’s like Osprey make the iPhone 12 Pro of back systems while other brands are still utilising a Nokia 3310 from 2001. The system features an injection-moulded foam backpanel and an internal metal frame, coupled with perforated shoulder straps and an excellent wraparound hipbelt. The result is a breathable, close-to-the-body fit that allows dynamic, flexible movement and delivers an impressive load-carrying experience.

All of the other premium features you’d expect from Osprey are present – floating lid, mesh side pockets, reservoir sleeve, zippered hip pockets, ice axe attachments, bottom compartment, large mesh stuff pocket and much more – and the materials used are a lightweight, recycled and high-tenacity nylon with a PFC-free DWR coating.

Weight 1400g | Volume 50 litres | Sizes One size (men’s is Talon 55) | Main fabrics 210-denier recycled Robic nylon

Montane Trailblazer 44

Verdict: Ultralight and well-balanced, this pack is great for fast and light mountain days – but it’s not made for gnarly winter outings.

Montane Trailblazer 44

Features 4/5 | Fit 4/5 | Comfort 4/5 | In use 4/5 | Value 4/5

Overall score: 80%

Pros: Great price, lightweight, unique.

Cons: Thin materials, not designed for heavy loads, not suitable for heavy winter.

This certainly isn’t a pack for the height of winter. In fact, it’s probably a stretch to even call it a winter pack at all, due to the thin(ish) materials used, ultralight construction and trail running-inspired design. But not all winter activities have to be slow and steady requiring maximum protection, particularly when much of December-March in the UK is snow-less without a deep freeze. Instead you can still indulge in fast-hiking, peak-bagging trips and big mountain days if that’s your M.O. – and the Trailblazer 44 is a great pack for such an approach.

I found it exceptionally comfortable, light and agile during testing on the 21-summit, 50km Cumbria Traverse. The figure-hugging, minimalist shoulder straps and hipbelt, which are reminiscent of a running vest, delivered excellent close-to-the-body stability while the zipped chest and wing pockets provided superb on-the-go storage (although the latter are too far back, making access awkward).

In terms of load-carrying support, a single central stay gives decent structural rigidity (although this isn’t a pack for hefty loads), while the back panel’s mesh and perforated foam are designed for comfort and ventilation. Access is via a lidless roll-top design and you also get a handy mesh stuff pocket, two wand pockets and an internal security pocket.

Weight 995g | Volume 44 litres | Sizes One size | Main fabrics Raptor cross lite 70-denier fabric, Raptor resistance 210-denier base panels

Deuter Guide 44+

Verdict: Comfy, supportive, tough and fully-featured, this pack offers a lot for the price – but for some it’ll seem over-engineered.

Deuter Guide 44+

Features 4/5 | Fit 4/5 | Comfort 4/5 | In use 4/5 | Value 4/5

Overall score: 80%

Pros: Comfort, load-carrying capacity, back system.

Cons: Heavy, over-engineered

There are a few things to dislike here: it’s pretty heavy (1450g), thick padding detracts from the close-to-the-body feel some alpinists crave, and excessive features, pockets and extras seem over-engineered if you prefer simplicity. Or, in other words, the Guide 44+ isn’t as technical, lean or streamlined as other products. But, as an all-round pack for winter mountaineering and hillwalking, it’s a really solid bet: comfy, supportive, tough and fully-featured.

It has some nice touches other bags don’t, including an extendable lid, rear lid baffle and zippered bottom compartment, while all-day comfort and load-carrying support are particular strengths. The latter comes courtesy of a solidly-built, V-shaped frame with two aluminium stays, as well as a thickly-padded hipbelt, chunky shoulder straps and plush back system with pronounced lumbar support. Rain can be safely locked out via the main compartment’s double drawcord closure (although the external side zippers may be an ingress weak spot), while the 330-denier fabric feels reliably hard-wearing. You also get ample pockets and gear straps.

The overall shape is just trim enough to work for technical snow days, but this pack’s gear-hauling capabilities make it equally well-suited to winter backpacking or bothying.

Weight 1450g | Volume 44+8 litres | Sizes One size (Guide 42+ SL is women’s version) | Main fabrics Deuter 330-denier micro rip pro 6.6

Alpkit Orion 45

Verdict: Impressive on-hill performance considering the low price – but it feels cheaper than more premium packs.

Alpkit Orion 45

Pros: Amazing price, classic design, good winter features

Cons: Simplistic back system, cheap components

Features 3/5 | Fit 4/5 | Comfort 4/5 | In use 3/5 | Value 5/5

Overall score: 76%

Alpkit has worked miracles yet again, bringing a lightweight, durable and winter-ready backpack to the market at a ludicrously low price – saving you over £100 compared to some of its high-end competitors.

Naturally, at this price-point, the build quality, technology and performance can’t match that of more premium packs, and this bag does have some flaws. The cheap-feeling straps aren’t the easiest to adjust, the drawstring top closure isn’t as tight as it should be, the non-adjustable back system is very basic, and some of the hardwear components such as the buckles feel second-rate. But you really can’t complain for £65.

The Orion 45 is spacious and comfy, with good features and a classic mountaineering shape – tall, thin and streamlined with a sewn-in, extendable lid. The padded back panel features soft, squishy foam and a stiffened internal framesheet, while the shoulder straps and hipbelt are both reasonably plush – an overall load-carrying system that works pretty well, particularly when the load adjuster straps are tightened for a close-to-the-body centre of gravity. Ice axe retainers, a pick guard pocket (to house an ice axe blade), gear loops, wand pockets on both sides, two zippered lid pockets, and a hydration sleeve complete the design.

Weight 990g | Volume 45 litres | Sizes One size | Main fabrics 420-denier ripstop nylon, 840-denier nylon reinforcement in base

Gregory Alpinisto 50

Verdict: Strong, tough and ready for the height of winter, this pack is a gear-hauling monster – but it’s heavy and bulky.

Gregory Alpinisto 50

Features 5/5 | Fit 4/5 | Comfort 3/5 | In use 4/5 | Value 3/5

Overall score: 76%

Pros: Excellent for heavy loads, comfortable, first-rate load support, fully featured.

Cons: Heaviest on test, expensive, feels bulky.

If your winter kit-list is bulging with heavy layers and safety equipment galore, you’ll need a big, bold and burly backpack that can cope with the extra strain. The Gregory Alpinisto 50 is that pack – a gear-hauling workhorse that shuns the current trend towards ever lighter and more minimalist designs, and instead opts for a reassuringly beefy and robust approach.

The internal load-carrying structure – known as Fusion Flex Suspension – features a tubular aluminium frame and plastic perforated frame-sheet, a combo that delivers the best load support on test, while the thickly-padded hip fins, plush shoulder straps and chunky foam back panel provide excellent comfort even when carrying heavy loads. Winter-specific features are first-rate too, including a stiffened front crampon pocket, ice axe attachment system and dual top-lid collar for helmet storage.

Build quality is very strong, utilising tough ripstop fabrics throughout, and other nice touches include a side wand pocket, zippered hipbelt pocket, internal sit mat, floating lid, and full-length side zipper access. But all of this bombproof sturdiness comes with a few major flaws. At 1721g, the Alpinisto 50 is very heavy and can feel a tad bulky and cumbersome – and do you really need so much gear-hauling capacity?

Weight 1721g | Volume 50 litres | Sizes Small, medium, large | Main fabrics 210-denier high tenacity nylon / 630-denier high density nylon

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