I won my first ski pack at a raffle. (No shopping, yea!) It was perfect for my weekend warrior status. Then in winter ’15/16 I stopped skiing 30 days a year and bumped to 150+. (Living at a ski area is great.) I finally acknowledged that I might benefit from seeking out a backcountry pack to fit my preferences. I wanted my workhorse to do a lot: winter backcountry days, spring/summer single day ski mountaineering missions, and the occasional ski mountaineering overnight. Between Reid’s and my combined pack inventory and a couple of purchases, 5 packs were subjected to my critical analysis. They include the Black Diamond Cirque 45, the Gregory Targhee 45, the Mammut Trion Light 38+, the CiloGear 40b ski pack, and the Osprey Mutant 38. I’ve taken each on them on at least a day trip; the Cirque, Targhee, and 40b I’ve taken overnighting.

Disclaimer: I wasn’t given anything by any of these companies, it was simply a fun exercise for me. Maybe it will be useful to you as well.


Things I evaluated:

  1. Carrying capacity – can it do ALL the things: small day/big day/overnight? To test this I used 2 packing configurations: one for an overnight with glacier gear, one for a volcano day trip sans crevasse rescue gear
  1. Carrying comfort – “excellent,” “good,” “okay,” or “meh”
  2. Accessibility – can I get to stuff without unpacking everything?
  3. Pack weight – when it’s empty, does it feel like it?
  4. Nifty bonus features – Things that make you go, “ooooh!” There are a few features I like, but could live without: helmet carry, side or back access, lateral ski carry, avy tool pocket. I summarized these in this table:

pack comparison bonus features


BD Cirque 45

  1. Carrying capacity: works great for small to big days. It fits overnight gear if your sleep system is small (like the one I used for “testing”). You can’t get away with overpacking it because of the single pull closure. Perfect for big day trips.
  2. Carrying comfort: excellent – BD’s SwingArm shoulder strap system is delightful
  3. Accessibility: awesome. The side access is great, and the one pull closure is slick and convenient. The only drawback of the closure is that if you’re touring in sideways snow, you’ll end up with some coming through the little hole.
  4. Pack weight: light, but not flimsy
  5. Nifty bonus features: the huge hipbelt pocket is so handy – I put a 250ml Hydrapak in it for quick hydration. The helmet carry works well and hides well when it’s not working. Quick access axe carry lets you whip it out without taking your pack off.


Gregory Targhee 45

  1. Carrying capacity: fits overnight gear, but seems smaller than 45L. Good for big day trips.
  2. Carrying comfort – okay
  3. Accessibility: back panel access is great, except when pack is super full. Brain doesn’t extend. Ax carry doesn’t work well for short shafts.
  4. Pack weight: medium, i.e. just heavy enough for me to think, on small days, “what’s IN here?”
  5. Nifty bonus features: hydration sleeve integrated into shoulder strap helps keep things from freezing, if you’re into that. Hipbelt pocket is perfect for sunscreen/chapstick/Swiss army knife.


Mammut Trion Light 38

  1. Carrying capacity – better as day pack, but overnight gear will fit
  2. Carrying comfort: “meh” with day pack load, uncomfortable with big day/overnight gear. The shoulder straps and hip belt struck me as too flimsy. I may also be slightly too short (I’m 19″ from C6 to my illiac crest) for this one-size pack to feel good. (Reid) uncomfortable straps w/ heavy load; w/o glacier and overnight gear it’s awesome.
  3. Accessibility: black hole with roll top is easy to use, but not as convenient as cinch tops. The avy tool pocket is a great idea, but if your tools are too long the poke out of the top. No bueno.
  4. Pack weight: very light
  5. Nifty bonus features: Roll top closure, avy tool pocket (only of your tools are short, otherwise it’s a perfect skin/over layer shove pocket. The back panel has a removable aluminum stay, which is a great way to custom fit the pack to your body.
With overnight gear. I was tired when I took the pictures and forgot to take the one without overnight gear.

With overnight gear. I was tired when I took the pictures and forgot to take the one without overnight gear.


CiloGear 40b

  1. Carrying capacity: works great for everything. Brain comes off for small days. The main compartment has 2 drawstring closure options, so you can easily go for a big day on the lower one, and use the upper (and extend the brain) to fit overnight gear.
  2. Carrying comfort: good with heavy loads, excellent with lighter loads. Just remember to pull the load lifters every time you take the pack off/on. They slip.
  3. Accessibility: side access, yay! The configurable straps are a fiddler’s delight. Or if you don’t like fiddling, they’ll stay where you put them the first time.
  4. Pack weight: light, especially given how much stuff you can get into this “40L” pack
  5. Nifty bonus features: crampon pocket(!), the strap configuration is customizable

Osprey Mutant 38

  1. Carrying capacity – great for small to big days. It’ll fit overnight gear (if the sleeping system is small) with no room to spare. I wouldn’t take it overnight unless I was bivying.
  2. Carrying comfort: excellent
  3. Accessibility: black hole pack with removable brain, added shock cord for stuffing layers
  4. Pack weight: light
  5. Nifty bonus features: with the brain off, a fixed internal flap acts as a super low profile brain; the outside of the pack has loops for adding shock cord


TL;DR My favorite do-everything pack is the CiloGear 40b, followed closely by the BD Cirque. The 40b edged out the Cirque because of it’s volume versatility. But the 40b is Reid’s, so I’ll use the Cirque for day trips and borrow Reid’s for overnights.

I’m happy to answer any questions.

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