Choosing a ski touring pack is not rocket science: you need room for the basics – warm layers, food, water, skins and avalanche safety gear – plus misc tour-specific gear. Add in some skier-specific favorite items and it’s easy to fill a basic day pack. Regardless, most of us can pack everything we need in a 30- to 40-liter model.
Testing new packs often tests my patience for locating my gear as every pack has a different pocket scheme and loading style. Some speak to me, some don’t. In general, I like a simple and pretty traditional top-loading design. Other design characteristics that top my list include: dedicated avalanche safety tools zone, easy access pockets for small items, lightweight harness/suspension system, minimal internal frame or stiffener material and easy to understand strap configurations. An alternate access to the main compartment is also nice – like back panel opening or side zip access. The pack also needs to be correctly sized – big enough to be versatile and small enough to be efficient and easy to handle while skiing.
The first thing I noticed about the Patagonia Snowdrifter Ski Pack 40L was its size – compact, not too long in the torso and still big enough for a healthy tour load. The 40-liter version of the Snowdrifter ski pack is a traditional top-loader design with a zip-access avalanche tool panel on the front. It’s smaller siblings – the 20- and 30-liter versions – are panel loaders. What sets the 40-liter Snowdrifter ski pack apart from the competition is a collection of small details that not every top-loader offers. To start, the lid, which is fully removable, has two pockets, one on top and one underneath. They are simple zip pockets yet big enough to handle the various paraphernalia I seem to think I need in my pack. Because I like top-loader packs, the lid is an important design piece. Two pockets and adjustability are key; this pack offers both. From first use, the Patagonia Snowdrifter took the guesswork out of finding my gear because it mirrors the design style of the packs I have been using the past few seasons, Black Diamond Alias, and the Arc’teryx Khamski 38. Both packs are basic top-loaders with their respective merits.
The small details that set the Snowdrifter apart include the pack’s removable internal frame. It’s a lightweight and well designed system, but I like to be able to remove the frame when not packing a heavy load. It just makes the pack more supple and comfortable for light loads. Next is the side-zip access. One downside to a top-loading pack is the inevitably that what you want is at the bottom or at least near the bottom of your pack. The side-zip access allows entry to the main body without opening the top. It’s not a wide access like a zip-open back panel, but it’s large enough to pull out your shell, a thermos or warm layer. In fact, the side zip allows easy access to a small sleeve that keeps your thermos handy. Next, the avalanche tools pocket is well done; it’s low profile yet large enough to handle a good-sized shovel blade. It includes sleeves for your shovel blade, handle and your probe. There’s nothing over-engineered about it, just simple functionality. A couple of smaller details I like are the glove-friendly zipper pulls, the light green interior color to help make your gear visible (the other pack color options offer different light interior colors) and the easy-to-grab haul handle.
Of course, there are a few details I’d change. The number one missing feature is a small hip belt pocket. It’s not a deal killer but, personally, I find a hip belt pocket mighty handy for sunscreen, energy bar, lip balm etc. I’ve also found the internal organizer/goggle pocket often seems to get in my way when digging into the pack from the top, especially when loaded as it pushes out into the main compartment.
I’m a fan of relatively simple top-loading ski packs and the Patagonia Snowdrifter Ski Pack 40L fits my needs list well. It’s clean design makes managing your gear easy. There are enough small zip pockets to help organize without being over engineered. It offers multiple ski carry options, as well as a solid snowboard attachment and all the volume most of us need for day touring. Patagonia bills the pack as built for multi-day touring. I found it a modest 40 liters. It handles the weight of a heavier multi-day or more ski-mountaineering load nicely, but it’s a snug fit if you need to fit your sleeping gear and food. It does have a rope cinch strap that helps secure a bigger load. It also comes in two sizes to accommodate different body types.
Favorite Feature: Classic top-loading design with side-zip access.
Least Favorite Feature: Lack of hip belt pocket.
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