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10 Best Winter Backpacking Packs

Winter backpacking backpacks are more specialized than regular three season backpacks, with a stronger emphasis on heavier weight loads, external attachment points, and durability for carrying bulky gear with sharp points like snowshoes, skis, ice axes, and crampons. They also favor more pockets and the ability to access and put away gear quickly, so you can avoid standing around between gear transitions and getting cold. Pack volumes can vary anywhere from a minimum of 50L to 100L, with 70L usually being the sweet spot for a comfortable weekend length trip.

Here are our picks for the top 10 best winter backpacking packs:

1. The North Face Cobra 60 L

The North Face Cobra 60 is a modular winter pack ideal for winter backpacking and mountaineering. It has a reinforced front stuff pocket that can be used to store crampons or layers, a floating lid, hip belt gear, rope carry, wand pockets, and a dual ice axe carry system. Weighing 57 oz, the pack can be stripped to bring the weight down to 30 oz for short trips or summit attempts. The Cobra is also a available in a lower volume 52L size.

Check for the latest price at:
REI | Moosejaw | Amazon

2. Cold Cold World Chaos 66 L

Chances are you’ve never heard of Cold Cold World Backpacks before, but their packs are famous in the mountaineering and search and rescue communities. The Choas is a frameless, top-loading backpack with a floating top lid, front crampon pocket, ski loops, gear loops on the hip belt, dual ice axe loops w/ shaft holders, and multiple daisy chains so you can lash gear to the outside of the pack.  It has an internal sleeping pad pocket so you can use a foam pad as a frame. Custom fabrics and colors are also available on request. A stock Chaos weighs in at just 3 lbs 12 oz, which is quite respectable for a pack that’s this technical and durable.

Check for the latest price at:
Cold Cold World

3. Gregory Denali 75 L

Gregory Denali 75

The Gregory Denali 75 has a top loading design with side zipper access. Daisy chains and expandable side pockets make it easy to carry bulky gear, while the hip belt has tubular gear loops, ice clipper slots, and sled pull loops. Strippable aluminum stays, a bivy pad, floating lid, and hip belt padding can all be removed. The fit is excellent and highly adjustable with an auto-cant hip belt. Weighing 6 lbs, the Denali 75 is a beefy winter pack, but provides a lot more comfort and adjustability. You might be surprised at the difference. A larger Denali 100 L is also available for expedition use.

Check for the latest price at:
REI | Moosejaw | Amazon

4. Hyperlite Mountain Gear 4400 Ice Pack (70 L)

HMG 4400 Ice Pack

The Hyperlite Mountain Gear 4400 Ice Pack is a winter backpacking and mountaineering pack made with ultralight Dyneema DCF fabric, which doesn’t absorb water and is very durable. It gracefully combines a minimalist sensibility with a roll top and has an integrated crampon pocket, hip belt gear loops, numerous external attachment points,  and daisy chains. A reinforced back panel is provided to haul heavier loads. A ski mod option is also available. HMG also sells this pack in 3400 (55L) and 2400 (40L) volumes.

Check for the latest price at:
Hyperlite Mountain Gear 

5. Mountain Hardwear SouthCol OutDry 70 L

Mountain Hardwear South Col 70 Outdry

The Mountain Hardwear South Dry Col 70 OutDry is a waterproof backpack that’s loaded with features including a crampon pocket, wand pocket, ice tool holders, reversible compression straps and ski loops. Many of its components are strippable including the floating lid, hip belt (with gear loops) and even the aluminum stays. Due to its waterproof construction, the pack does not have hydration ports, something to consider if you want to use the pack in warmer weather.

Check for the latest price at:
Mountain Hardwear | Moosejaw | Amazon

6. Osprey Mutant 52 L

Osprey Mutant 52 Backpack

The Osprey Mutant 52 packs a wealth of great features into a smaller volume winter and climbing backpack. It has a floating lid, wand and picket pockets, a ski haul system, hip belt with gear loops, daisy chains, ice tool and shaft holders, and a helmet attachment option. The top lid and hip belt are also completely removable to save weight or for use with a climbing harness. Priced at $200, the 55 oz Osprey Mutant 52 is a great winter backpack for fast-and-light or hut-to-hut trips where you can streamline your gear list.

Check for the latest price at:
Moosejaw | Amazon

7. The North Face Phantom 50 L

The North Face Phantom 50 is an ultralight, alpine-style backpack weighing 40 oz (max) that can be configured for different types of trips ranging from winter backpacking to ski mountaineering or alpine climbing. It has a removable floating lid, ice tool holders, ski loops, hip belt loops, and numerous gear loops if you want to rig up your own attachment points. The pack can also be stripped of components including the lid, hip belt padding or framesheet bringing its weight down to 22.4 oz. That’s light for a winter pack!

Check for the latest price at:
Moosejaw

8. Black Diamond Mission 75 L

Black Diamond Mission 75L

The Back Diamond Mission is a top loading, four season backpack with a floating lid, front crampon pocket, hip belt loops, and a full length side zipper for easy gear access. It features a reactive suspension system with shoulder straps and a hip belt that move with your torso to keep your load stable. The Mission 75 is also fully strippable with a removable waist belt, lid, and framesheet. A lower volume Mission 55 Backpack is also available.

Check for the latest price at:
Black Diamond | Amazon

9. Exped Lightning 60 L

The Exped Lightning 60 is a streamlined, roll top backpack with an adjustable torso length than be used year-round. The elaborate strap and compression system can be configured many different way to secure gear to the outside of the pack from snowshoes and ice axes to skis and sleeping pads. The side pockets are large enough to hold insulated Nalgene bottles, while a map pocket in the pack bag can hold valuables and navigation instruments. A women’s version of the Lightning 60 is also available.

Check for the latest price at:
Moosejaw | Amazon

10. Alpine Luddites Alpine Machine 70 L

Alpine Luddites Alpine Machine 70

Alpine Luddite is a small pack manufacturer that has been making a big name for itself making its own designs and custom-made reproductions of classic backpacks. The Alpine Machine is a 70 liter pack with a removable floating lid pocket and hip belt, a rope strap, wand pockets, daisy chains, hip belt loops, ice axe loops, and haul loops. A 60 liter version is also available. The pack is made with ultralight and ultra durable Dimension Polyant DX 40 fabric which is combination of Dyneema, polyester, and X-Pac. Custom modifications and sizes are also available for an additional fee.  

Check for the latest price at:
Alpine Luddites

HOW TO CHOOSE A WINTER BACKPACK

Backpacks tailored for winter use have a different feature set than most 3 season packs. What follows are the features that I’ve found most useful for overnight and multi-day winter trips in mountainous terrain. While I think these translate fairly broadly across winter locales, you need to be the judge on the features you believe are most relevant for your needs.

Volume and Weight

If you mostly plan on doing overnight or weekend-length winter backpacking trips, you’ll probably want a pack that has 65-85 liters of internal capacity. The sweet spot is about 70 liters, but you might be able to shave that down as low as 50-55 liters if you carry less gear or need less insulation. Try to get a pack that has adequate compression so you can shrink its volume if not needed, while keeping the weight of an empty pack under 5 pounds. Pack and gear weight are even more important in winter than the rest of the year, because you’ll be wearing and carrying a lot more of it.

External Attachment Points

Winter packs need to have a multitude of external attachment points to carry sharp, pointy, or bulky gear that won’t fit inside the main storage areas of a backpack. The most useful external attachment points include compression straps, daisy chains, hip belt webbing or gear loops, and ice axe loops with shaft holders.

Compression Straps

Compression straps serve two purposes: to help compress a puffy load and bring the weight closer to your core muscles where it can be carried more easily; and to attach sleeping pads, snowshoes, avalanche shovels, or skis to the sides of your pack instead of the front, so that the load doesn’t pull you backwards and off-balance.

When choosing a backpack, try to find ones that have two or three tiers of compression straps that run horizontally across the sides of the packs. The compression straps should be adjustable and easy to undo while wearing gloves so you can slide snowshoes under them. Avoid packs that have compression straps that zig zag back and forth on the backpack using one strap to save weight. These are very difficult to use.

Daisy Chains

Daisy chains are often sewn onto winter packs and can be used to lash extra gear to the back or sides of the pack using canvas or velcro straps. They usually have many loops sewn into them that run the length of your pack from top to bottom.

Ice Axe Loops

There are two kinds of ice axes in this world – straight walking axes and curved climbing axes. If you need to carry a walking axe, look for a pack that has at least one ice axe loop at the base of the pack and a shaft holder, both off-center along the back of the pack. The shaft holder can be a simple cord lock like those found on many Osprey packs, or a more robust buckle. If you plan on carrying two climbing axes, look for packs with two ice axe loops and shaft keepers.

Hip Belt Webbing and Gear Loops

Some climbing oriented packs have canvas or plastic gear loops on the outside of the hip belt to clip climbing carabiners to. While not a substitute for a proper sit harness, these loops can be quite convenient to rack gear. Alternatively,  you can clip insulated water bottle holders to them so you can drink when you are on the move and don’t want to stop.  Extra hip belt webbing serves the same purpose and is often better than having belt pockets that are too small for winter use.

Crampon Pockets

Crampon pockets are a very convenient and safe place to store crampons when you’re not wearing them. Located on the side of the pack farthest away from you, they keep the crampon points away from your arms and legs, your head, and your gear where they can do real damage.

Floating Lids

It can be very helpful in winter to have a backpack that can expand in volume to carry more gear. One way to do this is to buy a pack with a floating lid, usually a top pocket that can detach from the main body of the pack but is still held down by 4 straps. Extra gear, say a coil of rope, can be sandwiched between the pocket and the top of your pack in this manner.

Backpack Pockets

Backpack pockets can be a two-way street in winter. While they can be useful for organization, they can also add a lot of unnecessary weight to a backpack. For example, having a backpack with a separate sleeping bag pocket is pretty useless, because your sleeping bag can just as easily be stored in one large main compartment without needing the extra fabric weight and zipper required for the additional pocket.

Accessory Pockets

Most of the hip belt pockets provided by manufacturers are simply too small to be of much use in winter, and there aren’t enough of them to carry everything you might need for a winter hike, such as a camera, sun tan lotion, lip balm, headlamp, compass, map, altimeter, and a pencil or pen. Many hikers add accessory pockets to their packs to provide more external storage or they wear an additional fanny pack backwards to provide another pocket that can store spare gloves, hats, and food.

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Top 10 Backpacking Rain Jackets: 2018 Annual Survey Results

While there are thousands of outdoor rain jackets and hard shells available, most backpackers choose from a small set of common makes and models. If you’re in the market for a new backpacking rain jacket, here are the 10 most popular rain jackets that backpackers actually use today and recommend.

2018 Rain Jacket Survey

We been running surveys on SectionHiker.com for many years to find out about our readers’ gear-selection preferences because we feel that many manufacturers ignore their needs in order to court the higher-volume consumer market.

Backpacking is a remarkably simple hobby, but it’s easy to think otherwise if you pay too much attention to the hype put out by the outdoor news sites and printed magazines competing for gear manufacturers’ and retailers’ advertising revenue. Our reader surveys help us keep SectionHiker’s gear reviews and educational articles real and grounded in reality, rather than focused on the latest bright and shiny object or technology.

In this recent survey, we asked over 700 backpackers to answer the following questions:

  • What are the most popular rain jackets used by backpackers?
  • Would they recommend their rain jacket to their best friend?
  • How frequently do backpackers purchase new rain jackets?

Most Popular Backpacking Rain Jackets

We found that the 40% of the backpackers we surveyed use the following three rain jackets. They’re far and away the most popular choices.

We list the complete list of top ten rain jacket rankings below, including whether they’re available in distinct men’s or women’s models.

The top 10 rain jackets are used by 56.5% of the backpackers in our survey. The remaining 43.5% of those surveyed use a total of 153 other rain jackets from many different manufacturers. As an indication of product loyalty and satisfaction, we asked backpackers if they would recommend their jacket to their best friend.

Rain Jacket Replacement Rate

We also asked backpackers how often they purchase new backpacking rain jackets to replace the ones they currently own.

How often do you buy a new backpacking rain jacket

Our results show that 47.3% of the backpackers we surveyed, or nearly half, replace their rain jackets within 3 years. While that’s good news for rain jacket manufacturers and land fill owners, you have to wonder why the replacement rate is so high. We discuss some possible reasons for this below.

Discussion

There are a few conclusions that one can infer from these survey results.

Low Cost Preference

There’s a notable absence of premium makes and models from manufacturers like Arc’teryx in the top 10 backpacking rain jackets. The 10 most popular rain jackets are predominantly under $200 at retail prices, although you can often purchase them for far less during sales. Backpackers are either highly cost conscious or they have a healthy disregard for the performance claims of premium jacket manufacturers. I think both of these factors are in play in rain jacket product selection.

For example, backpacking brings out the worst in more expensive waterproof/breathable jackets. Shoulder strap and hip belt abrasion causes rapid deterioration of the DWR coatings in those jackets that incorporate a waterproof/breathable membrane. When you add in the fact that wearing a backpack blocks about 50% of the breathable area of a jacket, it’s no wonder that most backpackers perspire heavily when they hike in the rain. Carrying 20+ pounds on your back is exercise, after all. So I’m not surprised that many of the top 10 jackets use proprietary waterproof membranes with lackluster breathability performance, or none at all, since there’s little benefit in paying for more expensive ones.

Recommendation Scores

The backpacking community is closely knit and people commonly take the advice of friends or people whose opinions they trust when making purchase decisions. A common way of measuring brand or product loyalty and customer satisfaction is to ask people whether they’d be willing to recommend and promote it. A score between 90% and 100% is considered very high and favorable, which helps explain why people keep buying the same top three jackets year over year.

It also explains why savvy manufacturers (should) avoid retiring successful product lines or names, even when they significantly alter the design of existing models. A good name is a terrible thing to waste, even if it makes product changes less transparent for consumers.

Replacement Frequency

Close to half of the backpackers we surveyed replace their rain jackets every three years. There are a great many reasons to replace a rain jacket ranging from normal wear and tear to deterioration of DWR coatings. We didn’t collect data about the reasons why backpackers buy new ones so frequently, but it’s interesting to see how frequently they do. We plan to delve into this more in future surveys.

Consistency with 2017 Rain Jacket Survey

The results of the 2018 rain jacket survey (n= 728) are consistent with our findings in the 2017 survey (n=322), although more reliable because we had over twice as many respondents. We also screened out respondents who said they did do not backpack, something we did not do as carefully in the 2017 survey. While the percentages of products used differ, the top three jackets: the Marmot Precip, Outdoor Research Helium II, and Frogg Toggs Ultralight 2, are the same in both years.

Rain Jackets (2017) % Owned MSRP (USD) Satisfaction 1-5
Marmot Precip Jacket 28.8 $100.00 4.07
Frogg Toggs UL Suit 13.2 $24.99 4.10
Outdoor Research Helium II 8.14 $159.00 4.04
Patagonia Torrentshell 2.7 %129.00 3.44
North Face Venture 2.4 %99.00 3.60
Marmot Essence 2.4 %199.95 3.43
Columbia Watertight II 1.4 %90.00 4.00
Mountain Hardwear Plasmic 1.4 %139.95 3.80
Columbia Pournation 1.4 %90.00 3.75
Lightheart Gear Rain Jacket 1.4 %99.00 4.00

About this Survey

This survey was conducted on the SectionHiker.com website which has over 300,000 unique readers per month, so a large pool of potential respondents. Readers were incented to participate in the survey in exchange for a chance to win a raffle for a piece of backpacking gear.

While we’re confident that the results are fairly representative of the general backpacking population based on the size of the survey results where n=728 people, we can’t claim that the results are statistically significant because backpackers were not randomly selected to participate from a pre-screened population.

There are also a number of ways in which the results could be biased including: backpackers who read SectionHiker.com might not be representative of all backpackers, backpacker who read Internet content might not be representative of all backpackers, backpackers who respond to raffle incentives might not be representative of all backpackers, our methods for formulating questions and recording responses might have been unconsciously biased, and so on.

The author is an expert in statistical analysis, survey, and experimental design and is sensitive to these issues. However, given the size of the respondent pool and the very strong consensus among user responses, we believe that the survey results published here will be useful to backpackers who are interested in learning about the most popular rain jackets carried by backpackers.

If you’d like to notified of future surveys and gear raffles, sign up for our weekly newsletter in order to be notified when they occur. Not sure you want to subscribe? Check out some recent newsletter issues to see what they’re like.

See Also:

Help support this site by making your next gear purchase through one of the links above. Click a link, buy what you need, and the seller will contribute a portion of the purchase price to support SectionHiker’s unsponsored gear reviews, articles, and hiking guides.

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10 Best Backpacking Sporks – Section Hikers Backpacking Blog

Sporks are one of the backpacking industry’s greatest inventions. It’s a wonder that they’re not more widely used since having multifunction utensils would be such a great way to cut down on the plastic utensils polluting our oceans and urban landscape. Perhaps more amazing, is the amount of creativity and design ingenuity that manufacturers have applied to making different types and styles of sporks to fit different needs and preferences. But surely there can’t be that many types of sporks! You’d be surprised. They vary by functional capabilities, length, strength, material, price-point, and so on. That’s only touching the surface. The differences are far more nuanced and defy categorization. They’re a mouthful.

So without further delay, here are the 10 Best Backpacking Sporks of 2018!

1. Sea-to-Summit Delta Spork with Knife

Sea-to-Summit Delta Spork with Knife
Weighing just 19.5 grams, the Sea-to-Summit Delta Spork with Knife is the last eating utensil you’ll ever need. Made of food grade glass reinforced polyproplene, it is much stronger and durable than other camp cutlery. Even the knife is multifunctional, combining an integrated spreader knife with a strong cutting edge incorporated into the handle. BPA Free, dishwasher and microwave safe, the Spork profile also matches the inside curve of the Sea to Summit Delta Bowl and Plate, sold separately, so you can scrape your plate clean. 

Check for the latest price at:
Amazon | Campsaver

2. bambu Large Spork

Bambu Large Spork
If you’re trying to kick the plastic habit, the bambu Large Spork is for you. Made with bamboo, it’s hand finished with a light treatment of all-natural, organic, food-safe oil that won’t warp and swell in soapy water. Naturally stain-resistant, this 11.3 gram spork is made without glues or lacquers and USDA certified organic. Just imagine! A compostable spork.

Check for the latest price at:
REI

3. Snow Peak Titanium Spork

Snow Peak Titanium Spork Purple
Snow Peak was one of the first backpacking gear manufacturers to make titanium pots and cutlery and their gear is the perfect match of form and function. You can tell right away that this spork was designed with the human mouth in mind. It’s just the right size to shovel down soup, stew, noodles, Mountain House, Ben & Jerry’s, oatmeal, etc. Super light and super tough, this titanium spork has a small eyelet at the end, large enough to loop paracord through so you can clip it to your pack. Available in purple, green, blue, and plain titanium.

Check for the latest price at:
REI | Amazon

4. UST Spork Multi-Tool

UST Spork Multi-Tool
The Ultimate Survival Technologies Spork Multi-Tool is multi-function eating utensil combined with a can opener, bottle opener, flat screwdriver, pry tip, and hex wrench. Also available in a variety of colors including blue, green, and silver, this durable stainless steel includes a carabiner clip that you can attach to your pack, belt loop, or other gear. Need to repair your stove before you eat? Open a cold one? This spork has got you covered!

Check for the latest price at:
REI | Amazon

5. GSI Outdoors Campware Spork

GSI Outdoors Campware Spork
The GSI Outdoor Campware Spork is durable, lightweight, and amazingly affordable. It isn’t titanium, but it is a fifth the price, and only weighs 11.3 grams. It is comfortable to eat with and long enough to reach deep into a Mountain House meal. Best used for soupy and soft meals, it’s BPA-feee and dishwater safe. This is the spork I use because it’s the lease expensive thing you can buy at REI!

Check for the latest price at:
REI

6. Toaks Titanium Spork

Toaks Titanium Spork
The Toak Titanium Spork features a polished bowl and matte finish, for improved grip. Cutouts in the spork’s body help reduce the weight of the 17 gram spork and provide a way for you to attach it to your gear with a cord or ‘biner. The head’s tines are long enough to spear delicate morsels in addition to slurping down noodles or other soupy meals.

Check for the latest price at:
REI | Amazon

7. Forestry Labs Bamboo Sporks

Forestry Labs Bamboo Sporks
Forestry Lab’s Sporks are an interesting variant on the traditional notion of a spork, which normally combines a spoon and fork tines at the same end of the utensil. The advantage of their approach is that the fork tines are longer so you can get a better grip on foods that are denser and tougher to penetrate with shorter tines. Made with bamboo, each spork only weighs 12.4 grams. They’re also available in two lengths, 6.5″ and 8.6.” Sold in sets of 4, but still quite inexpensive and ECO friendly!

Check for the latest price at:
Amazon

8. Toaks Titanium Folding Spork

The Toaks Titanium Folding Spork is easy to store inside many backpacking cook pots, which is its chief selling point. Weighing 18 grams, the bowl is polished smooth giving it a pleasant mouth feel. It’s a good sturdy spork when open, although it can take a bit of practice to get used to the folding and locking mechanism. You can’t beat the size though!

Check for the latest price at:
Amazon

9. humangear GoBites Uno Spork

humangear GoBites Uno Spork
Another spork variant with a separate fork and spoon end, the GoBites Uno Spork is an economic alternative to titanium sporks. Weighing 14 grams, it’s very comfortable to hold and spin in your hand when you want to use the other end. The sides are shaped to make it easy to scrape food out of bowls and bags so you don’t miss one calorie of your backpacking meals. Made of high-temp nylon that’s incredibly strong, BPA-, PC- and phthalate-free, it’s top rack dishwasher safe.

Check for the latest price at:
REI | Amazon

10. Sea-to-Summit Alpha Light Long Spork

Sea-to-Summit Alpha Light Long Spork
Weighing just 12 grams, the Sea-to-Summit Alpine Light Spork is a long-handled spork, good for use with deep cook pots such as Jetboils (which you’re not supposed to cook noodles in, but everyone does). This spork is made from 7075-T6 aluminum alloy which is hard anodized for excellent durability. It includes a small accessory carabiner so you can clip the spoon (which has an end eyelet – hidden above) to a pack, mug or another utensil.

Check for the latest price at:
REI | Backcountry

How to Choose a Backpacking Spork: Key Criteria

Here are the most important properties of a spork and some guidance about how to select one that will work best for you.

Length: If you need to reach deep into a freeze-dried or rehydrated meal bag, or a deep cook pot like a Jetboil, a long length spoon can be quite desirable. Look for spoons that are 7 to 8 inches in length, as opposed to shorter ones that are 6 to 7 inches long.

Color: Get a brightly colored spork if you’re prone to lose them on backpacking trips. The titanium colored ones are easy to misplace on the ground because they look like sticks. Garish colors like purple or neon green stand out best.

Folding: If you want to have a cook kit that folds completely into a mug or cook pot, getting a folding spork is the way to go. Metal folding sporks tend to be more durable than plastic ones. Don’t try to use them as tent stakes though. They’re not stiff or strong enough.

Multi-purpose: There’s something to be said for having a multi-purpose spork that can open beer bottles or cans, even if they do weigh more than other options. It all depends on your most frequent needs and priorities.

Material: Wood, titanium, aluminum, nylon, or plastic? Metal sporks will be the most durable, as plastic can break. Wooden and bamboo sporks tend to break down with use, but they are usually biodegradable.

Single Head or Dual Head: While traditional backpacking sporks just have the one combined spoon and fork-tined head, there is something to be said for dual head sporks, since you often get a more usable fork with longer tines for spearing food. Most backpackers eat mush though, so having a true fork is often not a requirement.

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Note from the editor:  If you don’t put the word “Best” into the title of a web post, Google won’t list your page high in its search rankings. It’s a stupid way to identify good authoritative content, but that’s what people type into Google, so that’s how it ranks content. I can only hope that my readers understand that I have their best interests at heart and that I stand behind the content I publish here.

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10 Best Freestanding Tents – Section Hikers Backpacking Blog

Freestanding tents are the holy grail of backpacking and mountaineering tents because they can be set up quickly just about anywhere, on wooden tent platforms, rock, sand, snow, and even climber’s portaledges, without having to be staked to the ground first.

Because they’re so desirable, many tent manufacturers claim that their tents are freestanding when in fact they’re not. This practice is common among double-wall tent manufacturers that make inner tents which are freestanding, but require that the outer rain fly be staked to the ground. These tents do not have the advantages of a truly freestanding tent and are not included below.

Most freestanding tents are wedge or dome-shaped, making them highly weather and wind resistant. However, truly freestanding tents tend to be slightly heavier than non-freestanding ones because they have to be self-supporting, with long tent poles that add additional weight. Some two-person models can be cramped, particularly ones designed for mountaineering where comfort is often sacrificed in the name of reduced gear weight. Still, the experience of setting up a freestanding tent is liberating because you can pitch one anywhere there’s flat ground. That kind of flexibility is highly valuable when you need to get out of the weather and into a secure and stable shelter.

1. The North Face Assault 2

The North Face Assault 2
The North Face Assault 2 is a rugged, single-wall expedition tent with a pole-supported ventilation system for increased stability. Sized for two, the 3 lb 4 oz Assault 2 is made with a breathable laminate to vent moisture, with a font door and rear escape hatch. Crossed poles make setup fast and easy. Dual top vents increase breathability, while ample ceiling tabs allow for hanging a stove, gear loft, or drying lines.

Check for the latest price at:
REI | Backcountry

2. Hilleberg Unna

Hilleberg Unna
The Hilleberg Unna is a 1-person dome-style freestanding tent that weighs 4 lbs 7 oz. It is ideal for trips in any season where low weight is a high priority, but where the terrain makes for tricky pitching conditions. Rather than a vestibule, the Unna has a spacious interior that easily accommodates the occupant and gear. The corner of the inner tent can be detached to create a large protected area to cook, pack, or store gear.

Check for the latest price at:
Campsaver | Moosejaw

3. Black Diamond El Dorado

Black Diamond Eldorado
Black Diamond makes several other freestanding tents that look like the El Dorado, but it is the roomiest, longest and strongest, designed for taller individuals and more gear. Weighing 4 lbs 8 oz, the El Dorado has two crossed aluminum poles which are secured in the tent’s interior. The walls are made with a breathable waterproof fabric to help vent condensation while front and rear top vents promote greater airflow. A separate front vestibule is also available, but it is not freestanding.

Check for the latest price at:
Campsaver | Black Diamond

4. MSR Advance Pro 2

The MSR Advance Pro is lightweight, freestanding tent that weighs just 2 lbs 14 oz. Designed for high altitude mountaineering, its steep sides maximize interior room while shedding winds. Dual carbon fiber tent poles are anchored in sleeves and crossed overhead, providing the ability to handle heavy snow loads. In addition to the door, front and rear vents help remove moisture and reduce internal condensation, even in the harshest conditions.

Check for the latest price at:
Campsaver | Moosejaw

5. Hilleberg Soulo

The Hilleberg Soulo is a one person double-wall freestanding tent designed for 4 season use. It has a large front vestibule that provides access and ventilation and can be used for cooking or gear storage in poor weather. Weighing 4 lbs 7 oz, it is tremendously strong and can be pitched just about anywhere. The inner tent can hung inside the outer rain fly after it has been set up, a desirable feature to keep the inner tent dry if it is raining during setup. Most Hilleberg tents have this capability.

Check for the latest price at:
Campsaver | Moosejaw

6. Exped Orion II

Exped Orion II
The Orion II is a sturdy three-pole dome tent with two doors.  The full length ridge pole reaches the ground for enhanced wind stability and creates a high canopy with comfortable living space. Two large vestibules hold loads of gear and the wide doors make entry and exit quick and simple. Weighing 6 lbs 2 oz, the Orion is designed to withstand high wind speeds, with crossed poles, pole sleeves, and durable fabrics for maximum strength.

Check for the latest price at:
Campsaver | Moosejaw

7. Rab Latok Mountain 2

Rab Latok Mountain Summit 2
The Rab Latok Mountain 2 is a single wall tent made with breathable 3 layer eVent fabric. It has two internal crossed poles for strength and is easy to set up in poor weather. A rear vent provides additional airflow and internal humidity reduction. Weighing 4 lb. 1 oz, the tent can be guyed out for use with skis and mountaineering tools, while a 70 denier nylon floor is provided for enhanced durability and waterproofing. A separate front vestibule is sold separately.

Check for the latest price at:
Campsaver | Moosejaw

8. Big Agnes Shield 2

Big Agnes Shield 2
Weighing in at 3 lbs 12 oz, the Big Agnes Shield 2 is a single wall, four season tent made with a breathable fabric to vent moisture. It has a front door with a transparent front window so you can observe weather conditions before exiting. Crossed DAC poles, held in place by fabric sleeves, provide a strong shelter while over-sized guy loops let you anchor the tent with backcountry skiing or mountaineering gear instead of stakes.

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REI | Campsaver

9. Hilleberg Allak

Hilleberg Allak
The Allak is a comfortable and rugged two-person freestanding dome tent with two large vestibule doors and large ceiling vents that provide excellent ventilation and livability. Deep pole sleeves ensure excellent wind resistance and are large enough to accept double poles for maximum strength. Weighing 6 lbs 2 oz, the Allak’s comfortable ceiling height and long length will also appeal to taller users. If you’ve never owned a Hilleberg Tent, you’ll be blown away by the quality of the materials and construction.

Check for the latest price at:
Campsaver | Moosejaw

10. Fjallraven Abisko Dome 2

Fjallraven Abisko Dome 2
The Fjallraven Abisko Dome 2 is a double wall tent with 2 vestibules for maximum comfort and wide open views. The large vestibule provide ample gear storage and room for cooking and other activities in poor weather. The structure is set up with three poles which slide through sleeves for added strength and durability. The fly can be set up before the inner tent, allowing it to stay dry even if it’s raining. Ventilation openings at different heights provide superb airflow, enabling use in warmer climates as well as winter.

Check for the latest price at:
Campsaver | Amazon

Freestanding Tent Evaluation Criteria

When evaluating freestanding tents, it helps to research the climate conditions you expect to use the tent in, as this will inform the degree of tent pole strength and breathability required.

Ventilation: Important to minimize and reduce internal condensation. This is achieved by keeping the door(s) open when feasible, through peak and side vents, and in some cases through the use of breathable wall fabrics. You can never have too much ventilation in a tent, although the addition of doors and zippers can result in increased weight.

Pole Architecture: Most freestanding tents have a two or three crossed poles, anchored inside or outside the tent walls. Exterior poles that are anchored in sleeves are much stronger that poles that connect to an inner tent using clips or velcro tabs. They’re much more wind resistant and capable of withstanding heavier snow loads.

Interior Space: Freestanding tents designed for high alpine mountaineering use are often smaller and more cramped than those designed for four season use because weight savings are so critical when you have to climb many thousands of feet to reach your destination. When selecting a tent be realistic about your length and width requirements, particularly when choosing a two-person wedge style tent.

Number of Doors: Tents designed to hold two occupants are more comfortable and convenient to use if they have two doors and vestibules because you can come and go without waking your tent partner. Dome style tents often provide greater covered vestibule storage, which can make a significant different in livability.

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10 Best Adjustable Length Backpacks

Adjustable length backpacks let you change the torso length of a backpack so it does a better job of transferring weight from the shoulders to the hips. Traditionally, backpack companies have dealt with torso length by forcing you to choose between small, medium, or large frame heights which may or not fit you well. If a backpack frame is too short, all the weight will ride on your shoulders and make them sore. If it’s too long, the backpack will pull away from your back and throw you off-balance. But adjustable length backpacks give you the ability to resize a backpack’s length to match your exact personal measurements. It’s a lot like having owning a custom-made backpack that’s made just for you (without having to pay extra for it.)

The torso length adjustment mechanisms on the following packs are very easy to understand and use. They’re so simple and lightweight that you have to wonder why all backpacks aren’t adjustable to eliminate the fit problems that so many people experience when buying new backpacks.

1. Osprey Atmos AG 50 Backpack

The Osprey Atmos AG 50 is one of the most comfortable backpacks ever made with a ventilated “anti-gravity” suspension system. Featuring a lightweight, yet rigid frame, this 9-pocket top loader has an adjustable torso and hip belt, ensuring a personalized fit. You can adjust the torso length by raising or lowering the shoulder straps to make the hip to shoulder pad distance longer or shorter. The hip belt can also be lengthened a few inches if its short by pulling out its side wings. After that, the Atmos AG’s ventilated mesh back panel contours automatically to the body, distributing weight and providing an outstanding fit. Osprey makes more adjustable length backpacks than any other pack manufacturer. It’s why so many people use their packs.

Check for the latest price at:
REI | Campsaver

2. Gregory Paragon 58 Backpack

The Gregory Paragon 58 is a lightweight ventilated backpack designed to fill the void between minimalist ultralight backpacks and the monster capacity backpacks that Gregory is known for like the Denali 100 or the Baltoro 75. Weighing just over 3 lbs, the Paragon 58 has an adjustable length torso and quick-adjust hip belt, with hipbelt pockets that move with the adjustment to maintain easy access. The Paragon fits men with a torso length of 15-22 inches and is available in multiple volumes. A women’s version called the Maven 55 is also available.

Check for the latest price at:
REI | Campsaver

3. REI Traverse 70 Backpack

The REI Traverse 70 Backpack is a multi-day ventilated backpack with an adjustable-length frame, swappable shoulder straps, and interchangeable hip-belts, so you can get a custom fitting pack that matches your unique size and shape for optimal comfort. The torso length on the Traverse 70 can be adjusted by lifting or lowering the shoulder yoke, which is attached to the back of the pack by velcro. When you buy a pack designed to carry heavier loads, this is a must-have. Loaded with pockets and features, the Traverse compares quite favorably to the other premium packs in terms of features, pack weight, and price.

Check for the latest price at:
REI (on Sale)

4. Deuter Futura Vario 50+10 Backpack

Deuter Futura Vario 50+10
The Deuter Futura Vario 50+10 is a 50 liter backpack with a 10 liter extension collar that lets you carry more gear and supplies if needed. It’s a ventilated backpack with an adjustable frame and a well cushioned hip belt that provides all day comfort. A simple-to-use webbing strap located behind the shoulder straps lets you raise or lower them and easily adjust the torso length. The hip belt wings also flex with your hips as you walk, making it easier to maintain your balance when scrambling over rocky trails. I’ll be publishing a favorable review of this backpack in another week or so.

Check for the latest price at:
REI | Campsaver (on Sale)

5. Kelty Redwing 50 Backpack

The Kelty Redwing 50 is a versatile backpack than can be used for multiple functions, ranging from weekend backpack trips to international travel. It’s panel loading style makes it easy to pack clothes and gear, while an adjustable torso provides an excellent fit. The torso length is controlled by raising or lowering the shoulder strap yoke using webbing straps connected to the hip belt. You can even make length adjustments while you’re wearing the backpack, it’s that simple.

Check for the latest price at:
REI | Campsaver (On Sale)

6. Granite Gear A.C. 60 Backpack

The Granite Gear Blaze A.C. 60 is a great multi-day backpack with a roll top-style top, although a separate top lid is also available. The torso length is adjustable by raising the shoulder yoke higher up on the framesheet. There are metal clips at the end of the shoulder straps that you insert into slots in the framesheet. If you need a longer torso, you move the clips up. For a shorter one, you’d move them down. The mechanism is quite simple to understand and there’s little chance of the shoulder straps slipping if they’ve been inserted properly. A women’s version called the Blaze A.c. 60 Ki is also available.

Check for the latest price at:
REI | Campsaver

7. Osprey Kestrel 48 Backpack

Osprey Kestrel 48
The Osprey Kestrel 48 is an multi-purpose backpack that’s big enough for weekend backpacking trips, but nimble enough for peakbagging and day hiking. It uses Osprey’s Airscape adjustable length frame, which is lightly ventilated and has a simple velcro mechanism that lets you raise or lower the shoulder strap yoke to adjust the length of the torso. A women’s version is also available called the Osprey Kyte 46.

Check for the latest price at:
REI (On Sale) | Campsaver

8. Kelty Trekker 65 Backpack

The Kelty Trekker is a ventilated external frame backpack designed to carry heavy loads. It has an adjustable telescoping aluminum frame that you can easily make shorter or longer depending on your torso length. External frame backpacks are still popular because they’re durable, heavy padded for comfort,  and relatively inexpensive. They also make it possible to carry awkwardly sized gear since you can attach it to the frame, and don’t have to carry it inside the pack bag.

Check for the latest price at:
REI | Campsaver (On Sale)

9. Exped Lightning 60 Backpack

The Exped Lightning 60 is a minimalist, roll top backpack with an adjustable torso length. The frame is a single aluminum stay with the top horizontal cross-piece. The torso length is adjusted by raising or lowering the shoulder yoke along the aluminum stay using a simple webbing strap mechanism that locks firmly in place when secured. It’s very lightweight, intuitive, and easy to use. A women’s version of the Lightning 60 is also available.

Check for the latest price at:
Campsaver | Moosejaw (On Sale)

10. Elemental Horizons Kalais 49 Backpack

The Elemental Horizons Kalais 49 Backpack is one of the few adjustable length backpacks made by cottage manufacturers. It’s a roll top style backpack with a side water bottle pockets and a long mesh front pocket for drying wet gear. Torso length and the height of the shoulder yoke are controlled by an adjustable webbing strap, while velcro panels behind the shoulder straps hold the yoke to the pack and prevent any lateral slippage. The hip belt is also available in multiple lengths and replaceable, so you can get the fit you need.

Check for the latest price at:
Elemental Horizons

How to Choose a Backpack

What are the most important features to consider when choosing a backpack? How important is pack weight and getting a frame or hip belt that can be adjusted to fit your personal dimensions. What is the difference between a unisex and a gender-specific backpack and why would you pick one over the other? We answer all of these questions below, and many more.

Backpack Sizing

The two most important backpack sizing variables are your torso length and the circumference of your hips. Torso length is not the same as your height, but measures the distance between the top of your hip bones and the C7 (bulging) vertebrae on your neck. Tall people can have short torsos and short people can halve long torsos, so it pays to measure this correctly. Hip size is not the same as waist size or pant size and should also be measured separately. Measure the circumference of your body over your hip bones, where a hip belt should rest. Do this while wearing the clothes you expect to hike in. A cloth tape measure is the best thing to use for measuring both of these numbers.

Adjustable Length Torsos and Hip Belts

The majority of backpacks have fixed torso lengths and hip belt sizes, which can make getting a good fit difficult because people’s body shapes and proportions vary so much. Some premium packs let you adjust the length of these components so you can get a personalized fit. While they generally weigh a bit more, getting a well-fitting backpack is usually worth it.

Gender-Specific Sizing

Men and women ave very different anatomical needs when it comes to fitting a backpack. Men tend to be taller and broader across the shoulders with squarish hips, while women have bosoms and curvier hips. Some backpack manufacturers make shoulder pads and hip belts that are gender specific and address these differences. For example, many backpacks have J-shaped shoulder straps and sternum straps designed for men that crush female breasts. Most women prefer a S-shaped shoulder strap that curves around their chest and is more comfortable. The same goes holds for hip belts.

Backpack Volume

A 6o liter backpack is the sweet spot for most thru-hikers, week-end backpackers, and multi-sport adventurers because it gives you plenty of space for food, fuel, and gear. While you can go lower and higher, this is a good place to start looking, since many packs are available in smaller and larger volume models. When evaluating a backpack, it’s important to find out how the manufacturer calculates their pack volume. Some manufacturers only count closed storage while others add in all of the open pockets too. That can lead to an inflated number that you’ll regret when it starts pouring rain.

Ventilated Backpack Frames

Everyone sweats when they carry a loaded backpack. So many people prefer buying packs with ventilated frames that leave an air gap between your back and the pack to help dry your shirt faster. It’s a comfort thing.

Backpack Frames

There are basically four types of backpack frames. The one you choose will be dictated by the amount of weight you need to carry.

  • Rigid perimeter frames that are internal (hidden) or external and can hold the most weight. These are required if you want a backpack that has load lifters.
  • Frame stays, which are metal rods inside a backpack to keep it from collapsing on itself and prevent objects from poking you in the back. They are very lightweight and good for moderate gear loads. They can usually be removed and bent to match your back shape.
  • Thin and flexible plastic frames sheets that are sewn into the back of a pack, but are not removable. They hold the least weight.
  • External frames that are visible on the exterior of the backpack. They’re found on backpacks designed to carry heavy loads. They’re convenient for carrying awkwardly large gear because you can lash it to the frame and don’t have to carry it inside the pack bag.

Pockets and Organization

Different people have different styles of packing needs. Some prefer lots of pockets for organizing their gear and others don’t. Some people prefer using a hydration bladder and others prefer using water bottles, as long as they’re reachable while wearing the backpack.

External Attachment Features

Gear can be carried inside a back or attached to the outside using webbing straps or elastic cord. If you have to carry bulky or awkwardly shaped gear like a foam pad, a large tent, a packraft, paddle, snowshoes, trekking poles, and ice axe, or  bear canister, it pays to get a backpack that has special straps or places that you can attach gear to.

Durability

If you plan to hike in tough desert or mountainous terrain or off-trail, it’s best to get a backpack that has as little external mesh (pockets) as possible, because these are usually the first things to get ripped up on a backpack. Zippers can also be a point of failure. Some fabrics are also thicker and tougher than others. When comparing fabric durability, those with higher denier counts (100D vs 210D) tend to be most abrasion and puncture resistant.

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SectionHiker.com receives affiliate compensation from retailers that we link to if you make a purchase through them, at no additional cost to you. This helps to keep our content free and pays for our website hosting costs. Thank you for your support.