I am looking for a more or less universal backpack that would be suitable for the backcountry in winter. I realize that there might be no "universal" options so I am open for advice.
Specifically, I need a backpack that is good both for 1-2 night hut trips as well as single day backcountry skiing. The ideal backpack need to have easily accessible avy gear (shovel, probe) compartments that are separate from the main compartment. It should be large enough, or coukld be extended to incorporate a sleeping bag, extra layers, sleeping pad, tarp, Jetboil or XGK, food and water, and be light/small/compressible enough for single day outings where sleeping bag is not needed.
Currently, I have two backpacks. One is Osprey Aether AG 70, which is comfortable and has enough space, and does work well in multi-day 3-season backpacking, but is not designed for storing and quick deployment of the avy gear, and, I suspect, is not comfortable to ski with. My second backpack is Salomon S-Lab X-Alp 30, which is very lightweight, but is little more than a sack with straps. It does have the pocket for a probe but the shovel blade doesn't fit well inside, and also, 30 liters is not that much for winter trips beyond single-day excursion.
While browsing internet retailers, I came across two more options,
* Black Diamond Cirque 45L
* Sierra Designs Flex Capacitor 40-60L
Black Diamond is known for its backcountry gear, and 45L Cirque makes its way into tops of online reviews, along with Osprey Kamber. The information on the Capacitor is more scarce. The previous season version of the latter is available at throwaway price, and the capability of resizing the pack from 40 to 60 liters is appealing. On the other hand, my primary goal is to find a specifically winter backcountry oriented backpack. Can anybody compare these models against each other?
I found reviews of the Sierra Designs Flex Capacitor 40-60L. It is an interesting light weight pack but it's not really a "snow" pack. It serves the same purpose as your Osprey Aether AG 70 but will be less convenient to use. It is basically a compressible single bag which is a simplifying light weight concept requiring greater attention to packing organization. I don't think it is what you are currently looking for.
Great question! I would actually recommend getting a dedicated BC ski backpack, and then pulling a sled/pulk with your gear from hut-to-hut or out to your campsite.
Very few packs over 35L have dedicated shovel and probe storage. You could get creative strapping your shovel to the outside, but in the event of a slide, it really makes a difference to have immediate access to your avalanche equipment. Plus, a 50+ liter pack is going to feel sloppy and throw your center of gravity off when you're trying to enjoy those turns you worked hard for.
I really like the Dakine Poacher 35 or BD Cirque 35. They're both comfortable, spacious and have dedicated tool pouches.
On the subject of how to get the rest of your gear to camp, building a ski pulk is fun- and rewarding in that it takes FAR less effort to let your gear slide behind you than to slog uphill with it on your back.
Check out the project here: https://www.rei.com/blog/snowsports/diy-make-your-own-pulk-sled
Enjoy your turns!
Thanks for you input!
I did a hut trip this weekend with Aether, where I packed everything inside including the helmet. As expected it was not particularly comfortable, especially in places where I had to bootpack across bald patches, as Aether does not have a particularly good means for attaching skis. It skied a bit better than I feared though.
After going over the options I decided to get myself a BD Cirque 45, partially because of the option of integrating Avalung, which I am still considering.
We went to Ludlow hut, off the west Tahoe shore. Haven't taken many photos though because everyone else was doing it and now I need to just bug people and collect 'em all.
@Dmitry Great question!
When I was an aspiring ski-mountaineer I used a Deuter Guide 45 pack that I absolutely loved. It was small and streamlined enough to be comfortable while skiing, but still big enough to carry everything I needed. It did not, however, have a dedicated section for Avy gear. You're getting a lot of good advice and info here, but I would recommend taking a look at the Deuter Rise 34+ pack. It seems to hit all the points you mentioned. The only concern I would have is that it might not be big enough; that's going to depend on your gear and what you consider a necessity. The specs indicate it can carry up to 42 liters, which just might be enough for what you're looking for.
Hope this helps, be sure to let us know what you go with and how it works for you!