An ice ax can be the most universal symbol of modern alpine mountaineering: a light, compact tool that's capable of lastingly taking a life, carry stories, tell stories, and is passed on through the ages. But the true unsung hero of modern alpinism, might you ask, is the humble mountaineering backpack. For sure, it's one of the most important pieces of equipment you'll own. And yet for some people, it's probably one of the least used. This is sad because a pack is a pack.
Mountaineering backpacks are meant to be loaded with tools and equipment for conquering the mountain, but also for days spent on the trail. The back will take a beating, especially if you're climbing high peaks or crossing long, wide glaciers. And when you load your pack with heavy hiking boots, gloves, ropes, carabiners, pulleys, and other gear, it only makes sense that the pack should hold all that gear, cushioned, secure, and comfortable. It's what an efficient pack does, after all.
But not all packs are created equal. Not every pack works the same, for various reasons. Some feature super-light materials and minimal design features that make them poor choices for heavy alpine climbs. Others are designed for moderate use on day hikes and weekend trips. Yet another type of mountaineering backpack is designed to be worn during extended alpine climbs. And then there are even more specialized packs that are perfect for expeditions into remote and difficult-to-reach places.
Mountaineering backpacks differ from other backpacks in that they're designed for a specific purpose. While other backpacks can be used for many purposes - from opening to closing to carrying a few necessary items, to running on crampons - a climbing backpack can only go so far. It can carry a lot of supplies, but that's about the limit. But what kind of stuff can a mountain climber need to take on a long climb up a sheer cliff?
Backpacks for hiking and mountaineering are made with different kinds of materials to handle the rigors of the various environments that the travelers will encounter. Some are made of extremely lightweight but strong materials like carbon fiber, which are light enough to float on top of the water, but strong enough to keep the items that the hikers carry securely in place. Others are composed of high-tech plastics that are strong and yet lightweight enough to still be easily controlled by the climber. And then there are others made out of aluminum, which is sturdy but light enough to easily lug around a heavy pack full of supplies.
There are also several features that are being added to modern-day mountaineering backpacks. One of these is a load lifter straps. These are made to help the climber to keep his or her weight centered when on the mountains. When the climber begins to lose weight, the load lifter straps are used to tighten the load to keep it steady, so that it does not become tiring for him or her. The load lifter straps are also used on open packs because they can be used as leverage to keep the load from falling off the shoulders.
Some pack manufacturers specialize in making specialized mountaineering backpacks. They may have experience from years of backpacking in different types of terrains so that they know exactly how to make a backpack that will hold the right amount of weight, protect the person from the weather, and protect the clothing from the elements. But most backpack manufacturers won't make a backpack for an expert mountaineer. Instead, they will offer a lightweight backpack that will work for anyone who has experience in mountaineering. Most experts will agree that it is best to buy the best mountaineering backpack that you can afford, because you will be using it for years, regardless of how much outdoor activity you do in a day. And by buying a high-quality backpack, you can be assured that it will stand up to years of use and that it will be strong and durable enough to last for many trips down the mountains.
Other features that you might want to consider when shopping for a new mountaineering backpack include a sleeping bag or tent. Even though many people love the idea of sleeping in the mountains, the reality is that you need some sort of shelter to sleep at night. It could be a simple tarp and cover or something more elaborate like a ski mountaineering tent or a ski cave. A tent is almost always a good investment for someone who loves to go snowboarding or skiing. A tent will keep your things dry, even during bad weather, and it is a good idea to make sure that you choose one that fits you and is within your price range.