Ski Touring Pack
Mystery Ranch Saddle Peak
$219, 25L/1,526 c.i., 3 lbs. (S/M)
Sizes: S/M and L/XL
An all-purpose, quiver-of-one ski touring pack that crosses over from days of lift-served and side-country skiing to full days of ski touring in the backcountry can seem like a Goldilocks quest—many are either too big or too small. After days of resort skiing and ski touring in Utah’s Wasatch Range with the latest iteration of the compact and smartly designed Mystery Ranch, I’ve seen its strengths and minor shortcomings.
For starters, the compression-molded foam back panel, which repels snow, delivers plenty of rigidity for comfortably carrying as much stuff as will fit inside—plus the weight of skis loaded on the pack—while the shoulder straps and wrap-around hipbelt have enough padding for moderate loads without feeling cumbersome when skiing or riding downhill.
The torso length is adjustable using a common yoke and hook-and-loop setup in the back panel; but I had to wrestle with it for at least 15 minutes to adjust it because, even with all pack straps loosened, it’s hard to slip my medium-size bare hand behind the back panel to release the burly hook-and-loop patch.
The Saddle Peak’s 25-liter capacity provides ample space for resort or side country off-piste skiing but some users will find that it falls a little short for a full day of backcountry ski touring. I could squeeze a winter shell, midweight puffy, extra mittens, climbing skins, two liters of water, food, an ultralight emergency bivy sack, and a small camera inside—but nothing extra, like a really fat, emergency winter down jacket (such as either of two favorites, the Black Diamond Vision Down Parka and the Feathered Friends Helios Hooded Jacket).
It seems that bumping the capacity to 30 liters would make sense for a pack intended to crossover from resort to all-day backcountry touring. As is, the Saddle Peak is better suited to streamlined days of touring, especially in spring; and this isn’t a ski touring pack for guides, ski patrollers, or anyone who likes to hit the backcountry fully equipped for winter. Those users should look at a larger-volume pack like the Mystery Ranch Gallatin Peak 40 or Deuter Freescape 40+ or Freescape Pro 38+ SL.
The main compartment opens wide for excellent access, thanks to a clamshell zipper that runs nearly the pack’s full depth (but it lacks rear entry through the back panel). It has an orange lining that brightens the interior for organizing and locating contents. A zippered inside pocket has a volume comparable to the lid pocket on many backpacks.
The front avalanche-safety gear compartment stands out as one of the Saddle Peak’s best features. Its deep, U-shaped zipper fully exposes the compartment, enabling very quick access to a shovel, probe, and snow saw. The long, orange zipper pulls are easy to see and grab with gloved hands.
The Saddle Peak sports nice details like large, durable, quick-release buckles throughout, including on the dual compression straps on each side, making them easy to use wearing warm gloves; an integrated helmet carry that deploys quickly from a bottom pocket and is easy to stretch and secure over a helmet and stuff back into its pocket even with heavy gloves on; and pole attachments on the left side, where they can be used in tandem with diagonal carry of the skis or board.
Those compression straps shrink the pack down to a very low-profile size: For carrying just a Hydroflask, bars, and extra gloves and insulation while resort skiing, it’s light and compact enough to be almost unnoticeable skiing downhill or sitting on a chairlift. The asymmetrical buckles on the compression straps allow wrapping them around the pack’s front for carrying a snowboard; and the long straps can be rolled up and secured with hook-and-loop tabs to keep them from slapping the pack or your head in wind.
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Two spacious, zippered hipbelt pockets fit two or three bars or a large smartphone with room to spare but their high volume and position back on your hips makes closing those zippers with the pack on a little tricky. The zippered top pocket with a soft lining holds goggles and a sunglasses case.
Ski-carrying options include strapping both boards to one side for short carries and boot packs; loading them A-frame (one ski on each side); and diagonal carry, using the adjustable top strap and the non-adjustable, stowable bottom loop. However, the bottom loop is so large that low-profile bindings could slip through it if the pack is underloaded and the top loop isn’t snugged tightly.
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The tough, 320-denier NP Phantom ripstop body fabric with a wax coating and DWR (durable, water-resistant) finish for water repellency and 840-denier nylon with a Carbonite coating in the reinforced front panel resists tears from ski or snowboard edges when carrying them or any other sharps.
At three pounds, the Saddle Peak’s weight delivers on the promise of a compact and light side-country and touring pack.
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While a little small for some all-day backcountry ski tours, the compressible, comfortable, and smartly designed Mystery Ranch Saddle Peak sports excellent features for wandering out-of-bounds at resorts and light ski touring.
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See all reviews of ski touring packs that I like at The Big Outside, plus “The Best Gloves for Winter,” “The Best Mittens for Winter,” “The Best Clothing Layers for Winter in the Backcountry,” and my expert tips in “How to Dress in Layers for Winter in the Backcountry” and “12 Pro Tips for Staying Warm Outdoors in Winter.”
NOTE: I tested gear for Backpacker magazine for 20 years. At The Big Outside, I review only what I consider the best outdoor gear and apparel. See The Big Outside’s Gear Reviews page for categorized menus of gear reviews and expert buying tips.