Best Climbing Packs: The Top 9 of 2019

Climbing Pack Score Capacity Weight Main Closure
Top Pick: Patagonia Linked Pack 18L
95
18 L 19.7 oz Drawstring
Honorable Mention: Petzl Bug
92
18 L 18.5 oz Zip
Best Alpine Climbing Pack: Patagonia Ascensionist Climbing Pack 30L
92
30 L 23.6 oz Drawstring, Hook
Mountain Hardwear Scrambler 30 OutDry Waterproof Backpack
86
30 L 27.4 oz Drawstring, Hook
Best Value: REI Co-op Flash 18 Pack
83
18 L 9 oz Drawstring
Black Diamond Bullet 16 Pack
76
16 L 18 oz Zip
Best Gym Climbing Bag: Black Diamond Gym 30
70
30 L 24 oz Drawstring, Hook
Venture Pal Lightweight Packable Daypack
69
35 L 11.2 oz Zip
Metolius Gym Bag
55
28 L 15 oz Zip

I took 9 of the best climbing packs into the mountains to battle it out on the cliffside. I came away impressed—I’d be happy owning most of these bags. But it’s the Patagonia Linked that I’m happiest to use.

The Petzl Bug rivals the Linked for usability and comfort, and the REI Flash 18 is an excellent budget alternative. The two larger packs (Patagonia Ascensionist and Mountain Hardwear Scrambler 30) are good choices for longer outings. If your main destination is the gym, the Black Diamond Gym 30 does the trick.

Having options is a good thing, because the uses for climbing packs are many. A pack gets gear to and from the crag, but it may come on the climb as well, especially on longer routes. Some of these packs can handle other duties, from laptops to bike commutes.

Whether you’re headed to the gym or the high mountains, we have you covered. Read on for recommendations and details.

The 9 climbing packs we tested.

The 9 climbing packs we tested.

Top Pick: Patagonia Linked Pack 18L

Patagonia Linked 18L Pack

The Patagonia Linked combines many of the best virtues of climbing packs. It’s durable, easy to use, and pleasant on the wall.

Don’t let the neon coloring and charming handles fool you—this is a burly pack. The body uses thick 940-denier Cordura nylon that barely showed any wear at the end of testing. It’s the heaviest of the smaller packs, but not by much.

Above the drawstring closure are haul loops (which are handy for clipping to anchors) and a hook-closure compression strap. This latter is particularly useful as a rope-carrying strap.

The outside has a top-loading zip pocket for topos and snacks. Inside, the hydration pouch has a clip to keep bladders oriented.

The only ergonomic downside is the hydration port, which felt small. The Linked doesn’t handle laptops particularly well, but it’s a reasonably flexible around-town carrier.

The Linked's narrow hydration port.

Both Patagonia packs had narrow hydration ports.

The suspension is another highlight. The shoulder straps have just the right amount of padding, and the Linked was among the most comfortable packs for both hiking and climbing.

The biggest knock is the price. As of this writing the Linked is the most expensive per liter of any pack in the test. The REI Flash is less than half the price.

All the same, the quality of the Linked is hard to deny. If you want a multipitch pack that checks all the boxes and is built to last, the Linked won’t disappoint.

Product Specs

  • Capacity: 18 liters
  • Weight: 19.7 oz
  • Main Closure: Drawstring

Honorable Mention: Petzl Bug

Petzl Bug

The Bug is a likable pack, nearing the performance of the Linked at a more approachable price.

The Bug’s rectangular shape uses a sturdy foam back panel, which provides more structure than any of the other small packs. Combined with the padded straps, it’s an exceptionally comfortable carry—the best of the small climbing packs in our test.

A compression strap over the top is joined by two compression buckles on the side, which together form an excellent rope-carrying system. A smaller zip pocket and a daisy chain on the front complete the feature set.

The Bug is the only small pack that could handle a 15-inch laptop, which fit perfectly. If you like your climbing pack to handle everyday duties, this is a good choice.

Although the Bug uses thicker fabric along the bottom and sides, the majority of the body uses thinner fabric than the Linked or Bullet. That helps keep weight low, but it may lessen durability. I didn’t notice any issues, but if you’re the type that frequently scrapes up chimneys, take note.

Price-wise, the Bug occupies a middle ground between the premium Linked and the budget-minded Flash. For a comfortable and versatile carry, it’s worth a look.

Product Specs

  • Capacity: 18 liters
  • Weight: 18.5 oz
  • Main Closure: Zip

Best Alpine Climbing Pack: Patagonia Ascensionist Climbing Pack 30L

Patagonia Ascensionist 30L Climbing Pack

If you’re tackling a remote wall or an alpine bivy, you may find yourself needing of a pack that can fit more gear but still climbs well. Enter the Ascensionist.

This pack easily swallowed a full rack and supplies for a day, and the hook-closure brain works like a charm to secure a rope. On the outside are two daisy chains and multiple options for securing ice or mountaineering axes.

The straps are generously padded, but the frame remains narrow. That means that the Ascensionist is a comfortable carry but remains mobile on the wall.

The Ascensionist does have its limitations. The drawstring closure is built directly into the body, which leaves little room for overflow at the top.

Like the Linked, it has a narrow hydration port. The Ascensionist doesn’t come with any compression straps, although it does have loops on the side to add your own.

The body is a relatively thin 210-denier Cordura nylon. It held up fine over testing, but it’s noticeably less burly than the Mountain Hardwear Scrambler.

But that fabric keeps the Ascensionist to a svelte 23.6 oz, which isn’t much past the smaller multipitch climbing packs. For the weight, the Ascensionist carries better than we could wish, and its modular design is well suited to alpine use.

If 30 liters isn’t enough, Patagonia offers a 40-liter version. The Ascensionist isn’t cheap. But it’s the climbing pack we’d pick for the high mountains.

Product Specs

  • Capacity: 30 liters
  • Weight: 23.6 oz
  • Main Closure: Drawstring, Hook

The Ascensionist’s suspension moves well and is easily adjustable.

Best Value: REI Co-op Flash 18 Pack

REI Co-op Flash 18 Pack

A beloved bargain of a multipitch pack, the Flash punches far above its weight.

That weight is not much to begin with. At a tiny 9 oz, the Flash is the lightest climbing pack in this test. It still manages a useful 18-liter capacity with a forgiving drawstring closure at the top.

For the weight, it’s more capable than you’d think. The front has a daisy chain with an ice axe attachment along with a smooth zippered pocket.

A removable foam pad provides some structure. An inner pouch handles hydration, with a small velcro loop to keep bladders oriented.

The compromises start to show in the suspension. The thin foam shoulder straps are breathable, but they’re not as comfortable as other options. That goes double under heavy loads or on long days.

The body’s ripstop nylon is light but thin. If you’re prudent it will last well (I used a previous-gen Flash for years), but it won’t hold up to abuse like the Linked or the Bullet.

A climber climbing with the REI Co-op Flash 18 climbing pack

An alpine lead with my previous-generation Flash, which I climbed with for years. The current-generation Flash is our top budget climbing pack.

Under light or medium loads (which are the norm for multipitch climbing), the Flash is all many climbers will need. It climbs well, packs well, and has the essential features.

All that comes with an equally lightweight price—the Flash is a steal.

Product Specs

  • Capacity: 18 liters
  • Weight: 9 oz
  • Main Closure: Drawstring

Full review (previous generation): REI Co-op Flash 18

Best Gym Climbing Bag: Black Diamond Gym 30

Black Diamond Gym 30

The demands on a gym climbing bag tend to be simpler than mountain-bound packs. All a good gym bag needs to do is hold gear and make transport easy.

The BD Gym 30 is best for this. Its wide maw swallows a climbing rope and multiple pairs of gym climbing shoes while the drawstring and hook closures allow quick access. An inner flap and an outer zip pocket help keep things organized. Around town, it’s excellent.

The Gym 30 is a fair bit more expensive than the Metolius Gym Bag. I’d still rather have the Black Diamond—it’s easier to pack, easier to use, and it holds more gear.

In a gym pack, I look for toss-ability: easy to toss gear inside, and I’m not worried about tossing the pack around. In both areas, the Gym 30 excels.

Product Specs

  • Capacity: 30 liters
  • Weight: 24 oz
  • Main Closure: Drawstring, Hook

Reviews of the 4 Other Climbing Packs We Tested

Mountain Hardwear Scrambler 30 OutDry Waterproof Backpack

Mountain Hardwear Scrambler 30 OutDry Waterproof Backpack

The Scrambler’s main advantage is right there in the name—it’s waterproof. With the drawstring drawn and the brain latched, gear inside stays high and dry.

That’s a considerable advantage, and the Scrambler follows up with a good suspension system and useful features.

The drawstring liner allows some wiggle room for overstuffing, and the pack handles loads well. Compression straps make management easy, and the sides even have a couple gear loops.

The Scrambler even climbs well. It’s a hair clunkier than the Ascensionist, but it’s not unpleasant. The many attachment options make it a good companion for a follower.

The biggest compromise is weight. At 27 ounces, the Scrambler is the heaviest climbing pack in our test, and the bulk is noticeable over the lighter packs.

For the weight, the Scrambler doesn’t provide much more versatility—other than the large main pouch, it has only a hydration pouch and the zip pocket in the brain.

On its waterproofing alone, the Scrambler is worth a look for those who inhabit snowy or wet environments. Even if that’s just insurance, the pack is a strong contender for longer trips. Plus, it checks in at a fair bit cheaper than the Ascensionist.

Mountain Hardwear is phasing out this generation, replacing it with 25- and 35-liter capacities (along with a new line of dedicated multipitch packs). The new generation has sprouted haul loops but grown heavier—we’ll report back if we get our hands on one.

Product Specs

  • Capacity: 30 liters
  • Weight: 27 oz
  • Main Closure: Drawstring, Hook
The Scrambler's compression straps and gear loops.

Compression straps and gear loops help keep gear under control.

Black Diamond Bullet 16 Pack

Black Diamond Bullet 16 Pack

The Black Diamond Bullet 16 has a long legacy in the multipitch world. While it still shines in durability, it fell short in other areas.

The Bullet’s impressive 1260-denier ballistic nylon feels unlikely to ever give out. If you’re hard on your gear, look no further.

But that same fabric puts the Bullet at nearly the weight of the Bug and the Linked with 2 liters less capacity. Two main zip pockets don’t allow much flexibility, and the Bullet offers nothing to secure hydration.

Although the Bullet’s small frame stays out of the way while climbing, the shoulder straps are less comfortable than the other multipitch packs. They have firm edges and are placed wide, favoring wider frames.

If durability is at the top of your list of needs, then the Bullet deserves a spot on the list. Otherwise, our award winners offer more comfort and capacity in a multipitch climbing pack.

Product Specs

  • Capacity: 16 liters
  • Weight: 18 oz
  • Main Closure: Zip

Venture Pal Lightweight Packable Daypack

Venture Pal Lightweight Packable Daypack

As the budget dark horse of this test, the Venture Pal pack held up better than I expected.

Made of a light nylon fabric, the Venture Pal is more of a daypack than a dedicated climbing pack. All the same, it climbs reasonably well and has a large capacity. It also packs down into its own pocket, which is a nifty trick.

But the Venture Pal doesn’t come with any foam or back structure, which means careful packing is necessary for a good carry. It has no hydration port or hip belt.

These drawbacks kept the Venture Pal from an award. With a little work, this pack could go the distance—install some foam and cut a hydration port and this pack could be a passable multipitch option.

It’s an extremely budget-friendly pack. But, if you’d like a pack that’s ready to go out of the box, we’d recommend springing the extra bucks for an REI Flash.

Product Specs

  • Capacity: 35 liters
  • Weight: 11.2 oz
  • Main Closure: Zip

Metolius Gym Bag

Metolius Gym Bag

The Metolius Gym Bag is simple and reliable, but that’s about all I can say in its favor.

The bag is essentially a giant zip pouch with a smaller zip pocket on one side. It doesn’t seem to fit the advertised 28 liters, filling up quickly after a chalk bucket and a pair of shoes.

The zipper is the only closure, and it’s finicky. The single carry strap isn’t bad, but it’s not particularly comfortable. The Black Diamond Gym 30 is much more enjoyable.

The only real advantage of the Metolius is its price. Well, that, and the wild neck tattoo of the model on Metolius’s product page.

Product Specs

  • Capacity: 28 liters
  • Weight: 15 oz
  • Main Closure: Zip
Pushing the capacity of the Metolius Gym Bag.

The Metolius felt too limiting to be a good gym climbing bag.

Summary

Here are the best climbing packs:

  • Patagonia Linked Pack 18L
  • Petzl Bug
  • Patagonia Ascensionist Climbing Pack 30L
  • Mountain Hardwear Scrambler Outdry 30 Waterproof Backpack
  • REI Co-op Flash 18 Pack
  • Black Diamond Bullet 16 Pack
  • Black Diamond Gym 30
  • Venture Pal Lightweight Packable Daypack
  • Metolius Gym Bag

How to Choose the Best Climbing Pack for Your Needs

Types of Climbing Packs

Climbing packs are designed for a variety of uses depending on where you’re climbing (and how long you’re gone for).

Crag Packs are large packs specifically designed for carrying gear to and from the cliff. Usually in the 35-50 liter range, these packs prioritize carrying comfort and accessibility. For our recommendations, check out our guide to the best crag packs.

Alpine Climbing Packs marry the carrying ability of crag packs with the climbing ability of multipitch packs. Generally in the 25-40 liter range, alpine packs should carry gear well but be comfortable moving over technical terrain.

Multipitch Climbing Packs are designed for use on multipitch climbs. Instead of clipping all supplies to your climbing harness, a small pack (sometimes just for the follower) can hold layers, water, snacks, and topos. Multipitch packs fall in the 15-30 liter range.

Gym Climbing Bags are simple duffels that prioritize accessibility and ease of use around town and at the climbing gym.

Haul Bags are designed for hauling up big walls on multi-day ascents. Although they must have shoulder straps, haul bags prioritize durability and capacity. They may be anywhere from 25-160 liters. We didn’t include any haul bags in this test.

Capacity

The biggest differentiating factor among packs is capacity. Although we stick to cubic inches elsewhere, America thankfully uses liters for pack volume.

Pack capacity is a simple factor of how much gear you need to fit. This varies by usage—a short multipitch has different gear demands than a long alpine climb.

Closure

The two main closure systems on climbing packs are zippers and drawstrings. These may be supplemented by a strap with a hook closure.

Zippers are quicker and more intuitive, but they leave less flexibility on capacity.

Drawstrings require more fussing to cinch and undo, but they open wide and allow overflow to be cinched down.

Weight

The weight of a pack generally corresponds to size and fabric. The larger the capacity and the more durable the fabric, the heavier the pack. Buy according to your priorities—if you abuse your gear, consider a fabric that can take the heat.

How We Tested

Finishing off a mantle with the Patagonia Ascensionist.

Finishing off a mantle with the Patagonia Ascensionist.

Field Testing

Most of the assessment criteria for packs are qualitative: carrying comfort, climbing comfort, usability, and durability.

To test these aspects, I put all nine packs through rigorous field testing. I wore every pack on both an approach and a multipitch climb to test carrying comfort in the horizontal and vertical.

I generally tried to test bags in their area of intended use (gym bags at the gym, etc.), but wherever possible, I pushed packs to see how well they performed in other scenarios. I tried using various packs as gym bags, crag packs, and even bike commuters.

Double-packing with the Patagonia Ascensionist and Linked.

Patagonia everywhere.