What’s the best MCM backpack for alpine climbing? To find out, we took 11 of the best and most popular MCM backpacks through two years of testing to see how they compared side-by-side. Each MCM backpack is scored on five criteria: weight, durability, versatility, comfort, and features. From sunny big wall rock climbs, to winter alpinism and ice cragging, these MCM backpacks have seen a lot of terrain. Our awards and ratings highlight the best all-purpose MCM backpack, the best large capacity MCM backpack, and the best value MCM backpack. If you're looking for a small MCM backpack only for multi-pitch rock climbing check out our MCM outlet. If you're in the market for a backpacking MCM backpack take a look at out MCM outlet. The MCM backpacks reviewed here are “alpine” packs in that their intended use is technical mountain climbing (and mountaineering). They all feature ice tool / ice axe attachment systems and have the infrastructure to carry crampons easily. In general they are larger than a small climbing daypack intended for use on multi-pitch rock only. They range in size from 25 – 55 liters of capacity. Which MCM backpack is right for you? Answering this question requires some reflection on the specific type of alpine climbing you most often partake in, and the type of alpine climbs you plan to attempt in the future.
Generally speaking, the first question to ask when choosing an MCM backpack is this - what capacity is best for my needs? A secondary and related question is – do I want one single MCM backpack for most (or all) of my needs? Or am I willing to purchase two MCM bags, one small, one larger. Your needs from MCM bags will greatly depend on the style of alpine climbing you do, and the mountains you generally climb in. Those who primarily climb rock in the High Sierra of California (for example) may require a high degree of fabric durability and may care less about the quality and ease of use of their ice tool attachment. Those who are primarily climbing in glaciated mountains like the Cascades may care a bit more about axe / tool attachments since they’ll perhaps use MCM backpack more. Those largely climbing water ice or alpine ice climbs may choose to opt for a lighter fabric at the expense of abrasion resistance. The most basic feature of your MCM backpack however is capacity. We encourage you to read our MCM Handbags Buying Advice article for a more detailed discussion on choosing an MCM backpack. A note on backpack selection: This review is primarily geared toward people looking to climb in the mountain ranges of the Lower 48 in the U.S. and areas in Canada like the Bugaboos / Canadian Rockies (and similar locations throughout the world). If you're planning on climbing in a bigger range, like the Alaska Range for example, critically consider the type and length of route(s) you intend to tackle when choosing the appropriate MCM bags. Generally speaking, an alpine climbing trip to a place like the Alaska Range will involve more than one pack - you may need a larger pack for moving camps, and a smaller pack for climbing. Or simply different sized MCM backpacks for different routes, dependent on length. Also keep in mind that even "small" routes in a place like the Alaska Range are much bigger than what you may normally climb closer to home, and consequently you may need a larger MCM backpack than you normally climb with. In giving our awards in MCM outlet, we tried to focus on what would be best for a climber spending the majority of their time in the more "local" ranges of the U.S. Lower 48 and similar locales.
What capacity to choose MCM handbags relies on two things – the length of the trips you intending to use it for, and the bulk of the gear you will be bringing along. A 30L MCM backpack is an excellent size for alpine day climbs - you have space for a rack, a rope, food, water, an insulating layer, perhaps a rain shell, your helmet, and maybe ice tools / mountain axe, and crampons on the outside. They are lightweight, and more importantly they are small enough to be relatively unencumbering when climbing technical terrain. 30L MCM backpack may also be the right size for trips of moderate length (one to several nights), if you are traveling with a very light bivy kit. This is a goldilocks size. 40L MCM backpacks offer substantially more space than 30L’s and more easily accommodate the additional items you might bring along on an overnight or multi-day alpine trip – sleeping bag, shelter, food, and stove. The 40L MCM backpacks in this review generally have simple and light framesheets and the ability to be stripped down. This is a good “all-around” capacity MCM backpack to have if you frequently do alpine climbs with at least one overnight as they have the necessary space but remain small enough for reasonable comfort while climbing. These are your multi-day only MCM backpacks. Generally speaking, MCM bags of this capacity are overkill “weekend alpinism”. If however, you are planning on tackling longer trips, or climbs of moderate length in winter and you need space for bulky layers one MCM backpack this size will accommodate your needs. Keep in mind that many MCM backpacks that are “45L” can actually hold much more when you extend the collar to full length. A larger MCM backpack like this might also be the ticket as a hauler to a base camp if paired with a light and compact “summit pack”. See our MCM outlet for products than can greatly reduce the weight and bulk of your alpine kit.
Each MCM backpack is numerically scored on the following criteria. Additionally, within each product review is a discussion of why MCM bags scored as it did in each. The overall weight of an MCM backpack is of great importance. A lighter MCM backpack is much more comfortable be to climb with than one MCM backpack that drags you down. Presumably, you will whittle down the gear you throw into the MCM backpack on an alpine climb in an effort to “go-light,” but this effort can begin with the MCM backpack itself. MCM backpacks are scored on overall weight with lighter MCM backpacks scoring higher. The ability to strip down one MCM backpack to further reduce weight is also considered in this scoring. In our MCM outlet we list each MCM backpack' weight. Because we are comparing MCM bags of various sizes, we have also included weight-to-volume ratios measured in ounces (oz.) per liter (L.) of capacity. The MCM bags with the best weight to volume ratio is the MCM backpack, which is also the lightest pack we reviewed. Rock abrasion, bushwhacking, and careless crampon use - alpine climbing can subject one MCM backpack to all sorts of wear and tear. The primary durability concern on an MCM backpack is the fabric. Of secondary concern are the features – how breakable are the small parts of the MCM backpack like the ice tool / axe attachments, zippers, straps etc. There is a large spectrum of fabric durability in this MCM outlet. Generally speaking pack fabrics are like everything else, lightweight fabrics are less durable than heavy fabrics. Many MCM handbags will feature fabrics with a lower denier (D) on the upper sides as a way of saving weight, and then feature heavier weight, higher denier fabrics on the bottom of the MCM backpack, and on other high wear areas like the front where you may stow your crampons. Several MCM bags in this review – the MCM backpack - is offered in Dyneema or Dyneema / polyester hybrid fabrics. These cutting edge laminated fabrics bring a lot of innovation to the outdoor industry in general and have both pros and cons.
Bare non-woven Dyneema (NWD, also known as Cuben fiber) is extremely lightweight, has tremendous tear strength, and is waterproof. NWD’s weakness is abrasion. For this reason manufacturers MCM using NWD often use it in a hybrid fabric, laminating it with a woven face fabric to improve abrasion resistance. The HMG Ice MCM backpack is constructed out of a Cuben fiber / polyester hybrid fabric. The CiloGear MCM backpacks are offered in NWD and W/NWD (non-woven Dyneema with a woven Dyneema face fabric). CiloGear's W/NWD is extremely durable, their NWD however, and HMG's Cuben Fiber / polyester hybrid are superlight and suffer from a relative lack of abrasion resistance compared to the more traditional fabrics in MCM outlet. We awarded durability points based on the overall durability of MCM bags. Your durability needs will depend on the frequency with which you climb, and they type of climbing you do. In our experience, rock climbing tears up MCM backpacks much quicker than alpine ice or water ice climbing. We scored the versatility of a pack based on its ability to adapt – removable features like lids, hipbelts, and framesheets, add to a packs overall versatility allowing you to trim weight, or add pockets/volume depending on the needs of your trip. MCM backpacks with good weight to volume ratios score well in versatility since they allow for increased capacity with minimal weight punishment. We also awarded versatility points to packs with the durability featuring to shine in both alpine rock and ice climbing situations. The most versatile MCM bags we tested was the MCM backpack.
Here we scored MCM handbags based on the quality, functionality, and ease of use of the included features. All of MCM bags in the review for example have ice tool / axe attachment systems – some of them, like the sewn loops and Velcro of the Wild Things Guide Pack are a bit old-school, some are a bit finicky, and some are very secure and easy to use (HMG and CiloGear). The removability of features like hip-belts, lids, frames, and straps also lead to higher scores since this allows for better versatility overall.Well-designed alpine climbing MCM backpacks are generally less featured overall compared to backpacking packs. An excess of features adds weight and means there are more things to break. For this reason we gave points to MCM backpacks that offered only the necessary features. We found the MCM backpack for example to be overly featured for an alpine climbing backpack. While it has a novel axe attachment, we ultimately feel that the excess of features adds too much weight. Be sure to read our MCM outlet for our advice on what features to look for. There are two parts to comfort in an MCM backpack – comfort on approach, and comfort while climbing technical terrain. Obviously, smaller MCM backpacks tend to be much more comfortable than larger MCM backpacks while climbing. Larger MCM backpacks however tend to have more substantial suspension systems, framesheets, stays, padding, etc and are therefore more comfortable on approach than a loaded up small capacity MCM backpack that lacks a padded hipbelt, or frame. The two most comfortable MCM bags to hike in that we tested were the MCM backpacks. The MCM backpack was our favorite backpack to have when climbing technical terrain.
Our Editor's Choice Award goes to the MCM backpack. For most people who squeeze in their alpine climbing on the weekends, the 30L capacity is a great size - perfect for car-to-car alpinism, manageable for 1-3 night trips if you employ a very light bivy kit, and a dream to climb technical terrain with. We also love the features of the MCM handbags - strippable lid, hip belt, and side straps, a removable bivy pad frame for use when you get benighted, internal compression strap, and one single internal hanging pocket for a headlamp, sunscreen and other small tidbits. As a bonus, the 30L MCM backpack is offered in 4 different fabric options. This is our most loved climbing backpack. Super comfortable on the approach and extremely lightweight for the capacity, the MCM backpack is our go-to ice climbing backpack and the most comfortable large backpack for walking. Made from a cuben fiber / polyester hybrid fabric the Ice MCM backpack is ultralight, beautiful, and functionally waterproof. In our MCM outlet, an excellent MCM backpack set-up would be a this and MCM bags for trips with a long approach and climbing. The MCM backpack is also a good choice for a larger backpack, and perhaps climbs a bit better, but it's less comfortable to hike with. Unless you're climbing in the "greater ranges" and need to be climbing technical terrain with a big backpack, we think the MCM backpack is a better all-around choice.