Anyone who’s traveled with ski gear knows this: it sucks. Schlepping one or two pairs of skis, poles, boots, a helmet, goggles, gloves, jackets, ski pants along with everyday clothing and travel needs (not to mention après ski attire) in and out of cabs and airports almost dulls the allure of foreign snow and untraveled terrain. Almost. Successful navigation of the portion of the journey that exists between your front doorstep and that of the ski chalet relies on a key item: the ski bag. But beyond having the right bag, there are a few key things to know about traveling with skis.

Choosing and Packing a Ski Bag

Ski bags are unwieldy pieces of luggage that typically hold one or two pairs of skis with bindings, but some hold three. The size of the bag you choose will depend on the type of ski trip you’re going on, how often you travel with skis and how you prefer to pack. Unless you’re a travel minimalist, we recommend that in most cases you pack into a bag that can hold two pairs of skis. Bringing two pairs to your destination — a narrow-waisted pair for hardpack and a wider pair for powder, for instance — will give you options in case the weather doesn’t behave as predicted. Even if you only own one pair of skis, a two-ski bag is a good option because the extra space can be used for all the rest of your gear and clothing and save you money on airline baggage fees.

There are also a few handy things to remember when packing your ski bag. Use Voile or Velcro straps to keep each pair of skis secure and help prevent them from getting damaged. Pack them tip-to-tail inside the bag to maximize use of space. Remember that ski bags aren’t only for skis — you can likely fit all of your ski clothing in the remaining space, and it will provide additional cushioning for your bindings, brakes, tips and tails.

At the Airport

Unless you plan to rent equipment at your destination, resign yourself to the fact that the carry-on-only ski trip doesn’t exist. You can still save yourself from getting gouged at the airport though. First, pack as much clothing and gear in with your skis as possible. Second, on most airlines, you’re allotted one carry-on, and one personal item in the airplane cabin — your ski boots are that second item. This will not only save a ton of space in your luggage, but also, in the case that anything gets lost or delayed, you’ll still have your boots if you need to buy a pair of rentals for a day.

Lastly, know your airline’s baggage policy — most of them, including American Airlines, Delta, United, Southwest and JetBlue count a ski bag and a boot bag as one piece of checked luggage. Some airlines are stricter than others as to what a “boot bag” means, but it’s not implausible that you can get away with checking an extra bag of clothing this way (it more than likely depends on the mood of the attendant checking you in). Typically, the combined weight of the two bags will count towards that of a single bag’s maximum weight allotment.

Now all you need is the bag.

The 5 Best Ski Bags of Winter 2019

Best Design: Db Equipment Douchebag

The Douchebag doesn’t win any points for its questionable name, but it makes up for that with a highly adaptable design. The foundation of this bag is an array of ABS “rib cages” and internal rails that, when it’s packed with skis, provide rigidity and protection while maintaining a reduced weight. A pair of hook-equipped straps let you adjust the total length to accommodate skis as long as 200 centimeters. Internally, there’s enough space for two pairs of skis and pretty much everything else you’ll need except boots (you should pack those in your carry-on anyways). But the best part about the bag might be that when it’s empty, you can roll it up into a compact wad that’ll fit under your bed or in the top of your closet.

Capacity: two pairs of skis plus gear
Weight: 8lb 6oz
Material: 900D PU-coated polyester, ABS

Best for Gear Organization: Evo Roller Ski Bag

Evo is more known as a gear retailer than a producer, but it’s likely that selling so many ski bags made by other companies gave it a pretty good idea of how to make one. The Roller’s standout feature is organization — an interior pocket spacious enough for boots as well as an exterior one for other small items, a divider for pole protection and a main compartment that fits two pairs of skis. Compression straps keep everything in place, and two handles allow for multiple haul methods.

Capacity: two pairs of skis plus gear
Weight: n/a
Material: 600D PU-coated polyester

Best Basic: The North Face Base Camp Ski Bag

When all you need is a vacuous tube to toss your skis into, it might as well be burly. The North Face used similar materials to those that bolster its popular line of expedition duffel bags to make it as durable as possible. Beyond that, extraneous features are kept to a minimum; it has an adjustable length, compression straps and a small interior mesh pocket.

Capacity: two pairs of skis plus gear
Weight: 9lbs 4oz
Material: 900D polyester with TPE PVC coating

Best Hard Case: Sportube Series 2

If maximum protection is what you’re after, Sportube’s hard-sided ski carriers are the way to go. It’s made of polyethylene with padding at both ends to protect tips and tails and uses a design that’s both adjustable and lockable. There aren’t any pockets for compartments for small things, but you can still stuff plenty of clothing and gear down between the two pairs of skis that this thing holds. Additionally, if you think you might opt to ship your skis rather than carry them on an airplane, this hard case is the way to go.

Capacity: two pairs of skis plus gear
Weight: 12lbs
Material: polyethylene

Best Single Ski Bag: Salomon Extend 1P

When a single pair of skis is all you’ll need and simplicity is what you’re after, look to Salomon’s Extend 1P ski bag. One end is equipped with a spiral of a zipper that adjusts the bag’s length from 165 to 185 centimeters, making it adaptable to a wide range of ski sizes. There’s plenty of room for clothing and accessories (but not boots), and its shoulder strap automatically cinches everything secure when you pick it up to carry it.

Capacity: one pairs of skis plus gear
Weight: 1lb 7oz
Material: 450D ripstop, 600D polyester
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