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Mountainsmith Frostfire III

rated 3.5 of 5 stars

The Frostfire III has been discontinued. If you're looking for something new, check out the best expedition packs for 2024.

Bomber grade backpack; Large capacity; some broken pieces but mostly replaceable; integrated pouch for pack cover; bungee retainer for stowing rain gear for quick access or drying; LOTS of loops for load management and incredible fitment options.


  • Amazing load management
  • Advanced sizing options
  • HUGE Topper for quick-access items
  • Swappable hip belt
  • Off the shoulders adjustments
  • Large capacity cavity—especially the bottom
  • Internal storage pocket for pack cover
  • Remove & Mold aluminum stays for custom fit.
  • Pack cover pouch in topper is relatively accessible WHILE hiking, so you can retrieve it and have a friend cover your pack while walking behind you without having to take off the pack (or even stop on the trail).


  • A couple of broken buckles (but replaceable)
  • Hanging loop on back at top broken (not directly replaceable, changed to paracord)
  • Single large cavity requires a bit of digging to get things.

Writing this in 2023 Feb. I have a remembrance of buying this in 1987 just before I headed out to Philmont Scout Ranch for 6 weeks. I still own and USE this pack—countless camping activities since then (both mine and loaned out). 

I would agree that it's a fairly bomber bag; at the same time I would  also agree that a couple of things have broken (especially when I've loaned it to friends, I don't do that anymore). It's been all over Philmont (younger me), Colorado, Oklahoma, Texas. This has been my primary backpack from 1987-2021 (34years!) when I upgraded to an Osprey Aether AG 70.  But every now and then, when I'm feeling nostalgic, I'll pack this baby up for the weekend and I'm just blown away with how well it still fits, loads and carries.

I haven't tried reaching out to Mountainsmith for repairs but the broken bits were readily replaced with Sea-to-Summit replacement buckles and I was back in business within 10 minutes of check-out. I was a scrawny staff member when I bought this and had to cinch the hip belt to its absolute smallest/tightest to get a good fit (that was why I bought this one—Largest capacity with a belt that just barely fit my 28" waist).

I fully expected to use this bag for awhile, just didn't think it would be THIS long. Over time this pack has allowed me to...expand and at 6'1" and 195 lbs the belt still sits properly on my hips with enough strap to clip the buckle and cinch it down to fit snugly (a little less tightening is necessary these days).

I've considered selling the pack a couple of times to finance other gear, but it's not worth as much to someone else as it is to me; if for no other reason than sentimental reminders of Boy Scout trips with my father and my brother until we Eagle'd out, and then later on scouting with my own sons until they Eagle'd out, and now it continues to allow more memories of the back country with my buddies whose kids are also grown.  :-)


Expert level experience with the pack for both packing it and fitting it. When I've loaned it out to a few buddies over the years I've been able to help them size it up and fit it nearly perfect, to their amazement. Packing the gear inside took me a little while to get good at because it seemed everything I ever wanted out of it and any given time was ALWAYS at the bottom, forcing me to go in to "garage sale" mode to get what I wanted.

Over time I (a) got better at backpacking, (b) didn't take as much, (c) better understood my usage patterns such that I was able to more finely tune my packing habits. Trying to teach that to my loaner buddies, and have them adhere to it, did not go as well and most of their complaints were that they too had to extract most of their contents before finding what they wanted.

Source: bought it new
Price Paid: Mountainsmith's Newest/Best at the time - $350ish

I've had two, first was stolen, bought replacement ~1995. Used it for years (5'10" ~180) bought a Frostfire II for my wife, she still uses it. Mine went to a friend who's 6'8" and was struggling to fit a pack.

The tape measure torso length straps were brilliant, and gave this pack more work to do, and my friend USES this pack. Hopefully we'll be chasing mule muzzleloader deer in Colorado with it in 2016. I'll be carrying another Patrick Smith pack, a Kifaru Duplex.


  • Broad range of torso length adjustment
  • Suspension. Is. Wonderful.
  • Patrick Smith Design. Awesome.


  • You can comfortably carry more than your legs, can.
  • Pack won't die. Should've charged friend per use rental.
  • Retro Mountainsmith Gear Rocks.... Love. Period.

I've had two of these packs. The first was stolen out of my parents' front yard as I was moving home from college in 1995. I replaced it in 1995 and moved to Colorado. I also bought a Frostfire for my wife, I forget model details, hers had shorter torso lengths and smaller volume. 

This pack is a great one for the stable, even in 2016. Living in Colorado, having a spare around for guests who may pop in, these are CHEAP on e-Bay.

I think the best testimony is that I gave this pack to my friend who is 6'8" and has been struggling to find a pack to fit him. He carried it with me in the Big Horns in Wyoming for five days, and I didn't see him struggling a bit. Adjusting the suspension was EASY.

Source: bought it new
Price Paid: Don't remember, it was worth it, period.

This is not a Dana or an Osprey but it does what it should and once you get the suspension right it is great. It is very no-thrills and should not be used unless you need a huge monster with a medium load weight. I also had issues that had to have the pack repaired for the straps- they took care of no charge over 10 years later.

Very happy with it now that I know the issues with it. You do have to adjust it every time you use it- every time you take it off and put it on. It will pull the weight off the shoulders just like someone said when done right.

Design: top loading pack
Size: think 7000
Number of Pockets: main, shovel, lid and hidden
Max. Load Carried: 70
Height of Owner: 5'10"- smallest person that i could see using this
Price Paid: not sure

Hey man, I love my pack. I've had it for 4 years, and it's bomber. The price is reasonable. I heard that they don't make this specific model anymore, but they have others like it.

That isn't to say i haven't had my problems, though. After the first two years of abuse, one of the straps at the top of the stay started to come off, later resulting in breaking a suspension strap on the same trip. Also, marmots like to eat the straps. So a year ago i sent it back to Mountainsmith, and they sent it back with a totally new suspension and strap system, free of charge! you gotta love a company that stands by their product!

I think it was ahead of its time when it came out, and Mountainsmith has learned from their mistakes. I've had the thing stuffed to the gills for multi-day winter climbs, and i've also had to use it for single day climbs with minimal gear in it, and it carries both loads amazingly! The compression straps are in idea places, and the top pocket has tons of room. I have no regrets buying this pack, i'll use it until it or i die, whichever is first!

Design: internal
Size: 7213
Number of Pockets: 3
Max. Load Carried: 65
Height of Owner: 6'1''
Price Paid: $277

This backpack proved to be too flimsy for my style of abuse. It seems like something on it broke every time I used it.

The very first time I used the ice axe loops, they broke. Those neat height adjustment straps which loop around the tops of the frame members would constantly slip off, until I finally duct-taped them into submission. One of the four main compression straps at the sides of the pack also broke. And the little loop in back where you lift the pack when putting it on broke as well. The shoulder straps will be the next to go, if I ever use the pack again. And the thin fabric wears through easily. I have a few holes where none should be.

I just bought a North Face pack (used; I have no clue which model it is); it seems to be far more durable than the Mountainsmith Frostfire III. I haven't properly beaten on it yet though, so any reviews will have to wait.

Design: Internal frame
Size: 7213
Number of Pockets: 3
Max. Load Carried: 80 lbs.
Height of Owner: 6'0"
Price Paid: $280

It has been a while since I owned this pack, so I don't know exactly how accurate the above information is, but I do remember how disappointed I was in the pack. During my third mountain climbing trip with it, one of the 1" straps that composed its complex suspension system pulled away from the pack cloth, and slipped off the stay. This caused the load to shift noticeably, and by the end of the trip, my left shoulder was ready to fall off.

I exchanged the pack with a Lowe Alpine Contour IV, and have been very pleased with its performance. Later on, I spoke with other climbers that were having the same problem with their Mountainsmith, especially after carrying moderate to heavy loads.

Yes, the Mountainsmith offers a very adjustable suspension system, but be leary of its long term carrying capabilities.

Design: Internal
Size: ~7,200 for III
Number of Pockets: 4?
Max. Load Carried: 70 lbs.
Height of Owner: 5'10"
Price Paid: ~$260-$280

Bought the '91 version of the Frostfire III as that was all I could afford at the time. Shoulder adjustment straps broke, pack deformed under heavy five day load, Hip belt kept sliding down, wouldn't stay put no matter how tight the hipbelt.

This version was just too big for the suspension. If you kept the weight down to 35 lbs or so it worked okay.

Max. Load Carried: 65 lbs
Price Paid: $269

This pack fits very well bacause of the various ways of bringing the load into the back. It is also at a very cheap price for its volume when compared to other packs of the same size. There are very many ways and means of adding to the pack for bigger loads and more convienence that the company offers such as accesory pouches.

Design: internal
Size: 7213 ci
Number of Pockets: 3
Max. Load Carried: 75lb
Height of Owner: 6'
Price Paid: $280

I found that the Frostfire III pack is an excellent buy!! I love the suspension system and the way you can really get the load off the shoulders!! I haven't had any problem at all with the pack and I am looking forward to many more trips with it! I will probably never own any other type of bag!

Design: Internal
Size: 6037-7213
Number of Pockets: 3
Max. Load Carried: 60 lbs
Height of Owner: 6'1
Price Paid: $277

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Price Reviewers Paid: $269.00-$280.00

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