This is a quick comparison of a few packs in the 20-35L range. I’ll compare their relative size, tool attachment options, and weight. I have not had a chance to use the Alpha yet (it arrived yesterday) and I have only a few days under the Ascensionist: stay tuned for an update a bit later in the season once I can more accurately assess durability as well as carrying and climbing comfort.
For gear, I selected what would be a typical share of a mixed/alpine rack: 1x 70m 7.8mm half-rope, half a set of nuts, six cams, six alpine draws, personal kit (harness, crampons, station,, etc.), a 1L bottle, some gels, a pair of warm belay/rap gloves, two pairs of climbing gloves, small med/emergency kit, belay jacket and technical tools.
The packs in question are: Arc’Teryx NoZone 35, Alpha FL 30 & Cierzo 35; Patagonia Ascensionist 35; Black Diamond Speed 22 and The North Face Verto 26.
Relative Size & Major Features
The packs here are listed as being from 22 to 35 litres in size, though in my mind they’re all capable of the same all-day outing. BD’s Speed 22 is obviously the smallest, and the NoZone 35 and Ascensionist 35 contend for most capacious. Both the Verto 26 and the Alpha FL are surprisingly roomy. Neither the Alpha nor the Verto have side compression straps. The Cierzo seems to fit less than the other 35L packs. Interestingly, the Alpha FL is listed as being 23L on the Arc’Teryx website, with a maximum capacity of 30L, whereas other Arc’Teryx packs are typically ‘named’ by their non-stuffed size. It feels more like a 30 than a 23 — perhaps the 23 is its when the roll-top is fully closed (which renders the pack waterproof, but also takes up a lot of space).
I removed the lids, where I could, leaving the Speed and NoZone without any further pockets. The Ascensionist and Cierzo each have a pocket in the attached lid, while the Verto has both a lid pocket and fixed internal pocket (that also doubles as a stuff-sack for the pack). The Alpha has a welded pocket on the front panel.
The Alpha has the largest spin-drift-cum-roll-top collar, followed closely by the NoZone, which in turn is almost matched by the Speed. Both the Cierzo and Verto have just enough collar to close up the pack, but will not accommodate a lot of overstuffing. The Ascensionist has a sizeable spindrift ‘flap,’ explained here.)
Tool Attachment Options
All of these packs will easily take straight-shafted mountaineering axes, but it is the more curvy modern tools that pose problems…
The Alpha FL has the simplest system to use: there are two aluminum tabs attached down low to the panel bungee, and two sewn pull-tabs higher up. Simply slide the aluminum tab through the hole in the tool’s head, pull the sewn-tab over any part of the handle you wish and cinch it all down. Takes seconds and works with any shape of tool. There is also enough stretch left in the bungee to strap in a pair of crampons, jacket, etc.
Both the NoZone and the Ascensionist use a sleeve-style ‘pocket’ for the head and pick, and an infuriatingly annoying stick-the-handle-under-the-top-compression-strap method higher up. This is annoying because to properly attach the tool you have to first pass the handle under/through the compression strap (see the pic of the Ascensionist), and only then put the pick into the lower sleeve. Counter-intuitive enough that I’ve seen seasoned alpinists put the pick through first before the handle, and then have to remove the tool and reverse the process. (In the photos, you might notice that my NoZone has two velcro-straps attached to the micro-daisy for the tool handles. I’ll be doing the same thing to the Ascensionist before its first outing.)
The Speed uses the same sleeve-style attachment for the pick, but with a more conventional cord-style handle loopy thingy higher up. Much, much easier to use than sticking the handle under the compression strap.
The Verto and the Cierzo both have traditional-style ice-axe loops, which actually work quite well with modern tools: just put the head in and twist until all the slack’s been taken out. The Verto has velcro loops for the handle, while the Cierzo uses a compression-strap method that actually works well (because the clips are close to the tool handle, so you can affix the head first then compress the handle.
This is simple:
TNF Verto 26 (cannot be stripped, one size): 357g / 12.6oz
Arc’Teryx Cierzo 35 (back padding left in pack, one size): 564g / 19.9oz
Arc’Teryx Alpha FL 30 (cannot be stripped, one size): 578g / 20.4oz
BD Speed 22 (top lid removed, M/L): 580g / 20.5oz
Arc’Teryx NoZone 35, (top lid removed, stays removed, Regular): 786g / 27.7oz
Patagonia Ascensionist 35, (aluminum/mesh frame removed, L/XL): 794g / 28.0oz
I’ll be adding packs to this as I get them, most looking forward to the Grivel Zen, Mountainsmith’s Haze, BD’s redesigned Speed series, Gregory’s forthcoming Verte (pronounced Vert – ignore that trailing e), the new Osprey Mutants, Mammut’s Nordwand TL… ok, I am basically looking forward to trying every single pack out there. I’m a hopeless gearhead, I know.