OR Summer 2013: Backpacks

I have yet to find the perfect pack: I currently have around a dozen hanging in my garage, and none of them have all the features I’d like. Thankfully (or unfortunately) there’s a new crop of packs to choose from, come spring/summer 2014:

Patagonia’s new Ascensionist packs will come in 25L, 35L, and 45L sizes. They have a unique aluminum framesheet that allows the pack to twist with the user’s torso yet still retains enough rigidity to support alpine loads. The most unique design feature of these packs is the main opening, which incorporates the drawcord closure with the lid. It’s kind of hard to explain, but hopefully you can get a sense of it via the pictures. The two bigger packs also have a free-floating ‘tarp’ to extend their capacity. The 25L has loop-style tool holders (why?!) whereas the larger packs have more modern sleeve-and-strap tool retention systems. Each pack has removable hipbelt components, and a small pocket in the lid. Weights are listed at 1020gr for the 45L, 850gr for the 35L and 349gr for the 25L. The packs will come in red with grey trim, and white with blue trim.

TAS take: The packs have some cool features and look like a solid entry into the lightweight alpine-pack category but I am skeptical of the lid closure system, and I cannot fathom why they would put traditional loop-style tool holders on the smaller pack.

REV_ORSM13_Packs_001L to R: 45, 35, 25. Notice the loop-style tool-attachment on the 25, versus the more modern, sleeve-style attachments on the 35 and 45.

REV_ORSM13_Packs_002The top pocket on all the Ascensionist packs has a sideways zipper to minimize stuff from falling out when you forget to close it. (Been there done that!)

REV_ORSM13_Packs_003The drawcord opening is integrated into the lid and ends up closing sideways. Hopefully the picture explains it better than I can!

REV_ORSM13_Packs_004Here is the pack open, showing the expanded drawcord opening, and the internal extension ‘tarp.’

REV_ORSM13_Packs_005The packs all feature minimalist waistbelts – this is the 35’s.

Arcteryx is adding to their pack line with the Alpha FL packs, in 32L and 45L sizes. These things are seriously cool and minimalist: imagine a drybag with a drawstring closure and some shoulder straps and you’re on the right track. The material feels bomber, and the design is incredibly simple. The main compartment features an internal, rolltop spindrift / extension collar, with a drawstring closure and a single strap across the top. The tool-attachment is basically a bungee with small metal tabs to pass through the tools’ heads. It looks like it will accommodate virtually any tool out there, no matter how curved the shaft. There is also enough room in the bungee to wedge in a pair of crampons. Arcteryx lists weight at 610gr for the 32L, and 680 for the 45L. I saw the 32L in black and 45L in red, but forgot to confirm if either size will come in either colour.

TAS take: These things look awesome. Simple, clean design with everything you need and nothing you don’t. I honestly can’t think of anything I don’t like about these (so far, anyway). Maybe the bungee will wear out quickly, or something. It’s great to see someone pushing designs and perceptions of what a pack ‘is’.

REV_ORSM13_Packs_006The simple, minimalistic Alpha FL 45. The tool attachment looks particularly clean yet functional.

Millet’s Prolighter MXP 60+20 is on the bigger end of packs I would typically use, but it has some neat features. Designed as a high-altitude pack, the focus is on light weight and accessibility. Listed at 1474 grams for a 60-litre pack, it’s not super-light, but remember that it will expand to 80-litres via the massive collar. All the straps and pulls are designed to be used with gloves, and the top lid incorporates a neat single-pull action to cinch down the straps. (Hard to explain, even with pictures – I tried but it just looks like a mess of black webbing.) The massive extension collar has a zipper down the middle that extends to about 1/4 down the main pack body. I cannot describe how liberating it felt to be able to unzip the collar to reach into the rest of the pack – this is truly a very cool feature. There are two cinch-straps across the top of the packbag to contain the massive extension collar, and sleeve-style tool attachments that look like they’ll work with most modern tools. In addition to all this, there are also two large stretch-mesh pockets on either side.

TAS take: I was very pleasantly surprised by this pack. The collar zip is genius, and the whole pack seems thoughtfully designed and well built. It also feels really light, especially given its maximum capacity and plethora of (useful) features.

REV_ORSM13_Packs_007This pack feels lighter and burlier than it first appears. Check out the zipper-access in the extension collar.

REV_ORSM13_Packs_009The extension collar all the way up, and unzipped. Access to the inside of the pack is unparalleled – what a cool idea!
REV_ORSM13_Packs_010Dual compression-straps over the top of the pack are done in minimalist 10-mm webbing. The drawcord closure comes in from the side to make room for the zipper.

REV_ORSM13_Packs_008The backpanel is simple and the pack and straps are designed for actively climbing in.

Granite Gear’s new Nimbus Trace Access 70 seriously impressed as a load-hauling pack. With a 60-lb load rating (27kg) this pack is built for carrying heavy loads and features a generously-padded hipbelt, back and a unique wooden frame. Granite Gear claim the maple-core composite laminate frame is both lighter and more rigid than a comparable aluminum stay – it certainly looks cool! The pack has zippered access to the main compartment hidden under a massive stretch pocket with three compression straps over it. The zipper is of the big, beefy YKK variety – a nice touch, as I’ve already broken a small ‘weight-saving’ zipper on one of my other packs. There are no hipbelt pockets as Granite Gear offers these as modular add-on accessories. Again, a nice touch that adds to the customizability and adaptability of the pack. There are two loop-style tool holders and two more massive stretch pockets on either side. Of course, all of this comes with some cost: the pack weighs in around 1900 grams for a size regular.

TAS take: Somewhat on the heavier side, but laden with cool features, and if it can actually haul 60lbs in comfort, who cares about a few extra grams? I imagine that the wooden frame may provide some damping, as well. A wonderfully designed pack – I now see why Granite Gear has such a loyal fanbase.

 REV_ORSM13_Packs_011The three compression straps (look how narrow! light yet functional) hide massive dual zippers that allow access into the main compartment. Check out the huge mesh pocket underneath those straps!

REV_ORSM13_Packs_012The unique wooden-laminate frame is supposed to be lighter and stiffer than a comparable aluminium & framesheet setup. The slatted padding looks like it will vent really well.

REV_ORSM13_Packs_013Ok, how cool is this?! Dual, opposing compression straps for the top closure. The Granite Gear packs are laden with such thoughtful details!

The North Face’s Cinder line of packs has been designed with help from legendary climber Peter Croft. The Cinders are a hybrid between a haul bag and a regular pack: the shoulder straps and hipbelt look comfy for the long haul, while the bottom of the pack is heavily reinforced and designed to sit upright, even when empty. There are simple pockets for your essentials – wallet, keys, phone – and keeper straps for the rope. All the buckles and fasteners are metal for durability. I saw the 40 (1560 grams) and the 55 (also 1560 grams – yes, I know, odd but apparently true) but there is also a 32 in the works.

TAS take: I don’t climb enough walls to own a haul bag, but I do appreciate the toughness and simplicity of the design so these simple, durable packs certainly appeal to me as all-around cragging bags.

 REV_ORSM13_Packs_014The Cinder 55. Each pack has a haul-bag-like stiffened bottom to allow it to stand upright, even when empty. There aren’t really any lids to speak of – more like rope-retention straps. These things sure look burly.

REV_ORSM13_Packs_015The 40 has a roll-top lid, a small essentials pocket near the backpanel and a cool rope-cum-compression strap on top.

REV_ORSM13_Packs_016The waistbelt buckles are all-metal and intuitive in operation – they should hold up well to being tossed around on the rocks.

RAB is getting into the pack market with a range of four climbing-specific backpacks: Expedition 70, Super Alpine 55, Alpine 45 and Alpine 35. These packs are defined by tough fabrics and a clean, unobtrusive design. The sleeve-style tool holders appear to have enough wiggle room to accommodate even the curviest of modern tools, though because the shaft is affixed under a compression strap, it somewhat compromises the usefulness of the compression strap. The packs are quite light, and the 70 weighs in at 2250gr, the 55 at 1600gr, the 45 is 1300gr and the 35 a scant 1150gr.

TAS take: Whereas some modern packs strive to be the lightest, the most advanced or the most feature-laden, the RABs are simple by design. They look simple, honest and tough.

 REV_ORSM13_Packs_017The full line of Rab’s new alpine packs. Top row: 35, 45, 55. Bottow row: 45, 35, 70.

REV_ORSM13_Packs_018The 35 close-up. Simple, functional and tough, these packs are built to last.

REV_ORSM13_Packs_019The backpanel is as simple as the front – nowhere for snow or ice to accumulate.

Lowe Alpine’s Alpine Attack packs come in 45L and 35L sizes and weigh in at a 1200gr and 1150gr, respectively. They have a cool tool-attachment system dubbed the HeadLocker: basically a metal lever/buckle that you pass through the tools’ head hole, that then cinches tight when you tighten the main lid strap. Innovative, easy to use and secure, it should be capable of securing pretty much any tool on the market (no pictures, unfortunately – I didn’t bring any tools to try it out with!) The shaft is still secured with a compression strap – I would have preferred a system that isn’t integrated into another vital pack feature. Additionally, the hipbelt padding can be tucked into hidden pockets on either side of the pack.

TAS take: The HeadLocker alone has me intrigued for those days when using today’s crazily-curved tools. The packs are simply designed, but don’t appear to suffer from a plethora of unnecessary features. Worth a closer look.

 REV_ORSM13_Packs_020It is packs like these that make me wish I had a pair of Nomics with which to demonstrate the tool-attachment system. (Yes, expect to see me wandering around with a pair of Nomics at the next show!)

REV_ORSM13_Packs_021The Alpine Attack 35’s backpanel is plain, but feels comfortable.

Montane’s Torque 40 has a really neat feature I’ve not seen on any other packs: the zipper of the top lid pocket faces outwards (as in, away from your head). Dubbed the ‘buddy pocket’ it makes perfect sense: I can’t count the number of times I’ll get my partner to pull something out of the top pocket so I don’t have to take my pack off. However, this is still somewhat awkward as the zipper is right behind my head. The ‘buddy pocket’ solves this in one genius move. Super cool. Otherwise, the Torque’s features read like a what’s-what of alpine pack design: sleeve-style tool holders, compression straps, floating lid, etc. etc. But, the suspension feels robust and the shoulder straps are generously padded. All for 1375 grams in a 40-litre pack.

TAS take: Another entry into the increasingly-crowded alpine/ice/mixed pack market, though the unique ‘buddy pocket’ sets it apart from the competition.

 REV_ORSM13_Packs_022Unlike every other pack I’ve ever seen, the Torque 40’s top pocket’s zipper faces backwards, making it easier for your partner to access, hence dubbed the ‘buddy pocket’ by Montane.

REV_ORSM13_Packs_023Although comfortable, I’m worried the Torque’s backpanel will be a trap for snow and ice…

The others:

Black Diamond’s Speed and Epic series of packs are getting an update, but they didn’t appear much different save for some new colours.

Gregory has a very sleek looking new ski/mountaineering pack called the Targhee that will come in 18, 26, 32 and 45 litre sizes. I might post a report on this at a further point – if I were a skier, I’d be interested.

FjallRaven is a Swedish company that I had never before heard about. But, their Kajka series of load-haulers, in a Canvas-look Nylon, has me intrigued with a utilitarian, militaristic look of function over style. I am particularly interested in the Kajka 100, a massive, 3550-gram behemoth with wooden stays and a very well padded suspension.


9 thoughts on “OR Summer 2013: Backpacks

    • Raf says:

      All the packs will be available next Spring – think January or February 14 at the earliest (unfortunately!)

  1. Joe says:

    Great write up on these new packs! I’m also on the constant lookout for a good 30-35L alpine pack. Quick question about Patagonia’s Ascentionist packs, what was your impression of their durability? I recenlty had a disappointing experience with Mountain Hardwear’s SummitRocket when it basically deteriorated after just a handful of trips; I’m hoping to avoid a repeat of that experience.

    • Raf says:

      Thanks for checking out the site!

      The Ascencionist packs struck me as very similar to the Arcteryx Cierzo line – light but not exactly super-durable. I have a SummitRocket 40, and though I haven’t used it extensively yet, it appears that it would be more durable than the Patagonias.

      For something tougher, take a look at the Arcteryx NoZone packs. I’ve been using the whole trio (35, 55, 75) for over a year now and they’re holding up great. I think Osprey’s Variant and Gregory’s Alpinisto should hold up to more abuse as well. The new RAB packs looked particularly bombproof.

      You’re pretty much looking at the usual compromise: light and destroyable or heavier and durable.

    • Rob Owens says:

      HI Joe,
      I am the Patagonia rep but also a climber and have used these packs. They are quite durable with 210 denier fabric in the body and 400 denier on the bottom. FYI the Cierzo has 100 denier on the sides.
      This pack also carries amazingly well. WAY more comfortable than any “light” pack I have used in this size before. Also, the lid closure allows for significant overloading and keeps the load a lot more stable than a traditional lid. I’m pretty stoked….and the price is right. $120 for the 25L and $180 for the 35L.

      • Raf says:

        Thanks for chiming in, Rob, it’s always good to hear from someone who’s already used the gear!

      • William says:

        Hey, I have had my eye on the ascensionist now for about 2 months and will be making a purchase in the next month when I get my tax return.

        I am a hammocker and so my over night gear weighs about 3 lbs and consist of a sleeping bag, ENO pronest hammock, and the Eno Pronest Rainfly. I am just starting out in climbing. I want to make sure that I get the right pack.

        The 25 seems a little small for an extended stay, so I am torn between the 35 and the 45. Which would you recommend? I do know that stuffed tight I smashed all my gear, minus rope, helmet and any climbing gear, into a 25L pack that I have right now.

        So, what do you recommend?

        • Raf says:

          I agree that the 25 might be a bit small, even if you can currently fit your gear in there.

          35 seems to be the most versatile size for a backpack, and with the compression straps on the Ascensionist packs you can tighten it down when it’s not full. The 35 has really nicely padded hipbelt ‘pods’ so should be able to handle even heavier loads without issue.

  2. Maarten says:

    Thanks for the great mini-reviews of these packs! Very interested in Arc’s Alpha packs, they look like an excellent minimalist option, and dry to boot (my down parka will be happy!).

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