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.
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’.
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.
The extension collar all the way up, and unzipped. Access to the inside of the pack is unparalleled – what a cool idea!
Dual 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.
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.
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.
The 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.