Patagonia’s Ascensionist line of packs won’t hit the market until Spring 2014, but I’ve been lucky enough to try the 35L version for a few days.
The first thing anyone notices about the pack is its unique lid/closure system. Not something easy to explain in words, so take a look at the photos instead:
Got it? It might look odd, but in practice it is quick and simple to use: pull the cord and it both cinches the drawcord opening, and closes the ‘top’ lid. (I think Patagonia will have to come up with a new word for this system: is it a lid? is it the collar? is it on top of the pack, or part of it? does it close sideways, or down? But anyway…)
Should you wish to overstuff the bag, there is an extendable ‘collar’ to secure and protect the contents. Again, this is harder to explain than to show you:
An overstuff Ascensionist. The ‘tarp-collar’ cinches around the contents from the front, and stuffs around them back into the pack, while the ‘lid’ cinches down around the whole thing, and then the main strap keeps it all in place. Very quick and easy to pull it all tight.
Eagle-eyed readers may have also noticed that the pack’s lid-compression/attachment strap has two positions. To wit:
On bottom: Should you really overstuff the bag, and the strap cannot reach the ‘lid’, you can move the whole strap to an upper-position tab, effectively increasing its length by about 40cm (for when you really overstuff!)
Once loaded, the pack carries beautifully — this has to be one of the most comfortable packs I’ve used, even with a heavy load. A lot of this can be attributed to the sculpted shoulder straps, however the simple ‘framesheet’ and minimal waistbelt effectively transfer weight to your hips and help support the load. The waistbelt features two removable, floating, padded ‘pods’ to aid comfort when packing heavy loads.
And speaking of the framesheet, it’s an ingenious design utilizing a thin mesh stretched inside an aluminum ‘hoop.’ It’s relatively light – 143 grams – and is rigid vertically yet still allows movement and flex side-to-side.
The pack body is lightweight (781 grams for this medium/large model) with a reinforced and padded bottom, and padding against the back. There are the typical compression straps – two per side – and a micro-daisychain along the outside. The tool holders are of the modern sleeve-style variety for the head, however the shaft attachment utilizes the upper compression straps for securing the handles: not an ideal solution for anything but straight-shafted tools.
This compression-strap attachment method is basically the same as on Arcteryx’s NoZone packs, where it also doesn’t work well for anything but traditional mountaineering axes. People will ask me why, so here goes: when attaching a tool to the pack, the first instinct is to slide the pick and head into the sleeve, then to clip the handle to the pack. This is either awkward, or next-to-impossible, to do with the compression straps. The solution is to slide out the pick, pass the handle under the compression strap, slide the pick and head back into the sleeve, and reclip and retighten everything. Additionally, the compression straps pull the tool handle to the side, torquing on the pick/head, causing it to require reseating in the sleeve.
My solution to this annoyance is to attach a couple of small velcro straps to the daisychain, and clip the tool handle with those. Quicker and simpler.
So other than (the upper part of) the tool attachment system, I think this is an amazing pack. The top-lid-thing is ingenious, simple, quick and easy to use. The pack carries beautifully – I can’t wait to try humping it around laden down with a full winter rack. At 931-grams total weight, this isn’t the lightest pack in the world, but neither is it the heaviest, and the materials certainly seem durable enough. Stay tuned for a full report once winter is here and I’ve had a chance to use the Ascencionist more extensively.
NOTE: OnwardUp, the local Patagonia reps, loaned an Ascensionist 35L to The Alpine Start for testing and review, with the only caveat being that we don’t destroy the pack, however this is no way influences our opinion or assessment of the product.