First Look: Patagonia Ascensionist 35L pack

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:

REV_Ascencionist35-6The closed ‘lid.’ Notice how the top of the lid pulls itself down onto the front of the pack, acting as a top compression strap.

REV_Ascencionist35-7Unhooking the main strap shows the drawcord closure. Because it faces outwards when closed, I expect this pack will not allow any spindrift into the main compartment.

REV_Ascencionist35-8With the drawcord pulled open, the ‘lid’ swivels towards the back of the pack, while the main compartment opening faces outwards.

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:

REV_Ascencionist35-9There is an internal ‘collar’ that is more like a tarp than a collar, but it also has a drawcord so you can cinch it tight. Again, hard to explain but pretty simple and obvious in use.

REV_Ascencionist35-10An 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:

REV_Ascencionist35-12On top: The main strap in it’s ‘normal’ position, at the bottom of the pack, where it will stay for most of the time.

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.

REV_Ascencionist35-1The simple backpanel, anatomically curved and padded should straps and the removable hip-belt pods.

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.

 REV_Ascencionist35-11The framesheet is a very cool design, unlike anything I’ve seen before. It is stiff top-bottom for load-bearing yet ‘flexes’ side-side for comfortable movement against your back.

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.

 REV_Ascencionist35-2A side-view showing how the upper compression straps also hold the tool shaft in place. Not ideal for the types of tools I use.

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.

19 thoughts on “First Look: Patagonia Ascensionist 35L pack

  1. Sylvain says:

    Nice looking pack! Nice of Rob to lend it to you.

    Ascensionist not Ascencionist… Food for thought.


  2. Huzefa says:

    Thanks for the details.. Its anfhi interesting pack.

    Can you comment on load carrying capacity, fabric durability, and the maximum volume that can be accommodated with the extension collar?

    Can you compare the difference with the 45L pack? From pics in the earlier post, it seems 45L has a better hipbelt. Can you confirm this? Any other differences?

    At 1020gm for 45L pack with internal frame, its seems to be the lightest pack internal frame climbing pack. It may be suitable for lightweight ski mountaineering too.

    • Raf says:

      I’ll try to address your questions in order:

      For carrying capacity, we loaded the pack with a typical over-nighter’s worth of gear (rack, one half rope, bivy gear, food, stove, etc.) and it carried very well. Approximate weight would be about 35 lbs.

      I cannot comment on the fabrics durability, though I will try to get more info on this!

      Maximum volume, with collar extended, would be about 42L. (This is my highly unscientific guesstimate!)

      The main difference from the 45L is the hipbelt: the 45L has a beefier hipbelt with more padding on the hip pods. I don’t believe that are any other differences other than size.

      It is definitely one of the lighter packs out there. I would hesitate to use it for ski mountaineering as it doesn’t have dedicated avy gear pockets, but that is also just my preference. Lately, I have been going with heavier but more feature-rich packs for single-day trips – I figure the additional couple hundred grams is good training weight!

    • Raf says:

      Thanks for the feedback!

      Good question on pricing: I’ll send out some e-mails and post what I find out.

      • cs says:


        Forgot to ask, how would you compare this to the Speed 40 pack. It’s one I’ve been contemplating buying the last year or so but can wait untill spring, which is why this review caught my eye.

        • Raf says:

          I’ve never been a fan of the Speed packs (with the exception of the 22) but BD are updating them for Spring ’14, so that might very well change soon!

          • cs says:

            Interesting, is that because of the lack of durability (you mentioned in the Temple trip report) or something else that you don’t like. I know a bunch of people who swear by them. I really like their light weight.

          • Raf says:

            No, I’ve never actually used one for long enough to test its durability (other than the 22). They just never ‘clicked’ for me, and like you, I know dozens of people who love them and guides that punish them daily. But, this is they there’s choice!

            Have you taken a look at the Arcteryx NoZone packs? They’re lighter and simpler than the (current) Speeds.

  3. cs says:

    I have looked at the no-zone, but the price is nearly double the BD speed pack (BD has a sale on now speed 40 for $110). I bought an Arcteryx Cizero 35 thinking I’d go super light and it got holes in it the first time out. Not to mention it is way too uncomfortable. I would have exchanged it for a No-zone but the shop would only offer me a repair, so, I’m stuck with that one for now. 2014 may be the year I’ve been waiting for with more choices coming out.

    • Raf says:

      True, the NoZones are expensive. I have yet to put a single hole into mine, though!

      The Cierzo’s are designed as ultra-light packs and will definitely not stand up to regular mountain abuse.

      For 2014, there are quite a few new packs coming, so if you’re not in a hurry I’d say wait and see what comes out and where the prices shake out. Keep in mind Winter OR is a couple of weeks away and that will give us an general idea of what is in production and what the MSRP’s are going to be. (I’ll try to report daily from the show.)

  4. Spencer says:

    Hey Raf,
    Quick question: Does the 35 have a hydration sleeve? If so, is there an opening for a hose, or would the hose just have to be fed out the top of the pack?

    Thanks for the review!

    • Raf says:

      I honestly don’t remember, and I don’t have the pack around at the moment to take a look and confirm. I don’t believe there was anything specific for a hydration bladder, though. I’ll check, and post an update – thanks for the question!

  5. Ross Mailloux says:

    I work for OnwardUp (Patagonia) and can help address some of these questions:

    Price: 25L 119.00, 35 179.99, 45 209.00

    Hydration sleeve: Not on any of these packs, this was tossed back and forth between the design team and ambassadors (like many of the features), it was discovered that most of them carry a more durable hard bottle of some kind for their climbing trips and so was left out.

    Hope that helps!

  6. Lo says:

    Another alpine pack that doesn’t have little pockets on the side panel to set a couple of pickets into 🙁

    Other than that it looks like a reasonable pack with a few innovative designs.

    • Raf says:

      The only ‘newish’ packs that I know of that have a side pocket are the Arc’Teryx NoZone 35 & 55.

      • Lo says:

        That’s right those do. I love the design of the pockets too because they are super low profile. But Arc”Teryx packs drive me crazy because they don’t have a hydration sleeve etc; which it seems this pack doesn’t either.

        I really love the BD Speed packs personally but of course wish they had pockets for pickets. Oh well 🙁

  7. Reto Baumann says:

    It is indeed a shame that the pack (even in the 45L version) does not come with a hydration system compatible feature. I love my camelbak… and cutting a hole in a brand new pack seems rather “sad”. Hopefully Patagonia is going to “fix” this issue in an upcoming release of this wonderful pack.


  8. Ale says:

    Just got it. I really liked its “essential” spirit and its light weight.
    For me the 2 downsides (I will live with…) are the absence of the hydration sleeve and no dedicated raincover as an accessory.
    For the rest it’s just great.

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