Field Tested: Deuter PACE 36 Pack Review
The Deuter PACE 36 is a very light alpine pack primarily marketed towards the alpine ski touring and ski mountaineering adventurer. Weighing in at 920 grams (about 2 lbs), it is noticeably lighter than other Deuter packs in the same class, including one of my all time favourite ski / alpine packs the Deuter Guide 35. But how does the Deuter PACE 36 stack up as a standalone climbing pack?
The Deuter Pace 36 is certainly able to step outside its comfort zone of skis and snow, but how well?
I brought the Deuter PACE 36 on a few types of missions. For a couple weeks I used it as my crag day pack, took it up a sport multipitch, a couple small trad multipitch climbs, and most recently, brought it along on a trip up Mt. Louis, a big alpine style trad climb (see trip report here). Overall this is a very high quality bag that can definitely be used as an alpine climbing backpack, but the PACE 36 is first and foremost a ski touring/ ski mountaineering pack. I would highly recommend this pack to someone who spends alot of time on skis the year round and wants a pack that can also be summoned to climb rock when need be. However if you are exclusively climbing rock and ice and do not ski tour/mountaineer, then you may find the features of this pack not as tailored to your uses.
The PACE 36 is cut from a very similar mold as a number of other Deuter bags, and many of the same features are found on it for those familiar with its backpack family members. The PACE 36 is a single compartment barrel style bag with a non removable lid and stretchy exterior pocket for storage of quick access items. Were I using it for ski touring, I would store my shovel in the exterior pocket. When I was using it for climbing I stored a rain jacket, the topo and some snacks in the exterior stretch pocket. There are also two small stretchy pockets on the exterior which hold a Nalgene nicely.
There is a pocket on the interior of the pack which can be used to store a hydration bladder, and a hydration compatible hole near the top of the back panel.
The interior of the pack is a simple barrel style main compartment and hydration bladder storage pouch.
The pack is made from 100-denier ripstop nylon. It is a durable fabric that will stand up to general wear and tear, but it is quite thin so you wouldn’t necessarily want to be hauling this up sharp limestone on a rope behind you as it will be torn to shreds.
The Back System
Deuter has a number of back systems offering various levels of structural support and airflow. The PACE 36 sports the “Speed Lite” system, which means it is thinly padded and sits quite snugly to the back. I found I worked up quite a sweat as airflow is fairly minimal/nonexistent, but the closefitting nature of the bag feels very secure when climbing in it.
The thin padding on the back system doesn’t give a lot of airflow, but it is quite comfortable and snugs nicely to a climbers back.
Although the padding is minimal, it is quite comfortable and contours nicely to the back. There is a upsidedown “U” of Delrin which which provides some stiffness to the back system, and this can be removed for either weight reduction, of if you want to roll the bag up to store/transport.
The hip belt is a very thin and durable mesh that has a pocket on one side and gear loops. It is extremely low profile and can be strapped very snugly around even a skinny wearer such as me. The mesh is not padded for comfort, so I noticed some bruising after hiking in it for several kilometers with a heavy load on board.
The thin mesh hipbelt is definitely minimalist, but it can be uncomfortable when not wearing any layers. It is also not removable.
I also found that the thin mesh had a tendency to fold over on itself when the pack is loaded more heavily, which also leads to discomfort when the wearer is only wearing a T-Shirt. On the hike in to Mt. Louis for example, which is only about 2-2.5 hours, I was carrying a full trad rack, a rope, 2 litres water, jackets, food, etc. With only a T-Shirt I noticed that a pressure point had developed where the hip belt folded over on itself and dug into my side just above the hip bone. Wearing a ski jacket or even a thermal layer likely one would never notice the fold, but on a hot summers day a lack of layers meant the hipbelt just wasn’t that comfortable for me.
Again it is worth noting that I am definitely lacking in the “natural padding” department, so if you are of a bigger build you may not find the same discomfort.
On the model that was sent for testing the hipbelt is non-removeable, which is odd given how thin it is. My solution was simply to clip the hip belt around the back of the bag, which may be the intended use of the belt when wearing a climbing harness. But the question is raised, why not simply make it removeable? The stiffener in the backpanel can be removed, so why not the hipbelt? If this is changed for the final commercial release model / future models it would be a valuable improvement in my opinion.
The hipbelt clipped around the back for “climbing mode”… or at least that is the solution we used.
The lid is non removeable and non floating, both again pointing to the bags more ski-centric use. As I have climbed more and more with various types of backpacks, I have fallen out of love with climbing packs with lids that cannot be removed, mostly for the reason that they are a pain to open when the pack is clipped to an anchor. There are the two relatively standard pockets in the lid, one on top, one on the underside. There is a key clip in the one on the top exterior.
The lid is fixed so it cannot be removed and its position cannot really be altered.
There is also no rope strap under the lid, so it means that you really need to snug the lid down and clip the rope in the compression straps on the sides in order for the rope not to slide around. This can be a bit of a challenge given that the lid is non floating so you cannot adjust where the lid sits forward or backward.
Much like the hipbelt, I feel that a removable lid would improve this bags versatility as a climbing pack
One big upside of the non floating lid is that it maintains a nice and low profile, meaning that it doesn’t hit the back of your helmet when you are looking up while climbing / belaying, and rides low, almost at shoulder level.
This shameless selfie gives both a good sense of my vanity and where the lid of the bag sits in relation to a climbing helmet.
The Compression System
The PACE 36 has three compression straps on each side, which means that it can be cinched down quite small against. This is always a nice feature in a climbing back, but it also means there are lots of straps on both sides that risk getting caught on things when squeezing through chimneys or brushing up against walls.
The PACE 36 has lots of compression straps and loops that have a tendency to get snagged up.
The compression straps also have ski guards which would protect the straps from being sliced by sharp ski edges. They can be sized to carry skis, snowboard or snowshoes.
The Compression System gives alot of options for cinching down and attaching things, and the straps have edge guards. Also shown is a strechy Nalgene sized pocket.
I have long been a huge fan of Deuter Packs. Two of my go-to summer hiking and winter skiing packs are both Deuter (the Futura and the Guide respectively), and this bag would be a great addition to a climbers bag selection if they are looking for a new ski pack that they could also use climbing when need be.
That being said and my Deuter fan-boy card out in the open, this pack would not be my first choice if I were looking to buy a bag for climbing and climbing alone. A removeable hip belt and lid are features that I have come to really appreciate, and the lack of those features on this bag impacts the comfort and convenience of using this bag for rockclimbing. The thinner 100-Denier Ripstop is awesome for reducing weight, but it and the stretchy exterior pocket likely wouldn’t survive a season of my preferred rambly scrambly alpine style trad climbing where it is likely to get scraped and thrashed against alot of rock. The lack of rope strap and presence of numerous compression straps means attaching a rope does work, but it isn’t necessarily designed for that purpose and there are lots of straps hanging around waiting to get snagged.
It may sound like I’m being negative about this bag, but that really is not the case. It is a great pack that I will absolutely use come this winter for ski touring. It is also worth noting that people seem really stoked on this bag, it even won a Gold Award at the 2014/2015 ISPO, one of the biggest sporting goods trade shows in the world.
However the purpose of this review was to determine whether it would also be a good choice as a stand alone climbing pack, and by that standard I would have to recommend looking elsewhere.
The Deuter PACE 36 is available for pre-order at many sporting goods stores and is expected to retail for around $129.00 CAD
PROS: Lightweight, simple, many features in a light and compressible package
CONS: Non removeable hip belt, non removeable lid, no rope strap
OVERALL: A great ski pack that you can use climbing if you need to, but the lack of climbing specific design means that you will be making compromises with its features.