With winter finally here, I dug through my pile of packs to put the more useful ones on top and came across a favourite from last winter — The North Face’s Ice Project. After a few months of use I’ve come to like this pack even more than I initially did.
First off, I’ve seen a wide variety of comments online, so let’s talk about what this pack is and who it’s designed for. This is not a quiver of one kind of pack. Not even a quiver of two. Or three. This is a specialized pack designed for winter cragging. And by cragging I mean the one, maybe two, -pitch ice and mixed climbs that we seem to end up at for half the winter, be it Hyalite Canyon in Montana or Haffner Creek in BC. The approaches are (relatively) short, the climbs are close together, you’re hanging out with friends, having a good time. The last thing I want on those days is the typical alpine-style toploader that I either have to dump everything from to find something or dig around hoping I grasp the right item. This is who this pack is for — the winter cragger.
Yes, it’s heavier than typical alpine packs. But it’s not an alpine pack… you’re not meant to climb with this thing on! And, no, I don’t really care how much it weighs — I haven’t even bothered putting it on a scale — as I’m generally only carrying it an hour or so, max. (Besides, extra weight is good training, right?)
It’s also most definitely a design departure from (every?!) other pack I can think of. The zippered clamshell-opening design lets you access all your gear immediately, and creates a nice platform for sorting and putting on gear (don’t know about you but I’m not a fan of sitting on snow!). There are also dedicated compartments for nearly every item you could envision needing; everything from ice screws to a file.
Due to the rather complex nature of the design, I think I’ll let the photos take over from here and provide additional info in the captions.
Opened up, the “outside” of the Ice Project lays flat. It has a large, stretch-mesh compartment where I keep gloves and toques. Here, the pack is shown as if it were packed for cragging: personal kit + rope (assumption is your partner carries the gear…)
So that’s the Ice Project. I love it. It solves all my winter cragging needs, from easy ice at Haffner to hard mixed at the Cineplex. It just makes so much sense to me, and I’m glad there are people out there who can bring such a vision to life.
For full discretion, I should point out that I know a couple of guys at The North Face who were instrumental in the creation of this pack: Conrad Anker, who was behind the design and push to create it, and Andy Coutant, who’s the guy in charge of R&D of packs and tents and such. I’m really not sure how I met Andy, but I know Conrad as he’s very involved with the World Cup competition in Bozeman, so we seem to run into each other often enough. Either way, the pack excited me when I first saw a prototype at OR and I would’ve reviewed it regardless of how I got a hold of one (though the fact that I somehow got a TNF-team edition Hold Fast-emblazoned one makes it all the more special to me!)
The Ice Project is a specialized pack. Like a lot of innovative products, all it takes is a different way of thinking to understand the purpose and design behind something. This pack is no different. It’s not your regular alpine pack, but for most of the climbing we do in winter, you don’t need an alpine pack. What you need is an alpine duffel and this is what the Ice Project is — an easy-access bag that also carries well.
I’ve used it on nearly every cragging day last winter, from easy ice and mixed at Haffner Creek or Bear Spirit, to the hard mostly-horizontal stuff at the Cineplex, and even when out bolting new routes. Regardless of the place, as long as I don’t need to climb with the pack on, or it’s not a full-on multi-hour alpine approach, the Ice Project comes along. It fits everything I need, and then some.
I honestly never even imagined a pack like this. Every time I went cragging, I brought along a top-loading alpine-style pack, though usually much bigger than needed so I could find stuff more easily, and stuff it in without having to overly think about packing. The Ice Project changed all that. It’s now my go-to winter cragging pack, and from what I’m told it’s become the go-to for a lot of TNF’s winter-focused athletes, as well as some of their summer-focused athletes, given that it works well for summer cragging, too. It fits everything I need, organizes it efficiently, carries it comfortably and even keeps my butt warm and dry when I’m gearing up. I’m looking forward to another winter with it!
Pros: organization, ease-of-access, comfort, durability
Cons: heavier than alpine-style packs, specific purpose
Overall: If you spend most of your time cragging in winter this is the go-to pack. It fits everything, carries well, and keeps your gear organized but also easily accessible.
I received a pre-production sample from my friends at TNF, but they knew that I’d still say whatever I wanted about it.