Long Term Review: TNF Ice Project

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.

TNF-Ice-Project-pack_1The front of the Ice Project is simple, with just a daisy chain and a couple large grab handles.

TNF-Ice-Project-pack_2The zipper goes around 3/4 of the way around the pack. There are two compression straps on either side.

TNF-Ice-Project-pack_3The backpanel is simple and sheds snow well. Though minimally padded, the Ice Project hugs your back and carries well even with enormous loads (i.e. 100m rope, gear, bolting kit, etc.)

TNF-Ice-Project-pack_5I’ve seen a few complaints about the lack of external tool carry… voila. Quick and simple and keeps the pick relatively protected.

TNF-Ice-Project-pack_4The waistbelt buckle is a metal pass-through type, similar to those on avalanche packs.

TNF-Ice-Project-pack_6The waistbelt has two of these little loops on either side, meant for ice clippers. The production version has larger tabs than this!

TNF-Ice-Project-pack_7The bigger of the two top compartments is designed to carry crampons, and is made of the rubberized fabric inside and out for extra durability.

TNF-Ice-Project-pack_8The smaller top pocket is handy for snacks, sunscreen, keys, etc.

TNF-Ice-Project-pack_9Inside, the head and pick of the tool goes into a large sleeve at the bottom of the pack, protecting both it and the contents from the sharp pointy end.

TNF-Ice-Project-pack_10…up top there’s a buckle-and-strap for the handle.

TNF-Ice-Project-pack_11The removable ice-screw holder snaps to the centre pocket with six button-snaps.

TNF-Ice-Project-pack_12Of course, it also functions well independently of the pack. It carries 10 screws.

TNF-Ice-Project-pack_13The middle pocket / compartment / pouch is quite sizeable. You can fit a whole rack in there, or a pair of fruit boots, or even a helmet, with a lot of room left to spare.

TNF-Ice-Project-pack_22The dual grab handles are big and comfy, and the daisy chain appears unbreakable to me.

TNF-Ice-Project-pack_21The most important aspect of the Ice Project’s closure system: a big, beefy zipper that has never let me down no matter how overstuffed the pack is and how hard I’m pulling on it.

TNF-Ice-Project-pack_14Opened 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…)

TNF-Ice-Project-pack_15The above somewhat-unpacked.

TNF-Ice-Project-pack_18But just how much room is in there? It feels like a roomy 50L to me…

TNF-Ice-Project-pack_19Opened up, it’s kind of overflowing…

TNF-Ice-Project-pack_20There’s a 70m 9.5 rope, 10 screws, 14 draws, a full double rack of cams, personal kit, harness, helmet, light belay jacket, gloves, tools… yeah, this thing will fit a lot of stuff!

TNF-Ice-Project-pack_16Using one of the front grab handles, and the side grab-handle, you can just shove all your stuff ‘inside’ the pack…

TNF-Ice-Project-pack_17…and pick it up to move to a new spot (fairly close by) without needing to actually ‘pack.’ Nice.

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.

2 thoughts on “Long Term Review: TNF Ice Project

  1. ecdh says:

    glad you like it because i hate this pack. was given it to play with and give feedback by TNF japan and just cannot like it. maybe im missing something.

    i find its horrible as pack, being clunky, awkward, overly complex and to me – the exact opposite of a ‘just chuck it in’ design. its hopeless as a duffel too – a regular TNF duffel i find way easier to use, including as a pack.

    and i find the detailing all wrong – the lest climbing a pack ever made but then it has clipper slots…the metal buckle flings about annoyingly (whats wrong with a plastic one?)…the pockets are clumsy.

    now i know CA and the Wookie group are not idiots, but this is the Yugo of the pack world.

    a few things are ok i will admit; the crampon pocket is a good idea, the screw holder far better than the BD one, the construction is really nice, and it it sure is durable.

    i like the idea of a specific 1 day ice pack – but this aint it.

    • Raf says:

      Interesting to get your take on it! I love the fact there’s so much gear out there and different people use it differently and like various things. Thanks for stopping by the site!

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