CiloGear’s 30L Guide Service pack is hard to put away. I’m a gear reviewer and a hopeless pack rat, so the selection of 30L-something packs around here is abundant (eight, by last count). Yet, time after time, I find myself reaching for the 30GS more often than not when I’m not ‘testing’ things (i.e. those climbing days when I’m tired of trying this or that and just want to climb, so I bring along gear I really like).
I wasn’t a fan of the CiloGear pack at first. All CiloGear packs have more attachment points, straps and other doohickeys than any other pack I can think of. With enough various straps at your disposal (I’ve got around a dozen: long, short, medium, red, blue, grey, you name it!), they are pretty much infinitely configurable. If you’re a bit OCD with tucking away straps and packing things just-right (and I am), this is somewhat infuriating until you finally figure out a system that works for you — it took me a while, but I’m glad I put in the time and effort.
CiloGear is a small company out of Portland, Oregon. All their packs (and other bits) are made at the factory when ordered. That is pretty cool. Though they’re not very common here in Canada, I see them a lot at various US ice climbing festivals and I’d heard a lot of good things, so naturally I wanted to try one. Thanks to CiloGear for hooking me up with this little red/grey number!
The pack’s overall design is exceedingly simple. The main pack body is a straightforward sack without complex panels or seams. The bottom is a tougher weight fabric for increased abrasion resistance, and the top has a pair of drawcord closures. The lid is large, and can be taken off completely. There are no external pockets so the pack could be hauled without worry of snagging.
The best thing about the 30L are the shoulder straps. Anatomically shaped and curved, they’re thin and low-profile but with just enough padding to keep them comfortable, even under a very heavy load. They are the most comfortable straps on a pack of this size and style I’ve tried, and make those long approaches that much more enjoyable. One interesting feature is a little padding-less ‘gap’ where the straps are sewn into the pack body — pull the shoulder lifter strap tight and the gap ‘closes,’ effectively raising the pack’s ride height by about 3cm. Absolutely phenomenal when you’re climbing with the pack, the body riding higher up your back, tucked in between your shoulders, and out of the way of a harness. Brilliant.
My other favourite thing about this pack is the lid. It’s big enough to fit a helmet, has a large security pocket on the underside, and has deep, stretchy sides so it can be tucked down over the pack body. It is attached using the same D-ring and plastic-tab system as all the other straps on CiloGear packs, which means that it can be kept down low, close to the pack, or extended with any of the dozen various straps that CiloGear supplies.
Now, about that strap system, as it has been the cause of much annoyance but also unbridled joy and delight when I’d figure out a new way to attach something. There are four pairs of D-ring and Tab attachment points on either side of the pack, along with three by the top lid and another two down the middle. Yes, that’s a total of thirteen different points, and each one can accommodate several straps. Like I said, the possibilities are endless and can be somewhat frustrating until you figure out a combination that works. With that said, I should also point out that thanks to this infinitely customizable strap system, the pack can be configured for anything from a day at the crag to a weirdly disfigured, lop-sided load-hauling monster. It’s not the most comfortable configuration but it works and can be crammed with enough gear for a multi-day trip, but with the benefit of having a small, climbing-friendly pack once at your destination.
The other large benefit of the CiloGear strap system is that it’s present across their full range of packs — once you dial in your system on one pack, it transfers easily to any other pack in the lineup (and they range from the 30L reviewed here to a 75L.) You could also use the various strap points to piggyback your 30L on the 75L for a ridiculous 105L+ pack mutant. Or make a ridiculous frankenstein out of several for almost limitless capacity and expansion (I’ll have to try this someday!). Awesome.
And, if you’re like me and the jingling of unused metal D-rings starts to annoy you, you can strip them off (though the plastic tabs are fixed in place, but they also don’t make noise). In short, pretty much everything on this pack can be customized, or something attached to any given section of it. Even the lid has six lash points!
Another feature I really love is what CiloGear call the Ninja Pocket, which is a relatively large, zippered internal pocket tacked onto the flap that holds the back pad in place. It sits right near the top of the pack, and is perfect for stashing small items like snacks, headlamp, etc. I mostly climb with the pack without the top lid in place, so this little pocket is the ideal stash for all those items that would normally live in my top lid.
There’s also an internal compression strap, which is fantastic at tucking the load in close to your back, and a back panel pad that folds out into a small (tiny) bivy pad or seat. The pad is really nice quality, too, thick but light and serves to both give shape to the backpanel as well as provide the padding. Great design, right there. These are two really nice features that are not easy to come by on other packs.
The hipbelt is simple and lightweight. Much like the rest of the pack, it’s designed with function in mind: there are two ice clipper slots, and a gap in the padding so the hipbelt easily wraps around the pack, out of the way of a harness when climbing. Due to its minimalist nature it doesn’t offer a ton of support, but the pack does carry noticeably lighter with it than without. I’m very glad it’s very easy to remove, too, as I’ll often approach with the hipbelt in place but strip it for the climb. Though they’re not there by default, you can set up hipbelt compression straps with any of the straps included with the pack. Have I mentioned that this thing is customizable yet?
Ice tool carry is the familiar sleeve-and-clip for the pick and shock-cord for the handle. It’s simple, and it works. The pick and head are held securely, but I always find the shock-cord lacking in strength and retention, especially when bushwhacking and the handle catches on branches or shrubs. I usually replace these with strips of velcro, or some other kind of strap system, but have found that the lid of the 30GS is big and stretchy enough that I can usually fit my tool handles underneath it, making for a smooth, snag-free pack outer. Of course, this doesn’t work if the pack is completely full, so I’ll get around to replacing the shock cord once it wears through.
There are also two massive haul / carry loops, which make it really easy to hang the pack at belays, the outer-facing loop great for sorting gear. Both of these loops are incredibly strong — I can, in fact, hang my full body weight (78kg) off either loop without so much as a slip of thread or squeak of fabric. That is seriously solid construction!
Durability wise, the pack has been super solid. Mine is the Guide Service model, which uses tougher bottom and side panels. Ironically, it’s the regular-strength, middle, grey panel that picked up a hole somewhere, somehow. But the ripstop fabric has stopped it from getting bigger, even though I left it unpatched until I started writing this review.
Due to the fabrics used and the amount of straps, this is not the lightest pack in the world, though honestly I’m not sure 100 grams either way matters all that much. My sample weighed in at 1030 grams total, broken down as follows: pack body 640 grams; lid 178 grams; hipbelt 120 grams and pad 92 grams. Add another 46 grams for a pair of crampon straps (that’s what I use them for, anyway), and another 16 grams or so per additional buckle-less strap. By comparison, an Arc’teryx Alpha FL 45 (really a 35L-ish pack) weighs around 700 grams but lacks a top lid and only has a few attachment points for extra straps; BD’s Speed 30 is around 1170 grams but again is nowhere near as versatile; and Hyperlite Mountain Gear’s 2400 Ice pack is slightly larger but slightly lighter (35L or so, and XXX grams) but also doesn’t have a top lid (and is significantly more expensive).
With a retail price of $199 (USD) the 30L Guide Service represents superb value in a crowded market, especially for a USA-made product. (The regular non-Guide Service pack is identical save for the bottom panels, and goes at $189.) It’s a unique product, with a distinctive look (you can tell it’s a CiloGear pack right away — I like it!) and I appreciate the amount of time and thought that has gone into the design and production. Highly recommended. Just bring some patience for the initial few weeks to figure out the strap system to your satisfaction.
Check out the pack on CiloGear’s website: http://www.cilogear.com/30lbawo.html You can buy it from there, too, though unlike other sites we don’t get a percentage of any sales. But maybe we’ll get another pack to test, which is good, too. We’re just stoked to support people doing cool stuff!