Summer OR 2017: Packs

Packs are by far my weakest spot when it comes to outdoor gear: I currently have 23 climbing specific packs, two massive 100L load-haulers and around six various duffel bags. And I can’t seem to get rid of any of them! So, needless to say, the pack companies displaying at OR are some of my favourite booths to stop at.

The best climbing pack at this year’s show, even though it has a couple of possible drawbacks, is Cassin’s Eghen 35. If you haven’t read my New Gear Awards post, check out the pack’s details here.

The next coolest backpack at the show is the Trion Nordwand 20 from Mammut. Developed in conjunction with their athletes, including David Lama, the Nordwand 20 is inspired by running vests and designed to sit very high on the climbers’ back, out of the way of a climbing harness. The shoulder straps particularly look like those from a running vest, very narrow over the shoulders but widening out underneath the arms and around the chest.

The pack body is reinforced with Dyneema for abrasion and tear resistance, and the side compression cord is tucked behind a layer of this fabric for a clean, snag-free profile. There are the requisite tool attachment points, and a rope strap across the top. A mesh pocket inside keeps small stuff organized, while the external pocket is waterproof, with a waterproof zip.

The single aluminum stay is easily removable, as are the two hollow-aluminum cross stays located around the height of the shoulder blades. Weight comes in at 580-grams (I don’t know what the stripped-down weight will be until I can get a production version on a scale) but all this tech doesn’t come cheap: MSRP is $200 USD or $250 CAD.

Osprey is updating almost all their backpacking packs for 2018 (Xenith/Xena, Atmos/Aura AG, Exos/Eja) and introducing two new lines: the Aether/Ariel Pro and the Levity/Lumina series. The Aether/Ariel Pro packs in particular are aimed at climbers who need to haul big loads into remote locations with minimal weight and maximum comfort.

The Aether/Ariel Pro packs use a new NanoFly fabric which combines a 210D nylon with 200D ultra-high-molecular-weight polyethylene (known to most climbers simply as Dyneema) to create an ultra-light yet ultra-strong fabric that is highly water and abrasion resistant. There’s a new LightWire suspension system with a 3.5mm peripheral frame, along with a single centre stay to ensure the backpanel maintains its shape.

The backpanel is high density foam with multiple cutouts and raised ridges, all wrapped in mesh for breathability. The shoulder straps also get spacer mesh for breathability and comfort, while the hipbelt is the latest version of Osprey’s superb IsoForm Custom-Molded HipBelt. The combination of semi-external frame and contoured and well-padded harness should prove to be very comfortable even under heavy loads, and Osprey rate the pack for up to 60 lbs / 27 kg.

There are all the usual features: a removable top lid, compression straps, dual ice axe loops and dual, also removable, side pockets (which are huge!). All this comes in at a hard-to-believe 3.94 lbs / 1787 grams.  By way of comparison, Osprey’s own Variant 52, a ski/mountaineering oriented pack, comes in at 3.46lbs / 1569 grams, and the A/A Pro packs are 70/65-litres, not 50! MSRP for all this awesomeness is going to be $375 USD.

Browsing the exhibitor list before the show, I spotted the words “Blue Ice” on the floorplan but didn’t quite believe it was the Blue Ice until I walked over to the booth. For those not familiar with the brand, Blue Ice is a Chamonix-based manufacturer that started out making small, alpine-focused packs. I reviewed the original lime-green Warthog 26L a long time ago (here) and am stoked to see the company wholly entering the North American market. In addition to the NA expansion, they’ve hired some highly respected, very capable people to develop new products — info coming as I get it, but expect to see a lot of innovation emerging from their offices over the coming years.

The Dragonfly line of packs are simple and streamlined, with a low-profile, rectangular shape that sits neatly between a climber’s shoulder blades. They all have a large main compartment, zippered external pocket, ice axe loops and breathable-mesh shoulder straps. The two larger ones (16L and 25L) have drawcord openings and rope straps, while the smallest 10L makes do with a zipper to access the main compartment. Weight is quite low (10L – 300g, 18L – 360g, 25L – 460g) and the price is fantastic: 10L $40, 18L $50, 25L $60 (all USD).

New for SS18 from Blue Ice is the Squirrel line of packs, designed specifically for rock climbing, or other endeavours where you’re not taking along an ice axe as they do not have ice axe loops. The squirrels come in 12L, 22L and 32L sizes, with somewhat differing features as the packs get bigger.

All sizes of the Squirrel have a padded mesh back panel, zipper-access main compartment, top rope strap and four attachment points for a mesh helmet holder. There’s also a neat grab-handle / hang loop on the top. Additionally, the 32L version has a zippered back panel for easier access to the main compartment.

The fabric is a durable 210D Ripstop nylon so the packs aren’t as light as the Dragonfly series but are built for everyday abuse at the crag or on route. The 12L weighs in at 365g ($50 USD), the 22L is 500g ($80 USD) and the 32L is 670g ($100 USD). I’m excited to see Blue Ice in North America, and I can’t wait to see what they come out with in the coming years!

Another pack aimed at rock climbers is Black Diamond’s Crag 40, a burly top-loader clearly inspired by haul bags and the Creek series of bags. With a massive side zipper, the Crag opens up like a duffel for easy access, and loads through a drawcord closure on top. There’s a large zippered external pocket for a guidebook and other essentials, and the suspension is simple but comfortable. The Crag 40 comes in at 941 grams and will retail for $100 USD or $120 CAD.

For those who may find themselves in more inclement weather, Outdoor Research has the highly water-resistant Payload 18 Pack. Utilizing the same fabric as the waterproof Dry Payload Pack, the Payload 18 does away with the rolltop and welded seams for a more traditional sewn construction and regular zipper closure but has the same burly fabric on the outside for great weather protection and abrasion resistance. With dual daisy chains (which on production versions will shift more to the sides of the pack from what is in the photos shown here) and dual grab/haul handles on top, it’s meant to strap on a lot of extra gear. There’s also a small zippered pocket in the top lid, and a rope strap on top. A lot of pack for 468-grams and $75 USD.

Continuing with the burly theme is the Cassin Torre 70 haul bag. Built out of super tough 4500D Tarpaulin fabric, the Torre is built for abuse. According to CAMP the fabric used on the Torre will not crack or stiffen up even at -20C, increasing its durability in subzero temperatures. Like any good haul bag, the shoulder straps tuck away into a protective pocket, and the main seams are recessed to eliminate abrasion damage. The padded waist belt also functions as a bosun’s chair (I want this bag for that feature alone!) and the lower webbing straps are reinforced for clipping on a portaledge or another bag. Another cool feature is the way the shoulder straps loop through on the bottom, creating a 2-1 ratio for pulling the shoulder straps tight — useful when there is 70L of hardware in the bag! MSRP will be $300 USD, and weight is substantial: 3400 grams, but, it is a haul bag after all.

Big Agnes will enter the duffel market for 2018 with a complete line-up of water-resistant duffels, rolling duffels and a couple ‘normal’ duffels. There will also be a complete line of stuff sacks, from 6L to 43L. A lot of storage options!

The Big Joe Duffels and Stagecoach Rolling Duffels are constructed of the same main fabric, a 410d fabric that is welded instead of sewn for waterproof protection. The duffels aren’t rated as waterproof because the zipper is not submersible-rated but merely ‘highly water-resistant’ (fully-waterproof zippers are extremely expensive, and unless you’re expecting to submerge your bags, not really unnecessary on a duffel bag for regular use). The bags have multiple lash points and the straps can be configured into top-carry, backpack or shoulder straps thanks to the numerous attachment points. Thanks to the burly fabric, the Big Joe Duffels will actually stand on their own, and open wide, for easy packing and the inevitable search for that one AAA battery in a massive duffel…

The Big Joe will come in three sizes: 45L at 737-grams and $110 USD; 80L at 935-grams and $130 USD and 110L at 1300-grams and $160 USD. The Stagecoach Rolling Duffels feature extendable handles and a compression-molded bottom to keep their structure but maintain durability. The rollers will come in three sizes as well: 45L at 2780-grams and $240 USD; 85L at 3290-grams and $260 USD and a huge 125L at 3970-grams and $300 USD.

If you don’t need the all-weather protection of the Big Joe Duffels or the international-travel friendly wheels of the Stagecoach Rolling Duffels, Big Agnes also has the Road Tripper duffels. There’s a 45L and a 90L and both feature a multitude of pockets and compartments to help organize and sort gear during, well, road trips. One of the exterior pockets also extends into the main compartment, so you can separate a wet tent or dirty laundry from the other contents. The 45L looks to be the perfect size for a roadtrip kitchen or clothes, and the 90L will easily swallow your shelter and sleeping systems. Cost for the 45L (539-grams) ill be $80 USD and the 90L (737-grams) will go for $100 USD. Road trip essentials, as far as I can tell.

6 thoughts on “Summer OR 2017: Packs

  1. Teo says:

    Hi, I see that on the blue ice website, the “old” dragonfly is on discount. Can you tell the differences? It seems just like the new ones (10 L or 18 L), minor some details, and colors.


    • Raf says:

      Looks like the smaller one has a zipper instead of a drawcord, and the colours, mostly. I’m liking my 10L – grab one while they’re still available!

  2. Tobias says:

    Hi, I am a bit curious if you have more info on the update of the Osprey Xenith. I own the current version and really like it. However it’s falling apart and needs to be replaced soon…
    Are they going to use the Anti Gravity system on the Xenith as well or are they gonna stick with the Air Scape backpanel found on the current version?
    I am not convinced the Anti Gravity system is supportive enough to carry the heavy loads this pack is intended for…

    Thanks 🙂

    • Raf says:

      I had a Xenith 88 and loved that pack, superb load carrier!

      The updates to the Xenith series are as follows:
      – DayLid daypack included
      – Increased durability in high wear points
      – New colours and graphics

      So, no, fear not, it is staying pretty much the same just getting a bit burlier!

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