I reviewed the original Cragsmith 35L pack back in 2015 (link), and over the past three years it has gone from being one of my favourite cragging packs to just plain being one of my favourite packs for nearly every activity, from cragging to heading to the gym to international travel as an inconspicuous do-it-all carry-on.
There’s a new Cragsmith for 2018, and I’m glad to see it now comes in two capacities: a 32L and the 45L reviewed here. I often find the original 35L a bit small for longer crag days when packing more water, clothes, gear and, in my case, a camera, or sometimes two, so I’m really glad the new one comes in a larger 45L capacity.
Along with the increase in size, the Cragsmith also gets a few tweaks to the design. The most obvious one is the addition of more substantial padding throughout the pack: the pack now holds its shape, making in much easier to pack and also to find stuff in. The semi-rigid sides stay open when the back panel is unzipped, and the pack easily stands up on its own (though as the bottom is not completely flat, it’s easier to balance upright on uneven rocky ground than it is on a flat floor).
The zippered top access and zippered back panel access remain, though they have been redesigned. The top ‘lid’ now has a massive (also padded) pocket that’s ‘expandable’ based on how much stuff you put in the main compartment, and there’s also a small key / phone / wallet pocket in the top lid of the lid. The back panel zipper is a massive #10 YKK: this zipper now bears the full weight of the pack, both when carrying it and when lifting it by the shoulder straps. I had reservations about this design but despite filling the pack with about 20kg (45lbs) of climbing and camera gear, neither the zipper nor any of the other seams gave out so much as a squeak.
Aside from the lid configuration, there are now two stretchy mesh pockets on either side of the main pack bag. This replaces the previous vertical zippered pocket on just one side of the pack and I have to say this is the only aspect of the redesign I am not a fan of — that side pocket is great to storing guidebooks, water bottles and snacks when climbing, and my iPad, power cables and various small accessories while travelling. The two mesh pockets, though useful in other ways, don’t fully replicate the usefulness of that zippered compartment.
Increasing the usefulness of the side pockets are the compression straps located just above them on the side of the pack. These replace the single, central, rope strap on the old Cragsmith and while they can still be used to strap down a rope I find them much more useful for lashing stuff to the sides: trekking poles, a comfy mat to sit on, extra-height water bottles, additional layers or sandals. They’re also strong enough to function as side-grab handles, and I’ve even used them to secure the pack inside my truck to keep it from flying about.
The back panel, as mentioned, is now host to the shoulder straps. These are nicely contoured and well padded, as is the hip belt. Once again my only negative with the hip belt is that it’s non-removable: I don’t often use a hip belt for our (relatively) short Rockies’ rock crag approaches so it’s mostly in the way. But, as it is useful once in a while, I’d rather be able to remove it than cut it off permanently.
Somewhat increasing the hip belt’s usefulness is the small, zippered, mesh pocket on the right pod. It’s large enough to store my phone and/or a couple energy bars and opens easily with one hand (unlike many other zippered hip belt pockets that seem to require two hands for operation).
Durability wise, the Cragsmith is a standout. Made with burly 630-denier fabric with a DWR treatment, it hasn’t picked up any holes or scratches despite being treated like a duffel bag and getting thrown from the back of my truck out onto random campsites and roughly transported between crags.
Speaking of transport, there are large, low-profile, flat-webbing grab handles along the top and bottom that are easy to grab or clip something to but also stay out of the way and don’t catch on stuff. There’s also a large grab loop between the shoulder straps but I find it awkward to hold the pack from here — it hangs at an awkward angle and isn’t easy to move around.
This also brings me to the only major negative I can think of for the Cragsmith 45L: when the back panel is open there is no easy way to grab the pack and move it a route or two over. I usually just dump it on the ground and open the back panel to easily access gear, camera, etc but doing so precludes the pack from being picked up by any of its handles without spilling out the contents. I’d like to see a couple small loops of the same flat webbing as that used for the other grab handles secured on either side of the zipper above the shoulder straps so that the pack can be easily grabbed with one hand without falling open.
The original Cragsmith was already one of my favourite all-around packs and the new one is just all-around better. It’s comfortable even heavily loaded, has enough compartments to keep my OCD organized and it works great both at the crag and as a travel bag. It’s heavier than similarly sized packs, but then again it’s not an alpine pack: 1480 grams hardly registers on my back when loaded down with gear. At a retail price of $239 CAD / $199 USD, the Cragsmith 45L is one of the most useful backpacks I have and is very highly recommended.