Comparison Review: Arc’teryx Alpha FL Packs

Arc’teryx introduced the Alpha FL packs six years ago for Spring 2014 and other than some colour changes, they’ve remained unchanged over all these years (rather remarkable in an industry where some products are on the market for less than a year!). The first iteration of the Alpha FL packs wass pretty much perfect, with my only major complaint being the ‘inaccurate’ sizing. Otherwise, the packs are very comfortable, incredibly weather-resistant, stupidly durable, have a great tool attachment system, and are a joy to use.

The new-for-Fall 2020 Alpha FLs have received a couple of tweaks, the major one being a name change that goes along with updated capacity adjustments. As Arc’teryx’s press release states “the Alpha FL’s usable space now more accurately aligns with their listed capacities, and both the 30L and 40L versions extend to hold additional gear.” In case you’re unfamiliar with the original packs, the 30L and 45L were “designed to be used at their max capacity (overflow using the extension collar) and therefore we named them with their intended use volumes.” (Full review of the first generation packs here). This has now been amended, so now we have a 30L that’s actually 30-liters in capacity (it was 23-liters before), plus the extra space using the extension collar (max 37-liters according to Arc’teryx). Similarly, the 40L that is now a 40-liter bag (formerly the 45L, that actually had a 32-liter capacity) plus the extra extension capacity (max 52-liters). Confused yet? Here’s a table:

Pack Model/YearMain packbag volume (L)Maximum volume extended collar (L)Weight (grams)Price in Canadian (+increase)
30L (2014)2330585$200
30L (2020)3037635$280 (+40%)
45L (2014)3245670$240
40L (2020)4052715$300 (+25%)

And here’s a photo comparison. If the 30L 2014 looks small, consider that it’s really a 23-liter pack, as compared to the 30-liters of the 30L 2020, the 32-liters of the 45L 2014 (which look near-identical in size, as they should), and 40-liters of the 40L 2020 (which is substantially wider than its predecessor).

Left to Right: 30L 2014, 30L 2020, 45L 2015, 40L 2020. Note how much wider in girth the 40L 2020 is, especially compared to the 45L 2014.
The same four packs ‘maxed out’ by which I mean I stuffed them with jackets and closed down the roll-top closure to the point at which I could ‘roll’ it three times to ensure weather protection.

Given the rather substantial changes in capacity, but minimal changes in weight, I was curious if the packs’ weight per liter of volume had changed at all, so I made another table, calculating the packs’ weights per liter at both their main volume but also at full capacity:

30L (2014)@ 23L = 25.4g/L@ 30L = 19.5g/L
30L (2020)@ 30 = 21.2g/L@ 37 = 17.2g/L
45L (2014)@ 32 = 20.9g/L@ 45 = 14.9g/L
40L (2020)@ 40 = 17.9g/L@ 52 = 13.8g/L

Comparing the two packs closest in size to each other, the new 30L and the original 45L, we can see that at a volume of around 30-liters each at ‘regular’ capacity, the packs come out to 21.2g/L and 20.9g/L respectively. I’m going to call that a tie, but if we factor in that the new packs have an extra pocket and its corresponding zipper, they are a touch heavier per liter of volume. They are, also, bigger in total volume so therefore will be heavier due to an overall increase in material used.

What has also grown in size is the external pocket, which is now slightly deeper and has more girth, and therefore is easier to access.

There is also an additional, slightly smaller, pocket attached to the inside collar towards the back of the pack. It’s a semi-floating design which I am not sold on — I think it would’ve been easier to access if this pocket were fixed to the back of the pack, similar to most other internal security pockets, but I’ll take it as it’s a useful space to stash keys, wallet, and other small items I don’t want to inadvertently pull out while rummaging through the main external pocket. Both pockets use WaterTight zippers, which though incredibly weather-resistant, are not guaranteed to be waterproof.

The internal pocket on the 30L 2020 is quite deep — I’d say it’s about the same size as the external pocket, but not as ‘wide.’

Another notable change is the new top-strap closure buckle, which is now the same as that found on the Alpha AR packs. It’s a friction-pinch design that is meant to eliminate failure points — but I’d rather have a perfectly-functional side-release buckle that may at some point break than this somewhat frustrating newer design. I continually fail to properly secure the grab-loop within the buckle when I pull it tight, and I still haven’t figured out if it’s my failing to adapt or just an inherent flaw in the design. Regardless, not a fan of this change.

The new less-breakable (?!) buckle, and another tweak: the drawstring closure on the new packs is offset from the rope strap.

Thankfully, the crucial design elements of the Alpha FL’s remain unchanged: the bright white interior, pretty-much-waterproof roll-top internal collar, comfortable shoulder straps, minimalist waist-belt, and the most versatile tool carry system to exist on a pack that I know of. There’s the same bungee-cord front strap system, extra-long rope strap, easy pull-to-open drawstring closure and comfortable yet minimalist suspension design.

Another small change: the aluminum ice tool toggles are slightly longer, have a slightly different profile, and now have Arc’teryx on them (just in case you forget).

I have loved the Alpha FL packs since day one and have had countless examples over the years (mostly because people borrow them and never want to give them back, so I end up buying another one, et cetera, et cetera). I really appreciate the return to a more standardized naming convention, but also the slight increase in capacity that has come along with that. The larger front pocket is a great change, too. I also love the deep red but will forever be confused why they still make non-tactical gear in shades of black — can we have a bright yellow, or green, please, Arc’teryx? Regardless of color, absolutely, completely, fully, recommended: the best minimalist alpine climbing packs in existence.

Caveat: If you like the smaller size of the original 30L, get it now while they’re still available, on sale or otherwise: it is noticeably smaller than the new 30L. Given how many people I know love this smaller size, it makes me think Arc’teryx should release this new-version in a 20-liter capacity, or similar.

And while I’m dreaming, I’d love to see the 40L, or even better a full-blown 50- or 55-liter, with a full-side zip, similar to the Alpha AR 55. (I use the bigger packs when bringing camera gear along, and the side-zips are great for easy access to it.) I’m sure other people like and use packs of that size, too.

11 thoughts on “Comparison Review: Arc’teryx Alpha FL Packs

  1. James says:

    Thanks, Raf! The arc’teryx site did not make the volume change clear. Do you think the 40 will still carry as well as the 45? I could see that small bump being just the thing if you are trying to do a light and fast traverse and need a smidge more food or an overnight in winter with a bigger tent. I’ll also enjoy not having to pack it like an origami expert! Though that was part of the fun. I love the 45 so much I made other gear decisions based on whether they would help maximise the efficiency of the pack. Also, someone should post a comprehensive post on all the different ways you can attach things to it. I’ve used ski straps to attach pickets for example and I’ve heard rumours that you can rig skis in it with ease as well.

    • Raf says:

      I think if anything it should carry better because it’s slightly wider so won’t be as top-heavy as a loaded up 45L would often end up. And due to the larger inside compartment, I can easily stow a row on the bottom.

      The side lash points are versatile and quite strong: the Alpha SK is made with the same fabrics and has no additional reinforcements for ski edge protection, etc.

  2. Chris says:

    Great reviews as always, Raf. I’m always excited when I see an “Alpine Start” email notification! I couldn’t agree more – I’m no fan of red, but a bright orange, green or blue pack would be very much appreciated!

    I own an Alpha FL 30 from a couple years ago, and I pack it in my Mutant 52 as an on-route pack when I know we’ll be rapping back down the climb. I just wish the back panel was removable, and they came with side-compression straps, but, thankfully, ski straps have yet another great use!

    As I’m sure you’re aware, and if you’re prepared to drop some coin, John over at Alpine Luddites can sew you your dream alpine/photography pack to spec.

    • Raf says:

      Thanks Chris! John and I have chatted many times about a custom pack, but if I ever design my ultimate pack, what gear will I ever review?!

      • alpine luddites says:

        I know! we have been chatting about a pack for how long now? 3 years? email me your list and we can start. the waiting list has gotten even longer this year due to our switch to PPE gear for 12 weeks.

        Or just send me the back length and volume range you want and I’ll just build you what I want to build you.


  3. EZ-D says:

    Another thorough review, especially since I think these packs keep getting delayed – available to the masses early 2021 now?

    Just curious if the new Alpha FL 40 would be number one now in your 30-40L pack comparison or if their minimalism makes them more of a niche pack and you would still go with the HMG? My next pack will probably be the new FL 40 or the HMG Prism but I need to where both first.

    Based on the original Alpha FLs I think I still prefer a more comfortable suspension but I read somewhere that the shoulder straps were redesigned on the the new FLs.

    • Raf says:

      The only availability issue I know of with the Alpha FLs is that they keep selling out!

      HMG Prism vs MH Alpine Light is the next comparison on my to-do list, after which I’ll try to do another large comparison. But I do feel the FLs are more specialized packs, so not sure it’s a fair comparison.

      I haven’t noticed any differences in the shoulder strap design, but I’ll take another look.

  4. B$ says:

    This is the best review for this product.
    I’m looking for a day hike pack that is packable in my larger pack. I may go set up a tent and then climb a peak from there, so I don’t want a 65L pack for a day ascent. I’m not climbing technically challenging peaks at this point. I am considering the AR35 and FL30. I need day hike stuff plus a camera or drone. Which bag would be better?
    FL looks like it might be more water resistant.
    I’m not sure which pack is itself more packable. I can remove back support from AR35 and roll it up, but FL is lighter. I’m not sure if FL can be rolled up.

    • Raf says:

      Both packs can be rolled up, though not easily. I would search out a proper ‘lead’ pack that is designed to be rolled and packed up.

  5. Erik Norseman says:

    Raf! Don’t forget to mention that the FL 30 now has lash points on the side of the pack instead of webbing loops where the hipbelt attaches to the pack body… those loops have been useful in the past but the welded lash points are appreciated.

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