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/Year||Main packbag volume (L)||Maximum volume extended collar (L)||Weight (grams)||Price in Canadian (+increase)|
|30L (2020)||30||37||635||$280 (+40%)|
|40L (2020)||40||52||715||$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).
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.
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.
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.
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.