Gear Review- Ortovox Tour Rider 30 Backpack

For the majority of the winter I have been touring in the Ortovox Tour Rider 30. Ultimately it’s a well thought out design that rides well but it did have a couple small quirks I’ll share in my review.

Ortovox Tour Rider 30 Backpack Review
Ortovox Tour Rider 30 Backpack Review, photo from http://www.ortovox.com

As always let’s start with the manufacture description and specs before digging into the details.


Description

The Tour Rider 30 is the ideal backpack for long day tours. In addition to a separate safety compartment, the backpack is also equipped with ski and snowboard fastenings, front and rear access to the main compartment and an ice axe and hiking pole fastening. As with all ORTOVOX backpacks, the Tour Rider 30 has an integrated signal whistle and chest strap. The body-hugging cut, the load control cords in combination with the foam back and ergonomic straps make this the perfect backpack.

Features

  • Chest strap with signal whistle
  • Ice axe and hiking pole loops
  • Bright Inside
  • Water-resistant zipper
  • Separate safety compartment
  • Helmet net
  • Access to main compartment: front
  • Hip pocket
  • A-Skifix
  • D-Skifix
  • Compression strap
  • Hydration system compatible
  • Access to main compartment: back

Specs

WEIGHT 2 lb.

MATERIAL 450D Polyester + 600D Polyester


Ortovox Tour Rider 30 Backpack Review
Touring up the west side of Mount Washington on an epic east coast powder day, photo by @cfphotography
Now let’s look at some opinions on this model!

What I love

Access

This pack has a front panel that allows almost complete access to every nook and cranny in the main compartment but if what you are looking for is tucked away at the very bottom the whole back panel zips open for total access.

Comfort

The foam panels in the back panel and the gel-like closed cell foam used in both the shoulder straps and waist belt is the perfect material for helping this pack carry well on long up tracks. The pack rides a little high on me which worked well when I was using it with a ski mountaineering harness.

Lightweight and Streamlined

Weighing only 2 pounds and having tapered sides and bottom this pack has that “bullet” feel to it and is unlikely to get caught while bushwhacking your way into the next drainage in search of fresh lines.

Ortovox Tour Rider 30 Backpack Review
The author chases powder while testing the Ortovox Tour Rider 30 Backpack

What I would change

There is a small zippered pocket on the top that at first appears to be a goggle pocket but isn’t fleece lined or quite big enough for a pair of goggles. I used it to keep my headlamp, knife, and a few snacks handy but I’d like the option to stow my goggles in that area. The avalanche gear storage is a bit interesting on this pack. The probe and shovel handle have dedicated slots inside on the back panel while the shovel blade fits best in a zippered pocket on the outside of the pack. I prefer to keep my tools all in one spot and generally lean towards external avalanche safety gear pockets (like on the Ortovox Haute Route that I am also reviewing) that do not require accessing the main compartment to remove or stow.

Summary

For short to medium length back-country ski tours this is a really nice option. Small enough to be useful for side-country touring and big enough to stretch into a full day tour this is a solid choice in a line up of well designed Ortovox packs and one you should consider taking a look at!

Disclaimer: Affiliate links help support this blog. Author is a DPS and Revo ambassador and Ortovox Athlete and has received product support from these companies. 

Patagonia Cragsmith Pack 35L Review

The Patagonia Cragsmith Pack 35L is a thoughtfully designed gear hauler well suited for “cragging”. Cragging simply means rock climbing on smaller cliffs, usually single pitch in nature. Compared to multi-pitch climbing cragging implies less commitment, frequent returns back to the ground, social environments, and well… fun. To that end it can be nice to use a more voluminous backpack than one that you might wish to take up a long multi-pitch route.

IMG_0274

Let’s start with the features that are the most noticeable.

Capacity

The “35L” in the model name stands for 35 liters (volume). Patagonia also lists this as 2,130 cubic inches on their product page. There is no industry standard for determining pack volume, so it can sometimes be difficult to compare volume across brands. To me this pack feels to have a significantly greater amount of volume than listed. It absolutely swallows a 60 meter rope, full traditional rack, clothing, water, first aid, harness, helmet, shoes, and lunch with plenty of room to spare!

Patagonia Cragsmith 35L Review
Monster capacity for 35 liters!

You can see how much more space is unused by looking at the top of the pack in the above photo. I would easily say this pack is closer to what other companies might list as 40L or even 45L.

Convenience

Compared to lightweight alpine climbing packs this style of pack is not “streamlined” to wear while climbing like the Ortovox Trad 25. It’s designed to be super convenient moving about from route to route, whether it be clipping bolts at Rumney Rocks or working on your crack skills at the North End of Cathedral Ledge this pack will make life easy.

First, there’s the two loading options, top-loading, and back-panel. Both have merits. The top-loading access is what I use to pack the bag before heading out to the cliff. I love how I can open it up like a giant trash can and just drop a rope & all associated climbing gear inside without having to micro manage my available space. Then, when I get to the base of our objective, I open up the full size back panel and can easily grab the gear I need in the order I need it.

Patagonia Cragsmith 35L Review
Ready to rack

Harness on, rack up, flake the rope, shoes on… it’s definitely better than dumping everything in the dirt and sorting it there. Finally, when the climbing is over, it’s back to top-load mode so I can rip off my harness (probably with a less than perfectly organized rack hanging off it) and just shove it in back in the back. Forget minute organization when everyone is thinking of post climb beers. This pack certainly helps with being first ready to start the hike back to the car!

Features

There’s quite a bit to mention here. I like the side zippered compartment that easily holds a full size guidebook.

Patagonia Cragsmith 35L Review
Dedicated guidebook pocket

Roomy top pocket easily fits my lunch, snacks, headlamp, and car keys.

Patagonia Cragsmith 35L Review
Roomy top pocket with key clip

There’s a rope attachment system on the top of the pack:

Patagonia Cragsmith 35L Review
External rope attachment

While this is a nice thought I’m unlikely to use it. First, there is plenty of room to store a rope inside this pack with a full double rack. Second, without side compression straps you’ll need to carry some extra bungies or something to really secure the rope. Better to carry the rope inside this pack, there’s plenty of room! If you are carrying a heavier load and need to carry the rope externally you’re going to want to consider the only real criticism I have for the pack:

Comfort

There’s no easy way around this so I’ll just come out and say it. This pack is not super comfortable. While personal comfort is quite subjective, and the hard climbers of the day can schlep 70lb loads in Black Diamond Haul Bags with virtually no “comfort” features this pack fell short in my book in the comfort category, and here’s why;

Support. There really isn’t any. The back panel access design that worked so well in the Patagonia Snow Drifter lacks any significant support for carrying heavier loads. The real difference here is the Snow Drifter is optimized for back-country ski loads (15-20lbs maybe). A more rigid internal frame is not needed because the carrying loads are so light. This pack however is designed to swallow a lot of heavy climbing gear. A rope and double rack can quickly approach and exceed 30 pounds. The back panel is just too flimsy to be able to transfer any of this weight to the wide padded waist belt. The “load lifters” are attached directly at the end of the shoulder straps, eliminating any chance of actually “lifting” the load when properly used.

Patagonia Cragsmith 35L
Load lifters that can’t lift

And finally, the “Airflow Mesh” used in the back panel and shoulder straps, which I found excellent for winter use with the SnowDrifter pack, felt too insulating and warm for hot sweaty climbing days. I prefer closed cell foam back panels that don’t seem to absorb a gallon of sweat when I am working hard.

That being said this pack was very well designed for cragging! Not multi-pitch rock climbing, not alpine climbing, not hiking or backpacking. When judged on that specific use alone this pack really shows some promise. A quick summary of my pros/cons:

Pros:

Space galore!

Amazing accessibility!

Features designed for convenience!

Durable!

Cons:

Doesn’t carry heavy loads well

A bit “warm” on the back

What I would like to see:

If there is another incarnation of this pack I think it would be a good idea to add some support to that back panel. A removable aluminum stay or two that could direct some of the load to the padded waist-belt would be nice. A light-weight compression strap system would greatly increase the versatility of this pack. While acknowledging this is designed for cragging it would carry better if we could cinch it down a bit when it isn’t fully loaded.

Summary:

When looked at objectively for the intended use “cragging” this is a fantastic pack despite a couple short comings. If you find yourself schlepping gear from parking lot to cliff in less than a mile on a regular basis this is a contender to make your life easier. Check it out at your local Patagonia store or online here.

Did you like this review? Have you tried this pack? What’s your favorite climbing pack? Let me know in the comments below and you’ll be entered to win a “Tat Cutter Neck Knife” from Colonial Knives. Drawing 8/28/16 Winner notified via email 8/29/16 and announced here.

Patagonia Cragsmith 35L Review
Patagonia Cragsmith 35L Review

Disclosure: Patagonia provided the author with a sample of this pack for review. This post contains affiliate links which help to fund this website. 

Petzl Bug Pack Review (and Colonial Knife Giveaway)

The Petzl Bug pack is a solid choice for a small climbing pack designed for short to moderate length multi-pitch rock climbs. While a little on the heavier side (1lb 2.5oz) when compared to other styles in this category it’s clear Petzl has used the extra weight to build in some durability and well thought out features. Let’s break it down:

S71O-BUG_LowRes
Petzl Bug Review- photo from Petzl.com

Size:

At 18 liters (1,100 cubic inches) this pack falls in to the same category of small tech packs like the Black Diamond Bullet16 L (976 cu in), 1 lb 2 oz., and the super light Patagonia Linked Pack, 16 L (976 cu in), 16.5 oz. It is 2 liters larger than these comparable packs and I found this extra room enough to easily store this load out:

Black Diamond Alpine Start Hoody (my review here)

Patagonia Technical Sunshade Hoody (my review here)

AMK Ultralight First Aid Kit .9 (modified a bit)

Five Ten Rogue Lace-up Climbing Shoes (my comfy moderate trad shoe, review coming)

Nalgene Everyday Wide-Mouth Water Bottle, 1L

Lunch, Petzl Zipka Headlamp, Colonial Ameba Knife, Ben’s DEET

My “Cathedral Rack” (Basically a set of nuts, smaller tri-cams, set of Black Diamond X4’s and C4’s from .3 to size 2). 8 alpine draws, 2 quick-draws, 2 cordelette’s, 2 double length slings, couple prussiks, 5 lockers, Gigi and belay device.

Petzl Bug Review
Using every inch of 1,100 cubic inches

The pack does appear and pack noticeably bigger than the narrower profiled Black Diamond Bullet, mainly due to the extra 2 liters & slightly wider shape.

Comfort/Fit:

With closed cell foam padding in the back and the contoured shoulder straps this pack carries the light loads it is intended for quite comfortably. By design it rides very high on the back to not interfere with the harness. The waist-belt can fold away though I usually opt for just clipping it around of the outside front of the pack when it’s time to harness up.

Petzl Bug Review
Petzl Bug Review- photo from Petzl.com

Features:

Rope attachment

Packs under 20L typically can not fit the climbing rope inside so an attachment system for carrying the rope on the outside is important. While some current reviewers and online retailers suggest attaching the rope to the bottom that is outdated info. The carrying system is designed to carry the rope more comfortably over the top of the pack with an adjustable top strap and two side compression straps to ensure a solid attachment. While different styles of coiling can work I’ve found the “single strand butterfly” coil sits best when attaching ropes to the top of packs.

Compartmentalization/Organization

There are some design choices here that while adding a couple ounces of weight have also added some nice convenience. The most noticeable (and questionable in my opinion), is the open wide external pocket on the back of the pack. This pack is intended to store a guidebook or route topo for quick access. It’s quite big, basically the full size of the padded back, and has no method to secure any contents in it. The thought of my guidebook slipping out on a steep Gunks route or a few pitches up Cannon has me questioning whether I would every find a use for this feature, and because the zippered pocket on the front of the pack is very generously sized I opted to keep my guidebook there.

Petzl Bug Review
Petzl Bug Review

There is an interior pocket that can accommodate my 100 ounce CamelBak Hydration Bladder with hydration port and a smaller mesh pocket with key clip.

Petzl Bug Review
Petzl Bug Review- photo from Petzl.com

Carrying a 70-100 oz. bladder costs quite a bit of storage space for my rack so if I was hitting up a bigger objective (Cannon) with this pack on a hot day I’d opt to rack up at the car and take the extra water. If my climb required a longer approach than Cannon (Huntington/Katahdin) I’d opt for a larger pack that could carry both 100oz. and my full rack with ease, like the Ortovox Trad 25 backpack that I reviewed last month here.

Rounding out the features (and another distinct difference between the other same-class packs I mentioned at the beginning of the review) is the addition of the daisy loops down the front of the pack giving the climber a convenient place to clip some gear that didn’t make it into the pack while “de-racking” after that epic send.

Petzl Bug Review
Petzl Bug Review- the author testing the pack on Cathedral Ledge, photo by Sue B.

Suggestions:

A sternum strap buckle whistle has become a standard for me on all of my climbing and back-country skiing packs. This “10 Essential” may not be needed often but when it is I like having it within arms reach at all times, and this would be an easy thing to add in the the next Bug’s development. I’d also like more info on the pack material as details are a bit vague “very durable: bottom and sides lined with high-tenacity fabric”. While I’m not concerned with the lack of brand name recognition here (and during my 2 month test period the pack handled abrasive situations quite well) it makes it hard to objectively compare when this denier/technology is omitted)

Conclusion:

When it comes to backpacks Petzl’s line is mostly focused on packs designed for caving /canyoning (descending) rather than climbing (ascending) with this pack being the only pack they’ve designed with the climber in mind. Despite this being the only offering from Petzl in this niche the Bug holds up well against companies with a larger focus on producing climbing specific packs. With a competitive price point and unique features in this class of packs it is definitely worth your consideration!

If you’re thinking of picking one up you can order through Amazon here. Doing so helps support this blog!

Did you like this review? Have you tried this pack? What’s your favorite climbing pack? Interested in the coiling video mentioned above? Let me know in the comments below and you’ll be entered to win a “Tat Cutter Neck Knife” from Colonial Knives. Drawing 7/28/16 Winner notified 7/29/16 and announced here. CONGRATS TAYLOR FOR WINNING THE CONTEST!

Colonial
Colonial Knife Company Tat Cutter Neck Knife

See you in the mountains,

NEAlpineStart

Disclaimer: This pack was provided to demo for the purpose of this review and has been returned to Petzl. This post contains affiliate links.

 

 

Ortovox Trad 25 Backpack Review

I’ve been using Ortovox avalanche shovels, probes, and beacons for over 5 years now so I was pretty excited when I got the opportunity to try out the new Ortovox Trad 25 Backpack. Designed for multi-pitch rock climbing with some unique forward thinking features this is definitely a contender for best design in this category.

Ortovox Trad 25 Backpack Review
Ortovox Trad 25 Backpack- photo from http://www.ortovox.com

Let’s take an in-depth look at the different characteristics of this pack.

Comfort

The dense molded foam used in the shoulder straps and back feel almost gel like. It is very comfortable. The shoulder straps are the appropriate width and contour to my 5’9″ frame perfectly. The length is perfect for my 19 inch torso and the pack rides at the right height when I’m wearing my harness. There is a shorter torso women’s version available as well.

Ortovox Trad 25 Review
Gel-like molded foam back panel and shoulder straps
Ortovox Trad 25 Review
Contoured breathable shoulder straps
Ortovox Trad 25 Review
Rides well on the back

Weight

For the amount of features this pack boosts it’s pretty impressive it only weighs one pound 12 ounces (750 grams). You can further lighten the pack by removing the aluminum frame but I found the pack rides so comfortably with the frame intact I left it in.

Capacity

I was a bit concerned 25 liters (1560 cubic inches) would not be enough for my multi-pitch rock climbing/guiding kit. Turned out I had plenty of room and I think this is a generous 25L pack. It is hydration compatible and even with my 100 ounce CamelBak I was able to get my entire kit inside

Ortovox Trad 25 Review
Hydration Compatible
Ortovox Trad 25 Review
My kit

When packing everything in this photo I was able to still get my helmet inside. On a subsequent trip where my partner was packing the rack I fit a Sterling Nano 60m 9.1mm climbing rope inside and strapped my helmet on the outside. For those wanting a bit more room for longer more committing routes the pack does come in a 35L size.

Accessibility

One of my favorite features of this pack is the “circumferential zipper”. While I can still cram my gear in via the lid covered top opening (which features it’s own innovative tightening system) when it is time to rack up I can easily get to my rack, quickdraws, shell jacket, etc.

Ortovox Trad 25 Review
Circumferential zipper access

The roomy top pocket easily fits my headlamp, bug dope, and lunch.

Rope Attachment

Once the pack is loaded up it’s easy to strap a rope on the outside. The top compression straps unhook and expand to fit any size rope and the bungee ice axe attachments on the bottom quickly secure the coil from swinging on your hike in.

Ortovox Trad 25 Review
Options for strapping rope on outside of pack

The fact that this ultralight pack can hold ice axes makes it a great choice for glaciated alpine terrain, though I would probably bump up to the 35L for longer routes.

Ortovox Trad 25 Review
Tom finds it quiet comfortable while jamming some classic back-country crack
Ortovox Trad 25 Review
Ready for adventure

Durability

The main material seems to be a soft high count denier. I don’t have the exact specs but careful inspection of it reveals high quality stitching and no noticeable stress points. While I have only had the pack a few weeks I feel it will serve well for hundreds of climbs.

Forward Thinking Rescue

Here’s where Ortovox has really done something different. I’ve always known this company to be industry leading when it comes to safety, especially with their commitments to avalanche education. This guiding principle is evident in this pack in a few ways. First, is the simple color choice. As a search & rescue member I am a big fan of high visible orange. It’s one way to be “searchable”. “Be searchable”… that phrase was coined in conjunction with the Recco system that is included in this pack. While this technology is limited in the Northeast right now it’s gaining a lot of popularity in Europe and may gain more traction here. You can learn more about Recco here. Finally, on the inside of the circumferential zipper are imprinted images of alpine emergency signals. There’s also another concealed zippered pocket here that I just found while grabbing this image!

Ortovox Trad 25 Review
Emergency Info/Reference

Conclusion:

For multi-pitch rock climbing this pack is a great choice. It’s clear Ortovox focuses on design functionality and safety in every product I’ve ever used from them, and this pack is no exception. If you’re looking around for a solid multi-pitch pack option you can purchase this one right here. Doing so helps support this blog!

Ortovox Trad 25 Review
The author looks at what comes next- photo by Matty B.

Thanks for reading! If you enjoyed this review please like, share, subscribe, comment, or just send me some positive karma.

See you in the mountains,

-NEAlpineStart

Disclosure: Ortovox provided this sample for the purposes of this review and this post contains affiliate links.

Hyperlite Mountain Gear 3400 Ice Pack Review

I’ve been looking forward to getting this review published since November when a Hyperlite Mountain Gear 3400 Pack arrived at my door. Seeing HMG’s new re-brand and website launch today was the kick in the pants I needed to finish this review. So here it is!

Hyperlite Mountain Gear 3400 Ice Pack Review
Hyperlite Mountain Gear 3400 Ice Pack

As soon as I took it out of the plastic I knew I was holding a well designed pack. A 55 liter technical backpack that felt indestructible in hand but only weighed 34 ounces, made out of waterproof highly durable fabric. At the risk of sounding cliche… it felt like the future of high end backpacks had arrived. A month later it waited patiently by the door for its first trip up Mount Washington:

Hyperlite Mountain Gear 3400 Ice Pack Review
Hyperlite Mountain Gear 3400 Ice Pack

I’ve since enjoyed a dozen days of ice climbing and a couple back-country ski tours with this pack and have formed more than just a first impression. I want to share with my readers what makes this pack… and HMG in general… one of the coolest outdoor gear companies I’ve come across.

The Company:

Only 6 years old, Hyperlite Mountain Gear has quickly risen to compete with the best of the best in the outdoor gear industry. Their philosophy boils down to making bombproof technical gear that will perform in the worse possible conditions outdoor recreationalists throw themselves at. Design feedback from a diverse team of ambassadors goes right to head of the company. From bombproof HMG shelters to technical basic essentials like stuff sacks this company doesn’t take outdoor function for granted. To top it off, their products are all made in good ole’ USA, only a few hours away in the great state of Maine!

So what really sets this company apart from most competitors? It’s obvious it’s their choice of fabric for their products. While most companies use various “deniers” of affordable rip-stop nylon and Cordura, Hyperlite Mountain Gear uses Dyneema® + Dyneema® Composite Fabrics (Formerly Cuben Fiber) Technology to provide incredibly lightweight, long lasting, water & abrasion resistant products. Read more on these materials here.

The pack:

Hyperlite Mountain Gear 3400 Ice Pack Review
Hyperlite Mountain Gear 3400 Ice Pack- Frankenstein Cliffs

I went with this model as I wanted a pack I could guide both ice climbing and back-county skiing with. For those end uses there are some differences in how the pack performs that I will dive into, but first the manufacturer supplied description and specs:

“We designed the 3400/55L series of Ice Packs to function perfectly for passionate adventurers trudging through snow, climbing big ice or alpine lines and spending multiple days in wintry landscapes. Streamlined and minimalist, this ultralight backpack becomes a seamless extension of the athlete wearing it, enabling light and fast alpine ascents. Achieve your optimal self on your one- or two-day FA in the Ruth, Alaska or while attempting a Teton’s Grand Traverse-style link up. Given a four-star review in Rock & Ice magazine’s 2013 Photo Annual issue, this pack offers exactly what you need and nothing more (i.e. no frills, gizmos or the latest trending colors). Made from 100% waterproof Dyneema® Composite Fabrics (formerly Cuben Fiber), the 3400 Ice Pack is highly durable and weatherproof. Use it with our Stuff Sacks for a nearly perfect waterproof kit.

We can custom fit this pack for skiers by adding reinforced Dyneema® side panels, bottom and ski holsters.

FEATURES

  • Made in Maine – External crampon and ice axe attachment system
  • Four external daisy chains
  • Removable, contoured aluminum stays
  • Dyneema® Hardline shoulder straps with 3/8” closed cell foam and spacer mesh
  • 1/4” foam back panel pad
  • Compression System
    • Roll-Top closure system with side compression straps for vertical compression
    • Four side compression straps for horizontal compression
    • Top Y-strap compression — Designed to secure gear
  • Internal zippered pocket
  • Dyneema® Hardline hip belt with 1/8” closed cell rigid foam, 3/8” closed cell foam and spacer mesh
  • Hip belt option with gear loops or zippered pockets with #5 YKK zipper
  • Adjustable sternum strap with self-tensioning elastic
  • Proprietary seam sealing on all side seams and behind all sewn-on pack features”

SPECS

Weight: 2.16 lbs | 34.6 oz | 981g

Load capacity: 25 – 40 lbs

Materials:

  • Body: 50D Dyneema®/Poly hybrid
  • Bottom: Double reinforced 150D Dyneema®/Poly hybrid
  • Crampon Patch: Dyneema® Hardline

Volume:

  • Interior: 3400 cu. in. (55L)

Dimensions:

  • Top Circumference: 40” (95.3cm)
  • Bottom Circumference: 33.5” (85.1cm)
  • Height (fully unrolled): 34” (72.6cm)
  • Back Width: 10.5” (26.7cm)

PERFORMANCE:

So how does it perform? Well the closest pack I have extensive experience with that I could compare it to is my long loved Wild Things Guide Pack. Rugged? Check. Streamlined? Check. Lightweight? Check. Where this pack strides forward is in volume. Weighing only 6 ounces more than my 1600cu. in. Wild Things pack this pack more than doubles capacity. I find this extra room, even for a day of accessible cragging, to be a boon for two reasons;

1. It swallows all my gear without me getting OCD about my packing. While I start off a trip super well organized at the end of the day when you’re ready to beat feet to the car I just want to dump my gear in without trying to “put the puzzle back together”. This pack opens up wide so I can dump my harness, helmet, and rack in and start making tracks to the trail-head!

Hyperlite Mountain Gear 3400 Ice Pack Review
I can hold all of your gear!

2. Unplanned bivy. While I carry an AMK SOL Emergency Bivy Sack on every trip the 34 inches of unrolled length, half of which have has 1/4″ foam, would help insulate someone spending an extra night out.

I put together a quick video the other day showing what I typically pack for a day of ice climbing, so if you want a closer idea of what I shove in this pack check out this clip:

But how does it climb?

Performance:

I’ve lead over 4000 feet of technical ice climbing up to Grade 4 wearing this pack so far this season. That’s enough to know it climbs well.

Hyperlite Mountain Gear 3400 Ice Pack Review
East Face Slabs of Mount Willard, photo by Tom Carlson

The real beauty of this pack is it can haul 40 pounds of climbing gear to the route comfortably, then cinch down into a little streamlined assault pack that you can forget you are wearing. While the waist belt is remove-able I just opt for reverse clipping it when it’s time to harness up.

If I were to give this pack a grade based on end use it would look something like this:

Ice Climbing/Mountaineering A+++

Back-country Skiing B-

Ski Mountaineering A+

So why the lower grade for BC skiing? Well, because you can’t have one backpack that is awesome at everything. You just can’t. In the case of back-country skiing I want those convenient features like fleece lined goggle pockets and zippered compartmental access. A dedicated snow safety tool pocket is a must for those who ski in avalanche terrain a lot.

But you know what? Most great BC ski packs suffer in volume when it comes to Ski Mountaineering. Need to toss in some crampons and a bit of rope for when the terrain you’re accessing is getting a little gnarly? This pack has you covered. Heading into Baxter State Park for a few days of long alpine routes & maybe a ski descent off Hamlin Peak?

This is the pack I would bring.

Basically, if the route is demanding and technical in nature this is the pack to arm yourself with. If you’re sticking to wearing your skis in terrain under 40 degrees you might be better off with a dedicated touring pack like the Patagonia SnowDrifter.

But if you’re swinging the tools and getting into steep technical terrain this pack is an excellent choice.

Hyperlite Mountain Gear 3400 Ice Pack Review
Summit of Mt. Willard- photo by Tom Carlson

I’m excited to get some ski mountaineering trips in with this pack over the next few years. While this winter has really lagged in the Northeast I’m content knowing this pack will long outlive this El Nino by a decade or two. I’m also keen to test out more of HMG’s product line. If you are in the market for a top of the line ice climbing/mountaineering pack, this is definitely  a company you should be looking at.

See you in the mountains,

NEAlpineStart

DISCLAIMER: While HMG supplied me with this pack for the review my opinions stated above are 100% mine, derived from 2 decades of wearing out packs ice climbing and skiing in the North East. 

Patagonia SnowDrifter Pack

Back in November I received a promotional email from Patagonia featuring their new line of SnowDrifter back-country ski packs. Already a fan of their clothing I had to get my hands on one of these packs and reached out to their marketing team. A couple weeks later both the pack and a very nice new shell, the Patagonia Men’s Reconnaissance Jacket, arrived at my door.

026
The Patagonia SnowDrifter 30L and Patagonia Reconnaissance Jacket

My excitement to test both of these was kept in check by Mother Nature’s refusal to acknowledge winter had arrived and it wasn’t until our first avalanche course on January 2nd that I finally got to test both. For this review we will focus on the pack. I’ll start with a short clip showing some of the features and then move into a more detailed review:

 

Size:

Available in 20L (1,220cu. in.) , 30L (1,830cu. in), and 40L (2,440cui. in) models I’m reviewing the 30L.

Patagonia refers to this size pack as “Built for a full back country day that might even stretch into an overnight”. While I agree it is the right size for day touring I’d be cautious about thinking I could pull off an overnight with a pack of this size. Similar in size to the discontinued EMS Wintergreen Pack I reviewed a few years ago with careful packing you should be able to get an ultralight bivy set up inside along with your day gear. My personal emergency bivy kit is an Eastern Mountain Sports Velocity 35 degree sleeping bag and AMK SOL Emergency Bivy (combined weight is 2lbs 5.2 ounces).

Dedicated Snow Safety Pocket:

This feature is the one that makes a backpack a “ski pack” in my opinion. Quick easy access to organized rescue tools is essential.

What I love: Easily fit my Black Diamond Deploy 3 Shovel, Ortovox 240 HD PFA probe, and Black Diamond Flicklock Snow Saw. The internal zippered pocket is the perfect size for my AIARE Field Book, thermometer, snow card & magnification loupe.

What could be improved:  A bit to tight for my workhorse Ortovox Kodiak Shovel. More importantly however, is the lack of drain-holes. 1 or 2 drain holes on the bottom of this pocket would be a nice improvement.

Construction:

This pack is very well put together. Built with 420-denier 100% nylon Cordura® plain weave with a polyurethane coating and a rugged bottom built with 940-denier 100% nylon Cordura Ballistic with polyurethane coating.

The whole pack is treated with a DWR (durable water repellent) finish which can help keep contents a bit dry during wet snow conditions, which seems to be the norm for our season so far.

Access/Convenience:

While this is a traditional top loader there is super convenient full back panel zippered access. No digging through everything to find that little first aid kit for some moleskin or to get at your water bottle. A zippered fleece lined google pocket on top is another nice touch of practicality. Personally I could do without the hydration sleeve as I do not rely on hydration bladders in our arctic cold temps, but the hydration port is perfect for running the cord of my Backcountry Access BC Link Radios through to my shoulder strap (review coming).

Comfort:

With “Air Flow” mesh on the shoulder straps, back panel and waist belt, this winter pack breathes very well. Skinning up to HoJo’s I stayed very dry. Patagonia boosts that this mesh has “snow sluffing” capabilities. I’ll need to wait for the North East to get a proper dose of powder to verify this claim but the fineness of the mesh certainly looks like it won’t collect snow like large weave meshes can.

Fit:

This pack comes in a S/M and L/XL, but unfortunately torso size isn’t listed on their size chart:

Snow Drifter – 30L 1831 cu in L/XL:27″ x 13″ x 10.5″ 39oz
S/M: 25.5″ x 13″ x 10″ 39oz

A Patagonia live chat representative was able to quickly confirm for me that the S/M is for torsos 16″-19″ and the L/XL is for 19″- 22″. The L/XL I have fits my 5’9″ 19 inch torso perfectly. For detailed instructions on measuring yourself for this pack checkout this PDF from Patagonia:

Patagonia Size Guide

Improvements:

There are only a couple things I would like to see Patagonia adjust on this pack. First, a sternum strap buckle that doubles as a whistle. This is on almost every skiing and climbing pack I own and is used often to easily signal people in the back-country.

Drain holes on the snow safety gear pocket.

Waist belt pocket (or two). I really like being able to store some energy gel, compass, lip balm, etc. in my back-country ski pack’s waist belt pockets, of which this pack has none.

Summary:

There is a lot to love in this pack and very little to complain about. I’m really glad a company that is known for its environmental and social responsibility has entered the market of back-country ski packs. I’ll finish by linking the manufacturer produced video which recaps most of these features:

Coming Soon: Patagonia Reconnaissance Jacket! EDIT: Review now live here! Patagonia has a whole line of touring clothing! The Reconnaissance seems perfect for high output days. Stay tuned for an in-depth review of this jacket in the next week or two and in the meantime wet your appetite with this quick overview of their line in the below marketing video!

 

Patagonia SnowDrifter 30L Pack
Patagonia SnowDrifter Pack

You can find this pack on Amazon here.

See you in the mountains,

-NEAlpineStart

Disclaimer: While this item was provided by Patagonia for the review the opinions I’ve formed over the last two months are indeed my own. This post contains affiliate links.

 

Eastern Mountain Sports Wintergreen Backpack Review

EMS Wintergreen, Big Chief Mountain, Cascades, Washington
EMS Wintergreen, Big Chief Mountain, Cascades, Washington

When I first saw the new EMS Wintergreen Backpack I assumed it was designed specifically for back-country skiing given some of it’s features specific to the sport like a dedicated avalanche gear pocket and excellent ski/board carrying options. After teaching 2 avalanche courses with it and some field testing in the Cascades I have discovered it is truly more of a winter “jack of all trades” pack as EMS has referred to it.

Color: As I mentioned in my review of the EMS Prez Backpack color is important for winter use, and EMS did well with this bright red technical looking color. While the photo above from a couple weeks ago in the Cascades was about as nice weather as I have ever toured in I often find myself skiing in thick New England whiteout conditions, and visibility is key!

Features: I love the dedicated avalanche gear pocket that holds my shovel and probe, however I do have a preference for an externally accessible probe sleeve that doesn’t require accessing a zipper to gain access to. My previous back-country ski pack had a velcro sleeve along the side that made accessing my probe super convenient.

The insulated shoulder sleeve for a hydration system is a nice bonus for those who want to use bladders in the winter (I stick to water-bottles and thermos during mid-winter conditions). Glove friendly buckles throughout indicate this pack was definitely put together for cold weather use!

Fleece lined goggle pocket– This is a new luxury I look for in all my ski packs. Not only does it store my expensive goggles safely but they are super accessible so when it’s time to pull skins and shred the gnar I don’t spend any time looking for my goggles… or helmet because of a slick helmet carry system. This stow-able helmet carry system is great, though most trips I have found room in the pack for my helmet, on more involved trips it will be a great boon to be able to securely attach my helmet on the outside so easily.

Comfort: The compression molded back panel and shoulder straps are exactly what I look for in winter packs. Despite a stiff frame the pack moved well with me while dropping 40+ degree runs off of Cowboy Mountain in Washington State and was even more comfortable skinning up to Big Chief. The waist belt is nicely padded and comfortable and has one zippered pouch on the left hip (I would like it on both as that is where I stuff candy/energy gels for easy access).

Size: The size of this pack hints at it’s more general “Jack of All Trades” design. At 32 Liters (1950 cu. in) it is big enough for full day mountaineering trips, lightweight overnights, family snowshoeing, etc. For a dedicated back-country ski pack it’s a little on the big side. I would love to see a smaller and lighter version, maybe 26-28 liters and under 3lbs. This pack weights 3lbs 6oz, which is a bit heavy for a day pack.  It’s perfect for a day of ski guiding since I carry an extra layer, a bivy sack, sam splint, and group size first aid kit when guiding. It’s a bit large/heavy for a more relaxed day of touring side country.

Convenience: Side zipper access! A huge positive for me on top-loading packs, it was a surprise to find this on a panel loader that opens up as wide as this pack does. Regardless the addition of a side zipper that accesses the main compartment makes quick stops for water or warmer gloves a snap. On the other side of the pack there is a zippered side pocket that is a bit interesting. While the product description says it can hold a probe I could not find one that would fit in it. It does hold a thermos or water-bottle easily, or my climbing skins when I don’t want to put wet skins back into my pack, but to be honest since this is a panel loader I would scrap both the side zipper and zippered pocket which would probably get this pack below 3lbs.

Bottom line: This pack is great for winter hiking in the White Mountains, general mountaineering (not technical ice climbing), snowshoeing, and back country skiing. But remember “Jack of All Trades” is not King of any. I’d like to see this pack stay in the line as an winter excellent all-arounder, and see a more streamlined dedicated back-country ski/ride specific pack come out over the next year or two.