Once a year Hyperlite Mountain Gear runs a solid sale and it is that time! I reviewed the HMG 3400 Ice Pack a few years ago and it is still one of my most used packs for ice climbing and winter mountaineering.
You can find my original review of it here. You can see the whole line of HMG backpacks here!
I also got a chance to review The Shell which is the most rugged ultralight waterproof/breathable I have ever tested! Find that full review here!
I’ve you’ve been considering picking up one of these award winning backpacks or this industry changing jacket now is a good time to save some money!
Petzl is a well known industry leader in climbing gear and safety. When I first started climbing over 20 years ago I looked forward to each annual Petzl catalog for the wealth of technical information they would include, along with some of the most stunning and inspirational photos! I probably learned as much about climbing from these catalogs back in the day as I learned from that timeless classic Freedom of the Hills!
Now Petzl has just launched a new series of downloadable “ACCESS BOOKS”, basically a collection of technical tips centered around one particular aspect of climbing. In their first PDF “booklet” Petzl focuses on indoor climbing.
As always the illustrations are clear and to the point. The techniques described are considered “best practices” throughout the industry. Whether you are a new climber or a salty veteran a little review of the basics never hurts!
The Black Diamond Cirque 45 Backpack is designed for back-country skiing and ski mountaineering. This streamlined model also comes in smaller 35 and 30 liter options. I started testing this pack while teaching avalanche courses last winter and after a couple more trips this season I’m ready to share my opinions on this model.
At 45 liters (2746 cubic inches) this is one of the largest ski packs I’ve tested. It can definitely handle carrying my full avy kit along with my technical gear on ski mountaineering trips. If just sticking to skiing it can easily accommodate my sleeping bag and ultra-light tent for lightweight overnight missions. There is an external helmet carry system that frees up space inside the pack. The dedicated internal avalanche gear pocket is quite large easily accepting my avalanche shovel in my fleet along with my avalanche probe and snow saw. Four side compression straps and the top strap help the pack compress down to bullet size when going on less gear intensive outings.
The Black Diamond Cirque 45’s carrying system is simple, well designed, and snow friendly. The back panel has a gel-like foam (not a removable pad unfortunately) and perfectly contoured shoulder straps along with a well fitting thin foam waist belt. It comes in a “S/M” for torsos from 16-19 inches and a “M/L” for torsos 18.5 to 21.5 inches. I went with the “M/L” for my 19 inch torso 5’9″ build and it fit great. The pack rides well both when climbing (plenty of clearance for helmet) and while skiing (hugs body nicely).
After a dozen or so ski tours the pack is holding up great. The main pack material (Dynex (210 denier) feels soft to the touch and bottom is heavily reinforced (with PE 200 denier). I’ve packed ice screws, mountaineering crampons, and strapped my skis diagonally and “A-frame” and there is not a single noticeable wear point anywhere.
There’s some things I really like about this pack and some areas that could use some improving. Let’s start with the good!
Stretch woven hip pocket (only on 35 and 45 liter models). I’m always looking for the best place to put my sunglasses when it is time to switch over to goggles and this pocket fits them perfectly! I’m not sure that Black Diamond intended for this waist belt pocket to hold sunglasses but it is the perfect shape and has a little rigidness to it that makes them feel quite protected even when not in a dedicated case.
Stow-able Helmet Carry (also only on 35 and 45 liter models). On less gear intense missions I like to carry my helmet inside the main compartment but when I have more stuff to carry this helmet carry system is quickly deploy-able freeing up lots of internal space.
Compatible with the AvaLung Element for additional protection in avalanche terrain.
Side zipper access! Not mentioned in the description or in any other reviews I’ve seen for this pack is the side zipper access. I love being able to pack top-loading packs like this to the brim yet still dig out my water bottle or first aid kit without dumping the whole pack. Side zipper access rules!
I really only have one small gripe about the design of this pack, and it’s related to the avalanche gear pocket. Accessing it requires opening the top main compartment, then unbuckling the internal pocket. This isn’t a huge deal breaker but I really prefer avalanche gear pockets to be accessible without entering the main pack. External avalanche gear pockets are much more convenient if you access these tools throughout your tour when making observations (it’s not just about rescue speed). Other than that this is a really well put together ski touring/mountaineering backpack and one worth a close look!
This past September I was excited to receive the new Cassin Eghen 22 backpack to review. This alpine style pack had won “Editor’s Choice 2017” from Climbing Magazine who called it a “super tech summit pack”. Indeed this relatively small pack has a long list of features designed with both practicality and convenience in mind.
Over the Fall I took this pack rock climbing in both crag settings and alpine. I was able to get over 30 pitches of climbing in with it before switching gears to ice climbing and have since tested this pack in Huntington Ravine (Pinnacle Gully), Mount Willard, and Cannon (Black Dike). I’ll share the manufacture specs and description then get into my personal test results.
22-liter technical pack for rock, ice and mixed mountain ascents
Very strong fabric with reinforced Cordura bottom
Technical ice axe holders with a head-locker system on the bottom and Velcro straps on top
External helmet carrying system can be stowed away when not in use
Frameless back is lined with a removable 6 mm rigid pad that can be used as an emergency bivy pad
Connection points for the bottoms of the shoulder straps is higher for better weight distribution while climbing
External rope carrying system
Innovative new fast pull cord closure system has been optimized for use with gloves
External waterproof pocket for maps, phones and other essentials
Zippered inner pocket for valuables
Inner gear loop for organizing
Fixed daisy chains with compression straps for securing gear to the outside of the pack
Buckles are optimized for use with gloves
Removable waist belt with two adjustment points
Removable chest strap is height adjustable
Burly handle on top for hauling and clipping
915 g, 32.3 oz
Volume: 22 L
Pizzo d’Eghen is the wildest and most remote mountain in the Grigne group in the Central Alps above the town of Lecco, the home of Riccardo Cassin. In 1932, Cassin first climbed one of his great routes on the Pizzo d’Eghen, ascending the huge chimney in the middle of the wall. The Eghen 22 is a tribute to this historic climb, the very kind of adventures it has been designed for. Elite alpinists and multi-pitch climbers have long been asking us for a purpose-built pack with the Cassin touch. It is here with the Eghen 22. The Eghen 22 is designed for fast and light missions on multi-pitch rock and ice routes. The bottom is constructed from super strong Cordura 500D and the side walls are constructed from strong, lightweight PU coated 210D HD Ripstop nylon. Maxed out, the Eghen 22 has 22 liters of capacity. When not full, the pack is designed to be compressed so it maintains a trim profile. The frameless back gets some rigidity from the removable 6mm rigid foam pad that doubles as an emergency bivy pad. Other cold weather features include a new fast pull cord closure system and new buckles all designed for ffective use with gloves, and streamlined technical ice tool holders that can be stowed away when not in use. Essential multi-pitch climbing features include a removable waist belt, external waterproof pockets for the route map, an external rope carrying system that allows the rope to be carried on the top or bottom of the lid and an external helmet carrying system that stows away when not in use.
Durability: While difficult to gauge long-term durability when I’ve only put about 20 field days on the pack I can attest that some of those days were quite rugged with tight chimney squeezes and others had plenty of exposure to sharp pointy things (ice axes, screws, crampons). As mentioned in the description the bottom is built from a strong Cordura but not called out is the added durability gained from the innovative external waterproof pocket on the top “lid” of the pack. This favorite feature of mine makes the top of the pack feel as durable as the bottom and gives me a bit of confidence if I need to haul this pack up through a tight chimney. At the end of the test period the pack still looks great with no punctures, abrasions, lose seams, etc.
Comfort: For a 2 pound summit tech pack this one rides really well. That’s due in part to the nicely contoured gel-like shoulder straps and the 6 mm removable foam back pad that doubles as an emergency bivy pad (or a great splinting aid). Since this is a frame-less pack I wouldn’t chose to remove the back pad for any reason other than a first aid/bivy need as you would feel and rigid objects quite acutely. The thin waist belt (also removable) helps keep the pack centered when rock hopping the shifting talus field below Cannon cliff, and the sternum strap fully stabilizes the load.
Features: For a pack this size the list of features is incredibly long. I won’t relist everything already mentioned in the specifications and description but want to draw attention to both my favorite features, and what I feel might be missing or need improvement.
High on my list of favorites is the waterproof pocket. Interestingly Cassin calls this “external” but it is only accessible through the top draw-cord closure system so I think it should be considered “internal”. Regardless I don’t always carry my iPhone in a waterproof case and having this pocket that easily fits my phone, field book, headlamp, and lighter, has provided a nice bit of assurance that stuff that shouldn’t get wet won’t. If they made it accessible from the outside it would be even better and could actually be called “external”.
Helmet/Ice Tools Lashing
With multiple options for strapping on this equipment it took me a couple trips with my Cassin X Dream ice axes to figure out how to properly use the bottom straps. If you don’t run the straps through the “eye” on the head of the ice axe they can feel a little awkward when attached. However the redundancy of both a Velcro and a shock cord fastener for my ice axes assures even if I don’t use the bottom attachment correctly I am unlikely to lose my axe while glissading down off a climb. The shock cord fasteners also make a quick helmet attachment as the stoppers easily fit through the ventilation holes on my Petzl Sirocco helmet for quick securing.
Pack Closing System/Access
There is only one entry point to this pack and that is through the top via a type of “fold over” lid that covers a draw-cord “tube” style entrance. The draw-cord closure works well with gloves on both while opening and closing. Where I could see improvement would be the fastening strap that secures the “fold over” type lid. It’s upper attachment is at the bottom of this lid so if you strap a rope under this lid it carries pretty far away from you. If this strap was attached closer to the back panel I could carry the rope closer to my body, where I prefer.
UPDATE: Soon after posting a reader clued me in to the fact that the internal strap that I hadn’t found a use for could be threaded through the hydration port hole and provide an excellent way to keep the rope closer to the back, and directly over the waterproof pocket. I can now see this works great and wish there was more instruction either included with the product or available online!
Compression/Bells & Whistles
The pack comes with two compression straps and a helmet strap not installed and the literature with the pack provided no instructions on how to install these straps so they have sat unused in my gear room. None of the manufacture photos show these straps in use and I could not find any direction on their website, so that could be addressed! And while I don’t like “bells” on my backpacks I certainly like having a sternum strap whistle on all my technical backpacks. It’s come in handy to often to not always look for it!
The Cassin Eghen 22 is a remarkable backpack. It’s not a true “bullet” pack and is more featured than your typical minimalist “summit” pack making it quite versatile. Designed for “alpinism, rock climbing, multi-pitch climbing, and ice climbing” this pack certainly performed well when tested during all these endeavors. If you are in the market for an advanced technical climbing pack take a close look at this one!
While I’m not super excited about how commercialized our holidays have become I do get stoked on seeing big discounts on gear that I own and love. I subscribe to quite a few gear companies emails and I’m combing them all for the best upcoming sales on specific items I have either reviewed or would love to own. I will also be specific on what the actual discount offered is! None of the “up to x percent off”… I hope you find this list more personal than your average marketing email, and if you have any questions about any of my suggested products please let me know in the comments!
Have a great Holiday tomorrow and be sure to #optoutside on Black Friday! I will be standing by REI’s great initiative on Friday and am pledging to myself and family that I will be 100% “radio” silent (and outdoors). I will continue this with Part 2 and be sharing deals I find around Cyber Monday and Tech Tuesday so stay tuned and…
See you in the mountains,
Northeast Alpine Start
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Chances are if you are reading this you have a climber, skier, hiker, mountain biker, or trail runner in your life. You’ve probably already started to see “holiday guides” come from various retailers and bloggers. Here I present my personal hand selected gift ideas for the adventurous mountain traveler in your life. Some are locally hand-crafted ideas from friends and others are time tested national brands so please take a look!
This socially responsible company makes the coolest water bottles and tumblers out there! Super high quality stainless steel technology keeps cold drinks cold for 24 hours and hot drinks hot for 6 hours! Customization and tons of color and style options means there is a Hydro Flask out there for just about everyone! Check out their Holiday Gift guide here.
I’m pretty sure the 10 seconds of silence from my girlfriend after asking her to marry me was enough time for her to accept that she loved a man with some seriously stinky feet. Luckily she said yes and I would soon find this foot powder, seriously the only product that works on my feet! 7 years later she is quick to remind me if she notices my supply running low. This one is a PERFECT stocking stuffer, pick it up on Amazon here.
Another socially and environmentally conscious company Life Straw makes getting safe drinking water possible with innovation and effective products. I have been using the Life Straw Steel model over the last couple months and it’s becoming a standard part of my day kit.
This device allows someone to summon help even when they are far away from cell phone service. It provides piece of mind to my wife when I’m out on a week long trip in the mountains by allowing me to send “check-in” messages that show her where in the world I am. This is an excellent gift for the adventurer in your life!
I’ve had the VSSL Supplies model for two years now and it’s an integral part of our home emergency kit (extended power-outs) and comes with us on road trips as part of our “on the go” kit. While it’s a little heavy for me to take climbing I know a few hunters that have added it to their day kit and it has a lot to offer the casual back-packer and car-camper. See my detailed review I posted here!
Possibly the best socks I’ve ever owned and made right over the border in Vermont! For mountaineering and ice climbing check out this model! These socks come with an unconditional lifetime guarantee and make an excellent stocking stuffer!
My friend Brittni started this hand-crafted company just last year and I’ve been seeing her work at local coffee shops and at the crags! The iconic “drink sweater” is right at home keeping that pre-climb coffee warm or that post-climb beer cold! I’m definitely excited to be giving something handmade to some of my loved ones this season!
Every home in the Northeast should have one of these! It’s effective enough that I can easily dry my boots and gloves along with my wife’s in just a couple hours. No balancing them over the floor base heaters or getting them too hot near the wood-stove and risking early de-lamination! You can pick on up on Amazon here.
This charger sees almost daily use as I use my iPhone extensively while out climbing and for most of my video editing. What I like most about this charger is that I can get at least 3 full charges from it and it charges much faster than a wall outlet. You can pick this stocking stuffer up on Amazon here.
This goes with me everywhere. It’s super comfy on airplanes as a blanket and in hostels around the world. I also like that it keeps my expensive down sleeping bag clean (extending its life) even after weeks of grimy sleeping!
I recently upgraded from my older Petzl Myo model and this new model is awesome! Up to 260 hours of burn time and able to through light 90 meters! If you’re due for a headlamp upgrade I highly suggest you check out this model!
My current favorite GPS navigation capable smart-watch with optical heart-rate! This is the watch I used to create the GPS tracks linked in the trip report. It also allows one-button waypoint saving and the built in barometer/altimeter was a nice plus to our navigation plans. I would like to upgrade to the new Fenix 5 soon!
My personal favorite avalanche beacon with a host of advantages over other beacons on the market. Super fast processor and “Smart Antennae” technology helps you find and be found faster. On sale on Backcountry.com now!
These high end goggles out perform every other brand I have ever tried. As a brand ambassador I can share my promo code “ALPINESTARTF&F” which will get you 20% off when ordering directly from www.revo.com!
Perhaps your loved one has been talking about taking an ice climbing course or avalanche safety course for a couple of years now but hasn’t pulled the trigger? Give them the nudge they need with a gift certificate for a course at Northeast Mountaineering! Also be sure to use promo code “DavidNEM” when you book a course for a chance to win a free guided adventure of your choice!
UPDATE: A couple readers pointed out an excellent gift idea is a membership to an organization dedicated to access, education, and conservation. To that end I’m embarrassed I didn’t think of that without the nudge so may I also include a membership to the Access Fund and/or the American Alpine Club, two organizations I have supported through membership for over the last 15 years!
While I do love these online deals I want to take up this space by encouraging you support local businesses, especially small specialty climbing shops, with your business! To that end if you can physically visit this stores please do!
The Mystery Ranch Scree is a mid-sized rugged backpack capable of hauling heavier and awkward loads better than most packs this size and could easily find itself in the gear closets of photographers and craggers alike. I tested this pack over the course of 3 months while day hiking, sport climbing, trad-climbing, and alpine climbing and I’m ready to share my opinions on it.
At 3.1 pounds this 32 liter (2000 cubic inches) pack is a little heavier than most of the packs in my quiver but that extra weight is attributed to a very robust suspension system that distributes heavy loads very comfortably and protects the back from feeling bulky camera gear or that #4 Black Diamond Camalot.
This heavier suspension system, the “Load Carriage™”, is the cornerstone of Mystery Ranch packs and allows for total customization of the suspension system to fit anyone’s torso as if the pack was custom made. The demo model I tested fit my 17 inch torso perfectly out of the box so I did not need to make any adjustments but for those who do Mystery Ranch explains the process in this video (note different model in video but same process).
Quite a bit of the design of the Mystery Ranch Scree is focused on storage and access to the gear you are hauling. The main compartment can be accessed like a traditional top-loader by unzipping the top pocket or by unzipping a centered vertical zipper that runs the length of the pack and allows for convenient panel loading access. The main advantage of having these two access options is when packing I can really stuff a lot of gear in by just using the top loading option. If I need something that I packed near the bottom of my pack the vertical zipper allows access without having to empty most the pack.
An internal hydration sleeve can hold a 100 ounce reservoir and a hydration port is well concealed behind the right shoulder strap. The top pocket has two zippered compartments, a large one with see through mesh and a smaller one at the very top of the lid. Two water-bottle pockets made from a stretchy nylon can hold 32 ounce Nalgene’s but do not have a draw-cord or compression strap to help secure them so care should be used when using. The padded waist belt has a zippered pocket on each side providing a convenient place to store some energy gels or lip balm. Two daisy chain down the back round out the storage options.
Mystery Ranch has a lot of experience building packs for military and fire fighting and you can tell they carry this bombproof type philosophy over to their expanding recreational lines. Made of 420 Denier Robic™ nylon fabric and waterproof YKK zippers with a double layered bottom you can expect a long life and many miles from this pack. After about 15 days of field use my demo model shows no signs of wear.
The Mystery Ranch Scree is a solid option for travelers hauling heavy gear in the mountains. The compression system allows it to cinch down to carry-on size for most airlines making it suitable for travel. While the suspension is a little too heavy for multi-pitch climbing this pack worked great hauling the whole trad rack for a day of single pitching at Cathedral Ledge and Sport Climbing at Rumney, NH. The impressive carrying capacity and unique access options would make this a solid choice for nature and adventure photographers as well as those who like compartmental organization. The only improvement I might suggest is the addition of a sternum strap whistle, a feature I like on all of my packs. If you are in need of a robust mid-sized pack for your mountain adventures take a look at this one, it might be a perfect addition to your pack quiver!