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.
Let’s start with the features that are the most noticeable.
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!
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.
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.
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!
There’s quite a bit to mention here. I like the side zippered compartment that easily holds a full size guidebook.
Roomy top pocket easily fits my lunch, snacks, headlamp, and car keys.
There’s a rope attachment system on the top of the pack:
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:
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.
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:
Features designed for convenience!
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.
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.
Disclosure: Patagonia provided the author with a sample of this pack for review. This post contains affiliate links which help to fund this website.