British brand Podsacs have a superb reputation and a very loyal following. I don't think I can remember one story from friends, acquaintances or customers in the climbing shops where I used to work about anyone managing to break one. I'm sure it has happened, but clearly not very often. When the company founder and designer Pete O'Donovan decided to sell Podsacs to a bigger company a few years back, there was definitely some nervousness from the fans (see this UKC News Item.) Could Podsacs maintain the same reputation for quality and design as part of a bigger company?
Toby ski mountaineering with the Alpine 40
I can't promise that the new Alpine 40 will last for decades of daily use, but from what I've seen so far it may well. Clearly Podsacs' new owners, Equip UK, have understood the company's reputation for quality and don't want to lose it.
The Alpine 40 is very nicely made: the sewing is tight, virtually every seam is neatly bound, and all the plastic components feel like they are made of top quality material. The pack body is a lighter weight nylon than the stuff classic old-school Podsacs were made from, maybe it won't wear quite as well, but the plus side is that the pack is lighter.
The test pack arrived just in time for my trip to Norway where its baptism was seven full mountain days, loaded up with medium-sized loads including various spikey things that I tend to just cavalierly chuck in. During the trip it performed flawlessly.
At 40 litres this pack is in the prime 'do-everything' sector of the market. I can well imagine it being used for grade V ice on the Ben, for a one-bivy alpine route like the Frendo Spur, for dragging double ropes and all the rock gear you have when heading out to scare yourself at Gogarth, for slogging up to Scafell for a mountain adventure, or for a weekend backpacking trip with a non-climbing mate – quite possibly all by the same owner.
With a roll-top main compartment and a lid that can be raised, you could really stuff a lot more in there than 40 litres suggests, meaning if you pack carefully you could fit overnight camping gear in the pack along with climbing gear for the next day.
A video about the new Podsacs Alpine and Granite ranges:
The back system is sturdier than I felt necessary for this size of pack. There is the shaped foam against your back, and then slid inside that, a stiffened sheet of plastic, which in itself is further stiffened by a removable aluminium strut. I pulled the sheet and strut out and haven't missed them.
The Alpine 40 in its element, high on an unnamed WI4, Tamokdalen, Arctic Norway
Perhaps if you carry very heavy loads you might want this level of back system but even fully loaded up with multi-pitch ice climbing gear and lots of spare clothes, I didn't miss them and prefer the lighter pack. To further lighten the pack, the hip belt, the lid pocket, and the straps on the main body that the lid pocket would otherwise attach to are removable.
The Alpine 40 has plenty of excellent design features that – like with many well designed products – you won't really notice, until you use another pack without them. For example, the inside of the pack is a light colour allowing you to easily find small objects that have slipped down to the non-dark depths of the pack.
The ice axe loops are light, secure, easy to use with gloves on and removable. They will easily hold either a straight shafted classic walking axe, or the most wiggly shaped leashless tool. Meanwhile, the upper side compression straps have fastex buckles on them, a huge advantage for ski mountaineers who need to strap their planks to their bag to either hike up to the snowline or when cramponing up the steepest part of the ascent.
"...This is a thoroughbred pack for the climber - not a walking rucksack with pretensions. Expectations of high quality and long-life have become Podsac's hallmark..."
The zip on the top of the lid pocket makes access easy. Although the zip is one of the water-resistant types, I've not used the pack in driving rain and it might not be wise to trust the zip to keep all water out, as it is exposed to the elements on the top of the pack.
The roll top lid to the main compartment works easily with loads of different size loads, compressing them better than the classic double drawstring method whether the pack is stuffed to capacity or half empty. It also works great as a weather-proof closure when you have stripped the pack down including removing the top pocket.
As noted above, various straps on the body of the pack are, like the lid pocket, removable (although not easily, so there is no risk of losing them when you don't want to). This is not just a weight saving feature, but it means that when the pack is used in its lightweight stripped down mode there are no unneeded buckles and the like flapping around in the wind or tangling in over the shoulder slings. The stripped down pack (0.8 kgs) still carries well and it really is noticeably lighter and less obtrusive on the back. It is almost like getting two packs for the price of one.
In the standard set up the pack carries loads as comfortably as I would expect for a pack of its size and is very stable for climbing or skiing with. The shoulder straps are, as you would expect from Podsacs, designed for the technical climber and don't interfere at all with swinging ice tools or reaching up for a hold.
The Alpine 40 in its lightweight, stripped configuration
Roll top closure is weather resistant and secure even with lid stripped
Tapered profile allows good freedom of movement and easy packing
Extendable / quick release lid with internal and external pockets
Thermoformed back panel with closed cell foam doesn't absorb water
Removable internal framesheet and alloy stave for support
Removable load bearing hipbelt with gear loops for racking
Internal light grey PU coating increases weather resistance and aids viewing of contents
Ice axe / walking pole / ski pole carrying system
External wand pockets constructed from ultra-tough leno mesh
Rope carrying loop; front and rear haul loops
Internal pocket and hose outlet for hydration system
Seams triple stitched and bound; internally bar tacked stress points
The Alpine 40 is a very well-designed and well-made pack for the mountains. This is a thoroughbred pack for the climber – not a walking rucksack with pretensions. They are not cheap but the price includes the expectation of high quality and long-life that have become Podsac's hallmark. You could argue that the back system is more burly and – hence – heavy and expensive than it needs to be, but some might like the support and the extraneous bits are removable for those who don't. Otherwise the Alpine 40 looks set to carry on Podsac's history of making cult alpine rucksacks.