The Marmot Centaur 38 is modern-looking but, in other ways, a rather old-fashioned pack. For both these reasons I rather like it. It sometimes feels like British outdoor shops want us all to look like ninjas in the mountains, taking only the black option from the various colours made available by manufacturers in their ranges. But the Centaur I tested is a semi-luminous lime green colour, very early 90s (rave on!) and you are unlikely to be missed wearing it. It is also available in a an equally cheery orange, and a far more sensible grey for the, well, greyer types.
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The pack is designed from the ground up for climbers. One of the design features that I haven't seen before is that rather than sewing the shoulder straps directly into the body of the pack, Marmot have connected them with some of that indestructible rubbery, vinyl material used on duffle bags and whitewater rafts. Not only does this probably save a few grams of weight of unnecessary padding, it actually means the whole shoulder straps moves more with your body. This is the sort of thing you hardly notice when just walking, but once you have your arms in the air hanging onto your ice tools, excessive thickness at the top of the shoulder straps can become a real pain.
I recently sold on a Lowe pack that I had had for more than a decade. The pack was made out of some indestructible Cordura-type material and lasted superbly, but after a few attempts Scottish winter climbing with it when new, it had been relegated to traveling and lugging-stuff-to-the-crag duties. Its shoulder straps were too wide to climb comfortably with. Marmot's design with the Centaur 38 completely avoids this problem. In fact, the Centaur is one of the better packs of its size I have used to climb with both in terms of shoulder mobility and stability: it worked well for XC-skiing also, which, like climbing, needs good balance. UKC editor Jack Gellard recently used his Centaur for an ascent of the Eigerwand with full bivvy kit, and for routes needing one or two bivvies, the Centaur would be a real contender.
"...The pack is designed from the ground up for climbers..."
The pack has a number of tiny, but very nice features – the ends of webbing straps have bits of rubber on them to make them easier to grip when tightening. The chest strap is the integrated whistle design, just in case you forget your Perry. One of my favourite features is that all the compression straps are done up with clip buckles meaning clipping things to the side is a breeze. With certain types of ski bindings and with snow shoes, this is an improvement from the more tradition design of just the upper compression straps having clip buckles. There is an inside little zip pocket, perfect for wallet and keys. This is great as the lid compartment has a three quarter zip on it meaning it opens wide for access, but you need be careful that valuables don't fall out. The pack has Velcro ice axe holders that work perfectly in all conditions, despite the ardent disbelief of some of UKC's otherwise sensible and experienced commentators!
The only concerns I have about the Centaur is the strength of the chosen material and the layout of the lifter straps. As more and more climbers become conscious of getting lighter equipment, companies look to thinner material for making products and whilst most are still strong, they can't be as strong as thicker, heavier fabrics. After a few months of use my Centaur has a some scuffs and scrapes on it, one or two of which could almost be counted as holes.
This doesn't mean the pack is about to fall apart – indeed I have a twenty year old Berghaus pack made out of similar material which has numerous small holes and scrapes in it, but these have never enlarged – but it's kind of annoying on new pack. It may well have been strapping my snowshoes to the pack that is to blame, but then that's the type of thing that the Centaur is designed for. I also managed to clumsily half break one of the side-strap Fastex buckles. The non-broken half still holds it closed, but these are again a lighter design suggesting a bit more fragility.
Secondly, the lifter strap buckles tend to sit under the floating lid in an odd way making them a bit fiddly to adjust whilst on the go. I don't actually use them much with moderate loads that this type of pack will carry, but it seems a point where the design doesn't quite work.
Overall, the Centaur is a good, light all-round mountaineering pack. Just the sort of thing for Chamonix in July, the 'Gorms in December, Cogne in January and the Ben in March. Due to the lighter weight body material it might not be the best for week in, week out for cragging use where it gets dragged around at the bottom of cliffs; the Centaur's natural home is in the mountains. The Centaur 38 retails for a little more than £100, by no means cheap but very much in the same ball park, and even a little less, than many similar packs from Marmot's competitors.
About Toby ArcherToby Archer is based in Finland.
He describes himself as an "international politics think-tanker, perennial PhD student, hopeless but enthusiastic climber, part-time gear reviewer, often angry cyclist, idealist, cynic."
Climbing keeps him from getting too depressed about politics. He blogs about both at:
UKC Articles and Gear Reviews by Toby Archer: