Having agreed to test this prestigious new offering from Montane, I was surprised to find that the distributors became surprisingly coy for a couple of weeks: “All of our stock is at the trade show just now, apart from a couple of pre-release samples – but we don't want to send you any of those. This is a flagship item and we'd rather wait until the retail stock arrives so that you don't get the wrong impression.”
But after a couple of weeks a small box arrived in the post. At first I thought it was a paperback that I'd ordered, but no, out tumbled a neatly folded bundle of charcoal coloured silky cloth tucked in upon a vivid orange foam back pad.
The bag looked awfully fragile for a mountain pack. I've never seen a pack of this capacity (35 litres) that is so light in weight nor, paradoxically, with so many innovative design features – it weighs less than a kilo! It feels as if every feature has been carefully considered and re-engineered for a lighter, more streamlined solution. The drawcord at the top, for example, (or “Cord Lord quick release mechanism” as it's dubbed), releases part-way by simply pulling the looped cord, or fully with a finger or thumb in the other end of the loop. It takes a bit of getting used to as there is no toggle to squeeze, you just pull the loops, but it works well once you get the hang of it. Come to think of it, this could be a good fastening design for a chalk bag as well...
"I've never seen a pack of this capacity (35 litres) that is so light in weight nor, paradoxically, with so many innovative design features..."
Since my first reaction was shock at the featherweight construction, I've subjected the sack to a fairly vigorous test regime. It's been used as cabin baggage on several journeys, and on arrival has served variously as a cragging sack in Kalymnos, Spain and Portugal, a hiking sack in Wales and Serbia and a via-feratta and multi-pitch climbing sack in Austria. Despite my initial misgivings it seems to have emerged unscathed from these trials and tribulations.
The back panel is very comfortable and well-ventilated, and the chest strap is another interesting innovation – indeed I've absolutely no idea how they designed it; the mechanism is counter-intuitive but it works – again it takes some getting used to, but I suspect this feature will gradually spread to other brands – it's light, strong and easy to release, as well as adjustable for height across the chest. To unfasten it you just tug the cord attachment. The other buckles are less radical in design but seem pretty tough, which is good news as broken buckles are a common disintegration point for rucksacks.
The hood design allows excellent coverage of the sack entrance, with the result that so far its withstood showers without any leakage, however I've so far managed to escape a lot of the UK weather this spring. The “buddy pocket” on top has an outward facing zip, meaning that your partner can open it for you to retrieve gear. This is one feature I'm not so sure about – it could also be billed as a “tealeaf pocket” as it can shed gear when left inadvertently or surreptitiously opened. At least the keys won't fall out because there's a little plastic clip for them. And there is an elasticated flap pocket inside the sack for a water bladder along with a flap-protected exit hole for the hose with a clip on the shoulder strap.
This rucksack is not aimed at mountaineers looking for a heavy-duty labour beast, although it's not work-shy, as I've already demonstrated! However the sack comes into its own for anybody who wants an ultra-light sack without compromising on comfort or features. It comes available in two colours – mine is charcoal (“Shadow”) but I think the ice blue version looks more distinguished, albeit somewhat reminiscent of the “Karrimor azure” of a few years ago. The capacity of 32 litres is ideal for the “light and fast” approach but it's worth noting that the slinky material and narrow cut means that you have to pack the sack with care otherwise it can look rather metaphorically like a snake eating a rabbit, or grandma's lumpy stockings.
Comparing this rucksack with most other bags is like comparing a Ferrari with a Land Rover. Treat it with respect and you should be able to travel fast and light!
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Steve Long is a qualified mountain guide, works for the MLT and is an extremely experienced instructor and climber. He has produced a DVD aimed at recreational climbers - Self Rescue for Climbers - which is a comprehensive guide to solving problems encountered in such situations as multi-pitching in the mountains, sea cliffs or roadside crags.