UKC

35-45 Litre Packs Group Test

For all-round climbing, mountaineering and hillwalking use, packs in the 35 litre - 45 litre range are a versatile size. Big enough to hold your trad gear and ropes without cramming; able to swallow a full winter rack and all the seasonal trimmings for a day on The Ben; sufficient for an overnight backpacking mission... yet still compact and well-fitted enough to comfortably climb or scramble with.

packs group test montage, 103 kb

Here we compare 12 packs from leading brands. While some have a solid mountaineering pedigree, others err towards less technical hillwalks. A couple of crag packs are thrown in as wild cards too. Few of them are absolute specialists though; the watchword of this review is versatility.

We've judged them on: fit and padding; comfort when heavily loaded; stability when climbing; weight and durability; features; and value for money.

In this selection of packs there are no poor options, so if you're comparing like for like the key decider will be how well each fits you personally. Accordingly we have not awarded star ratings in this test; we have however highlighted models that we feel particularly stand out. For easy comparison, we'll start with the summary table:

Details

Summary

Montane

Fast Alpine 40

Size: 40L

Weight: 1300g

Price: £140

Montane Fast Alpine 40 product shot, 53 kb

Best in Test Highly Recommended Large, 14 kb

A superb technical mountain pack with high levels of comfort, good build quality, and all the essential features. But it's not that light!

Salewa

Peuterey 40L

Size: 40L

Weight: 1180g

Price: £120

Salewa Peuterey 40 prod shot, 135 kb

A versatile mountain all-rounder with all the features for alpine and winter use. Not a particularly sophisticated back system, but it's lighter than some, and tough too.

Mammut

Trion Guide 35+

Size: 35 + 7L

Weight: 1520g

Price: £120

Mammut Trovat Guide 35+ prod shot, 48 kb

Best in Test Highly Recommended Large, 14 kb

It's no lightweight, but the Trion Guide is a comfy and robust load carrier with a sackload of features that make it a versatile offering.

Deuter

Guide 35+

Size: 35+ L

Weight: 1650g

Price: £120

Deuter Guide 35+ prod shot, 164 kb

Like your comfort? Not too bothered about saving every last gram? The Guide 35+ is a climbing daypack that feels more like a full-on trekking sack. Its weight is compensated by a luxury feel, and superb build quality.

Osprey

Mutant 38

Size: 38L

Weight: 1234g

Price: £100

Osprey Mutant 38 prod shot, 171 kb

Best in Test Highly Recommended Large, 14 kb

A versatile and strippable climbing pack with some nifty design touches, the Mutant 38 is fully featured for winter but also particularly well vented for summer. Good price, too.

Arc'teryx

Alpha FL45

Size: 45 L

Weight: 665g

Price: £150

Alpha FL 45 prod shot, 72 kb

Best in Test Highly Recommended Large, 14 kb

Carving a minimalist niche of its own, at least in terms of this review, the Alpha FL is a superb stripped-back alpine pack with just the bare essentials and nothing more. It will help lighten your wallet too.

Crux

AX40

Size: 40 L

Weight: 988g

Price: £129

AX40 prod shot, 68 kb

Best in Test Highly Recommended Large, 14 kb

Striking a well-considered balance between features and weight saving, the AX40 combines load carrying comfort with technical climbing performance.

Black Diamond

Speed 40

Size: 40L

Weight: 1249g

Price: £120

BD Speed 40 prod shot, 75 kb

Whether you go fully featured, or strip out the back, hipbelt and lid to save weight, the Speed 40 is a climb-oriented model best suited to winter and alpine use.

Berghaus

Arete III

Size: 35L

Weight: 963g

Price: £70

Berghaus Arete 35 prod shot 2, 92 kb

More an all-rounder than a climbing specialist, the Arete III is well suited to scrambling and hillwalking, summer and winter. There's nothing fancy here, but the weight is low and so is the price

Alpkit

El Burro

Size: 45L

Weight: 700g

Price: £65

Alpkit El Burro prod shot, 125 kb

Best in Test Good Value Large, 10 kb

Simplicity is the name of the game here. And value. Oh, and it's really well made too (in the UK, no less). If you're after a rolltop pack for cragging, this one's worth a look.

DMM

Vector Trad Sack

Size: 45+L

Weight: 1225g

Price: £85

DMM Vector prod shot, 140 kb

Best in Test Highly Recommended Large, 14 kb

A superb crag pack, with a well-considered design that marries carrying comfort with the convenience of a free-standing, wide-mouthed, gear-swallowing load hog.

Lowe Alpine

Alpine Ascent 40:50

Size: 40L

Weight: 1074g

Price: £100

Alpine Ascent 40:50 prod shot, 63 kb

Best in Test Good Value Large, 10 kb

It lacks a certain refined feel, but its reasonable price, low weight and sensible set of features make this mountain pack a good buy.


Montane Fast Alpine 40

£140

Montane Fast Alpine 40 product shot, 53 kb

Montane fast alpine 40 back, 49 kb

An alpine and winter climbing specialist, the Fast Alpine 40 boasts an array of more techy features, but fundamentally it's a solid and well-designed pack that would equally suit more serious winter walkers. It is comfy and precise-feeling whether you're carrying heavy loads or climbing.

Back system, shoulder straps and hipbelt

A lightweight, internal aluminium frame gives structure and stability for heavier loads, while a foam pad provides extra comfort and something to sit on if benighted: Both are removable if you're going lightweight. External back padding is firm and minimalist, and for coolness it's placed only where most needed behind the shoulder blades and in the lumbar region, and grooved for ventilation. Padding on the hip belt and shoulder straps is good and firm too, and there's not too much of it. When climbing the hip belt tucks neatly around the back of the sack, and if you're stripping things down its padding can be detached and left at home. The straps are well contoured for a close fit, and the pack feels comfy and well-balanced both when fully laden on the walk-in and when you're climbing.

Axe attachment is secure and uncluttered, 166 kb
Axe attachment is secure and uncluttered
© Dan Bailey

Features

There's a lot happening on the Fast Alpine 40, yet it manages to retain an uncluttered feel. Up top, the lid can be raised to accommodate extra-large loads, though it is not removable altogether. With its elasticated side panels and a semi-stiffened 'hood', the lid creates a close-fitting weathertight seal around the top of the pack. A generous double-zipped lid pocket gives plenty of room for loose bits and bobs, while on the inside is a small zipped valuables pocket with a key clip. Underneath, the top compression strap has plenty of tail to accommodate a bulky rope. Entry to the main pack is via two drawcords, both of which have large glove-friendly toggles. When stuffing stiff frozen ropes into the pack, the mouth could be just a little wider. Inside is a sleeve for a water bladder.

The single fastener on the lid and those of the side compression straps are all metal hooks. Compared with the more standard plastic clips, these are both tougher and easier to use when wearing gloves. The compression straps are a little short however, so if you have a large load to fit on the outside of the pack - a tent, for instance - it can be a bit of a struggle. The hipbelt fastens with a simple metal buckle too, which is very low profile and unobtrusive though not perhaps any less fiddly to use than the customary plastic clip.

Tool attachment is robust and practical, and easily done with gloves on. The axe is held head-down, secured with a metal toggle through the hole at the head end, and a webbing strap up top (an extension of the top compression strap). Picks are kept safely out of the way under a tough fabric flap, which is actually the bottom of the lid strap. In common with many climbing packs nowadays, you get no wand pockets on the Fast Alpine 40, which is a bit of a pain when carrying poles.

A central carry handle and rear haul loop are reinforced with a rubbery coating, as is the attachment point for the lid fastener. And for multiple racking options, you also get four gear loops - one on each shoulder and another on each hip.

Weight, capacity and value

Build quality is excellent, so while £140 does seem quite steep we reckon it represents fair value for money. Its 40 litre capacity is about spot on for a Scottish winter climbing pack, and sufficient for a short overnight trip too. The body is slim nonetheless, and does not feel remotely obtrusive then climbing fully laden, while with smaller loads it compresses pretty effectively too. However at 1300g this is not a particularly lightweight option - even if you shed some of that weight by stripping out the removable frame and padding.


Salewa Peuterey 40l

£120

Salewa Peuterey 40 prod shot, 135 kb

Salewa peuterey 40 back, 151 kb

The Peuterey 40 is a good alpine all-rounder that is equally at home scrambling, mountaineering or climbing. With a supportive back system it's capable of carrying heavier loads, but is still light enough to justify interest from those wishing to save weight.

Back system, shoulder straps and hipbelt

The back system consists of an internal support board that rests down the spine of the pack, providing an impressive amount of support given its slender size and minimal weight. Those wishing to strip it down can easily remove it, but just as importantly it's easy to put back in again through the use of two velcro tabs (often it's a total nightmare getting these things in and out). The back itself has a 'contact carrying system', which as far as we can tell from day-to-day use means that it's close-fitting (which it is!). The back, straps, and hip belt all feature a medium/high density foam that feels both comfortable and durable. Whilst air channels do exist, this pack can certainly feel quite sweaty in warm conditions; but perhaps such is the sacrifice of a close fitting and stable pack.

The hip belt itself is also removable, which is great for freedom of movement and access to your harness whilst climbing, but if you're not bothered by this kind of thing there are also a couple of gear loops on there to throw gear onto when you're having a panic.

Salewa Peuterey - just as useful in Yorkshire as the Alps, 207 kb
Salewa Peuterey - just as useful in Yorkshire as the Alps
© Dan Bailey

Features

We would argue that the finest features are those listed above, as this is indeed a pack that fits extremely well. However, aside from the fit other features include the ability to remove the hood, as removing this alongside the hipbelt and the back support really do give you the option of a super-light pack. Another key feature is actually the absence of too many features, as it is a pleasantly uncluttered pack - very clean and not too much to snag or get annoyed with. Less is often more, after all!

Other more standard features include nice, easy to use compression straps down the side, an ice axe and walking pole attachment point on the front, an internal pocket for valuables, waterproof* pocket in the lid (or at least as waterproof as waterproof comes!), and a 'load control strap' for attaching ropes to the top of the bag (particularly useful when you haven't got a lid on).

The only downside we experienced was when the pack was loaded at its absolute limit, when the two main buckles would begin to slip. Ordinarily this wouldn't matter, but because the ends of these aren't sewn back on themselves - instead using a black/rubberised tape - the whole thing would sometimes undo, which is obviously not ideal. That said, this could obviously be remedied by a home alteration or two... but it's nice not to have to.

Weight, capacity and value

At 1180g the SALEWA Peuterey 40 is - by a small margin - among the lighter of the fully featured mountain packs in this review, which considering the spec is definitely a selling point. Durability-wise it was really put through the mill on a two-month US rock climbing road trip, and despite a few holes here and there it has to be said that it stood up to a high level of abuse in rather extraordinary circumstances. In normal day-to-day use this pack would no doubt last a long time, but (unsurprisingly) less so when it's dragged up routes after you again and again. At 40 litres, plus all the various customisable options in its design, this is a decent versatile pack. Given its fairly standard price of £120 it's certainly an attractive option.


Mammut Trion Guide 35+

£120

Mammut Trovat Guide 35+ prod shot, 48 kb

Trion Guide back, 46 kb

A techy mountain pack with some really clever touches, the Trion Guide 35+ may be one of the smallest in terms of capacity, but it includes features you'd expect to see on much larger bags, from the side entry zip to the substantial pivoting hipbelt. Is it too elaborate and heavy for mountain use? That's a matter of personal preference.

Back system, shoulder straps and hipbelt

The back system is based around an elaborate tensioned aluminium frame which serves as a nice flexible structure for load carrying at minimal weight. Out of the box, the contoured curve of this frame felt too radical, but comfort was soon tweaked with a bit of corrective bending.

Mounted on a stiffened sheet, back padding is sensibly minimalist on the Trion Guide, with small foam pads only where really needed and plenty of open space for airflow everywhere else. As a result it's one of the least sweaty back systems on test. The shoulder straps have a contoured shape which hugs the body closely without restricting movement, and the pack feels stable and unobtrusive when climbing. For a rucksack of this size the depth of padding on the shoulders is substantial and this is one of the features that suggests that elements of the design have been scaled down from a much larger load carrying pack. The cushioning is not too spongy, but Mammut could have got away with less bulk and weight here. For actually climbing with this sack in a mountain setting, it's a bit obtrusive. However, if you're carrying a weighty rack to the crag, this extra padding is welcome. Likewise the hipbelt is very broad and feels quite structured and supportive compared with many climbing sacks. It also pivots from a central point to help the pack move with the body - Mammut's 'motion butterfly suspension system'. Some may find this hipbelt overkill on a 35 litre climbing bag and it's something you'd more expect on a backpacking behemoth. It does not sit neatly flush when doubled back around the pack for climbing; however for lightweight days, it is removable with minimal faff, and can be replaced with a slim webbing alternative (which comes supplied).

Fit-wise, the back length is not the largest, and on our 6-foot tester the hip belt sits some way above the hips; that's fairly usual on a climbing pack of course.

Axe attachment is secure, but larger adzes do seem to stick far out to the side, 125 kb
Axe attachment is secure, but larger adzes do seem to stick far out to the side
© Dan Bailey

Features

The feature set on the Trion Guide is extensive.

Starting at the top, there's a very generously sized zipped over-lid pocket, and a smaller mesh pocket on the underside which comes with a key clip. The lid can be raised a long way to accommodate extra-bulky loads (that's the + 7 litre bit, though it could possibly stretch further if needed), and alternatively when pulled down tight it gives a good close fit around the top of the pack. If you're going lightweight, the lid is very easily removed. Underneath is a drybag style rolltop entry which may make entering the bag a bit more faffy in day to day use, but does provide a secure and reasonably weathertight closure for lid-free days. An additional drawcord helps keep everything trim at the top. There's also a top compression strap; this is not as long as some, though we've found it long enough to hold a 80m single rope with no problem.

From the single lid closure point (one clip here is less fiddly than the more traditional two) to the hipbelt and side compression straps, all buckles are plastic. While these feel reasonably robust, they are smaller and marginally less glove-friendly than on some models. However the side straps themselves are great. They do a reasonable job of compressing a half-full pack - perhaps not as effectively as some - but what sets them apart is their load carrying ability. Mammut have realised that while a short side strap has limited capacity for attaching things like tents or roll mats, if you bring the strap from each side to meet in the middle you've got a lot more length to play with. Daisy chain loops give further external clip-in options, too, which with the addition of gear loops on the hipbelt could result in a pack positively festooned with stuff on the outside. For a heavily laden walk-in to a hut or basecamp, that could help compensate for the Trion Guide 35's modest internal capacity.

The side zip entry has a chunky zipper which gives access to pretty much the whole of one side of the pack. On a rucksack of this limited size, a secondary entry point may be seen as unnecessary by some, as the contents can be accessed from the top. However, for cragging use, where you need to get your belay device from the bottom quickly, it is a useful feature. You might be less likely to use it on a spindrift lashed face and risk a potential gear explosion. The zip is very heavy duty so should be solid enough although in driving Welsh rain some leakage would be inevitable.

Axes secure head down, with the picks slotted under a reinforced flap to keep them safely stowed - an arrangement that has become fairly standard on climbing packs. The only thing, fundamentally, that stops the axes simply dropping out of this flap is a clipped webbing strap. This we find a little on the short side, so that it can be a bit of a wrestle (though do-able) to secure two technical axes. A minor criticism is that the rubber panels that hold the flap to the body of the pack are positioned exactly where sharp pick teeth are likely to abrade and tear them over time. The retainers for the axe shafts are old fashioned velcro tabs, which have the advantage of simplicity and the potential disadvantage of getting clogged with snow: these could be replaced with any strap of your choice. An internal water bladder sleeve and a chest buckle with integrated mini whistle round off a pretty full feature set.

Weight, capacity and value

Its 35 litre capacity puts the model we reviewed near the bottom of the test size scale, and we think it would take a bit of discipline to fit everything for a Scottish winter climbing day inside, though that floating lid helps. The flipside to this is that its slim teardrop-shaped lines make it unobtrusive when climbing. If you do want a bit more carrying capacity you can either strap tons of stuff on the outside, or go up a size with the 45+ version. The materials are pretty tough and the workmanship seems good, so its £120 price tag seems pretty good value for a pack with this many features. However the spec comes at 1520g for the whole shebang, which is quite heavy for a climbing daypack.


Deuter Guide 35+

£120

Deuter Guide 35+ prod shot, 164 kb

Deuter Guide Plus back, 78 kb

It may be more of a beefy all-rounder than a skinny technical climbing specialist, but its superb workmanship and high levels of comfort make the Guide 35+ an excellent load carrier and something of a Rolls Royce of daypacks. However, much like a Rolls Royce there's a price to pay in terms of weight.

Back system, shoulder straps and hipbelt

Support in the Guide 35+ is provided by an X-shaped pair of aluminium staves, which give a flexible load bearing structure. A foam pad that doubles as a sit mat provides a little extra body to the back system; both the frame and the pad are easily removable. In addition to the internal pad, external cushioning comprises two rows of padding running the full length of the back, separated by a big central air gap on the spine. Faced with a breathable mesh at all points of contact with the body, this gives a cool well-vented feel. The padding is soft and deep, but this doesn't seem to result in too much of a spongy feel - on the contrary the fit is close and precise. The shoulder straps are well contoured to allow full freedom of movement, and the pack feels nicely balanced and not at all cumbersome when climbing. However the shoulder straps are broader and deeper than strictly necessary, and it is with little nips and tucks like these that Deuter could have made a considerable cumulative weight saving.

By climbing pack standards the hip belt is overkill too; with its enormous padded wings and 'Vari Flex' pivoting action it is designed to move with the body, and built for comfort rather than speed. This would be great for carting heavy loads over big distances, but when the Guide 35 is being used for mountaineering or one-day hill walks, the benefits can be rather lost. The standard hip belt doesn't stow very neatly around the body of the pack. If you are climbing, then with a bit of persuasion the gargantuan padding can be removed to leave an unadorned webbing hip belt; this is relatively ineffective as a hip belt however, and we'd be tempted to take it off too. We think the Guide 35's hip belt works best when you leave the padding in place and treat the pack less as a 100% climbing-focused model than as an all-rounder for hut-to-hut tours or short wild camping overnights.

The Guide 35+ is a solid pack for all-round hill use, not just the Alps, 238 kb
The Guide 35+ is a solid pack for all-round hill use, not just the Alps
© Dan Bailey

Features

You probably won't be expecting minimalism, and true to form Deuter deliver a lot of features. For expanded storage the lid can be raised a little - not as much as some, but by enough for instance to accommodate a rope on top of an already-full pack. Instead of a top compression strap there's a (removable) rope tether, which is big enough to accommodate a bulky rope but more flappy and slightly less manageable than a strap that's fixed at both ends. The lid-top pocket is accessed via a waterproof zip, which is a good touch for such an exposed point of the bag. It sports a key clip, and though a reasonable size it's not quite as spacious as some. More storage for loose nicknacks is available in the usual under-lid pocket too; we'd have preferred to see the key clip in here as it seems a more secure place for your car keys. Since the lid can't be removed, you don't get that weight-saving option from Deuter. Entry to the main pack is via two drawcords with the old fashioned style of two-handed toggle, which are marginally more fiddly to use with gloves than some of the modern alternatives.

As with the Mammut pack, Deuter have provided a side entry zip that gives access to hard-to-reach pack contents. Only, it doesn't always, since the zip does not extend all the way down, thus leaving a lot of pack at the bottom that's not after all hugely accessible via the side. We'll repeat all the reasons we are not taken with this: the zip may be beefy, but it nevertheless means unnecessary weight, complication and a potential site of failure. It won't keep driving rain out for long, either. On a big trekking pack a secondary entry makes sense: for a day bag, not so much.

All the clips and buckles on the Guide 35+ are made of tough moulded plastic. The lid secures with two clips, which clearly take twice as much effort to operate as lids with only one; they are slightly on the small side if you've got cold hands or thick gloves (or both). On the hip belt however the buckle is much larger and more glove-friendly.

In place of the usual two compression straps Deuter give you only one on each side, up at the top. With this arrangement you can't effectively cinch in the bottom half of a half-empty pack when climbing, which has the potential to be a bit annoying. In place of the customary lower pair of straps are fixed padded loops, designed expressly for the purpose of holding skis and not a lot of use for much else. You can balance the baskets of trekking poles in these loops, but wand pockets would have been more secure in this regard. Better yet would have been a standard adjustable webbing strap, good for everything including skis. For lashing stuff onto the outside of the pack, two rows of tough four-loop daisy chains do provide you with plenty of options, though you'd have to remember to bring additional straps for them.

Axe attachment is a pretty neat arrangement, with the head sitting in a tough rubber sleeve and held secure by a clip; a simple velcro loop then holds the shaft, and the position of this can be moved up and down the daisy chains to suit. Other features include gear loops on the hip belt, a large haul loop, a little whistle on the chest buckle and a sleeve for a water bag.

Weight, capacity and value

As a pack ostensibly at the lower end of our capacity scale the Guide 35+ does not come across as particularly small. For a day of winter climbing, if you store the rope under the lid you ought to have plenty of space inside for all the other gubbins. Materials are tough throughout, and the build quality is commendable, so we'd rate it highly for value for money. However there's an elephant in the room: that jumbo weight.


Osprey Mutant 38

£100

Osprey Mutant 38 prod shot, 171 kb

Osprey Mutant back, 63 kb

A clever design with some nifty touches, the Mutant 38 is among the more elaborate and highly-featured packs in this review - yet Osprey have managed to keep both the weight and the price reasonable. It's not got the largest capacity or the most structure for heavy load carrying, but this versatile and strippable model is a winner for technical climbing.

Back system, shoulder straps and hipbelt

Structure is provided by a removable plastic sheet and a single aluminium stay. This combination gives slightly more flex than some more frame-oriented designs, but still plenty of support for the sort of weight you'll typically be carrying in a mountain daypack. Back padding is thin but firm, which we think helps the pack feel close and precise on the back - there's no sponginess here. Padding covers the entire back, but with its numerous ventilation channels and a mesh face fabric this is a really cool un-sweaty pack. The super-ventilated theme continues on the shoulder straps, where the padding is cut through with a series of airy holes. These do not negatively affect the carrying comfort in the least, and their breathable feel is unrivalled. If we had to pick one pack from this review for use in hot weather, the Mutant 38 would be it. The scalloped shoulder straps give a close, comfortable fit without interfering with arm movement. For climbing the pack is superb - slimline, well-balanced and close-fitting.

In terms of breadth the hip belt seems a little excessive - a size you might expect more on a larger pack. However its soft neoprene padding is slim and low-profile, hugging close to the hips to give a comfortable and supportive fit. Its plastic buckle is fairly small, but still easy enough to operate wearing gloves. In addition to a number of gear loops and ice screw clip-in points the hipbelt has an extra layer of load-bearing strap. The logic of this is that you can separate the wider padding, fold it out of the way around the side of the pack, and just have a minimalist unpadded hipbelt. In practise we suspect we'd never do this - either you want a comfy belt or none at all - so the elaborate clutter of this design seems a bit redundant. However on the plus side it does not make the hipbelt too bulky, and the whole thing has been designed to be neatly reversed around the body of the pack to keep it out of the way when climbing. It's not removable, however.

photo
Osprey Mutant in the west highlands
© Alex Berry

photo
A great winter pack that's cool in summer too
© Alex Berry

Features

Osprey have not skimped on bits and bobs. Starting with the lid, there's a reasonably roomy main zipped pocket with a sewn-in key clip. A smaller secondary outside pocket houses a stretchy flap that clips over the top of the lid to give you a handy place to keep your helmet. Given that the main body of the pack is not the biggest, this optional external storage is welcome on heavily laden winter climbing days; if it's not needed you can remove the flap. The lid secures with two plastic buckles - perhaps a little smaller than ideal for use with gloves. Stretchy sides help give it a close fit when pulled down tight, but if you're carrying extra big loads, the lid can also ride very high. Meanwhile, for going lightweight, it can be removed altogether. Take the top lid away and you're left with the unorthodox-looking 'FlapJacket'. An extension of the top sleeve you'll find on pretty much any sack, this doubles as a secondary lid, with hidden buckles and a little internal zipped mesh pocket. It's a great way to minimise the size of the sack on days when you're going light; and it doesn't get in the way when not being used. The drawcord toggle is a nice chunky sewn-in one-handed affair. Below this is a compression strap, which doesn't seem to do much.

Side compression straps are unusual, forming a single long piece zigzagging down each side of the bag. These are effective at compressing a half-empty pack, and do serve as external storage too, though their limited length makes them a bit borderline for something as bulky as a rollmat. Their locking buckles are fiddly to operate in the cold. Wand pockets are conspicuous by their absence, in common with most mountain packs these days; in their place are tough nylon loops to slot your skis into.

Axe attachment is simple and secure: slot a metal duffle thingumy through a hole in the head; slide the pick under the durable protective flap; and secure the top with a stretchy plastic toggle. We'd give these little top retainers maybe 6:10 for use with gloves - you can do it, but with numb fingers they are a bit fumbly. Boosting the winter climbing credentials of the Mutant, you get gear loops on each hip belt, plus a generous three ice screw clip-in points on each side. When climbing, we prefer to fold hip belts away and use our harness gear loops as nature intended, so for us a simpler and less cluttered hip belt would be better; but doubtless they'll suit some people perfectly.

A rubber-reinforced haul loop, a whistle on the chest buckle, and a sleeve for a water bag round off a pretty comprehensive set of features.

Weight, capacity and value

For a pack with so much going on, its 1234g weight seems fair enough, albeit unremarkable. If you want to go lighter and more compact, removing the lid gets you down nearer 1kg. In terms of capacity, the Mutant's 38 litres feels tight for a full winter climbing load, though perfectly possible with discipline. If you struggle to fit it all in though, your helmet can always travel out on the lid, while crampons fit under the zigzags (tougher fabric on the side panels helps here). Materials and build quality seem top notch, and we've yet to make a mark on it. Bearing this in mind, £100 is excellent value.


Arc'teryx Alpha FL45

£150

Alpha FL 45 prod shot, 72 kb

Alpha FL back, 58 kb

And now for something a little different. Ultra-light, uncompromisingly minimalist, weatherproof and tough, the Alpha FL from Arc'teryx is a stripped-down pack best suited to the discipline and rigour of alpine and winter climbing (it would not be our first choice for simply hillwalking). There's absolutely nothing extraneous here, but that's how some folk like it. Two sizes are available, 30 litre and 45 litre: we went for the latter. Clearly we're not as minimalist as we'd like to think.

Back system, shoulder straps and hipbelt

Don't expect any mollycoddling. There's no internal frame, just a hard foam pad that provides a measure of stiffness. This helps give the pack structure when heavily loaded, protects the wearer from sharp jabbing pack contents, and serves as the only concession to back padding. The pack is built from a burly ripstop nylon which is basically water- and air-impermeable. Since this is in contact with your back throughout, with no pretence at sweat absorbing materials or ventilation spaces, the Alpha FL would be our last choice for high output activities in hot sticky weather. We think it's most comfortable over multiple winter layers, but even in such cold conditions you're likely to get a bit of a sweaty back.

The shoulder straps are superb, and make all the difference to the comfort of this otherwise pretty uncompromising rucksack. Padding is firm and minimal, giving you just enough cushioning without excess bulk to get in the way. Since the foam itself has a bit of breathability to it, your shoulders don't noticeably get sweaty. Sculpting is spot on, giving a really form-hugging close fit without limiting arm movement at all. With the chest buckle fastened there's minimal sway, and everything feels stable and well balanced when climbing. To help stop the pack sliding around, Arc'teryx have added a simple webbing hipbelt; this has no load-bearing function, but it's good for stability. Its large plastic buckle is durable and glove-friendly. When climbing, the belt folds flush around the body of the pack.

Arc'teryx Alpha FL45 - made for mountain routes, 216 kb
Arc'teryx Alpha FL45 - made for mountain routes
© Dan Bailey

Features

In the spirit of minimalism Arc'teryx have done away with the traditional lid, leaving a simple drawcord (with a chunky sewn-in one-handed toggle), coupled with a drybag style rolltop closure. Since the fabric is waterproof and all the seams are taped (15mm - they're saving weight everywhere possible), this basically makes the Alpha FL weather and water-tight. The only weakness we can envisage is that without a lid to deflect heavy rain, water could pool outside at the top of the bag; not much is likely to get past the drawcord though. If you don't need the rolltop bit, it doubles back inside the bag, leaving you with just the drawcord.

The top compression strap / rope retainer has loads of tail, permitting you to carry a huge roll of stuff at the top of the pack - a couple of ropes, say, or a parcel as big as a four-man tent. For occasions such as a basecamp walk-in, this boosts your load carrying options. But when you don't need masses of strap, the excess can be folded and secured with a little sewn-in velcro tab.

On a typical mountain day we like to have easy access to all sorts of little bits and bobs as we bimble along - gloves, camera, ski goggles, jelly babies... and that is where a conventional lid pocket comes in handy. With the Alpha FL though, we've had to adjust our habits. A tiny external zipped pocket is your only option here, and you are not going to get much in. It does have a key clip, and a waterproof zip. Steady on Arc'teryx, a pocket almost smacks of a concession to faffers.

The external features of the pack are as minimalist as its lines. A crisscross of bungy cord gives you options for sticking crampons on the outside, or clipping in a helmet by its chin strap, or perhaps stashing a shell for days of changeable weather. In the spirit of getting everything to perform more than one role the bungy doubles as the axe attachment (metal toggle through the head, then hoick the elastic up over the shaft). Additional tiny webbing loops serve as potential attachment points for straps, should you want to fix a rollmat or some such onto the pack.

Haul loops front and back let you centre the load on a sling if you're hoisting the pack. What else can we say? What else do you really need?

Weight, capacity and value

At a measly 665g it's fair to say that Arc'teryx have played a minimalist blinder. The Alpha FL 45 is by a huge margin the lightest mountain pack in this review, making it a great option for light-and-fast days. However the payback for this is that it's not the most luxurious or comfortable load carrier. In a nutshell, it's better for the route than the walk-in. You achieve the max 45 litre capacity by pulling out the rolltop sleeve and piling the contents into a tower up above your head. It doesn't look elegant, but then you're not likely to be actually climbing with a pack this full. Once you've disgorged the pack contents at the foot of your route however, the lack of side compression straps mean that there's a limit to how compact the Alpha FL45 can be squeezed - Arc'teryx reckon its minimum size at 33 litres. If most of your gear is now out being used the half-empty bag can feel a bit, well, baggy. For us, this makes the FL45 better for winter than summer, since you're likely to be carrying more on the route. Alternatively there's always the smaller FL 30. Less is more on the Alpha FL45, and that extends to the price. Functional minimalism this well considered does not come cheap, but since the materials are bomber and the build quality very high you're getting a solid, dependable pack for your RRP of £150 (and we've seen it sold for less).


Crux AX40

£129

AX40 prod shot, 68 kb

Crux AX40 back, 150 kb

Crux are known for turning out quality gear, making sensible weight savings without too many compromises to functionality. True to form the AX40 is a solid and well-fitted mountain pack that includes all the standard features you could want, and provides a good level of support for load carrying. And yet doesn't overdo the weight, so we think that Crux have hit a sweet spot with this pack.

Back system, shoulder straps and hipbelt

Two skinny aluminium stays provide the structure, reinforced with a thin plastic framesheet. It's lightweight and has a lot of flex, a setup that we find gives a good supportive structure for carrying heavy loads without feeling rigid. A sheet of firm foam padding runs the full length of the back. With no strategic zoning of the padding, and no attempt to cut in any ventilation channels, this is not a very sophisticated back pad, and despite the absorbent face fabric we've found that when working hard in warmer conditions it does feel sweatier than a better vented design.

The shoulder straps are quite radically curved, a cut that just seems to fit itself perfectly around the shape of the chest, and keeps them well out of the way of any arm movement. In our experience the fit is particularly comfortable when carrying heavy loads. By the standards of this review the padding here is about medium thickness, striking a sensible compromise between low-profile minimalism and cushioned comfort. It feels quite firm and supportive, and thanks to the absorbent inside face it doesn't get too sweaty. Down on the hipbelt, the padded wings are similarly firm, offering an ideal amount of softness versus support. The pronounced wave shape of the pads looks a bit unnecessary, but in use it does seem to accommodate side-to-side movement of the body quite well. Its simple metal buckle is durable, glove-friendly and very low-profile. It's not removable, but does fold neatly out of the way for climbing. Overall, the harness on the AX40 is excellent, with plenty of support for heavy weights and a balanced and unrestricted feel when climbing.

A good choice for winter hillwalking and mountaineering, 83 kb
A good choice for winter hillwalking and mountaineering
© Dan Bailey

Fits well for climbing too, even fully loaded, 102 kb
Fits well for climbing too, even fully loaded
© Lorraine McCall

Features

With a wide double-zippered entry, the over-lid pocket is not the largest of those in the review, but it does have enough space for the usual loose nicknacks, and there's some overspill room in the much smaller under-lid pocket too. Neither has a key clip however, which is an unfortunate omission. If you're carting around a massive amount of baggage the lid can be raised really high. Alternatively, on lightly loaded days it can be pulled down a long way: Although its two plastic clips (small, not the most glove-friendly) are sewn high on the body, by doubling them back through the daisy chains that run down the pack, they can be secured far lower so that the lid ends up sitting more at the front of the pack than on top - which may sound complicated but is actually pretty cool when you're compressing the load as much as possible for climbing. Meanwhile if you want to go minimalist, the hood is easily removed altogether, leaving you with a double drawcord entry (old fashioned floating toggles - could be bigger for gloved use) and a good long top compression/rope retaining strap.

The skinny side compression straps run in zigzags, an arrangement the AX40 shares with the Osprey Mutant, and one which we feel is really effective at squeezing the sack down small when half-empty. If you're using them for stowing stuff there's a fair bit of spare length, while two long daisychains on the front of the pack add extra external storage options. Wand pockets seem to be increasingly rare on climbing packs, often replaced these days with a chunky loop for skis; the AX40 has both, which is good news for anyone who carries poles on the outside of their bag. When it's anything less than fully packed however, the amount of spare webbing flapping around does make it quite a 'strappy' feeling pack.

Axe attachment is simple and secure, but perhaps has some room for refinement: a metal doo-dah pops through the head, then an elastic loop secures the shaft. The latter are a mite fiddly with gloves and could do with a slightly larger toggle; the former are a bit loose so that with two axes the picks clatter together as you bob along - even if you slip them under the bottom rung of the daisy chain. Still, the axe attachment does have the advantage of minimalism.

A water bag sleeve and a nice big haul loop complete a pretty full feature set.

Weight, capacity and value

In terms of volume, 40 litres seems a sensible size for an all-rounder, and for us the AX40 proves spot on for a winter climbing load - especially since you can raise the lid so far to accommodate a rope or whatever. On the flipside, when you don't need this much capacity the low lid and effective side compression straps mean you can squeeze this pack to a good compact size. Crux list the AX40 as 1050g, yet we make it only 988g ; either way, for a framed mountain pack with all the essential trimmings they have done well to get the weight down around 1kg. Its thin fabric has a lot to do with it. Friends have suggested it looks flimsy on a mountain pack, yet in our experience this Dyneema / Cordura ripstop fabric has proven surprisingly resilient, and as yet it shows no sign of scuffing. Other components on the bag all seem similarly tough. Build quality is excellent too, so although the price is edging towards the high side, and despite a couple of minor niggles, you are getting a great pack for the money.


Black Diamond Speed 40

£120

BD Speed 40 prod shot, 75 kb

BD Speed back, 42 kb

With its clean lines, tough fabrics and sensible set of features, there's plenty to like about this pack - particularly for winter or alpine use. While the all-in weight is unremarkable, pretty much everything is removable to leave you with a lightweight climbing option.

Back system, shoulder straps and hipbelt

A large plastic sheet bolstered with metal rods, the frame on the Speed 40 is substantial yet pretty lightweight. With a heavily loaded bag it feels good and supportive, but if you're in minimal mode then the whole thing can be stripped out. An additional foam sheet doubles as extra back padding and as a removable sit mat for spartan bivvies or unplanned benightments. Back padding is thin but firm, offering a good level of cushioning without feeling too deep and spongy. Its face fabric shrugs off snow and water well, but because there's very little ventilation and the padding covers almost all of the back in a single sheet, it can feel sweaty if you're working hard in warmer conditions.

Shoulder straps are fairly minimalist, with narrow webbing and thin-but-firm padding. Their cut is nicely sculpted and the padding ends quite high on the strap - just below the armpit. The result is a low-profile, unobtrusive fit that gives the arms maximum freedom of movement. You don't really need any more cushioning than this, particularly if wearing several layers of winter clothing. Since the straps do sit quite wide on the shoulders, we've found we really need to use the chest buckle all the time; on one occasion this buckle clogged up with ice, rendering it inoperable - a consequence of its narrow tapered shape. Cushioning on the hipbelt is good and firm too, and the entire pad can be removed to leave just a simple webbing belt. The plastic buckle on this is fairly small, but chunky enough to work OK with gloves. When climbing, the belt folds out of the way neatly; but on the downside on our six-foot tester the hip belt sits way above the hips, compromising the support it offers when carrying heavy loads. We've got the larger sized version of this pack, so it's probably fair to say that the Speed 40 is not ideal for the very tall. Overall though the pack is comfortable and well-balanced when heavily loaded, and feels neat and unrestrictive when climbing.

The Speed 40 - not the coolest in summer, but a decent winter pack, 162 kb
The Speed 40 - not the coolest in summer, but a decent winter pack
© Dan Bailey

Features

If you are a fan of zipped lid pockets for all those bits and bobs that don't seem to have a better home then it's good news: the top pocket on the Speed 40 is really roomy, easily one of the biggest in this test. Our one criticism is that there's no storm flap or any other semblance of weather protection, so in wind and heavy rain the zip is likely to leak. Underneath is a second massive zipped pocket, which boasts a key clip. The lid can be raised high to hold a tent or a rollmat, while for lightweight days it can also be removed. So too can the lid buckle straps, which are simply cows-tailed onto the pack rather than stitched - a nice touch. The small plastic buckles are very robust, though their action is a little stiff if you've got cold wooden fingers. Under the lid it's a conventional skirt with twin drawcord (sewn-in easy-open toggles) and a top compression strap/rope retainer, which cleverly tucks out of the way into a hidden pocket when not in use to spare you from the faff of webbing tail.

With a half-empty pack, the side compression straps do a good job of reducing the volume; they've also got masses of length for strapping loads to the exterior. There are no wand pockets though, a minor disadvantage when carrying poles on the outside of the pack. If you like keeping your crampons outside - and there are good reasons to do so - Black Diamond have provided a reinforced area at the front of the pack, with sturdy tie-in points and removable webbing straps. We really like this arrangement, since when it's not in use there's nothing to break the clean lines of the body.

Axes are stowed by slipping the picks through the 'pickpocket' sleeve, clipping a strap around to hold the heads in, then a simple velcro loop up on the shaft. It's simple, secure, and holds the axes still so that they don't clank around as you walk.

Inside there's a sleeve for a water bladder. You also get a haul loop, gear loops and ice screw clipper points on the waist band, and a whistle built into the chest buckle.

Weight, capacity and value

A weight of 1249g seems reasonable (albeit unremarkable) for a rucksack with this sort of feature set, and in this regard the Speed 40 is pretty comparable with other models in this test such as the Montane and Osprey. The option to strip off a couple of hundred grams is always there too, of course. Its 40 litre capacity is pretty benchmark for a mountain pack too, and we've certainly had no trouble fitting in all the paraphernalia for winter days. Thumbs up to the massive lid pockets as well. Build quality is good, and the 210D ripstop fabric of the body, with 420D reinforcements, seems easily up to the job. Considering all this, the price tag is fair.


Berghaus Arete III 35

£70

Berghaus Arete 35 prod shot 2, 92 kb

Berghaus Arete back, 89 kb

This is the smallest pack on review, just scraping in at the bottom of our size range. The Arete 35 has a no-frills feel, but although its build quality does not seem quite on a par with the best, all the essential mountain pack features are here. Its reasonable price and relatively low weight are probably the most attractive things about it.

Back system, shoulder straps and hipbelt

As befits a smaller pack, the Arete 35 has a simple back system. With no internal frame for support this is not an ideal heavy load carrier, and the only structure is provided by a floppy plastic sheet. That said, this pack does not really hold enough to require the rigidity of a frame. Padding runs from the shoulder blades down to the lumbar region. For ventilation there's a big void in the small of the back, however in warmer conditions we've found you can't really feel the benefit of it this because the snow-shedding fabric of the padding that surrounds it gets pretty sweaty.

Padding on the shoulder straps is a little on the spongy side; we'd even say it has a cheap feel. The straps are contoured to fit the body, but they feel rather less form-hugging than some other packs, and tend to sit quite far apart on the shoulders, necessitating the use of a chest strap. The width of the straps is a little excessive, which makes them less comfy than they could be. That said, the Arete 35 feels reasonably stable when climbing, with a narrow profile that does not get in the way. The lid sits fairly low too, so as not to restrict head movement when you're looking up.

The hipbelt too has a spongy, floppy and not particularly high-quality feel; in addition its small buckle is a fiddle to operate with cold hands or thick gloves. No tension adjustment is provided where the belt meets the pack - perhaps you would not expect it on a 35 litre bag. The stand-out feature here though is an unusual split design. The idea is that you can wear the hipbelt over your harness, and poke your gear loops through the split. We have been unable to test this, since the hip belt of the little Arete 35 actually sits above the waist of our 6-foot tester. But two obvious points to make are that most people would prefer to fold the hipbelt out of the way altogether when climbing, and that the split on this belt doesn't in any case run far enough to accommodate two gear loops on each side. For climbing, therefore, we're not convinced this offers any advantage. Meanwhile for its primary purpose, support when load carrying, the split design is no more effective than a conventional belt.

Berghaus Arete III 35 - as happy hillwalking as climbing, 177 kb
Berghaus Arete III 35 - as happy hillwalking as climbing
© Dan Bailey

Features

Given the price tag, the feature set is reasonable, and includes all the essentials of a mountain pack. The zipped lid pocket is a decent (if not cavernous) size. Its zip does not feel high quality though - it's not YKK - while the external storm flap doesn't offer much protection once the wind gets up. A key clip is provided in here, though we'd prefer it'd been located in the smaller zipped under-lid pocket. Elastic sides help give the lid a close fit around the top of the pack; however it is not possible to raise the lid at all in order to accommodate larger loads, and neither is it removable to save weight - which does compromise this pack's versatility. The lid secures with two plastic buckles, which are again a little on the small side for easy use with gloves. These buckles are fixed fairly high on the body, so there's no option for pulling the lid down really low when the pack is half empty. Underneath, you get a top compression / rope storage strap, and a single drawstring entry to the main body of the sack. This has an old school free-floating toggle which is not as satisfying to operate as the mode modish designs on some other packs.

Side compression straps are on the short side for holding gear such as rollmats, though they'll do you for skis or trekking poles. A half-empty bag can be compressed fairly effectively, the main limiting factor here actually being the high lid buckles. Two long rows of daisy chains provide numerous other options for lashing stuff onto the outside of the pack.

Axe mountings are the old fashioned loop-around-the-head variety. Well if it ain't broke, don't fix it. However the picks are left exposed, which is a bit more snaggy and potentially less safe than some of the mode modern solutions. The elastic/plastic top axe tethers are a little fiddly when wearing gloves, and we think could have been improved upon.

Aside from all this you get a grab handle, a water bag sleeve, and a tiny whistle on an elastic tether cows-tailed to one shoulder.

Weight, capacity and value

The Arete 35 feels quite tight for its stated capacity, and the mouth could be wider for easier packing/gear extraction. Its 35 litres seem rather less generous than the Mammut's, for instance, even before getting onto the subject of floating lids (or the lack thereof). As a day pack for winter hillwalking or summer cragging it's adequate, but it is definitely on the small side for the average winter climbing load, and for overnight backpacking missions. It is good and light, but as this is partly a result of its smaller size and lack of internal bracing you would expect it to come in at under 1kg. Primarily its build quality, materials and overall finish do not inspire as much confidence as some of the more expensive models on test. However that £70 price tag seriously undercuts the competition, so if that's a big consideration then this pack is well worth a look.


Alpkit El Burro

£65

Alpkit El Burro prod shot, 125 kb

Alpkit el Burro back, 120 kb

El Burro is a typical Alpkit product: basic but functional, it manages to marry build quality with affordability - and it's made in the UK too. This is the simplest bag in the review, and a very different animal to all the mountain packs above. There's no refinement here, and you would not want to carry it all day up mountains - but for carting rack and ropes to the base of your crag it is ideal. With its stripped-down lines we can see ourselves using it for travel too. For what it is - a roll-top duffle style pack with no greater aspirations - it's hard to quibble with El Burro.

Back system, shoulder straps and hipbelt

There's not a lot to talk about here: no frame, just a thermo-formed foam back panel. This has nice firm padding with some grooves for ventilation, though on a warm day you do tend to get a few sweaty patches. Padding on the shoulder pads is firm too, and not too deep; we do find them a little wide though, and because they're quite stiff there's a tendency to dig a little on the collar bone - only likely to be an issue on a longer walk-in perhaps. The sternum strap is not the comfiest either, lacking the standard elastic insert. Down at the hipbelt, you get a simple wide webbing strap with zero padding. It doesn't seem to take any weight off the shoulders, but does help keep the pack stable as you walk. We've tended to fold it away around the pack, as it slots neatly under the three daisychains (more on them below). Fundamentally, the El Burro holds a lot of gear, but it's simply not designed for comfortably carting heavy loads over big distances .

It's a good crag pack, smaller than the DMM Vector but cheaper too, 252 kb
It's a good crag pack, smaller than the DMM Vector but cheaper too
© Dan Bailey

Features

Entry is via a simple roll-top, which is secured by clips at the sides and can be pulled in tight to compress the pack. The addition of a top strap adds extra compression, and the option to carry a rope on the outside. Three rows of daisychains allow you all sorts of further strapping and clipping possibilities - helmet, rock shoes, whatever. A small internal zipped sleeve (it doesn't quite earn the name pocket) is the place to keep car keys and phone, and probably not much else. Lastly, an observation: with prominent full-length stitched seams this pack is not going to do well in the rain. Then again, if it's raining you'll probably be heading to the cafe anyway.

Weight, capacity and value

At 45 litres this is a perfect size for hauling gear to the crag with room to spare for a jacket or two; however with its slim lines, Alpkit's version of 45 litres seems a bit smaller than DMM's ostensibly identical sized pack (see below). With 500D Cordura (and a base of 1100D), El Burro can clearly take a beating. Its £65 price tag represents excellent for money, which is particularly impressive given that it's not been made in some foreign sweatshop.


DMM Vector Trad Sack

£85

DMM Vector prod shot, 141 kb

Vector back, 125 kb

A large capacity pack with some cool features, the Vector is a comfy and well-thought-out model aimed squarely at rock climbing. With its well-padded back and harness, and overall supportive feel, this workhorse is just as happy on a long walk-in to a mountain route as on five minute strolls to roadside crags. It swallows a ton of trad kit with ease, and can even function as a rope bag. Good work, DMM.

A great crag sack - swallows tons of gear, 212 kb
A great crag sack - swallows tons of gear
© Dan Bailey

Back system, shoulder straps and hipbelt

As a top-loading lidless pack the Vector occupies a similar niche to Alpkit's El Burro; neither would be much cop for winter mountaineers or overnight backpacking, but for summer cragging convenience they're hard to beat. The differences between the two models are immediately apparent however, with the Vector being far more substantial and supportive. While there's no internal frame at the rear, in the conventional sense, the pack does have a structure of a different sort - a solid foam ring all the way around the mouth, combined with an integral wire frame at the front (not back) of the pack. While the primary function of this is to keep the mouth wide open and the bag standing upright for maximum convenience at the crag, we think it also gives the whole thing a bit of added support when carrying heavy loads. Padding is provided on the back, shoulder straps and hip belt, all faced with a very open mesh fabric that helps with air flow to reduce sweatiness. The shoulder straps and hipbelt are well sculpted for a close fit, and in use they feel really comfy - so much so that you can forget the Vector is not a full-on mountain pack.

Features

Its features make the Vector outstanding as a cragging pack. First and most unusually, as already mentioned, you get the foam stiffening around the mouth and on the base of the pack; in addition to the internal frame this keeps the bag standing up on its base, and the mouth open. It may seem a first world problem, but accessing the contents of a floppy bag when you're gearing up is an inconvenience - a problem the Vector solves. Because it's free standing, you can even use it as a rope bag. The mouth opens enormously wide too, which makes it that much easier to root around inside, and to stuff a tangle of gear and ropes in if you can't be bothered to sort it all neatly at the end of the day. Closure is by a single drawcord with a large stitched-in toggle. The top lip of this sleeve is hugely extended in order to create something of a lid when you close the pack, and to give you room to pile up the contents of the sack really high. An additional over-the-top strap doubles as compression and external rope storage.

Side compression straps keep the pack tight when it's not fully loaded, and offer extra external carrying capacity - enough for a rope on each side of the bag if you wanted. Daisy chains give you a couple of handy additional clip-in points too - a good place to stick the helmet for instance. Zipped storage is very limited however, and if you have lots of loose bits and bobs to carry this is the only real downside of the Vector. Inside is a single small zipped pocket that's just enough to cram in a wallet, phone and car keys - and there is a key clip. Outside is one other zipped sleeve - we hesitate to call it a 'pocket' - which just has space for a Rockfax-sized guidebook, and nothing else. A comfy grab handle on each side makes it easy to shift the open bag around the base of the crag. Finally, DMM have included a little carry bag inside the main pack; this is primarily designed to keep your rack neat, organised and free of dirt; we've also used it as a mini rope bag on occasion.

Weight, capacity and value

For its size and substantial feel, the Vector's 1225g weight seems fair enough. Its 45 litre capacity feels on the generous side, and more than adequate for a day's cragging - particularly considering how easy it is to pile the bag extra high to give yourself effectively several more litres of space if you really need it. The materials are light but feel reasonably hard wearing, and the build quality seems good too. This has been our go-to cragging pack all summer and autumn this year, and as yet it is not showing signs of wear. Our one potential concern - and we'd emphasise that as yet it has not been a problem - is that there is only a single line of stitching at the top of the load bearing part of the shoulder straps (the Alpkit El Burro has three). Overall, we'd say that £85 for a pack this good is money well spent.


Lowe Alpine Alpine Ascent 40:50

£100

Alpine Ascent 40:50 prod shot, 63 kb

Lowe Alpine Ascent back, 66 kb

A brand new model aimed squarely at alpine and winter climbers, the Alpine Ascent offers all the essential features of a mountain pack while keeping a lid on both the overall weight and the price. It's an attractive package, though lacks some of the refined feel of pricier packs.

Back system, shoulder straps and hipbelt

A skinny wire frame adds a measure of internal bracing for load carrying support - it's less substantial than some pack frames, but up to the job. Committed minimalists could remove it to save weight, but that would be a very fractional advantage. The back system gains bit of extra stiffness from a firm foam pad. This can also be removed to double as an emergency bivvy sit mat, though we've found it a bit of a battle to get back in. Padding on the back includes enough ventilation channels to keep sweat under control, however on out tester its shaping does not feel as body hugging and anatomical as some back systems. The shoulder straps are sculpted to give a close fit; on the downside though, their cushioning is a lot deeper than strictly needed, which adds a little unnecessary bulk - enough that you can feel it when raising your arms, for instance. Padding on the hipbelt is very broad at the sides, helping to spread the load of a heavy bag. It's also shaped to make it easy to double it back around the pack when climbing. The plastic buckle is robust, and easily used with gloves; the length of redundant webbing tail is excessive though, and we'd be tempted to cut it short if that didn't them mean having to re-stitch it. Overall, while the fit is OK it does not feel as stable or robust as some of the heavy load carriers in this test, nor as body hugging and unobtrusive as the pricier climbing packs.

The hipbelt folds back neatly when not needed, 95 kb
The hipbelt folds back neatly when not needed
© Dave Saunders

It's a decent mountain pack for the money, 109 kb
It's a decent mountain pack for the money
© Dave Saunders

Features

The zipped top-lid pocket is fairly small, with just enough space for a pair of thick ski gloves when the lid is pulled tight over a full pack. Underneath is the usual second zipped pocket, which comes with a key clip. A single metal hook secures the front of the lid, a simple and glove-friendly arrangement that we think beats a plastic buckle (and it's twice as good as the traditional two buckles!). To extend the capacity of the pack you can easily raise the lid far enough to accommodate a large tent or a bulky rope, while when they are not needed the lid's rear straps tuck neatly out of the way, which cuts down on the amount of webbing hanging about. If you're going in stripped-down mode the lid can be very easily unhooked and left at home, leaving you with a long top compression / rope holding strap, and a sleeve with a double drawcord. On the plus side the drawcord toggles are sewn in and easy to use with gloves; on the downside the mouth of the pack is slightly on the small side.

Twin side compression straps compress the pack well. While the top straps have enough spare length to double as external storage for rollmats or whatever, the bottom strap is unaccountably a lot shorter and less useful in this regard. Lowe Alpine have however included handy wand pockets. Narrow, low-profile (but strongly stitched) daisy chains allow plenty of additional clipping and strapping possibilities. Axe attachment is simple and secure - a toggle through the head, pick held snug under a flap and the shaft fixed under a webbing loop, an extension of the top compression straps. This setup is glove-friendly, minimal faff, and holds a pair of tools tight and still so there's no annoying clanking as you walk.

With a haul loop, an internal water bag sleeve, and gear loops and ice screw clip-in points that give you racking options on the hipbelt, all the standard features of a mountain pack are here.

Weight, capacity and value

Considering the feature set, it is really good work by Lowe Alpine to have got the weight of the Alpine Ascent down to just over 1kg. Losing the lid saves you a little of this weight, though from a fast-and-light perspective it's a shame that the hipbelt is not also removable. The stated 40 litre capacity seems about bang on, and proves enough for all the clutter of a winter climbing day. Lowe Alpine's proposed +10 litres is a touch ambitious though, unless they are counting the extra height afforded by the floating lid (if so, we can't meaningfully quantify how much additional volume this really gives you). The 330d fabric used on most of the pack feels hard wearing, while panels of rubbery 420d 'TriShield Dura' on high wear areas on the front, base and lid further boost the durable feel. It's too soon to talk about the build quality - we've had this brand new model for a fortnight. However the webbing straps and some of the smaller components don't quite have the quality feel of some more expensive packs. At £100 though, the Alpine Ascent overall seems good value for money.

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UKC Articles and Gear Reviews by UKC/UKH Test Team


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