Mountain photographs in this review were shot before the current travel restrictions in England came into effect. Please abide by the restrictions in your area.
My halcyon days were the 1990s, particularly the first half when I was a student in Glasgow and getting to go to the Highlands most weekends, summer and winter. In that sense the Halcyon 35:40 is well named as it harks back to your classic mid-sized do-everything mountain rucksack - not too big to be ridiculous for big days out hill walking in summer; for carrying half the rack and a half rope up to mountain cliff or more remote moorland crag; or of course to chuck your crampons in and strap your ice tools to, for winter climbing adventures.
What's it for?
Such rucksacks need to be comfortable for carrying pretty decent loads. If you're on an overnight camping trip that could be a fair amount of stuff; if you're winter climbing then that might be half the rack for mixed climbing at your limit, plus ice tools, crampons, a rope, bothy bag, belay jacket, food, drink and other sundries. That sort of load is never going to be that light no matter how weight conscious your gear choices are, and plenty of Scottish routes have walk-ins that will take you at least a couple of hours hiking while carrying all that weight.
Yet the all-round mountain pack also has to be unobtrusive when you are climbing with it, be that summer rock or winter ice. It's a tick in both boxes for the Halcyon.
Additionally Lowe Alpine have added to its all-round appeal by putting a chunky zip down the side of the main pack, which has obvious uses if you are backpacking. This also makes it surprisingly usable as a crag pack, where you want easy access to your gear, wherever you packed it, but where the pack is going to remain at the foot of any climbs done. I was unconvinced by the side zip at first, it looked like a place where the rain could leak in and it's not unheard of for zips to fail. But after some use it has become one of my favourite features of the pack.
If the 35:40 seems a bit tight for multi day mountaineering or backpacking trips, the Halcyon also comes in a 45:50 version.
While no female fit is available, this pack does come in three different back lengths, which is an advance on the one-size-doesn't-fit-all approach often seen in climbing packs. Small has a 43cm back length; Medium is 48cm; and Large is 53cm.
At a total weight of 1365g for the medium size that I have reviewed (size Large is a bit heavier at 1.46kg), the Halcyon 35:40 is no featherweight, but it has a back system that allows you to lug around relatively heavy loads while still being clearly designed for climbing in terms of things like the cut of the shoulder straps. And if you are willing to go without the wire frame and stiffener-sheet in the back plus remove the padding from hip belt - but still having a webbing waist strap, the Halcyon's weight drops to below a kilo - which is far closer to what many will consider "lightweight" for a pack of its size.
Stripped except for the webbing waist strap, it weighs 991g, while its fully stripped weight is down to 947g.
The Halcyon is a classic, single point of closure, top-entry mountaineering pack. Unlike the fashion among many modern alpine packs it has a non-removable lid with a good sized pocket and a slimmer security pocket on the inside. The lid closes with a hook arrangement that Lowe Alpine call a LoadLocker. This works easily even with thick snow-covered gloves on and is essentially unbreakable. Though you can't remove the lid, I've found it folds pretty neatly inside the pack, which could be useful when climbing and gives the Halcyon the look of a fancy lidless technical pack.
There are two compression straps on each side; the top ones can be quickly undone with a fastex buckle. These straps work with the separate wide and padded ski slots just below the lower compression strap to carry most skis in an A-frame configuration. The reinforced ski slot takes the majority of weight by catching the heel section of the binding, on both pin and frame skimo bindings. Occasionally this system is a little less effective with telemark and touring bindings that have no - or minimalist - heel pieces, but normally these skis will happily stay in place if the upper compression strap is tightened below the toe section of those bindings. I haven't needed to use the Halcyon yet to carry skis, but don't see any reason why it wouldn't carry them perfectly well, be that either my telemark or skimo set-ups. Another notable feature of the Halcyon's design is the chunky YKK zip down the side of the main body of the pack allowing you to access your gear quite easily regardless of whether it was packed last or first through the main access at the top of the pack.
There are lots of other clever little design features on the pack which show the thought that has gone into it: a whistle on the chest strap (actually detachable and not part of the buckle like on lots of other designs); a rope-holding strap under the lid which also squashes down the extendable part of the lid; mountain rescue instructions printed under the lid; tiny loops sewn in with the compression strap that easily allow you to add some tubular elastic should you want to carry something bulky like RidgeRest or Karrimat on the outside of the pack, if backpacking or alpine climbing.
Materials and build quality
The side and base is cleverly made out of one piece of a textured cordura-like fabric. Clearly designed to be very tough; a good few months of regular and (in the interests of gear testing of course!) careless use has completely failed to make any impression on this stuff. The rest of the pack and lid is made out of a ripstop nylon with a slightly rubbery feel to it. Rain and snow are shed from this like off the proverbial duck's back, and it seems almost as tough as the base. Overall the materials seem very high quality, and turning the pack inside out and poking at all seams shows Lowe's high quality manufacturing that I've come to associate with their very long lasting packs, various models of which I've been using for over 20 years. Four-five months use can only show so much, but I suspect this pack will be another Lowe Alpine that will last decades rather than just years.
Early in the autumn I was mainly using the Halcyon to carry my gear to wherever I was rock climbing. Even some of the Peak District's former quarries that have now been "reimagined"(!) as sport climbing crags require a bit of a stroll to get to, and a fat single rope (still don't like falling onto skinny ropes!) adds plenty of weight to your load. As the autumn progressed it seemed to be more often grit crags I walked to, carrying half a trad rack and half-rope. The Halcyon works excellently in this role - a comfy back system carries the weight with ease, and the side entry zip makes finding your second pair of rock shoes or your flask of coffee a breeze.
I've also used the pack with slightly lighter loads for both hikes in the Peak and for a day in the Lakes doing Swirral and Striding Edges in the early winter snow. Although we weren't climbing pitched, what this did show me is that when scrambling in the pack with the waist belt done up and wearing a helmet, on the steeper sections looking up meant my helmet bumping into the top of the frame in the pack. It isn't a massive problem, and may partly depend on the fit on me personally. On a recent snowy day on Kinder, I took the wire frame out, but kept the frame sheet in, and still found it really comfy and no problem with a reasonable load of kit in it. With the lid pocket stowed inside and the wire frame left at home I had no repeat of the helmet banging against the top of the pack like I had noticed on Striding Edge, so this could be the solution for winter climbing days. Having done this with various similar packs down the years, I've found this also makes them less obtrusive once they are nearly empty and you are climbing with the pack on.
One thing I don't like with the pack is how it carries ice tools. It has two "HeadLocker" tool attachment points at the bottom, aluminium toggles on elastic that you pass through any hole on the head of a tool or axe. There is also a flap to put the blades of your tools behind, keeping them out of the way. So the bottom end works well with a variety of different ice axes and tools. But to hold the handle in place at the top replies on the compression straps. Because of where they begin, not directly above the Headlockers, they make the handle of any tool carried go diagonally, not straight up. The longer your ice axe handle is, and the straighter, the more pronounced this is. I haven't impaled myself or anyone else on the spike of the ice axe whilst swinging the pack up onto my back, but somehow this arrangement feels like it makes this more likely to happen.
With modern curved tools the system works fine, and these kinds of ice tools might have been what the designers had in mind originally, but with a 65cm straight walking axe, it really doesn't look right at all. This is a bit annoying if you're out for a winter walking day.
The Lowe Alpine Halcyon 35:40 is a great pack. It is made from high quality, tough materials and with a thoughtful and clever design. It is far from the lightest pack for its size, but if you feel you don't need so much support in the back system then its weight can be significantly reduced by removing the frame and back sheet. With both the classic top entry and the large side zip, the pack becomes really multi-functional. Perhaps designed mainly with the alps or UK winter climbing in mind, it will also work as a hill walking pack or even for short backpacking trips. But the big side entry makes it work well as a crag pack too, or indeed any other role where you want to load or unload items from any part of the bag.
With a recommended retail price of £120 but being sold widely for less, the Halcyon 35:40 represents great value for money. It is definitely one of the cheaper packs in its class, but with the possible exception of low weight (which always needs to be balanced against durability and support, anyway) I'm not sure if you are getting much less with the Halcyon compared to its more expensive peers.
Lowe Alpine say:
Whether you're scaling glaciers or projecting a summer rock route, the Halcyon 35:40 alpine mountaineering pack has everything you need for a day moving in the mountains.
Born from Lowe Alpine's vertical heritage, the Halcyon 35:40 is a mid-volume, traditional mountaineering pack designed for the extraordinary. With features including a rope compression system, pick retainer panel and reinforced ski slots, you can carry your kit securely over rock, snow or ice. An extendable lid increases the volume by 5 litres, while a stiffened weather flap/compression system aids stability. A lid pocket and zipped side entry keeps kit organised and accessible.
- Grab handle / haul loop
- Rope Compression system
- Reinforced ski slots
- Zipped top pocket
- Removable frame sheet & spring steel frame
- Gear loops on hipbelt
- Single lid closure with LoadLocker
- Zipped side entry
- Moulded snow-shedding back panel
- Stiffened weather flap /compression system with additional buckle, allows lid to be securely stored inside for 'Guide mode'
- Double HeadLocker axe attachment system with Pick retainer panel
- Single panel base and sides
- Removable hipbelt and webbing
- Dual density foam hipbelt
- Weight: 1.31kg (Small) 1.46kg (Large)
- Back Length: Small 43cm; Medium 48cm; Large 53cm
For info see rab.equipment