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.
Despite its name, I haven't used the Fast Alpine in the Alps yet, but it has been up Scottish, Welsh and Lakes winter routes; summer multi-pitch rock routes; lugged a load of cams and ropes and such up to moorland crags; come on overnight backpacks; and even carried my quickdraws, rope and prism glasses into Horseshoe Quarry for some sport climbing! I don't see why it wouldn't work well in "the alpine" too, but overall the Fast Alpine 40 is Montane's very decent stab at making an all-round pack for the British mountaineer.
First a problem, easily fixed but still worthy of note - my Fast Alpine came with a faulty cord-lock on the main drawstring closure at the top of the pack. It is one of those cord-locks permanently attached to the pack allowing one handed opening and closing. It is a slightly different shape from those I've had before and I spent some time trying to work out if I was doing something wrong, or missing something very obvious, when it wouldn't grip the drawcord, but actually it was just faulty - the spring didn't seem to be attached to the moving section of the cord-lock, so it would not grip the drawcord. Not long after receiving the pack to review, I was in a branch of a large outdoor chain and noticed they had a stock of the Fast Alpine 40s. I took a look at their display model and noticed its cord-lock was faulty, along with about half of the packs on the shelf below it. Clearly a number of faulty cord-locks went to Montane's factory and were not picked up by quality control. I found and old cord-lock taken off a 'deceased' pack and stuck that on my review pack - it works fine.
If anyone bought such a faulty pack I'm sure a shop would swap for one without the fault and Montane has a repair facility in the UK, so I'm sure with a bit of unsewing, they could replace the faulty ones with working cord-locks, but it is all extra hassle for a consumer and extra resources being used to sort out a small problem that didn't really need to happen in the first place.
Beyond this though, it's all good. At its heart the Fast Alpine 40 is a simple pack and all the better for that. It has one big main compartment, closed by the aforementioned drawcord. Over the top is a lid with a decent sized main pocket on the top and smaller security pocket under the flap. The lid is done up by one metal hook which is simple to use and seems completely secure. There are two compression straps on each side which can be undone with fastex buckles to allow skis to be stowed there 'A frame' style. Ice tools are held on by metal rods on elastic that pass through a hole in the head or blade of your axe, with the handle then kept up under the compression straps. I found the elastic a little short for passing the metal rods through the hole on the head of my DMM Switches, although they are pretty chunky there. You can do it, it is just a bit of a fight. All other ice tools I've tried fit easily and securely.
The back of the Fast Alpine 40 is finished with a smooth material that doesn't hold snow. There are shaped foam pads in the lumber and shoulder regions. The shoulder straps are well shaped and firm without being too wide - they do not limit your ability to reach up whether to swing a tool or reach for a hold. The pack has a padded waist belt which, along with an aluminium frame and a removable foam pad that stiffens the pack, makes it a surprisingly comfortable rucksack to carry a medium load with. I've carried a big trad rack, ropes and water in it for summer mountain cragging on one occasion and overnight backpacking and hill walking gear in on another, and found the pack as comfy with those sorts of loads as any other around that 40 litre size.
The 40L volume of the Fast Alpine I find the sweet spot for all round British climbing use. I have used 28 and 30 litre packs for winter climbing and it's great once you are actually climbing, but you end up with lots of things strapped to the outside of your pack. Mid-sized packs like the Fast Alpine work well for keeping gear dry on the walk-in and I like being able to just chuck everything in there without much thought when finishing a winter route when the weather isn't great, or when darkness has already arrived or will do so shortly. Once you are geared up and there isn't much in there, the compressed pack isn't particularly annoying to climb with. I tend to clip the waistbelt out of way around the front of the pack, and use the chest strap when climbing, and this works as well with this pack as with any other I've used. There is a stiffened haul loop on both the back and front of the pack which makes it easy to clip in to belays as well.
Size, weight and stripping it down
The Fast Alpine 40 comes in one size that Montane calls M/L. I a bit under 5' 10" - so not particularly tall, but not really small either. I've found when the Fast Alpine has its frame in, if I look up whilst wearing a helmet (i.e. go climbing with the pack on) my helmet would knock against the frame. I've found that for the loads I carry taking gear into climbs, summer or winter, I'm personally happy to take the frame out; this resolves the helmet issue and I still find the pack comfy to carry, but for people considerably under my height I suspect the pack might be too long on them. My Fast Alpine weighs 1415g; Montane's product page says "1247g weight (approx)". This seems both an oddly specific approximate weight and also quite a discrepancy from the weight of the pack on my scales. 1.4kg is not light these days for a 40 litre pack, but in its favour the Fast Alpine seems to be made out of a very tough material - nearly a year of regular use, including up a decent number of climbs, has not left any visible marks on it. Secondly, the pack is very "strippable", where you can trade load carrying comfort for a lighter leaner pack. The weight of the components that can be removed are as follows:
This means that the pack in its stripped-down form weighs just 826g, which for a 40 litre pack is very good. Climbing with the pack in its stripped down form is particularly good - if it's mainly empty, you hardly notice it is there. When the lid is removed there is a little flap and strap that helps keep rain or snow out of the main body of the pack.
With a RRP of £140, the Montane Fast Alpine 40 is about in the middle of the price range for good quality winter climbing packs of about that size. Beside the issue over the cord-lock, it seems like a well-designed and well-built pack, and made out of materials that seem very hard wearing. I've been trying to avoid the slightly annoying phrase from skiing of "a quiver of one", but if you were to put rucksacks in a quiver (which seems rather silly) and you can still call it a quiver if there is only one thing in it, then the Fast Alpine might well be a "quiver of one rucksack for the British climber". Use it in the Alps in the summer; in the Highlands for winter routes in February; for ski touring in Norway at Easter; and for lugging your rack to crag, or your bivvy gear around a big hill walking circuit...
Built on feedback from Montane athletes and leading British mountain guides, the Fast Alpine 40 has been updated with a removable lid, wand pockets and mitt-friendly buckles enhancing its functionality, ideal for any winter ascent or long summer climbs.
For more info see montane.co.uk
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