It's been a long time since Mountain Equipment last made rucksacks, but after several years in development, during which we're told it went through 35 versions, the much anticipated Tupilak Pack range has finally gone public. Having ogled them at the recent ISPO trade show, we were delighted to be offered an exclusive first trial in the real world. Our full review will follow in a few weeks, after we've had a chance to use it through the remainder of the winter season. With a few days' use so far, here are some initial thoughts.
Let's start with the key question: Do the results justify the wait, and does the Tupilak Pack live up to expectations? On first impressions, very much so.
But there is an elephant in the room: the price. At between £180-£220, this is not a purchase to take lightly. We may have more to say about this in the full review, but for now we do think the cost reflects the design, materials and build standards that have gone into it.
Size and capacity
Three sizes are available: a light-n-fast 30+; a middle-of-the-road 37+; and a gear-guzzling 45+. We've been using the 37+, which is arguably the most versatile, with sufficient capacity for a day out while maintaining the neat, trim pack size that you want when climbing. It's got room for all the winter essentials, including your half of the rack, shell top and bottoms, duvet jacket and bothy bag (our Gear Ed never leaves home in winter without one). If you're a gear-heavy packer, or heading out for an Alpine overnight, then the Tupilak 45+ is probably more the thing. At the 37 litre capacity, packing does require some discipline - but in our case that's probably a good thing. Crampons can go in, we've found, but the rope and helmet have to stay out.
External storage options include side compression straps of usable length, the main pack closure strap which doubles as a rope retainer, stitched-in daisychains and the optional addition of bungy cord.
There's a time and a place for minimalism, and with a number of removable features, notably the hip belt pads and side compression straps, you get to make your own call on when. ME quote the standard weight of the Tupilak 37+ at only 780g - hardly a lot - but if weight saving is a priority it's possible to strip that back to just 570g.
All the features you'd be likely to need in a climbing pack are here, but nothing superfluous.
There's no lid pocket in the conventional sense, but a floating zipped pocket for loose bits and bobs is provided, and proves just enough for phone, torch, keys etc. A drawstring closure at the lid is backed by a rolltop sleeve to keep rain and spindrift out. Having only been out in fine weather so far, we've just folded this sleeve neatly into the pack where you wouldn't even know it's there.
The axe retaining system will be familiar from many other climbing packs, but here it's done particularly well - robust, secure, and easy to operate wearing gloves. We're big fans of the 'Grappler' too, Mountain Equipment's nifty main pack buckle which is totally glove friendly and seems pretty much indestructible. The retainers on the side compression straps follow a similar principle, though we do find them more fiddly to use. Perhaps there's a technique to it.
For the body of the pack Mountain Equipment have gone for something called PACT fabric. It's early days, of course, but this does seem mega tough and does a good job of shrugging off spindrift. A quick test in the bathroom confirms its water-shedding ability, so though we've not yet had the Tupilak out in the rain we're pretty confident it will laugh in the face of a bit of moisture (though since the seams aren't taped, there will be a limit somewhere - probably about the time you bin the day and retire to the climbing wall anyway).
From the buckles (a mix of metal and plastic) to the webbing straps and axe-retaining elastic, all the components feel of a high quality, and reflect the sense that the Tupilak Pack seems built to last.
With a climbing pack you don't necessarily want loads of spongy padding, and that's exactly what you don't get with the Tupilak. A hard EVA panel provides the structure, and the only concession to cushioning on the back. At first we wondered if this was a bit stiff, but in use it has proved surprisingly comfortable, helping a fully loaded pack to hold its shape and protecting you from any sharp jabby contents.
A hipbelt provides additional load carrying support. To continue the stripped-back theme, the designers have reduced hip cushioning to a minimum, leaving just two very firm foam hip pads. Moving freely on the webbing belt, you can tailor their position to suit, or remove them altogether. At first glance this seemed a bit gimmicky, but in use the logic is hard to fault.
The shoulder straps are similarly firm but fair, providing just enough cushioning for load carrying comfort without feeling bulky when you start climbing. They are nicely sculpted for a body-hugging shape without limiting arm movement, and with the sternum strap fastened the whole thing feels close fitting and well balanced.
In summary, the Tupilak's loaded comfort is about spot on for its capacity, but it's when you get roped up that it really shines. This is one of the best-fitting climbing packs we can remember using.
Mountain Equipment say:
We have our idea of the perfect alpine pack. We want it to be simple. We want it to be lightweight. We want it to be durable. We know it should climb well yet be big enough to carry all that you need with nothing that you don't.
Developed over the course of more than 3 years and refined through more than 35 prototypes. Every aspect of design and functionality has been individually tested and assessed by us, our pro partners and a hand-picked group of professional mountain guides.
- Sizes: 30+ 37+ or 45+
- Prices: Tupilak 30+ £180 Tupilak 37+ £200 Tupilak 45+ £220
- Weight Tupilak 30+ Min: 520g Max: 730g
- Weight Tupilak 37+ Min: 570g Max: 780g
- Weight Tupilak 45+ Min: 600g Max: 815g
- PACT™ 300 & 100 R2 fabrics; durable, lightweight and water resistant
- All components removable
- Integrated cowl-lid closure for easy packing and weather protection
- Durable aluminium Grappler™ buckle
- Internal 'floating' accessories pocket; accessible from inside or outside
- Internal weather-proof cowl with roll-top closure
- Side compression straps with aluminium Hammerhead™ toggles
- High Density EVA back panel
- High Density EVA shoulder straps
- 40mm webbing hipbelt with removable High Density EVA moulded hip-fins
- Dual axe toggles with integrated pick pocket
- Daisy Chain system and haul loops
- Supplied with Shockcord System
For more on the Tupilak Pack range see: mountain-equipment.co.uk
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