It's billed as a small technical pack for 'the fastest moving alpine days' and 'the steepest lines', but I can vouch that the Orcus also works very well for less superlative mountain activities closer to home, be that multi pitch rock climbing, scrambling or just lightly-loaded hillwalking. You don't have to be at the leading edge to appreciate a well-designed climbing pack, after all, but if you did feel the urge to push it then the Orcus 24+ certainly wouldn't be the thing holding you back.
Twenty four litres isn't a lot to be playing with, but that does make for a disciplined approach to packing. You won't be lugging lots of gear around in it, but when it comes to the hands-on part of the day that small size will be appreciated. As a roll-top bag the Orcus is marginally more faffy than a zip-top. The advantage is that it can be extended upwards to take on an over-stuffed load, while on the other hand it's still easily compressible by using the side clips to scrunch down the top of the pack. This arrangement does away with the need for side compression straps, which makes for a cleaner, simpler feel.
Weight and toughness
Given its alpine and climbing remit, lightness is key, and Mountain Equipment have done well to minimise weight without sacrificing too much in the way of features, durability or comfort. I make the all-in weight a very respectable 496g, including the optional hipbelt and shock cording. Remove these, the rope retaining strap and a couple of other buckles and you're down to 415g. And if even that isn't enough of a saving, slipping out the EVA back panel gets you to just 354g (ME say 340g).
That's going to be light enough for even the most weight conscious user; but in terms of toughness the Orcus is no flimsy lightweight. Its 'M210' polyamide ripstop fabric feels like it'll stand up well to alpine and rock climbing, and the overall build quality seems excellent. The pack shrugs off a fair bit of weather too, thanks to a water repellent finish on the outside and a PU coating inside.
Fit and comfort
As you'd expect from a small technical mountain pack, padding is firm and sensibly minimalist. The removable back sheet protects the wearer from jabby items in the pack, and gives the whole thing structure. It's not a soft or cushioned carry, but I find it comfy nonetheless, and I think the stiffness of the sheet is just right for a pack with no frame. In hot weather you can't help noticing that there's absolutely no concession to ventilation, and with your back in contact with the weather-resistant fabric you do soon get sweaty. On the other hand the lack of mesh and air channels helps to bring the load in as close as possible to the wearer, which is what you want when climbing, and the back sheet is never going to get clogged with snow.
The shoulder straps are well-sculpted for a close and unrestrictive fit when climbing, and again the cushioning here is firm and thin - just how I prefer it. My only gripes are: that the buckle on the straps extends below the padding and can dig into the ribs a little; and that no retainers have been provided to secure the spare length of webbing tail, so you get quite a lot of strap dangling around. Simple sewn elastic loops would have sorted that (you can add your own, but...).
For a small bag, it's no surprise that the back length of the Orcus 24 is fairly short. At 183cm (6 foot) tall, and with a long-ish back, I find the hipbelt sits far too high, at about mid-stomach. It's not really designed to spread the load anyway, being a simple webbing strap, and though it does help hold the pack in place when you're bending and twisting, I have removed it (very easily done). I don't regret its loss since I'd rarely want a hipbelt on a pack this small.
Overall, the Orcus 24 is a comfy and well-balanced pack, which allows free arm movement for climbing and scrambling. Mountain Equipment have got the basics right here, and my criticisms are minor.
Simplicity is the name of the game, but what features there are have clearly been thought through with functionality uppermost in mind. The result is a pleasingly minimalist, no nonsense climbing pack.
As I mentioned at the start, the rolltop can be secured two different ways, to allow the pack to expand upwards or compress down when less full. The disadvantage of not having a conventional lid is the lack of the usual over-lid pocket, something I always seem to miss when it's not on offer. In its place ME have provided a small-ish zipped pocket, which is enough for a few loose bits and bobs (an OS map will just about cram in) and includes a key clip and a protective flap to keep at least some weather out (it's a non-waterproof coil zip).
You're not going to fit a rope inside the Orcus 24, but one can be secured over the top of the pack. The removable rope strap features an aluminium buckle of the hook-on variety, rather than a clip, which works well and should prove very durable. When not needed, the strap tucks neatly out of sight into the opening that's also used for your water bladder tube.
Twin daisychains give you places to clip overspill items such as a helmet, and they're also used to thread on the shock cording. A robust length of stretchy cord with a length-adjusting toggle, this comes supplied but not fitted, giving you the option to add it or not. I used the pack a few times without the shock cord, but have now fitted it since it seems like useful extra storage and also doubles as a way to compress a half load.
For winter or alpine use, the axe attachment system is pleasingly robust and non-gimmicky. The length-adjustable lower webbing loops should fit any axe head, though the upper elastic retainers could perhaps be a fraction longer, as it's a bit of a fight to secure them around a shaft once you've thickened it with grip tape.
A grab handle, and a water bladder sleeve, complete the feature set.
If £80 seems quite steep for a small day pack it's worth remembering that you can pay more for packs that are less suited to the mountains. This is a refined climbing specialist, and for the thought that's gone into the design and the general quality of manufacture and materials I think the price is fair. While this has been only a short term test so far, I'd expect it to last well. My only real criticism is that this is a very strappy bag, since no provision has been made for neatly retaining the various long tails of webbing.
Overall, the Orcus 24 is a great little pack, with a nice close fit for climbing, a robust feel, and a functional design that gives you all the mountain essentials, and nothing fiddly or fussy.
Mountain Equipment say:
A dedicated lightweight climbing pack that excels on the fastest moving Alpine days as well as being an ideal choice for carrying essentials on the steepest lines.
- 24 litre optimum capacity
- Weight: 496g max, 366g min
- M210 fabrics; water resistant and durable
- Rolltop closure for weather resistance
- Zipped pocket
- Ropestrap with aluminium buckle
- Removable EVA composite back panel
- EVA composite shoulder straps
- Removable 20mm webbing hipbelt
- Dual webbing axe retainers
- Daisy Chain system and grab handle
- Supplied with Shockcord System
For info see mountain-equipment.co.uk