Has CGR found the perfect climbing pack with the Arc’teryx No-Zone 35?
Value for money ***
Those who have been reading my reviews for while now have been following my quest for the perfect climbing pack. It’s been going on for some time now and I’ve written about and reviewed plenty of packs that although good don’t quite make it to the mark. So how did the new climbing specific offering from premier brand Arc’teryx live up to testing?
Arc’teryx describe it as a: A smaller-volume, robust yet highly comfortable backpack designed for alpine expeditions. The range come in three volumes, 35l, 55l and a whopping 75l and three sizes S, M and L so plenty of range to find one for your requirements. The official stats had it down as 0.95kg and the trusty CGR kitchen scales weighed it in at 1kg, so good enough. Stripped down it weighed 900g, so pretty darned light.
I would describe it as: An excellent all round climbing pack that will suit the majority of your climbing needs. I tested the No-Zone 35l sized M.
Let’s look at the specifics first- the pack is top loading and anotomically designed with a narrow, tapered profile. This proved great for climbing with a helmet on, especially with the lid tucked into the main body. This was one of the best packs I have used for climbing with. It had a very low profile and offered an unrestricted view. The pack rode high when climbing and I had plenty of access to my harness. It wasn’t hydration compatible but this didn’t bother me as I don’t use hoses, if you do it’s about time you stopped anyway! Stop, take a nice drink and soak in the view, refill even from a beautifully cold mountain stream and drink some more.
It was very comfortable to carry, even loaded up. The straps were anatomically designed and fitted my shoulder width very well without chaffing. The straps were thin, so much so that I thought at first they were made using warp technology. But they did have some padding and were comfortable. The sternum strap was adjustable and very stable, alas it didn’t have a strap to fit a watch on or any other way of clipping a GPS on either.
The pack was stabalized with two extruded aluminium stays, they were easily removed and they had a great, low profile. This has been the only pack I tested where I have kept the stays in. They didn’t impede with climbing performance at all and were labelled to avoid confusion when being replaced. Top marks here. The back also had a non removable, high density plastazote support. This posed a problem for Kev’s mate Gary from Big Red Climbing. He used the pack extensively in The Alps this summer and complained of the sharp corners creating sores on his lower back. So you will need to look out for this and try the pack under full load to see if it fits your lower back shape, I must say I haven’t experienced the problem.
The sternum straps were stitched in such a way as to make watch attachment a no no. I’ve wittered on about this for a while now- but I feel that in any mountain situation, especially in winter, access to the time/altitude is quite important. A small point but the pack let me down on this. The waist belt was easy to remove but more difficult to get back on the field, especially with gloves on. I would have preferred a method of tucking the belt away for climbing instead.
The construction was very robust, which was amazing as it just felt so light. The materials were totally bombproof and there was double reinforcement in all the high wear areas such as the base, ice axe holders and the front (where crampons can be lashed). The rest was made of a lighter weight fabric which still felt robust. I’ve treated the pack quite badly and its showing no signs of damage at all. There was plenty of bar tacking in all the high stress areas that were neatly hidden away inside the pack. The pack was showerproof, except the lid (more later) and it kept kit dry enough.
When I received the pack I let out a whoop of joy – wand pockets! Only to find that there was only one, and small it was too. The website photos show the wand pocket with a snow probe in it, OK you may need it for that occasionally but I couldn’t get two hiking poles in it – a much more frequent use. I could get my clip stick in comfortably and easily stash wrappers, light gloves, buff, hat or an ultralight windproof.
The compression straps worked easily and were made of 12mm webbing. Both of them had clip buckle fastening, which was handy for stashing stuff onto the side that I needed quickly. You could also stash tent outers, sleeping mats, etc if you were loading it up. The top strap incorporated the ice axe holder, so instead of putting the axe through a loop and attaching it though an elasticated loop. You push the shaft of the axe through the loop in the compression strap, place the pick in the sleeve at the bottom. Clip the bottom compression strap and tighten both compression straps and you’re good to go – the whole system relies on you remembering to tighten up the compression straps. If you don’t you’re in real danger of losing your axe.
The whole system works beautifully with a classic Piolet, and it worked fine with my BD Vipers. But anything that has funky triggers and palm rests or radical curves it may be a little faffy.
The lid was easily detachable with just a couple of clip buckles. It floated and was connected to the main body with two 10mm webbing straps. These were very slippery and I found that if I forgot to keep the lid in place using the stainless steel hook in the middle of the lid it quickly became floppy and loose. When I had the pack loaded enough to need the float it again became loose. I am assuming this will only be annoying until the straps wear enough to develop some friction. But it’s annoying enough for now. The closure was on top of the pack, I can see this being a good idea for easy access, but the zip did leak water when it rained. The key fob was situated in the front and I felt could have been a little larger, I could only just get my whistle, tat knife and car keys on it and getting keys off was faffy at the end of a long day out. The lid was well shape though and had great volume. You easily get two pairs of gloves, two hats, wallet, phone etc. Load it up as much as you like it could take it.
The pack closed with a neat one handed system that had over sized, webbed grabs, very glove friendly. The closures were curiously offset to the right and worked really well for me – but I’m right handed. I was climbing a big multipitch route with a mate who is left handed and he found it a nightmare, especially when the pack was clipped into the belay. I couldn’t see any real advantage to having the closure that way. All the packs I’ve used and tested had closures in the middle and have worked perfectly well, the oversized pull tabs were great though, a great feature. The 6mm micro daisy chains were bar tacked onto the main body in a tapered configuration. The pack came with enough shockcord to thread through and this together with the reinforcement in the body provided a secure crampon attachment. The chains were plenty big enough to clip carabiners into.
So, a great lightweight pack that would be suitable for all your mountain adventures from sport climbing to Alpine Expeditions. Is it the perfect pack? I’m afraid the answer is no, there were several minor niggles and we don’t buy Arc’teryx for minor niggles we buy it for perfection. Still it’s a beautiful pack and extremely comfortable, you can load it to the max and will easily swallow up all your kit. It weighs next to nothing and for climbing in it’s a dream, certainly a contender for the best Alpine and winter pack on market at the moment.