When I first saw the new Alpha FL 30 and 45 packs from Arc’teryx , I have to admit to being a little excited. They looked just like the minimum fuss, alpine climbing packs I had been waiting to see someone produce. But did the performance match the looks?
Overall Rating: *****
FL stands for Fast and Light. Move freely and quickly with the minimum of equipment. For me the perfect pack for alpine climbing or any climbing for that matter, should be light, simple, low profile and durable. I don’t want lots of other features and pockets that add bulk, weight and faff. Luckily the Alpha FL 30 pack has none of these. In fact it doesn’t even have a lid.
“Alpha FL packs were created for climbers and alpinists who want a light, durable and highly weather resistant pack that is pared down to be as simple as possible. No extraneous straps or parts. To save weight and provide the climber with easy access to contents, the traditional top lid has been replaced with our RollTop™ closure and an external security pocket. The RollTop™ provides a weatherproof seal, extends the packs volume and when not needed tucks inside the pack for quicker access. External lash points can be used to attach tools, crampons, extra layers, helmets, sleeping pads, etc. Shoulder straps are soft-edged and carry extremely comfortably with heavy or light loads.
Ultralight and fast, highly weather resistant and alpine strong, the Alpha FL 30 is for built for climbers. An intense focus on the realities of moving fast on rock and ice led to this versatile, streamlined pack that combines leading edge fabric technologies, performance focused design and a confident simplicity.”
In order to see if the Alpha FL pack does what it says on the tin, I’ve tested it to the max. Multipitch alpine rock routes, classic north faces, ridges, 4000m peaks, UK trad, scrambles, it’s been up them all!
Firstly, the Alpha FL 30 is not a huge pack and those of you that like to take lots of extra kit, just in case, may find it too small particularly if you are carrying bivi kit as well as a full rack of climbing gear. There is a 45 litre version available too though. Arc’teryx say that the FL 30 pack is actually only 23 litres unless you have the roll top lid fully extended, but due to the fact it’s essentially a big stuff sack with rucksack straps and slightly more voluminous at the bottom, I think it feels bigger than that. A lot of it depends on how good you are at packing I suppose, but I managed to get my share of the climbing kit, food, stove and my personal bivi kit in the FL 30, with only axe, crampons, bivi pad and helmet on the outside which is not bad for a small pack. I am quite good at packing, having years of experience when it comes to knowing what I do and don’t need and the safety margins. Others may take more or even less.
When carrying the Alpha FL 30 pack with a full load it felt comfortable and stable on my back, with the simple waist belt and adjustable chest strap helping things along nicely, and easily providing enough comfort for a pack of this size. Due to the back being covered in the same fabric as the rest of the pack, it does get a wee bit sweaty when working hard, particularly when approaching alpine routes for the valley floor or UK summer cragging. It is all a question of balance though. This is a minimalist pack and whilst it feels far from flimsy, it still only weighs 0.575kg.
The simple drawcord and roll top closure system work well and keep all your gear secure and protected from the elements. Whilst not being 100% the Alpha FL 30 is the closest thing I’ve found that is also tough and not heavy. When the pack is not overfilled just roll the roll top down further and pull the draw string tight. When you need extra space the roll down system allows it. No extra weight or bulk.
As I said earlier, the fact that the main body is so simple means it is easy to pack and unpack. I did find the small front zipper pocket made packing the main inner a little bit awkward as it tended to bulge inward rather than outward, but this was only an issue when the pack was really full. But this was the only minor issue I experienced with the pack at all.
The outer bungee system covers a multitude of tasks from compressing the pack when it isn’t full to storing items of clothing or lashing your crampons. It also features a very neat and simple ice axe attachment system which is easy to use, secure and also works with modern hammer and adze-less tools.
When climbing with the pack on, it carried like a dream, achieving that crucial balance of not interfering with my harness, not catching my helmet when I look up and being narrow and slim enough that it didn’t interfere with climbing chimneys and narrow couloirs. Streamlined sums it up nicely!
The fabric used on the Alpha FL 30 and the way the whole thing is constructed, is quite special. It is built using the Arc’teryx developed, “N400-AC², a unique nylon fabric that sheds weather. PU coated inside and out, the fabric is water, snow and even air-impermeable. The RollTop™ closure shuts out the elements, and the seams are taped to complete the seal.” This fabric really is light, tough and weatherproof. It feels really burly to touch but then is also very light. Even after months of abuse, I haven’t managed to put a single hole in it. A nice touch is that the inner PU coating is purposefully white to aid visibility when looking into the pack.
Other features include a HD80 foam back panel to provide support and comfort, but also give the pack some structure. This works well and also stops and bulky or pointy objects pressing into your back. All closure features and straps are glove friendly and the pack features 2 haul loops for attaching a haul line when things get too tricky or clipping it into belays.
All in all the Alpha FL 30 pack from Arc’teryx is pretty much the perfect climbing pack, particularly for technical alpine routes. It is simple, streamlined, easy to pack, tough and weatherproof. It has all the features you need, and none you don’t. Some might find it a bit small for UK trad or winter use, however there is a larger 45 litre version available too. I really like the roll top closure, sleek profile and simple ice tool attachment. Mine has had a lot of use so far but doesn’t look like it has! A great mix of light, simple and bombproof.
- RRP: £130
- Find out more and buy one at the Arc’teryx website.