We take the new, lightweight AX packs from iconic UK company Crux out for a test run.
The AX rucksacks are lightweight, classic alpine sacks made from an exceptionally tough Dyneema/Cordura ripstop fabric.
I have owned several Crux packs in my time, my mate Adam V L worked for them for a while when they had a warehouse facility in Rawdon, Leeds. I was lucky enough to get hold of some returns at ‘mates rates’ so I have used the AK 37, the AK 47 and an RK 30. These were all superb packs with my favourite being the AK 37; they were very well designed, lightweight and tough and had all the features I could want in a climbing pack.
So it was with fond memories when the new Crux AX 35 and a Crux AX 45 came into the office for test, indeed I was excited! The AX range is a lighter and less expensive version of the iconic AK range so will users be tempted by the reasonable price? I think they will as you will be getting a great pack with all the features of the more expensive AK range and hopefully will tempt more climbers to, what is a great British niche brand with well designed kit.
I have been using the AX 35 this season as it’s a great size for day trips for both rock and winter climbing, it’s made using a 85/15 Cordura/Dyneema fabric that has proved itself on a few thrutchy adventures this season. I’ve really been trying to trash it and can’t, it has withstood everything I’ve thrown at it. Obviously this has been in ‘normal’ climbing conditions and not dropping off the top of Scafell Crag! The base, wand pockets, ski loops are all made using a more burly fabric, as is the part of the lid where you might be stashing crampons. All well thought out as I would expect from the Crux team. The main body also has a 5 litre extension for when the pack is fully loaded, this was made with quite a flimsy material and although I haven’t pierced it yet it’s only a matter of time. Also I feel the 3mm piece of ab tat that is used for the drawcord will wear through. When I used the AK 37 pack I replaced the 3mm tat with 4mm as I thought it was a better diameter for emergency ab tat.
Other features that the AX 35 have are the great wand pockets, these are well sized and are always useful for stuffing small items into whilst on the move. They are also a godsend for stowing poles and their generous size means that I was even able to stow crampons in them. The removable side compression straps were also easy to use and made using 10mm tape and ran through a small, plastic D ring which I was very dubious about – but they haven’t broken so far so I can’t complain.
One thing I will complain about though is the titanium ice tool bars. The Crux AX range (indeed the whole Crux rucksack range) use tool bars to retain ice axes. It’s a tricky one, they definitely make the pack lighter than using a sleeve and they are more burly than using a webbing loop. But the length has be right so that they fit all tools. They went through the head of my BD Vipers perfectly fine (although the axes rattled annoyingly on approaches) but they were devilishly tricky to get through the head of my Grivel Air Tech Evo alpine axes. Why, because the leashes are also fixed through there. My preference is for tool sleeves on packs and I think that these would work well on the Crux AX packs too, there is plenty of room at the bottom of the pack and it wouldn’t add too much to the weight.
The AX 35 chest straps are well designed, comfortable under load and made and were not too wide to chafe at the arm pits. They were easily adjusted using the bottom 20mm webbing and the top compression straps. The sternum straps were adjustable and removable and the female connector strap is made from 20mm webbing which I like because I attach my watch to this when working and don’t trust elasticated ones. The fixed waist belt is made using 40mm webbing, has ergonomically designed and full sized hip fins and is finished with an aluminium locking buckle. I prefer a removable waistbelt (which it is on the AX 45) but it worked OK when threaded it though the ice tool loops for climbing. The hip belt also has two eye riveted holes for making gear loops with if you are going to be doing some glacier travel.
The lid on both the AX 35 and the AX 45 are fixed, if you want a floating lid then go for the AX 40 and the AX 50. There are two pockets in the lid and they felt a little small. The problem is that the pockets are fixed to the grey part of the lid when it would have been much better to have used the full lid area for the pocket. I found it a little annoying when trying to stuff everything in. There is also no key clip in either pocket, I often have an emergency headtorch, small knife as well as my keys attached to any key clip so the bigger the better for me. The zip pulls were very good, however and super easy to use with gloves on. The lid is attached using the daisy chain sewn strap that is fixed to about three quarters of the way up the body so no flopping about straps when I put the lid inside the pack for climbing, just the sort of attention to detail I would expect from Crux.
The back length is one size which isn’t surprising at the price point (the AX 50 comes in regular and long). I am a medium build and height at 173cms and the back length was OK. I found both the AX 35 and AX 45 ‘climbed’ better when I removed the titanium stays but I kept them in most of the time as both backs where better under load with the stays in. They were easy enough to remove and replace as they were perfectly flat, no weird shape to have to remember which way round they go. The back is also supported using a flexible plastic panel which is fixed. The AX35 has flat stays and the AX45 tubular ones to reflect the heavier load capacity.
On a finishing note I found the Crux message on the environment and their suppliers refreshing. This is an area I am taking more and more interest in and the more I research the more I tend agree with the Crux message. The outdoor industry is not a green industry, we can all try to do our best (I myself do an unbelievable amount of mileage each year both for working and for recreation). We use hydrocarbon technology in the materials we use and try to ‘forget’ the waste and pollution that is caused by this. So Crux are to be applauded for their frank admission that performance comes first and that they are trying their best. Their note on fairness in the supply chain is a message that definitely resonates in today’s political climate so again ‘hats off’ to Carol for ensuring the suppliers are treated with fairness, dignity and respect.
Back to performance! The Crux AX 35 and the Crux AX 45 are well made packs and a great addition to the Crux product range. I used the AX 35 mostly as I found that I could get most of a day out in winter and summer into it. I could easily get enough for an alpine bivvy into the AX 35. The AX 45 would be more useful for activities that require more clothing and/or kit such as slogging up to the CIC Hut on Ben Nevis or multi day routes, it has all the same features as the AX 35 but does feel a lot bigger (fine for those who like to carry kit and I have used it for three day ML expeditions quite happily getting everything in with a little room to spare). There are a few, minor issues, namely the ice tool bars and the lid pockets but I feel that these can be easily ironed out if Crux feel they are an issue. The AX range is a great, entry level pack that once you have used will give you a taste for more well-made kit that is definitely climber orientated.
The Crux AX 34 comes in one back size and comes in 3 colours Acid (Green), Fire (Red) and Smoke (Grey). They AX 45 comes in 2 colours: Fire and Smoke.
SRP: £129 (AX35) and £159 (AX45)
Dave Sarkar has tested and reviewed climbing, mountaineering and outdoor equipment for over 10 years. He works as a qualified MIA both in the UK and Internationally: working full time as a mountaineering instructor and expedition leader for his company Wild Spaces. When he isn’t working in the mountains he’s playing in the mountains and enjoys all aspects climbing and mountain sports whether bouldering at his local crag or ice climbing; as long as he’s going upwards he’s happy!