So it’s been two months since the Alpine Luddites custom pack arrived (read the article on the custom process here). It’s been the only pack I’ve used this winter so how has it fared? Pretty brilliantly to be honest! Perfect? Not quite, but it’s pretty close and I’ll explain a bit more about the pros and cons as I go on.
Firstly lets establish some parameters for judging the pack as there are two factors at work here. Firstly there is the the design and craftsmanship of John’s standard New Day Rising (NDR) pack. Secondly there are the custom elements that I requested and it would be a little unfair to hold John to account for design choices that he didn’t make.
Lets start with the materials and build quality of the pack. A quick examination will tell you that this is bomber pack – impeccably built and likely to last a lifetime. Several of my regular partners commented on the robust looking nature of the pack. Compared to many modern mass produced sacs there is an appearance of being a little ‘overbuilt’, no minuscule seam allowances to cut weight, no high tech welding etc. What this also means is the pack should be eminently repairable, though given its durability such repairs are unlikely to be needed. You are not going to find a better built pack full stop. Additionally is nice to use gear that has been built by an individual craftsman it gives you a bit of a warm fuzzy feeling which is nice.
I asked John to build the pack short to ride above my harness and narrow so that it didn’t interfere when climbing. For such a simple design the custom fit has meant that this pack carries better than any other climbing sac I’ve used – even with some pretty heavy loads; such as a day out in Torridon that involved a ‘Plan A’ which was technical mixed and a ‘Plan B’ that was an ice fall so we carried all the pro we possessed! Because of the tall slim profile it does mean that if you fully extend it and stuff it to the gills then the pack is a little top heavy on walk-ins, not an issue heading up on technical trails but I wouldn’t advise running steep down hills with it overloaded! I did some weighted hikes in training with the pack too, stuffing in a couple of kettlebells with ropes for padding and even with 25+kg in the pack carried well – comfortable enough given the weight (25kg is never ‘comfortable’ though)! The roll top extension with draw cord works brilliantly, better than I expected, though I did miss the ‘rapid pull’ type toggle for the draw cord that many sacs use now (I’ll sort this when I can find or make one). I’ve mainly used it in roll top mode but fully extended with the drawcord was totally secure with a rope inside. On one occasion with an over-loaded pack there were no issues on the walk-in but on the walk out with a slightly less well packed sac, helmet under the roll top, the convex top of the sac meant the rope had a tendency to slide around a bit which became annoying so I simply stashed the rope inside the extension. If I’d had one of the compression straps with me I could have secured the rope that way but typically they were back at the hut. A ‘belt loop’ for the rope strap near the base of the extension would probably solve this and since then I’ve fed the rope strap though the lower draw cord but to be honest that was the only time I experienced that issue and with the pack in it’s normal full state ropes sat fine across the top. The extension rather neatly folds down around the pack when you’re loading it up or diving in for something at the bottom making life easier.
The pictures below show the NDR and a typical Scottish Winter contents – the rope fitted inside btw.
A variety of axes (Petzl Nomics, Grivel Tech Machines, Grivel North Machines even a Grivel Ghost) all carried well and although I asked for a split sleeve it was only really an advantage with some very steep Krukonogi mixed picks fitted to the Nomics and all other tools fitted fine. I would re-design the fastening so that it was a single loop going around both axes just to simplify, lighten and neaten this area up but I was very pleased at how tough and hassle free the metal G hooks were in use – just what I wanted, idiot proof and unbreakable. Inside the pack there is a removable foam pad with a zip access that allows you to stuff a map and bivi-bag in conveniently. I also asked John to incorporate an access zip and a drop in internal pocket that could be removed. These were my ideas, albeit improved on by John. The pocket is great and I varied between keeping it attached and just using it a stash sac for key equipment (head-torch, spare battery, sunglasses, goggles, lip-balm, energy bars/food etc). I’d envisioned being able to access it via the rear zip but this proved possible only when the sac was less than full. The zip did allow me to stuff and retrieve my hat, windproof and gloves on approach walks but I’m not sure how much easier it was than simply opening the roll top. If I were to do it again I’d probably not bother with the zip. The combination of Dimension Polyant 5 layer laminated UHMWPE fabric on the body and the VX 21 fabric roll top meant the sac is very water resistant – the seams are not taped obviously but the sac is as, or more, water-resistant than any non taped seam pack I’ve used.
Where the pack really comes into it’s own is when you’re racked up and climbing. The slim profile and high riding position mean that there is no interference when reaching round to get that screw off your ice clippers or the big hex you stashed on your back racking loop, even when bulked up with multiple layers. The roll top and draw cord closure gives multiple closure options and I mostly just did a quick roll and then pulled the lower draw cord snugging down the rope catch strap to really compress things. The great fit meant the pack stayed close to my back and didn’t sway or lurch when climbing and the slim profile kept the weight centred and close to my centre of gravity – it also meant that when delving under chockstones etc to unearth (unsnow?) gear, the sac didn’t jam up. En-route the pack was easy to handle and quick to access. Clipped into belays it was easy to open the roll top and drawcord, in fact far easier than other sacs I’ve used with this style of closure. My idea for the zip access was generally less useful. I’d wanted it as I’d been frustrated by roll top closures on other sacs – most of the time if I’d taken the pack off I was going to get my belay jacket out so would need to open up the sac fully. There were a couple of occasions where I used the zip to allow quick access to food etc but it was less useful on the climb than on the approach and to be honest I think I was making a point to myself.
Overall the pack proved excellent for it’s intended purpose. It carried brilliantly on the approach and was fantastic to climb with. Axe attachments were straightforward and easy to work with gloves. Access to the sac was quick and convenient on belays when getting drink, food and belay jacket. The shape of the sac packed well too, this is one of those weird things where some sacs seem to easily accommodate kit neatly whereas others seem to struggle. I think the flat base helps here and I know some folk prefer an angled base to reduce catching when descending facing out on steep ground and to access gear on the harness but I think having the pack ride high obviates those issues anyway. When packing the roll top can be folded down around the pack and the hanging pocket flipped out to allow unfettered access.
The only negative was on the one occasion having the rope slip around under the rope strap – easily resolved and easily preventable if I’d used the compression straps. Durability wise the pack is wearing well – it’s been dragged around and abused now for almost a full winter season in Scotland. The reinforced Cordura base has done it’s job (Cordura tends to be more abrasion resistant so good for being dragged around on the ground, kicked forward in lift queues etc) and is unmarked while the main body of the pack has a single ‘scuff’ from a wayward axe pick whilst chopping a belay ledge. And that’s it – this really is a bomber pack.
If I were to do it again what would I change? I’d ditch the zip access or expand it further round the side to make it easier – it worked but didn’t provide the utility that I’d hoped. I’d probably think about refining the rope strap too, using a ‘belt loop’ or perhaps with some kind of ‘Y’ style strap perhaps incorporating an extended belay loop from above the shoulder straps just incase I ever needed to really overload the pack.
John’s thoughts on my observations about the rope catch were as follows:
The rope strap… it does work best with the two upper compression straps, hence their high placement on all my sacs.
All up in the normal climbing configuration the pack weighs in at 820g to which you could add another 100g or so for the two compression straps and waist belt when you need to fasten extra kit externally.
- Bomber construction
- Custom fit
- Good carry on the approach
- Fantastic to climb with
- Getting to see one first hand (especially in the UK)
- Rope catch needs minor refinement.
Richie is the enthusiastic amateur of the team. Enjoying all aspects of climbing but especially alpine, winter and his local grit . Having managed to survive the vagaries of both fluorescent Koflachs and rainbow tights in the 80s he looks forward to an even more stylish future. A shady past in mountain marathons and adventure races, including the Marathon des Sables, means he’s an advocate of fast and light. Though the former is debatable if you’ve seen him on a tricky lead!