A pack aimed for fast mountain movers whether on ski or foot the X-Alp 23 shows the crossover of Salomon’s vest pack technology into their more conventional packs.
The X-Alp 23 is as you can probably guess a 23 litre alpine orientated pack with a strong emphasis on ski mountaineering utility whilst still working well as a an alpine day pack. Its 23 litre capacity is split between a main compartment (accessed via a vertical zip that rests against you back) and a small separate padded base compartment that is accessed via a side ‘U’ shaped zip. The base compartment or ‘Extrem Box’ [sic] is designed to hold crampons where they can be rapidly accessed or for a short glacier travel/crevasse rescue rope. Externally there is another long side pocket to hold an avalanche probe and shovel handle but it will also conveniently fit trekking poles. There are double ice axe loops and fastenings along with twin daisy-chains to give a variety of flexible attachment options. The harness shows clear influences from Salomon’s trail racing technology: the waist belt has a zipped pouch on the right and the left shoulder strap is designed to hold one of Salomon’s Soft Flask Speeds (it won’t fit other soft flasks very easily). There is a neat loop and hitch system to carry skis diagonally and an elasticated top strap so that you can actually attach them without removing the pack (in theory), the elasticated strap also doubles as a rope catch. As you can probably gather there is a strong design bias toward speed and efficiency with this pack. Internally there is a generous zippered valuables pocket and velcro loops to secure a shovel and bladder (I presume). The harness is a mix of padded foam ‘ribs’ and mesh for flexibility and breathability and it hugs your body brilliantly providing a superbly stable carry.
I’m reviewing from a climbing perspective so any ski specific assessments will have to wait. Firstly this is not my usual type of climbing pack – I’m more the one big tube and maybe a single pocket type of person. However after a few routes I can see how the organisational features of this pack might help speed some things up, it also had a couple of features which were all-round time savers. Lets start with the little things that I liked. The belt pouch is nothing new, I first used them on the original KIMM sacs in the mid 80s but they are still a great idea especially in a traditional (not extreme) alpine setting where you’re not having to access your gear loops in extremis. Great for storing food for on the go access or a compact camera etc. The probe/shovel handle pocket was actually perfect for my trekking poles – totally secure and easy to stow with the added bonus that I wasn’t stuffing them inside the pack and possibly damaging clothing or my lunch! Additionally this storage meant there was no snag risk which can be the case if attached externally with bungees. However my two favourite features were the external soft flask pocket and the back zipper. I’ve obviously used soft flask shoulder strap pockets on running vests before but this was a first on an alpine pack. Guess what? It works just as well for a climber as for a runner – who’d have thought? 😉 There is a caveat here as I only used this pack on moderate AD type terrain and it’s conceivable the soft flask might annoy you on more technical ground but I didn’t get that impression personally. Likewise in full on winter conditions it would just freeze but for other occasions it encourages you to stay hydrated, you can actually sup without removing the flask, and it is dead easy to refill. Finally the zipped back panel. At first glance this may seem an odd, even an inconvenient design until you realise that it was made to actually ease on the go access. With the pack on (you must fasten the waist belt) you simply slip out of the shoulder straps and rotate the pack round in front of you so it sits like a little table. You can then access the contents using the zip. In many situations this made getting stuff out the pack easier as you didn’t need to totally remove it, hold or wedge it to stop it sliding off somewhere. With a fully loaded pack re-zipping became a bit more difficult (think zipping an overstuffed duffle) and I think the zipper would be more user friendly if it was double ended but overall great for reducing stopping time. The ‘Extrem Box’ is a nice idea in some ways – a simple and protected place to stash crampons quickly without fear of damaging other kit but it is not the most efficient use of space especially in a small sac. I ended up stashing ice screws and other pro in with the crampons so as not to waste space. When not needed for crampons it does have the side benefit of being an insulated box for food and drink – perhaps even a chilled beer? #ithoughtyouddrawthelineathaulingice 😉 There were the odd negatives here and there. One that I’ve come across before with Salomon is the desire to reinvent the wheel, a case in point being sternum strap buckle on the X-alp 23 which is a nifty pincer design – works fine but no better than a fastex and if it breaks it’ll be a pain to replace. I’m all for innovation but this particular example has no obvious benefits.
Overall this is a neat little sac, especially if you’re the sort of climber who has a place for everything and everything in its place. The harness design is superb – the pack moves with you without interfering which is great for more athletic pursuits. The design definitely speeds up some operations like drinking on the go, quick access to food, crampons and even the main pack. However the partitions make the sac less versatile and a bit heavy – it weighs as much as my 35+litre alpine sac (pushing 700g) and this will put many ‘fast and light’ buyers off. You would struggle to fit a full mixed rack and spare clothing in for technical routes however for day hits from a lift etc. providing you don’t need to stash too large a rack it is nigh on perfect.
- Super stable and comfortable
- Fast organised access
- Durable (for a lightweight sac)
- Lacks versatility
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!
Disclaimer – CGR reviewers are never paid to provide a review and the website does not take advertising. We are a bunch of keen climbers and travellers that accept sample products and offer an honest and independent review of the item. The reviewer will often keep the sample after reviewing it for both hygiene reasons and more often they’re in no fit state to return!