I read a 3-part post by Dane at Cold Thistle about his opinions on climbing packs. They are very interesting articles and got me thinking (more than I already was) about what a good climbing pack is. There have been times when I've been climbing with a mostly empty 50 liter pack with a fairly stiff frame that is so hindering to my movement that it makes a 5.8 rock climb or WI3 ice climb, that are usually pretty easy, awkward and sometimes difficult. There have been other times when I'm out for a day of climbing and fill my pack half way, but the pack still fills full and bulky, just because the pack is so big. That's usually ok if I'm hiking to the bottom of a waterfall or crag and am leaving my pack at the bottom, but if I ever want to do a long alpine route, my current packs are a pain to use.
Here are links to each of Dane's pack articles. Well worth reading if you haven't already:
Part 1: http://coldthistle.blogspot.com/2012/04/fitting-and-detailing-on-climbing-packs.html
Part 2: http://coldthistle.blogspot.com/2012/04/climbing-packs-part-2.html
Part 3: http://coldthistle.blogspot.com/2012/04/climbing-packs-part-3.html
Not long ago, Arc'teryx came out with a new/redesigned alpine climbing pack that is about the size I was looking for. Before this pack, I was debating ordering the Black Diamond Epic 35 or the Axis 33. I was also thinking about special ordering a Cold Cold World Ozone pack similar to what Dane suggests. I was also considering getting another Cilogear Worksack, but this time in 30L size. I didn't know what to do. I noticed this new Arc'teryx pack, the Nozone 35, which looked particularly interesting, but it is expensive. About a month later I had one on the way, not because it looked better than the other options, but because it looked really nice and I got a good deal on one.
So, the pack showed up this morning and I wanted to write a little about my first impressions. THIS IS NOT A REVIEW. I have not yet used the pack. These are just initial thoughts and they could very easily change. Maybe these thoughts and pictures could be helpful to those that are also interested in this pack, but would like to see it in detail before they commit.
Let me say at the outset that I am not against expensive gear. I have a lot of it. If it's quality and will last a long time, I have no problem paying a lot of money for the gear. I am against overpriced gear and I am against low-quality gear. My opinion could definitely change on this pack as I use it, but I think this pack has crossed the line to overpriced.
Pictures and Comments
Arc'teryx Nozone 35, Arc'teryx's redesigned alpine climbing pack. They used to make the Nozone, but discontinued it a few years ago. They have now resurrected the line, but with a bit of a face lift. The total weight according to my scale is 2lb 4.2oz. Stripped with lid (no hipbelt, no stays) weighs 1lb 14oz. Stripped without lid weighs 1lb 9.6oz.
The black patch on the side of the pack is a stretch mesh wand/probe/trekking pole pocket. It's not big enough for a water bottle, but it is big enough for a little with of food or the items mentioned above.
Arc'teryx's new Arc-on suspension. It looks really nice and clean, but it just doesn't seem as incredible as their own videos make it sound. The back panel is a pretty hard foam. It's stiff so that the backpanel doesn't barrel when overpacked. It also protects one's back against hard gear, like cams, screws, etc.
The lid is pretty small. I can fit two small jackets (think driclime windshirt-sized jackets), but that's it. The lid extends (floats) to accommodate overpacking and is easily removable.
The pack with the extension sleeve and rope strap.
These loops make opening and shutting the pack super easy, even with gloves.
There are two reinforced haul loops, one on the front and one on the back.
The wand/probe/pole pocket.
The Ice Axe/Tool attachment system is very simple and easy to attach tools. Even aggressive, ergo-shaped tools and handles fit, though it takes a little extra effort to slip them in and out of the webbing loop. Still very clean and simple.
The lower attachment is also part of the compression strap on the bottom. Cool system, in my opinion.
The picks fit in the sleeve. The interior of the sleeve is reinforced with a heavier, coated fabric.
A bungee cord is included with the pack. I doubt I'll use it much, but it's nice as an option and especially that it's easily removable.
The interior. You can see that the backpanel is also supported by two aluminum stays. When the stays are in, the frame doesn't bend. With the stays removed, the frame is quite flexible, while still offering a firm panel to protect against uncomfortable gear.
Pre-curved aluminum stays. Thank goodness they're removable. I doubt I'll ever use them.
The stays are held in by a reinforced velcro flap. The stays are easily removable.
The shoulder straps have a nice curve and are light, but seem adequately padded. We'll have to see how they feel with 30lbs or so.
The 1.5" webbing hipbelt is removable. When tightened, the hipbelt helps pull the lumbar portion of the backpanel into the small of one's back. Should support the weight of a day of climbing pretty well.
Again, the backpanel is clean and simple. The foam is hard. That could be a problem. We'll see.
Without the stays the pack is quite flexible while still not allowing hard gear to push through the back panel into one's back.
Again, the backpanel is flexible without the stays.
To give you an idea of the size. The lid in this picture is not extended. The pack would be about four inches taller extended.
To Sum Things Up
So, my initial thoughts of this pack are really positive. The only gripe I have so far is that the pack is so expensive. For a 35L pack, $240 seems overpriced. The other packs I compared it to earlier are about $60-$100 less for a comparable pack. I do think that this pack is as well designed as any of the other packs and that the materials and manufacturing are every bit as good if not better than the other packs (except maybe the cold cold world packs. I've actually never checked out one of their packs in person). And because of the technology used in the pack, it probably is more expensive to make than the other packs. But $240? Pretty steep.
The other concern is the backpanel. I think it will work well, but it is pretty hard foam and I'm interested to see how comfortable it is after a long day of climbing. Time will tell.
Anyway, so far I think that the pack will be a good pack and will perform well. We'll see in a few months if I think it's worth the money.
After a Couple Months
I have now been using this pack for a couple months. I have only used it for rock climbing so far, but I couldn't be happier with it. I think it is the perfect size for an alpine rock and ice climbing pack. I'm still curious to see how it will work for ice climbing, but I've climbed moderate rock routes with the pack on, carried heavy loads (35+ pounds) on the approach to climbs, and even used it backpacking.
Though I wouldn't suggest carrying more than 35 pounds in it for long approaches because of the minimal belt, the stays are robust enough to easily handle that much weight and more. Without the stays, the pack still carries quite comfortably. Even when overstuffed, the backpanel stays flat and will not barrel. I'm not really sure why the pack has stays. I've used them once even though I didn't need to. Other than that one time, the stays have stayed in the closet. A pack this size isn't big enough to carry more than 35 or so pounds worth of gear and the backpanel is stiff enough to handle anything less.
Without the stays, the pack climbs quite comfortably. The hipbelt is thin enough to stay out of the way of a harness and the shoulder straps are comfortable with a load but soft enough, thin enough, and cut just right as not to impede arm movement. When the pack is totally overstuffed with a rope, it is tall enough, just barely, to get in the way of looking up with a helmet on. The only time that was a problem, however, was when the pack was totally full, spindrift collar extended, with a rope strapped on top.
I think this pack is as good or better than any other alpine pack I have used. I think this pack is every bit the equal (or maybe better) of many of the dyneema climbing packs on the market that are more expensive than this pack. At $240, it's still plenty pricy, but for a climber who wants serious mileage and performance out of their pack, this is a good option and, in my opinion, worth the money.