SCOTT PATROL E1 40 BACKPACK (Avalanche Airbag Pack)

Scott Patrol E1 40 pack in the Alta backcountry

I was an early adopter of avalanche airbag packs. I’ve been using them for over a decade, and have owned and used models by Snowpulse/Mammut ABS, and Dakine. My packs have all used compressed gas (either oxygen or nitrogen) to inflate the airbags. My first airbag pack was an ABS model, which uses nitrogen charged canisters. Nitrogen canisters are relatively compact and lightweight, but not approved for air travel, however. In anticipation of a heli-skiing trip to Alaska, I purchased a couple of Snowpulse/Mammut packs, which use compressed air canisters that can be refilled at dive shops or ski shops with compressed air tanks.

Airbag pack technology has improved in the past few years, with perhaps the biggest change being the introduction of electric fans as a replacement for compressed gas canisters. Electric fans have the advantages of not requiring canister refills if you deploy the airbag, either for testing or in response to an avalanche. Unlike compressed gas (air especially) they are not as affected by cold temperatures. (Compressed gases become less pressurized the colder they get.)

I held off buying a fan airbag pack for several years. They were too heavy, and the lithium/ion rechargeable batteries are considered hazardous, which makes taking them on airplanes problematic.

Recently, a new generation of electric fan powered airbag packs have become available. These use a supercapacitor instead of a battery to charge the fan. I don’t know much about supercapacitors other than that they are good at very quick energy discharge, they are lighter than comparable batteries; they are not as affected by temperature fluctuations as batteries, and they are not considered hazardous for airplane travel. Currently, the leader in supercapacitor airbag systems is a company called Alpride, a Swiss company that has licensed their “E1” supercapacitor airbag technology to a number of different outdoor companies.

The Alpride E1 system charges with a USB cable. In addition to the on-board supercapacitor charge, it has 2 auxiliary AA size batteries (either alkaline or lithium) that keep the supercapacitor at full charge and also allow for an additional charge while in the field (takes up to 1.5 hours) if the airbag is deployed.

When you turn on the system, it runs a self-diagnostic, and an LED blinks (visible from outside the pack) to show you that it is turned on and working. I typically turn the system on when I am packing for my trip, and turn it off when I unpack. (It’s hard to turn it on and off when you’re at the trailhead because the on/off switch is deep in the main compartment of the pack.) With two fresh AA batteries installed, the system is good for 2-3 months. Generally, I just plug the pack in to a USB port for a couple of hours every time I return from a tour to keep the batteries from being used to charge the capacitor.

There are a few different options on the market today that incorporate Alpride’s E1 supercapacitor system. I considered the Osprey Soelden Pro 32 liter pack; the Ferrino Full Safe 30+5 pack; the Black Diamond Jetforce Tour 26L; and the Scott Patrol E1 40.

In choosing between these options, one of my main considerations was load capacity. I tend to carry quite a bit of gear, even or short day trips, and I wanted a pack that could accommodate this gear, and also have room for longer, multi-day hut trips. Of the Alpride E1 packs I looked at, the Scott Patrol has a 40 liter capacity, with the Ferrino at 35 liters and the Soelden Pro at 32 liters. At 26 liters, the Black Diamond Jetforce Tour was just too small for my needs.

My typical touring load out.

The Ferrino Full Safe has a unique feature in that it also incorporates an “avalung” type device that allows a buried person to breathe under the snow, provided you have the mouthpiece in your mouth when you are buried. Years ago, I had a custom pack made that incorporated an avalung and airbag (description HERE,) however, I found that I didn’t really use the avalung feature that much. It interfered with my skiing and added weight and complexity to the pack. The Ferrino Full Safe is the heaviest of the packs I considered, (over 7 pounds) and I figured I would seldom use the avalung feature.

Ultimately, my choice came down to the Osprey Soelden Pro 32 and the Scott Patrol 40. They are very similar in weight and capacity, and what reviews I could find online all seemed pretty positive. Ultimately, I found the Scott on sale with a 15% discount, so that proved to be the deciding factor. I purchased the Scott.

After having used the Scott for about 10 touring days, I am very happy with it.

Scott’s website claims the pack weighs approximately 2830 grams or 6.24 pounds. On my scales, my pack weighs 6.3 pounds, which is pretty close to the claimed weight. The pack is constructed with thinner straps, lighter zippers and doesn’t have a lot of useless features, which is a good design direction for a piece of gear that most folks will use going uphill more than down.

I think that the claimed 40 liter volume includes the space taken up by the capacitor, so the actual usable volume is probably closer to 38 liters.

Main Compartment with capacitor in the zippered compartment

Even with the capacitor taking up some space, there is plenty of room for my typical day trip or hut tour kit, and I don’t have to spend a lot of energy cramming stuff into a space that’s too small.

Packed and ready to ski

As with most avy packs, the Scott Patrol has two compartments; a smaller top compartment and the main compartment. Both of these are accessed with clamshell zippers. The top compartment has dividers to organize your snow safety equipment, with places to put your probe, shovel blade, and shovel handle. I can also easily fit my snow saw and ECT cord into this compartment. This top compartment also has a zippered pouch which is handy for keeping quick access items like snacks, a spare Buff, and sunglasses.

The main compartment houses the supercapacitor and has room for spare clothing, an emergency shelter, first aid kit, thermos, and all the rest of the gear I take with me. It has a zippered pocket that is handy for storing easy to lose items like my multi-tool.

Hip belt pocket

There is also a small hip belt pocket. It’s not very big, but it fits smaller items like sun screen, lip balm, a lens wipe for my goggles, and my reading glasses. I wish that this hip pocket were a little bit bigger. It’s not quite big enough to hold my inclinometer or a soft flask. I would also welcome a matching pocket on the other side. I find easily accessible pockets to be very useful when I’m on the move, as I can access things without having to stop.

A common feature that this pack does not have is a dedicated goggle pocket. I like the soft goggle pocket on my Dakine ABS pack, and I miss it on this pack.

The helmet holder works well, and has stowed my helmet securely without issues. I was originally worried that the clips that hold it on would come off (the upper clips fit to the daisy chain and are held there by tension) but so far, that has not been an issue, either when holding the helmet or when empty.

Skis can be carried either diagonally or in A-Frame mode. The diagonal carry set up has a very fast dedicated system of a top buckled strap and a bottom cut-resistant plastic wrapped wire. For A-Frame, you just use the dual compression straps on either side of the pack. I’ve mounted skis up for carry testing, but have not carried my skis more than a few yards in either configuration. Both configurations seemed to work well enough.

Lightly padded foam frame

Fit and comfort of the pack is excellent. I have a pretty long back, and I was worried that the pack would not fit me well. In use, it fits very well, and I am able to transfer the load to my hips without having to crank the hipbelt down too much. The airbag activation trigger is adjustable in height, so I was able to move it down lower on the shoulder strap to accommodate my longer torso. Apparently, it’s possible to transfer the trigger to the opposite (right) side as well, but I am right handed, so I haven’t done that. I’ve heard it’s possible to run a hydration tube through the shoulder strap sleeve, but I haven’t done that either(water tubes always seem to freeze.)

The pack has a lightly padded frame that is comfortable and keeps objects in the pack from poking your back.

In use, I have found that I don’t think about the pack very much, either on the uphill or when skiing downhill. This is the best indicator of a comfortable pack. It doesn’t throw me off balance, and stays snugged down without having to over-tighten the straps.

I’ve only used this pack for less than one season, but I really really like it. A lot of thought has gone into the design of this pack and it serves its intended function very well. I’m certain that supercapacitor airbag systems will continue to improve, getting smaller and lighter as the technology advances. However, until that happens, I think that this is one of the best airbag pack options there is, and likely the best choice for my needs.

My Quest for the Perfect Elk Hunting Pack. The McHale Critical Mass INEX

Review of the McHale Critical Mass Backpack

McHale INEX pack

McHale INEX pack

McHale Website

I’ve pretty much abandoned large backpacks for backpacking and climbing.  With modern, ultralight gear, I very seldom carry more than 30 pounds, and usually my pack weight is much less, generally less than 20 pounds fully loaded.

However, backpack hunting is one endeavor when I still require a pack that can comfortably carry large loads.  Even though I try to minimize my gear and clothing weight, if my hunt is successful and I kill an animal, I’m going to be carrying out a very heavy load of meat.  This is particularly true for elk hunting.  Elk are big critters.

Hunting packs have a lot of requirements, some of which conflict with each other.  They need to be compact and comfortable enough to allow you to move off-trail easily and quietly, without catching on branches and getting caught on things.  They need to be light enough to not unreasonably add to your load.  They need provisions for carrying a weapon.  They need to be able to carry a week’s worth of gear and provisions.  They need to be durable.  And, when you’re hauling out meat, they need to be capable of controlling and carrying really large loads, sometimes in excess of 100 pounds.

When I first got into hunting a few years ago, I figured I needed a special hunting pack.  So, I bought and used packs by Eberlestock, Mystery Ranch, and Badlands.  They had some great, hunting specific features, but I really didn’t like using them for meat hauling.  With 100+ pounds of meat and cargo, they were not as capable as I would have liked.  The waistbelts sagged, the frames didn’t transfer weight efficiently to my hips.  My shoulders and hips and back got sore.

With these shortcomings in mind, I abandoned these hunting packs, and went back to using my tried and true McHale Super INEX Alpineer, which I’ve owned since 1995.  This pack has many hundreds of trail miles on it, and I’ve carried some really huge loads with it.   (There is a review of this pack on my old website HERE.)

The McHale pack turned out to be a very good all around hunting pack.  It can easily transform from a short, squat nimble pack into a tall loadmonster by adding or removing the “bayonet” stays that lengthen the frame.  When hunting, I generally keep the pack in the shorter configuration, and only utilize the bayonet frame extensions when meat hauling.  For carrying heavy weight, I still have not found anything that is its equal.  I once carried out close to 200 pounds in this pack when a couple of buddies and I carried out the meat and head of a big bull elk in a single trip.

Elk Down! Now the hard work of meat hauling is about to begin

Elk Down! Now the hard work of meat hauling is about to begin

Hunting Modifications

I was pretty happy with the McHale pack, but after a while, I decided that some modifications to this pack would make it even better as a hunting pack.

I contacted Dan, originally thinking I would buy a whole new pack from him, but he suggested that I just modify my existing pack.  (This was awesome, as I could continue to use my trusty pack and it saved me a lot of money too.)

The modifications I requested were as follows:

I wanted the back pad to be re-worked to incorporate a 1/2 body length evazote pad that could be used as a sit pad or for sleeping on.  (I sometimes use a very light Klymit X-frame sleeping pad, and this evazote pad would provide some insulation, which the Klymit design lacks.)   This pad is also great for long glassing sessions too, providing a comfortable pad to sit on.

I wanted a roll top closure and deletion of the top pocket.  I don’t use the top pocket much, and converting to a roll top design would save weight, while maintaining water resistance.

I wanted an exit port for a hydration tube.

I wanted a larger right side pocket to accommodate the butt of my rifle, to make carrying the rifle easy.

I also wanted fastening points for a Kifaru Gunbearer, so I could carry my rifle in a way that made it quick to deploy.

Dan agreed to do all of these modifications, and a few months later, after paying a very modest fee, I had my pack back, better than ever.

Using the modified McHale this hunting season has convinced me that it is the ideal hunting pack for my style of backpack hunting.  It easily swallows a week’s worth of gear and food.  The pack has three spaces; a lower compartment, an upper compartment, and a large exterior pocket.  All of my gear and extra clothing fits nicely into the lower compartment, where it’s easily accessible with a couple of zippers.  The large exterior pocket holds things like map, compass, and headlamp, and my food and water goes in the upper compartment.  Fully loaded, there’s still tons of room for meat.

McHale Pack, loaded for a week of hunting

McHale Pack, loaded for a week of hunting

This pack is easy to carry while stalking and moving over rough ground, and it’s also comfortable to carry, mile after mile.  I can hike all day and my hips and shoulders do not ache.  The McHale design of the hip belt (which is larger than any other hip belt I’ve seen on a pack) really spreads the weight out, transferring the load to the hips without creating pressure points or rubbing.     The shoulder straps separate the strap adjustment from the load lifter adjustment, a feature which, as far as I know, is unique among backpacks.  This allows the pack to be snugged close to the body without pulling the shoulder straps up off of the shoulders, greatly improving stability.

Fully loaded with hunting gear. Still lots of room for meat.

Fully loaded with hunting gear. Still lots of room for meat.

The pack is not ultralight.  As modified, it weighs 7 pounds, 2 ounces.  That is about a pound heavier than some of the popular hunting packs from Mystery Ranch, Kifaru, Kuiu, etc.  However, this includes the weight of the foam pad, which can be detached from the pack and used as a sit pad or sleeping pad.  Also, the volume of this pack is larger than other hunting packs.  (The McHale is over 8000 cubic inches or 131 liters!!)  Given the load carrying capacity, I’m happy to trade an extra pound for the heavy-load comfort that this pack provides.

McHale packs are expensive, but they’re worth every penny.  They are hand made in Seattle to your body’s measurements and to your custom specifications.  The variations and options are endless.  You can get any size you want with any features that you want in a choice of various high tech fabrics.

On every hunting forum I’ve frequented, a common question is, “what is the perfect hunting pack?”  In my opinion, it’s a McHale pack.  Most folks haven’t even heard of these packs, but the combination of huge load carrying capability, quality construction, and customizable features puts the McHale packs in a class by themselves.

 

 

The North Face Ice Project Pack

Some folk built like this, some folk built like that
But the way I’m built, Don’t you call me fat
Because I’m built for comfort, I ain’t built for speed
But I got everything, oh, that a good girl need
Howlin Wolf:  Built for Comfort

The North Ice Project is definitely a pack that is built for comfort, not speed.  It’s not “light and fast” it’s heavy and slow.  It’s a pack that is made for ice climbing at your local crags.  I first saw the Ice Project at last year’s Summer Outdoor Retailer show.  The pack was designed by Conrad Anker, and I was fortunate enough to get to chat with him about the pack’s various features at the North Face booth.   I got a sweet deal on it, and couldn’t resist the purchase, in spite of the fact that I usually buy stripped down, lightweight packs.

This pack keeps things organized and easy to get to, unlike my top loading pack that I previously used for ice cragging.  Instead of just dumping everything out in the snow when I get to the climb, with the Ice Project, I can unzip the pack and have access to all my gear and clothing.

North Face Ice Project

A place for everything. Everything in its place

There is a large top pocket of waterproof fabric that holds your crampons, and a smaller top pocket that’s good for sunscreen, sunglasses, and snacks.  Your ice tools go inside the pack, secured by sleeves and straps.  There’s a snap-out row of sleeves to keep your ice screws in, and a pouch that holds various items.  There’s even a sewn-in sleeve to hold your file.

The zip off clamshell section has a big mesh pocket that’s perfect for storing extra clothing.  You can flip this section out, and have a soft, insulated place to sit while you’re adjusting your boots and putting on your crampons.

Ice Project

Storage for extra clothing, and a file pocket, so you can find your file easily when it’s time to sharpen your picks or crampon points.

The pack is listed at 2746 cubic inches, but it seems bigger to me.  Perhaps it’s just because the design allows for better organization and more efficient use of space.  There’s room in the pack for pretty much everything you would need for a day of ice climbing.  I carry rope, rack, helmet, tools, extra clothing, snacks, and miscellaneous stuff.  Also, unlike other packs, where I’ve got crampons and ice tools strapped to the outside, everything fits inside the pack itself.  There’s no pokey things on the outside that are going to rip holes in your car seats when you toss this pack into your back seat of your car.  If you absolutely must have more storage, there’s daisy chains you can use to strap stuff the outside.

The construction is bomber.  It’s built like a base camp duffel bag, with heavy fabrics, big zippers, and reinforced stitching.  You would have to work really really hard to wear this pack out.  It’s got grab handles on the body, so you can man-handle it like you would with luggage.

The pack carries pretty well, and is comfortable for hiking.  One thing that I appreciate is that it comes in two back sizes.  I have a longer than average back, and am glad that it’s available in a long back length.  While it’s comfortable for hiking it really isn’t a climbing pack however.  I’ve climbed with it on my back a couple of times, and it’s way too stiff, and the top of the pack interferes with your helmet when you look up.  This is not a pack to take with you if you plan on doing any actual climbing while wearing the pack.

What this pack is perfect for, however, is a trip to Ouray, or any other ice climbing venue where you hike in, drop your pack, and then climb without the pack.

The pack is kind of heavy.  (Mine weighs 5 pounds, 1.6 ounces in a size large.)  However, that’s the price you pay for the burly construction and multitude of features.

The only real complaint I have about this pack is the number of ice screw sleeves.  The pack has 10 sleeves, but I sometimes use 12 screws.  I wish the ice screw carrier had a couple more slots.   One other nit pick is that the beefy zipper can be a bit of a chore to operate, especially when the pack is cold.

Overall, I really like this pack.  The North Face has made a niche pack that’s specialized for ice cragging.  However, I suspect that it will be fairly popular, because, my guess is that there are more folks that go ice cragging than people who are doing hard core alpine climbing.  The Ice Project is a perfect pack for the days at the local ice fall that constitute the majority of my actual ice climbing days.  It’s a niche product that fills its niche very well.

 

Summer, 2014 Outdoor Retailer Highlights

I met John Long at the Addidas booth!!

I met John Long at the Adidas booth!!  (Although I look a bit grumpy, I’m smiling a lot on the inside, as I’m a big fan of John’s climbing career and writing.)

The 2014 Summer Outdoor Retailer Show is in full swing here in Salt Lake City.

It’s a huge event, taking up not only the full space in the Salt Palace, but three large temporary pavilions and a tent city as well.

I’ve spent the last day and a half wandering around the show, looking at stuff, talking to exhibitors, and trying to take in the huge number of products on exhibit.

Overall, I haven’t seen anything truly groundbreaking or game changing.  I haven’t encountered any gear that will change the way I play in the outdoors.  However, there have been a few items that have caught my attention.  Here they are:

Ropes with UIAA Dry Certification.

The UIAA recently came out with new standards for “dry” ropes.  In order to meet the UIAA’s new dry rope standard, the rope can not absorb more than 5% of its weight when subjected to being sprayed with water.  Manufacturers can still claim “dry” status for their ropes, but they can only put the “UIAA Water Repellent” label on their ropes if the ropes meet the UIAA test specifications.

The UIAA Water Repellent Logo

The UIAA Water Repellent Logo

A number of Beal and Edelweiss ropes are touted as meeting the new standard, and Mammut also had a couple of new ropes that meet the new standard.

However, not all of the rope manufacturers I talked to were excited about the new standard.  Some of them felt that the UIAA standard was not sufficient for testing of actual water resistance.  The biggest complaints centered on the fact that the test doesn’t require submersion of the rope, but rather the rope is sprayed with water.  The other complaint I heard about the test procedure was that the test is self-administered by the manufacturers themselves rather than administered by a third party lab.

A piece of rope is affixed to a slanted board, and water is sprayed on the rope.

The UIAA test protocol:  A piece of rope is affixed to a slanted board, and water is sprayed on the rope.

It will be interesting to see how this plays out.  My feeling, after talking with a number of people is that some rope manufacturers are going to adopt the new test criteria, but that others are going to push for a submersion test, administered by a third party testing facility.  This will likely take the form of an E.N. (European Norm) test.

So, while all this is getting worked out, there will be a few ropes on the market that meet the new standard and a bunch more that don’t.  Until the dust (or water) settles, it appears that there won’t be a consistent test for dryness that all of the manufacturers are going to use, as some of the manufacturers are simply not going to be using this new UIAA test protocol.

The North Face Ice Project Pack

North Face Ice Project:  A pack designed specifically for ice cragging

North Face Ice Project: A pack designed specifically for ice cragging

This is one of the few items I’m actually going to run out and buy as a result of seeing it at the show.  It’s an ice climbing pack that is very different than the typical ice climbing packs that I own and use.  My other ice climbing packs tend to be stripped down, lightweight affairs devoid of extraneous features or bells and whistles.  This Ice Project pack is all about bells and whistles.  It’s built for comfort, not for speed.  It’s an ice cragging pack, meant to organize all of your gear and equipment that’s needed for a day climbing frozen waterfalls or mixed routes.  It’s not really made for wearing while climbing.  It’s more for transporting all of your stuff to the base of the route, and having everything easily accessible and organized when you get there, rather than having to just dump everything out in the snow.

It has a zippered opening that makes access easy, and there are accouterments for storing up to 10 ice screws, compartments for your rope, crampons, helmet, and other gear and necessities.   It’s the perfect pack for “ice cragging” where your approach isn’t super long, and you aren’t going super light.  It’s all about convenience.

It’s available on a limited basis this fall, and will be in broad distribution by late winter 2014 or early spring, 2015.   Price is $200.  I’ve already got one on order.

Crux AK 47 x Pack

The Crux AK47x.  Alpine simplicity

The Crux AK47x. Alpine simplicity

This pack couldn’t be more different in design and conception than the North Face Ice Project.  The Crux is a stripped down alpine pack made for going fast and light on big alpine routes.  It’s got a 47 liter capacity, which makes it suitable for longer routes where you’ve carrying lots of food, fuel and/or equipment.   The frame is a semi-flexible thermo foam affair, that provides some support without adding too much extra weight.

There are a number of well thought out details that climbers will appreciate, such as a grab/haul loop that is large enough to be easily grabbed while wearing big mittens, and 4mm climbing spec drawcords that can be used as rap tat in an emergency.  The AK47 x differs from the regular AK47 in that it has an extendable/removable top lid, as opposed to the fixed top lid on the regular AK47.

Crux has a bit of a cult following in the U.K., where they are based, but this company is relatively unknown here in the U.S.  This pack looks like a contender for climbers who want a light, streamlined, no-nonsense alpine-oriented pack.

Crux webpage here.

ak47x

Crux AK47x Suspension

 

SMC Spire Belay Device

Lots of companies are coming out with new belay devices these days.  I looked at new devices from DMM, Edelrid, and various other companies.  The one that impressed me the most was the SMC Spire.

The Spire functions pretty much like the Black Diamond ATC Guide.  It can be used to belay a leader using one or two ropes, and can be used in “guide mode” to belay one or two followers in autolocking guide mode.  What sets it apart from devices like the Black Diamond ATC Guide and the Petzl Reverso 3 are its small size (easily the smallest and lightest of the three) and the clever mechanism for lowering a following climber when in guide mode.  The guide mode release function is horizontal rather than vertical, and provides an easy and controlled lower that is much easier to actuate and control than the ATC Guide or Reverso.  It’s a very elegant and simple piece of engineering.  If I were in the market for a traditional (non locking assisted) belay device, the Spire would be at the top of my list.

I found a Youtube video demonstrating the Spire HERE.

SMC Spire Belay Device

SMC Spire Belay Device

SMC Picket Cables.  

Another interesting find at the SMC booth are the new detachable picket cables.  This relatively simple product is nothing but a cable with a connector that allows it to be attached to the holes in pickets.  Some pickets come with cables attached permanently, but I’ve not seen picket cables that can be attached and detached.  This allows you to either use the cable or not as you wish, or move it up and down on the picket as conditions dictate.  It’s not a ground-breaking, super innovative product, but it does allow a climber to have a bit more flexibility when it comes to using cabled pickets.

SMC Picket Cable

SMC Picket Cable

Energy Food That Doesn’t Taste Horrible

I’ve been kind of fed up with energy bars lately.  I’m getting to where eating a Pro Bar, or Power Bar, or Cliff Bar or trying to down a pack of Gu or other energy gel makes me gag.

There were dozens of outdoor food companies hawking their wares at the O.R. show, and I sampled everything I could, trying to find things that I enjoyed eating.  Here are my favorites:

Bridgford Shelf Stable Sandwiches.    These were a real surprise.  Bridgford makes these as part of the U.S. Army’s new “First Strike Ration.”  I figured that if it was Army food, it probably was nasty.  These sandwiches are actually pretty tasty.  There are some meat sandwiches (my favorites were the Italian sausage and BBQ beef) and sweet sandwiches (including a quite good French toast flavor.)  They kind of remind me of “hot pockets.”  They can be eaten cold, or warmed up by dipping the sealed pouch in boiling water.  I could see myself brewing up some hot cider, and using the hot water to warm up one of these sandwiches before mixing up my drink.

Folks who insist on all-natural, organic, gluten free, low fat, and low sodium will need to look elsewhere.  These sandwiches don’t check any of these boxes.  However, I don’t really care.   I don’t eat enough meals in the backcountry that having some artificial or non-organic ingredients is going to harm me.  When I’m in the backcountry, all I really want is something simple, convenient, that tastes good and that will provide me with the energy I need to keep going.   These sandwiches fit that bill well.  I ordered a couple cases of them at the show.

Link to Bridgford

Bridgford Shelf Stable Sandwich

Bridgford Shelf Stable Sandwich

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Honey Stinger Waffles and Honey Gels

These are organic waffles filled with honey and various natural flavorings.  They tasted great, and the mix of honey and carbohydrates should provide a good energy boost.

The Stinger folks also market an energy gel made from honey.  I sampled a few flavors and found them to be more palatable than the typical energy gels I’m used to eating.

I’m going to stock up on both of these items before my next climbing trip.

Honey Stinger Waffle

Honey Stinger Waffle

Chef Five Minute Meals Tuna and Chicken Salads with Tortillas

The Chef Five Minute Meals folks make various kinds of ready made meals.  Most of them seemed a bit heavy for backpacking (they are not dehydrated) but they had a couple of items that seemed reasonably practical, particularly for shorter trips where paring down weight to the absolute minimum isn’t essential.

Their Tuna Vegetable Salad, and Chicken Vegetable Salad are very tasty, and when matched with one of their tortillas would make a nice lunch that doesn’t require any refrigeration and very little preparation effort.

Packable chicken salad and tortilla

Packable chicken salad and tortilla

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

MSR Windboiler Stove

MSR Is coming out with a new system stove, called the Windboiler.  It’s kind of the little brother of the MSR Reactor, and looks positioned to compete with the ubiquitous Jetboil line.  Claimed advantages of the new Windboiler over the Jetboil are increased wind resistance.  (The Jetboil sucks in wind.)  The Windboiler is supposed to have better simmer control when compared with the Reactor, which will make it better suited for tasks other than snow-melting.  A hanging kit will be available for the system.  If MSR’s performance claims for this stove are accurate, the Jetboil system is in for some very stiff competition.

Stock Photo of the MSR Windboiler.  (I wasn't allowed to take a picture of it at the show.)

Stock Photo of the MSR Windboiler. (I wasn’t allowed to take a picture of it at the show.)

 Unsubstantiated Stove Rumors

I was really looking forward to the Jetboil Joule, a stove with a high output burner and inverted canister.  It looked like it was going to be competition for the MSR Reactor for cold weather snow melting tasks.  However, I was disappointed by how big the Joule was.  It’s just too big for climbing or backpacking use, except as a basecamp stove.  However, I heard an unsubstantiated rumor that the Jetboil folks are working on a lighter, more compact version of the Joule.  If true, then this is quite interesting news.  Until this becomes reality, however, I’m sticking with my MSR Reactor.

Patagonia Ascensionist 25L Pack

Patagonia Ascensionist 25L

Patagonia Ascensionist 25L with shockcord compression straps I added.

 

15.8 ounces (with add-on shock cord compression straps.)

The Patagonia Ascensionist pack line is Patagonia’s new foray into making backpacks.  The 25 liter pack is the smallest of the line-up, suited for day trips and traditional alpine climbs from huts.

The Ascensionist 25L pack is stripped down to the bare essentials.  The suspension is Spartan but effective for its size.  It has a thin sewn-in foam back pad, lightly padded shoulder straps, and a removable waist belt made from 1 inch webbing.  If you pack it carefully, it carries well, even with a full ice climbing load.  The pack doesn’t have any compression straps, but I added my own compression system by weaving a couple of pieces of shock cord in and out of daisy chains on the sides of the pack.  This helps control the load when the pack is mostly empty.  They also allow me to strap crampons to the outside of the pack.

Pack Characteristics:

1  Weight:  Weight is only 15.8 ounces, including the shockcord compression straps and cordlocks I added myself.  (Weight from the factory was 12.8 ounces.  This is good, as it’s hard to find a technical daypack that weighs under a pound.  Most climbing daypacks have lots of heavy “features” that add weight but are of questionable functionality.  The Mammut Trion Light 28L pack is a good example of this trend, as it’s about the same size, but weighs more than twice as much as the Patagonia Ascensionist.

2:  Top lid:  The top lid is unique.  It is secured with a single drawcord that can be opened or closed with a single gloved hand.  When you open the pack, the top lid stays propped open on its own, which makes access convenient.  There is a top pocket that is accessed by a horizontally oriented zipper.   Nothing about the top lid is game changing or a massive leap forward, but it is very cleverly and thoughtfully designed and definitely is an improvement over the typical day pack lid.  The top lid is closed by means of a simple aluminum hook.  I’ve found that the hook doesn’t stay fastened when the pack is not full and there’s no tension on the hook.  This isn’t really a serious issue, however, as when there’s no tension on the hook, it’s not needed to keep the pack lid closed.  One caution about the top lid design:  It does not allow for you to stow a rope under the top lid securely.  I am used to being able to coil my rope and stash it under the top lid for the approach and descent.  The Ascensionist design doesn’t accommodate this practice very well, as the rope doesn’t stay put and there isn’t really any good way to keep it in place.  If you need to transport a rope, you will need to either shove it into the pack, or just do a mountaineer’s coil and carry it slung over your shoulder.

3:  Construction and features.  Fabric is a mid weight gridded ripstop in the body, with a doubled, heavier fabric on the bottom of the pack.  I haven’t used it enough to have any opinions on long term durability.  Ice axe attachments are by means of traditional loops on the bottom secured at the top by adjustable shock corded hooks.

Overall, the pack is a study in simplicity.  It’s stripped down to the basics, which is generally a good thing in my book.

However, there are a couple of things that I wish this pack had:

It doesn’t have any provision for carrying a hydration bladder.  There’s no hole to slip a hydration hose through, and there’s no loop inside to hang a bladder from.  Adding a small hydration hole and hanging loop would make the pack much more user friendly for those of us who tend to use hydration bladder systems.

Also, the foam back pad is not removable.  Having a removable back pad would allow me to strip out the pad and use the pack as a low bulk stuff-sack summit pack like the old MEC Genie pack, or replace the pad with a folded up bothy bag.

The changes for hydration compatibility and making the foam pad removable would have added very minimal weight (probably less than 2 ounces total) and would have made the pack a little more versatile.

The pack lists for $99, which is pretty expensive for a lightweight daypack.  The MEC Alpinelite 24 pack is $54 Canadian, and the REI Flash 22 pack is $49.50.   However, the Ascensionist 25L is significantly lighter than the MEC Alpinelite, and more climbing oriented than the REI Flash.  Whether it’s worth an extra $50 compared with those packs probably depends on how tight your budget is, and how often you think you will have need of a good daypack that’s focused on climbing.

So far, I’m happy with the pack.  I’ve used it ice climbing and hiking, and have been pleased with its performance.  I’m probably going to get it modified to add a hydration bladder exit port and a bladder hanging loop.  I’ts likely to be my go-to technical daypack for a while.

Patagonia Ascensionist 25L

Patagonia Ascensionist 25L on ice

This Link is to a nice video of Steve House explaining the various features of the Ascensionist 25L Pack.

Hyperlite Mountain Gear Ice Pack

Ice Pack in the Cascades

The Hyperlite Mountain Gear Ice Pack is a lightweight alpine pack that I have been using lately for big days and light overnights in the mountains.

The ice pack is about 40 liters (2,400 cubic inches) in capacity, and can hold everything I need for a day of ice climbing or winter alpine climbing day trips. When packing carefully, I have used it on overnight climbs as well.

The Ice Pack is very light weight. In a size large frame, it weighs 2 pounds, 1.3 ounces. It is stripped down to the essentials, with a roll-top closure instead of a lid, and no useless frills.  The pack is made from a Cuben fiber material that keeps the weight down.

The suspension on this pack is simple, but very effective. The frame is made from two lightweight aluminum stays, coupled with a lightly padded back panel. The hip belt is also lightly padded, and does a good job of transferring weight to the hips.  The suspension allows me to carry loads in the 40 pound range comfortably, and I don’t have aching shoulders, back, or neck at the end of the day.

This pack is different from most in that it does not have “load lifter” straps that run from the shoulder straps to the top of the pack to keep the pack pulled into your back. The Ice Pack relies solely on the shoulder straps to keep the load in balance and snugged tightly to your back. Because of this, getting the right fit is critical. On most packs, the shoulder straps are designed to come a bit below your shoulders, and wrap around them. On this pack, however, you want the shoulder straps to be level with the crest of your shoulders. (Make sure that this is with the pack fully loaded, and with the aluminum frame stays bent to shape.)  The Ice Pack comes in 4 sizes to accommodate different back lengths.

With the proper fit, this pack carries really well. With the shoulder straps comfortably snug, the pack sticks to your back like glue, and I haven’t had any issues with the pack shifting around while climbing. I’ve climbed multi-pitch technical rock and ice routes in this pack, and I just forget I’m wearing it.   The pack has a couple of side compression straps, which allow for scrunching down the pack to adjust for smaller loads.  There is also a very effective top mounted compression strap system that allows you to compress the load from the top.  This top compression strap system can also be used for securing a climbing rope.  I also use it for strapping on my climbing helmet.

The pack has a number of climbing-specific features that distinguish it from the company’s other pack offerings, which are geared more towards ultralight backpacking.  There are well designed ice tool holders that will accept traditional or leashless tools.  There is also a crampon patch on the back of the pack, with an elastic bungee cord to hold the crampons on with.  I haven’t had good luck with this elastic bungee cord, however.  The clip buckles broke almost immediately, rendering the attachment insecure.  I eventually just cut off the elastic bungee cord, and replaced it with a couple of pieces of webbing and fastex side release buckles.   The pack’s waist belt has sewn on gear loops which are useful for racking gear.  You can also add ice screw clippers to the hipbelt for additional ice-screw racking options.  When you’re carrying a light load and don’t want the belt at all, you can also strip the waist belt off completely.

My biggest concern when I first got this pack was the lack of a traditional top pocket.  In lieu of a top pocket, the pack closes with a simple roll-top closure like that on a dry bag.    My habit has always been to store a bunch of stuff in the top pocket, to make it easier to get to during the climb.  Initially, I wasn’t sure whether I could live without a top pocket.   In actual use, however, I’ve found that I don’t really miss the top pocket.  I put stuff I may need while on the route in a separate lightweight ditty-bag that I just keep near the top of the pack.  This keeps me organized, and getting to this ditty bag doesn’t take significantly more time or effort than accessing a top pocket.

In actual use, the only feature I really miss on the Ice Pack is a hole in the pack to allow the tube on my hydration bladder to exit the pack.  However, I called the good folks at Hyperlite and explained my needs to them, and they agreed to add a hole in the pack above the shoulder strap to allow me easier use of my hydration bladder.  (This is one of the reasons I like gear from small companies.  They tend to have outstanding customer service and are often willing to go the extra mile to keep their customers happy.)

So far, the Ice Pack appears reasonably durable.  After several climbing trips, hikes, and cragging, the fabric shows no real signs of wear.  It seems quite well made, with well-constructed seams and reinforced stress points.

Ice Pack accommodates a 3 day load if you pack carefully

The obvious competitors for the Ice Pack are the non-woven dyneema worksacks from Cilogear.   I’ve owned and used Cilogear’s 45 liter NWD Worksack for several years now and it’s been my go-to alpine pack due to its light weight and excellent carrying qualities.  Some comparisons between the 45L Worksack and the Hyperlite Ice Pack follow:

I prefer the suspension and frame of the Ice Pack.  The twin aluminum stays are lighter than the plastic/aluminum frame sheet of the Cilo Gear pack, and still work very well to control the load and transfer the weight of the load to the hips.   I feel like the simple, no-load-lifter shoulder strap design of the Ice Pack makes the pack perform better when climbing, and it shifts around less when moving.

The Cilogear’s floating top lid design is more conducive to overstuffing the pack.  For times when you want to overload the pack on the approach, the Cilogear pack design allows for greater expansion of volume.  The Cilogear is also a larger pack all around (45 liters vs 40 liters nominal volume.)   You can overstuff the Cilogear pack to carry 60 liters of more, but this isn’t an option with the Ice Pack.

The Ice Pack is substantially lighter than the Cilo 45L NWD Worksack.  The Cilogear pack weighs 2 pounds 11..6 ounces for the  pack body, foam-pad, hip belt, lid, and 4 compression  straps.  The plastic/aluminum frame sheet adds another 16.2 ounces to that total.   In contrast, the Ice Pack weighs only 2 pounds, 1.3 ounces including the integral aluminum frame stays.

So, which is better?   Well, that depends on how much space I need.  If I can comfortably fit my gear into 35-40 liters of space, I prefer the Ice Pack.  I think it carries better both on the trail and on the climb and it is lighter.   It is the best pack I’ve used so far for light alpine climbing.  For day climbs and light overnights, the Ice Pack is my new first choice.

However, for those times when 40 liters isn’t quite enough, I will still be going to my Cilogear worksack.  Sometimes, I can’t squeeze all my stuff into 40 liters, and the Ice Pack’s limited expansion capability makes it suitable solely to light and fast endeavors.

One place where the Ice Pack clearly has the Cilogear NWD Worksacks beat is on price.  The Ice Pack retails for $260, which is significantly less than the comparable offerings from Cilogear.

Overall, I am extremely pleased with the Ice Pack.  For the kind of climbing I like to do, it’s pretty close to the ideal pack.

Note:   I initially received an Ice Pack for review free of charge.  However, I liked it so much, I went out and bought one with my own money (at retail price,) because I didn’t want to be without it in the event that I was asked to return my review pack.