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.

 

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.