The Ideal Climbing Pack
What makes a good climbing pack? What is a climbing pack?? What even is climbing???
All very good questions that I've been thinking about the past week as I've been touring around the West Coast getting on top of both big and small rocks. The pack I want on a long rock climb in Yosemite is very different than the one I want in the alpine or the one I'd take to the Happy Boulders. On my trip, I climbed with water, snacks, jackets, rope(s), rack(s), and sometimes even bags of poop in my backpack. Here are the two styles of pack I used:
Both packs have distinct advantages and disadvantages. The Arc'teryx pack is large, burly, and largely bereft of pockets while the UD pack is small, lightweight, and has more places to put things than I know what to do with. The Alpha FL is made for alpinism while the Mountain Vest is made for trail running. It makes sense that neither would be perfect for rock climbing but they happened to be the packs that were at the REI garage sale so I made do.
Important Qualities of a Climbing Pack
Durability A good climbing pack should withstand whatever you throw at it whether that's getting dragged up granite slabs, squished into chimneys, or dropped by your well-intentioned but clumsy parter from two pitches up.
Access You need to be able to reach the gear, snacks, and water in your pack quickly and easily, otherwise the pack isn't doing its job. I know that I drink way less water when it's hidden under layers of gear versus when there's a hydration bladder ready for my to sip on. I am also a shameless mid-route photo taker and appreciate easy phone access.
Storage How much space is enough space? That's one of the trickier questions. The Alpha FL 45 pack has 33L of volume without extending the sleeve while the Mountain Vest pack claims about 13L. In my experience, somewhere in between those two (around 20L) is the ideal size. With 20L, you can fit some water, snacks, jackets, and basic climbing gear like a harness, shoes, and maybe even a single rack.
Cool Packs in Production
I like to start the design process by surveying what is currently being made in the outdoor gear industry to get some new ideas and see what approaches others have taken. I'm relatively unimpressed with the offerings on the market today, I think that there's a huge market for a killer climbing pack that blows all of these out of the water.
The Grivel Lynx is a 13L pack made for multi-pitch climbing. Its main unique feature is the detachable gear sling/strap system. This seems like a great idea to combine a pack with a traditional gear sling to offload some stuff from harnesses.
The Black Diamond Creek 20 is the smallest in a line of 3 "Creek" packs styled after haul bags. It's designed to be an on-route pack and is made of burly 1200D fabric with a TPU coating. I like the simplicity of the design and the sturdiness of the fabric.
The Patagonia Linked Pack is another design similar to the BD Creek 20. It is styled after a traditional haul bag with some additional features like outside pockets and daisy chains. It's made of 940D ballistic nylon.
The Mountain Hardwear Multi-Pitch 20 pack is simple design for a 20L leader/follower pack. It has a few secret compartments and pouches but is still largely a tube construction. The fabric is an interesting hybrid of cotton and X-Pac.
The Petzl Bug is an adorable little pack. It has an 18L capacity and a simple design. This pack is designed to sit higher than most other ones which is great when wearing a harness. The single external daisy chain doesn't seem very useful since gear would be clanking around if attached there.
Climbing Pack Essential Features
As I see it, there are a few essential features a climbing pack should have:
Water bladder holder
Rope carry system
Optional hip belt
Check out this post on my DIY climbing pack!