As time goes on and gear piles grow, every climber encounters a similar problem … a struggle timeless in age and endless in frustration. How do I get my awesome pile of gear from my living room to the crag and beyond? The answer, fretful climber, lies within this guide to climbing packs.
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Part 1: how to properly size a rock climbing pack
When sizing a climbing pack, the most important thing to take into consideration is torso length.
Most other aspects are easily adjusted to suit a particular need. Torso length, however, correlates with the size of the internal frame in most climbing packs and is generally the least adjustable aspect of any pack.
Determine the right frame size
The proper way to size a pack based on torso length is to measure the distance between the top of your hips to the top of your shoulder blades (right around your C7 vertebrae). This is how any store would do a general pack fit. Because most packs tend to fall into a S/M/L sizing structure, with each size covering a range of torso sizes, it is usually sufficient to simply try on the pack with a little weight inside and make sure the hip belt sits just above your iliac crest (hip bone) and the bottom of the pack rests in the small of your back.
Once the right frame size is determined, load up the pack and tighten the hip belts until fairly snug but still comfortable. Ideally, if the right fit has been decided upon, most of the load will be distributed here.
Adjust shoulder straps
Next, adjust the shoulder straps. This will help position the load in an ideal spot for your particular anatomy.
As stated before, you should feel most of the load being supported by your hips. If it feels like the weight of the pack is being supported upwards by your shoulders, then the load is not properly distributed.
A common misconception is that you should support a load from your shoulders. However, their function should be more to hold the pack in toward you rather than up. If too much of a heavy load is supported by your shoulders, you open yourself up to injury potential and quicker fatigue.
Choose the right capacity
One last thing on sizing a pack.
When buying a pack, some people go for the large-and-in-charge philosophy. For example, when people see that a pack with double the capacity costs similar to a smaller size, they tend to assume bigger is better. With a bigger pack, I can fit more awesome climbing gear, right?
True but not necessarily necessary. The downsides of getting a pack too small for your gear is obvious, but the downside to having a pack far too large should also be considered.
If you only have say, a 40L volume of cams, ropes, shoes, harness, etc. in your arsenal but you have an 80L pack, then two main problems arise.
Problem one is that you have 40L of empty space for all of your gear to bounce around in. This can redistribute your load, making it hard to adjust everything to comfort. The second problem is that most packs are tested while fully loaded, meaning that there is no guarantee that a half-full pack’s internal frame will provide the intended level of support.
If fitted right, the shoulder straps should still keep the load in while your hips hold it up; however, it is likely it would become sloppy rather quickly due to problem one. Always consider the right volume of pack for your chosen needs and activity.
Part 2: best rock climbing packs by category
Climbing packs generally fall into three main categories;
- Crag packs
- Alpine packs
- Haul bags
Top-rated crag packs for trad and sport climbing
The everyman of backpacks is the crag pack.
Whether hitting the limestone with a fistful of draws or hauling a quintuple rack up to the Creek, the crag pack has got your back. Crag packs are usually heavily featured and designed to make your transition from approach to climbing as seamless as possible.
Arc’teryx Alpha FL
Best for: trad climbing
With Arc’teryx’s award-winning durability and product warranty, you know the Arc’teryx Alpha FL 45L pack was designed to stand up to the most brutal of cragging days. Whether it’s a Grade IV alpine assault or a gear-intensive off-width outing, this pack can haul everything you need, and stay in far better shape than you’ll be in by the end of the day.
The Alpha FL is made with a revolutionary N400-AC fabric, making it both ultra-lightweight and abrasion-resistant. Bearing both watertight zippers and fully taped seams this bag is highly water-resistant as well.
With dual haul loops, six integrated lash points, a rope holder integrated into the roll-top closure, and two ice ax loops, this pack can easily haul all the necessary gear to the wall, and attach to hauling systems to be hauled up the wall. It even has a reflective white interior lining, designed for ease of finding gear in low light environments.
As for comfort, you may even forget you’re wearing this pack. Between the slim, thermoformed shoulder straps that won’t inhibit upper body motion, and the AC2 (Advanced Composite Construction) suspension designed to optimally reduce the load from your shoulders and neck, you’ll arrive at the crag feeling fresh and ready to send.
Trango Crag Pack
Best for: trad climbing
The aptly named Trango Crag Pack is a sturdy top-loading and upright standing pack, but with side access.
Trango used Titan Wrap fabric to ensure the pack stays standing upright when either full or empty. It has a 48L capacity in the main compartment and Trango set out to dedicate it all to gear.
Small features—like the external mesh shoe pocket, the side guidebook pocket, the built-in rope tarp, and two side straps for bulky jackets—save plenty of space for that always trendy rack of hexes you’ve been waiting to break out! Trangos simple yet useful design makes this a go-to trad cragger.
Mammut Neon Gear 45
Best for: sport climbing
The Mammut Neon Gear 45 is a great pack for those who desire ease of access.
The Neon Gear 45 is technically a top-loading pack, but its ease of access comes from the rear access panel. The entire back of the pack opens up and gives passage to an internal mesh pocket for shoes, a storable rope tarp, an independent pouch for chalk, and an internal gear loop to hang as many quickdraws as necessary.
The Neon Gear truly does make the transition from approach to crag rather smooth. The rear access panel coupled with all of the internal organization features give an intuitive design to efficiently find and store your gear. If your day involves meandering underneath bolt lines awing in wonder of which one to climb next, then the Neon Gear should be a consideration as the quiver for your draws.
Black Diamond Stone 42 Duffel
Best for: sport climbing
The Black Diamond Stone 42 Duffel is a crag pack that utilizes full front-access-loading.
This duffel style pack has a 42L capacity and was designed specifically for the sport or gym climber. The full-front zipper completely opens the bag up and gives quick access to draws, a harness, or whatever else you might need.
Black diamond integrated a rope tarp into the pack so whether at the gym or bouncing around the crag, your rope can stay clean. The shoulder straps tuck away underneath the back panel to give a true duffel feel for travel and add stability when pulling or packing with gear. The Black Diamond Stone 42 Duffel is the perfect pack for the on-the-go climber and local sport cragger alike.
Top-rated alpine climbing packs
An alpine pack needs to keep the mantra of modern alpinism in mind: fast and light.
For that to be achieved, a good alpine pack needs to perform well while both climbing and during the approach. This means not restricting movement while also providing all-day comfort. Alpine packs are designed to take a beating and will be a willing workhorse season after season.
Mountain Hardwear Scrambler 35L
For a true long-day-in-the-backcountry workhorse, check out the Mountain Hardwear Scrambler 35. Behold the latest update to Mountain Hardwear’s waterproof pack technology. Taking OutDry technology and shaving off yet more weight, this pack is constructed entirely of 4-layer Dimension-Polyant™ fabric, bringing you a pack that’s both lighter and more water-resistant than ever.
This revolutionary light pack is designed for all day comfort on tough terrain. It features a contoured ventilated back panel and load support sheet frame, as well as dual density shoulder straps. Both the webbing hip and chest straps are there for added minimalist support, but are also removable. With several integrated compression straps around the body, you can cinch down your gear into the most efficient shape possible.
As for packing, access this pack via the top-loading opening, which doubles as a rope or gear overflow carrier. To shave down even more weight, remove the lid entirely so it closes merely by the cinch skirt. Hang cams, draws, or ice screws off any of the internal gear loops or the Forward-Access™ external gear loops if you need quick access. Even water access is easy with this pack, as it has both a hydration bladder reservoir and dual external bottle holsters. Of course, it also has ice tool loops and a padded base to provide plenty of protection for even more sensitive gear.
For those who like a little flair to their climbing getup, choose between plenty of bright color combinations. Just because we spend most of our time cursing our packs doesn’t mean we don’t take a little pride in them! With the Scrambler 35, you won’t be able to do anything but stand proud. From ice cragging to summer multi-pitch, this all-season pack will help take a load off the approach, so you can arrive ready for the full send.
Patagonia Ascensionist 30L and 40L
Made out of the incredibly abrasion and tear-resistant Cordura nylon, the Patagonia Ascensionist is a lightweight and reliable alpine tool.
The 30L weighs just under 2lbs! Both the 30 and 40L options sport a high-density foam back panel for comfort and support even with heavy loads, and the back panel and the padded hip belt can be removed for a lighter load. There are side compression straps to help manage different size loads as well as two daisy chains on the front of the pack to carry any extra gear.
The Ascensionist series from Patagonia keeps the minimalist yet functional ideals of alpinism alive and is an extremely valuable tool in any lightweight mountain adventure.
Top-rated haul bags
Durable, spacious, durable, and … durable. Designed to be able to stand up to the abuse that pulling on a bag tied to a rope up thousands of feet will encounter. In other words, durable.
Metolius El Cap
Remember how durability was a key in haul bags? That said, most haul bags, unfortunately, won’t last an entire big waller’s lifetime … unless it is made of Durathane.
The Metolius El Cap haul bag is made out of Durathane and boasts ten times more abrasion resistance than vinyl coated nylon (the material most other haul bags are made out of). The stitching is covered in three-inch webbing and then restitched, making it incredibly rip resistant.
The El Cap is a 157L haul bag and is meant for long stays on the wall and as such, includes a generously padded suspension system, which fully tucks away when it is time to tie in and start hauling. Metolius put a drain hole in the bottom just in case anything unfortunate were to happen inside the pack. This really is one of the most durable packs out there.
Black Diamond Touchstone
The Black Diamond Touchstone is a great overnight haul bag with a little less than half of the capacity than the Metolius El Cap. The Touchstone has 70L of volume and burly construction with vinyl laminated nylon.
There is an internal zipper pocket for small item organization and EVA foam-padded straps for plenty of comfort getting to the wall. With two attachment points and a tuck away suspension system, you can rest assured that the misery of hauling will be slightly alleviated by the streamlined design and durability of the Touchstone.
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