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 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 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.
Patagonia Crag Daddy
Best for: trad climbing
The Patagonia Crag Daddy 45L pack is an absolute workhorse for gear-intensive cragging days.
The Crag Daddy has plenty of room for a full double rack, shoes, harness, rope, lunch, water, guidebook and anything else you could want with you for a day of trad cragging. It has a full-length front zipper, meaning it loads and unloads very easily, encouraging un-racking and re-racking in an organized fashion between climbs.
With cams constantly being pulled in and out and rushing to the next climb, packs of this nature are bound to take a beating. Patagonia knows this and made the Crag Daddy with Cordura ballistic nylon and gave it a DWR finish, all adding up to some pretty extreme resistance to water, tear, and abrasion. Water resistant finishes also have a tendency to repel dirt, meaning the natural degradation of the nylon will be slower than a pack without DWR finish.
With open, breathable mesh shoulder straps and back panel, a padded hip belt, load lifters on the shoulders, and reinforced grab handles, this pack not only makes lugging gear to and from the crag a breeze but will keep up with you season after season.
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 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 Direttissima 35L and 50L
If there was one pack to do it all, the Mountain Hardwear Direttissima would be it.
It is constructed entirely out of ripstop nylon and coated in OutDry, giving it outstanding waterproofing. The Direttissima is also customizable to suit whatever adventure you are throwing at it.
For a long approach, the lid and padded hip belt with gear loops give extra storage and comfort, however, these can be forgone to give a cleaner feel while climbing. The lid can be completely removed and the hip belt can either be replaced with a lightweight webbing strap or removed entirely. The result is a lightweight pack with the capacity to take on large alpine missions.
The pack features is an external dedicated crampon pocket along with ice tool loops if any icy terrain is expected. There’s also a large front pocket, which holds considerably more than you might think: it’s the length of the entire bag and has the capacity of a small day bag in and of itself.
The Direttissima is a great pack for all seasons; from ice cragging to summer alpine, this pack will help ensure any objective is met.
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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