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March 2012 Issue
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Alpine Packs

Reviewers: Rob Brown, Nick Groves, Pat Barrett, Alistair Hall, Beth Masser, Paul Hersey

After extensive use in the hills of the South Island, these six packs get the nod of approval from our reviewers

Cactus Foray $599


This is the sort of gear I love. Simple, no frills and built by New Zealanders for New Zealanders.

At 75 litres the Foray is about spot on in terms of size for almost everything from weekend tramping through to a 10-day epic in the Olivines. The pay-off for this durability is an empty weight of just under 3kg.

The pack takes a markedly different design approach in key areas. The harness, for example, has no back adjustment, Cactus simply provides three sizes and allows the shoulder straps, and correct harness size selection, to negate the need for complex adjustments for lumbar length. In practise this works well and when I gave the pack to a friend who is a different height, there was no problem getting the pack to fit comfortably. The benefit is in weight savings and removing potential failure points in the harness.

The single compartment is built with a minimum of seams – I can’t think of another pack with so few seams, which has to be a good thing for keeping moisture out.

If I had one small complaint it would be the angle where the top shoulder straps are tied back into the pack is not quite right and a slight tweaking of this area would make it more comfortable for size four buyers.

The Foray isn’t cheap, but a product that gets all the design fundamentals right for hard tramping and alpine trips makes it a purchase that won’t disappoint over many years of service.

– Rob Brown

The North Face Prophet 65 $499.95



I’ve reviewed a number of packs these past few years and the Prophet is by far the lightest in the 65-litre range. At only 1.8kg, it’s impressive, although I’m not sure the fabric would handle tough Kiwi conditions when thrashing through the bush, or being dragged over rocks. TNF claim the ‘super-burly Cordura Bombastic fabric’ will withstand just about anything. Sure enough, over the test period it hasn’t shown any appreciable wear and tear.

The light back panel, hip belt and shoulder straps are considerably thinner than most packs. Despite this, the pack fits well and seems to be perfectly comfortable with a 20kg load for multi-day use. However, the E-VAP foam-moulded panel and hip belt doesn’t breathe well – or I just sweat more than most!

It has all the straps necessary, without overdoing it, although I’d prefer bigger and sturdier clips for the main hood-to-pack points of attachment: they are the most used and ‘bigger’ would be easier to locate and grab with cold or gloved fingers.

Side straps with adequate extensions, along with deep ‘wand pockets’ provide good stability when carrying skis. The reinforced external crampon pocket seems a bit flimsy and I’d suspect that, over time, the fabric would tear.

Although hardly a criticism, a plastic liner is essential for New Zealand weather, as is the case with virtually all packs. I used it on the Coast recently and within 10 minutes of rain the fabric was leaking.

Overall a good pack, especially for alpine use.

– Nick Groves


Macpac Pursuit $349.95



For me an alpine pack needs to be lightweight but still carry a load well. This means the harness system should be low profile; the pack sits high on the back so as not to interfere with technical movement; crampon and ice axe attachments should be bombproof but easy to operate; ideally, the internal frame doubles as an emergency foam mat, or can be replaced with one; and the external side sleeves will take snow stakes, tent and walking poles without them falling out.

In the good old days, Macpac’s Pursuit was my number one choice as a weekender alpine pack. Its 50+ litres was just enough for bivvy gear, food and technical climbing equipment, and everything worked just as I wanted it to. But, over the years, Macpac tweaked with the design, perhaps in a perceived need to keep up with the lighter overseas models.

This latest Pursuit has, in some ways, gone back to being old school. But, if anything, the designers might have beefed it up a tad too much. At just under 2kg, it is made from a combination of AzTec and reinforced with 40D nylon. The pack carries well, with an internal frame and plenty of padding on the waist-belt and shoulder straps, and easy-to-use gear loops on the waist-belt. The waistbelt is removable – a new feature – but overall I found the harness a little bulky for a pack of this size.

On the outside, the crampon bungy and side sleeves are great, but the ice axe attachments don’t work well and I found them difficult to use.

Otherwise, the pack ticks all the right boxes.

– Paul Hersey


Deuter Guide 40+SL $279.95


I tested the Guide on the Kepler Track as well as lots of short walks and it’s been a real pleasure doing so.

The pack has a Vari-flex fixed frame system that requires size selection up front but has plenty of adjustment allowing you to shape it to your body.

The hip belt is pinned at the centre back to provide a generous range of motion, allowing it to move with your gait while the pack remains vertical. This contributes hugely to comfort without adding any extra weight. The stitched foam back support can either be cranked tightly to the body for control or left loose allowing for increased air flow up the back.

We have experienced an Indian summer in Fiordland this year so the pack hasn’t had a good dousing yet but it is constructed from a textured fabric that is pretty robust and includes a waterproof zip on the lid. It looks like it should hold up in rain and be tough enough for the scrub.

It’s light, in a way that reflects careful thought by the designers about which features to include and which to leave out. The ‘SL’ in the title stands for slim line, which is the female version of the pack, and the shoulder straps are narrow and the frame shorter. It has strong attachment points for skis, ice axes and other tools.

This is a great value for money option.

– Beth Masser

Mountain Designs Edge 70 $349.95


This pack arrived with an instructional DVD to help users with the ‘Bio-mechanical Advantage Harness’, otherwise known as the BAR Harness.

This put me off somewhat – how hard can (or should) it be to adjust a pack to fit your back? Unfortunately, during the general turmoil of EQC house fix-ups I managed to lose the DVD, so relied on good old common sense when using the pack over winter.

Initial impressions were of a well thought-out and constructed pack, although the fancy harness system adds weight, and at 2.8kg it’s not light for an alpine pack.

It comes with a compartment divider, something I rarely use as I always use a large plastic liner for the whole bag on the assumption that no pack is really waterproof in New Zealand.

For alpine climbing it has plenty of attachments for axes, crampons, ropes and other tools. I liked the deep side pockets that offer more security when carrying skis and poles. For those for whom 70-litres is just not enough, the top can be extended to provide a further 10-litres.

The main selling point of the Edge 70 is undoubtedly the BAR Harness. I only carried an average load (20kg) when using the pack and found it comfortable enough. A well-padded hip belt and a pronounced lower-back pad gave as much comfort as I’d expect from any pack with weight inside, although my back was as sweaty as ever upon arrival at the hut.

Price-wise it is competitive with other brands and seems a fair outlay for such a well-made piece of essential gear.

– Nick Groves

One Planet Stiletto $489


This is a sturdy and durable piece of equipment which will, I am sure, stand the test of tramping time. This is the first pack I have seen that rival the robustness of Macpac’s Aztec fabric packs.

I used it on a hard three day tramp on the West Coast of the South Island and also on an easier two day trip in the Canterbury foothills. The 65-litre version I had was adequate for both trips and with plenty of room to spare it seems to have a cavernous single compartment interior.

The exact-fit harness system is super comfortable and easily adjustable both before hoisting the pack and while walking and I particularly liked the double-action cinch fastening of the waist belt. The harness also carries a Chiropractors Association of Australia endorsement.

There are all sorts of gadget attachment options for crampons, axes, snow stakes, skis and walking poles. The nifty little loops and buckles for ice-axe attachment are particularly innovative.

The Waterloc canvas fabric is heavy and tightly woven enough to ward off the rain, yet despite this a plastic pack-liner is still a must for any pack in this country.

The Stiletto weighs almost 2.7kg and in my book this would make it the heaviest single item in my kit by at least 700g. One Planet claims it is designed to satisfy the ‘fast and light’ ethos with regard to foreign mountaineering or local tramping, however, I think a 2.7kg pack is not suitable for fast and light trips – it’s just too heavy.

For all that this is an impressive backpack and will serve its owner well on multi-day trips through easy or difficult terrain over, I imagine, decades of use.

– Pat Barrett