If your alpine aspirations require carrying ice axe, crampons or technical equipment, a dedicated alpine pack is essential.
It’s not uncommon to have a couple of alpine packs, anywhere from 35 to 75 litres. A small pack for day climbs or light overnight trips and something bigger for those multiday day trips where you want the lightest pack possible, but still the capacity and fixtures for carrying your equipment. Alpine trips require heavy loads, so it’s worth saving weight by having the right pack for the job.
A fixed back-length is desirable, both for fail-safe simplicity and weight saving. Excessive padding and air-flow harnesses aren’t necessary as you’ll usually be wearing more clothing. Look for a simple, but durable frame system. Some alpine pack frames comprise a folded foam mat that can be used for camping and bivouacs.
A removable, or fold-away, hipbelt will allow easy access to your climbing harness.
The ease of attachment for ice tools and crampons is what sets alpine packs apart from tramping packs. Compression straps and small, open pockets at the pack’s base make it easy to carry snow anchors, tent poles or an avalanche probe. External zip pockets are generally restricted to the lid. Essential features are tool holsters and gear loops on the waist belt – handy for stashing your ice axe or clipping gear to while rock climbing.
The main considerations are weight and abrasion resistance; these factors both outweigh waterproofness, so it’s common to see polyurethane-coated (PU) polyester fabrics used, usually in the 210-600 denier range. Look for higher-denier fabrics in high-wear areas such as the base and at tool attachment points.
Because alpine packs tend be narrow, there is a tendency for them to be top heavy. Careful packing alleviates this, but also try on different packs to see what suits your torso length and pick a harness style that is comfortable for you.
Compression straps help to pull the load closer to your back and to squash the pack down when it’s not at full capacity.
Other features may include a removable lid; rope/compression strap under lid; a ‘haul point’ for attaching a rope to haul the pack; hydration compatibility; a few extra attachment points – like daisy chains – for ‘overflow’ equipment, such as tent and climbing helmet.
Now you know what to look for, it’s time to choose a pack.