Having been one of the leading lights in Alpine apparel for many years, Patagonia’s first range of dedicated alpine climbing packs has been a long time coming. So has it been worth wait? Well, CGR tested out the Ascensionist 25 Pack from Patagonia on everything from days out cragging in the Yorkshire Dales to multi day technical alpine missions, in order to find out…
Patagonia say: “Ideal as a leader pack on done-in-a-day alpine routes, the streamlined Ascensionist 25L is perfect for everything from long, granite ascents in the Bugaboos to a day-push on El Capitan.”
One of the downsides of many of today’s technical and fully featured “climbing” packs is that they are just too complicated, too fussy and in a nutshell, too heavy. Many of them weigh well over a kilogram even before you put anything in them! Weight is generally pretty critical when alpine climbing if you are to move fast and stay safe. Also, carrying a bulky, heavy pack whilst technical climbing is not going to be the most pleasant experience or going to allow you to climb your best.
Personally I like to use a small pack of 25-30 litre capacity for most of my Scottish winter and alpine climbing. I suppose I’m quite efficient at packing, I’m quite confident about what I do and don’t need, and I don’t mind strapping items such as the rope, to the outside on an approach. I would rather do this and then have a nice light, empty pack on the climb. I know that when I am climbing, most of my gear will be in use, not in my bag, meaning that this sits comfortably out of the way, on my back.
So, to the Ascensionist 25 Pack from Patagonia. Bearing in mind what I just said about empty packs being heavy, I was absolutely over the moon when I first lifted the Ascensionist 25 out of the box and realised that when empty, it really didn’t weigh very much at all. Patagonia quote 349g on their website and this really is light for a 25 litre pack.
They haven’t scrimped on features either. There are twin ice axe attachment points with simple elastics to secure the shafts. The loops for securing the axe heads are adjustable as well, thus giving a better and more secure fit for modern hammerless and adzeless tools. There is a single lid pocket to keep energy bars, topo, suncream etc all handy and this is secured with a glove friendly zipper. Daisy chains run down the front and sides of the pack and these can be used to attach extra kit. If you are taking a bivi pad for example, just add some crisscrossed bungee elastic to the daisy chains. The same system can be used to secure your crampons to the front.
Other features include a removable and adjustable waistbelt and chest strap, padded shoulder straps and simple padded back. There is also the option of moving the main closure strap when the bag is over-packed so that you can lash the rope to the top. This is simple and easy to do, but also secure. I personally have used this feature quite a lot and really like it.
Whilst the Ascensionist 25 Pack has all the features I need for a day of alpine climbing, it’s simplicity is still it’s greatest feature. One thing I look for in all packs is how easy it is, to actually pack my kit into it. Whether that be a chalk bag, harness, shoes and a bunch of quickdraws for a day sport climbing or shovel, probe, rope and rescue gear for a day of ski touring, I want it all to fit in the pack with minimum fuss, effort and bulk. I have used the Ascensionist 25 Pack for both cragging and ski touring as well as alpine day routes and it really is easy to pack. I find a lot of other packs, with all the different organisational compartments can actually be more difficult to use as you just end up with lots of dead space in the pack and extra weight from all the extra material needed to make it. Not so with this one. It is essentially a big stuff sack with a nice wide opening at the neck and this makes packing super simple 🙂 .
Whilst on the subject of packing and also the neck of the pack, it is worth pointing out the way in which the Ascensionist range has been designed. It has what Patagonia call “an asymmetrical spindrift collar” and this means that fabric is saved as the lid is actually just part of the main body. This again saves weight and also gets rid of any seams and stitching that would have been required if the pack was constructed in the usual way. The collar cinches down to protect your kit (this can be done with one hand) but will stand up and accommodate any over-packing should you need it to.
Here is a great video of Patagonia ambassador, Steve House talking through all the features of the Ascensionist 25 Pack:
I found this feature to be very useful and it came in handy for multi day routes where I had to pack the Ascensionist 25 to the max, particularly on the approach to the climb. I used the Ascensionist 25 pack on a 2 day ascent of the classic 1938 Route on the Eiger’s infamous North Face. When choosing my pack I knew I needed something that would be able to transport all my technical climbing gear, sleeping bag, bivi pad and bivi bag, stove, water, food, headtorch, spare clothes and other essentials to the base of and then up the climb itself. The actual approach to this climb isn’t that long so I also knew that a lot of the climbing kit would be in use after the first hour so the pack would only have to cope with a bit of over-packing until then. I then wanted something that was simple, comfortable and streamlined for when I was actually climbing. The Ascenionist 25 Pack seemed like the obvious choice and performed brilliantly on this route. It never felt like I needed to take it off or that it got in the way, even on the crux pitches.
It’s not a comfortable backpacking pack though so if you are carry a heavy load for a few hours to a base and climbing from there, then you might want to consider the Ascenionist 35 or 45 instead. It is totally ideal for one to two day light and fast, technical alpine routes though.
Okay, so what are the downsides of this pack? Well firstly there is not a lot of padding but again, this isn’t really that sort of pack and a bit of careful packing will make sure those spiky bits of kit don’t end up poking in your back. Secondly it’s not the toughest pack in the world, but actually considering it’s lack of weight, it’s not doing too bad either. Mine only has a couple of small abrasion holes in it from some rough alpine chimneying and the ripstop fabric has stopped this going any further.
So to conclude…
My first experience of Patagonia’s Ascensionist pack range gets a huge thumbs up! Light, simple and innovative, it has all the features you need for a day of UK cragging, winter climbing or technical alpine mixed routes and none of the features you don’t. If you’re one of those folk who always has a huge rucksack, regardless of what you’re doing, take the plunge, ditch the ‘spare sets of everything’ and enjoy the freedom a pack like this can offer you. I can’t wait to get out and use mine again!
- RRP: £90
- Find out more and buy one at the Patagonia website.