Dave puts the all conditions winter pack from Osprey to the test.
A true winter pack for exploration into deep snow, frozen waterfalls and ice-fractured mountains.
I was out with a client the other day and was delighted to see that she was using an Osprey Variant 37 – I asked her if she liked it and why. She replied ‘ it’s my favourite all time pack and I love the huge pocket at the front, it’s so useful’. I asked her if she had used it for its intended purpose which was as a crampon pocket – she replied not yet but it’s still useful. And so it is as I’ll explain later.
I have tested the Osprey Variant 37 as an all rout mountain pack, I have used it for a variety of activities from UK summer rock climbing, UK winter climbing and mountaineering and even for a short overnight backpacking trip on a Mountain Leader exercise. I have found it a really nice pack to use and the way it easily strips apart is a great feature.
The Variant is a well constructed pack made from quality materials; the main body is made from burly fabrics and proved quite water resistant in the normal mode of the main lid on. It has plenty of good features and the 37L version was plenty big enough to fit all my kit into. It was also very easy to strip it to its lean state. I stripped of the big lid, the hip belt and removed the HDPE and aluminium framesheet (which was very easy to remove and replace) to make it as light as it could be. For a while I thought this could become my default winter day pack mode as it weighed a nice light 840g. It soon became clear though that the pack became very floppy in this mode so in the end I replaced the framesheet which made it much better to use. For longer days I also used the lid which gave me more storage options.
The two compartment lid was quite big and really extended the volume of the pack. I could easily fit two pairs of gloves, a hat and even a light windproof jacket in the top lid and still have room for a wallet, phone, headtorch, gps and other stuff in the inside pocket. The key fob was situated in the outer pocket, with more and more electronic car keys coming on board it might be more sensible to have it in the inside pocket for a little extra protection from the elements. The floating lid was easy to remove and put back on using the side clips and central tape, it had two straps which made it nice and stable on the top of the pack even when loaded up.
This was not the only lid however, when it was stripped down the Variant had a top flap which Osprey call the FlapJacket. This provided the pack with a lid which also had a zipped pocket for stashing valuables. It has two neatly placed clips that fit into small cavities when not used – very nicely designed and three loops on the top of the lid to capture spare tape from the rope cinch. So I found the FlapJacket lid very good as it provided a lid when used for winter climbing.
In summer use the Variant was perfectly fine. We have reviewed the Mutant before, both Kev and Rich prefer tiny packs but I prefer a slightly larger pack and the Variant provided plenty of room for a full day out cragging or in the mountains. I could easily fit a full rack, rope and all the clothing a food I needed for a day out and the one handed closure was great and very handy. For valley cragging I used the lid and for a mountain day I used it as I did for winter.
The Osprey Variant 37 is a true winter pack, it can be used for ski mountaineering where the two burly ski carries can accommodate all ski types including approach skis and the front panel a snow shovel. The wand pockets are great for stowing avalanche probes. I found the front panel perfect for set of snowshoes as I always find carrying a set of snowshoes awkward. The wand pockets are also very useful for stowing trekking poles and food, etc. The front panel also had four loops sewn in for adding some shock cord in case you were really wanting to load it up.
The side compressions straps helped keep everything in place, the bottom one had a fixed buckle and the top one had both a buckle clip and a solid, locking adjuster lock. All the buckles have great, glove friendly clips that are very easy to use and all the straps were well placed to avoid straps flying around in the wind. There is also a three point haul system but I would have liked to seen a larger grab handle to make the pack easier to clip onto belays.
I found the ice axe sleeve quite tight for my axes. I use Black Diamond Vipers with Krukongi mixed picks for my UK technical climbing. These picks are bigger than the standard BD picks and with the narrow sleeve I found doing up the buckles a pain in the cold with gloves on. When there were in the sleeve they were very well secured with the shock cord retainers. I must state, however, that the sleeve worked fine with the standard BD ice picks so I wouldn’t worry too much.
So is the Osprey an all-round winter pack? I would say yes it is; Osprey tend to be feature rich packs so if you like features you will love this pack. It really is a one size fits all pack for winter activities whether that is ice climbing, skiing or general mountain activities like snowshoe tours. It feels big for the size so you won’t have any problem fitting all your stuff in: you could ski/snowshoe out to a hut with your stuff in, strip it down and then climb for a day or so without any problems. And with Osprey investing in the UK by building their brand new European headquarters in Poole, Dorset they get a big thumbs up from us 🙂
The Variant comes in three sizes S, M and L and two colours: Black and Red. It is a unisex pack and is currently available here with free shipping.
Dave Sarkar has tested and reviewed climbing, mountaineering and outdoor equipment for almost 10 years. He works as a qualified MIA: working full time as a mountaineering instructor and expedition leader for his company Wild Spaces. When he isn’t working in the mountains he’s playing in the mountains and enjoys all aspects climbing and mountain sports whether bouldering at his local crag or ice climbing; as long as he’s going upwards he’s happy!