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Climbing Packs

These packs are for climbs where I'm carrying a lot of gear or for overnight trips.  They are all large enough (45-50 lters, about 3000 cubic inches) to carry climbing equipment and full bivi/camping gear.  They have frames to help ease the burden of long approaches with moderate loads.  They are all also designed with climbing performance in mind.  

McHale, Arcteryx Khamsin, Wild Things Andinista, CiloGear 45L Worksack

Heavily loaded CiloGear Worksack on the approach to Long's Peak

CiloGear 45L Worksack

Weight with pack, foam pad, hipbelt, lid, and 4 compression straps 3 pounds, 1.9 ounces

(Back pad weight 7.7 oz;   Frame sheet weight 14.9 oz)


CiloGear 45L Worksack Nonwoven dynema   
Weight with pack, foam pad, hipbelt, lid, 4 compression straps   43.6  (2 lbs, 11.6 oz)  
CiloGear V5 Frame sheet  16.2 CiloGear Hip belt  4.2

This is my newest climbing pack.  Although CiloGear is a pretty new company, CiloGear packs have developed a cult following among climbers.  I have to say that after using the pack for more than a year, I count myself as a Cilo cultist.  


There are a number of features that set this pack apart from its peers, and make it  the best climbing pack I've ever used. 

First off, the pack is very versatile and configurable.  Just about everything on the Cilo pack is modular, and can be added or removed, or re-configured as circumstances and needs dictate.  The waistbelt is removable, as is the closed cell foam back pad and plastic and aluminum frame sheet. 


All of the various straps are removable, and can be attached at numerous points on the pack, allowing for unlimited load compression options.  You can use the straps to compress the pack volume down to day-pack size, or you can reconfigure them to compress and balance large and awkward loads.  What's really interesting is the difference that the strap angles have on your load carrying and compression.  For heavy loads, I've found that setting the compression straps so that they angle upward makes the load carry better than the traditional  straight-horizontal configuration on other packs.  The modular straps give you the freedom to adjust compression however you want it.  You aren't just stuck with one factory-mandated set up.   


Climbing performance is very good.  My helmet doesn't bang into the top of the pack.  The pack can be snugged down so that it hugs my back nicely, minimizing any balance issues.  I can hip load some of the weight, keeping my shoulders relatively unburdened, but the pack doesn't flop about when climbing.   


One of the surprises about this pack was how well it carries when fully loaded.  The Cilo has a plastic frame sheet, with a single aluminum stay attached in a sleeve down the middle of the frame sheet.  The stay can be (and should be) bent to conform to your back shape.  Once formed to fit your back, the pack is quite effective at carrying moderate loads in comfort.  I've often loaded the Cilo with 45 pounds of climbing and camping gear and it remains comfortable and very stable to carry. 


The truly surprising thing, however, is even without the plastic frame sheet, the Cilo still carrries very well, when carefully packed.  I almost never even bother to bring the plastic frame sheet along any more.  I haven't missed it at all (and it saves about a pound.)   The stiff, thick closed cell foam pad provides just enough support.  On the down side, however, the foam pad is a bit too short to use for a bivi pad.  When unfolded, it is big enough to sit on, but not long enough to insulate your torso.  As a supplement for your regular pad, or for emergencies, however, it works fine.     


Small touches, like the grab loops on both front and back of the pack, adjustable and detatchable lid, bivi extension, and a simple and effective ice tool attachment system that works with both traditional and leashless tools are a clear indication that a fair amount of thought has gone into this pack, and that the designer is focused on what climbers want and need in a pack. 


I have also been very impressed with the durability of this pack.  I've used it for cragging, ice climbing, alpine climbing, and backcountry skiing.  I'm kind of clumsy and tend to do things like ski into trees, and wedge myself into small crevises, and I have not put very much wear on this pack.  The only hole I have put into it was a small hole in the bottom of the lid, which I poked with a sharp ice tool spike.  I repaired it with a bit of cloth tape, and it's good as new. 


So far, my only complaints are that the sternum strap is not long enough, and tends to constrict my breathing even when fully extended ( I replaced this with a longer strap.)  I also wish that the pack came with an optional unpadded webbing hip-belt for additional stability when you don't need the padded belt.  I made my own out of webbing, and found that this minimalist waist belt works very well on the approach or while climbing, provided I don't have a lot of weight in the pack.   


I used to always check out climbing packs whenever I was at Neptune Mountaineering or other climbing stores.  However, my experience with the Cilo Worksack have pretty much cooled my enthusiasm for other packs.  For me, at least, it is the perfect combination of climbing and carrying performance, with the added benefit of being pretty light weight.  It has become my favorite climbing pack for overnight climbs or day trips when I've got to carry a lot of gear (like skiing in to a backcountry ice climb.) 

I like this pack so much, I recently sold it and bought a new one just like it, but made with non-woven dyneema so it is even lighter and supposedly even more durable.  Hopefully, the new dyneema pack will serve me as well as my original.  

Non Woven Dyneema 45L Worksack

McHale Climbing Pack (3 pounds, 1.5 ounces)

Back in 1991, I had Dan McHale make me a custom summit pack. It is a light weight pack with two thin aluminum stays and a piece of foam pad for the frame. It has a relatively wide two buckle hipbelt. The pack is made of lightweight materials, thin webbing, single layer nylon, etc. It has a single compartment of about 2900 cubic inches, a floating top pocket, two compression straps on each side, twin ice axe loops, and not much else. I wanted a relatively light pack for alpine climbing, and at the time, I was having a difficult time finding anything other than heavy, fully tricked out packs filled with features I didn't want or need. I talked with Dan about my needs, and he scratch built this pack for me. This was a completely custom pack, and I don't see anything exactly like it McHale's current web page, although the ultralight SARC is probably close.

It weighs a couple ounces over three pounds, and holds everything I need for single day or light overnight alpine climbs. It will carry a lot of weight comfortably due to the comfortable hip belt and frame stays. The strangest thing about this pack is that it has no "load lifter" straps. During my conversations with McHale, he told me that a pack this size didn't need them if it was properly sized to your back length. I was skeptical, but followed his advice, and had the pack made without them, sending him my back and waist measurements so he could make the pack fit me. As it turns out, he was correct. The length of the pack, and the length of the aluminum stays tops out just at the crest of my shoulders, rather than the straps curving around the shoulders as on other packs. The shoulder straps are attached even with the tops of the aluminum stays at about an inch above the level of my shoulders. The result of this is that the shoulder straps pull the pack snug against my back without the need for load lifter straps, and the weight is lifted off of my shoulders by the aluminum stays. This pack is very stable, and climbs well. If properly packed, it hip loads well for carrying larger loads up to about 40 pounds. I've used it for light weight backpacking trips as well as climbing. The hip belt is wider than on normal climbing packs, so I have to be careful about which harness I use, so the belt won't interfere. I generally use my Mammut "Peak" alpine harness which has a single tie-in/belay loop set rather high, and this is a good fit with this pack. This is a good pack for compact but heavy loads.

Arcteryx Khamsin (3 pounds, 0.4 oz)
The old style Khamsin is a great climbing pack. This pack is no longer made, however, as Arcteryx "improved" the Khamsin and made it a better backpacking load carrier at the expense of its climbing performance. The pack I have is the old style Khamsin without the thermoformed back and suspension found in the newer models. The newer Khamsin suspension is stiffer and more supportive, but makes the frame too stiff for climbing, in my opinion (not to mention heavier).

The original Khamsin frame consisted of two thin aluminum stays, coupled with a thin polyethylene frame sheet and a lightly padded back panel. This system provides adequate rigidity to hip-load the weight in the pack, but flexes enough that twisting and reaching motions of climbing are easily accommodated. I removed the plastic frame sheet for even more flexibility, and found that the aluminum stays alone provide adequate load support. As far as I am concerned, plastic framesheets generally add little benefit to a climbing pack. Climbing packs need maximum torsional flex, so that they can move freely with your torso's twisting motions. A plain plastic framesheet impedes this torsional flexing ability, and only adds a moderate amount of longitudinal load support.

A pair of lightweight aluminum stays is a good load bearing system, as it gives support to the load and transfers weight to the hipbelt without impeding torsional flex. The lack of the plastic sheet removes a layer of protection from your back, but if you pack carefully, you can avoid hard objects jabbing into you from inside the pack bag.

The Khamsin is a stripped down, light weight, no frills pack. There are no extraneous pockets, straps, and the like. Its 50 liter size is adequate for winter climbing with bivi gear and short, 2-3 day climbing trips in good weather. On the approach, it carries loads of up to 35-45 pounds adequately, albeit with some sagging at the hip belt. With loads up to about 20 to 30 pounds, it is a superb climbing pack.

The Khamsin is a good choice for winter climbing trips, climbing trips which involve a planned bivi, multi-day climbs, or other climbs you need to carry a relatively large amount of stuff.   

Wild Things Andinista
This pack is discussed on the mid-sized pack page.  It appears here as well, because it can be compressed down to small climbing pack size. 

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