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Gear: Lightweight Alpine Packs

By Rick Booth March, 2001 
Updated Jan 2002 

The objective: a multi-pitch rock climb or ice climb in the Sierras
requiring hiking at least one day to get either to the base or near the
base of the route.  The route is technical and requires a rope, pro,
shoes, and is complicated by a steep snow descent requiring an ice axe and
probably crampons.  Even with light weight summer sleeping bags (if the
trip is in the summer) and bivy bags the pile of gear sitting in the
middle of the living room floor Wednesday evening is downright formidable. 
The question is how to move all this stuff into base camp and then how
much of this junk gets carried on the route itself.

The problem comes down to the pack or possibly two packs.  The solution
to the above problem seems to be addressed with two techniques: one, use a
pack big enough to get all that junk inside and then (hopefully) it may be
adjusted to use on the rock or ice route itself and two, use two packs,
one big enough to haul all that junk and then a smaller one for the route
itself.  The rational for the second method is the large pack is almost
always a heavy and bulky pain to deal with.  I have tried both the single
pack method and the two pack method and I am not too crazy about either
one.  The problem with sizing the second pack is the variability of the
application.  In general one ice axe loop is good enough but ice routes
are a little easier with two.  The volume of the pack needs to cover two
quarts of water, rain gear, lunch, possibly a fleece garment, and possibly
the room to carry the approach shoes or boots.  These are tough
requirements for a day of ascent pack that should weigh less than two
pounds.  A request for suggestions for lightweight alpine packs was put
out on and the responses were very interesting and
several new suppliers of packs identified.

The dividing line for the definition of the carried second pack
suitable for use on alpine routes was set at about 2 pounds.  Packs
heavier than that were judged to be too heavy to use as the day of ascent
pack unless they also happen to be useful enough to be the main gear
hauling pack.

The volume for the following packs has a range of values depending on
whether the shroud is pulled out and possibly if the side pocket volume is
counted.  In order to determine the exact volume of the enumerated packs
the actual data from the manufacturer should be consulted.  The following
should serve as a starting point.

Under Two Pounds

a.  ArcTeryx Khamsin 30, 2 lbs 1 ounce (ok, over 2 lbs), volume 1450 to
2320 inches.  Arun uses a larger version, the Khamsin 50, for ice climbing
and likes the larger version.  The particular Khamsin 50 is apparently no
longer available.  The Arcteryyx web site is at

b.  Golite Breeze, 12 to 15 ounces depending on the source, volume 2700
to 4500 cubic inches.  This suggestion came from Ron Hudson.  These packs
are made with SpectraCloth or SpectraCloth mix of some sort.  Golite is in
Boulder, Co at 888-546-5483 and

c.  LaFuma Activ Light 37, 1 lb 10 ounces, volume 2165 cubic inches. 
This pack is one of mine and was purchased from the Sierra Trading Post
( and has about the right volume and weight.  It
has one ice axe loop and a nice top pocket for putting little widgets and

d.  MountainTools JetStream, 12 ounces, volume 1500 cubic inches.  Jim
Curl and I have used this pack.  This is the pack which requires you to
work on in order to keep the clips from disappearing off the ends.  The
ends are turned over and sewn but it isn't enough.  It has two ice axe
loops and a bunch of loops on the back for hanging extra gear.  This pack
does not appear to be available anymore.  See or
831-620-0911 in Carmel.

Despire repeated promises by Mountain Tools that the Jet Stream pack would once again be available (first promised by late 2000, then at various times in 2001, then by Spring 2002, and recently by September 2002),
as of November 2002 it is still not being shipped. 
Don't hold your breath on this one.

e.  Vaude Impulse, 2 lbs, volume 1500 cubic inches.  The manufacturer
of this pack was suggested by Arun.  This pack does not seem to have any
attachment points or ice axe loops.  Vaude seems to be imported and
information can be found at

f.  Black Diamond Zippo Pack, 1 lb 8 ounces, volume 1650 cubic inches. 
Ron Karpel suggested including some information about Black Diamond in the
survey, however, nobody responded who uses their stuff.  The site is at

Over Two Pounds

a.  Lowe Alpine Contour 40, 2 lbs 3 ounces, volume 2400 cubic inches. 
This pack was suggested by Allan Ritter.  I also have one of these packs
but use it mostly for day hiking.  It appears to be optimized for ski
touring since it has many features for carrying skis and skiing stuff. 
This is a popular pack in the Bay area and is often on sale at the Sierra
Trading Post.  Lowe Alpine is found at

b.  Granite Gear Alpine, 2 lbs 15 ounces, volume 3200 cubic inches. 
This pack was suggested by Kevin Craig.  This pack appears to have many
features including tool tubes, gear loops on the webbing belt, removable
foam pad as the frame support, daisy chains, etc.  This pack also has a
smaller sibling known as the Talus which weighs 1 lb 15 ounces and has
2400 cubic inches of volume.  Granite Gear can be found at

c.  Arcteryx Nozone, 5 lbs.  Also suggested by Kevin.  Not much data on
this one but recommended.

d.  Madden Jambo, 2 lb 10 ounces, volume 2150 cubic inches.  Suggested
by (no name).  This pack is available from an on-line
distributor at or 888-241-1864.  This company does not
appear to maintain a web site.

e.  Lowe Alpine Attack 50, 3 lbs 8 ounces, volume unknown (fairly
large).  This pack is used by Ron Karpel and myself.  It appears to be no
longer available so I could not get volume information.  Too bad because
this is a great pack.  It has a lot of features, most of which may be
removed if necessary.  It came with a Camelback water system which I took
out and the left over pockets hold the ToolBox with the gnarly crampons
just fine.

Editorís Note: The Alpine Attack 50 doesnít appears on Loweís website. 
They still make a model called the Alpine Attack 40.  It weighs 3lbs.  6.4
ounces and has a volume of 40 liters (2400 cu.  In) I use the Lowe Alpine
Attack Summit.  See

f.  Wild Things Ice Sac, 3 lbs 4 ounces, volume 3200 cubic inches. 
This pack was suggested by Christopher Jain and Elmer Martin.  Wild Things
seems to have a line of packs in this range including the Andanista which
is somewhat larger.  Wild Things is in Conway, NH at 603-447-6907 and

g.  Cold Cold World Chaos, 3 lbs 8 ounces, volume 4300 cubic inches. 
This pack was suggested by Mark Wallace.  Cold Cold World does not seem to
have a web site but a dealer in these packs is or 888-779-5075.  The Cold Cold World
Chernobyl was also mentioned.


a.  Kelty was suggested but their web site makes it impossible to
determine the weight of a pack since it seems to list only the weight of
the components.  I could not determine what a pack would weigh by using
their information.  Kelty uses the new SpectraCloth and its variants and
this stuff seems to be the ticket for low weight and high strength.
GoLite seems to be another user of this material.  Kelty was suggested by
Sean McKeown.

This data was collected from e-mail responses and many of these packs I
have no first hand experience with, however, the data here should be of
value to all of us looking for the next step to the "holy grail" of packs,
infinite volume and versatility at no weight! Thanks to all who took the
time to respond.