U-Haul Crag Bags
Picture this: You’re in Rifle, Colorado, land of the car-belay, and you need to get your rope, draws, shoes, cell phone, post-send libations, and some sustenance all of 20 yards away. You left your big pack at home because, after all, it’s Rifle, and you don’t need backpacking-style suspension. Plus, going elbow-deep into a top-loading pack to find a brush or lost draw is beyond annoying. Do you grab a few plastic grocery bags and hump your gear over to the wall and then spread it out? Not if you have a “crag bag,” a relatively new category of packs that serves climbers who don’t lug their gear very far. These packs are minimalistic but hold everything you need, and some feature rope tarps and/or special configurations for organizing your gear for easy viewing. They are quickly becoming a top choice for approaches that are laughable to high-country climbers.
To help sort out great crag bags from the riff-raff, we turned to seven members of the Climbing Association of Colorado College, whose climbing exploits, past and present, put the rest of us to shame (see sidebar below). They loaded up these bags and took them cragging, from gear-heavy Indian Creek to sport-tastic Red River Gorge, and they came away with varying levels of endorsements for each bag, but resounding support for the category as a whole. Given crag bags’ reasonable price and functionality, you might be surprised how much you grow to love such a simple product.
Burly; easy to move
This baby toted a full trad rack, Jetboil stove, food, water, and rope. Our tester also used it as a carry-on while flying for a multi-day trip (not carrying climbing gear). A tuckable waist belt and cushy straps made a 30-pound load in this 41L pack actually seem comfortable. The tester praised the two pockets for keys, wallet, and cell phone, and says, “The buckles will open beer with a little patience and practice.” Two compression straps are not very useful because they don’t wrap around the whole pack. The duffel design meant it didn’t lay out flat for the rope, but the shape made it convenient to move this bag from climb to climb, and the zip made everything inside easily accessible. After a spring shower sent one of our testers bailing, the durable Crag Station kept his stuff dry. In short: It’s burly, big, and simple.
As a rope bag cum crag bag, this pack shined for its large rope tarp. Packing the rope and belaying from the bag were quick and easy—a must for trying to climb a dozen or more pitches in a day during one tester’s trip to Shelf Road, Colorado. Comfortable backpack straps and a padded back made longer approaches bearable, but the lack of other handles or straps made hand-toting difficult. The Two Sac was the only bag in our review to suffer any damage during testing: The main-compartment zipper broke after about a week of moderate use. Although this might make some packs completely useless, the Two Sac was still usable because of its well-placed and functional compression straps. Our tester also wished for a larger side pocket for extra items; instead he clipped gear to the outside of the pack. This is the most inexpensive pack in the review, and it has the largest tarp, so if you’re looking for a minimalist upgrade from your holey rope tarp, this could be the pack for you.
Light and roomy
Space To Weight
This minimalist pack has a full-length zipper that allowed easy access to even the smallest pieces of gear. The bag compressed to almost nothing and was incredibly light at 1 lb. 4 oz., so it could easily be packed inside a larger duffel or pack for road trips. Despite this, it was one of the largest bags in the review, with a capacity of 40L. One tester loaded it up with as much as a sport rack, rope, three pairs of shoes, harness, water, and other odds and ends. (The pack does not include a rope tarp.) Testers’ biggest complaint was the shoulder straps; they weren’t comfortable “unless your neck is three inches in diameter” and didn’t contour to the neck and shoulders, which could be problematic under heavy loads. After a hike through snow, the Rox got soaked, but the gear inside stayed mostly dry, and after it took a beating during a scrambly approach without tearing, a tester claimed, “This bag could roll down a cliff and be unfazed.”
Durable and large; rope tarp
This bag took a mini-tour of the Southwest, with visits to climbing spots in Colorado, Utah, and Arizona. Our tester found its 42L size a solid fit for a rope, sport rack or light trad rack, and light clothing, but for an Indian Creek outing where bulky clothing and a large trad rack were musts, he carried the rope separately. Deliberate 15- to 20-foot tosses into bushes and rocks couldn’t damage this burly bag, so normal wear and tear isn’t likely to be a problem. The Demon Duffel includes a built-in rope tarp, heavy-duty zipper, and nifty interior pocket for keys and cell phone. The bag laid out nice and flat, which made it great for organizing gear and rope. Our tester’s main gripe was the lack of a sternum strap, which meant the bag began to hurt his back after hiking 20-plus minutes with a full load.
The Miura 30 was the most expensive of all the bags we tested (twice as much as the second priciest), but you get what you pay for. It’s the closest to a technical pack in the group. With several separate pockets and compartments, this bag has a relatively small main compartment and is designed to hold a rack, shoes, and other small stuff inside, with the rope strapped on the outside—either on top or the outer face. (The Miura also comes in 20L and 50L sizes.) The roll-top closure and clamshell construction allow the bag to open wide for organization, but our tester found it didn’t quite lay fl at. Nevertheless, he commented, “It’s the hot rod of backpacks. If you’re trying to pick up dates at the crag—this is your pack.” The Miura is a bit heavy (4 lbs. 3 oz.), but it’s also the only pack we tested with hydration compatibility, and its padded waist and shoulder straps and more technical suspension system make it the most suitable in this review for longer approaches.
Multiple carry options
Although this bag is designed for boulderers who need to carry more gear than they can stash in their pad, it was also incredibly useful for sport climbers. At around 26L, this was the second-smallest bag we tested and did not include a rope tarp, but it still managed to fit a rope, sport gear, food, and water during a week of cragging at the Red River Gorge. The soft underside was a bit more comfortable against the back than some of the stiff-backed bags, especially when weighted, and the smaller capacity keeps you from overloading it. The shoulder straps lacked padding, which cost the Tour Bag points in the comfort department. Our tester also would have liked to see a waist belt. On the other hand, this is the only bag with shoulder straps, briefcase handles, and a larger single shoulder strap for carrying it like a duffel bag. A large and well-positioned zippered pocket on the outside made for convenient access to small extras.
This bag stands out because of its stiff construction and ability to look full with nothing in it. This means it’s not packable inside a duffel for traveling, but it’s burly as hell. Testers thought this stiffness made it a little less comfortable than other packs for humping around heavy loads, but a waist belt and sternum strap distribute the load evenly. The Super Cell also sports four gear loops—two that double as handles—meaning you can efficiently rack on the outside of the pack, and the inside is just big enough for sport climbing gear. The pack lacked any smaller pockets, and the large inside compartment and stiff nature made finding small items inside fairly diffi cult. That said, full-zip access to the main compartment made packing and unpacking a snap. This pack is also one of the better deals, at just under $50.
Gear Testers: Climbing Association of Colorado College
Many colleges have climbing clubs, but few schools can rival the storied climbing history of Colorado College. The small liberal-arts school in Colorado Springs has produced such great climbers as Albert Ellingwood, Harvey Carter, Steve Hong, Renan Ozturk, Will Gadd, Kate Rutherford, and Madeleine Sorkin, who have contributed alpine, sport, and traditional new routes around the world. With 14,100-foot Pikes Peak and Garden of the Gods in their backyard, and countless other crags and peaks nearby, today’s Climbing Association of Colorado College (CACC) promises to keep churning out future leaders of the climbing community.
We tapped seven members of the CACC for help reviewing crag bags, and you couldn’t ask for a more active group of gear testers. Current club members have done first ascents of desert towers, new routes in the Black Canyon, and massive route development in the nearby South Platte. They’ve also ticked new climbs in places like Pakistan, Africa, and South America. This group is bonded by their passion, drive, and commitment to climbing. Club co-chair Erik Reiger says the CACC was formed organically over the past 10 years “as a way to organize the small but very prominent climbing community at CC.” This year, six current members and recent graduates received grants to do big-wall climbing in the Selkirk Range of British Columbia, and two recent CC alumni are traveling to Alaska’s Kichatna Spires on American Alpine Club Mountain Fellowship Grants.
The club hasn’t forsaken service for sends, though; members also manage their college’s climbing gym and produce the annual Colorado College Alpine Journal, which came about in 2006 as a way to record CC student climbers’ successes (and shenanigans) and share their knowledge and experiences. For this month’s crag bag review, the following CACC members shared their knowledge and experience with us: Erik Rieger, Noah Gostout, Rebecca O’Brien, Drew Thayer, Owen Anderson, Nathan Brand, and Jeff Wise. We doubt it’s the last time you’ll read these names in Climbing. —Katie Scatena