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There is no doubt in alpinism that the less weight you have to carry, the quicker you can move. With fast-and-light alpinism, speed is what keeps you safe—getting up and down the objective quickly, carrying the bare minimum of equipment. With that specific type of climbing in mind, Mountain Equipment has crafted a core alpine pack, the Tupilak 37+, which weighs 27.5 ounces with all its straps and toggles and padding on, or 20.1 ounces with every last possible component stripped off. The pack is meant to carry 37-plus liters, and is crafted from the company’s proprietary PACT 300 and 100 Rfabric, both of which have been DWR treated.
First, to the features—all designed with alpine climbing in mind. The Tupilak 37+ has a main body compartment accessible via top entry. A spindrift collar secures over the top via Mountain Equipment’s “Grabber” Buckle, an aluminum buckle with pincer hooks made for one-handed closure. Inside, access is gained via a roll-top cowl-lid closure, essentially turning three-quarters of the interior into a dry bag or, if you wish, letting you separate wet and dry items into two compartments—or you can push the cowl down into the pack body and not use it at all. The pack also has a “floating” accessories pocket (about half a shoebox in size) in lieu of a top lid that you can access either from the outside or inside of the pack, or roll up and snap down to keep out of the way. On the exterior, there are four side compression/accessory straps, dual axe toggles with a pick pocket, front and rear haul loops, and dual daisy-chain systems. Carry is via high-density EVA shoulder straps, a thin chest strap, and a 40mm webbing hip belt with removable EVA “hip fins,” while stability/support comes from a removable high-density EVA back panel that Velcros into the pack body. The pack also comes with a length of elastic accessory cord—the “Shockcord System”—for lashing extra sundries to the outside of the pack.
Our tester, a hard-driving mountain guide, took the Tupilak 37+ out for eight days of backcountry skiing and two days of ice climbing in Vermont, six days of ski mountaineering in British Columbia, and some rock cragging in Vermont and the Dacks, testing the pack in conditions ranging from light snow/East Coast drizzle to 70° F and sunny. One of his first impressions had to do with the cut of the pack, which tapers from the top toward the waist and made it “great for performance”—in other words, it naturally modeled the human torso and so made for great carry and climbing/scrambling/skiing mobility. He also sung the praises of the Grabber Buckle: “Lid latch is an ingenuous one-handed on/off design. And it’s long enough to lash a rope over the top of the pack if that’s how you’d like to roll,” he said. As to the carry, he appreciated the plush feel of the EVA shoulder straps—they promoted “high comfort on hot days.” However, he lamented that the hip pads didn’t transfer as much load as he would have liked (I did not notice this problem with the pack I wore, so it may have been a fit issue), and that the hip belt itself is not removable when paring down the pack to the bare minimum. “For a pack of 37L size (and one that is otherwise built on stripping-down customization), this is a major oversight,” he commented.
The PACT fabric scored high marks, both for its durability and waterproofing, and our tester liked the versatility of the weatherproof roll-top cowl, commenting on how much more he could stuff in here (an extra 10L above the cowl) versus a competing model, and noting the utility of being able to create two separate pockets. He also dug the tacked webbing compression straps, which allowed for “infinite adjustment of the side compressions or lashing on other items.” One ding against stripped-down alpine packs as a genre, and not just the Tupilak 37+, was the lack of a top lid: “I still don’t quite get the guide/pro bias against lids that seems to have sprung up over the past few years,” he said. “A decade from now, people are going to look back and laugh at their lidless packs like they were plaid bellbottoms.” Still, you do get ample storage in the accessories pocket, but since it’s just the one pocket and not your typical top lid with its top and bottom pockets, you really can only carry about half as many items.
For alpine aficionados or those who simply like lightweight, low-profile packs for cragging/scrambling/alpine-rock objectives, the Tupilak 37+ is a creative, versatile, hard-wearing, genre-defining offering. “If you like this family of packs, you’ll love the Tupilak,” he concluded. “Its lid-buckling system is ingenious, it’s lighter than similar options, and the cut of the pack allows for easy packing.”