Years ago while living in Italy, I crossed the border into France with an Italian friend to try a multi-pitch route in the Alps near Briançon. We were young, a little crazy, and grossly under-prepared. While my friend wanted to bring no food and water on the 15-pitch route in order to go “rapidamente,” I thought better of it and stuffed energy bars in my pockets and clipped a water bottle to the back of my harness. Of course, by eight or so pitches up the water was gone—we were both drinking it—the giant, slabby dark-gray wall was hot and getting hotter, and we’d wolfed down the bars. And we weren’t even at the crux pitch. It was time to bail—to, as they say in Italia, bail-issimo.
We climbers have gotten much wiser since then, and there are multiple mini-packs and multi-pitch packs on the market—svelte, streamlined rigs meant to carry the bare essentials and wear close to the back so you don’t get off-balance while free climbing. This year Mountain Hardwear released the stellar Multi-Pitch 16, a 16-liter pack that also doubles as a mini-haulbag. It’s a bomber little beast, with 840D ballistic nylon on the front/top lid and 600D nylon “hardwear” tarp on the back and sides. In terms of features, the pack has a slender, packable hip belt, padded shoulder straps, internal zipping mesh pocket (big enough for wallet, phone, keys—with a key-clip lanyard), front and back haul handles, U-shaped daisy chain, two plastic-enclosed gear loops (for racking—though they are all-but-impossible to access while actually climbing), a flat, pack-width side-access pocket behind the main body, and a deployable mesh side pocket that hooks under the daisy-chain loops to hold a water bottle or rock shoes, etc. The top-loading pack also has a bucket-style design meant to keep it upright while loading and unloading, which works well enough when you take the time to situate the pack base.
I took the pack out on the local choss—long routes in Eldorado Canyon and new-routing in the Flatirons and Boulder Canyon—as well as on a family trip to the desert, to carry food, water, jackets, and a stuffed animal or two during a family trip through the Little Wild Horse slot canyon near Goblin Valley, Utah. Hell, I even stuffed it with jackets at night and made it do double-duty as a pillow while camping. The Multi-Pitch 16 has been an awesome addition to the quiver: It carries light and low-profile but puts just enough backing between the pack interior and you to carry comfortably—that is, little to no poking with water bottles, etc. while you’re on the move. Up on the cliff, this little guy was a dream, riding high on the torso and staying tight to the spine so I stayed in balance, and not sticking out to snag on rock features. Meanwhile, the shoulder straps were supple, comfy, and stress free, and it was nice to be able to tuck the hip belt away. Inside, I could easily carry a rain shell, snacks, water bottle, and light-duty approach shoes, and the load stayed balanced well so I could climb.
For hauling, it’s nice to have the burl—the ballistics-nylon exterior and tough nylon shell. With my power drill and drilling tools inside, plus the usual array of bolts, I dragged the bag up grainy sandstone and over pointy granite, and left it none the worse for wear. Having the two haul loops was killer in terms of load distribution and clip-off ease once I had the bag up at the anchor.
This is a little backpack made by climbers for climbers, and the attention to climbing-specific detail shows. Sixteen liters is also a perfect size for minor hauling on grade III to V free climbs. This is the best, most versatile, most feature-rich multi-pitch pack I’ve owned, all done cannily and subtly, in a seemingly minimalist package that in the end delivers a lot. It’s become my bolting, multi-pitch climbing, bike-to-work, hike with the kids go-to.