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The following story originally appeared in the May 2014 issue of our print edition.
Going light and fast in the volatile above-treeline environment is all about carrying everything you need for the changing conditions and nothing you don’t. Minimizing weight is a prime directive. Designers have taken that to heart with a new breed of packs for climbers who are carrying a specific set of gear for miles in the alpine. By cutting out extraneous padding, pockets, and removing the lid in some cases, weights are low without sacrificing practical field use, durability, and ease of carry. Testers thrashed a dozen packs in the Rockies, the Northeast, Canada, and the Alps to find these five winners. Each is fit for the high country and its many assailants, whether it’s scraping against granite in the Bugaboos or rime ice in Patagonia.
Review: Arc’teryx Alpha FL 45
Ounce-counters will fall in love with this pack, which is lighter than a single mountaineering boot, with enough space for subzero-temp gear and a relatively comfortable suspension system. Read full review.
Review: Patagonia Ascensionist 45L
With the sturdiest and most comfortable suspension system in the test, the Ascensionist also gives you the option to go ultra-light, and it has all the attachments for ’pons and picks. Read full review.
Review: Cilo Gear Alpine 40B WorkSack
If you want endless options for weight, strap configuration, and what you can carry in or outside of the pack, then this “alpine weekend” WorkSack is right for you. Read full review.
Review: Vaude Minimalist 35
True fast-and-light climbers will dig the weight, size, and simplistic design of the Minimalist. If you like your packs to be “what you see is what you get,” then this is for you. Read full review.
Review: Millet Prolighter 38 + 10
Multi-sport mountaineers will love this hauler’s basic but perfectly dialed design, especially if they want the option to stay overnight and don’t mind a few more ounces. Read full review.
The Basics of Burl
Fabrics are lighter and more durable than ever thanks to advancements across the board in textile manufacturing, but what exactly makes them so strong might seem like a mystery. In practical use, we refer to denier to denote the strength and durability of a fabric: A higher number means more of both. In reality, that measurement stands for the weight in grams of 9,000 meters of a particular yarn. So a 210-denier fabric means that 9,000 meters of a single strand of yarn in that fabric weighs 210 grams. These specs are mostly used to rate synthetic fibers, but they’re based off of a single strand of natural silk, which is designated as one denier. Nylon, the main material used in most packs and tons of other outdoor gear, is strong on its own because of the chemical bonds used to create it, but ripstop nylon (developed during World War II) is a fortified version that’s even stronger. This type of fabric is resistant to tearing and ripping because thicker threads are woven into the fabric in a regular pattern, which makes the surface look like a square grid and adds strength without adding much weight.