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Review: The North Face Route Rocket Backpack

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The North Face Route Rocket Backpack Review Rock Climbing
The North Face Route Rocket backpack.

“Let’s do Two Dragons,” reads the text from my partner Tyler Kempney, followed by a link to a video of Josh Wharton on the first ascent of the climb in Rocky Mountain National Park, Colorado. In the video, Wharton logs airtime, first falling onto cams on the route’s first pitch, then higher, ripping a cam and falling onto the next piece.

“See you in the morning,” I reply. If it gets too gnar, we can always bail. I also know I’ll be following Tyler—so what’s the worst that can happen?—as I’ve only led my first proper “M” pitch a few weeks before, a trad M5, and this route clocks in at trad M7.

“This might be the steepest trad M-route in the Park,” reads Wharton’s description on Mountain Project.

This climb would be the perfect test for The North Face Route Rocket, a 16-liter pack designed for big-wall, alpine, and multi-pitch climbs that I’d used, up to this point, mostly for trips to the gym and to the boulders. This would be our on-route pack, which we would fill with sunscreen and lip balm, headlamps, extra gloves, hardware, thermoses, chocolaty snacks, and clothing layers. The hope was that it would be small enough not to interfere with that demanding climbing, yet big enough to carry everything we needed.

What makes the pack unique is its combination of features, including: a scratch-resistant fabric called carbon-coated Shredstop™; reinforced haul points; anti-spill top lid; tuck-away shoulder straps (the pack is designed for hauling); short daisy chains; and hydration sleeve. It also has a variable-width webbing waist belt.

It’s the sort of pack I’d use for the Nose in a day, or when romping up long routes in Eldorado Canyon. And with a name like Route Rocket, it would fit right in on for the three-pitch Two Dragons.

We reach the toe of buttress around midday, stash our skis and extra gear, and harness up. This is where I shove everything we’ll need for the climb into the Route Rocket—it is just the right size; everything fits. From there I fight up steepening snow for 20 minutes to reach the route proper—the “approach pitch” being a climb unto itself. I like how the pack comfortably hugs the center of my back, and how it doesn’t sway around while driving my picks into the slope and when digging through loose snow.

At my stance belay, I fidget in a wire, bury my tool into a semi-frozen bush, and stomp out a platform. I clip the teardrop-shaped pack to the anchor (at waist level), zip open the top so I can access the goodies inside (belay specs, a pile of Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups, and a thermos full of hot Gatorade), and settle in for Tyler’s lead.

Chris Van Leuven Mixed Climbing Ice RMNP TNF Route Rocket Multipitch
The author accesses the Route Rocket at a belay on the three-pitch Two Dragons (M7) in Rocky Mountain National Park, Colorado.Chris Van Leuven

Other than the Route Rocket’s shiny material resembling pleather, the second thing that stands out is the complexity of the fleece-lined top lid. The outer zipper accesses the lid, while a zipper inside the lid accesses the pack’s main compartment. I liked how the zipper to the main compartment (on the outside of the pack) only extended halfway down on one side, acting like a pouch opening—this is the tech behind the “no spill” concept. That day during belay duty, I didn’t spill any of the pack’s contents.

We never made it past Two Dragons’s first pitch, but we spent all day trying. That afternoon we watched and heard several wet slides roll through our approach path to the climb. Tyler whipped big a few times, mostly at the offwidth/chicken-wing finish where he had trouble jamming his crampons into the crack. Regaining his highpoint after taking a 20-footer, he yarded on a 100-pound plate that ripped off. The impact from the smashing rock echoed through the canyon. Then I gave the pitch a shot while he belayed and filled himself up on snacks. We sessioned on that pitch until it was close to dark, then hiked out under headlamps.

As Tyler rapped off some mystery-mank anchor above, I cleaned the anchor at the start of the route, stashed everything in the pack, and reversed our approach, now a path of solidified avy slides. I cinched the pack on tight and booked it through the globby, heavy snow—again I appreciated how the Route Rocket didn’t slow me down. (I was really nervous about getting caught in an avalanche). Next winter, I’m looking forward to heading back to RMNP with Tyler to give Two Dragons another try. Next time we’ll get a pre-dawn start—when conditions are safer. We’ll be sure to bring the Route Rocket with us.


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