47995_149.fpxA lot of thought, engineering and design went into creating the new Patagonia Ascensionist 35L backpack. This sleek, minimalist climbing pack has a lot going for it, too. There’s nothing else really like it on the market, and its features are obviously the result of a group of core, experienced climbers who wanted a pack that could take on a wide variety of situations, from skiing to ice climbing to alpine rock climbing to general cragging, but never feel weighed down by any superfluous features. And on all those merits, this pack exceeds expectations.

That said, the so-called “ripstop” nylon material from which it is constructed is not strong enough to handle the rigors of all-around climbing. I ripped several holes in the sides of the pack within its first few weeks of use. Major bummer.

Let’s focus first on the good, the great and the innovative: A unique double-collar opening presents a really interesting way of opening and closing the pack. Once you pack your gear, you pull a draw string on a large internal flap that sort of blankets itself over the top of the gear. Then, you pull a second draw string that cinches the whole opening in a “sphincter-ish” sort of way. Finally, you strap a lid over the top of the opening using an adjustable piece of webbing with a loop (similar to the system used on Metolius rope bags, et al.).

2495023-1-4xUsing these draws strings made it easy to open/close the pack. And when the pack is clipped/hung to an anchor from its rear loop, the pack sits upright and your stuff won’t accidentally fall out, which makes it ideal for multi-pitch in the mountains. However, while on route I often did have trouble digging down through the double-collars and finding items that were in the middle or bottom of the pack.

One of the things I loved about the pack is its adjustability. An internal frame is easily removed. And the waist belt can also be removed for situations when you’re really going light.

Another cool feature that I discovered while skiing down the Valle Blanche in Chamonix with Steve House, one of the pack’s main designers, is that, when you’re in a pinch, the rear webbing strap can be removed from the pack and used to tie a set of skis onto the pack “A” frame style. Simply set the skis on either side of the pack and tie them together using the webbing strap, which loops into itself and cinches down. (Be careful not to lose this webbing piece, though, otherwise the pack won’t close properly.)

The ice-tool attachments are one of the cleverest systems I’ve seen, using the side straps to quickly attach any set of tools or ice axes made, no matter what their shape, length, or handle design. Super nifty, easy system.

I tested this pack by hauling it up multi-pitch rock climbs, alpine climbing and skiing in Chamonix, and using it as a trad-climbing pack at Indian Creek in the desert. Like I said, the material used in the pack didn’t quite hold up to all that use and abuse. The pack really came apart only in situations where the material was pulled taught, whether that was from over-stuffing the pack with cams (Indian Creek), or even from the internal frame pressing the corners of pack taught while being hauled up the rock.

I wouldn’t recommend hauling this pack or stuffing it to the point of it being too full. It’s really suited to moderate climbing situations where you want a lightweight pack that you will wear on your back all day while going light and fast in the mountains.

  • 6.5oz 210D and 400D double-ripstop nylon
  • 1.8oz 40D nylon lining
  • Aluminum-loop frame with trampoline mesh
  • Spindrift collar with integrated lid
  • Load-lifter shoulder straps
  • Removable hipbelt padding
  • Sheathed ice axe carry
  • Four-row daisy chains
  • Zippered lid pocket
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