The Patagonia Cragsmith is a back-loading “clamshell” pack that splits open and spews out all your gear at the base of the route you’re about to climb in a really brilliant and neat way. The clam-shell design has numerous advantages, and only one disadvantage. Pluses include the ability to set your pack down in the mud/dirt and access all your gear without getting the shoulder straps and back dirty. The ease of packing and unpacking is also fantastic, but most important, the Cragsmith is function just sitting there on the ground with the back panel fully open, allowing you to toss shoes, chalk bag, belay device, etc., into the pack and then getting them when needed.
The only disadvantage is that this back panel doesn’t provide much, if any, support while carrying loads. Especially if your pack isn’t totally full, the back panel tends to sink back within the pack itself.
There is also a top-loading zipper that allow you to access the interior. However, I only found this zipper useful when packing the Cragsmith completely full. I’d pack most of my gear via the back panel, then zip that up. Then, I’d open the top, smush everything down inside, and pack in the remaining items (down coat, water bottles, etc).
The Cragsmith isn’t quite large enough to fit all of my climbing gear and personal items, as well as a rope in a rope bag. You can technically do it, but it’s really tight. There is a rope strap that allows you to lash a coiled rope to the top of the pack, which is a great. I used this feature, while simply carrying a rope tarp within the pack itself.
What I love most about the Cragsmith, aside from how easy it is to access my gear through the clamshell backpanel, is all the pockets. There’s a little interior pocket for small personal items (keys, watch, rings, etc.), and a large pouch on the front for guidebook and/or kneepads. Finally, there’s yet another pocket on the top of the back for headlamp, energy bars, and so on.
The Patagonia Cragsmith is one of the most versatile cragging packs I’ve ever tested. If I had to choose just one all-around cragging pack, this might be it.