Ski touring and ski mountaineering require carrying a fair amount of gear and necessary clothing for the winter elements. Having a comfortable and efficient pack will enhance your backcountry experience and can also be critical for safety. Finding the right pack for your needs can be challenging, take a look into any mountaineer’s garage at the hooks holding several rarely used packs from the endless hunt to find just the right one.
Manufactures have a tough job of designing a product line that will fit a wide spectrum of users and fit everyone’s wish list into one pack. Even after doing your homework, you often won’t know if a pack really works for you needs until you get out skiing. I have many packs that perform well on one or two aspects, but ultimately disappoint in key ways and don’t satisfy all of my needs.
This season our crew started skiing with the Ortovox Alpine Touring Peak Series of packs and we have nothing but praise for the folks at Ortovox for taking the time to design and build a pack specific to ski touring and ski mountaineering. A day of ski touring can range from a quick dawn patrol lap or an all-day mountaineering objective and everything in between. We all prefer one pack for most of our needs and the Ortovox Peak 35 has become our day trip touring pack of choice.
The old climbers adage of “if you bring a big pack you will always pack more stuff” applies here a bit and you don’t always want a pack that has the most amount of space because it is easy to bring unnecessary items. Thirty to forty liters tends to be a good size of pack for most full day tours and if you are planning to have just a single pack, it should easily hold all the necessary items you carry for different times of the season and different tours.
The Ortovox Peak 35 liter fits nicely into the 30-40 liter range and is very well thought out with pocket placement and how the space is distributed. The pack empty weighs just under 1,400 grams (3lbs 1oz) and while not the lightest of the mountaineering class of packs, it is about the same weight or lighter than comparable “ski mountaineering packs” from companies like Patagonia and Mammut.
It is absolutely critical that your pack have a designated space or at least easy access to your shovel and probe; it is no surprise that as a leader in the snow safety business, Ortovox has an extremely user friendly pocket for access to your snow safety equipment. A large two way zipper accesses this good sized pocket that easily fits a shovel, probe, snow saw and snow science kit. There is just enough space, depending on your shovel style in the front pocket to stash an extra pair of gloves or your climbing skins.
The large inner compartment has more than enough space for food, water, clothing and equipment needed for a full day tour. This pocket has been cleverly designed with a draw string top access along with a double sided clam shell zipper that allows you access into the bottom and sides of your pack without exploding the other contents. This really helps with speedy transitions, clothing changes and access to a wide variety of items typically needed during a day in the mountains. We’ve all been pleased with how quickly you can grab a water bottle or extra jacket without everything else falling out or getting snow inside the pack.
The top flap of the pack has an inner and outside pocket and the flap cinches down allowing for easily carrying a rope. The top flap is large enough to hold loose items like googles and extra hat and has become the go-to quick storage for everyone in our group. A side hip pocket gives you on the go access to snacks, sunscreen or a camera without being bulky. The pack is built with a combination of Nylon 420D HD Ripstop and Nylon 420 D Manstar which gives it excellent resistance to winter weather along with a lightweight yet rugged exterior that can withstand carrying skis and ice tools.
Skis can be attached in either an A-Frame style or diagonally; there are two buckle attached places for ice tools which allow the user to access an axe(s) quickly and without taking the pack off and the removable helmet carrier keeps the outside of the pack tightly organized.
We have nothing but praise for the space design but what really makes the pack stand-out is how comfortable the pack carries on your back when you have a full load. In an effort to cut weight from packs, manufactures will often reduce materials in the back pad, shoulder straps and hip belt. Ortovox took the time to make sure the pack was lightweight but they didn’t compromise the comfort and functionality building in well-padded shoulder straps, an adjustable chest strap, a substantial hip belt a firm back pad that is connected to the hip and shoulder straps. The end result is a pack that fits comfortably and close to your body and even with heavy loads the pack carries very evenly. The Swisswool merino wool lined back panel is also a differentiating feature and adding the wool to the back panel might seem like an inconsequential feature but it is really amazing how it wicks moisture away from your body keeping you clothing layers drier.
Word from the lady in the group – As a 5’4” woman, I have struggled to find a pack that wasn’t too long and would actually sit above my hips. A metal plate and several screws on my collarbone have made being able to use the hip belts tightly important to take pressure off my shoulders. The Peak 42 S (I think the “S” stands for short) has been the first pack that is large enough for all my gear yet actually fits on my hips without towering over my head.
Shorter packs often don’t hold standard avalanche shovel handles or are too small to carry all your gear, food and water. I am able to use the Peak 42S easily for a day tour and still be able to open all the straps and extend the pack to get 3 days’ worth of food and gear into a back country hut! As the slowest person on the skin tract in my normal group, transitions are critical. The Peak 42S has made stashing skins, grabbing a drink and trading out glasses for a hat and goggles a breeze.
Six of us have skied with the Peak in a variety of conditions this year and it has not disappointed. That says a lot given how personal and varied most gear preferences can be. Visit www.ortovox.com for more on the Peak Series packs and the entire Orotvox product line.