The Alpinist Mountain Standards reviews apply Alpinist's tradition of excellence and authenticity to gear reviews by providing unbiased, candid feedback and anecdotal commentary to equipment tested (hard) in the field. Our panel is comprised of climbers who use the gear every day as part of their work and play. Only the gear they would actually buy themselves, at retail price, qualifies for the Alpinist Mountain Standards award. The five-star rating system is as follows:
One Star = Piece of junk.
Two Stars = Has one or more significant flaws, with some redeeming qualities.
Three Stars = Average. This solid piece of gear is middle-of-the-road on the current market.
Four Stars = Better than most comparable gear on the market. It has one or two drawbacks, but still 90% positive.
Five Stars = Is there such thing as perfection? An Alpinist Mountain Standards award-winner.
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Osprey Variant 37 Pack: Paragon of Versatility
Posted on: July 1, 2010
Weight: 3 pounds, 8 ounces
Winding up steep washes to connect the faint threads of an old mining road, I try to keep my mind off the early onset of heat and departing shade. I examine the geological layers above me. I find a third-class route though the exposed 50-foot layer of Chinle. This last steep section rests at the base of the Wingate below our tower objective. Feeling like a pack burro, I shift my body into four-wheel drive and climb though the loose rock. The slope cuts loose underneath me, revealing that the load on my back is heavy but stable, a comforting feeling, while I watch rocks below roll down a daunting slide path.
At the base of the route, I pull the rope off the lid and dump out the contents. Easily, I remove the hip belt, the dual-compartment top pocket and lightweight frame sheet. Voila! Summit pack.
As its name suggests, the Osprey Variant 37's greatest asset is its transmutability. In standard mode, this pack will bear a heavy guide load comfortably. Yet, when the approach necessities—the hip belt, frame sheet and lid—become superfluous, it takes only a minute to strip and cinch it down into a simple and light (34 ounces) alpine ascent bag. When I needed the hip belt out of the way of my harness but did not want to dismantle it, the Variant 37's design allowed me to clip it around the front, through the tool holsters. Its versatility makes it a true ice, rock and ski mountaineering pack.
Osprey offers three sizes of Variant packs, with the suspension systems differing slightly to accommodate load capacities. The Variant 37's size, 2250 cubic inches, easily carried a full desert rack, rope, water, extra layers, food and first aid—just right for cragging or alpine day trips, or a summer weekend backpack.
Whether or not the pack was full, hiking and climbing, its weight sat well. The side compression straps were great for bringing the pack down to size, pulling weight against my torso for a dependable feel while also reducing volume for tight terrain, like chimneys.
Speaking of chimneys, the Variant packs are built with a durable fabric for its weight. These aren't the lightest or most durable packs in the world, but the Variant 37 held up through many months of desert abuse. The lightweight HDPE frame sheet's torsion rigidity in part comes from aluminum stays, light but strong. Its three-point haul system was plenty secure for hauling on a clean wall, but I took pause hauling in situations where the shoulder straps could get caught on obstacles.
My only other complaint is that the comfortable, thermo-molded EVA foam on the back panel does not breathe at all. Molded ridges and a special fabric are supposed to help, but they do little to move moisture. Since I've been testing this pack primarily in Utah, I expect that anyone wearing this pack in a stickier climate will find the back panel drenched after just a short trek.
That said, I'm so enamored with the Variant 37 that I'm abandoning all my other packs in Moab while I guide the Tetons and Sawtooths this summer. While many packs boast functional versatility, it's clear that the Osprey Variant 37 was designed with the influences of professional alpinists. This pack earns its keep as a Alpinist Mountain Standards medal winner.
Pros: Removable hip belt and lightweight HDPE frame sheet make this pack versatile as both a load-bearer and summit pack; light but strong; hydration pouch area is streamlined and does not eat up pack volume.
Cons: Shoulder straps cannot be tucked away easily for hauling; EVA back panel gets sweaty; no quick-release straps on lid.