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Patagonia Ascensionist 40L Pack: Light, comfortable and functional

Posted on: June 29, 2017


MSRP: $179

After dragging this pack slowly up mountains, swiftly down them and a long way across deserts, I can definitively say that it has found a lasting spot in my gear closet. From deep powder days in the Wasatch to long alpine climbs in the Tetons and even a few arduous desert approaches in Red Rock, this backpack does not disappoint. The larger of Patagonia's two alpine climbing specific packs, it boasts a roomy 40-liter capacity with all the frills a climber needs and none of gimmicks that she doesn't. Made of a rugged but light grid-nylon, the pack finds the right balance between burliness and weight for technical day climbs or light overnight trips.

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The first thing I noticed when I pulled the pack out of the box was the weight. I'm relatively certain that I have packs that would fall into the same weight division but carry half the gear. At less than 2 pounds you can't ask for much better. Saving pounds on the pack is crucial when you've decided to schlep skis, boots, poles and the rest of your winter gear up the Grand for a late season jaunt.

John Easterling makes his way up to Teepee Col on the Grand Teton with the Patagonia Ascensionist backpack. [Photo] John Easterling collectionJohn Easterling makes his way up to Teepee Col on the Grand Teton with the Patagonia Ascensionist backpack. [Photo] John Easterling collection

I was afraid that this lack of weight was going to come at a cost in comfort. A significant way that Patagonia lightened the pack up was by eliminating nearly all its rigid internal frame. There is a thin foam frame sheet along the back of the bag (people tougher than I am probably use this sheet as a bivy pad) that constitutes the entire frame. Contrary to my first impressions, however, this pack carries a load remarkably well; as good as any pack I've shouldered. Even filled to the brim, the suspension does its job swimmingly.

The closure system on this pack is a bit of a different beast. I'm more accustomed to the top-entry pack with two buckles and a brain (top compartment). I was definitely skeptical. The thing I really like about the conventional brain closure system is that you can keep adding more and more stuff, and the brain of the pack adjusts to go higher and higher. This pack doesn't really allow that. I call it a "40-liter period" pack. You can fit 40 liters in it. Period. Honestly, that's probably a feature rather than a flaw because I have a tendency to bring too much stuff. But I did find it a bit tough packing for a multi-night trip of climbing and skiing on Mt. Baker, and I didn't like having to move the closure strap around to carry a rope. I do, however, love the extra wide mouth and the pull-chord synch release.

With a surprising number of other technical packs, I often struggle to keep my axes and tools closely secured. But the T-bar head attachments and the Velcro shaft straps of this pack work really well. After a few minutes of practice, you can teach your fingers to unhook the axes with the pack still on your back. Which can come in mighty handy.

John Easterling enters the bottom of the Stettner Couloir on his way up the Grand Teton. [Photo] John Easterling collectionJohn Easterling enters the bottom of the Stettner Couloir on his way up the Grand Teton. [Photo] John Easterling collection

Rapid-fire praise: The top compartment is the perfect size for snacks and essentials. The supersized haul loop was perfect for gloved hands. The black/purple/teal colors are great (how can you climb well if you don't look good?!). The shaped padding on the bottom keeps the pack open while you pack it and should keep the bottom from blowing out as quickly. The internal loop for hanging a bladder took me a while to find, but once I did I loved it. Upper and lower compression straps allow you to carry the pack essentially empty without it becoming a floppy mess.

The brief list of grievances: In the video on Patagonia's website, the venerable Kelly Cordes demonstrates how you can move the closure strap higher on the pack allowing you to overfill the bag and maybe carry a rope. I never quite found a great way to mimic him. Angle-ski carry took some MacGyvering (A-frame carry was easy).

All-in-all, this is a quality pack. I see myself using it for years to come for either a gear-intensive day pack, a light/fast overnight pack or even a ski pack. I would recommend it to anyone in the market for such a tool.

John Easterling grew up climbing with his dad in the Pacific Northwest. He is currently based out of Salt Lake City, Utah, and formerly worked for Black Diamond as an engineer and gear tester. He has climbed and skied all across the Western United States as well as Europe, Alaska and Nepal.

The author scopes the local Rocky Mountain surf break, loaded up with snacks and wax. [Photo] John Easterling collectionThe author scopes the local Rocky Mountain surf break, loaded up with snacks and wax. [Photo] John Easterling collection

Pros
Lightweight (1 lb., 15 oz.)
Outrageously comfortable
Big enough for larger missions, but compression straps make it small enough for anything
Oversized top access
Front daisy chain allows clipping out-of-pack essentials
Great ice tool attachment system
Upper and lower compression straps
Burly Cordura-Lite fabric stood up to outside attacks from skis, ice tools rocks and sticks as well as indoor aggressions from cams, nut tools and crampons

Cons
Closure system felt a little awkward and didn't carry a rope well
Angle-ski carry took some extra effort to pull off

Rating:

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