Alpine Luddites White Light/White Heat backpack: custom-made to contentment

Posted on: March 4, 2017

MSRP: $300 (some additional features extra)

Made in Ouray, Colorado, the Alpine Luddites White Light/White Heat pack is designed by and for alpinists. This lightweight day/multipitch pack represents an "a la carte" approach to gear construction. Minimalists who cut off every floppy pocket and piece of stray webbing from mass-produced packs will appreciate Alpine Luddite's custom method.

The standard model features a dry-bag style, roll-top closure, and includes parallel daisy chains, as well as adjustable (and removable) toggles, crampon straps and a pocket to secure ice tools on the front of the pack. Other features, such as a cushioned, removable hip belt and pockets for snow pickets are available at additional cost. After a half-hour conversation with Alpine Luddites owner John Campbell about the features and fit of my ideal pack, I opted to add a hip belt with gear loops (available for an extra $45), as well as a zippered interior pocket ($10).


Highly durable, the entire body of the pack, including the ice tool pocket, is Dimension Polyant brand five-layer, ultra-high-molecular-weight-polyethylene laminated fabric (a rigid, Dyneema-equivalent, water-repellent ripstop fabric, originally designed for sailcloth). The pack fabric is incredibly tough: "It dulls my shears after every pack," Campbell says. "No other fabric does that."

The Alpine Luddites White Light/White Heat backpack with crampons and ice tools strapped to the outside. [Photo] Paula WrightThe Alpine Luddites White Light/White Heat backpack with crampons and ice tools strapped to the outside. [Photo] Paula Wright

With a carrying capacity of 20 to 25 liters, the pack weighs 22 ounces. It also includes a foam layer of customizable thickness that doubles as a bivy pad ("Hahaha," notes the ordering menu for this item).

Shortly before I ordered the pack, I had returned from a day of climbing at Cathedral Ledge in New Hampshire. I had hauled my partner's pack—which was only slightly less ill-fitting than my own at the time—up the multipitch route jauntily named Repulsion. I have had the same climbing pack for eight years, and have twice sent it off for repairs. It never fit well, but neither did any of the other packs I tried on in the store (a growing number of companies producing packs for women have likely since addressed these various fitting woes).

In my conversation with Campbell, we discussed the additional options described above, as well as how to accurately measure for the fit of my pack. I was looking for a multipurpose pack to take out on climbs, from long days in the nearby White Mountains, to smaller sojourns on the ice nearby.

My pack arrived in three weeks (at the time of writing this review, the wait time is 12 weeks). As the ice ebbs and flows in northern Vermont, I've taken the pack out for a few days of single-pitch ice climbing at Smuggler's Notch, which is just up the road from the Alpinist office. Fully loaded (with the necessary gear and chocolate rations), the pack carries well: unlike other packs where I've struggled to find the right height-to-width ratio, it doesn't ride up on my waist. Where the pack excels, though, is on climbs. As a second's pack, it performed well loaded with an additional rope. With narrow shoulder straps, the pack didn't limit my movement as I was climbing.

I unexpectedly encountered one annoyance with my pack on an early season outing. On an easy pitch, the crux came unexpectedly when I kicked through the thin ribbon of ice into frozen rock, breaking my old, borrowed crampon in the process. From my foot, the metal teeth and webbing dangled in a frown: poor, sad crampon. Before I lost the pieces to the snowy gulf below, I wrenched it off my boot to put it in my pack. Here, though, the pack's roll-top design made this process a bit clumsier than a simple tug at a zipper would have. One other avoidable nuisance comes from the strap webbing being sucked up into the buckles of the pack. The straps, then, become hard to tighten with less-than-nimble, freezing (albeit gloved) fingers.

The pack features a roll-top closure, similar to a dry bag, which is open in this photo. [Photo] Paula WrightThe pack features a roll-top closure, similar to a dry bag, which is open in this photo. [Photo] Paula Wright

Here the pack's roll-top closure is sealed and strapped down tight. [Photo] Paula WrightHere the pack's roll-top closure is sealed and strapped down tight. [Photo] Paula Wright

Compared to others on the market, this pack has a higher price. But as the company name suggests, Campbell finds inspiration from original Luddites. As the company webpage notes, "We believe in high quality and fair wages."

Though the cost per pack is high, it reflects the time, labor and materials that go into crafting a personalized, carefully designed pack that should last a lifetime. Campbell writes, "I do build every pack myself, and talk to every customer. If something is not right with your pack I'll take care of it. Normal wear and tear is expected, of course, but most repairs are the cost of shipping for my packs."

Paula Wright is the associate editor for Alpinist.

Lightweight and durable

Short strap length makes for finicky tool attachment


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