Light and Fast

Oct 1, 2001
Outside Magazine

The North Face Patrol l $200 l 2,990 cubic inches l
Marching—and skiing—to the beat of a different drummer, the Patrol (bottom) employs an unusual frame arrangement: two carbon-fiber stays arrayed in an X, resembling the suspension of a 40-year-old Swiss rucksack. What this design loses in vertical flexibility (compared with parallel or V-stays) it gains in strength. It's simply impossible to overload the Patrol's 2,990-cubic-inch bag; the frame, well-padded back panel, and harness—which adjusts for torso length—just soak it up. Surprisingly, the Patrol flexes effortlessly during torso-twisting activities such as skiing or snowboarding. Lift a hip while stepping up onto a boulder, though, and that crossed frame forces the pack to shift in the wrong direction (although loosening the side straps on the belt helps). Befitting its niche, the 4-pound, 13-ounce Patrol sports a removable snowboard, ski, and shovel pocket, an inside sleeve for a hydration bladder, and a side zipper for fast access to a shell or GPS.

Arc'Teryx Khamsin 62 l $260 l 4,030 c.i.
At a gossamer 4 pounds, the Khamsin (upper left) is the guerrilla raider of the packs we tested, bred for light and fast skirmishes rather than protracted sieges. An abbreviated HDPE framesheet, with a central aluminum stay and two wands arrayed in a Y, handles loads up to 45 pounds or so, while three small back pads provide more comfort than we believed possible. The minimalist foundation means there's little shape control—stuff a barrel-shaped load inside and the pack takes on the shape of a barrel, rolling side to side like a drunken sailor playing piggyback. But pack carefully and it'll fasten itself to your trunk on even the most vertiginous route. Unlike some other pared-down packs, the Khamsin doesn't scrimp on features: There's a removable top pocket/fanny pack, interchangeable small, medium, and large hipbelts, a side-access zipper, dual ice-ax loops, and a crampon patch. Perhaps the highest-quality pack we tested, the Khamsin is sewn in Canada with fanatical attention to detail.
Lafuma Extreme 72 l $190 l 4,400 c.i. l
The Extreme (upper right) comes so loaded with specialized alpinist features, you can feel hypoxia coming on just looking at it. In addition to reinforced ice-ax holders and double-duty ski/pole sleeves, there's a probe-pole pocket inside, numerous daisy chains on the back, a patented stretch helmet pouch, and a pocket for a camera to record your summit triumph. There's even (pardon the translation from the French) a "pocket for papers"—presumably of no help if you get tagged on the wrong side of the Afghan border. Granted, all of the above would be mere window dressing if the Extreme didn't handle well on steep, off-trail routes, which it does in style. While the single-piece, upside-down-U aluminum frame doesn't promise much flexibility, it's narrow enough that it doesn't hinder hip movement. Just as important, it twists with your torso to keep moderate (40- to 50-pound) loads glued tight in situations where losing your balance would be the end of you. None of the high-elevation features, of course, prevents this bargain-priced pack from being a comfortable companion on more mundane routes; just try to look extreme when you run into someone on the trail.

Filed To: Backpacks

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