ARC’TERYX ALPHA FL 45 PACK: the most beautiful pack ever made?

packs don’t generally trigger an aesthetic response in me. I admire one where function has been combined with technology to produce a highly useable design, but final aesthetics don’t really sway me. the reverse is more true – good looking gear that fails due to lack of insight into use and/or lack of understanding of technology annoys me.

the Alpha FL 45; sleekly ice specific

long associated with getting the combination of design and function right, Arcteryx has always been a bit behind with their packs. certainly good, but rarely in the same category as their clothing. maybe it was simply because they chose not to compete where others had the sector locked down.

the Alpha FL 45 & 30 are remarkable packs. compared to what else is available that fits the specs, all else seems clunky and a bit juvenile. it could be that in the Alpha FL ice-specific packs have arrived. where others (even those pertaining to be super streamlined) are highly adorned with ice climbing bling, the Alpha FL is a masterpiece of function. what initially appears to be simple and pared down soon shows itself to be perhaps the most sophisticated design out there.

the concept

this a pack made for ice climbing. it sheds snow, has almost nothing to get ripped off against rock, is robust, is glove friendly and every feature covers whats needed for winter. the interior is user friendly being white so you can see into it and dividable to section sleeping gear from hardware and day stuff. the zipless main pack works. with the combined roll top and cinch top working together, with a long length of compression strap to hold on ropes and tighten the load.

theres no extraneous junk, almost no gimmickry or weaknesses, just a function-controlled unit that carries well in hostile conditions. obvious rethinking has gone into the way a winter pack gets used and risks have been resolved designing how to optimize whats needed. rather than add all the usual bling Arcteryx seems to have reworked what a pack needs to be and been brave enough to bring it to market, with the usual innovations in technology, construction and ergonomics they are known for.

the body

imagine Arcteryx made dry bags. showing the usual elegant design work and attention to construction, the body is crafted like a jacket, with sophisticated panels that make the packs form ergonomic and not just a tube. the textile is far more robust than its weight belies – being closer to a heavy duty fabric yet weighing in like a light nylon. the 680gm over all (for the 45L) shows this.

 seamless construction; where most packs are heavy on the construction methods, the Alpha FL has the same detail as their clothing

the upper part of the external body is a lighter, softer nylon to form the cinching throat, and the inner dry throat is a lighter nylon still, that rolls easily. the whole lot is seam taped, as is every attachment point, which are minimal. the stiffened back panel – an ergonomic shape that’s rigid enough to separate this pack from formless summit sacks – is sealed too.

the harness

tho not made for big loads the 45L carries up to 2 or 3 days gear fairly well – if things like harness, helmet and most rack are already being worn. the harness system will cope with 15kg or so happily, but beyond will push the comfort of the belt and stability at the shoulders, there being no stabilizing of either.

whilst the belt isn’t padded, the shoulder straps are, ergonomically and robustly. despite their thin appearance they are unlikely to be an issue due to their rigidity. the back panel is rigid enough to function well as a frame; more form and protective than the soft foam many packs use, low profile to reduce balance issues, shaped to not interfere with movement.

you get the feel a lot of effort went into stacking the sophisticated body onto a worthy suspension system (that kept weight low) and they nailed it.

the bling

on the front is a simple, zippered pocket – perhaps the only less-than-perfect element. it works, as a flat space to hold things like a folded map or maybe a small bundle like a head torch or roll of sports tape, but as a serious place to store more than that its simply not expansive enough. when the pack is full it has virtually no volume.

the crampon and tool attachments are in fitting with the rest of the pack – minimal and functional. the textile is hefty enough to not really be threatened by crampon teeth if they are stuck on intelligently, and the simplicity of the axe/tool holders makes any other system appear backwards.

 simple & effective; theres a lot of overly-fiddly attachment systems out there – this reduces it to all thats needed

theres not much else. some low profile loops allow the attachment of compression cord, and there 2 webbing loops where the shoulder straps meet the belt that could be useful in some unspecified way (clipping an ice axe etc). above the pocket sits a small haul loop that allows for hauling clipping options the robustness of the textile will concur with.

whats been left out is any interior pockets, hydration sleeves and apertures, mesh pockets and zips and buckles that form primary parts of the load carrying system. notably there no lid anywhere in the design.

how it works

in real-world use this pack does what it should. even over-stuffed it keeps its shape due to the materials used and construction and avoids becoming a teetering cylinder. the cinch and roll tops work well, tho tru compression doesn’t happen like it does with a dry bag and would take the addition of (weight gaining) straps to really happen. the crampon and tool retainers don’t do much for load compression.

theres no system for sticking stuff on the outside (unless added yourself) so poles etc must go inside. no big deal for an alpine tent, but a problem if you want to carry wands, stakes and foam sleeping mats.

who is this for?

inversely, the more climbing specific a pack becomes the more useful it becomes for everyday life. relieved of all the ‘special’ junk trekkers, scramblers, runners, skiers and rock climbers seem to need, stripped down, streamlined packs are great for travelling, commuting and hauling groceries. of course, for climbers the Alpha FL 45 exceeds too.

Arcteryx haven’t attracted us with gimmicks and gizmos, they have got winter climbers attention with a genuine function-over-bling design and backed it with serious craftsmanship. this pack is worth the price tag simply because it’s the extent to which pack design has risen so far. the simplicity doesn’t compromise whats required (its not stripped for the sake of beating the grams) and the function exceeds almost any demand that can be thought up. this pack – like most Arcteryx products – is for anyone who wants the best version of whats available on their backs. its praises are sung highly because the effort to raise the bar has been applied well.