The snow on the glaciers was still thick and the days were still growing longer. My spring schedule had filled with multi-day ski trips and summit climbs on Mount Baker. This time of the year was typical and we received our share of rain, snow, and over all wet conditions. As we transitioned from spring to summer my instructional courses and shred trips on Baker moved to summit climbs in the southern complex of North Cascades National Park. By then the wet spring weather had become a distant memory as we sweltered in the hot, dry, and smoky summer haze. Along the way the Exped Black Ice 55 Liter was my go to pack on shred and send trips up to 6 days in length.
The external waterproof zippered pocket has enough space for several small items such as a couple snack bars, map and compass, and the always critical blue bag. Over stuffing the zippered pocket could create a possible weak point in the waterproof performance of this pack fortunately the inside of the pocket is made of the same TPU laminated HD Ripstop so the inside of the pack will remain dry and protected if this were to happen.
Meanwhile the internal pocket offers a little organization for a few items such as more snack bars, a spare battery pack, and a bottle of sunscreen. After the main compartment is packed with all my gear this pocket becomes difficult to access. Another option is using the internal pocket to hold a 1.5 liter hydration bag or dromedary but there is no hydration tube port to the outside of the pack.
The simple waterproof tunnel design is effective but has limited organization options. A simple solution I have come up with is a small stuff sack for my regularly used items such as lip balm, sunscreen, tooth brush, and more snacks, that sits on top of my gear in the main compartment.
Compression and Extension
First, this pack comes with removable compression style straps that allow custom arrangement on the 4 daisy chain loops running down the back and sides of the pack. Along with an adjustable over the top strap with a metal aluminum hook closure for a variety of arrangements. If you’re carrying a splitboard in “A” frame position or diagonal there are solutions, if you need to attach a rope on the outside there are solutions, snow picket access just clip it, crampons on the outside no problem. If you’re going for a day hike, remove all the straps and have a stream line pack that won’t snag on the drooping doug firs.
Next, the low-profile shoulder straps are padded and wide enough to distribute the fully loaded weight of a 55 Liter pack while maintaining low bulk and avoiding sponge like affect in wet conditions. At first, I was concerned with the padding packing out, but after a full summer of heavy loads this hasn’t happened. The floating sternum strap adjusts up and down easily and for my body shape and size I found the range to be a little limiting but still functions nicely.
In order to carry a big pack comfortably Exped used a removable seat belt style waist belt that connects with a coin and slot buckle. This modern buckle style is easy to use in the snow with gloves, so no snow clogging pinch to unplug buckle. The female coin slot piece is plastic while the male coin piece is aluminum. Throughout the summer I have seen noticeable wear on the plastic piece. It seems durable enough in materials and design to withstand being crushed if it gets stepped on. Thus more durable than a typical pinch and plug buckle but it has seen more wear than the aluminum component. Adjusting the buckle is easy as long as I adjust the metal coin, left side first, then after clipping the buckle tighten the plastic slot from the right side. I haven’t removed the belt to climb yet and in fact I prefer moving through vertical terrain with the belt buckled so my pack moves with me and doesn’t sway. But for those who prefer otherwise the belt can be removed easily and stored at camp or in the pack while scrambling, climbing, or sending.
Lastly, the pack easily carries an ice axe or two ice tools with a traditional loop and flip design for the head and a fish hook shaped shock cord toggle tightener to snug the shaft in place. Another design consideration I really liked is the large grab loop handle behind your head. This handle not only makes moving the bag around easy but when transitioning from ice axe use in moderate and steep snow couloirs to 4th class rock this handle doubles as a behind the back and head quick storage for a He Man, ninja sword, stow and retrieve security loop.