I admit, I have a pack fetish. I dream of being given the chance to design my own perfect pack, a vision which includes the very best bits and pieces of all the countless packs I’ve used in the last 20 years. More importantly, it would not include all the many design blunders I’ve seen. Why am I so into packs? Because for 330+ days a year I live and work out of them in the mountains. We’ve worked for many of the biggest pack brands and have seen a good number of well designed systems, just as many pieces of junk, and a few solid winners. Then, along comes what I consider the perfect backpack, the Salomon X Alp 23.
Of course what I consider right may not be right for you. It depends on the user’s needs. So, some back story about who I am and how I use and rely on the packs I use.
I am a long time mountain sport athlete based in the Alps. My primary sports are trail running, moderate alpine climbing that often includes mountain running, and ski mountaineering. What’s unique about my approach to these sports is that I am also a pro mountain sport photographer, and am shooting work while doing these sports. I use lightweight Sony camera systems that are always along for my days in the mountains, adding just a bit more weight than I’d normally carry. Typically, my pack is just slightly bigger and heavier than my friends.
Based on what I do, and the fact that I am working from my pack, I need a super light, comfortable, well designed system for moving quickly and efficiently in the high mountains. It needs to be all this but also with the easiest possible access to what’s inside. I am pretty sure that my needs are much the same as everyone else who is serious about what they do in the mountains.
One guy who had his gear very much dialed in was Ueli Steck. And, it was through Ueli that I learned about the Salomon X Alp. In 2016, just before we went to Shishapangma for he and David Göttler’s attempt of a new route, during which I’d be the photographer, I was with Ueli at his home for a gear check. In the gear pile, packed and ready to go was a very cool looking small pack. It looked like a climbing pack but with several design features of a running pack. And, it was laying on it’s back with a visible zipper on the panel that goes against your back. I picked it up and started playing with it. It was immediately obvious, this thing was exactly what I was after.
“It’s perfect!”, said Ueli.
Now, more than a year later, I’ve been using the same pack for much of what I do in the Alps, and it truly is perfect. The 23 liter capacity is an ideal Alps size for day missions. It also comes in a 30 liter model although I haven’t used this. Remember, this is a pack for performance, it’s made to combine mountain and trail running with alpine climbing or ski mountaineering.
The points of perfection:
- Weight : 680 grams
- Proven to be bomber with durable zippers.
- Access to the main compartment is via a zipper against your back. This allows you to see all the contents of the pack, and also to open the pack without actually taking it off. The key is to leave the hip belt on, slip out of the shoulder straps, rotate the pack around to your front, and voila, the pack falls forward providing access to the zipper. This is how I get to my camera, or an extra layer, very quickly.
- On the bottom of the pack is a separate, largish compartment made of super bomber nylon. The access is on the side of the pack, with a zippered flap, which you can easily open while the pack is on. The compartment is designed to hold a rope for alpine climbing, where the rope is fed from the pack when needed. But thanks to the tough, waterproof material, it’s also a perfect crampon pouch, or for anything needing to be kept either separate, or for quick access.
- Slightly wider shoulder straps, trail running pack style, with a soft water flask holster for easy access.
- Ski mountaineering holster system that is easily removed for non-ski days.
- Hip belt pocket for easy access food.
- The 2017 pack has an added side pocket for ski shovel and probe, keeping them separate from the main pack.
- The 2017 model is 23 liters instead of 20 for the previous year.