I’ve always been a fan of durable yet minimalist mountaineering packs, such as the variety of models Cilo Gear creates. I’ve been using their packs for a few years, mostly for spring ski mountaineering and overnight trips.
Cilogear’s packs have always been targeted at climbers and alpinists, rather than skiers. Alpinists demand light stuff, and they also abuse it, so Cilo’s packs are fairly light while still holding up. That’s a big contrast to most ski packs, which while usually being durable also tend to have a cacophony of do-dads (e.g. excessive partitioning and other “features” built with unnecessarily heavy fabrics). Result is that ski packs are often much to heavy for their size. That’s one of the issues with airbag packs. Often the pack itself weighs 4+ pounds, so even with fairly light airbag hardware the resulting setup is heavy, but I digress…
Even though Cilo’s past packs have been excellent, their climber focus means they lack features that ski packs usually have. Most important are ski carry straps and shovel pockets. For years I’ve rigged up ski carry straps with the Cilo D-clip system and simply thrown my shovel in with the rest of my stuff. The jury-rigging works well for the ski carry, but the shovel rattling around in the pack can be annoying.
Good news is the wizards at Cilo recognized the need for lightweight “alpinist style” ski specific packs, and met it. Their ski pack line is only slightly modified from their climbing packs, but the changes are sufficient and effective. I’ve been testing a variety of these Cilo ski packs, but I’ll focus on the 30Z as it’s the pack I’ve used the most, and it incorporates all the ski-specific features.
The 30Z is a minimalist 30 liter pack, with one main compartment and only four pockets. It has a zipper lid with an interior pocket, a “ninja” pocket near the upper back, a shovel sleeve below that, and a spacious hip belt pocket. All except the ninja pocket are specific to the ski pack model. The other changes from the standard 30 liter Cilo pack are a-frame ski carry loops and burlier fabric in some areas to prevent ski specific wear. (The bigger models also have a side zipper to access the contents of the pack.)
The 30Z shovel pocket simply consists of a few sleeves that hold a shovel, probe, and shovel handle. It’s light and minimal. The shovel sits next to the back, as opposed to most other ski packs out there. The location is meant to allow the shovel and probe to make the pack more rigid. The effect isn’t quite like a real frame, but it’s effective for the smaller loads used in a day pack. Unfortunately the location means that some bigger shovel blades might not fit. I tested it with a variety, and my K2, BCA , and Black Diamond shovels fit, however the giant blade on my old BCA shovel didn’t. If you carry one of the larger shovel blades, make sure it fits in the pack first before buying.
I’ve got mixed opinions on zipper closures on packs. On the one hand they are quick, and look nice and slick. However I’m always a bit worried about them blowing out; with a lid-and-drawstring pack, if one part fails, you can usually still close the pack somewhat effectively. The Cilo ski packs are available with either a zip closure or more traditional drawstring closure. It’s mostly comes down to personal preference. The 30Z has a zipper top, and I found it worked very nicely. The zipper isn’t as redundant in terms of durability as a drawstring, and it doesn’t allow for as much expansion. However, it’s quick and simple. Also, the zipper allows easier access into the pack when you have skis strapped to the pack. To be fair, because Cilogear packs have the modular D-clip system, if the zipper does fail, it’s easy to rig a strap to hold the lid closed instead. The other elements of the pack work just as well as ever.
Check out our reviews of the 45 liter WorkSack, the 30 liter NWD WorkSack, and also a visit to their Portland factory. More, note that the seven of us on our 2010 Denali ski expedition all used Cilo expedition packs.
The Cilo styles of packs is awesome; the combination of lightweight minimalism with burly construction is killer. However, they aren’t for everyone. The fabric is strong but still somewhat lightweight — if you are super hard on your gear it will wear out. Also, I know many people are willing to carry more weight to gain more organization or easier access than the simple Cilogear packs offer. The ingenious D-clip system allows for ample customization, but can be a bit fiddly for people who just want a clean pack with hardly anything attached to the outside.
Weights of Cilogear packs are a bit ambiguous since they can be so heavily customized. However, here are the official Wildsnow weights for the 30Z pack I’ve been testing:
Stripped down pack bag (all optional items removed): 740 grams (1.6 lbs)
Back pad: 86 grams (3 oz)
Waist strap with pocket: 158 grams (5.5 oz)
Diagonal ski carry straps: 78 grams (2.75 oz)
Whole pack in my current setup: 1060 grams (2.3 lbs)
Louie Dawson earned his Bachelor Degree in Industrial Design from Western Washington University in 2014. When he’s not skiing Mount Baker or somewhere equally as snowy, he’s thinking about new products to make ski mountaineering more fun and safe.