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My pack for Antarctica was Patagonia’s ski specific Descensionist 40L, on loan from Patagonia for testing. While bigger in volume than I usually tour with, I was glad for the extra capacity due to the additional gear associated with glacier travel. Of course, extra gear means extra weight and I was a bit concerned how the Descensionist would handle the load, given the lack of any internal frame support such as a wire hoop or stay(s).
Instead of a frame, the Descensionist utilizes a dense, removable foam back pad and sewn in dense foam running across the top shoulder area and across the bottom waist area of the pack for additional support. This minimalist system is clearly intended to provide weight savings but also conformed well to the shape of my back and offered more than adequate support for carrying loads and skiing. Patagonia claims the back pad is tapered down to the pelvic area to thus cause your load to center on your hips while you’re active. Sounds good, and certainly doesn’t hurt — nice to see clean solutions instead of elaborate cable systems and other shenanigans that overzealous pack designers seem to throw in when we’re not looking. The removable pad also serves multi functions such as a splint, etc. in case of emergency. The waist belt is similar low profile foam and always my preference over bigger, bulky styles.
The other Descensionist weight savings comes from the choice of a medium thick fabric for most of the sack (heavily coated Cordura brand nylon) which seems a perfect balance of durability and lightness. Thicker Cordura is used where diagonal ski carry or full snowboard carry might create wear points. Granted, with fabric choices like this you’re not going to get a skimo racing pack out of the deal, but by the time you have patches stitched to your other-brand non-reinforced pack, you’ll end up with the same weight (or worse, with your gear scattered all over the mountain). This rucksack is thankfully void of most bells and whistles but does have a fully functional tool pocket up front, diagonal ski carry, a hipbelt pocket, top pocket for quick access to smaller items, ice axe loop, daisy chains for lashing items and compression straps for reducing the bag size.
There is also a side zipper, presumably for easy access to commonly needed items. I guess a side zipper could be useful but I’d rather see it gone in service to simplicity and less weight.
Wide access to items in the bag was easy due to an ingenious drawstring that simultaneously opens and closes the top opening and spindrift collar. All of this comes at a featherweight two pounds — impressive. The only items I found missing would have been at least one gear loop on the waist belt if not two to help with ready access to the hardware for glacier travel or any other ski mountaineering endeavor, and a fixed ski tail loop towards the bottom of the sides of the pack to facilitate a true A frame carrying option.
All in all, the Descensionist 40L ski pack from Patagonia is a worthy competitor in the enormous field of fully and semi dedicated ski rucksacks. I’d grab it again in a heartbeat as I head out the door for my next adventure. Now, my hope is a 30 liter option for those light and fast non-glacier day tours. Oh, and since someone is sure to ask, hydration system compatible via a simple hose port between the shoulder straps.
The following video from Patagonia does a good job of going over the pack. This enhances our take with a concise visual description of an optional top flap stowage option that’s pretty slick, as well as a few other esoteric qualities. For such a clean looking pack, it’s surprising how “featured” the Descensionist is.
Bob Perlmutter and his wife Sue live in Aspen where Bob manages Aspen Mountain Powder Tours, a snowcat skiing operation. Bob has sought adventure skiing over the past thirty years, in the nearby Elk Mountains as well as numerous locales around the world. Presently, he is reeling it in close to home to embark on his biggest adventure yet, fatherhood.