I must have been a surgeon in a past life, considering how good it feels to slice into a new backpack with a sharp razor blade.
I recently upgraded my Backcountry Access Alp40 backpack to the latest iteration. Killer feature that drove the change is the small stash pockets on the Alp40 waistbelt. We love those things. They’ll hold a small digicam, 2-way radio, a pack of Camels — all sorts of junk that usually rattles around your pockets or even gets “forgotten.” But everything that enters the doors at WildSnow.com world headquarters must be modified. Follow along as the Alp40 gets a few tweaks. (Note, BCA spells this pack name as Alp40, but for indexing I’ll occasionally write it as Alp 40, two words.)
|Alp 40 killer feature is these pouches on the waist belt. Of course the guys at BCA would like me to sing praises for other frills like the dedicated vertical side pocket for shovel handles and probes, well designed compression straps, hydration system tube in shoulder strap, and reasonable weight. Okay. Those are nice as well. But as always it could be lighter.|
So first step with the new pack was lyposuction. Quite a few areas are built with two layers of fabric instead of one, so I cut out as much of that as possible. Next, I removed the internal partition that separates the large inner compartment from an external stash for shovel or skins. I like this feature, but it didn’t rock my world so why carry the extra ounces? The zipper still works and now serves as another access to the pack interior.
While a smaller digicam will fit in the waist pouches, I like a larger camera case mounted on a shoulder strap. As well as a camera, such a case works well for a GPS or larger 2-way radio. A variety of these cases are available at any large discount store, we got ours at the evil big box who’s name shall not be spoken.
The tricky part of mounting aftermarket cases and pouches on a pack is that they usually flop around during skiing like a fresh caught brook trout jerking around before becoming dinner. One solution (with the case, not the fish) is to bolt the thing to your pack. Yeah, you heard right, bolt, as in threaded fastener. The process is easy. Figure out where you want the mount, clamp things together, bore holes with a heated punch, then insert T-nuts and bolts you got at the hardware store. (You could also glue the case to the pack with JB-Weld epoxy, but then it wouldn’t be removable.)
|Figure out where you want your pouch mounted, clamp it firmly, then bore holes by melting with a heated punch (in this case an inverted drillbit.)|
|Hole ready for T-nut|
|T-nuts installed, with some Loctite — no more flopping trout while you ski. Bolt heads under the shoulder strap compress into the padding, and don’t dig into your shoulder as they’re not on the weight bearing portion of the strap. When done, we cover all fasteners with duct tape to protect things that come in contact.|
|Next step, conversion to one handed waist belt tightening. The pack comes with a waistbelt configured for tightening with either right or left hand (or both at once). I’ve found this arrangement hinders more than it helps as it’s just more straps to deal with in an over-strapped world. I figure out the average location of the left buckle then duct tape the strap so it can’t move. Along with this, I cut the excess of any straps that seem too long for my intended use (backcountry skiing in moderate climates, without huge expedition parkas and such), and I check and make sure all straps are terminated in a way that prevents losing a buckle or having a shoulder strap come completely undone|
|Most importantly, I always experiment with diagonal ski carry on my packs and rig up something that works quick and can’t be left behind. In this case, I tie a loop of 4 or 5mm cord through one of the shoulder strap attachment points, then attach a strap and buckle in a way that keeps it from falling off and getting lost, but still allows it to be adjusted and easily removed in case it’s needed off the pack.|
|Long view of skis attached. The tails are inserted through one of the Alp40’s two ice-axe loops. This results in the skis not being as diagonal as I like (calf nippers when hiking downhill), so I’ll probably attach a ski-tail loop a few inches closer to the side of the backcountry skiing pack, and cut off one of the factory ice axe loops.|
WildSnow.com publisher emeritus and founder Lou (Louis Dawson) has a 50+ years career in climbing, backcountry skiing and ski mountaineering. He was the first person in history to ski down all 54 Colorado 14,000-foot peaks, has authored numerous books about about backcountry skiing, and has skied from the summit of Denali in Alaska, North America’s highest mountain.