Hi all, got here (Austria) with almost no glitches. Stopped by Dynafit in Munich on the way. The new gear did not disappoint; beefy freeride boot, widebody ski, other excitement.
More later. Meanwhile, I’ve got this new Avalung backpack for the trip, and it is definitely a good thing to have in avy terrain. Been evaluating the pack for about ten days and got the review done while traveling. Can publish now that I’ve got a web connection:
We can only hope, but it’s now obvious that in the near future we’re probably not going to see Avalungs built into any packs but Black Diamond’s. Yet come to think of it, that might actually be a good thing.
Word on the street is that BD makes pennies on the sale of stand alone Avalungs, so they need to sell packs to make up. Avalungs are cool, so if you’ve got the only packs in town with the innovative breathing device built in, you sell more backpacks, and can afford to keep producing Avalungs. As an entrepreneur myself I can live with that. Bummer would be if the Avalung went away because of financial issues.
Yet from a personal standpoint, I’ve been looking for more variety and what to me are improvements in the Avalung packs. Last year’s were well made and looked nice, but their resemblance to airplane luggage (zippers, foam in weird places, and ever more weight) had me pretty bummed. So yes I lived with it, all the while praying that BD could do something simple, in more the trad alpine rucksack style. You know, “need less,” “simplify,” and all that other stuff you might expect to find in a Patagonia catalog sermon.
Thus, I was excited when BD handed me their new Alias Avalung pack, had me sign a non-disclosure agreement using synovial fluid from my left knee as ink, and told me to go skiing. Ouch…. but… okay. Here be the report.
Alias is a fairly basic rucksack. Outside is heavy duty nylon that is still weighty, yet lighter than the 1060 ballistics nylon of the “luggage packs.” Idea here is to still eliminate worry about sharp rocks and ski edges, but be more weight conscious. I’d say the compromise works.
Backboard of our media sample is flexible foam, with no vertical stiffener or plastic frame-sheet, and no option for foam removal. If you carry lightweight loads you don’t need a vertical stay in a backpack. But, strap on a pair of Black Diamond Verdict skis with Fritschi bindings, add a rope along with a few liters of water, and you’ll be crying for vertical stability that allows you to take some weight off your shoulders.
Ideal is to have a vertical alu stay that’s removable, along with foam that’s removable so you can use it as a neck collar for first aid, or a camp seat.
After we ran this gripe by BD they said they were indeed thinking of adding a vertical stay, but as of this writing the decision to do so is still up in the air. We’ll update this review when we know. As it is, I wouldn’t call this a deal breaker, but it has to be mentioned if we’re to be true to you readers.
Only fancy feature (thank-you boys) is a “tool pouch” on the back of the pack that allows segregated storage of your shovel, probe, and wet skins (pouch shown in photo above). I have zero use for this since I seem to always have room for our shovel etc. in the main pack compartment. Yet this type of tool storage is probably the most requested skiing-specific pack feature, so I’ll live with it and I’m certain it will be well liked.
You close the pouch with a simple strap and buckle. Yep, no zipper, and that is good.
And your traditional style rucksack lid buckles down over everything, thus preventing your shovel handle from escaping and becoming an unguided missile in the event of a yardsale.
So, you arrive at the trailhead and it looks like the photo above. Epic pow, and you’re glad you have an Avalung. In the case of Alias, the ‘Lung breather tube stows in a tight zippered compartment on the left shoulder strap. It’s actually a bit too tight, which prevents easy zipping in and out — but at least makes you tend to keep the breather tube out where you can use it. As in other Avalung packs, the non-rebreathing valve is located in the shoulder strap, above your shoulder. Exhaust breath exits on the side of the pack, near the bottom, thus providing necessary separation of inhalations from poisonous carbon dioxide.
As always, we question how well we’d be able to hold the small Avalung mouthpiece in our teeth while taking a washing machine ride. Personally, I’d rather be biting on something more like a snorkel mouthpiece. Sources tell me the problem with that is that some people can’t handle having a large object in their mouths, hence the ‘Lung has to abide the smallest common denominator. Hmmm, something tells me a mod is coming.
Above and below, me same day as parking photo. Alias pack gets a ride.
Okay, back to more features and such. As pictured above, Alias has two small pouches on the waist belt. We love these things on any backpack. they’re sort of like having pant pockets that are easy to get to instead of buried under your layers. We’d like the Alias pockets to be slightly larger, but they’re still much appreciated and do fit any smaller digicam.
A puzzling feature of the Alias is that the shoulder strap stabilizers attach at nearly the same point as the shoulder straps themselves. In my view, this renders them redundant. (In photo above, the small section of shoulder strap below the lower arrow is faux, and actually sewn to the sack.) To prove my point about this, I cut off the stabilizers and noticed absolutely zero difference in how the pack rides. This would of course change if the pack had a framesheet and stay for the stabilizers to pull on. Thus, if the final production version has those we’ll revise the above opinion.
One of the best features of the pack is pictured above. Just a simple three-mode buckle on the side compression straps. It easily pulls tight, comes undone with a press of the fingers, and has a lock so it can’t slip.
What else? For diagonal ski carry or ice axe packing you’ll find the requisite loop, but nothing built in for strapping the upper part of the skis. Such is easily cobbled, however, so no big deal.
Inside the top compartment you’ll find a small mesh pouch with a key clip. Always nice, but we’d rather this was slightly larger and located under the top, as having it buried inside the top flap compartment can make it quite hard to access. Weight of our large torso Alias is 52 ounces. Considering this includes an Avalung, not bad. But that’s only 4 ounces less than the much heavier looking Covert panel loader model. Thus, we could see easily trimming 6 ounces off this design by eliminating the tool pouch and using lighter weight fabric or mesh for things like the interior hydration bladder partition.
By the way, the right shoulder strap does indeed have a zippered hydration tube compartment, with requisite passage hole to the pack interior. One other thing about the shoulder straps: The webbing/buckle end is sometimes difficult to grab and adjust because they’re quite short. Our solution was to melt/bore a hole in the webbing and install a thumb loop, as shown below. Final production pack might have longer straps.
In summary, Alias provides much more of what we like in a backpack, and less of what we like in airplane luggage. It’s my backpack of choice for Europe, because following those Euro crazies around is just the situation for having an Avalung three inches from your mouth. More, for traveling you need a pack with some volume and optional compression, which the old rucksack form factor continues to represent. In all, great!
And no son, you’re not stealing this one from me — at least till I get back from my Dynafit visit.
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.