The ice tool attachment system is similar to many packs on the market, and it works well. The lower pocket accommodates even the most radical of tool shapes while keeping the picks out of the way and secure.
The shafts of tools are meant to be secured with the upper compression strap which takes some getting used to, as you have to slot the shaft through the strap before sliding the pick into the lower pocket. This system is also annoying with tools without straight shaft grips. I’ve seen people rig up velcro or shock cord shaft attachments on the daisy chain to simplify the carry for technical tools. Still, I appreciate the simplicity of the intended system, and find that it works quite well for my primary tools (the Petzl Sum’Tec).
The pack also features an internal “rain fly” that is basically a thin piece of fabric that hangs inside the pack and can be pulled out in the event you need to overpack. Because the lid isn’t floating, an overpacked bag will result in a hole facing pretty much straight up. The rain fly is designed to fill that small gap. I don’t often overpack the Ascensionist, and have often thought about cutting the fly out. It is rather annoying when packing and unpacking the bag, and taking it out would save a bit of weight. But I haven’t mustered up the courage to cut out this large chunk of fabric quite yet.
The lid pocket features the only zipper on the whole pack. The lid pocket is small and can fit a few snacks, a headlamp, knife and map decently but as the pack gets filled, the lid pocket gets smaller. The zipper is also a bit short for reaching in with gloves on.
The pack is fitted with four compression straps that can shrink the pack down very well and also double as an A-frame ski carry option (more on this later).
Notably missing: a key clip. It would be a nice addition that would only add about 2 grams.
If it seems like this pack has just about everything, the reality is that this pack is streamlined and simple. There is nothing superfluous, and everything works well together. There was clearly a huge amount of thought that went into the design of this pack, and it shows. The features that depart from the norm work well — perhaps even better than their more standard counterparts.
The Ascensionist carries quite well. I can easily stuff a full day’s worth of mountaineering gear (small rack, rope, water, food, 2-3 layers, crampons, tools, shovel, probe, etc…) and the pack carries great.
The only time I have had problems with the carry was with a full skiing setup and avy gear inside with skis and boots on the outside. Even with my lightweight ski mountaineering setup, the pack was not happy. I would guess the load was over 40 lbs.
Besides that, I think the padding in the hip belt and shoulder straps is perfect for a 35 L pack, and the frame holds up to just about anything I can stuff in it.
I got this pack expressly with ski mountaineering in mind. To my continued and intense chagrin, there really aren’t any ski mountaineering specific packs on the market (though we have our eye on a few newcomers…). There are a handful on my list to test out, but I still haven’t found one that doesn’t have serious drawbacks.
That being said, the Ascensionist does a decent job. It has down pat all of the mountaineering aspects for skiing high peaks. Where it struggles, however, is in both ski carry and mid-winter use.
The pack supposedly has an A-frame and vertical carry option (yes, you read that right — vertical). Let’s just get the vertical carry out of the way first.
The idea is that you remove the webbing strap from the main closure system to secure the top of the ski with the mini daisy chain, then clip the opposite ice tool straps together under the heel piece of the binding and the ski sits upright. Problems:
(1) You can’t close the main (and only) compartment, and if you carried an extra piece of webbing so that you could close it, you wouldn’t be able to open it without taking off the skis.
(2) You can’t use the ice tool attachment while the skis are on the pack.
(3) The skis stick straight up in the air with almost no support, they flop around, catch the wind and are a constant and huge weight shifting around on your back.
(4) This carry moves the center of gravity backwards, not where you want it.
I don’t typically like diagonal carry systems, and this vertical carry system suffers many of the same problems, just worse. But it’s not a huge deal because you can carry in A-frame too…
The A-frame mode on the Ascensionist is decent. The compression straps hold the skis pretty well and, once you get it set up, it carries comfortably. There are, however, a few quirks with A-frame carry on this pack:
The webbing on the compression straps is thin and soft. Most packs that are dedicated ski packs have a fixed ski loop on both sides, since compression straps tend to slip. The Ascensionist is no exception. The compression straps don’t quite have the strength to hold up a pair of skis, and the quick adjust clips often slip in A-frame carry.
The main pack material is not that strong. It does a great job in most situations (especially given it’s weight) but I’ve put a few large slices into it from ski edges in A-frame carry (more on durability later).
The plastic clips on the compression straps are quite small and difficult to manipulate with gloves on.
The pack is generally anatomically shaped, which is great for comfort and climbing, but not great for A-frame carry. The pack is wider at the top than at the bottom (similar to how your shoulders are wider than your hips). However, when in A-frame carry, the pack is squished to be wider at the bottom than at the top. This makes the upper part of the pack difficult to access while the skis are on. It also makes it hard to set up the carry.
The combination of the overall shape, the small webbing, and the small clips makes setting up the A-frame carry a bit more time consuming than on winter-specific packs like the Osprey Variant, for example. The Variant features fixed ski loops and large, glove-friendly clips.
That seems like a lot of negative things, but overall the A-frame works pretty well. If I were designing the pack I would certainly seek to make it a bit more ski friendly, but that’s just me.
Generally, the pack could use bigger clips for use with gloves; a small divider for avalanche gear would be nice (and would add almost no weight, especially if the rain fly was removed); fixed ski loops for A-frame carry; and small reinforcement on the sides to protect from ski edges. With these changes, you could have an AWESOME lightweight ski mountaineering pack. Please, Patagonia?
Mountaineering is what this pack was designed to do, and it does it well. Amazingly well. It carries well, has a simple design, is extremely lightweight (especially at its price point), is strippable, durable enough, climbs well, is sized for a full day in the high alpine… I could go on.
After using this pack for many months, I have nary a complaint in the mountaineering department. With the frame removed and the bag well packed, it performs excellently in the mountains.
The only gripe I have is that, due to the unique closure system, if you carry your rope on the outside clipped under the lid, it tends to slide backwards. I usually clip both ends of the rope into the compression straps to hold it in place. If possible, I pack the rope in the pack. Other than that, this is my go-to pack for days and overnight trips in the Alps.
As with any gear that is designed to be light, the Ascensionist isn’t bombproof. It uses lightweight materials that will not hold up to heavy abuse. I have two primary concerns in the durability department. First is the frame.
Not only is the mesh on the frame itself fraying at the pressure points on the lower back, but the pressure points created when using the frame have caused noticeable wear and tear on the pack. On the back panel, a clear outline of the frame is visible where the fabric has started to wear. On the inside of the pack, I have two holes from gear rubbing up against the inside of the back panel where the frame causes that panel to bulge out. If you remove the frame, none of this is an issue, but with the frame in, the pack is definitely exposed to some weaknesses.
The second durability issue is with the ski carry. As I mentioned earlier, I have sliced two rather large cuts into the pack while using A-frame carry. Both cuts were easily repaired, and I continue to use the pack with confidence. But I always worry a bit with the A-frame carry.
Other than that, there are a few bumps and bruises, but nothing too significant. Again, this isn’t a cragging pack, and it isn’t a backpacking pack. It won’t hold up long to the abuse of those activities. But it is an excellent mountaineering pack.
The Ascensionist 35 is one of the best packs I have ever used. I love the simplicity and minimalist nature of the pack. As a mountaineering pack, it is one of the best lightweight packs on the market. It is also a decent ski and ski mountaineering pack if you can get comfortable with the A-frame carry.
Yes, the pack has its issues — a finicky frame and some durability concerns — but overall, this is an excellent pack.