It’s been a few years since Eastern Mountain Sports produced a backpack I would use for guiding ice, mountaineering, and back-county skiing in the White Mountains of New Hampshire. The EMS Arete & Pillar packs from 2006 were the last technical packs EMS made that met my needs, and the last few years I have pretty much stuck to my Wild Things Guide Pack for ice climbing and a Backcountry Access Alp 40 for mountaineering and back-country skiing. Despite contributing to the design of this pack during a meeting with Product Managers last year I had some trepidation after hearing I would get to test the pack, starting with a photo shoot on the summit of Mount Washington, and then through-out the winter guiding season.
My first look at the pack was during a staff meeting a couple weeks ago. As we passed it around the room most guides nodded in approval as they explored it’s various features. While I originally intended to submit a video review of the pack EMS Marketing has already produced a great video showing many of the pack’s features. Check it out here!
Instead of hitting on every feature of the pack I’ll just point out some of my favorites;
1) First off, the color. While color may only be cosmetic to some, being highly visible in the white out conditions we spend so much time in on Mount Washington is key. This bright yellow is a welcome change from the more muted colors of previous similar styles.
2) Comfort. The compression molded back panel is exactly what I like in a winter pack. While meshy ventilated packs are great in the summer I find they accumulate way to much frozen H20 in the snowy months. With the lightweight plastic frame inside and removable bivy pad you can load this up with 30+ lbs of climbing gear and not feel carabiner’s and ice screws digging into your back on the approach. There is a removable aluminum stay, which I left in, but I did remove this weird “coat hanger” metal piece that seemed unnecessary. Removing it improved the ability to look straight up while helmeted. This piece is visible at on the table at .26 to .28 in the video.
3) Convenience. This pack is loaded with convenience. The “loopless” ice axe attachments accept my mountaineering straight axe as easily as my more radical ice climbing tools with ease. So much better than ice axe loop attachments I hope this design change continues to appear on any packs designed for winter use. The crampon pouch is another favorite. While I used to endorse the more minimalist strap on approach this pouch is well thought out. Drain holes for melting snow, quick buckle tightening system with a handy release pull… I’ve noticed using a pouch is not only faster than the strap on method but provides a bit more confidence that my crampons will still be where I put them after 1000 feet of glissading. A built in bivy pad, removable top pocket, quality fabric… everything I like to see in a serious alpine pack… I am quite stoked to put this pack through the ringer this winter and if you’re in need of a new winter pack I’d suggest you take a look at this one. I’m hoping it, or something equivalent, stays in the EMS line indefinitely!