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Monday
May202019

Stuff I Like - CAMP Ski Raptor pack

photo: Jason DoraisAs another ski season comes to an end, I’m once again, reflecting back on lines skied, partners I’ve had and gear I’ve used. As part of this ritual, I typically find myself in the garage going through my quiver, patching bases and putting on some wax for the summer and making assessments of everything that contributes to experiences on skis I seek so passionately. As most of you know, I’m a gear dork so my thoughts quickly go to what worked and what didn’t. 

Typically, high on my list of things that need improving is my pack. Ski packs are the one item that always leaves something to be desired for me. Looking around the skin track, I honestly believe that the majority of skiers don’t give the thing they lug around on their back all day much thought. Oh sure, there is that subset of skiers that can’t live without an air bag or Avalung. Adhering to this additional criteria only serves to narrow the selection even further. Older skiers seem less concerned with these two items and they’re the ones that seem to care even less about what they stuff their shit into for a day in the backcountry. You’ll find nothing fancy on their backs and often accompanied by a fair amount of duck tape and Seam Grip. 

But I find the whole idea of improving how we carry our stuff endlessly fascinating. Consequently, I’ve owned an embarrassing number of packs over my 40+ years of playing in the mountains. Off the top of my head I’ve owned packs made by…are you ready?…Kelty, Jansport, North Face, Wilderness Experience, Yak Pack, Chouinard, Cold Cold World, Wild Things, Black Diamond, Sacs Millet, Dana Designs, CAMP, Ultraspire, Sierra Designs, Patagonia, Ultimate Direction, Salomon, Nathan, Free Range and probably one or two more brands that elude me right now. Most of these have some redeeming quality that appealed to me but all of them eventually fell out of favor for the next best thing. I guess I’m fickle.

Tyson Bradley with a massive load on DenaliMost of the time, I need not look too far to find something I don’t like about any given pack and many don’t make the cut beyond a fondle at the store. There’s a lot of crap out there. Sad to think of all the man power and material that goes into making mediocre gear. I mean, why commit all those resources to something that so obviously sucks before even getting out the door? Why ask why?

Before I get to the subject of this post, let me first describe for readers what I use to judge a ski pack or any other pack, for that matter. 

Weight

This is easy. Pick it up. If the empty pack seems heavy, it probably is so put it down and walk away. Simple. Look, our pleasure in the mountains is inversely related to the amount of crap we need to do what we want. As the load gets heavier, our fun starts to diminish. Case in point…when I was a Denali guide, I knew I’d be carrying a stupid amount of stuff, often times picking up extra weight from flagging clients. So, my first year I got a big pack that was up to the task. Dana Designs Astralplane was the sack of choice for many. It was burly, held up like a family heirloom and swallowed silly amounts of food and gear. The problem with it is that it weighed over 8 pounds empty! That’s a lot and really doesn’t help one get light. The next year, I took a Cold Cold World Chaos and added a couple of after market side bags to it and dropped about 5 pounds starting out. The Chaos holding up to the abuse. Putting 90 pounds in that pack was not what Randy Ratcliff had in mind but the thing held together like a champ. Some might say that I was torturing myself by not having one of those fancy suspension systems the gear dorks like to talk about. But if they think that there is anyway to make carrying half your body weight on your back at altitude somehow pleasant, well, they simply haven’t carried that much yet.

Size

Since this post is about ski specific packs for day touring and ski mountaineering, we’ll limit our size criteria to 25 to 35 liters. There are some smaller 18 liter packs out there that work for spring missions but for mid-winter it’s hard to get everything you should have in something that size. Of course, what each of us considers necessary is highly individual. For me, in the cold of winter in AK, I feel like I should have a puffy jacket, at least one in the group should have puffy pants, repair kit, bivy sack, some cord, extra Voile straps, InReach,  water, food and maybe a helmet. This is in addition to whatever clothing layers go on and off during the day. With more technical lines, room for ski and boot crampons, rope and related gear is also key. For a fully equipped deep mission into the Chugach in winter, it’s hard to do with anything less than 35 liters. Eliminate glacier travel and rappels, put the helmet on early and suddenly 25-30 liters is ample.

Material

The next thing that becomes apparent when one first holds a pack is the material from which it’s made. This impacts weight, durability, water resistance, handling and price. Most people want good value when they spend money. Having something that falls apart after a few outings simply doesn’t cut it. But beyond that, there are no free lunches. Gain one quality and lose out on another. Durability comes with weight or, in the case of some sexy fabrics, expense. So you have to pick your poison. I’m willing to give up a bit on the durability side in order to have something lighter. I’m handy with a needle and thread and Seam Grip can fix or prevent any number of issues with very little additional weight and bulk. 

Design

There are a few different pack designs popular these days and all have their merits. The classic top loading sack with a draw string and flap is still common and works well with few points of failure beyond a catastrophic seam failure. Back panel opening packs are seen more and more these days. They have the advantage of getting to the stuff at the bottom of your pack without taking everything out. On the other hand, depending upon the zipper placement, zipper failure can be a major headache. As you will see, my favorite pack uses both top loading via a zipper and a cleverly placed back panel access. More later. 

Features

This is a complex topic and I’ll only skim the surface here. I’ll start off by saying that many manufacturers perceive that more bells and whistles sell more packs. Straps, swatches, zippers and pockets are all seen as good things along with complicated suspension systems. But at the end of the day, we only need a few and extras just add weight and make sewing the damn things more complicated and hence, more expensive. I’ll talk about features like separate avalanche gear pockets and crampon pouches later. But suffice it to say, I’ve come around to appreciate these a bit more of late. I still think they’re unnecessary but can be sweet if I’m on a more relaxed schedule. 

For a ski pack, gear loops and waist belt pockets are nice. Ski carry options are handy. A-frame carry has gone out of favor as it’s more trouble than diagonal or slung like a skimo racer. Having more than one option is nice as seasons change and you might find yourself riding a bike to a ski line, for instance. More on this later. 

It seems all packs these days “must” have a hydration bladder capability. First, I find our current preoccupation with drinking so much completely pointless and distracting. Market forces have led us to believe if we’re not constantly on the teat we’ll simply seize into a ball of cramps and die. But I digress…. Having this feature on a ski pack is a bit pointless since freezing of hydration systems in winter is a real issue. Better to have something insulated stowed away next to your puffy. But customers like bladders so most packs come with this feature, stupid or no. 

CAMP Ski Raptor

Usually by the end of the season, I’m disappointed enough by my various packs that I consider cannibalizing several and sewing them together to make what I would consider the best pack. This season was no different. But before I got out the scissors, I took one more look at Skimo Co to see if I’d missed anything cool. And there it was - the Ski Raptor from CAMP and the topic of today’s post. 

The Ski Raptor ticks most if not all the boxes for me in a ski pack and adds a couple I thought I could do without. My pack weighs in at 894 grams which is about 150 grams heavier than the standard setting CAMP X3 which is less featured and is made with lighter fabric. Both packs are 30 liters. After using my Raptor for the last couple of months and carrying skis both in A-frame and X-Press configurations with and without boots attached, I’ve noticed absolutely no wear on the fabric. In the past, CAMP has had some issues with fabric wear and tear and this new stuff seems to have rectified that concern.

One of the most striking features on this pack is a crampon specific pouch at the bottom accessed via bi-directional zippers. This feature is found on race packs and some bigger Dynafit packs. Often the closure is Velcro which often feels less than secure. I also notice the pouch collapsing on many packs making it harder to access one-handed with any sort of load above. The Raptor does not suffer from either short-coming, using some stiffer reinforcements to help the pocket keep its shape. I use it for its intended purpose of crampons but also find myself storing water and gloves in it on the fly. If you want to use the full bag compartment, the floor unzips dropping everything into the bottom. 

At this same level are the waist belt pockets which are nice for a couple of snacks, knife, sunglass chamois and car keys (see above photo). The addition of a gear loop on one side is appreciated. The belt is more substantial than on some light packs and is super comfortable. The light Fastex buckles are adequate and seem less brittle in the cold than older ones. 

Moving up, the back panel access is well-placed off the seam to make zipper failure less likely. It’s nice to have access to the bottom of the pack when I need something from the repair kit, for instance. 

The stow away helmet carry is something I didn’t know I needed until I used it. Such a great feature. No longer will a helmet eat up valuable interior space. It even provides a handy storage spot for a shed layer between the helmet and pack.

 

Lightweight side compression straps double as A-frame ski carry holders. Both ends unclip with buckles making access for skis easier. 

While I generally feel that a separate compartment for avy gear is mostly unnecessary and adds weight, I guess I like this one. In packs without them, my shovel blade, handle and probe nearly always end up against my back. If the pack sports a back panel access point, the gear blocks access to the rest of my stuff. Pointless. So with the Raven, the gear is stowed on the outside of main compartment with its own zipper. There’s even a hidden zipper compartment in there where I keep my InReach. Separate sleeves for shovel handle and probe keep things tidy. One fear I had with such rigid items against the outer fabric is that it increases pressure on the fabric when carrying skis. So far, I’ve seen no holes develop so, perhaps, the new fabric is up to the task. 

Instead of a traditional lid closure, the Raven uses a simple dual zipper over the top which I love. I’ve grown tired of shifting lids and fumbling with draw strings. Neither are found here. Right next to the main zipper is a small zippered pocket which is padded for glasses or goggles. Kinda brilliant. It also works well for snacks. Of course, you might risk getting smudgy crumbs on the lens of your goggles if you roll both ways. 

At the bottom of the back of the pack in the traditional position is an ice ax loop big enough for two tools. I use the side compression strap to hold the tool in place. This pack would be better with the new sleeve style attachment for tools where the pick slides horizontally into a sleeve and is fixed with a buckle. With the Raptor, any ice tool without an adze is precarious with the loop attachment. I might consider a mod here. 

On the opposite side of the pack from the tool loop is the Xpress ski carry loop. The handy feature here is that it is adjustable or even replaceable via a simple knotted loop from the inside of the main compartment. Even big powder skis will work here.

In general, the CAMP Ski Raptor gets an enthusiastic two-thumbs up from me. An improvement on the tool carry and maybe a different color other than black would be a couple of changes I’d make but compared to many other packs, this one is a winner. For now, my other packs are safe from the scissors.  

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Reader Comments (6)

Can I put money on "Lowe Alpine Systems" being in that "one or two" brands that eludes you?

May 21, 2019 | Unregistered CommenterEnrique Rodriguez

Oh that's astute, Enrique. How did I miss that one? I'll admit an attraction to those packs, particularly in their hey day. But I never owned one of their full-featured packs. However, I'm pretty sure I had one of their sexy "summit" packs that was as bare boned as they come.

May 23, 2019 | Registered CommenterBrian

Great post Brian. I was doing exactly the same as you - browsing Skimo for packs, when I saw your review.

I've even gone down the modding rabbit hole. My favorite pack was the Salomon X-Alp 20. Tried to get A-frame carry on it, but the guy modding didn't get it right. It is also on the smaller side. Before that, the Dynafit Broad Peak 28 was my go to pack.

I'll be getting a Raptor soon. For me, having diagonal and A-frame ski carry is ideal. Race carry is so quick and efficient, but A-frame has a use too (eg. descending trails in spring when your skis can wack the ground / your boots with every steep step).

I like hip pockets and flask containers. The less time I have to take my pack off and get into it, the better.

I have skis and bindings across the weight spectrum, and lately ski heavier stuff more. But I'll never abandon the light skimo approach to gear; I'll always be the weird guy with beefy freeride skis, a skimo pack, whippets and lycra!

May 25, 2019 | Unregistered CommenterDan

Thanks for reading, Dan. Yep, no sense in clinging to just one way to do things. Tribalism has its pitfalls. I, too, like a mix of styles depending upon the objective. I recently bought a pair of Crazy Idea tights and forgot how much I like skiing in Lycra. You know I'm going to be busting them out next winter. The Alaskan haters are gonna hate.

May 27, 2019 | Registered CommenterBrian

In another section, you reviewed the Freerange Raven. It looks like it has about 5L less capacity, but it is also around 10 oz lighter. It sounds like you have both packs. If you had to pick one to start with, do you have a pref between the two? Hopefully this is the right place to ask.

Thanks,

David

May 29, 2019 | Unregistered CommenterDavid M

Good eye, David. Thanks for asking about them. The Camp Ski Raptor has a lot more going on than the Freerange pack. That pack is very stripped down and handy for super light missions but I've come to appreciate a few more features that make a day more efficient, even if comes at the expense of some weight. The extra 5 liters is key in mid winter, at least here in AK. So, hands down, I'd go with the Camp pack as a quiver of one kind of sack. Alternatively, Salomon has one that is similar if you prefer French over Italian. Hope that helps.

June 4, 2019 | Registered CommenterBrian

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