Arc'Teryx Alpha AR
20l - Alpine pack
Few backpacks I've used made me want to own the size variation of the same model: The HMG Summit Pack, and now the Arc'Teryx Alpha AR 20L. In the case of HMG, I eventually got his "big brother" the HMG Southwest, and now I wish to become the owner of the Alpha AR 55L as well.
Arc'Teryx is well known for R&D; the attention to make all details so minimal, the straightforward simplicity, streamlined aesthetics, it reminds me of the Bauhaus design essentialism.
I bought this backpack on a sale with the necessity for a summit pack but ended using it daily for commuting and groceries.
The pack is made of a new grid stop fabric, the N315r LCP, patented by the Arc'Teryx R&D department. LCP stays for Liquid Crystal Polymers, interwoven with high-tenacity nylon (N315r).
I'm an enthusiast for new materials, and this time, I got excited the same way when I found about Cuben Fibers and the TNF new "Futurelight" fabric. The LCP feels very durable and reliable. It didn't show any wear after a year of intense use on the rocks and trails. Regarding waterproofing, I would say no pack can be considered full waterproof (except diving bags). Still, the Alpha AR 20 repelled the heavy rain of a Japanese Typhoon beautifully during the rain season. So far, my computer and all my belongings were safe; I guess the test passed!
I've been using this backpack for about a year, from multi-pitch climbing in humid Japanese summer to dry Italian winter mountaineering ascents.
I used the AR 20L as a travel bag when flying between Japan and Australia or only as a grocery store carry-pack.
In every situation, I loved how comfortable is the backpack on the shoulder, especially when loaded with winter alpine gear like an ice-tool, crampons, and hardwires.
This backpack is engineered for mountain activities; I can fit in the essentials for a day climbing at the crag or on ice. The axes are easy to release from the attachments; draw-cord can hold crampons or a helmet.
The overall capacity is 20L; I couldn't push it to carry more than that, In case you want to bring a heavy load like the full rack of gear, clothes, food, rope, and piolets, I recommend to upgrade to the 35L version.
The shoulder straps are the most comfortable I ever experience on a backpack; to be honest, I would love to install them on some of my other HMG packs (LOL).
This pack has everything you need to find in an alpine rucksack:
It has built-in ice tool holders, with a useful drawstring system to keep the head in place. Straps will secure the shaft to the body of the pack. Compared with other similar alpine backpacks, the positioning of those straps (or in some cases drawcords) is just perfect, so your technical curved ice-tools won't cross on top of each other (making it hard to strap crampons in the center of the pack).
I was able to fit gloves, a small thermos, and some snacks in the generous external pocket.
The simple lid is wide enough to secure a climbing rope on top of it.
There are also two small handles under the lid; I figured those are to haul the bag, but honestly, I'm not sure if the interpretation is correct.
By removing the backplate, you'll find a camelback loop, to hang your hydration soft bottle, I think it is an excellent addition to versatility in "non-alpine" conditions.
The Not So Good
The only thing I still can't wholly enjoy about the Alpha AR 20L is the closure system. Arc'Teryx redesigned the closure of their backpacks using this hook type of barbed buckle that catches a loop on the lid. I gave myself quite a long time to understand the reason for this closing choice fully, so far, I still can't entirely get it. The system is hard to open when the pack is new and takes a few months of intensive use to loosen it up. I have to admit that it is almost impossible to open the lid with one hand, a quite important movement, especially if I'm also holding a belay device.
Another flaw in the design is the partial inaccessibility of the front pocket when the lid is fully closed; I found myself to pull the buckle and loose the string (without unclipping it) to grab items from the pocket.
I've been using the AR 20 on several occasions, carrying around my 13 inches laptop and few other items. I've been using it as a bouldering gym bag since I can manage to fit in it my climbing shoes and a change of clothes as well.
The Alpha AR is a summit pack designed for fast&light mountaineering but works perfectly as an urban day pack or just as a day-hike type of backpack. It suits people who are looking for a minimal yet full-featured pack, for single day climbing, skiing, or day hikes (20L won't allow doing much more).
First of all, the pack comes in two colors, grey, and orange, leave it or take it. Also, it is not suited for the roll-top minimalists, traditionalist of multi-accessorized backpacks, or anybody who is looking for a budget summit pack in the 70 US dollars range.
The AR 20L is not cheap for its category and had quite a lot of competitors like the Black Diamond Blitz and Speed series packs, or some other Dyneema composite packs.
For about 120 Euro (130 US dollars), the Alpha AR 20L is not cheap. Still, I believe this pack is an excellent piece of gear; you don't pay only for a rucksack. You pay for the expertise of the Arc'Teryx R&D department, the testing with alpinists, the experimental materials, and the insane attention to detail. In a nutshell: you pay for quality.
I believe this pack is meant for those who prioritize simplicity and lightweight. It is an alpine pack, and the features are designed for a specific activity so that alpinists would use the Alpha AR features at 100% of their potential. I would recommend to people who need an excellent backpack for single-day commitment outdoor activities.
© Riccardo Parenti 2019