- Buyer's Guide
Get a sneak peak and dig into an exclusive review of the Alpha SK 32 Pack from Arc'teryx. Note, this pack will not be available to purchase until August 2018.
As a ski photographer who is spending winter snorkeling through the powder that muffles Hokkaido via Siberia, the Arc’teryx Alpha SK 32 is proving to be the perfect tool for resort laps, quick backcountry days, and catski missions. Since receiving the pack for review, I have used it day in and day out, for skiing, working, and cafe hopping. On an island that receives more snow than any place on earth, the Alpha SK 32 had to contend with deep, dry snow and daily use both on mountain and off for 50,000 vertical meters (and has the chops to go through a lifetime’s worth of 50,000 meters). I put the bag through battle with ski edges, heavy loads, shovel blades, repeated stresses to the side zip, and slinging the pack on and off for shoots in the sub zeros Siberian winds can often bring. I focused on workflow and durability, as skiing often brings us to remote locations and sending a bag back to Arc’teryx HQ for repair isn’t always an option until the end of a trip or the coming of spring.
- Name: Alpha SK 32
- Brand: Arc'teryx
- Format: Backpack
- Capacity: 32L / 1953cu.in.
- Weight: 990 grams / 35 oz
- Material: N400r-AC² nylon 6 ripstop
Who It Suits
Skiers prioritizing a lightweight pack for all essential backcountry gear with room for a minimalist quiver. It is the perfect pack for any adventure that does not involve camping. The Alpha is well suited for everything from lift access rides to side country stints and day trips to the backcountry. This pack is the result of skiers and boarders modifying the Alpha FL, originally designed for alpinists. A simple pack at its core, this iteration of the Alpha series will appeal aesthetically and practically to those who favor the lightest, most no-nonsense approach to backcountry carry. Snowboarders can also benefit from this pack if they use a longer ski strap to loop through both daisy chain points, thereby allowing them to strap snowshoes or a snowboard onto the back.
Who It Doesn’t
Winter adventurers who want a feature-packed setup with room for more. With avalanche gear, a space blanket, and skins in the front pocket, bulging into the main compartment, it could be hard to fit much more than a dialed and pared-down setup. I managed to squeeze a DSLR, mirrorless camera, an ultralight down jacket, Nalgene bottle, and some snacks.
In keeping with the DNA of the Arc’teryx Alpha family, the SK 32 variant keeps a slim profile, eschewing large buckles and overbuilt straps. The Alpha SK 32 is a far cry from other packs seen around ski towns. It does not scream “backcountry” with meters of straps and large logos, but says “I’m a ski pack” in a well mannered, quiet way, which may not be apparent at all. The high-tech nature of the SK 32 is only apparent upon closer inspection of weather sealed zippers and stitching of the AC² nylon.
"A simple pack at its core, this iteration of the Alpha series will appeal aesthetically and practically to those who favor the lightest, most no-nonsense approach to backcountry carry."
The Alpha SK 32 in a key lime colorway, in keeping with the rest of Arc’teryx’s color palette, is not a quiet color per se, but gives off a glow of quiet confidence. Quite the chameleon, it is as much at home on ski runs as it is in an urban setting. The Alpha SK 32 does not have the aura of a burly mountaineer but that of an unassuming super athlete. The design language is uniquely Arc’teryx, looking right at home next to the much larger, airbag-equipped Voltaire 30.
Sturdy plastic buckles are featured on both the chest strap and waist strap. The buckles are no-nonsense and do the job well, easy to use with gloves, and stay out of the way when not needed. Arc’teryx sent me two ski straps in the media sample, which proved strong enough to securely hold skis or poles. The ski straps (bright orange in the photo below), unlike traditional straps with the closed metal loop, are “C” shaped, making them slightly faster to use and just as effective. A small but crucial detail in keeping the straps in service and holding the weight of skis are the attachment points for the straps, which upon closer inspection are strengthened with plastic reinforcements. If you prefer to carry your skis in A-frame, you’ll have to order your Alpha SK 32 with additional straps or use some extra you have lying around.
Arc’teryx’s famous AC² fabric is utilized on the whole pack, sealing it from environmental factors such as snow and water. The padded foam back panel can attract snow but does not wet out. It is quite easy to “clean” the panel before swinging the pack back on. At the end of the day there can be snow accumulation, but not enough to be noticed or hinder performance. It also has the perk of drying quite quickly in front of a heater or stove.
Straps and workflow
Slinging the pack on and off is smooth and was never a wrestling match between my arm and a stiff strap. The Alpha SK 32’s straps are pliable enough to slip off with minimal effort, yet strong enough to evenly spread load stresses across the shoulders and back, similar to the weight-distributing qualities of a good climbing harness. On a typical day of skiing and shooting, I take the pack off each time I want to take a photo, need a snack, to grab water, when getting into a snowcat, etc. All this on/off has made me appreciate this non-snagging, easy-to-use strap system. With virtually no straps dangling, I was confident ducking under trees and low-lying branches, knowing my chances of getting snagged were minimal.
The Alpha SK 32 allowed me to swivel my head as much as I needed without running into the back of my helmet. This is a critical box for a ski bag to tick, as bobbing and weaving through tree runs and spotting lines with a bag restricting your head movement is one big no.
"With virtually no straps dangling, I was confident ducking under trees and low-lying branches, knowing my chances of getting snagged were minimal."
Space and Access
The champion of the Alpha SK 32’s workflow is the side access. Many ski packs utilize back access systems, but with the lightweight foam frame inside the pack, back access would have compromised the lightweight pedigree of the Alpha SK 32. The weather-sealed side access is extremely useful for grabbing my camera from the pack, shooting, and throwing the camera back in. This pack fits the run and gun style of my photography, and will suit just about anyone who appreciates quick workflow. In diagonal carry, side access proved extremely useful, as the top flap was inaccessible with the skis in the path of the flap. As the zippers are just a bit hard to grasp with burly gloves, I attached a small carabiner to do away with the question: “Do I have it?”
With top access, there are two layers to get through. The top flap opens up to reveal an avalanche gear pocket with organizational dividers, and a main drawstring secured pocket (that the side zip gives access to). I appreciate the easy entry system Arc’teryx have utilized for their avalanche gear pocket, narrowing down the time for rescue should there be a slide.
"The weather-sealed side access is extremely useful for grabbing my camera from the pack, shooting, and throwing the camera back in."
To cover the drawstring and avalanche pocket, Arc’teryx have opted for a hook system that secures the top cover over the main pockets. The metal tabs hook into loops on the top panel and tighten with a swift pull of the excess strap.
Inside the cover is a small zippered pocket that can be used to hold small essentials. When touring, the top cover can hold onto anything from rope to an unneeded insulation layer for storage until the descent.
The interior of the Alpha SK 32, very much like the Arc’teryx Carrier Duffle series, is white, improving accessibility and visibility.
Used primarily as a ski bag, I have fitted an avalanche shovel, probe, skins, and a space blanket in the front pocket; two SD card cases, a lens cloth, lens blower, Leatherman knife, topo map, chemical hand warmers, and wallet in the zippered pocket; extra gloves, any layers, a DSLR, Nalgene bottle, and any small extras in the main pocket. With this setup, the necessities (avalanche gear) will take up a little over half of the allotted 32 liters. Something to be aware of is that overpacking the Alpha SK 32 will make the shovel blade hard to access as the contents of the main pocket will push out against the blade.
The Alpha SK 32 is an exceptionally comfortable pack, despite its minimal DNA and lack of shoulder adjustments. An internally laminated HD80 foam frame sheet provides robust weight distribution in an extremely lightweight package. Look out for snow/water buildup between the frame and fabric of the pack when defrosting at the end of a day.
The Arc’teryx Alpha SK 32, composed of almost entirely AC² ripstop nylon, is as bombproof as they come without becoming too burly. I dragged my Arc’teryx Carrier Duffle, also kitted with AC², through countless airports and subways in transit to mountains, and it still looks brand new. I expect the SK 32 will have inherited similar legendary durability. This lightweight champion is no stranger to sharp edges, with a shovel blade living permanently on the inside of the avalanche pocket and occasional ski edges on the outside. Rocking diagonal carry, sandwiching the nylon between a shovel blade and ski edges, there is some wear on the outside of the pack.
"Something to be aware of is that overpacking the Alpha SK 32 will make the shovel blade hard to access as the contents of the main pocket will push out against the blade."
The Alpha SK 32 is as waterproof as ski packs come, never wetting out or going fully damp. Often, when skiers or snowboarders powder slash really close to me, the bag will get covered in snow. The face fabric will absorb moisture, but the interior stays completely dry. However, the top flap, if not cinched down all the way, can let snow into the main compartment. This is not too much of a concern as my cameras are weatherproof, but is something to keep an eye on if you have any items that are sensitive to snow or water.
Alternatives to Consider
The direct alternative to consider is within the Arc’teryx family, the Khamski 38, a burlier pack with a more traditional ski bag feature set and build. Black Diamond’s Cirque and Dawn Patrol lines also sport packs in the super lightweight category with alpinism-minded design.
"The Alpha SK 32 allowed me to swivel my head as much as I needed without running into the back of my helmet."
Arc’teryx have released a champion of a pack, giving careful consideration to what is not truly needed. Treading the fine line between necessity and convenience, Arc’teryx understands features that are nice to have, but are not truly needed. The latter have been left out, cutting all the fat from a product category that has traditionally been full of “nice” features, leaving a lean, mean, shredding machine. Having spent 50,000 vertical meters resort riding, backcountry ripping, and catskiing in remote Hokkaido, I have come to appreciate the uncompromising and relentless approach to minimalist carry that the Alpha SK 32 embodies so well.
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Space & Access
Look & Feel
Build, Materials & Hardware
Warranty & Support