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Road Tests

Arc'teryx Alpha AR 35

OUTDOORS

Arc’teryx Alpha AR 35 Backpack: Road Test

by , March 12, 2019
8.6
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Yet another lightweight pack in the Arc'teryx lineup...but this time it's not just a new shape and features, but a completely new concept of a 'multi-role pack', which is lightweight and tough as nails. Yeah, both, in one and the same pack. Is this a game changer in Arcteryx's offerings? Thanks to Arcteryx I've had an opportunity to give it a full test drive for a couple of months before the official shop debut. So let me present the very new Alpha AR 35 pack - AR like All Round, good for any season and adventure.

Arc'teryx Alpha AR 35

Specifications

  • Name: Alpha AR 35
  • Brand: Arc'teryx
  • Format: Backpack
  • Measurement:
  • Capacity: 35L
  • Weight: 1.17 kg / 41 oz
  • Zippers: Arc'teryx WaterTight™ zipper
  • Material: N315r HT nylon 6,6 LCP
  • PriceUS$ 219

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Who It Suits

This pack suits hikers and mountaineers looking for a versatile, lightweight and durable pack for their next adventure. It will also suit technical alpine climbers and touring skiers.

Who It Doesn't

It's not well suited to traditionalists, lovers of natural waxed canvas materials and organization geeks who can't exist without 101 pockets in and on the pack. There are also better options out there for tactical-inspired hikers and military personnel who want to blend in and stay invisible in a forest - hardly possible with this pack's orange and smoke gray colorways.

Arc'teryx Alpha AR 35


Design

Looks and Construction

The alpine pedigree of the AR 35 is just striking. The pack has a slim and tall profile, no side pockets, four compression straps on the sides, a rope keeper strap on top, and multiple lash points. The top-loading construction with a double draw cord is a classic solution on a climbing pack - lightweight and dependable. There's nothing extravagant about the lid either; it's movable (and removable) thanks to two aluminum micro-hooks. So depending on the mission you could keep it in the standard position, move it up for overloading or completely detach it from the pack for fast and light action. To keep the pack's weight as minimal as possible Arc'teryx opted for a micro-toggle lid closing system. I was not really convinced at first but I changed my opinion after just a couple of weeks in the field - it proved to be very reliable and easy to put on and off in any conditions - both summer and winter.

Arc'teryx Alpha AR 35

Arc'teryx Alpha AR 35

The suspension system is the first real breakthrough in this pack. It looks relatively flat, but thanks to new high-density thermoformed materials it's absolutely comfortable to wear. The shoulder straps are soft and wide enough for the size, with attachment points for a hydration tube or small items. But what makes all the difference versus most climbing packs is the waist belt - the one on the AR 35 is not just wide webbing with soft pads on the sides. It's a real-deal load-bearing padded belt, fully integrated with the back panel. It uses the same construction as the shoulder straps, so it's super lightweight, keeps a slim profile and can be perfectly reversed if needed.

Arc'teryx Alpha AR 35

The modular back panel is a multi-layered construction with separate high-density foam and a hard framesheet with aluminum stay (bendable to shape) so it can easily adjust to the mission. With all layers in it's good for hiking and general mountaineering, just the foam (which keeps the pack's structure) is good for skiing and technical climbing, or with nothing at all and the lid removed for fast and light climbing you can save weight and allow it to move freely with your body. Without the framesheet it's also easy to roll and pack into a big expedition hauler.

Arc'teryx Alpha AR 35

The back panel itself is the same outer fabric as the rest of the pack, with no mesh or net of any kind. But it still carries well, especially if you're used to alpine-style packs. It's very light too! For such an advanced and scalable construction, with an integral waist belt, fully featured lid, multi-layer back panel with aluminum stay etc. just 41 oz is a great result!


"The modular back panel is a multi-layered construction with separate high-density foam and a hard framesheet with aluminum stay (bendable to shape) so it can easily adjust to the mission."


Materials and Hardware

Arc'teryx developed its own fabric for this pack called N315r HT nylon 6,6 LCP. I hate acronyms like that, so what is it exactly? Nylon we all know and LCP stands for  liquid crystal polymer used in ripstop grid, which is supposed to offer maximum abrasion resistance. So in a nutshell it's a breakthrough super fabric, which is lightweight, exceptionally strong and resistant to rips and tears on rock and/or ice. I've tried this pack on multiple trips and hikes, in hot weather and amongst rock, snow and ice. I had my ice axe, crampons and skis mounted on it. And after a couple of months of test driving it's still in mint condition. Actually it looks like a brand new pack after some surface cleaning with soap and water. It's my first light alpine pack which takes use and abuse in such a good manner. Other materials used on the AR 35 are top-notch as well, including plastic parts, cordage, webbing and foam. Well, it's Arcteryx, right?

Arc'teryx Alpha AR 35


Features

The front of the pack is covered with micro daisy chains and bungee net, so attaching carabiners, a rolled rain jacket, crampons or even snow shoes (with extra cordage) is an easy task. I really like the new attachment system for ice tools, which keeps them snug along the pack with flat and aligned heads/edges. Tool removal is quick and intuitive, also one-handed in padded gloves. One can put on the outside simultaneously two ice tools, hiking poles, crampons and snowshoes. Plus a rope under the lid and top compression strap. Not a bad score in my book for a slim-looking 35L ruck. The waist belt includes semi-stiff cord hangers for all the extra stuff you want to keep close at hand when climbing or hiking - these can be carabiners, loops, climbing tools or pouches for extra stuff, a small water bottle, etc. Actually it's hard to imagine a climbing pack without such hanger loops. And last but not least, the Alpha AR 35 is hydration compatible too. I used a 3L Source heat insulated system, which fits great.

Arc'teryx Alpha AR 35


Performance

Space and Access

With approxitely 35 liters in volume (and I'd call it a conservative measure), which could be extended to about 40+ in overstuffed mode, it's spacious enough for any day trip and most weekend mountain hikes too. There's no side zipper, which could add unnecessary weight and compromise overall durability and weatherproofness. As an AR class product it's good not just for technical alpine sports. I used it as a day hiker in September and October for hiking with kids and it was big enough for the necessary stuff including extra water, food, jackets for the kids and more. It really is a fairly sized pack, which can be easily and efficiently stuffed with all the gear you may need.

Arc'teryx Alpha AR 35

Also the top opening is big enough to store a helmet inside right on top of stuff under the lid. I was easily able to store a winter alpine touring/climbing helmet in XL size, which fits great.


"With approxitely 35 liters in volume (and I'd call it a conservative measure), which could be extended to about 40+ in overstuffed mode, it's spacious enough for any day trip and most weekend mountain hikes too."


Arc'teryx Alpha AR 35

Pockets and Organizing

Apart from a small internal zippered back pocket it's just one big sack. Plus there is a small hidden zippered pocket under the lid, and spacious main lid compartment with laminated waterproof zipper and key cable inside. Well, it's an alpine pack, so it's just what could be expected. Some of my friends wished for side bottle pockets since this pack belongs to the AR line of products and not SL or FL, but it's still a climbing pack so I'm fine with such a streamlined approach.

Arc'teryx Alpha AR 35

Comfort

Yes, it is a comfortable pack! No question about it. The thermoformed shoulder straps have integrated foam padding and it all works great. They're fully adjustable with a sternum strap and load lifters on top, so you can adjust it as you want. The pack comes in two sizes, standard and short. I'm 186cm and the standard fits great. But really key to comfort is the waist belt. It's thermoformed and padded as well, and permanently stitched to the pack (it can be reversed if needed). It can really and I mean REALLY transfer a lot of weight to the hips! Something which is almost impossible in the classic 'webbing and two hip pads' configuration commonly found on pure climbing packs. So you can really haul considerable weight in and on the pack, including your skis, crampons, piolet and other heavy stuff - been there, done that. And with much greater comfort than you could imagine on a climbing pack. Thanks to the bendable stay you can configure the Alpha AR 35 to create an air slot between the pack and your back, so it's not a totally back-sticking, non-ventilated pack like it'd be with a no-stay construction.

Arc'teryx Alpha AR 35

I've also been using my AR 35 in lidless mode (frame sheet removed, just with foam) for regular skiing and it performed flawlessly. It stayed close, moved with my body, didn't really change the center of gravity, and when compressed it could be easily worn on my back on a ski lift.

Arc'teryx Alpha AR 35

Weatherability

The Alpha AR 35 features sealed stitching and weatherproof materials and construction, including a WaterTight™ zipper on the lid. No need for a protective cover when using the pack; it's a great choice for use in bad weather conditions, rain or snow.

Arc'teryx Alpha AR 35

Carry-on-ability

The overall size also makes it usable as carry-on luggage. When traveling to the Alps recently I had no problem taking it on board with me. Thanks to the flat straps and reversible hip belt it fits perfectly in an overhead bin.

Arc'teryx Alpha AR 35


The Good

- High-tech materials, especially that new LCP technology in the ripstop outer fabric, which makes it light and super tough at the same time
- Good overall design, slim and slick
- Scalability and adaptation to many uses: technical climbing, ski touring, downhill skiing, general hiking
- The manufacturer's price point ($219) is fair, to say the least

Not So Good

- Some would like to have side bottle pockets in the AR class pack
- A removable waist band could be a good thing sometimes
- It's available in just two light and bright colorways

Arc'teryx Alpha AR 35


Alternatives to Consider

The Patagonia Ascensionist 35 springs to mind immediately. It's a great pack (I've got it in my closet, it's a classic) but definitely not as durable as the Alpha AR 35. The Black Diamond Creek 35 would be a great climber's choice too but it lacks all-round use other than actual climbing. The Osprey Mutant 38 is a very good overall alpine pack but I'm not sure if it features as robust fabric as the Alpha AR 35.

Arc'teryx Alpha AR 35


Verdict

Generally speaking the 35L alpine pack segment is extremely crowded. Most manufacturers offer several models between 30 and 40 liters as it's a very versatile volume - good as a daypack, but big enough for light and fast weekend outings too. As a result each and every manufacturer makes such packs loaded with features, full of bells and whistles. The Alpha AR 35 is more streamlined, but still packed with features (some not obviously visible until you know about them). It's also the newest addition to the 35L alpine herd so it benefits from the most advanced technologies and materials. It's super tough, weather-sealed, lightweight for all the features you get (41 oz) and adaptable to almost any mountaineering scenario you want, summer or winter. With a $219 manufacturer's price tag for all that (plus Arc'teryx's reputation) it's actually a great deal and you get as much value for your money as probably never before from Arc'teryx! It could easily cost more and it'd still sell well. So...is it the "one alpine pack, which rules them all"? In the end only you can tell. But whatever your opinion is, if you're in the market for a new alpine pack of 30-40 liter size the Alpha AR 35 is a must on your shortlist. In my case, it's staying in my pack closet for good!

BTW Arc'teryx, just a hint: make it also part of LEAF in Crocodile and Wolf colorways and your sales should double.

Arc'teryx Alpha AR 35


Photography by Piotr Ma & Maria Ma.

The Breakdown

1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10

Geek (Performance)

Space & Access
7
Organization
6
Comfort
7

Style (Design)

Look & Feel
10
Build, Materials & Hardware
10
Features
8

Stoke (Experience)

Warranty & Support
10
Brand experience
10
Value
9
X Factor
9

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