I’m a sucker for things that are simple, efficient and durable. The Mountain Equipment Tupilak 30+ alpine climbing pack certainly fits that description.
This is the most hardcore rucksack I’ve ever used, though I’m aware of others with similar attributes. No frills. All utilitarian grit. The Mountain Equipment website describes the largest of the Tupilak series as a “durable, highly weather-resistant yet lightweight climbing pack [that] is optimized for alpine and winter climbing on the steepest lines and biggest faces.” I have to agree that the Tupilak 30–the smallest of the series–lives up to the claim and thus deserves five stars.
At first I wasn’t sure whether to rate it four or five stars. The pack’s design simply does not pertain to most of the climbing I do (and by most people’s standards, I climb plenty). But I’ve never had to carry a leader pack for days up a technical, alpine-style climb in the Greater Ranges. Personally, I would like a hydration slot for a water bladder hose so that I don’t have to carry a bottle on my harness or dig it out of the top-loading sack, which has two closures–a drawstring with a flap (the “cowl,”) and a dry-bag-style roll-top inside. But on a demanding, high mountain climb, what are the odds that I would want a water hose hanging out that would be likely to freeze anyway? The other misgiving I had is that the high-density foam on the back panel is thin enough that I had to be careful when loading the pack or I’d end up with carabiners and bottles digging into my back. But again, how much cushion (bulk) would I want to lug up a route like the North Ridge of Latok I? As far as I can tell, the Tupilak is practical and shines for its intended purpose. It’s durable, lightweight, very weather resistant, and I hardly noticed any hindrance when I wore it on long, steep pitches where snow was dumping down the collar of my jacket. (And snow didn’t get into the pack at all, thanks to the cowl that closes back-to-front, toward the outside of the pack, shedding all the snow and water that would have collected in the top opening of other packs.)
The Tupilak is made in three volumes–30+, 37+ and 45+ liters. I include the “+” because the 30+ I used was easily rigged to carry about 37 liters worth of gear, including a coil of 70-meter rope that sidled nicely under the cowl and down the sides.
The Tupilak 30’s max weight with all the accessories is 730 grams (1.6 lbs.) and it can be stripped down to 520 grams (1.15 lbs.). The outer body of the pack is constructed with a trademarked “PACT” fabric composed of “densely woven, high tenacity Nylon” with “double rip-stop construction [featuring] a DWR face-coating and a water impermeable 25 micron TPU coating on the inside” (as described by Mountain Equipment’s website). In simple terms, that means the pack is highly resistant to punctures and tears, and is very water resistant. It even has an integrated roll-top closure inside the bag. By adding a little seam seal to a few seams on the outer panels, I would feel confident using the pack as a light-duty dry bag on a river or canyoneering trip. The weather-proofing is nice because staying dry in the mountains can make the difference between success and disaster.
There are only two zippers on the Tupilak packs and both zips are for accessing a small, floating pocket. One zipper is on the outside, just above the shoulder straps, and the other allows access from the inside. If the pouch isn’t needed, there are two internal snaps that allow it to be rolled up and kept out of the way. This pouch is also where to find the elastic “shock-cord system” that comes with the pack, which is nice to have for strapping crampons and other gear to the daisy chains that are stitched to the outside.
The cowl-lid is secured with a “Grappler” buckle–a metal clip that slides onto a tab of webbing that is skinny at the top and flares out at the bottom; the buckle securely pinches the tab and is opened by sliding it up and off the tab. I appreciated how easy it was to open or secure the buckle with gloved hands; same for the ice tool attachments, though the elastic cords that secure the tool handles can be a tad cumbersome with cold fingers in the snow. The other nice thing about all these basic, non-moving parts is that there are fewer breakable components.
I also have to mention how awesome this pack is when it doesn’t have anything inside–it packs nearly as flat as a poster board. I was recently able to stuff it into an overfilled suitcase and avoid checking an extra bag on a flight home. This packability is really nice on a big-wall ascent when two climbers share a single large haulbag but want to bring an extra backpack to distribute the load on the approach and descent.
Like I said earlier, the main drawback for the Tupilak is that it’s not convenient to use if you are looking for a backpack to use on casual outings where weather is unlikely to be a concern, or if you frequently want to access the main compartment. Another con is that it is a bit more expensive than some similar packs that are on the market. If I ever have the opportunity to go big in Pakistan or Alaska, though, the Tupilak will be nice to have.
Alpinist Digital Editor Derek Franz wore his dad’s orange Holubar backpack with leather straps that was made in the 1970s when he started hiking to alpine climbs at age 12.
Lightweight (max weight 730 grams/1.6 lbs.)
Highly weather resistant with internal roll-top closure–seam seal could allow the pack to be used as a light-duty dry bag in a pinch
Easy to manipulate buckles and attachments with gloved hands
Suspension allows a range of movement for climbing
Packs down flat when not in use
Internal roll-top closure makes the pack less convenient for accessing gear
Thin back padding requires careful packing to avoid discomfort
Does not have a hydration slot to accommodate a hose for a water bladder
More expensive than similar packs