December in Colorado: With snow falling and temperatures plummeting in RMNP, this means it’s officially ice season. In the lower regions, above freezing temps mean it’s officially bouldering season at south facing blocs. In other words, conditions are right for strapping the ice tools to the pack one day and clipping the chalk bag to it the next.
With practically all forms of climbing in, I’ve been testing REI’s Pinnacle 35 ($129, 3lbs, 10oz.) climbing pack. It’s spacious, supportive and versatile enough to carry a rack and draws or tools and screws to the mountains.
At first glance, it looks like a rugged 35-liter waterproof bag with a bunch of clips, zippers and four pockets stuck to it. Looking closer, it has a full-length side zipper allowing access to the inside. Removable hip belt – be careful sliding it back in place as I ended prying a finger nail back getting trying to set it — straps and fancy buckles that are operable with gloves. It has parallel ice axe straps, loops for skis, hooks that can be used with a bungee chord to strap on additional items, and side straps for sleeping pads, jackets or a camp chair. Note: the straps on either side are long enough for a ¾ foam pad and just barely (Read: you have to fight the straps like a girl/guy? getting into tight jeans to fully fasten it.) for a full-length pad.
The high tenacity nylon/oxford nylon fabric means its designed to be loaded down and dragged through course rocks, stuffed with sharp crampons and jammed full of cams, nuts and biners. However, I did puncture a nail-width hole in the crampon pocket that runs the vertical distance on the pack. Granted, it was stuffed with two pairs of crampons, a thermos and gloves. The horizontal utility pocket above this was perfect for keeping handy items like sunglasses, energy bars and camera. Both pockets have waterproof zippers.
The top of the pack has a roll top closure and several strap options to compress the load. Too many options, actually, but luckily the straps are cross compatible so no matter which strap was used so long as the ends matched up they fit.
During a day of heavy snowfall I noticed the roll-top closure naturally folded shut which meant the goodies inside stayed snow-free and dry when the pack was technically open. This was a bonus. Inside the pack on either side of the body are sewn slings that worked great for clipping screws to. I kept a 100oz water bladder in the hydration sleeve (optional). Another water carrying option is the external “wand pocket” but be careful to strap the bottle in safely as it is shallow.
The internal frame stabilized the load when cross-countrying it through downed trees, knee-deep snow and river crossings. It has perforated shoulder straps for breathability, side pockets on the waist belt for keeping knuckle-size items, a sternum strap with emergency whistle (very loud), more straps for micro and macro adjustment, a big, sturdy haul loop and 3-D foam back support
Cragging/bouldering – the Pinnacle 35 worked adequately, if not overly designed with all the complicated straps. For ice and winter conditions the straps came into play but I still didn’t utilize them all – the pack is the like a Swiss Army tool; you never use everything it’s got but it’s nice to have options. And though the straps do work with gloves, they also take extra time to fasten shut, as they require an extra step over traditional buckles to lock in place. This caused mild impatience on behalf of one tester. The side access zipper wasn’t a feature I was really impressed by but then again I never asked someone to access the pack’s contents while hiking.
If you’re in the market for a cragging/alpine/rugged and spacious pack the Pinnacle 35 is just that. And if light is right, and you’ve found your niche sport, you can always cut off the extra straps off you won’t be needing on this already low-weight pack.