Reviewed: 05 October 2009
ALPINE THOROUGHBRED THAT CROSSES OVER TO TREKKING WITH EASE
Clean, efficient design. High quality materials and workmanship. Light weight sack which carries well above its class. Stable pack with very good freedom of arm movement for its size. Backed by excellent Crux customer service.
Floating lid tends to slide backwards exposing the less robust fabric of the bellows closure when the pack is not fully packed. Shoulder straps are tailored to complement relatively flat shoulder profile so may not suit all body shapes. Waist belt susceptible to attack by the dreaded Velcro!
While Crux could never be considered mainstream – at least not yet – it certainly isn’t ‘cottage industry’ either. So it’s pretty remarkable to see a pack this ‘pure’ with such high manufacture standards without having to go for a made-to-order alpine specialist. However, despite this thoroughbred design ethic, the pack performs extremely well in a variety of non-climbing contexts from trekking to global travel (where it’s tidy design and robust materials have proven their worth many times over in the airports I’ve passed through).
The back system is simple but effective; a single shaped aluminium tube forms an extended M shape and the top corners connect directly into the haul loop. The backing material is a non-absorbent neoprene-style fabric that is comfortable against a baselayer but it’s really meant for winter conditions when water absorption equates to freezing potential. The waist belt consists of profiled fins that run the load over the hips and then a standard buckle that can easily be folded back behind the pack for use with a harness. Simple it may be, but as with other reviewers I’ve been impressed by the comfort achieved on moderate (10-15kg loads) and it remains tolerable to 25-30kg which is as far as I’ve pushed it load lugging on the flat. Of course, for serious loads there are better carriers (such as my own Macpac Glissade) but these are bulky and weigh three or more times as much as the impressive 1.3kg of the AK57. In fact, I’d say the back system works best when there’s a decent load (8kg plus) as the whole pack sits lower and the shoulder straps just seem to ‘work’ better.
I was initially a bit concerned that the shoulder straps sit very flat across the top of the shoulders due to their stiffness and the way they have been stitched to create a profile. My shoulders slope more than average, so at low loads only the inner edge of the shoulder straps touches my shoulder leading to pressure points. However, in ‘real use’ I’ve never really noticed a major problem, largely because of the beneficial effect of loading this pack that I mention above. Watch out for this when trying on, however, as it’s not the most tolerant back system for all users.
The fabrics are fantastic. The Keprotec (kevlar reinforced nylon) is effectively watertight and the seams are taped. Still, water can get in as there’s no tape against the back system and the floating lid doesn’t make a watertight seal over the pack but at least you can be sure that it won’t absorb a serious weight of water in a downpour, later to freeze up. It’s quite obviously one of the toughest fabrics on the market but doesn’t seem to weigh much despite this. My only minor gripe, materials wise, is the fact that when I clipped my compact camera case to the waist belt, the Velcro made a mess of the waist belt. This hasn’t happened to me before on other webbing materials. From that point on I made use of the little loops installed on the hip fins by adding some cord.
The AK57, as with the AK47 X, has a floating (removable) lid to allow for a massive expansion of capacity and to strip the pack down to its bare bones if necessary. It works very well when the pack is nearly full but without some support from underneath, it tends to slide backwards down the pack exposing the much less water & abrasion resistant fabric of the bellows lid. This is the first floating lid pack I’ve owned, so perhaps this problem is generic. But it does seem to me that there could be a way to clip the lid to the top of the back panel more effectively when the pack is less loaded. It partly depends on how you thread the webbing but even my best efforts weren’t 100% satisfactory. However, the M-shaped frame and ability to drop the lid backwards make this pack well suited to use with a helmet as the scoop behind the neck allows you to lift your head without restriction. This is, after all, a pack designed by a climber for climbers so the design compromise is a fair one.
In terms of features, there really aren’t many to comment on. The iceaxe loops use elastic and cordlocks to make a secure fit. I managed to break a cordlock – not sure when - but spares are available from Crux or Needlesports. There’s no elastic for crampons meaning you’ll either want to add some or use the floating lid. The tension straps are easily removed and reclipped and can be tightened at either end which gives you plenty of option of how to keep kit secured to the sides of the pack – and being removable you can strip them if needed. The drawcords on the bellows pockets are climbing-rated 4mm accessory cord that could serve in an emergency… but things would have to be bad to start cannibalising your pack! You could save further weight, if you wished, by replacing these for something less beefy.
Overall, this is a pack I am delighted to own and I can see it accompanying me on many an adventure! It's not cheap... but then quality rarely is.