By Austin Parker
on 6.28.13
Photo by Catherine Sawula

I struggle through a love-hate relationship with packs: I hate hauling heavy loads, but love all the spectacular places my packs take me and my gear. My wife says I have a borderline obsession with finding the right bag for my gear, and between all the sport-specific packs — backcountry skiing, ultra running, mountain biking, rock climbing, backpacking, and counting — crowding our basement gear room, I’m starting to believe her.

GP HEADS TO MOAB: Photo Essay: Climbing Ancient Art Tower | 72 Hours in Moab | Kit: Climbing Gear

Finding that elusive do-it-all pack is a grail search. Is there a pack out there that is equally at home in summer or winter, hauling big loads and small, and most importantly, one enjoyable to carry even loaded to the brim? In my never-ending quest to find that truly comfortable multipurpose pack, I turned to the Eddie Bauer Arclite ($169), a pack originally designed as a guiding pack for climbing expeditions with input from the legendary Ed Viesturs.

The quest for the “do everything” pack had so far been pretty ugly. Plenty of top-loading gear haulers have come and gone because they couldn’t take the daily abuse, didn’t fit all the necessary gear, or were simply uncomfortable (numb shoulders and arms are not the best way to start a day of climbing). The only way to find out where the Arclite stood was to put it to the test, so we decided to strap it on and head to our favorite sport climbing area up American Fork Canyon, UT.

In short, the Arclite performed admirably on some short treks around the climbing areas of the Wasatch Range. Of course, that wasn’t good enough.

The first thing I noticed was the space: it ate a 70 meter rope, 3 liter hydration bladder, and all of the gear and snacks needed for a solid day of climbing, with room to spare. On a few subsequent trips to our climbing gym and other local spots, I had to consciously not fall into the old trap: if you have space, you’ll find something ever heavier to carry.

The shoulder and waist straps were a welcome return to the purity of a dedicated mountaineering pack. I’ve had trouble in the past with packs that promise special adjustment for torso length and load size; it seems that no matter how many modifications you make, you’re always left with discomfort in one spot or another. The designers at Eddie Bauer solved this by eschewing the extra straps and cinches in favor of simplicity — it comes in three separate sizes rather than a one-size-fits-none-most design. This uncomplicated suspension system was equally comfortable carrying a light load to the local rock gym as it was hauling full loads of gear through the backcountry.

In short, the Arclite performed admirably on some short treks around the climbing areas of the Wasatch Range. Of course, that wasn’t good enough. We decided to really put it to the test on an expedition down to Moab, UT, in search of desert towers and whitewater (and a good place to swig a microbrew).

The red rock spires and sandstone arches surrounding Moab are notorious for putting climbing and hiking gear through an ungodly combination of sandpaper-like abrasion and oven-hot temperatures. Again, the Arclite’s 45 liters easily hauled all of our party’s heavy gear on the steep hike from the Castle Valley floor to Fisher Towers, and finally to our destination, Ancient Art spire. The comfortably padded harness system was a godsend on our pre-dawn approach hike, but the almost overbuilt closed-cell foam shoulder straps and back pad did get a little hot should the temperature on your hike hit the triple digits; still, comfortably, securely humping a 40-pound load on technical terrain was a welcome trade-off with a sweaty back. A sneaky side zipper on the main body is an added bonus; I wasn’t constantly fishing down through racks of cams, carabiners, and rope to find anything. TPU coating on the back portion was designed to be abrasion proof — originally with crampons and mountaineering tools in mind — but it handled the Moenkopi Sandstone of the area equally well.

The real test however, came after our climb. The trek back to the parking lot is inevitably more painful and full of complaints than the hike up. Even after a hot day on the rock — sun and wind burn, bruises from wedging your body into awkward cracks and chimneys, and minor scrapes and cuts on just about every inch of exposed skin are par for the course — my fully-loaded Arclite was a breeze to carry. The only problem with that? I became the go-to mule for hauling the extra beer.

METHODOLOGY (1) Shove as much climbing and photography gear in the Eddie Bauer Arclite as possible. (2) Schlep your gear (and whatever your friends pawn off) into your pack for a few weeks of training for the big climb. (3) Hike directly up the steepest route to your climb. (4) Enjoy a celebratory beer, and repeat.