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Arc’teryx Alpha AR 55 for sale: Tested

The Arc’teryx Alpha AR 55 is designed for multi-day climbs, but it’s also not a bad trekking pack, as we discovered deep in the rugged Yukon.

Finding the perfect multi-day pack, whether for climbs and/or treks, is like searching for that ‘unicorn’. It’s near-impossible and will depend on a number of factors, such as load, how long you intend spending in the wild, what equipment you need to carry (climbing ropes, trekking gear, clothing, food, etc.) and how much of said equipment you can fit in the pack. This question came up recently on a three-day trek in the Yukon Territory’s Tombstone Territorial Park. Perhaps surprisingly – for the fact I was trekking – I opted for a more climbing-oriented backpack: the Arc’teryx Alpha AR 55. But hear me out…

The Arc’teryx Alpha AR 55 was loaded up with plenty of gear for three days in the wilderness of Tombstone Territorial Park, Yukon Territory.

Design

Backpacks designed for multi-day climbs are the pinnacle of compromise. They have to be lightweight but have to be ‘heavy’ enough to carry some big loads – and they also have to be robust; dragging, dropping and scraping through sharp, unforgiving, mostly rocky or icy terrain means the multi-day climbing pack can exhibit no fragility in its fabrics or design. For this tester, having been on a number of multi-day climbs and treks, it is this outright bombproof-ness (nah, I dunno if that’s a real word, either, but it’ll do) that has led me to, in nearly all circumstances, opt for a climb pack over one that is designed purely for trekking. Hence, that was my main reason for choosing the Alpha AR 55, accompanied by numerous lesser, but still important, others…

The Alpha AR 55 (AR stands for “All Round”) weighs in at a svelte 1.36kg and is of a relatively minimalist design that incorporates some unique key features, reflecting the decades of experience Arc’teryx has in designing gear for extreme environments. The pack includes a removable frame-sheet and lid; primarily designed for that summit push, I found this very handy for a day walk from our campsite in Tombstone, where I could strip the pack down but still lug enough food, water and extra layers. There is a WaterTight™ full-length side-zip which did, indeed, prove itself a reliable barrier to moisture on one rainy day (the pack lid also has the same zip set-up), a unique pull-to-open/pull-to-close drawcord that is quick and allows easy access to the main compartment, six lash-points that combine with a large bungee-cord section at the back of the pack, and padded shoulder straps and hip-belt. There’s also a main strap running vertically to secure ropes under the lid, and a hydration bladder sleeve inside (as well as a side pocket that’ll fit a large water bottle). In short, most things you need and no superfluous accoutrements. 

The hook-and-loop buckles take a bit of getting used to; the pack carried an impressive amount of gear for this three-day trek.

One of the pack’s unique features is its buckle design. Rather than the usual clip-style buckle, these are a hook-and-loop style. These look to be actually more up to rough treatment than a regular clip setup, but they are smaller than what you’d expect, making them less ‘easy’ to use when wearing gloves. Having said that, during testing, there were no issues with their function. The outer fabric is a very hard-wearing Liquid Crystal Polymer (dubbed “Hadron”) with a ripstop grid through it. For a climb-oriented pack, the Alpha AR 55 is what you could call slightly rotund (for want of a better word) in terms of its shape, compared to the more typical narrow base found on packs for the vertically inclined, but not too wide as to offset your balance when climbing, etc.


In the field with the Arc’teryx Alpha AR 55

For a climbing pack, the Alpha 55 makes a reliable, no-frills trekking pack, too. Impressively – and probably thanks to that ‘rotund’ shape – it swallowed a ton of gear for the trek, including the huge bear barrel I had to take by law in Tombstone Territorial Park, along with all my clothing, my share of the food, trekking poles, a two-person tent, a water bladder (and extra water bottle) and camera gear. 

Weight-wise, I was probably carrying around 16kg. This weight was noticeable but not overly so. Initially, I was concerned about the minimalist shoulder straps and waist-belt not providing enough support and comfort, but this proved not to be the case, generally. The only thing I would’ve liked was for the waist-belt to have a flex-point; both sides of it are stitched to the pack, so there is minimal swivel on offer, which resulted in a slightly inhibited walking style for the first day until my body adapted. For climbers this may or may not be more of an issue; when scrambling up a mountain, the ability of a pack to move with its wearer is an essential. 

The WaterTight zips work as claimed, while the Liquid Crystal Polymer outer fabric (dubbed “Hadron”) is plenty tough.

Besides the aforementioned small-ish buckles and their hook-and-loop style (again, after a few goes it became second-nature), there was little that didn’t ‘work’ straight away with the pack, reflecting the experience Arc’teryx has in designing functional and tough outdoor gear. The full-length side-zip access is a boon for climbers who carry their ropes looped through the top of their packs. Surprisingly, I also came to appreciate it when trekking; being able to zip it down and reach to the lower pack sections for an extra layer quickly was very handy. 


The final word on the Arc’teryx AR 55

For alpine and rock climbers who spend days in the field, the Arc’teryx Alpha AR 55 offers all they will need (indeed, we intend hanging on to the pack for just this purpose and will post a long-term online review here a later date). It is designed to withstand serious punishment, while offering the essential functionality that a remote climbing expedition requires. This makes it a viable option for anyone who both treks and climbs, as it – again – has all the features you need (and none you don’t) for a week-long trek. 

Arc’teryx gear is never cheap, but it is this versatility, when added to its light weight, tough construction and clever overall design, that alleviate the sting of the Alpha AR 55’s asking price somewhat to what we reckon is decent value for money.





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