Dynafit Cho Oyu Pack Review — New Tricks for the Old Dog

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This post by WildSnow.com blogger  

Michael Kennedy

MK with the Cho Oyu, 48 hours ago.

MK with the Cho Oyu, 48 hours ago. Enoying a bit of Colorado low density fluff.

For years I subscribed to the idea that one should own a single pack for climbing (winter and summer) and backcountry skiing. That meant a top-loader with about a 50-liter capacity to fit all the ropes, hardware and other junk required for ice climbing, compression straps to reduce the volume as needed, and a minimum of extra pockets and other doo-dads.

I gradually came to accept the idea of owning a few more specialized packs for different activities, although I continued to basically throw everything into a big sack and root around (or dump it out) to find what I needed. The past few winters, though, a newer breed of lightweight, backcountry-ski-specific packs seemed to offer significant advantages in terms of weight, comfort and function. Intrigued, I figured I’d check out the Dynafit Cho Oyu 35.

You probably can't get a cleaner pack that still has a ski carrying system, ice axe holder, more.

You probably can't get a cleaner pack that still has a ski carrying system, ice axe holder, more.

 Ski carrying system and ice axe holder tuck away when not in use; handy skin pocket is easily accessed in the field. Skins can also be stuffed in the deep external mesh pocket on the left side of the pack.

Ski carrying system and ice axe holder tuck away when not in use; handy skin pocket is easily accessed in the field. Skins can also be stuffed in the deep external mesh pocket on the left side of the pack. Note the ski carrying system includes a strap and 'hook' mounted on the right shoulder strap, typical of all Dynafit and many other European brand ski touring packs.

Zippered skin pocket keeps your fur separate from other goods.

Zippered skin pocket keeps your fur separate from other goods. Ski loop (lower left) is adjustable. Agile users can mount skis without removing the pack.

One of the first things I noticed was the Cho Oyu weight, or lack thereof. My one-size-fits-all 50 liter pack weighs 1660 grams/58.5 ounces, while my slightly smaller 45 liter pack tips the scale at 1616 grams/57 ounces. Cho Oyu 35 weighs 1226 grams/43.2 ounces from the factory (I leave the insulated Summit-Comfort cushion and the shoulder strap mounted bottle holder at home, saving an additional 110 grams/3.9 ounces). The weight saved over my other packs is significant. And the 35-liter capacity Cho is totally adequate for day tours if a bit tight for a hut trip — just make your partner carry the wine.

Comfort, “ski-ability” and easy access to the essentials are where the Cho Oyu 35 really shines. The lightly-padded shoulder straps, waist belt and foam/aluminum tube frame system spread the load effectively. With the modest amount I generally carry for mid-winter tours in Colorado — less than 20 pounds including food and water — I barely noticed the Cho Oyu 35 on my back. (Throw in another 15 pounds of food for a hut trip and you’ll start to feel it, so I’d switch to a bigger pack with a more robust suspension system for loads approaching 40 pounds.)

I tried the Cho Oyu 35 both with and without the easily-removed aluminum frame. Without, you save a little weight (70 grams/2.5 ounces) and the foam back panel folds out of the way, making for even more convenient packing. In the end, though, the frame improves the carry enough to be worth keeping. Note that most people will want to custom-fit the frame; simply bend to more closely mimic the curve of your back and re-install.

Panel-loading of the Manaslu 35 is a favorite feature. It is far easier, in the field, to find what you are looking for, a revelation for someone used to rummaging around in a top loader. What’s more, the relatively small size and minimalist design of the Cho Oyu 35 forced me to both rethink what I was carrying and to exhibit greater discipline in how I packed.

Packing for backcountry skiing and touring.

Packing for a typical mid-winter Colorado ski tour. Bottom “Safety Box” (viewed from the side in this photo) compartment for lesser-used items: repair and first aid kits, lightweight bivy sac and puff pants for emergencies. Note the Safety Box is also intended for things like quick access to a rope or crampons if you're dealing with technical travel, idea being you can reach back and pull out your rope without removing the pack, ditto for your spikes.

My new approach to packing is still a work in progress. But for now I’ve streamlined and updated my first aid and repair kits, further refined my clothing and glove systems, and have generally pared down what I carry.

Another side view of  of Safety Box

Another side view of Safety Box

Key is to pack so the weight is low and close to your back. My lesser-used and heavier items fit nicely in the bottom “safety box” compartment, accessed by the Velcro flap on the side. Everything else goes in the main compartment and the voluminous top flap. Items I really need are easy to get to. The bucket-shaped top compartment of the Cho Oyu is especially good for goggles, sunglasses, sunscreen—-all the little things that tend to get lost in a larger compartment.

Main compartment, panel loading flap open. Probe and shovel handle ride in horizontal fabric tube visible at top.

Main compartment, panel loading flap open (aluminum tube frame has been removed so the back panel can be folded out of the way for clarity). Probe and shovel handle ride in horizontal fabric tube visible at top.

Lightweight items—-shell and warm mitts—-towards the outside, heavier thermos/water bottle and food bag next, insulated and nestled in a puffy outer layer. Shovel blade fits on top.

Lightweight items—-shell and warm mitts--towards the outside, heavier thermos/water bottle and food bag next, insulated and nestled in a puffy outer layer. Shovel blade fits on top.

Probe and shovel handle slide into a sleeve accessed through the Cho Oyu top flap. The shovel blade lies flat against items packed in the main compartment — you’ll want a small-to-medium blade like the Backcountry Access B-1 or B-2 for the best fit. It’s a minor inconvenience to remove the shovel blade to access the main compartment, and you won’t want to space it out when you pack up after lunch. Not a big deal from my perspective but some may miss a dedicated shovel pocket.

Getting there with my loading method.

Getting there with my loading method. Puffy layer for nesting things.

Shovel blade is last thing I load under panel, oriented with curve of back frame.

Shovel blade is last thing I load under panel, oriented with curve of back frame.

 Bucket-shaped top compartment works well for goggles, sun glasses, lightweight gloves, visor, sunscreen, etc. Probe and shovel handle slide nicely into built-in sleeve. Note that none of this is packed very tight, there is still plenty of room for extra layers, another pair of gloves, etc.

Bucket-shaped top compartment works well for goggles, sun glasses, lightweight gloves, visor, sunscreen, etc. Probe and shovel handle slide nicely into built-in sleeve. Note that none of this is packed very tight, there is still plenty of room for extra layers, another pair of gloves, etc.

WildSnow.com, "everything shall be modified." In this case, safety buckle on the Safety Box. Another method is to thread the shoulder strap (visible) though the Safety Box pull loop.

WildSnow.com, "everything shall be modified." In this case, safety buckle on the Safety Box. Another method is to thread the shoulder strap (visible) though the Safety Box pull loop. Click image to enlarge.

Minor mod and a few cons: The Velcro flap on the “Safety Box” blew open a few times, probably due to inattention on my part. I never lost anything, but I added a buckle to make it bombproof. The closure is now much more secure but still convenient to access. For those adverse to sewing, you can “safety” the Safety Box flap by threading the shoulder strap through it. Only other mod I can think of is I’d love to see Dynafit add lightweight (optionally removable) side compression straps to the Cho Oyu 35. I haven’t missed compression straps all that much, and have come to appreciate the clean, no-frills exterior. But when the pack is lightly loaded it tends to move around a bit without a way of stabilizing the load. One small gripe is the tiny “sunscreen pocket” on the waist belt. It’s so small and mounted so far back it’s nearly impossible to access while you’re wearing the pack. Also, note that some etailer specifications state this pack has “rope attachment eyelets.” We couldn’t find any such thing, though we’d like to have them.

Overall, this a truly excellent backcountry skiing backpack. WildSnow many thumbs up!

Shop for Dynafit Cho Oyu backpack rucksack. (Reasonably priced, in our opinion.)

(Michael Kennedy probably needs no “Guest Blogger bio,” but for those of you wondering: Longtime (former) owner and publisher/editor of Climbing Magazine, former editor of Alpinist Magazine, pioneer alpinist, longtime pro photographer. And yes, ski mountaineer of many decades… There you go.)


23 Responses to “Dynafit Cho Oyu Pack Review — New Tricks for the Old Dog”

  1. Bruce December 22nd, 2013 2:07 pm

    I was hoping you would comment on the ski carry system. I’ve tried the Manaslu 35 with the same carry system as the Cho Oyu and while it worked fine for my narrow and light racing skis it was totally worthless for my fat powder skis. The stretch webbing that the shoulder strap hook is attached to allows heavier skis to rotate to the point they’re riding nearly horizontally. Another problem I’m looking for a solution to is a good carry system that works with boots attached to the skis. The approach to many of the places where I go spring skiing sometimes requires a few miles of walking and unless my pack is large enough to accommodate my boots inside the pack they need to be attached to the skis. I’ve ended up carrying a larger pack that I’d like for the boots or I’m forced to use an a-frame carry system. How have the rest of you solved this?

  2. Zoran December 22nd, 2013 3:22 pm

    Thanks MK,

    I would like to secure Safety box on my Cho Oyu. I was looking to put some lightweight carabiner there instead of buckle (but I like how you did it). Thanks for this review of the pack.

    Design is not simple and it will take a little time to learn how to pack it nicely and access stuff effectively. It will get better over the time.

  3. Dan December 22nd, 2013 3:31 pm

    @Bruce. I have messed with the same issue for years trying various approaches and ended up generally, attaching my boots to the skis and using the “A frame” approach as you have done. That is until 2 years ago…I bought a pair of TLT5Ps, which are OK to hike in (my longest hike one way has been about 5 miles and they scramble OK too) and ski more or less OK, esp for spring and summer snow…generally used for ski mountaineering outings. I would use the TLT5Ps for winter POW days too if my feet didn’t freeze in them. 3 cheers for modern gear and wildsnow.com!!!

  4. mason December 22nd, 2013 3:34 pm

    No way. 2 separate compartments for shovel parts? Imagine the mess as you rush to rescue someone, and a total pain when digging lots of pits.

  5. Zoran December 22nd, 2013 5:29 pm

    Mason, I also prefer to have my shovel blade and handle at one place in the pack.

    I put my complete shovel, in the main compartment of Cho Oyu where MK put his shovel blade only. I have a large Mammut Alugator and fits (with handle dismantled into two parts). I don’t believe in small shovels. I also keep spare gloves for digging, where my shovel is.

    You could put probe there too and keep all stuff together, but I keep my probe in the probe compartment to have better Cho Oyu stability and form. It is very light pack.

    Depend on specific situation you will make decision, are you going for your shovel or for your probe. You don’t know until bad things happen and you are going to respond.

  6. kevin December 22nd, 2013 10:37 pm

    I am on my second Manaslu 35 pack. I really like the light weight. I like it’s layout better than the choy oyu. Althought the shovel pocket will only work with certain shovels. I have a G3. The quick ski attach works fine with my 110 mm skis. However it works better for a quick boot than a long approach. The Manaslu sets up A frame style for longer approaches(has side straps). The Safety Box is perfect for storing skins. Good light pack with plenty of room for an all day tour.

  7. Ryan December 23rd, 2013 10:27 am

    I am one who also tried the Manaslu and found the carry system to be insufficient. It is especially bad if the pack is really full. And although the Manaslu 35 is a 35 it doesn’t seem that big. Fine for half day trips but too small for anything serious.

    I thought some of the ideas behind the Manaslu were really very good, just not implemented for man sized skis or field tested. Most of the concepts work fine for a race day load, but not a backcountry excursion.

    So I would also be curious to see if the adjusted the ski carry system to handle bigger skis and how it works when the pack is actually full.

    I am a huge fan of packs with specialized pockets. I love being able to divide my gear and have quick access to important items like a shovel or be able to hide away things like crampons separate from my other gear. But this compartmentalizing essentially creates the “little” problem with packs. They end up reducing the overall use space and so you really need a slightly bigger pack than you would normally use. I still think it is worth it. I am not a weight weenie and value function over anything. Not having to dig through gear to get to say a shovel is invaluable.
    The other issue I find with this type is that the compartments themselves are rarely sized correctly. For instance, you will see a skin compartment that only fits 90 millimeter skins. It amazes me that the manufacturers don’t seem to get that we are now hiking with skis that are 110+ millimeters wide just at the base. It seems like a lot of gear testing is still done on 80-90 millimeter skis like these people live in medieval times. Or possible no field testing is done. Even if the skin compartment fits your skins, it should be usable with gloves on, not just in your living room.

    My recommendation is the summit beer test. Pack all your gear in these packs as if you are doing a one day summit attempt. If your gear is too crammed to fit a spare beer for the summit, then move on. Eventually you will find a match.

  8. Lou Dawson December 23rd, 2013 3:44 pm

    Thanks for the comments guys. We’ll mess around with the ski carry. Frankly, Colorado in our area is having a good powder season and we’ve thus not needed to carry our skis on our backs (grin), so that feature didn’t get much testing. Yet. Lou

  9. UpSki Kevin December 23rd, 2013 6:26 pm

    boot carrying: I’ve started clipping my boots onto my shoulder straps with carabiners so that they hang chest level front side- helps distribute weight front-back better.
    50L without compression straps would be a pretty sloppy bag for day tours.

  10. Paddy December 24th, 2013 4:40 pm

    Ryan, the funny thing is, all this stuff is designed in Europe where people really are mostly touring with 90mm skins etc.
    I just got the Dynafit Baltoro 42 pack for my birthday (their next bigger pack) and it solves a lot of the above problems — a bigger (fat skin friendly) “safety box” and a dedicated external shovel pocket. Though I’m just a couple tours (and a few days of ice climbing) into using it, I LOVE the shoulder strap water bottle sleeve. In fact a couple of my partners have even modded their packs to include one. I also think that with a small mod, the ski carry system could be made to work with boots attached to skis. I’ll experiment and get back. :-)

  11. AJScott December 25th, 2013 11:21 am

    I have the broad peak version from dynafit and have been very stoked on it! I too was in the same school of thought as Micheal, only owning one pack for snow and rock. I wanted a pack with a system for putting skis on and off with out removing the pack and that was how I ended up with the broadpeak. Before taking the pack out for a trip, I cut out all of the compartments in the pack as it just seemed like a waste for my style of packing. I still prefer a simple sack.

    The ski carry system has worked awesome for me, even with my large pow skis. I would recommend trying different positions for the metal hook and how it orientates the skis. There is a sweet spot for sure, and I fought the ski twist for a little while before I got it dialed.

    As far as the boots go, thats a bit of a crux as the A-frame is still the prefered method for that i guess. the front carry idea sounds worthy though, I will have to try that one on the next cascade slog…

  12. Ryan December 27th, 2013 11:16 am

    Thanks for the heads up about that pack. That is great news. I am going to have to go see it in person and get my hands on it.

  13. Trent December 28th, 2013 11:54 am

    Did anyone post about packing a helmet in this? I couldn’t find a mention of where to pack the helmet. I know a lot of manufacturers are including a helmet hood to attach it to the top of the pack. An insight would be much appreciated.

  14. Lou Dawson December 28th, 2013 4:08 pm

    No specific provision for helmet. Due to skimo racing style influence, helmets are worn more and more on the up as well as the down. I’d look elsewhere if you want a pack that’ll carry your helmet on the up. Lou

  15. Trent December 28th, 2013 8:37 pm

    Lou, thanks for the quick response. What does “skimo racing style influence” mean? I have a full ear coverage, racing helmet which is heavy for BC, but also appropriate for couloirs, I think. Happy to hear more.

  16. Brian December 28th, 2013 10:16 pm

    Hey Trent,
    We’re talking skimo racing, not alpine. Most of us are using light climbing helmets in the 7 ounce range. Think CAMP or Petzl, depending upon the size of your noggen. Since we race full gas with helmets without heat issues, many of us have started touring with them, especially on steeper, more exposed terrain. Although I shunned goggles for years for casual powder days, even in storms, preferring a visor and cycling glasses, I now have my helmet and goggle race set up so my eye balls are happier too.

  17. Lou Dawson December 29th, 2013 8:52 am

    Trent, it means wearing your helmet all the time. Lou

  18. Trent December 29th, 2013 7:17 pm

    Brian, Lou, thanks for the responses. Any concerns about the lack of ear coverage? Maybe the days of full ear, alpine helmets are coming to a close. I guess marginal safety/coverage losses on the descent would be offset by longer overall protection on the ascent? I never wear a helmet on the climb, nor even considered it, although it makes sense.

    Great site, appreciate the wisdom.

  19. David January 3rd, 2014 6:33 pm

    You say the pack weight is 43.2 ounces which is a little on the porky side for a lghtweight pack, but Dynafit and BC.Com both say 30 ounces, which is it? Thanks for the review.

  20. Trent January 4th, 2014 7:20 am

    Brian, or anyone, have any recommendations on sunglasses for the uphill? Skinning in cold weather in NH (-10 to 15 F) and my Brikos fog within the first 5 minutes of a 2 hour tour. Great shades for the descent…

  21. Trent January 14th, 2014 10:06 am

    Zoran, Mason, I’m also carrying the shovel blade and handle in the main compartment. My G3 Avitech handle will fit without breaking it down to two parts. Alongside the probe sleeve, on the right, there is a little slot that will allow you to place the handle nearly the full length of the pack. Basically, you’re placing the handle on the opposite side of the Safety Box.
    I’ve found it’s a better fit than cramming it into the probe sleeve and the forcing the zipper to close the top compartment.

  22. Laila February 21st, 2014 3:02 am

    So, within about two days of hearing about this style of pack, I now own one :roll:
    The safety box function is looking good, so I hope it works with a full pack in the field, without it spitting objects down the slope.

    I have a comment and 2 questions:
    Comment: the “skin pocket” on the outside looked to me to be made for a shovel blade, but was too small for mine. I think I’ll end up carrying my puffy there, as I like being able to stuff it and pull it out fast without snagging, and I dread rear-heavy packs.

    Question1: what is the loop at the top, on the one side, designed for? Carrying a rope somehow? I’m hoping to maybe jerryrig an A-frame carry with it.

    Question2: is there only one frame size? I have a medium back length for a woman, and have to crank down all the straps completely which makes it a bit squashed at the top.

  23. Laila February 21st, 2014 3:04 am

    PS. And the bottle carrier doesn’t work for small people as it interferes with my upper arm. Unfortunately, because it’s a great idea. Maybe I can shift it upwards.

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Welcome to Louis (Lou) Dawson's backcountry skiing information opinion website and e magazine. Lou's passion for the past 45 years has been alpinism, climbing, mountaineering and skiing -- along with all manner of outdoor recreation. He has authored numerous books and articles about backcountry skiing and is well known as the first person to ski down all 54 of Colorado's 14,000-foot peaks, otherwise known as the Fourteeners! Books and free back country news and information here, and tons of Randonnee rando telemark info.

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