Cilogear Ski Packs 2014 — Review

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I’ve always been a fan of durable yet minimalist mountaineering packs, such as the variety of models Cilo Gear creates. I’ve been using their packs for a few years, mostly for spring ski mountaineering and overnight trips.

Cilogear’s packs have always been targeted at climbers and alpinists, rather than skiers. Alpinists demand light stuff, and they also abuse it, so Cilo’s packs are fairly light while still holding up. That’s a big contrast to most ski packs, which while usually being durable also tend to have a cacophony of do-dads (e.g. excessive partitioning and other “features” built with unnecessarily heavy fabrics). Result is that ski packs are often much to heavy for their size. That’s one of the issues with airbag packs. Often the pack itself weighs 4+ pounds, so even with fairly light airbag hardware the resulting setup is heavy, but I digress…

30 liter Cilogear backcountry ski mountaineering pack.

30 liter Cilogear ski mountaineering pack.

Even though Cilo’s past packs have been excellent, their climber focus means they lack features that ski packs usually have. Most important are ski carry straps and shovel pockets. For years I’ve rigged up ski carry straps with the Cilo D-clip system and simply thrown my shovel in with the rest of my stuff. The jury-rigging works well for the ski carry, but the shovel rattling around in the pack can be annoying.

Good news is the wizards at Cilo recognized the need for lightweight “alpinist style” ski specific packs, and met it. Their ski pack line is only slightly modified from their climbing packs, but the changes are sufficient and effective. I’ve been testing a variety of these Cilo ski packs, but I’ll focus on the 30Z as it’s the pack I’ve used the most, and it incorporates all the ski-specific features.

The 30Z is a minimalist 30 liter pack, with one main compartment and only four pockets. It has a zipper lid with an interior pocket, a “ninja” pocket near the upper back, a shovel sleeve below that, and a spacious hip belt pocket. All except the ninja pocket are specific to the ski pack model. The other changes from the standard 30 liter Cilo pack are a-frame ski carry loops and burlier fabric in some areas to prevent ski specific wear. (The bigger models also have a side zipper to access the contents of the pack.)

Side access zip is incorporated on all Cilo ski packs larger than the 30Z

The 30Z shovel pocket simply consists of a few sleeves that hold a shovel, probe, and shovel handle. It’s light and minimal. The shovel sits next to the back, as opposed to most other ski packs out there. The location is meant to allow the shovel and probe to make the pack more rigid. The effect isn’t quite like a real frame, but it’s effective for the smaller loads used in a day pack. Unfortunately the location means that some bigger shovel blades might not fit. I tested it with a variety, and my K2, BCA , and Black Diamond shovels fit, however the giant blade on my old BCA shovel didn’t. If you carry one of the larger shovel blades, make sure it fits in the pack first before buying.

The shovel pocket against the back padding. You can see the minimal sleeves for shovel handle and probe. Nice and simple.

The shovel pocket against the back padding. You can see the minimal sleeves for shovel handle and probe. Nice and simple.

I’ve got mixed opinions on zipper closures on packs. On the one hand they are quick, and look nice and slick. However I’m always a bit worried about them blowing out; with a lid-and-drawstring pack, if one part fails, you can usually still close the pack somewhat effectively. The Cilo ski packs are available with either a zip closure or more traditional drawstring closure. It’s mostly comes down to personal preference. The 30Z has a zipper top, and I found it worked very nicely. The zipper isn’t as redundant in terms of durability as a drawstring, and it doesn’t allow for as much expansion. However, it’s quick and simple. Also, the zipper allows easier access into the pack when you have skis strapped to the pack. To be fair, because Cilogear packs have the modular D-clip system, if the zipper does fail, it’s easy to rig a strap to hold the lid closed instead. The other elements of the pack work just as well as ever.

The top zip on the Cilogear zipper packs. This replaces the traditional lid-and-drawstring. It makes the packs a bit cleaner and allows easier access when skis are strapped to the pack.

Check out our reviews of the 45 liter WorkSack, the 30 liter NWD WorkSack, and also a visit to their Portland factory. More, note that the seven of us on our 2010 Denali ski expedition all used Cilo expedition packs.

The Cilo styles of packs is awesome; the combination of lightweight minimalism with burly construction is killer. However, they aren’t for everyone. The fabric is strong but still somewhat lightweight — if you are super hard on your gear it will wear out. Also, I know many people are willing to carry more weight to gain more organization or easier access than the simple Cilogear packs offer. The ingenious D-clip system allows for ample customization, but can be a bit fiddly for people who just want a clean pack with hardly anything attached to the outside.

Weights of Cilogear packs are a bit ambiguous since they can be so heavily customized. However, here are the official Wildsnow weights for the 30Z pack I’ve been testing:

Stripped down pack bag (all optional items removed): 740 grams (1.6 lbs)
Back pad: 86 grams (3 oz)
Waist strap with pocket: 158 grams (5.5 oz)
Diagonal ski carry straps: 78 grams (2.75 oz)
Whole pack in my current setup: 1060 grams (2.3 lbs)


7 Responses to “Cilogear Ski Packs 2014 — Review”

  1. Charlie February 10th, 2014 1:50 pm

    If the pack is full, is it a challenge to extract the shovel blade from the against-the-back pocket? Comfort? Safe in the event of a tumble?

    My everyday, year-round, pack is a 30:30 GS. My probe lives in the backpad pocket, and it works great, no need for the sleeve.

    How well does the 30Z shovel pocket isolate the rest of the pack from avy tool snowmelt?

  2. Brett February 10th, 2014 4:29 pm

    Any comments on how it carries, max weight that would be comfortable to carry, photo of waist belt pocket (one reviewer said it was oversize and in the way) and explanation of the 30:30 sizing. Thanks.

  3. Plinko February 10th, 2014 5:01 pm

    Any word on MSRP?

  4. Louie Dawson February 10th, 2014 5:38 pm

    Charlie – I haven’t had much of a challenge extracting the shovel blade in normal use. However, if the pack is super loaded/has stuff strapped on top, then it’s of course more difficult to get inside. I think it probably depends on the specific shovel, but with BCA or K2 shovels that i use, it’s super comfy and I think it’d be too dangerous. The shovel pocket fabric appears to be coated and waterproof, perhaps to help with snow on the shovel, however I’m sure it would still get through a bit. I tend to be fairly careful to get snow of my shovel with any pack (easy with gloppy PNW snow). However, there aren’t any drain holes like an external pocket, so I imagine it’d be easy for snow on the shovel to soak gear.

    Brett- The cilo packs carry very well, the 30Z doesn’t have a rigid frame, but since it’s small it’d be hard to pack it enough to need that. The bigger packs have the same suspension/frame system as other Cilogear packs, in which I’ve carried easily the biggest loads of my life, and they worked very well. The waist belt pocket is big, but it’s also light fabric, so when not full it isn’t really in the way. I have a photo I’ll put up if I find it. I haven’t tested the 30:30, but from what I understand it’s simply a 30 liter pack that’s extended vertically (the main compartment is taller). This link explains it fairly well:

    MSRP (also found on Cilogear’s site):
    30Z: $189
    3030Z: $219
    40Z: $285

  5. JQ February 11th, 2014 9:45 am

    I just sprung for a Patagonia Ascensionist 35 L pack. Really a step up up from Patagonia’s old pack line. Super clean, internal frame. I put my shovel and probe into a stuffsack that now just lives in the pack. 30 oz. Hard to describe extension tube keeps skins separate from the rest if you desire. This pack has one small zipper. Pack I retired has seven. I would think this or the other 2 models might be worth a review. Love all the new light clean packs out there. The Cilo pictured seems to have a lot of straps and loops hanging about.

  6. Dave Cramer February 11th, 2014 2:07 pm

    JQ, let us know how the Ascensionist carries skis. Looks a little… minimalist.

  7. Harpo February 11th, 2014 4:31 pm

    I have used the cilo shovel pocket with a number of different cilo worksacks. It works great to hold my bd transfer 7 shovel as well as probe.

    I didn’t know u gifts used cilo packs on Denali. Which model did u use? I haven’t seen any reviews of the 75l worksack?

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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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