Despite a good first impression, I didn’t expect the Sweet Pea to become my go-to backcountry skiing pack last winter. Initially, it seemed lacking in certain features I wanted. Like small, organizational pockets – this pack had none. I’ve always had a separate shovel pocket, this was also missing. Plus, the Sweet Pea is heavy for the amount of volume.
But looking back on my season, I can think of at least three treasured packs that saw not a day on my back. They missed a season of gentle flakes falling upon them. I never gazed upon them longingly, awaiting the moment we would venture into the backcountry together. No, three different packs were treated as lepers, heaped into a corner while another stole my heart.
I kept going back to the Sweet Pea because after a few test days, it made a “sweet” second impression. Initially, I did a few summer and fall hikes before a backcountry skiing trip to Montezuma Basin in October. Immediately I was sold on the perceived size of the pack. It felt larger than it’s claimed 2000 cu. in. (33 L). This is largely due to its unique, Y-shaped 3Zip design which allows for both top loading and semi-front loading of the pack, depending on need and preference.
An external compression panel (the Stick-it Pocket) was the second feature to get my attention. One of my goals this past winter was to take a helmet into the BC more often than not. A big hindrance to this was my dislike of having a helmet swing around while loosely strapped to my pack as I climbed. The Sweet Pea held my hardhat solidly in place, fully cradling my huge army helmet (aka: Smith Hustle), so I didn’t notice it while climbing. The advantage of the Sweet Pea design over many other packs with compression panels is the ability to “accordion” open into a semi-dome shape around a helmet, climbing rope or extra shoes.
On the descent, I never felt unnecessary swing weight in the Sweet Pea. It hugged my back and was out of mind when skiing.
A feature that I haven’t searched out in a pack since the 90’s that came to use regularly was the external water bottle pockets. This was a huge plus as my current bladder developed a leak, and I was too cheap to replace it, so I defaulted back to bottles. The pockets have ski slots for your boards to slide in behind for an A-frame carry system, while keeping water available while boot packing. A hydration bladder sleeve is also available inside the pack, though I found it made a great extra pocket for gloves and radios.
When backcountry skiing on Independence Pass this spring, I ran into Bozeman native, Kate Howe, who lovingly referred to my Mystery Ranch pack as a “Pack of Doom.” I thought perhaps she was implying the pack would self destruct. But no, quite the opposite. Her take was pure praise. This burly pack is made of 500 Denier Cordura with a DWR treatment and Teflon coating in high wear areas that will not wear out anytime soon. It’s more likely to send you a postcard from Armageddon than see an early retirement. That being the case, I wish my old packs the best of luck in the future, and hope they can find someone else to make them happy.
(Guest blogger profile: Dave Downing and his wife Jessica live in Carbondale, Colorado, where Dave is a freelance designer and owner of Ovid Nine Graphics Lab. Dave continues to hold the household Wii Ski Jump record.)