CiloGear Backpacks Factory Visit

Post by blogger | October 13, 2009      

WildSnow Denali McKinley 2010

On my way up to school in Bellingham, Wa, I swung buy the CiloGear backpacks factory and office. Located in a huge building that used to be the Columbia Sportswear factory, it took a while to find. The factory is a backcountry gear head’s dream, filled to the brim with packs, prototypes, and various high tech fabrics. (Previous post about CiloGear)

Cilogear was started in Turkey by Graham Williams, and then moved to New York, then to Portland, where it now resides. CiloGear makes well designed packs made from various long-lasting fabrics. His highest quality are made from 100 percent Dyneema, a super durable fabric that is 40 percent stronger than steel. These sacks are simple, durable, and built to last — all qualities I’ve learned to love in a backpack, and what we want on Denali this spring. The packs are also super customizable, as all the straps and many of the other features can be removed, reducing the weight a ton. A great idea, as I always end up chopping stuff off any pack I get.

We are indeed planning on taking a variety of CiloGear Dyneema packs to Denali. By doing so, we can have backpacks with plenty of volume so packing is easy, but they’ll weigh quite a bit less than an equivalent pack made with normal fabrics which have to be heavier and thicker. More, as mentioned above, CiloGear packs area easily stripped of extra weight, so that helps as well in comparison with packs that have so many straps and buckles they look like something out of a science fiction movie.

To keep costs down, Graham makes packs when orders come in, rather than keeping a stock of packs on hand. He says his crew can make most packs in under two hours. He speeds up the process by sewing together various parts ahead of time that work for a variety of packs and sizes. He keeps a supply of these on hand, ready to be assembled into full backpacks when the orders come in.

Bins stocked with Dyneema pack parts

Bins stocked with Dyneema pack parts

Checking out some samples of high tech fabrics. One felt almost like tissue paper to the touch, but I couldn't tear it, no matter how hard I tried.

Checking out some samples of high tech fabrics. One felt almost like tissue paper to the touch, but I couldn't tear it, no matter how hard I tried.

CiloGear packs are used by many world class alpinists, who’s old test packs are scattered around the place. Many of them have withstood amazing abuse without ripping. One was used as a weight tied to the ends of a rap rope to keep them from tangling on a descent of some huge wall in the Himalayas. It only had a few tiny holes.

It is sweet to see a small company making a quality product that just works on a small, sustainable scale.


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21 Responses to “CiloGear Backpacks Factory Visit”

  1. harpo October 13th, 2009 10:17 am

    I have a number of Cilogear packs and love them. With Grahams help, I have figured out a good way for a diagnol ski carry for them, and I had a local seamstress make a pocket for probes and shovel handle that attaches to the straps. Only thing I haven’t figured out is how create a pocket for the shovel blade. Best solution I have is to store the shovel blade inside the pack.

    Do you have other suggestions on carrying the shovel blade on Cilogear packs?

  2. Mike Carr October 13th, 2009 4:42 pm

    Sorry to be off topic but I thought this would be buried if I went back to a boot thread. I was talking to a “pro” skier just back from Argentina who said Rick Sylvester was on some new Salomon AT boots. Two or three buckle and high tech/high performance like their new Ghost alpine boot. Have you heard anything about these (before I get some Radiums)?
    Thanks Lou.

  3. Lpelleg October 13th, 2009 4:48 pm

    The Cilo pack is awesome. Can you tell me what method Graham gave you in order to carry the skis diagonally?

  4. Jonathan Shefftz October 13th, 2009 5:58 pm

    “Have you heard anything about these (before I get some Radiums)?”
    – A friend has a pair — he’s got them via an old high school ski buddy who’s now a Salomon alpine products manager.
    – Sounds like a nice boot, including Dynafit compatibility. (Although of course that’s redundant, since I wouldn’t say it’s a nice boot unless it was Dynafit compatible.)
    – Over this past summer, the manager told me it wouldn’t be available until the 2010-11 season.

  5. Gray October 13th, 2009 6:33 pm

    I have a Cilogear pack and love it.
    -It is really customizable and comfortable. One of the great things is that if you manage to break or otherwise damage a strap it is really easy to replace them. This could be a really helpful feature for Denali.
    -(You can make your own straps if you want extras. I have even made extra straps from old bike tires. These are great for skis, not as durable as hypalon or other super durable fabrics but very functional and durable.)
    -I also have not found a really good way to carry a shovel. I have carried it inside the pack without too much trouble.
    -I have also used my thermarest in place of the removable back support. This is a great way to save space and weight.

  6. Gillesleskieur October 14th, 2009 3:10 am

    Salomon will realease 300 pairs of the Quest this coming season. the boots are likely to hit the market next winter 2011. they come with 3 buckles and changeales soles (sad to be with tec fittings)

    picture here:,MONTH,CHRA,RANFR,96184.html

  7. Gillesleskieur October 14th, 2009 3:12 am

    weight is 2.26kg.. ouffff..

  8. Pat October 14th, 2009 7:48 am

    I have a 20L and a 60L worksack. They’re both well designed, light, and durable. I use them for backpacking, rock climbing, ice climbing, and of course backcountry skiing.

    I do think that they could offer some accessories for backcountry skiers. A Dynafit/Camp style quick ski attachment system would be nice. (It’s a big easy to access loop on the bottom and a hook on elastic on the top.)

    For the shovel, I clip the holes in the blade with little key caribiners and clip them to the pack, then put the handle under the lid or through the haul loop. Works for me.

    For a probe, I either keep it inside or you can sew loops onto your bag that it comes in and put the side straps through them.

    Louie, I’m sure that you and your crew will pass on your comments and ideas to Graham. I wouldn’t mind seeing some ski mountaineering accessories on their website soon.

  9. Mark W October 14th, 2009 9:36 am

    Lofty cost aside, Dyneema fabric is amazing. Now if only we could also get Dyneema one-piece ski suits!

  10. Lou October 14th, 2009 9:50 am

    Ski suits, and it occurs to me that Dyneema would be the perfect thing to make luggage out of.

  11. Clyde October 14th, 2009 10:09 am

    Alas, Dyneema/Spectra packs are terrible for photos. White on white. I have a Kelty that should last another century. Great pack, boooring pictures. Ask for some red pockets or crampon patches–anything to give a little color pop. The white does get dirty fast too and I’m not one to wash packs.

  12. harpo October 14th, 2009 10:45 am

    Graham told me to thread Voile style elastic straps through the nylon webbing that attaches the d clips (or the other piece of plastic you attach the straps to), one at the top of the pack, one at the bottom, and secure the voile straps around your skis.

  13. shoveler October 14th, 2009 12:21 pm

    I’ll bet most packs are made from stuff like Dyneema once the price goes down. Seems like a no brainer. After all, how many years ago was it they invented nylon? Time for something new?

  14. Caleb October 14th, 2009 6:27 pm

    “A great idea, as I always end up chopping stuff off any pack I get. ”

    Understatement Louie?

    Can’t wait to check one of these things out. They sound perfect for expedition use.

  15. Marcus October 20th, 2009 10:08 am

    I added a couple of short lengths of webbing to the sides of my wife’s pack and she attached the ski carry straps from her BCA pack through these. You could easily do the same with a pair of Voile straps on either side.

    Love the Cilogear packs. Harpo, you have any pictures of the custom probe/handle pocket you had made? I’d like to see them, and a shovel blade/beaver tail as well.

  16. harpo October 21st, 2009 10:28 am

    M, my pocket is really simple, modeled off of a smaller pocket I purchased years ago. Simple tube with zipper and cap at the top and webbing stiched to the back that the removable Cilo straps can go through.

  17. Marcus October 21st, 2009 10:46 am

    Sounds like a nice addition, thanks. Keeping that gear accessible has been the only issue for her with the worksack… not that it’s THAT hard to get it out, but it’s nice to keep it near the surface when the pack’s fully loaded.

  18. Gray October 22nd, 2009 11:58 am

    Along with accessibility. Lou, what do you prefer; shovel inside the pack or attached outside the pack?

  19. backpackfactory August 11th, 2012 2:58 am

    a lot to learn from!

  20. Brian Hall August 11th, 2012 9:10 pm

    Would like to find a light, well vented helmet that I can wear all day. Do climbing and ski helmets offer comparable protection?

  21. Lou Dawson August 12th, 2012 1:11 pm

    Gray, inside the pack. I don’t use my shovel much.

    Brian, sadly, both ski and climbing helmets offer very little protection. In terms of what I’d use for skiing or climbing, ski or climbing helmets are roughly equivalent in terms of protection, personally, I’d pick based on comfort and how well the helmet protected against penetration from things like sharp branches, as well as how well the helmet covered the head (some of the helmets out there leave quite a bit of area exposed.

    A few recent and high profile accidents illustrate how far we still have to go with so called “ski helmets” offering adequate protection for skiers, starting with Lindsey Vonn a little while back and going to a few other incidents I don’t care to appear crass by pointing fingers at.

    Let the screaming commence, and yes, helmets do protect a bit more than a knit cap and I wear one myself on occasion, but I’m not letting a bunch of marketing people and peer pressure tell me it’s good enough. It could be much much better.


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