Patagonia Descensionist 40L Ski Touring Pack — Tested

Post by blogger | November 21, 2017      
The full Descensionist kit dropping in near Arthur's Pass, NZ

The full Descensionist kit dropping in near Arthur’s Pass, NZ.

Last spring, Patagonia unveiled their new all-around backcountry touring and ski mountaineering line-up. In an effort to utilize quality features from their Ascensionist designs (alpine climbing focused), Patagonia has delivered a pack that outperforms their Snowdrifter series for a number of reasons.

The Descensionist pack is a 40 liter fully functional ski touring/mountaineering pack that has several ways to customize and modify some of its features. Those of you who are climbers, and have used the Ascensionist packs, will see many familiar components. The pack can be maxed out at ~40+ liters and also compressed down to a sleek rucksack for lift-accessed backcountry laps.

The Descensionist has an exterior tool pocket with bungies to organize your shovel handle and probe. I’ve been able to store a small mountaineering axe (52cm) in this pocket with everything else which helps to keep things super streamlined. I like the external pocket for skins as well; it keeps the wet stuff separate from gear that I like to keep dry.

Side accessed zipper

Side accessed zipper.

Top loader with the metal hook and loop closure.

Top loader with the metal hook and loop closure.

Ski carry loop on the right and an ice axe loop on the left (although my shortest axe fits in the tool pocket no problem).

Ski carry loop on the right and an ice axe loop on the left (although my shortest axe fits in the tool pocket no problem).

Another notable feature of this pack is the side-access zipper. This is handy for storing a water bottle or my collapsible poles, and allows me to just remove one shoulder strap to grab whatever I need quickly and efficiently. Note that side zippers can be a durability issue and they add a bit of weight, but in my opinion they’re worth those (for me) minor trades. Other than the side access, this is a top loader style with a draw-cord cinch that is quick to close and open. This style of pack does give flexibility with capacity, as it can be packed with more gear and still remain secure. I see this as a benefit for the hut trip approach march, while still having a reasonably sized day-touring pack.

As I mentioned above, there are numerous ways to customize the rigging on the pack. If you have a small load, then the lid can be tucked inside and the metal hook-style buckle can be threaded across to keep it closed — this gives you easy access to the tool pocket. Contrary to that, if you have a large load, you can re-thread the hook strap through the top of the pack to provide additional capacity.

If you’re a mono-planker like myself, Patagonia has your back and includes board carrying straps that allow for a vertical carry on the back. For skiers, you can either carry your skis A-frame style or diagonal carry. The bottom loop for the diagonal carry seems to be sufficiently burly, but I have noticed that there seems to be one weak-point in the stitching (this hopefully will have changed for full production versions, check while shopping). On the note of versatility, this loop can be either moved to the other side, or removed altogether if you know you’re not a diagonal-carry person.

The removable foam pad is good for cutting weight, or an emergency situation.

The removable foam pad is good for cutting weight, or an emergency situation.

Separate tool pocket.

Separate tool pocket.

My biggest qualm with the pack design is the lack of a helmet net. The 40L size allows you to store a helmet inside when you’re packing light for a typical day tour. However, I am a huge fan of an external helmet net in ski touring packs, especially when you’re packed to the brim with a full ski mountaineering kit.

Overall, this is a quality option for a non-airbag, or avalung equipped touring/mountaineering pack. Lack of helmet storage is my only real con. The versatility in its rigging is functional, especially with features such as the removable foam pad, single hip belt pocket, and durable fabrics. This pack is leaps and bounds more user friendly than the Snowdrifter models. Recommended.

The Descensionist pack weighs in at 940 grams for a size medium.

Shop for the Descensionist here.


Please Enjoy A Few Suggested WildSnow Posts


26 Responses to “Patagonia Descensionist 40L Ski Touring Pack — Tested”

  1. Andy Carey November 21st, 2017 5:32 pm

    I’ve been enjoying my 30L Patagonia Snowdrifter since last spring; really like access through the back and snow tool/skin compartment on the outside. But my deep winter pack will remain my Deuter Guide 35+ L pack.

  2. Kristian November 21st, 2017 6:27 pm

    I used to alternate and pick packs based on expected conditions.

    Sometimes my expectations have been wrong because of where I actually ended up, conditions, weather, and even time of day (temperature).

    So….. Anytime I ski 30 degrees or greater, I take my airbag pack. Expensive and 1.5 kilos more, but I’ll have it on if ever needed.

    I’d like to see the avalung licensed or open sourced so that these would be an integral part of all airbag packs.

  3. See November 21st, 2017 8:47 pm

    I’m not sure why a helmet net is better than just having another 5 litres volume.

  4. wtofd November 22nd, 2017 7:45 am

    See, weight.

  5. Drake November 22nd, 2017 8:40 am

    Seems solid, disappointing that it only has a single traditional style ice axe carry rather than a modern duel carry for tech tools. I have an ascensionist 25L that i use for lighter ski trips and some ski alpinism style trips. I added a diagonal carry using a ski strap and one of the bottom loops. I also sewed in some elastic loops for a shovel handle and probe inside. It makes an absolutely fantastic day pack and its simplicity and carry style allows it to carry more than a lot of 30L+ packs.

  6. See November 22nd, 2017 8:58 am

    Ok, wtofd, but it’s not much weight, and a helmet carrier doesn’t protect the helmet as well, it is not as versatile as additional volume (only really works for helmet size and shaped things, and often not very well for them), it can complicate ski carry arrangements, it often involves fiddly hooks and webbing loops, it’s not as secure, it clutters up the outside of the pack where you might want to attach axes/shovel/etc., and it can hinder access to pack interior/pockets.

  7. wtofd November 22nd, 2017 11:18 am

    See, agreed. It makes your pack look like a yardsale.
    But people freak out about weight, so…helmet carriers on the outside.

  8. Ranger November 22nd, 2017 2:50 pm

    These recent reviews really are falling short of regular gear user expectations. Is the backboard snow-phobic?

  9. Lou Dawson 2 November 22nd, 2017 2:54 pm

    Thanks for the feedback Ranger, we’ll work on it. A good part of a review should be the comments, Coop would answer you but he’s out of pocket on some big rock in Pakistan, or something like that. (smile) Lou

  10. Rar0 November 23rd, 2017 12:37 am

    How does the pack carry loads ? (doesn’t have any frame)

  11. brian harder November 24th, 2017 2:16 pm

    If you feel like you need a helmet and your pack is full put the bucket on at the car and forget about it. Cyclists wear them all day. Skimo racers do. No reason BC skiers can’t do the same. Of course, that would require a helmet that vents well. Easy to find.

  12. Marc November 25th, 2017 9:53 am

    I have the Salomon MTN Lab helmet.
    Superlight and i hike with it in spring spanish conditions ,very good ventilation.
    But you will need an under-helmet windproof beanie when it gets even slightly nippy or windy.
    I have a Vaude biking cap that works perfect.

  13. Kristian Woyna November 25th, 2017 9:20 pm

    Packing your helmet inside of your pack does not take up much space if you also pack items inside the helmet itself – typically related items like goggles, glacier glasses, balaclava or hat, and gloves.

  14. Jim Milstein November 25th, 2017 10:43 pm

    I agree with brian; just wear the helmet . . . less gear fiddling that way. Also, you never know when you might really need to be wearing the helmet. If you are already wearing it, then that’s never a problem.

    I wear a thin snug hoody next to my skin, then a thin loose hoody which can go either under or over a helmet, then a hooded parka. The parka hood is wind-proof. The helmet combined with zero to three of these hoods is comfortable for all but the most severe skiing conditions. With hoods, headgear is always at hand.

  15. Lou Dawson 2 November 26th, 2017 8:16 am

    I’ve seen a trend of folks wearing helmets all the time, probably in part helped along by skimo racing style, it’s a good trend in my opinion. If I used a helmet I’d just wear it, up or down… might start doing so again, as the available helmets have become much better than even a few years ago. Lou

  16. Jim Milstein November 26th, 2017 10:29 am

    We may not be emulating skimo style so much, Lou, as taking full advantage of their light, well-ventillated helmets.

    The same can be done with well-ventilated goggles: wear them up and down, harsh weather and mild. The Julbo models which allow the lens to be pulled away from its frame a little bit work well for that. Make sure your helmet has a parking space, without vents, for goggles.

  17. bfredlund November 26th, 2017 4:36 pm

    Good review Coop. I agree, that pack has a great shovel/ tool pocket, and the side access zipper is awesome! Less fond of the lid and top closure system though.

  18. Jim Pace November 26th, 2017 5:30 pm

    I’ve got a 25L skimo pack that works great for side-country and actual skimo purposes. Plus my brand new Descensionist pack that I’ve had for just two ski outings so far. But my early observations are thus:
    – It’s BIG. 40 L is conservative. one can stuff a lot of gear in this pack.
    – The foam back panel is more supportive than I suspected. Plus it comes out easily enough to be handy at lunch stops. That is rare.
    – The pocket on the belt is too small and not very durable, in contrast with the incredible stitching and burlyness of the rest of the pack. I’m surprised it weighs as little as it does. Plus all the straps and outside widgets are removable. I like that.
    – It would make a good climbing pack with the ski specific stuff removed.
    – Regarding the lack of a helmet net, I had one laying around, sold separately by Mammout (sp?), that I rigged on to the back. I might just end up stowing the helmet inside on all but huge load days.
    – This pack is the PERFECT size for a Haute Route trip, or other week long euro hut trips. I will also use it at the Ymyr hut in January. Plenty big to carry puffy pants, puffy parka, a change of clothes, rain gear, glacier gear including a rope, all that stuff.

  19. Jim Pace November 26th, 2017 5:35 pm

    I forgot one comment. To carry skis skimo style, one needs a decent upper hook/line arrangement that does not come with this pack. Fortunately, my skimo pack hook/line is removable, so that’s what I do. I switch it from one pack to the other. It works, since there are a lot of daisy chain loops on the Descensionist pack straps to hook to.

  20. wtofd November 26th, 2017 6:59 pm

    Jim Pace, does “I’m surprised it weighs as little as it does“ mean it’s really light or you suspect Patagonia is not being truthful with their stated weights?

  21. See November 26th, 2017 8:15 pm

    Temperature regulation is kind of like boot fit, in my experience— what works for one person won’t necessarily work for another. Given my particular body type and location, wearing a helmet while climbing on a warm spring day is usually a lot less comfortable than a good sun hat. The situations where the protection might be useful tend to be at higher elevations where the temps are lower. And I haven’t found a really well ventilated helmet that I like for skiing, although I have a new one I’ll be trying this season.

  22. Jim Milstein November 26th, 2017 9:04 pm

    Well, See, the CAMP helmet I have (Speed 2.0), worn alone, is cooler than a mesh bill cap. It shades and allows breezes to caress my skull.

    Of course I modified it with a foam visor cut from a camping pad. Don’t understand why ski helmets don’t all come with visors. Flexible foam is good since it bends out of the way when parking goggles up on the helmet.

  23. See November 26th, 2017 9:35 pm

    Glad it works for you.

  24. Lou Dawson 2 November 27th, 2017 6:27 am

    I could probably wear a well visored helmet in springtime, at least during cooler parts of the day, but I can see the limits. There are times during spring ski touring when it’s so hot during the uphill, with scorching sun, that I need every bit of lightweight sunshade type clothing I can wear, and a helmet would not cut it for me in that regard. Lou

  25. Jim Milstein November 27th, 2017 7:29 am

    My concession to springtime warmth is a switch from goggles to glasses. The helmet is still the coolest headgear I have. Well, actually, the bike helmet is a bit cooler. Hmmm.

  26. John walker November 27th, 2017 1:27 pm

    Someone may have called you on this but dedicated a year compartment makes more sense to me than external pocket.

Anti-Spam Quiz:

While you can subscribe to comment notification by checking the box above, you must leave a brief comment to do so, which records your email and requires you to use our anti-spam challange. If you don't like leaving substantive comments that's fine, just leave a simple comment that says something like "thanks, subscribed" with a made-up name. Check the comment subscription checkbox BEFORE you submit. NOTE: BY SUBSCRIBING TO COMMENTS YOU GIVE US PERMISSION TO STORE YOUR EMAIL ADDRESS INDEFINITLY. YOU MAY REQUEST REMOVAL AND WE WILL REMOVE YOUR EMAIL ADDRESS WITHIN 72 HOURS. To request removal of personal information, please contact us using the comment link in our site menu.
If you need an emoticon for a comment just copy/paste off the following list, or use text code you might be familiar with.

:D    :-)    :(    :lol:    :x    :P    :oops:    :cry:    :evil:    :twisted:    :roll:    :wink:    :!:    :?:    :idea:    :arrow:   
Due to comment spam we moderate most comments. Please do not submit your comment twice -- it will appear shortly after approval. Comments with one or more links in the text may be held in moderation, for spam prevention. If you'd like to publish a photo in a comment, contact us. Guidelines: Be civil, no personal attacks, avoid vulgarity and profanity.

  Your Comments

  Recent Posts

Facebook Twitter Email Instagram Youtube


  • Blogroll & Links

  • Welcome to Louis (Lou) Dawson's backcountry skiing information & opinion website. Lou's passion for the past 50 years has been alpinism, climbing, mountaineering and skiing -- along with all manner of outdoor recreation. He has authored numerous books and articles about ski touring 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 ski touring news and information here.

    All material on this website is copyrighted, the name WildSnow is trademarked, permission required for reproduction (electronic or otherwise) and display on other websites. PLEASE SEE OUR COPYRIGHT and TRADEMARK INFORMATION.

    We include "affiliate sales" links with most of our blog posts. This means we receive a percentage of a sale if you click over from our site (at no cost to you). None of our affiliate commission links are direct relationships with specific gear companies or shopping carts, instead we remain removed by using a third party who manages all our affiliate sales and relationships. We also sell display "banner" advertising, in this case our relationships are closer to the companies who advertise, but our display advertising income is carefully separated financially and editorially from our blog content, over which we always maintain 100% editorial control -- we make this clear during every advertising deal we work out. Please also notice we do the occasional "sponsored" post, these are under similar financial arrangements as our banner advertising, only the banner or other type of reference to a company are included in the blog post, simply to show they provided financial support to and provide them with advertising in return. Unlike most other "sponsored content" you find on the internet, our sponsored posts are entirely under our editorial control and created by WildSnow specific writers.See our full disclosures here.

    Backcountry skiing is dangerous. You may be killed or severely injured if you do any form of ski mountaineering, skimo randonnee and randonnée skiing. The information and news on this website is intended only as general information. Due to human error and passing time, the information, text and images contained within this website may be inaccurate, false, or out-of-date. By using, reading or viewing the information provided on this website, you agree to absolve the owners of Wild Snow as well as content contributors of any liability for injuries or losses incurred while using such information. Furthermore, you agree to use any of this website's information, maps, photos, or binding mounting instructions templates at your own risk, and waive Wild Snow owners and contributors of liability for use of said items for ski touring or any other use.

    Switch To Mobile Version