Antarctica Gear — Part 1 — Patagonia Descensionist Backpack

Post by blogger | April 5, 2018      

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Fully rigged for Antarctic skiing, Descensionist does the job.

Fully rigged for Antarctic skiing, Descensionist does the job. Click images to enlarge.

They call it a ski pack, we'll take that.

They call it a ski pack, we’ll take that. It has a big tool compartment, and a diagonal ski carry loop (red circled), two features that qualify. Other good stuff as well.

My pack for Antarctica was Patagonia’s ski specific Descensionist 40L, on loan from Patagonia for testing. While bigger in volume than I usually tour with, I was glad for the extra capacity due to the additional gear associated with glacier travel. Of course, extra gear means extra weight and I was a bit concerned how the Descensionist would handle the load, given the lack of any internal frame support such as a wire hoop or stay(s).

Instead of a frame, the Descensionist utilizes a dense, removable foam back pad and sewn in dense foam running across the top shoulder area and across the bottom waist area of the pack for additional support. This minimalist system is clearly intended to provide weight savings but also conformed well to the shape of my back and offered more than adequate support for carrying loads and skiing. Patagonia claims the back pad is tapered down to the pelvic area to thus cause your load to center on your hips while you’re active. Sounds good, and certainly doesn’t hurt — nice to see clean solutions instead of elaborate cable systems and other shenanigans that overzealous pack designers seem to throw in when we’re not looking. The removable pad also serves multi functions such as a splint, etc. in case of emergency. The waist belt is similar low profile foam and always my preference over bigger, bulky styles.

Waist belt is minimalist, ok but needs at least one gear loop.

Waist belt is minimalist, ok but needs at least one gear loop.

Small pocket on waist belt is patterned so it won't spill when you open.

Small pocket on waist belt is patterned so it won’t spill when you open.

Dense foam backboard is removable.

Dense foam backboard is removable.

The other Descensionist weight savings comes from the choice of a medium thick fabric for most of the sack (heavily coated Cordura brand nylon) which seems a perfect balance of durability and lightness. Thicker Cordura is used where diagonal ski carry or full snowboard carry might create wear points. Granted, with fabric choices like this you’re not going to get a skimo racing pack out of the deal, but by the time you have patches stitched to your other-brand non-reinforced pack, you’ll end up with the same weight (or worse, with your gear scattered all over the mountain). This rucksack is thankfully void of most bells and whistles but does have a fully functional tool pocket up front, diagonal ski carry, a hipbelt pocket, top pocket for quick access to smaller items, ice axe loop, daisy chains for lashing items and compression straps for reducing the bag size.

There is also a side zipper, presumably for easy access to commonly needed items. I guess a side zipper could be useful but I’d rather see it gone in service to simplicity and less weight.

Side zipper is not a big thing to me, or to WildSnow. But it's there if you like it.

Side zipper is not a big thing to me, or to WildSnow. But it’s there if you like it.

Wide access to items in the bag was easy due to an ingenious drawstring that simultaneously opens and closes the top opening and spindrift collar. All of this comes at a featherweight two pounds — impressive. The only items I found missing would have been at least one gear loop on the waist belt if not two to help with ready access to the hardware for glacier travel or any other ski mountaineering endeavor, and a fixed ski tail loop towards the bottom of the sides of the pack to facilitate a true A frame carrying option.

Top goes wide open with an easy pull.

Top goes wide open with an easy pull.

Closing up.

Closing up.

Fully closed.

Fully closed.

Large tool compartment should keep you tool compartment aficionados happy.

Large tool case should keep tool compartment aficionados happy. If you’re used to cramped 30 liter airbag rucks with tiny or non existent tool cases, you’ll probably wonder what to do with all the room. Me, I stowed my shovel and probe in there, as well as an emergency bivy sack.

This is the ski tails loop for diagonal carry, and this is what makes this a ski pack.

This is the ski tails loop for diagonal carry, and perhaps this is what makes the Descensionist a ski pack. Though the tool compartment says “go skiing” as well.

With multiple lash anchors, diagonal carry can be configured in a variety of ways.

With multiple lash anchors, diagonal carry can be configured in a variety of ways. Preferred over dedicated systems that may not work as advertised when the pack isn’t fully loaded, or overloaded. You can A-frame skis as well, and it appears attaching a snowboard would be doable.

There is just something about "brain" tops on backpacks, especially when they've got an easily accessed zipper.

There is just something I can’t help but like about “brain” tops on backpacks, especially when they’ve got an easily accessed zipper such as this.

All in all, the Descensionist 40L ski pack from Patagonia is a worthy competitor in the enormous field of fully and semi dedicated ski rucksacks. I’d grab it again in a heartbeat as I head out the door for my next adventure. Now, my hope is a 30 liter option for those light and fast non-glacier day tours. Oh, and since someone is sure to ask, hydration system compatible via a simple hose port between the shoulder straps.

The following video from Patagonia does a good job of going over the pack. This enhances our take with a concise visual description of an optional top flap stowage option that’s pretty slick, as well as a few other esoteric qualities. For such a clean looking pack, it’s surprising how “featured” the Descensionist is.


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22 Responses to “Antarctica Gear — Part 1 — Patagonia Descensionist Backpack”

  1. Sather Ekblad April 5th, 2018 8:45 am

    Great review

    What the heck is a hyper vector ski?

    I’ve got vectors and objectives… year ski?


    Sather Ekblad

  2. Bob Perlmutter April 5th, 2018 9:37 am

    Hi Sather, thank you. I’ll let Lou answer the ski question as those are his skis and he took that photo.

  3. Lou Dawson 2 April 5th, 2018 10:15 am

    Busted! Yeah, those are a new kid on the block from Voile, due to be retailed this fall. We’ve tested and reviewed but will publish in August, meanwhile I can say they’re very nice, reasonable weight, all around backcountry ski. 130/96/114 that’s perhaps a bit sidecutty to be a Swiss knife, but I’ve enjoyed testing them as have our other testers. Lou

  4. NT April 5th, 2018 11:11 am

    I’ve heard of Voile’s upcoming UltraVector, but not the HyperVector. Huh?

    Check out Patagonia’s Ascensionist packs- come in smaller than 40L size, and lighter. No size zip or tool pouch and you can easily rig diagonal ski carry or use the A-frame. Fabric is a bit less durable. I love the drawstring top closure system. Wish more packs had something like this as I hate zippered panel loading packs.

  5. Jim Pace April 5th, 2018 11:39 am

    I bought this pack at the beginning of this season, and have maybe 25 days bc skiing with it now. It’s the perfect size for a European hut trip, or any longer outing with ropes, ski crampons, boot crampons, etc. My other 20L skimo pack just doesn’t have enough room for all that stuff. Some observations:

    – I LIKE the side zip. Super easy to pull out a puffy or lunch.
    – The diagonal carry is missing a skimo style strap and hook to make possible quick boot pack changeovers without removing the pack from your back. I added my own.
    – The internal frame sheet does a great job of carrying the load, but is tough to remove for use as a lunch sit pad. So I include an additional ethafoam pad for that purpose. Easy to take with all the room in this pack.
    – Mine has one gear strap on the waist belt. Yours didn’t? I wish the waist belt pouch on the other side was bigger.

  6. Lou Dawson 2 April 5th, 2018 1:11 pm

    Jim, our pack has a wide piece of webbing on the belt that is not a “gear loop” but could be used as such by fiddling around with it. By “gear loop” we’re talking about what you’d find on a climbing harness. Super useful for glacier travel. Lou

  7. wtofd April 5th, 2018 2:09 pm

    Lou, the gear loop on the pack is preferred over the loops on your harness because it shifts the wait?

  8. Jim Pace April 5th, 2018 2:46 pm

    Lou,I forgot I added that gear loop. True that a gear loop on your pack is handier than one on your harness when skiing. I use a super simple Camp harness that sits underneath a pack pretty well. But one can’t reach the harness loops easily with a pack on. Not one to leave gear alone, I found it pretty easy to add a gear loop to the pack waist belt with a piece of cord and a bit of plastic tubing.

  9. slcpunk April 6th, 2018 3:08 pm

    Who’s got a short list of good somewhat lightweight touring packs like this? Trying to find the best way to find the contenders. Tough because so much preference in usage/style … but… i’m open if people want to shout out their favs.

    I like this pack – big, simple. I wish it had an insulated hydration hose tube, but I think I’m in the minority for that. Avy tool pocket is a must – im not a skimo racer. sturdier A-frame loops would be a plus ( as someone mentioned ). Kind of a fan of back-panel openings too ( again, maybe not in the majority of wildsnowers on that one, but convenience trumps uber-reliability and weight in some cases )

    price is an issue as always with pataguicci. usually rules out Arcteryx too.

  10. Craig April 6th, 2018 5:05 pm

    This year I started using my alpine climbing pack for touring, the Patagonia Ascensionist 35. WHich is similar to this, with gear loops on waist belt, no zipper, no tool pocket. It weights in at about 850 grams. I love skiing with it as its barely noticeable with it’s great fit (compared to my osprey kode 42 – awkward and heavy – which I sold the day after I first used the Assensionist)
    Next season I want the decensionist, as it has the tool pocket which I def. missed this year. The ski carry options with reinforced panels are nice too.

  11. Bob Perlmutter April 6th, 2018 7:52 pm

    Hi All, lots of good comments. I have an Ascentionist for a lightweight climbing pack and thought about taking it to Antarctica. The ski specific features of the Descentionist tipped the scales in it’s favor for me. Specifically the tool pocket, diagonal carry and beefier fabric. I agree the 40L size is perfect for tours that involve huts and/or the extra gear required for glacier travel. I also agree that the removeable foam back pad is not practical as a sit pad due to the difficulty of removing and replacing and there fore only useful in case of emergency. I also use a very simple, lightweight Camp harness for ski mountaineering and also find it a little difficult to access the gear loops under the waist belt. Bring on the gear loop on the waist belt. I am not a ski mo racer dude and don’t need or want those features. I might be fast on the up but grind to a halt once I reach my destination, taking off skis to remove skins, grabbing a seat and taking in the view before pushing off. So Lou, about those Hyper Vectors. You probably need one last opinion before publishing a review. Just saying!

  12. Lou Dawson 2 April 7th, 2018 8:18 am

    I’ll speak to the gear loop question as well… during glacier travel I like a minimalist gear loop option on harness, but also on pack. When I’m using the pack much, I keep nearly all rescue gear on the pack belt, as I like the fact that when the pack is removed, so is all the dangling gear, which makes things easier such as harness removal for bathroom duties, or leaving harness on when in camp, most importantly, the way some folks like to wear harness, gear on the harness loops gets caught under the pack belt and thus uncomfortable or difficult to access. All is personal preference of course, but it’s worth experimenting and figuring out a system you like.

    With loops on both, gear can be transferred with a few easy biner clicks, and most types of minimalist loops are easy to cut-remove if they’re totally useless.

  13. Lou Dawson 2 April 7th, 2018 8:20 am

    It’s funny how hydration options have faded as an issue… I remember days when that was one of the first things people asked about. Sort of like the fading popularity of narrow boot toes, from what I’m seeing… Lou

  14. Jim Pace April 7th, 2018 9:18 am

    Everyone I’ve skied with this winter, mostly long time bc skiers, have given up on wrangling water out of a tube in winter. Perhaps because we live in a continental climate. I use 1 liter tonic water bottles wrapped with that aluminized plastic 1/8″ insulation one can buy in hardware stores, with a carry loop made from gorilla tape. These go either in my pack or hung from a toy biner on my shoulder strap with a little bungie cord wrapped around the bottom. Works just like the spendy skimo or ultrarunning style ones. The bottles also hang well from a harness. I have yet to see water freeze in these, even after 5-6 hours in -15C temps, as long as the water is warm to begin with. A real thermos is hard to beat, but is heavier.

  15. SteveR April 7th, 2018 10:53 am

    Some of my packs have gear loops some don’t. Doesn’t matter to me as I find that clipping karabiners to the very bottom of the shoulder strap (where it meets the pack) is much more convenient.

  16. Lou Dawson 2 April 7th, 2018 12:05 pm

    I have to say, when I used to do really big days, sometimes up to or even past 19 hours out, I swore by a 2-liter hydration system filled with carbo athletic drink, but those days are over, a long tour for me is more like 7 hours, and hydration system is indeed way more trouble than it’s worth. Lou

  17. Gregg Oliveri April 7th, 2018 6:54 pm

    I had an ascentinist pack for spring touring and jumped on this pack when I saw it online. Have about 50 days on it and absolutely love it. Simple, easy to use and fits my 6’2″ frame perfectly (size Lg). Took it to Hokkaido and and a hut trip in the Kootenays.
    *I love the side zip for grabbing my thermous at breaks without opening up the pack. I am all for it.
    *The top closure system is a great design feature. Opening and closing the top is quite simple. I don’t like how hou have to fish the top buckle out of the snow everytime you unhook the pack. I am going to add a small through webbing so that when I unhook the buckle it drops a couple of inches rather than two feet out into the snow. I am at the age where I want to minimize my bending over time. on skiis.
    *The top pocket is streamlined and plenty big enough for misc. items you want to store there.
    *It is truely a featherwieght pack. I noticed the weight difference from my former skimo pack. At under $180 dollars this pack is a great deal. Very happy with this piece of equipment

  18. Jasper April 7th, 2018 11:00 pm


    I hook the closure strap to one of the daisy chain loops when I open my Desencionist. It is still an extra step, but does mitigate the falling on the ground issue.

  19. OMR April 8th, 2018 11:08 pm

    So where does one buy the Descentionist? I don’t see it on and I really didn’t read all your comments, so apologies if that info was provided. On another front, I did see a few smarmy comments on hydro systems. I like my hyrdo bag. It makes drinking easy and that alone wards off dehydration whereas fishing a bottle out of a pack amplifies the tendency to dehydrate. But I’m just an old, no-name skier who hates guide books, so don’t take my word for it…..

  20. wtofd April 9th, 2018 8:19 am

    OMR, I think they may just have sold out. I assume they’ll re-offer in the fall. Check online for other retailers.

    Steve R, Lou and others, thanks for the discussion of pack gear loops. Good info.

    SLCpunk, check out the Dynafit Beast 32 or the Tour 35. Also, the Ortovox Free Rider or Tour Rider might apply. Although, I think the pricing on the Patagucci packs is fair.

    As for the hydration sleeve, I gave up on them when the hose kept freezing. I like having two water bottles for the redundancy. A hydration system broke on me in the middle of a long, multipitch climb and I’ve never gone back. With simple water bottles (or the reusable, plastic pouches), if you drop one, you have a spare to muddle through. In cold weather, I can put one in my back pocket to keep it from freezing. In very, cold weather (-10 F or colder), I just slip it between my base layer and R1, and it’s never frozen.

    I had such a good experience with my ascensionist 30 (diagonal ski carry very easy) I will look into this for days requiring multiple pits.

  21. slcpunk April 9th, 2018 8:24 am

    Thanks- wtofd. You’re right, the Pat. pack is actually well priced. I said that before I had looked!

    OMR – use Lou’s link from the top, they have them at Backcountry. 20% off right now on a full priced item 😉 I do not work for or have any vested interest in backcountry, just mentioning it.

    ( helps support the site! )

    I’ve had good luck with my hydration hose in my BCA pack, as it tucks into the pack strap and stays warm from my body heat. it will freeze if you take the pack off for too long, but melts again a few minutes after you start climbing. I’ve toured with lots of others that HAVE had their’s freeze precisely because hose didn’t have a nice garage on the pack strap. If it is flapping around in the breeze, it will freeze. ( I’ve looked at some “hose garage” solutions…seems like that might work in this case )

  22. Lou Dawson 2 April 9th, 2018 8:46 am

    Thanks for the support guys. Lou

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