Cilogear NWD 30 Worksack Backpack

Post by blogger | January 25, 2010      

Cilogear NWD 30 Worksack weighs under two pounds, will last a century.

Ever since the first time I winched my 4,000 pound Jeep over a Moab ledge with finger-thin thermoplastic rope instead of steel cable, I’ve been convinced that an ultra high molecular weight polyethylene formulations (UHMWPE; Spectra, Dyneema) are viable materials for constructing just about anything that requires ultimate durability (though they still have their weaknesses, such as less heat resistance).

Consider rucksacks. In my recollection, Kelty was the first pack company to make a bag using UHMWPE, when in 1994 (or perhaps earlier) they began selling models built with Spectra fabric. These packs were a huge help to alpine climbers who needed large volume, but for whom even a few pounds of weight could mean the difference between life and death. (Ergo, save a few pounds of pack weight, carry more fuel and food to yield that one critical extra day of climbing or retreat.)

Since Kelty’s innovation, various pack makers have dabbled in building sacks using woven versions of UHMWPE, and conventional nylon reinforced with same. We love ’em all, as the combo of durability and weight savings this material provides continues to awe.

But how about taking it up a notch? Or at least doing something different? Last summer the rucksack geek squad at Cilogear introduced backpacks made with non-woven UHMWPE, or specifically, non-woven Dyneema (NWD). This stuff is essentially just sheet material you could make plastic bags out of if you wanted to — only of course a zillion times stronger than what they sell at the grocery store.

So, even though Cilogear is a climbing pack company, there really isn’t all that much difference between any good 30 liter range alpine pack and the configuration of ski pack I like (simple top loader rigged with diagonal ski carry), so I’ve been working with Cilogear to get WildSnow set up with their NWD 30 Worksack. I picked the bag up at the OR tradeshow and I’ll be using it as my non-Avalung mid sized pack, both winter and summer.

There are ski packs as light as the NWD 30, but they’re not nearly as durable. I’ve used various versions, and once you go beyond simple ski touring you’re liable to get rock burns and cuts from your ski edges in anything made with thinner nylon. So the idea with my NWD 30 is it’ll simplify my life by working for nearly everything I do, as well as not requiring the care and thought that a conventional pack demands. In other words, you don’t have to baby it.

For example, a few years ago Bob Perlmutter and I were exploring the Kilpacker Creek approach for El Diente peak in Colorado’s San Juans. We got into an a bit of unplanned 4th/5th class rock climbing, and one section of ridge was so awkward that after Bob led it I decided to clip my pack onto the rope and slide it over to him, skis and all, so I could do the exposed ridge scramble more safely. One drag over the rocks like that, and my conventional fabric pack sustained significant damage. It was replaced long ago. A UHMWPE pack would probably have come out unscathed.

Cilogear NWD 30 Worksack

Max provides our most sophisticated and brutal pack durability test yet, passed by Cilogear NWD 30 Worksack. Once you wear it out after 10 years of skiing, convert to a cat scratching post for the next century.

NWD is about 20% lighter than woven versions of UHMWPE but slightly less abrasion resistant. That might matter to rock climbers, but for a ski pack the NWD is still so strong that subtle differences are hardly worth the time it took to write this sentence. Non-woven also costs a bit less, but it’s not exactly easy to construct pack with so any cost savings probably get canceled out.

Interestingly, while researching this subject I noticed that ski P-tex is actually something similar to UHMWPE, or perhaps the same thing only in yet another form. Anyone know the details about that? Clyde?

I’ll file a more extensive review after I’ve set the Cilogear up for skiing and used it for a while. (Same with weight, as I’m not sure how it’ll be set up yet, so I don’t have final weight.) And yes, the 30 Worksack is about 4 times the cost of a normal 30 liter class ski pack, but what if it lasted far far longer? For a guide or someone in the 100-days-skiing-a-year activity class, the cost could easily amortize due to fewer replacements. And if you’re a ski alpinist doing rock scrambles and rope work, a UHMWPE pack is perhaps an essential.

Only crux now is to convince Cilogear to build a dedicated ski pack.Click on over there via this link so they know we’re out there. Waiting.


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36 Responses to “Cilogear NWD 30 Worksack Backpack”

  1. Pat January 25th, 2010 12:31 pm

    I’ve got a Ciolgear 60L that I’ve had and used for several years now. I use it for just about everything including ski mountaineering/backcountry skiing. The compression system is stronger, smarter, and lighter than similar packs (ie. andinista). It works as an approach pack, summit pack, day pack, etc. etc. I’ve been thinking about getting a 30L for a ski pack. I look forward to your review.

    Lou, I do hope that you can talk them into making an avy tools pocket that would attach to the D-ring system. I love the simplicity of the pack for many things, but for skiing, I’d like to have all my avy tools on the outside, easily accessible. Also, for digging a quick pit, it’s nice to not have to put the snowy shovel back in with your puffy.

  2. Sam Reese January 25th, 2010 1:06 pm

    Kevlar and Nomex are aramid fibers, not UHMWPEs, and have bizarre properties of their own, the coolest of which is that they have no known melting point, and degenerate around 1,300 degrees (F or C, I forget).

  3. Lou January 25th, 2010 1:09 pm

    We’ll, let’s all click over to Cilogear once a day till he makes a pack with a shovel divider inside (grin). Seriously, I think something could be done that’s MUCH more minimalist than most approaches, just to keep the wet shovel away from everything else. Just a divider made with super lightweight silnyl, perhaps included in such a way that it could be cut out by those who don’t want even that extra weight.

    BD tries to do something like this on their top-loader, but it’s on the outside of the pack and doesn’t zip at the top, so it’s never been ideal for me.

    As another solution, how about an avy tools pouch that could also simply be stowed _inside_ the pack or on the outside, That would actually be pretty cool, so long as it wasn’t built too heavy, which most pack makers would probably do… perhaps Cilo could make something simple out of the thin NWD, now that would be excellent. Sort of a Kevlar plastic bag for your shovel, probe, etc.

    Could be used as a sharps bag for ice climbers…

  4. Lou January 25th, 2010 1:21 pm

    Sam, thanks, I figured I might get some of the terminology wrong and I’ll edit. So, what were the Kelty packs made of? Thanks, Lou

  5. jason January 25th, 2010 1:50 pm

    The Kelty packs were Spectra, which is also UHMWPE.

    Quick nerd lesson:

    UHMWPE = Ultra High Molecular Weight Polyethylene (PE)

    PE is on of the simplest polymers (plastics). Just a chain of carbon with hydrogens attached.

    Spectra and Dyneema are “Highly Oriented” UHMWPE. Because the polymers are so simple, they can pack very densely when the molecules are stretched out. This makes for a high density of strong bonds, giving Spectra it’s extremely high strength.

    In a ski base, the molecules are not “highly oriented” and the resulting material is more similar to a milk jug (high density polyethylene), than the high performance fibers Cilo uses.

    Because all of these different polyehtylenes are chemically identical, they are all similarly susceptible to heat.

    Kevlar is an inherently stronger molecule than Spectra, but it is much bulkier, so the molecules can not back as densely.

  6. jason January 25th, 2010 1:52 pm

    btw, love my woven dyneema Cilo 45L.

  7. Clyde January 25th, 2010 1:56 pm

    Kelty packs were woven HMPE (high modulus polyethylene = UHMWPE = Spectra = Dyneema). Still have one, way ahead of their time. Kelty did use aramid thread (Kevlar and Technora are similar, the latter is a co-polymer, while Nomex is a weak version), so you were partly right. HMPE is usually white but apparently they are starting to figure out how to dye the stuff. Aramid fibers are usually gold color.

    Yes, P-tex bases and sidewalls are different iterations of the same stuff. Regular polyethylene is either low density (LDPE = plastic films and sheets) or high density (HDPE = fibers).

  8. Lake Tahoe January 25th, 2010 1:23 pm

    They might look ugly – but you can be damn sure they’ll hold up in the snow.

  9. harpo January 25th, 2010 3:02 pm

    I had my local seamstress make a pocket that attaches the to cilo compression straps and holds my probe and shovel handle. Havent quite figured out how do make a smilar pocket to hold the shovel blade, but it shouldn’t be too hard.

  10. Kevin January 25th, 2010 5:40 pm

    How slick is this material? Does it slide on the snow easily, as in your pack sliding downslope if you were careless? It looks kind like plasticized tarp material from the pictures.

    Also, how water proof/resistant is it. I really like the simple Arc’teryx Arrakis (Acrux) style pack which is waterproof-ish. But lighter and stronger is always cool.

  11. Mark W January 25th, 2010 7:17 pm

    Putting avy tools on the pack’s outside is essentially verboten these days. Wouldn’t it stink to lose the shovel in a fall?

  12. Cameron E January 25th, 2010 10:22 pm

    What is your setup for a diagonal ski carry with this pack?

  13. Lee January 26th, 2010 7:12 am

    I’m interested in that too, I’m always “modifying” my equipment, but can’t seem to get a good diagonal carry sorted – thinks it’s easier on the more ‘teardrop’ shaped packs than traditional ‘tubular/box’ shaped.

  14. Lou January 26th, 2010 8:52 am

    I’ll cover the diagonal ski carry just as soon as I use the pack a few times for skiing!

    But diagonal carry isn’t that hard to rig on a pack with this many attachment points. Main thing is to rig the top anchor so it pulls the skis to the side as well as in. Cilogear gave me a setup for it, but I’ll probably mod to my liking.

  15. Sam Reese January 26th, 2010 12:55 pm

    Argh. I wrote up this quite detailed analysis of materials for UHMWPE, HMPE, and Aramid fibers, and the internets ate it…

    So with high modulus polyethylenes, You’ve got Spectra, which is Dutch and I believe the original, and Dyneema, which is Japanese, and also of very high quality. These are ultra-high moecular weight, being over a million bonds long. Being so long, if they are aligned right, you interact atomic forces when trying to cut it. Cool, huh. Because they are so long, they have lots of surface area to get heat. Boo…

    As a part-time flame effects operator and fire artist, I am far more familiar with Kevlar and Nomex. Clyde says nomex is “weaker”, that is true, in the Engineering sense. Kevlar thread is so “strong” that if you bend it in half, crease the bend, and flick it, it will probably break. Nomex won’t, as it is “weak” enough to wistand regular flexing. Aramid fibers do better knit than woven, uhmwpe’s are the opposite, I think. I’ve never seen a knit PE.

    On a funny side note, I use kevlar sleeves with a thumb hole as part of my survival kit for nice-weather rock climbing. Slash resistant, fire resistant, warm, and light weight? Winner. ( see: ) Comes in Sexy Black, and Sexy Yellow.

  16. Bill Johnson January 26th, 2010 2:58 pm

    You buried the lead so deep I had to take my beacon out to find it.
    $450 for a 30 liter pack.

    You have lost your mind.

  17. Bryce January 26th, 2010 3:33 pm

    Does it come with an airbag for that price?

    Sounds sweet, though. Maybe the price will come down to $150-$200 in a couple of years.

  18. harpo January 26th, 2010 3:34 pm

    bill, they also make very reasonable priced packs out of conventional nylon. Someone should calculate the weight/price ratio of the weight you save going with the NWD.

  19. harpo January 26th, 2010 5:11 pm

    Looking at the Cilo website, the only difference between the NWD 30l pack and the standard 30l pack is the material the pack bag is made of, saving you a whopping 40g for $325 bucks. You tell me if it is worth it.

    I think you save a little more weight in the 60l and 45l packs, but I wonder how much weight you save to make it worth $400+ more.

    I have a number of the standard construction cilo packs and love them. But I find it difficult to justify spending as much on my pack as I do on my skis.

  20. Lou January 26th, 2010 7:55 pm

    Bill, we report, you shop, or something like that… :angel:

  21. graham January 27th, 2010 5:24 pm

    It will only last ten years in loving hands! I am sure that Lou WILL DESTROY THE PACK, if only to get another one.

    Seriously though, the NWD packs are significantly more durable than the standard 210d Dyneema/Cordura fabric. Without promising anything, I suspect that the NWD packs will get lighter. They will not get cheaper, unless the US Army stops buying Dyneema and it becomes really cheap.

    Oh, and you can patch it. With Seam Grip. With the patch kit that they ship with…

  22. Mike Carr April 2nd, 2010 3:55 pm

    Lou – did you come up with any diagonal ski carry ideas? Or vertical or A-frame? How about shovel storage? Thinking about a Cilo for Huntington next month but would also replace my Osprey Variant as my skiing/mountaieering pack – haven’t been too happy with the Variant…

  23. harpo April 2nd, 2010 4:05 pm

    diagnol ski carry is easy with the cilos by feeding long voile straps through the dee-clip webbing loops.

  24. Lee April 3rd, 2010 1:10 pm

    After a lot of experimenting I worked out a good diagonal carry for my “regular” rucksack. It’s based on the system used by Dynafit and Cilao on their rucksacks.

    I cut up some bungee cords and made a closed loop from the elastic big enough for the ski tails to go through (it’s just knotted), this is threaded onto one of the lower side compression straps. Another off-cut which still has the original bungee hook on one end now has a small carabiner on the other. The carabiner snaps onto the haul-loop of the rucksack.

    Ski tails go through the lower bungee loop, then the haul-loop bungee wraps around the skis and the hook can be clipped onto the chest strap if the rucksack is emptyish or back onto the haul-loop if it’s full.

    As Lou said the secret is to get enough ‘diagonal’ on the skis. Using a loop off the side compression strap rather than the ice axe loop was the key.

  25. Chris February 2nd, 2011 8:08 am

    Hey Lou,

    Will there be a follow up blog on Cilo gear packs after the denali trip, and if you or members of your crew are continuing to use them for skiing/backpacking/mountaineering. Looking to retire my Arcteryx 65L backpacking pack, and would like to buy something built locally. They’re light and customizable.

    I know you guys carried a lot on the sleds, but also a lot on the shoulders, How would you compare the feel to say an arcteryx bora, or terraplane etc. Thanks.

  26. Lou February 2nd, 2011 9:54 am

    Overall we liked the packs. They saved an immense amount of weight for the total group (easily compensating for my blog gear, for example), and it was weight that isn’t “eaten off” as happens with food or fuel weight. Make no mistake, however, Cilo gear packs are minimalist. They’re not covered with big thick cushy padding at every point, and they bag is not contoured. You’re expected to “tune” the pack by using a variety of compression straps and adjustments, so they’re a bit more involved than one might think.

    Overall durability is bomber, of course. The only thing we had trouble with was figuring out a sled attachment system we liked and that was durable enough. Cilo had a sled attachment system in development they installed on the packs for us to experiment with, and it wasn’t strong enough for really big guys with big loads (though it worked for me). Ditto, I recall we attached our sleds in some other places where we probably shouldn’t have, and those points were not strong enough (nor perhaps should they be, as beefing up would add weight). I’m pretty sure they’ve since improved the sled attachment options (all it needed was more beef at one specific point ), but if you’re hauling sledge it wouldn’t hurt to comm with Cilo and get an idea of what they have in mind. Sledge hauling is a science, and really really difficult to build into a backpack as even the location of the attachment points is critical.

    Perhaps one of the other guys on the trip could comment.

  27. Gray February 2nd, 2011 6:32 pm


    I have a CiloGear 40L Worksack (the regular fabric not the newer Dyneema). I also have an Arcteryx Needle and Osprey Exposure. I find myself picking the CiloGear Pack most often. It is light and adapts to the specifics of any trip. The CiloGear carries well and has stood up to being dragged over sandstone and other daunting challenges. The Cilo is simple but dependable. I highly recommend CiloGear packs.


  28. Chris February 2nd, 2011 11:43 pm

    I have a needle 65, and have never gotten in tune with how it carried. It is fairly light, but not as light as the cilo. And I’m looking for an excuse to get a solid snowcamping, rainier pack. Bingo.

  29. naginalf May 26th, 2011 2:06 pm

    I have a stupid question. This pack looks great (albeit expensive as heck), and I’ve seen tents made of the same stuff. Why does no one make a tent-pack. You know, a tent that fold up into a pack. Perhaps that’s just a stupid idea, having to take out your things to set up the tent (perhaps a lighter interior bag), but any time you can combine two things in one, like the avypole/ski pole, it’s a very good thing.

  30. Jonathan Shefftz May 26th, 2011 2:21 pm

    I don’t think you want to include ski poles that form into avalanche probes as an example of a very good thing. (Well, okay, at least they’re fine for the ski pole function.)

  31. naginalf May 26th, 2011 3:06 pm

    I’m a newb, please excuse my ignorance <:). Well as long as we're talking hypothetical, why not make the poles attach end to end, making a normal length avy probe. I guess since you need the poles for skiing to the victim, having the probe separate would be better. Sorry, I'll stop spouting dumb ideas now.

  32. tony May 26th, 2011 3:22 pm


    I only consider my probe poles as possible probes in those situation in which lou would not carry a probe at all.

  33. Lou May 26th, 2011 3:24 pm

    There is really nothing inherently wrong with the idea of ski poles that screw together to make a probe. It’s just that it’s not usually implemented very well. It can be time consuming getting the basket off, if they’re non adjustables it can be hard getting the grips off, etc. The resulting probe is probably not as long as some folks would like.

    What I found during drills was that it was quicker and still worked to just pop a basket off a pole and probe with it. If I didn’t hit anything, just dig at closest pinpoint then use beacon again in hole, then probe again. All theory. While some people do get buried deep and survive, most survivors are pretty close to the surface from what I understand.

  34. Jonathan Shefftz May 26th, 2011 3:26 pm

    The idea is indeed great. The only problem is that the execution of the aforementioned idea is always bad.

  35. Matt Kinney May 26th, 2011 5:06 pm

    Avalanche probes have many practical applications. These include probing crevasse fields, measuring snowpack depths, probing to identify weak layers, marking last know positions, emergency wands, or casting the :Backcountry Bomb” 😆 . I use mine constantly, jamming it through some pretty stout layers to reach the ground or glacier. None have tweaked or failed to reach full depth. Playing with it in a variety of snowpack depths and densities allows you to learn its limitations. Since spring avalanches bury skiers, I carry it all the time

    Sad events continue on Denali again today coupled with the avalanche a few days ago that killed two.

  36. naginalf May 28th, 2011 3:49 pm

    Ok, so speed of deployment is essential, and using it for the aforementioned applications is necessary for the informed backcountry skier. Now, I only mention this for the possible gear manufacturers reading this blog (which they should be for as much as Lou talks about their gear). Anyway, how about a ski pole that has an avy pole hidden inside, forms the tip and is only the size of a simple tent pole, and slides out with a push of a release button in the top of the handle and a flick of the pole. It would be almost full length with the addition of the ski pole length. Plus, you could have another simple release mechanism (needed anyway to keep the inner bit out) to allow you to remove it, combine it with the one in the other pole (being able to poke around with 2 poles at once without ever taking them out of your hands to assemble would be fast and doubly effective) and make an even longer single avy pole than you can even buy, or double as a tent pole. It would make for a slightly heavier ski pole tho.

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