Prepping a New Backpack — BCA Alp40 Goes Under the Knife (Alp 40)

Post by blogger | May 14, 2007      

Camera case on backcountry skiing backpack.
Most important mod is adding a camera case to a shoulder strap. But other changes help as well.

I must have been a surgeon in a past life, considering how good it feels to slice into a new backpack with a sharp razor blade.

I recently upgraded my Backcountry Access Alp40 backpack to the latest iteration. Killer feature that drove the change is the small stash pockets on the Alp40 waistbelt. We love those things. They’ll hold a small digicam, 2-way radio, a pack of Camels — all sorts of junk that usually rattles around your pockets or even gets “forgotten.” But everything that enters the doors at world headquarters must be modified. Follow along as the Alp40 gets a few tweaks. (Note, BCA spells this pack name as Alp40, but for indexing I’ll occasionally write it as Alp 40, two words.)

BCA Alp 40 backpack side pouches
Alp 40 killer feature is these pouches on the waist belt. Of course the guys at BCA would like me to sing praises for other frills like the dedicated vertical side pocket for shovel handles and probes, well designed compression straps, hydration system tube in shoulder strap, and reasonable weight. Okay. Those are nice as well. But as always it could be lighter.

So first step with the new pack was lyposuction. Quite a few areas are built with two layers of fabric instead of one, so I cut out as much of that as possible. Next, I removed the internal partition that separates the large inner compartment from an external stash for shovel or skins. I like this feature, but it didn’t rock my world so why carry the extra ounces? The zipper still works and now serves as another access to the pack interior.

While a smaller digicam will fit in the waist pouches, I like a larger camera case mounted on a shoulder strap. As well as a camera, such a case works well for a GPS or larger 2-way radio. A variety of these cases are available at any large discount store, we got ours at the evil big box who’s name shall not be spoken.

The tricky part of mounting aftermarket cases and pouches on a pack is that they usually flop around during skiing like a fresh caught brook trout jerking around before becoming dinner. One solution (with the case, not the fish) is to bolt the thing to your pack. Yeah, you heard right, bolt, as in threaded fastener. The process is easy. Figure out where you want the mount, clamp things together, bore holes with a heated punch, then insert T-nuts and bolts you got at the hardware store. (You could also glue the case to the pack with JB-Weld epoxy, but then it wouldn’t be removable.)

Installing camera case on backpack.
Figure out where you want your pouch mounted, clamp it firmly, then bore holes by melting with a heated punch (in this case an inverted drillbit.)

Alp 40 killer feature -- pouches on waistbelt.
Hole ready for T-nut

Alp 40 killer feature -- pouches on waistbelt.
T-nuts installed, with some Loctite — no more flopping trout while you ski. Bolt heads under the shoulder strap compress into the padding, and don’t dig into your shoulder as they’re not on the weight bearing portion of the strap. When done, we cover all fasteners with duct tape to protect things that come in contact.

Alp 40 killer feature -- pouches on waistbelt.
Next step, conversion to one handed waist belt tightening. The pack comes with a waistbelt configured for tightening with either right or left hand (or both at once). I’ve found this arrangement hinders more than it helps as it’s just more straps to deal with in an over-strapped world. I figure out the average location of the left buckle then duct tape the strap so it can’t move. Along with this, I cut the excess of any straps that seem too long for my intended use (backcountry skiing in moderate climates, without huge expedition parkas and such), and I check and make sure all straps are terminated in a way that prevents losing a buckle or having a shoulder strap come completely undone

Alp 40 killer feature -- pouches on waistbelt.
Most importantly, I always experiment with diagonal ski carry on my packs and rig up something that works quick and can’t be left behind. In this case, I tie a loop of 4 or 5mm cord through one of the shoulder strap attachment points, then attach a strap and buckle in a way that keeps it from falling off and getting lost, but still allows it to be adjusted and easily removed in case it’s needed off the pack.

Skis attached to backcountry skiing backpack.
Skis attached.

Carrying skis on a backcountry skiing backpack.
Long view of skis attached. The tails are inserted through one of the Alp40’s two ice-axe loops. This results in the skis not being as diagonal as I like (calf nippers when hiking downhill), so I’ll probably attach a ski-tail loop a few inches closer to the side of the backcountry skiing pack, and cut off one of the factory ice axe loops.

Previous Alp40 review.

Even earlier Alp 40 review.


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20 Responses to “Prepping a New Backpack — BCA Alp40 Goes Under the Knife (Alp 40)”

  1. Andy L May 14th, 2007 7:48 am

    Hey Lou,

    Thanks for the tips on rigging a diagonal ski carry! I’d been wondering lately how to set one up to see if I liked it better (in some situations) than the traditional A-frame.

  2. Terry May 14th, 2007 8:07 am

    The belt pouches have added to the appeal and utility of the Osprey packs for awhile. Though too tight for my camera, I’ve been wondering about adding other pouches and general repairs. Any experience or opinion regarding something like the Speed Stitcher versus the T-nut approach? It’d probably useful for the one-handed belt tightening and other mods.

  3. Lou May 14th, 2007 8:21 am

    Terry, I like the Speedy Stitcher type attachment for some things, but I’m always partial to methods that are reversible in a way that can be redone later, hence I’m really liking the T-nuts, though they have downsides like weight, inductive heating from nearby lightning strikes, etc. I like the duct tape for terminating or holding straps as it’s easy to get off and easy to apply. With all my mods I’m always trying to go simpler, and if I can hold something together with a clean wrap of tape, then good.

    Andy, the key is to get them diagonal enough to miss your heels when you’re walking, and so the weight doesn’t feel like it’s all on one side. Having a tail loop over to the side is key. I’ll probably add another loop to the Alp40 so the tails are farther over to the side. When I have time (grin).

  4. Terry May 14th, 2007 8:53 am

    FWIW, lightweight velcro alpine ski straps are also great for not permanent tasks like holding straps, pouches and of course skis to packs.

  5. Mack May 14th, 2007 9:36 am

    Excellent. Is the t-nut going through the entire shoulder strap or just the webbing that is stitched to the top (outside)?

  6. Lou May 14th, 2007 9:54 am

    Mack, it goes all the way through, with washer on other side. Used round-head machine screw for the bolt. It sinks into the strap padding and doesn’t seem to be an issue.

  7. Steve May 14th, 2007 11:09 am


    This pack is no longer under warranty!


  8. Tom May 14th, 2007 11:43 am

    Hi Lou,
    Quick question about the pack. Would you say that the Alp40 is large enough for an overnighter? Say with a bag and bivy and without a tent? I ask because I have been trying to decide between the 40 and 55 but no one within 400 miles has them to look at.

  9. Skinny D May 15th, 2007 4:37 am

    Hi, nice comments on the mods, I hate flappy straps, I’m a pretty slim build so always have yards of straps spare.

    Regarding the use of epoxy for gluing fabrics/tape, I’ve tried this before and find that they just peel away within minutes of a bit of flexing. I think the problem is that epoxy is a rigid adhesive while fabric and tape is flexible.

    Maybe you guys have had success with it, but it was a complete no go for me. I like the look of that handy stitcher thingy, I can think of tons of uses for one…

    Cheers, Dave

    PS The Black Diamond Frenzy 18 does have hip pockets (why I bought it), but they are only big enough for a pocket scraper or lip balm.

  10. cjw May 16th, 2007 7:18 am

    The 40 is not big enough for an overnighter. I have both the 40 and the 55 (I also recently upgraded to the new 40). I frequently have to decide between crampons and a bottle of wine in the 40. The 55 is a tad swimmy for day trips, but works.


  11. Lou May 16th, 2007 8:21 am

    Agree that the 40 is not big enough for most overnighters. Would work for a bivvy with small down sleeping bag and a bivvy sack.

  12. Tom May 16th, 2007 9:23 am

    Thanks for the feedback guys. That was exactly what I wanted to know.

  13. Lee Lau May 17th, 2007 7:12 am

    Completely OT – I have those Uniden FRS radios I use when i don’t want to pack a full VHF. They’re nice and small but … they seem to eat the AAA batteries alive – barely getting 1 hours worth of transmit out of them.

    Have you had better luck?

  14. Lou May 17th, 2007 7:43 am

    Lee, radios are always a good topic around here (grin). When we use those we don’t do much talking on them, so have not noticed a battery problem, but I’ll pay more attention to that. They do have pretty minimal amount of battery as they use only 3 AAA batteries. I bought them bacause they were the smallest thing on the rack. They don’t have quiet codes and no external mic jack, but very simple to operate… I’d call them a throwaway…

  15. George June 30th, 2008 3:09 pm


    Any luck adding another loop on your Alp 40 for diagonal carry so the tails are farther to the side? I may want to modify mine.


  16. Lou June 30th, 2008 3:54 pm

    George, what seems to work is to use one of the existing loops for the tails, then lash the upper part of the skis over far enough to angle the tails away from the back of your legs. I do wish the lower loop was a few inches over to the side, and might still do that mod. Not a big deal, just a matter of doing some sewing since I cut out the partition and won’t have to worry about sewing through it.

    Last winter, on my Avalung pack I mounted a ski lash strap that was threaded through one of the shoulder strap attachments, as shown above for the Alp 40. This seems to work but only for lighter skis, as it does end up with the skis pulling more on one shoulder strap than the other.

  17. George June 30th, 2008 7:58 pm

    tks Lou, my skis are light enough that your current mod will most likely work fine for me. On another note, I broke one of my dynafit comfort volcanos while on a recent trip and happy to see you’ve got excellent instructions on how to replace. Really appreciate all the great info available on your site.

  18. Lou June 30th, 2008 8:52 pm

    Thanks George!

  19. TimBo April 24th, 2010 5:20 am

    My Alp Stash 40 didn’t survive its first four day ski tour (France and Italy) intact. The stash pockets on the belt are useful but the stitching into the pack on each side came away (whilst the belt itself remained fine). Not good. I have emailed my retailer with some photos and we will see how BCA responds. It’s probably a design as well as manufacturing fault, in that there is no need for the stash pockets to be stitched into the pack itself. Otherwise the pack was great. Even the hydration system delivered without freezing.

  20. Lou April 24th, 2010 6:04 am

    Tim, sorry to hear that. I’d heard of some stitching problems a few years ago but nothing since then. I wonder if you got old stock?

    Quality control really is tough for these companies, but they need to step up to the plate. I would trust that market forces would make that happen, but seems like that’s an imperfect motivation. The backpack business is so ultra competitive it’s ridiculous. On top of that, what sells backpacks for the most part is how they look on the rack in the store, rather than durability or lack of weight. Sigh.

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