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Whether it’s hiking, commuting, traveling, or just being prepared, everybody needs a backpack. In the military, it’s an absolute must. If you are not carrying one, you are probably polishing the stars on your collar while your driver takes you to work. It’s the people’s bag of choice, and for good reason.
Backpack variations are endless, and the features are, too: with hundreds of pockets and MOLLE straps galore, frames, padding, made of canvas, nylon, polyester, polypropylene. There are backpacks for just about every purpose out there, from invading a foreign country to heading to the beach with a 12 pack of your favorite beverage for you and your friends. None of these are better or worse. But what if you’re ready for a pack with just enough? Just enough pockets, enough durability, and a little style. Something that is suited to multiple roles, but not overly dedicated to any single one. A jack of all trades, if you will.
Look no further than the Epperson Mountaineering Large Climb Pack. At just over $200, this is a relatively expensive pack that Epperson bills as “well suited for everyday use as well as weekend expeditions and travels.” Let’s see how it stands up in the field.
I purchased this bag online just before Navy officer training. I decided to get something I would be proud of and that I could wear in and out of uniform. I had been eyeing the Epperson Climb Pack for a while, so I went for it and had it shipped to my residence. I distinctly remember getting the delivery notification while being out in the city and immediately taking an Uber back to my place to retrieve the package for two reasons. One, I was excited, and two, there had been a string of package thefts in the neighborhood and I did not want my brand new, expensive pack to be victimized. I do not remember the packaging, which means it probably strays true to the personality of the pack, minimal and simple.
The most noticeable thing about this pack is its lack of structure. There is no frame, rigid support, or padding against your back. This, combined with the 1000-denier Nylon cordura material, makes for a lightweight pack — 1 pound 12 ounces, to be exact. The pack measures 20 inches high by 14 inches wide by 7 inches deep. Putting it on for the first time is an odd experience since it lacks a frame, but the material is just thick enough for it to keep the shape. It is an odd experience, but once you put contents in the bag everything becomes more natural and comfortable.
The main 23-liter compartment offers plenty of space and closes with a cinch cord. The pack has four other zippered pockets for accessories including two side pockets, a front flat pocket for notebooks and the like, and a top pocket that is great for a wallet and keys. The zippers are YKK and glide smoothly. A very strong climbing-spec carabiner is also included to secure the top compartment over the main compartment.
Epperson Mountaineering has added an inner laptop sleeve to the main compartment since I purchased my bag. This is definitely a positive addition and expands the utility of the bag if you’re using it to carry a laptop or loose folders and notebooks.
All in all, this is an impressive bag out of the box. It’s lightweight, strong, and the zippers and attachments are robust. It is also DWR (durable water-repellent) coated, so it should also fare well in the rain. Let’s see how it performs.
How we tested the Epperson Mountaineering Large Climb Pack
I’ve used this bag almost daily for five years. It’s been my work bag to carry everything from textbooks and a laptop to gym clothes and snacks. It’s traveled with me on many flights and has been my only bag for multi-day train trips to New York City. It’s been on several short-duration hikes through the Blue Ridge mountains. I’ve used this pack for bike commutes in both hot and wet conditions. I have not been easy on this bag.
It regularly carried a 40-ounce Hydroflask bottle, gym shoes, and a change of clothes, or several. I am almost never without a laptop too. I can not dream up a better test of durability and functionality for this pack. No specific tests of performance were completed, but I think it’s safe to say that if a flaw is there, it would have been exposed by now. Several were and we will cover those later.
This long-duration test can also show how and when the Large Climb Pack thrives. This is what has impressed me more and more about this pack and why I continue to use it. It may not be the best pack in any single environment or condition, but it performs admirably in many of them. When something is this reliable, I look to it more and more.
What we like about the Epperson Mountaineering Large Climb Pack
The Climb Pack was originally developed in the 1970s by Mark Epperson after he found he simply couldn’t find a good backpack that satisfied his needs, and it embodies the climbing culture of that time period. It has a retro feel with modern materials. The lack of structure allows the bag to drape nicely with some goods in it (the words don’t do it justice). The bag does not have all the tactical doo-dads and widgets. There is a time and place for those things, but they don’t belong on this pack. This is a stripped-down utilitarian pack that holds its own in the office or on the trail.
This pack screams no frills. It does not offer attachments or pockets for every single piece of your EDC, just one large compartment and four smaller pockets. I think this is a major reason why I keep coming back to his pack again and again. The simplicity allows for versatility. The main compartment is big enough for an overnight stay, a trip to the gym, commuting to work, or a picnic in the park. The side pocket can hold a 40-ounce Hydro Flask bottle if you are out and about for longer periods of time. The front pocket fits a book and notebook perfectly. It really never looks out of place. It just works hard and looks good all the time.
I am proud to wear this pack. All Epperson Mountaineering Gear is made in the United States, and that makes me feel good. I like when a product tells a story, and the Climb Pack’s story starts and ends in the good ole USA. Epperson is now owned by the Meg Company, which also owns Chamula, Yuketen, and Monitaly. All of these brands offer products with a good mix of quality, style, and craftsmanship.
I was not sure about the carabiner closure at first, but I have grown an appreciation for it. Sometimes zippers can snag on clothes or soft goods, but not with this pack. Cinch it down and latch the carabiner and you’re good. It also helps that the carabiner is high-quality and takes a beating equal to all the other components of the pack.
What we don’t like about the Epperson Mountaineering Large Climb Pack
The only glaring dislike I have with this pack is there is no sternum strap included. This limits its utility for hiking or carrying heavier loads. It quickly becomes uncomfortable under these conditions by putting excess pressure on your shoulders. I have to stay grounded though and realize this is a climb pack and not a day pack that would have a sternum strap standard. The good news is this accessory is easily added to the looped webbing on the shoulder straps. Epperson Mountaineering offers these for $18. I picked one up off Amazon for around $10.
This bag is showing some wear after five years, and this is no surprise. Five years of use with any bag will definitely reveal some weak points. Two points are notable with the Climb Pack. One is that the center webbing can fray at the end after repeated use through the buckle. This only happens if you use this method and not the carabiner to secure the main compartment. It’s nice to have the option of either, but I recommend using the carabiner to prevent this, and it’s just plain easier and quicker. The second sign of wear is the webbing used to secure the carabiner is becoming unstitched. Check out the photo to see it. This is another self-induced problem as I used to grab the pack by the top compartment with it closed, which puts all the stress at this point. I now only use the top webbing handle — problem solved!
I like this pack and I use it all the time. I have others, but none like this. Maybe it is because this is my most expensive pack (expectation bias, anyone?). It has so many good things going for it: lightweight, strong material, quality zippers, good size, just the right amount of pockets, and made in the USA. With the addition of the laptop sleeve, it is a real winner for commuting or travel. It’s not a dedicated hiking backpack, but it will fit the bill for short day hikes with the addition of the sternum strap.
Epperson Mountaineering offers a range of colorways for the Large Climb Pack — 19, to be exact, including everything from all black with black carabiner to multicolored packs with Native American inspired webbing.
FAQs about the Epperson Mountaineering Large Climb Pack
More questions? Here’s Task & Purpose’s additional brief.
Q. How much does the Epperson Mountaineering Large Climb Pack cost?
A. The Large Climb Pack is available via the Epperson Mountaineering website for $214. It is definitely an investment pack, but it will last. Cheaper options are available on Amazon is you move quickly.
Q. Why is the Epperson Mountaineering Large Climb Pack so expensive?
A. The Large Climb Pack is made from 1000D CORDURA Nylon, a premium material, YKK zippers, and made in the USA, where labor costs are higher compared to manufacturing costs in other parts of the world.
Q. What is 1000D Nylon cordura?
A. Cordura is the manufacturing company that makes this particular nylon material. Its Nylon cordura comes in 330D, 500D, 700D, and 1000D. The D in 100D refers to denier, which is a direct measure of the linear density of the thread. The heaviest of the bunch is 1000D and is considered the most abrasion-resistant.
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Logan Aronhalt is a Navy aerospace physiologist currently stationed in North Carolina with the Marine Corps. A former Under Armour product testing analyst, he spends his time teaching aircrews about night vision goggles, flight clothing, and other survival gear. When he’s not working, you can find him woodworking, cooking, or obsessing over pouring the right cup of coffee.