Haul Bag Review - The Best Bags for Big Wall Climbing
What is the best haul bag for big wall climbing? While it would be hard to climb with all eight of these bags head-to-head, I did use them all over 110-plus big wall ascents from Yosemite to Norway. Each bag was evaluated on five variables: durability, capacity, waterproof-ness, ease of access, and suspension.
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Test Results and Ratings
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Analysis and Award Winners
Best for Specific Applications
The Recommended awards go to the Metolius bags in all their sizes. They are all super bomber, durable, and storm resistant. If you want the best 9000 cubic inch bag, get the Metolius El Cap. If you want the best haul pack or small haul bag, get the Metolius Sentinel and Metolius Quarter dome, respectively.
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Analysis and Test Results
The urethane (Metolius calls it Durathane) bags were the most bomber. This is the burly material used on river rafts. All of the Metolius and Yates bags use this material. They also used welded seams, which is the most bomber way to join a seam – it is actually stronger than the urethane itself. I have never blown out a seam on a Fish or BD bag, but it is mostly because I have not used them on 20-plus walls. I did use old A5 bags on 20-plus walls and a blown out sewn seam was always the first thing to make the bag inoperable.
The vinyl bags are still bomber enough, you just have to take better care of them. I have seen a Fish vinyl bag last 20-plus walls. I have also seen a Black Diamond bag pretty haggard after 15. It all comes down to how well you pad the bag when hauling low angle slabs. With the Metolius and Yates bags, you don't have to be as careful.
Capacity of a bag is mostly the cubic inch number you see listed in the specs. However, that is not the full story. The skirt or river closure adds more capacity. If you have a big river closure with accompanying compression straps, you can get a lot more in. If you have a regular drawstring closure with no compression straps, you can't cram in as much. The Metolius and Yates bags both have big river bag closures and beefy compression straps. They let you cram in the most stuff above and beyond the listed cubic inch numbers.
The urethane bags also have a bit more structure; they stand up better on their own for packing or at the crags when you are trying to get in the bag at a hanging belay.
Both vinyl and urethane, the material used for the body of the bags, are waterproof. So it comes down the closure system. Here the clear winner is the river bag made of ballistic nylon. Denier nylon is not as water resistant. And you just can't beat a river bag closure for keeping out the elements. Both the Yates and Metolius medium and large bags are great at keeping out the elements as long as they are full, closed properly, and not in a waterfall. Even then, it is hard to keep any bag watertight so you should use dry bags for the crucial stuff (sleeping bags and extra clothing).
Ease of Access
Here two factors came into play: closure system and proportions. A bag that is too deep and not wide enough is hard to get to. A bag with a large river bag closure also takes a while to access. Here the Metolius and Yates bags did not do as well, especially the Metolius El Cap that is hard to get to the bottom of when you add in the closure system. The Metolius and Yates bags were easy to clip stuff to the bottom of. This is one gripe with the BD bags: not easy enough to clip stuff to the bottom.
We didn't find a massive difference in the suspension systems. The BD bags are the most comfy to carry but not by a massive amount. They also have the easiest to detach backpack straps. All the Metolius bags were also quite comfy to carry.
If you are looking to tackle big walls, chances are you will need one of these bags to reliably haul your gear up a rock face. We hope that our tests and analyses of these product will prove helpful in your search for the best bag to accompany your vertical pursuits. Check out our Buying Advice where we explain what's important to look for before making your purchase.
— Chris McNamara
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