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Hands-on Gear Review
CiloGear 45L WorkSack Review
Cons: Average abrasion resistance, possible shoulder strap flaw, takes a long time to get
With well designed features and a great weight-to-volume ratio, this versatile pack is a good choice for multi-day alpine climbing. Our testers have some serious worries about durability.
CiloGear packs are not carried by major retailers and generally need to be purchased directly from the Portland, Oregon manufacturer, which often involves a delay in delivery. The CiloGear website says up to 8 weeks. If you can't wait that long to get into the alpine, click over to the Black Diamond Speed 40 review. It's available all over the place and costs considerably less.
RELATED: Our complete review of mountaineering backpacks
Analysis and Hands-on Test Findings
The CiloGear 45L WorkSack is a much talked about alpine pack. CiloGear packs have developed a rabid following and have spawned some haters. Here we present an objective look at a pack that, like its competition, has some good qualities and some flaws.
The thing our testers noticed and appreciated right away about this pack was its modular strap system. This, coupled with the ability to completely strip off all of the pack's suspension parts, make this the most versatile pack in our test. The WorkSack can go from being a fully padded monster on the approach, with a veritable Christmas tree's worth of gear strapped to the outside, to an almost empty envelope on your back as you're pulling the crux moves. This versatility earns it our Top Pick award for trips longer than five days in the summer and longer than three days in the winter.
The 45L WorkSack is only slightly behind the Arc'teryx Alpha FL 45 in weight-to-volume when it's stripped of its lid, framesheet, hip belt, and all straps. However, the Alpha leaves us with a minimal hip belt and very thin foam pad while the WorkSack is literally just a giant stuff sack when stripped down. When all of that stuff is on the pack, including all of the straps, it's the heaviest pack in the test and has a weight-to-volume ratio of 27.2 g/L. However, our testers rarely used all of the straps, in fact many preferred to use none whenever possible. Climbers should know that when it comes to weight, volume, and features, this pack is a chameleon.
CiloGear uses a melange of fabrics in this pack, which puts more durable fabrics in the areas that get the most abuse and wimpier fabrics in less exposed spots. 210 denier Cordura with Dyneema ripstop is on the sides (and on the lid). The bottoms of the side panels are made with stronger but equally abrasion resistant VX21 (210d Cordura laminated with Kevlar X-Pac). The bottom of the pack and center panel is made of VX42 (420d Cordura laminated with Kevlar X-Pac). Our testers found that while the VX42 struck a nice balance of weight and durability, the 210d fabrics were light duty for real climbing use. Holes appeared in the 210d side panels after less than 20 days of use. The 45L WorkSack isn't alone here. Over half of the packs in our test used 210d fabric on all but the areas that see the most action: the bottom, sides, and front.
Almost all of our testers own or have owned a CiloGear pack of their own. Several have owned the 45L. Our lead tester has used a total of 6 different CiloGear packs over the years. Almost all of our testers have eventually had problems with the shoulder straps, which are the same on all of their packs over 40L. The complaints were two-fold. First, the strap material "packs-out" - gets more flat and less cushy - with time. Second, the fabric "sleeve" that the padding lives in (the part of the strap you can see) twists to the inside and the 3/4" nylon webbing that is carrying the load cuts into your shoulders.
This issue is a big bummer on what is otherwise a good pack. One of our testers even made his own shoulder straps to replace the originals! On our testers' personal packs, this problem usually manifested itself after 40 - 50 days of use. We did not have our tester pack on hand long enough for this to happen because it showed up so late in the test (see note above about our 15-week wait). Though some WorkSack users we spoke to didn't have a shoulder strap issue, enough have had problems to worry us, especially since none of our experienced crew of testers had ever had problems with shoulder strap durability on any other pack.
Our other durability concern is with some of the sewing. The main vertical seam on the front of the pack started to come undone in several places after 20 days of use. This is mainly happening at the point where we've been attaching the lid buckle.
If you are hard on your gear or expect it to last a long time after you buy it, have a look at the Arc'teryx Alpha FL 45. The Mountain Hardwear Direttissima 50 Outdry did not score as well in other categories, but is very durable.
If you haven't gotten the hint, versatility is the strong suit of the CiloGear 45L WorkSack, and it leads the other packs in this regard. It is one of only two packs in the test (the other was the Wild Things Guide Pack) to let our testers remove the foam back pad part of the suspension. Every other pack has foam padding that was permanent in some way. This allows a user to pull the foam out and use it as part of a sleep system while the rest of the pack serves as a makeshift ground cloth. Users can also replace the included bivy pad with their own larger or smaller sleeping pad depending on their needs. We think it's silly to see mountaineers with foam pads strapped to the outside of their pack when that foam could be padding their back and lightening their load.
The WorkSack comes with a bunch of straps of different lengths that can be attached to different points all over the pack, allowing most anything to strap to the outside of this pack and compress the load any way the user sees fit. While some climbers might find the system to be a bit finicky at first, we think it's worth spending a few minutes to figure it out. Our testers really like the option to go with no straps at all when the pack is totally full.
The lid, hip belt, and framesheet (with it's removable stay) could also come off of the pack. A smaller hip belt for technical climbing is easily rigged from the included straps. When it was time to climb we had good results with totally compressing one side using the given strap attachment points but not the straps themselves.
We already discussed one of the most salient features of the pack, the modular straps, above. What about the alpine pack basics? The ice tool attachment is one of our favorites, simple to use and secure. If crampons need to go on the outside of the pack they can easily be strapped onto the front center panel with the included straps. We really like the interior pocket on the WorkSack (Cilo calls it the "ninja pocket") to corral little items when we aren't using the lid. The lid also has a small pocket with a key clip, which is a nice touch. The WorkSack has a hydration port, and a hydration reservoir fits nicely into the pocket where the framesheet and bivy pad live.
After coming to appreciate the one-handed drawcord on the opening of the Gregory Alpinisto 50 and Patagonia Ascensionist 45, amongst others, we find ourselves missing it on this pack. We also wish the hip belt could have more padding.
The 45L WorkSack is in the middle of the road for comfort. The rather thin hip belt padding, coupled with the aforementioned shoulder straps, does not result in a particularly comfortable experience when moving big loads down the trail. One bright spot is the internal compression strap, which helps us control a load on uneven terrain, like talus, even when we leave compression straps at home.
This versatile pack is ideal for multi-day alpinism and ice climbing.
The 45L WorkSack is among the more expensive packs in our test and is pretty much never on sale. In the standard fabrics it is an okay value for those looking for a pack that could see them through a typical long weekend as well as a lightweight week in the mountains. Those who are using the pack on a regular basis (or occasionally abusing it) should be sure they like the feature set and fit before committing.
This is a very versatile pack for alpine climbing. It has almost all of the features we want, and we could remove the ones we didn't need without resorting to scissors. Our testers have some serious concerns about durability, but many users will probably be willing to overlook those concerns.
How To Get It
CiloGear packs are only carried by a few smaller retailers. If you can't find one in your area, they can be purchased from CiloGear's website. Be aware that there may be some delays, CiloGear is a small company and orders may be backed up.
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— Ian McEleney
OutdoorGearLab Member Reviews
Most recent review: November 29, 2015
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