The North Face Route Rocket Review
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The North Face Route Rocket
|Price||$89 List||$120 List||$70 List|
$69.95 at Amazon
|$69.95 at Backcountry|
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|$59.95 at Backcountry|
Compare at 2 sellers
|Pros||Simple, great zippered pocket, streamlined||Durable, functional, versatile||Comfortable, easy to pack, great packing volume||Comfortable, light||Simple, sturdy, light|
|Cons||Limited attachment points, easy to drop stuff||Heavy, no key clip, not tapered||Heavy, average durability, no emergency whistle||Small, flimsy, not versatile||No emergency whistle, draw cord and cord lock blend into pack|
|Bottom Line||Though there are no extra features, this bag ticks all the boxes for multi-pitch climbing||Though it's heavy, this pack makes up for it with durability and great climbing features||This pack is great to climb with and easy to load, though it's not particularly light||Though it's one of the most comfortable small climbing packs, this bag isn't very abrasion-resistant||This is a great pack for multi-pitch rock climbs at a very fair price|
|Rating Categories||The North Face Rout...||Mystery Ranch Skyli...||Petzl Bug||Mammut Neon Light 12||Black Diamond Rock...|
|Climbing Utility (25%)|
|Specs||The North Face Rout...||Mystery Ranch Skyli...||Petzl Bug||Mammut Neon Light 12||Black Diamond Rock...|
|Measured Weight||1.1 lbs||1.4 lbs||1.1 lbs||0.9 lbs||0.9 lbs|
|Fabric Type||420D nylon||1000D cordura nylon||400D nylon||70D nylon||840D nylon|
|Accessory Pockets?||One external zip||One internal zip, one external zip||One external zip, one external open, one internal zip||Two external zip, one internal zip||One external zip, one internal zip|
|Outside Carry Options?||Daisy chains||Top strap, side straps, ice axe attachments||Top strap, one daisy chain||Daisy chains||Top strap doubles as rope strap|
|Hip Belt?||Yes, removable||Yes, removable||Yes||Yes, removable||Yes, removable|
|Hydration System Compatible?||Yes||Yes||Yes||Yes||Yes|
Our Analysis and Test Results
The 16L version of this backpack was seemingly out of production for a while, but it's back in TNF's lineup now with a couple minor changes. The position of the daisy chain has shifted from a diagonal slant to a more vertical positioning on the pack's lower portion, right below the zipper lines on either side of the bag. The previous offset zipper design, where the zipper opened deeper on one side of the bag, has been swapped for a symmetrical design. The North Face is also using some recycled fabrics and a more eco-friendly, non-PFC DWR finish. Above, you can compare the previous version we tested (left) next to the updated model (right).
The Route Rocket does everything a small climbing pack is supposed to do without tacking on a bunch of bells and whistles. A few features that we liked, including the small zippered pocket that's accessible whether the pack is opened or closed, are great examples of an increase in functionality without a big increase in complexity (or weight). The simple, streamlined design won't get in the way on long routes or any other application.
The Route Rocket sports enough padding to make long approaches reasonable. The back panel is enough to protect your back from all but the worst packing job. We rarely noticed it while climbing, and the shape of the bag doesn't interfere with any arm movements.
The tapered shape worked well for the average-to-tall members of our testing team. They did not find that this pack made it hard to get to their chalk bags or to gear on the back of their harnesses. However, we feel that climbers with short torsos should try this one on before buying.
When it comes to climbing utility, we feel the Route Rocket ticks all the boxes without overdoing it. The pack has all the hydration system features we like, including a simple piece of webbing with velcro that holds up most any model of bladder. The main pocket zipper is deeper on one side than the other. This is a nice feature when packing and unpacking the bag, though it requires a bit more vigilance from climbers when opening the pack at an exposed belay. We don't see this as a major issue for climbers who are used to the increased situational awareness long rock climbs call for.
A feature our testers find especially useful is the one zippered pocket on this pack. One side of the pocket bag is fleece — friendly on phone screens and sunglass lenses — and the pocket features an interior and exterior zipper. This means that it's easy for your climbing partner to grab something out of the pocket when you have the pack on and that the pocket is also accessible when the pack is hanging off the anchor and the main zipper is open. The zipper on this pocket is designed to be on top when the pack is flopped open. It's big enough to hold a phone, sunscreen, and a few snacks.
This pack is fairly streamlined, with just a small daisy chain on the bottom of each side panel. Off-route manzanita bushwhacking won't be an issue with this bag. Our testers used the daisy chains most often to control something that was clipped to or draped over the top of the pack.
When it's time to haul, the shoulder straps tuck into the back panel for less snagging. The stops at the end of the shoulder strap webbing are sewn at an angle, a nice touch that makes unthreading and re-threading them easier. This, plus the generally streamlined shape, lets the pack slide smoothly in most hauling situations. The Route Rocket has just one attachment point for hauling, the sturdy grab loop between the shoulder straps. If climbers feel a need to back this up, a shoulder strap could be incorporated with a sling or quickdraw.
The removable hip belt threads through the back panel and is held in place with velcro. It's the easiest to remove and reattach of all the packs in our test. The sternum strap buckle is an emergency whistle, a simple and multifunctional feature that we wish was on every pack.
Our testers were pleased with the durability of this coated 420d nylon pack. We suspect the coating will enhance durability over the long haul. While the Route Rocket isn't waterproof, we felt that it shed rain and snow better than other models because the fabric is coated on both the inside and outside. The zipper is on the small side, but it is reversed, which protects the coil to some extent.
The seam where the bottom panel and back panel meet is reinforced with a piece of webbing, which is a nice touch. When it's time to haul this pack on tricky pitches or chimneys, the shoulder straps tuck into the back panel, helping to increase their longevity.
The simple design of the Route Rocket is functional for almost any application where a small backpack is useful. It carries groceries, textbooks, or a laptop with aplomb. It's not the worst to cram into a larger pack for a long approach, though it doesn't disappear into a big pack the way some other models do.
Strapping a rope to the outside of this pack securely calls for a bit of thinking and a few runners or quickdraws. It's trickier to effectively secure an ice axe, and forget about strapping crampons onto the outside. This makes the Route Rocket less than ideal for climbers with alpine goals on their tick list. That being said, we did find this pack useful on carry-over routes, and it seemed generous in volume for its 16 liters.
On our testing scale, the Route Rocket clocks in at a respectable 1.1 lbs (about 17 ounces, just under 500 grams) due to its simple design. This puts it about in the middle of our lineup.
The two-ounce difference between this and many of the other packs won't make much of a difference on a route where you've decided to carry a pack in the first place, and the added capacity and durability can be well worth it. Additionally, those extra ounces can be trimmed off by removing the hip belt.
Though the list price of this pack is a bit more than comparable packs in our review, it's certainly not the most expensive. We think it's a good value. If you're looking for a multi-pitch pack and can find this one on sale, it's definitely a good buy.
This is a pack that our testers liked for all sorts of long routes, and that's why it wins our Editors' Choice Award. The Route Rocket may not blow our hair back in any one category, but it's a good all-around performer. It's pretty comfortable, especially for taller folks, and it strikes a good balance between durable materials and weight, thanks to its simple design. Its practical climbing features embody everything we expect from this kind of backpack.
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