The North Face Route Rocket Review
Cons: Limited attachment points, easy to drop stuff
Manufacturer: The North Face
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Our Analysis and Test Results
The North Face 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). Its 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 pack didn'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 came to climbing utility, we felt like the Route Rocket ticked all the boxes without overdoing it. The pack has all the hydration system features we like, including a simple piece of webbing with velcro hangs that holds up most any model of hydration 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 found especially useful was the one zippered pocket on this pack. One side of the pocket bag is fleece - friendly on phone screens and sunglass lenses. 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. 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, let 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 attach 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 pack. The pack is constructed of 420d nylon, which is coated on this inside and outside on the front, sides, and bottom. We suspect this will enhance the durability. 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 sides. 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 for chimneys, the shoulder straps tuck into the back panel, which increases their longevity.
The Route Rocket's shiny, bright exterior (we tested the "Fiery Red" color) wasn't our first choice for style. It also comes in a more urbane black, though we like the brighter red color for finding smaller items that may have settled to the bottom of the pack. That being said, it's simple design 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. Other models are better for this job.
Strapping a rope to the outside of the 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). This puts it about in the middle of our pack of packs. Its simple design shines in this metric.
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. 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, but 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.
We like this pack. The Route Rocket is a good all-around performer without blowing our hair back in any one category. It's pretty comfortable, especially for taller folks. It strikes a good balance between durable materials and weight, thanks to it's simple design. It's practical climbing features embody everything we expect from this kind of backpack.
— Ian McEleney