The North Face Route Rocket's streamlined design won't get hung up on branches on the approach or while hauling. A simple but practical feature set works well. The deep offset zipper on the main compartment, while making packing easy, could punish inattentive climbers with dropped gear when hung up at the anchor. This pack also doesn't offer many options to securely strap items to the outside. Nevertheless, if you're looking for a pack that will get the job done without unnecessary complications, this could be the pack for you.
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 including a bunch of bells and whistles. Its simple, streamlined design won't get in the way on long routes or any other application.
On our testing scale, the Route Rocket clocks in at a respectable 1.1 lbs (just under 500 grams). This puts it about in the middle of our pack of packs. A few ounces can be trimmed off by removing the hip belt.
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. 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.
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 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 this bag, though it requires more vigilance from climbers when opening the pack at an exposed belay.
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. 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.
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.
The Route Rocket's shiny, bright exterior (we tested the "Fiery Red" color) wasn't our first choice for style, though it didn't scream, "climbing weenie" as loudly as some other packs in the test. That being said, it's simple design is functional for almost any application where a small backpack is useful. 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 of the competition does.
Strapping a rope to the outside of the pack securely calls for a bit of thinking and a few runners. It's trickier to effectively secure an ice axe, and forget about strapping crampons onto the outside. That being said, we did find this pack useful on carry-over routes, and it seemed generous in volume for its 16 liters.
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.
The tapered shape worked well for the average-to-tall members of our testing team, but climbers with short torsos should try this one on before buying.
Though the list price of this pack is a bit more than comparable packs in our review, we think it's a good value. If you're looking for a multi-pitch pack and can find it on sale it's a good buy.
We liked 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. It's practical climbing features embody everything we expect from this kind of backpack.
— Ian McEleney