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The North Face Route Rocket Review

Though there are no extra features, this bag ticks all the boxes for multi-pitch climbing
The North Face Route Rocket
Photo: The North Face
Editors' Choice Award
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Price:  $80 List
Pros:  Simple, great zippered pocket, streamlined
Cons:  Limited attachment points, easy to drop stuff
Manufacturer:   The North Face
By Ian McEleney ⋅ Review Editor  ⋅  Oct 15, 2019
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73
OVERALL
SCORE


RANKED
#1 of 13
  • Comfort - 25% 8
  • Climbing Utility - 25% 8
  • Durability - 20% 7
  • Versatility - 20% 7
  • Weight - 10% 5

Our Verdict

The North Face Route Rocket is a great daypack for rock climbing, and that's why it sits at the top of our list. Its streamlined design won't get hung up on branches on the approach or while hauling. 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 bag with simple but practical features that will get the job done without unnecessary complications, this is the one for you.

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Awards Editors' Choice Award   Best Buy Award  
Price $80 List$69.95 at Amazon$98.95 at Backcountry$60 List
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Pros Simple, great zippered pocket, streamlinedComfortable, easy to pack, great packing volumeDurable, functional, versatileSimple, sturdy, lightDurable, sleek, stylish
Cons Limited attachment points, easy to drop stuffHeavy, average durability, no emergency whistleHeavy, no key clip, not taperedNo emergency whistle, draw cord and cord lock blend into packUncomfortable shoulder straps, no external carrying options
Bottom Line Though there are no extra features, this bag ticks all the boxes for multi-pitch climbingThis pack is great to climb with and easy to load, though it's not particularly lightThough it's heavy, this pack makes up for it with durability and great climbing featuresThis is a great pack for multi-pitch rock climbs at a very fair priceThis classic is still going strong, though you cannot carry anything on the outside of the pack
Rating Categories The North Face Rout... Petzl Bug Mystery Ranch Skyli... Black Diamond Rock... Black Diamond Bullet
Comfort (25%)
8.0
9.0
6.0
7.0
6.0
Climbing Utility (25%)
8.0
8.0
8.0
6.0
7.0
Durability (20%)
7.0
5.0
8.0
7.0
7.0
Versatility (20%)
7.0
7.0
7.0
5.0
4.0
Weight (10%)
5.0
5.0
3.0
7.0
5.0
Specs The North Face Rout... Petzl Bug Mystery Ranch Skyli... Black Diamond Rock... Black Diamond Bullet
Capacity 16L 18L 17L 15L 16L
Measured Weight 1.1 lbs 1.1 lbs 1.4 lbs 0.9 lbs 1.1 lbs
Padded back? Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes
Fabric Type 420D nylon 400D nylon 1000D cordura nylon 840D nylon 420D nylon, 1260D ballistic nylon
Whistle? Yes No Yes No Yes
Accessory Pockets? One external zip One external zip, one external open, one internal zip One internal zip, one external zip One external zip, one internal zip One external zip, one internal zip
Outside Carry Options? Daisy chains Top strap, one daisy chain Top strap, side straps, ice axe attachments Top strap doubles as rope strap No
Hip Belt Yes, removable Yes Yes, removable Yes, removable Yes, removable
Hydration System Compatible Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes
Key Clip? Yes Yes No Yes Yes

Our Analysis and Test Results

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.

Performance Comparison


Testing the Route Rocket in the Candian Rockies. This is a...
Testing the Route Rocket in the Candian Rockies. This is a comfortable pack.
Photo: Ian McEleney

Comfort


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.

The hip belt attaches with velcro inside this pocket, best done when...
The hip belt attaches with velcro inside this pocket, best done when the pack isn't full.
Photo: Ian McEleney

Climbing Utility


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.

The main pocket zipper of the Route Rocket is very deep on one side.
The main pocket zipper of the Route Rocket is very deep on one side.
Photo: Ian McEleney

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.

Durability


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 pack materials of the Route Rocket strike a good balance between...
The pack materials of the Route Rocket strike a good balance between weight and durability.
Photo: Ian McEleney

Versatility


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.

Strapping a rope securely to the outside will require a few slings...
Strapping a rope securely to the outside will require a few slings or draws.
Photo: Ian McEleney

Weight


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.

Weighing in.
Weighing in.
Photo: Ian McEleney

Value


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.

Conclusion


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.

The streamlined design doesn't hinder climbing movement.
The streamlined design doesn't hinder climbing movement.
Photo: Ian McEleney

Ian McEleney