The Trango Ration Pack is a lightweight but otherwise average pack that offers a few innovative solutions to small climbing pack problems. Our testers liked the responses to durability issues and accessing items in the bottom. This pack's answer to the ever-pesky question of what to do with your approach shoes is more hit or miss.
Trango Ration Review
Cons: Not very comfortable, some gimmicks
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Our Analysis and Test Results
The Trango Ration has taken the standard simple top-loading pack concept, lightened it up, and tried to solve some of its problems in smart ways. Some of these solutions work pretty well, and others feel a little gimmicky while still getting the job done.
The Ration weighs 16 ounces, tied for third in our test with the Patagonia Linked and Patagonia Lightweight Black Hole Cinch 20L. That weight includes the removable hauling cover (more about that in a minute) which weighs about 4.5 ounces. The hip-belt and velcro ice axe keeper are also removable. With that stuff out of the picture the Ration weighs about the same as the lightest pack in the review, the Flash.
The Ration is made of the same rather low denier fabric - 210D nylon - as the Arc'teryx Cierzo 18. Recognizing this fabric's low abrasion resistance, the Trango designers came up with a clever solution: a cover that goes over the pack when hauling. This bumped the pack's durability rating.
Made of more durable nylon, this essentially gives the pack a sacrificial layer for hauling. If the Ration is full or has approach shoes strapped to the outside, or both, it can be a bit of a wrestling match to get the cover on. Since the cover is completely removable, our testers could leave it behind when not needed (which is most of the time for those that do not haul on a regular basis).
The cover protects the pack during hauling; however, when climbing or hiking, the cover can't be used, and the not-so-abrasion resistant fabric is exposed. The Ration has two big plastic clips on the outside of the pack as approach shoe attachment points. Trango claims they can hold 100lbs; while we believe that, they also seem like something that could get broken while thrashing around in a chimney. If you're looking for a pack that will look better than you after a tricky chimney pitch, we'd recommend the BD Creek 20.
This bag comes with most of our favorite "standard" features, including hydration compatibility and a key clip. It's missing the built-in whistle in the sternum strap buckle. There are two interior drop-in pockets made of mesh, which makes it easier to view the contents.
Many of the packs in this test get you part way to attaching an ice axe but leave some of the processes up to the climber. For climbers who want or need the whole setup, the Ration and the Arc'teryx Cierzo 18 have complete attachment points for the head and shaft of the ice axe.
The external approach shoe attachment points polarized our testing team. Some preferred them, while others couldn't get over how goofy they look, opting to keep their shoes inside the pack. Regardless of aesthetics, it does free up valuable pack real estate.
One feature our testing team did agree on is the expansion sleeve. It's an innovative feature that makes it a lot easier to dig something out of the bottom of the pack, like your headlamp when you're about to be benighted.
Like all of our packs, this number works well around town, though it might not be the most stylish. The ice axe attachment gives it limited alpine utility. When it comes to getting stuffed into the bottom of a bigger pack for an extended backcountry foray, the Ration performs slightly better than the Cierzo and about as well as the Flash.
The Ration has a few external carry options. The approach shoe attachment system could also be used for other items, and there is a six pocket daisy chain on the front of the pack. As for the rope, your only option is to drape it over the top and maybe tuck the ends into the shock-cord of the approach shoe attachment. Good luck.
The Trango Ration is comfortable enough if you don't push its limits. The shoulder straps are the most breathable of any in the test, a boon for climbers pushing the limit of the season in the desert, or for those of us who are sweaty. However, these breathable shoulder straps aren't very padded, and the back panel had no padding, so this model punishes climbers who overload it or don't pack thoughtfully.
With the hauling cover, it could work well on routes with the occasional bit of hauling but no awkward pitches or chimneys. The complete ice axe attachment lets this pack go right to longer climbs with a bit of snow on the approach and descent, like Washington Pass in The North Cascades.
Clocking in at just a bit more expensive than the low budget REI Flash, but with more features, we think this pack is a good value. What will it cost you? $50.
This pack is acceptable in every metric but doesn't shine at anything. Some climbers will take the hauling cover out of the pack and promptly lose it. This eliminates one of the more interesting ideas this pack presents. It's got some other features we liked (the expansion sleeve) and some we weren't convinced about, like the exterior approach shoe attachment points. It's lightweight and not particularly comfortable. It's the solid C+ student of our test.
— Ian McEleney