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Arc'teryx Alpha AR 55 Review

Though lightweight and durable, we are disappointed by the carrying comfort of this pack and find the buckles to be difficult to manipulate
Arc'teryx Alpha AR 55
Photo: REI Co-op
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Price:  $200 List
Pros:  Durable, light for the volume
Cons:  Bulky, sloppy suspension, less comfortable, wonky (if durable) buckles
Manufacturer:   Arc'teryx
By Lyra Pierotti ⋅ Review Editor  ⋅  May 13, 2021
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52
OVERALL
SCORE


RANKED
#8 of 10
  • Versatility - 30% 4
  • Weight to Volume Ratio - 20% 7
  • Comfort - 20% 4
  • Durability - 15% 8
  • Features - 15% 4

Our Verdict

Arc'teryx is known for impeccably high-quality gear, from harnesses to backpacks to clothing. This pack is not one of their shining performances, however. The Alpha AR 55 is designed to be an "All Round" (AR) backpack, and it certainly will function for any of the mountain sports, from skiing to rock, ice, and alpine climbing. But it is just a little below average in performance for all of them. It is more well suited to lighter, bulky loads which fill the pack and give it more structure, so if this is your typical mode in the mountains, this may still be a worthy companion.

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Arc'teryx Alpha AR 55
Awards  Editors' Choice Award Top Pick Award Best Buy Award  
Price $200 List$169.95 at Backcountry
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$99.95 at Amazon$199.95 at Backcountry
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Pros Durable, light for the volumeComfortable, affordable, durable, fully featuredVersatile, simple, durable, well-pricedLightweight, simple, excellent pack for steep, technical terrainDurable, versatile, fully featured for all mountain pursuits
Cons Bulky, sloppy suspension, less comfortable, wonky (if durable) bucklesNot as lightweight as some packsLess features, some wonky strap designsLess durable, less versatile, no side strapsClosure system limits ability to overstuff, larger size less ideal for more technical routes
Bottom Line Though lightweight and durable, we are disappointed by the carrying comfort of this pack and find the buckles to be difficult to manipulateThis is an excellent pack for most mountaineering uses, excelling in comfort and versatility in all alpine terrainThis is a pack-of-all-trades well suited to a variety of mountaineering pursuitsThis is an excellent on-route climbing pack for challenging steep terrain in the mountainsThe Mutant series has been a favorite, and the 52 liter version fills an excellent niche for colder and longer climbs
Rating Categories Arc'teryx Alpha AR 55 Osprey Mutant 38 Black Diamond Speed 40 Black Diamond Blitz... Osprey Mutant 52L
Versatility (30%)
4.0
9.0
7.0
5.0
6.0
Weight To Volume Ratio (20%)
7.0
4.0
6.0
10.0
3.0
Comfort (20%)
4.0
9.0
7.0
6.0
8.0
Durability (15%)
8.0
8.0
7.0
5.0
7.0
Features (15%)
4.0
9.0
5.0
5.0
7.0
Specs Arc'teryx Alpha AR 55 Osprey Mutant 38 Black Diamond Speed 40 Black Diamond Blitz... Osprey Mutant 52L
Measured Volume (liters) 50 37 45 29 47
Measured Weight (pounds) 2.93 2.84 (without lid), 3.25 (with lid) 2.93 1.09 4.19
Measured Weight (grams) 1330 1288.2 1330 496.1 1899.4
Weight to Volume Ratio (grams per liter) 26.60 34.82 29.56 17.11 40.41
Frame Type Internal Frame, removable framesheet and back panel Inner framesheet with aluminum stays Removable foam and plastic framesheet with 3 stays Foam pad Removable framesheet and dual stays
Fabric N315r-LCP nylon 210D nylon with 420HD nylon packcloth on bottom 210d ripstop main, 420d abrasion Dynex ripstop 210D High Tenacity Nylon
Pockets 1 main, 2 zippered lid, 1 zippered internal, 1 side, 1 side access zipper 1 zippered lid 1 main, 2 zippered lid, 1 internal hydration 1 main compartment, 1 waterproof top lid, 1 internal zippered 2 zippered lid
Hip Belt? Yes - not removable Yes - reverse wrap hybrid EVA foam w/ gear loops and ice clipper holsters Yes - padding removable, not belt Yes - removable webbing belt Yes- removable
Removable Suspension Padding? Yes Removable framesheet and/or dual stays Yes Yes Yes
Lid? Yes - removable Yes - removable with stowable FlapJacket for lidless use Yes - removable Yes - removable Yes
Hydration System Compatible? Yes Yes - internal pouch with buckled hanging loop Yes Yes Yes

Our Analysis and Test Results

Arc'teryx has had some of our favorite mountaineering products for many years, from clothing to packs to harnesses. This pack misses top marks in this review for a few surprising reasons.

Performance Comparison


Epic views of the Tatoosh from the flanks of Mount Rainier.
Epic views of the Tatoosh from the flanks of Mount Rainier.
Photo: Ian McConnell

Versatility


AR stands for "all round" in Arc'teryx product lineups. This is another "pack-of-all-trades" kind of mountaineering pack. This can be a good thing, but it can also be a fault. In the case of the Alpha AR 55, we weren't quite charmed. It was below average in many of our metrics and field tests — not extremely so, but just enough so to leave us disappointed. Admittedly, we have such high expectations of Arc'teryx that this also contributed to our disappointment.

This pack is certainly versatile enough to take on your next mountaineering trip, day trips and overnights included, and you will find it adequate no matter your travel method of choice. It is a relatively simple pack. The main limitation for versatility, however, is the size and the way it carries. We did not like it as much for skiing, for example, due to the girth and stability issues with the suspension. And it is a great size for general mountaineering, but feels a bit too bulky for technical movements in an alpine environment. It has all the components for ice climbing as well, but it feels bulky to climb with, and the hook-and-loop style buckles are difficult to operate with bare hands, let alone while wearing gloves.

This wasn't our favorite pack for technical climbing and skiing, but...
This wasn't our favorite pack for technical climbing and skiing, but for fun low angle terrain it proves up to snuff as the "All Rounder" the Alpha AR is classified to be.
Photo: Ian McConnell

Weight to Volume Ratio


In our volume test, we measured closer to 50 liters of usable space in this pack, but we did not count the brain or side pocket volume, and there is no real industry standard on reporting volume — so our test is consistent across all packs in just measuring the volume of the main compartment.

The materials used, combined with the simple and weight-saving design, mean this pack is reasonably light for the 50+ liters of space it provides.

The Alpha AR 55 gobbled up our official Test Load and had all the...
The Alpha AR 55 gobbled up our official Test Load and had all the requisite features to carry all of our mountain tools.
Photo: Lyra Pierotti

Comfort


The Alpha AR 55 lost quite a few possible points for comfort. In mountaineering packs, this is a nuanced and very important metric — we need something that can handle a dense load while also allowing for a variety of complex movements, all without impacting our center of gravity too much.

The AR 55 has a bit more girth than our favorites in this category — that is to say, the cylinder of the main pack is more squat, and our favorite designs tend to be slightly narrower, which reduces the amount the pack can impact your center of gravity.

The other issue was with the suspension. The hip belt is sewn onto the pack, and there is a floating triangle of foam sewn in between the two sides of the hip belt. Above this, there is no foam in the back panel other than the full-length removable foam pad and plastic framesheet (with single vertical stay--we also typically prefer packs with two stays). This allows the pack material to slump a little against the removable framesheet and can put undue pressure on your lower back or just feel sloppy and insecure.

The sewn-in design of the hip belt plus the removable framesheet...
The sewn-in design of the hip belt plus the removable framesheet didn't add up to the best suspension system we've tested... here you can see some slack in the fit of the foam which likely contributed to the sloppy overall feel.
Photo: Lyra Pierotti

Durability


Arc'teryx certainly still hit the mark for durability with the AR 55. The material is rugged, and the design is one of a sturdy workhorse. The buckles, which we will discuss more in Features below, were not a feature we liked, ultimately, but they are certainly more durable. If buckles tend to be the weak link in your experiences with mountaineering packs, this could be a good solution for you.

The pick attachment has great sleeves and displays the durability of...
The pick attachment has great sleeves and displays the durability of the pack - the material and craftsmanship ensure the pack will hold up.
Photo: Lyra Pierotti

Features


There were several features we really liked on this pack, including the full-length side zipper and the front bungee system. The large, expandable pocket on the opposite side of the zipper may be something people like as it can accommodate a water bottle or wands or a picket, but we found it to be a bit too much and prefer our mountaineering packs to have a more svelte and smooth exterior to reduce snagging in technical terrain. But we really liked the front-facing zipper on the lid!

The front-facing zipper made access much easier when we were...
The front-facing zipper made access much easier when we were carrying skis or any time the pack was stuffed.
Photo: Lyra Pierotti

The sewn hip belt was a structural disappointment, and some may not like that you can't remove it for your summit bid. The main disappointment in this metric, however, are the buckles. They use a hook-and-loop style which is purported to be more durable, and we are quite sure it is. This comes at a significant cost to accessibility, however. The cord was difficult to line up and set into the hook and often required us to remove our gloves to thread it into place. We tried to figure out a method where we could just tug the two pieces together, but the geometry is off, and the loop often wouldn't set in place and would instead pop apart in our hands. Bummer. A similar system is used to attach the heads of the ice axes and felt similarly fiddly. If durability is your primary concern with buckles, this issue may actually be a major strength, and if so, give it a go! Otherwise, try these buckles out a few times at a shop before purchasing this pack.

The unique buckles on the Arc'teryx Alpha AR 55 are purported to be...
The unique buckles on the Arc'teryx Alpha AR 55 are purported to be more durable, but we found them to be a bit too fiddly.
Photo: Lyra Pierotti

Value


Arc'teryx is not known to be a budget brand and certainly confirms the old adage "you get what you pay for." They deliver consistently remarkable products. The Alpha AR 55, however, is not their best. There are a few drawbacks and frustrating features. However, if you've read them through and don't think they'll be an issue for you, then this is definitely a good value. This is a highly durable pack that will last a long time, and if the fit doesn't interfere with performance or balance for you, we think you'll be psyched on it.

Conclusion


We were really excited to get our hands on the Alpha AR 55 for this review update. We have loved so many packs from Arc'teryx, as well as many other products like harnesses and clothing. However, this pack was not our favorite due to some fit issues and some function problems with the features. We hope to see an update to this pack as it is a brand that we trust, and the 50-liter size range of packs offered across the industry continues to leave us generally disappointed.

Fun in the snow with the Arc'teryx Alpha AR 55.
Fun in the snow with the Arc'teryx Alpha AR 55.
Photo: Ian McConnell

Lyra Pierotti