Ortovox Peak Light 32L Review
Cons: Heavier, novel front access zipper can be difficult to use
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Our Analysis and Test Results
The Peak Light 32 from Ortovox is well deigned and durable enough for ski mountaineering, and is very comfortable to ski with. The pack has some unusual features, making it less competitive in some regards—but overall we appreciated the high quality of the pack.
The Peak Light is not the lightest pack for the volume in this review. It is made of more durable 420 denier nylon with Swiss Wooltec knit construction in the backpanel. These are not ultralight materials, but they have other excellent attributes—improved longevity with the burly fabric, and excellent comfort and moisture wicking with wool against your back.
The Peak Light is optimized for ski mountaineering, and we do like a lightweight pack for this activity—but we also want the fabric to hold up against ski edges and all of the sharp objects we may be strapping to the outside of the pack. In the end, the small size of this pack ensures it is not too heavy, and the features are very useful for the intended use of the pack (ski mountaineering) so the below-average performance in this category may not be a deal breaker for avid ski mountaineers.
Ortovox placed Swiss Wooltec in the backpanel of this backpack for the comfort and wicking properties. At first, we thought this seemed like a gimmick, but we did find the backpanel to be comfortable. We're not sure how much of this we can attribute to the wool—the design keeps the pack flush against your back so it moves with you, and the size and shape of the pack ensures it stays close to your center of gravity, instead of feeling bulky or cumbersome and throwing off your center. There is not much ventilation in the backpanel, however, so this pack can feel sweaty in warmer weather—yet another reason we feel this pack is really optimized for use on snow and generally in cooler temperatures, and less idea for summer alpinism.
This pack feels tall and narrow, a style we often associate with packs designed in Europe more than those designed by American companies. This is a style that keeps your kit neat and tidy, and helps climbers fit onto crowded trams. It also means the pack is more well suited to climbers and skiers with longer torsos. When we packed the Peak Light as full as we could, the pack felt more rigid and pulled us into a more upright position. For technical climbing this felt slightly restrictive on our shoulder mobility, but for skiing and hiking it helped keep us in a good, efficient, upright posture, allowing full lung expansion. Since this is a relatively low profile pack, even when it felt heavy, it wouldn't pull disproportionately on our shoulders—which is something that happens more often with larger packs, as the weight gets further and further away from your body.
The Ortovox Peak Light is made of highly durable 420 denier nylon. The overall construction of the pack is solid as well. We had no issues with durability in our field testing. The only potential long term issues we would watch out for are the zippers. The zipper in the lid of the pack is waterproof, with a small zipper pull. There was a fair amount of strain on that zipper and the zipper pull due to the sticky nature of waterproof zippers.
Additionally, the J shaped zipper that allows access to the side and bottom of the pack, while we loved it, does get strained when the pack is full and you open and close the pack via that zipper. Once you disturb your perfect top-loaded packing job by pulling something out from this J zipper, it is difficult to perfectly reorganize the contents back into a cylinder, leading to strain on the zipper.
The Ortovox Peak Light 32 is optimized for ski mountaineering and very suitable for alpine climbing as well. It is durable, compact, and fully featured for any mountain sport. The front access zipper makes it possible to pack avalanche rescue equipment so that is is always easy to access. The durability of the materials also make it well suited to ski mountaineering, though it does make the pack a bit heavier, so we didn't like it as much for alpine rock routes.
One important note is that technical ice tools without a hammer or adze may not attach securely to the backpack due to the alignment of the buckle.
The standout feature on the Peak Light is the J shaped zipper on the front of the pack. At first, we were skeptical. In our field testing, we grew to appreciate this zipper. Some ski mountaineering packs have zippered backpanels that allow you to access the contents of the backpack even when your skis are mounted in an A frame on your pack (and thus blocking access to the top of the pack). This J zipper is another way of addressing the access issue when you're carrying your skis on your back. However, we still prefer the backpanel access to this J shape on the front of the pack. When you unzip the whole backpanel, you can access the contents without really disturbing your packing job, and then kneel on the backpanel to zip it closed. The J shape on the front is more vulnerable to strain when zipping it back up again. Also, if you have your ice axe and helmet attached to the front of the Peak Light, this can make it more difficult to get to the zipper.
The Peak Light has a removable helmet carry on the front of the pack with very secure and strong buckles. We have grown to prefer the helmet carry on the top of the pack, the way Osprey designed it. The Ortovox design is strong and reliable, otherwise.
The ice axe attachment system was not our favorite design, and in fact sometimes didn't work for carrying ice tools. The pack, again, is designed well fro ski mountaineering purposes—in this case, that means you're likely carrying a piolet or traditional ice axe, not an ice tool (such as the Petzl Nomic) without a hammer or adze. The way the tools are secured, the smaller head of some ice climbing tools could easily slip out. For alpine ice tools with a hammer and/or adze, it still works well. The Peak Light also has a single buckle that secures both tools. We prefer two separate attachment systems per tool so that we can reach back and remove one tool at a time without taking off our backpack—this is one of our favorite speedy transition techniques when you step from rock to firm snow for a brief section and want to chop steps instead of stopping to put on your crampons. It's an advanced technique, but one which we think packs should facilitate.
There is also a holster for your ice axe on the front of one of the shoulder straps. This was a novel and fun idea that we were again skeptical about at first, but which we ended up liking. It put the axe in a position that would even allow you to manage a self arrest without un-holstering it. We did not test this in any consequential situations.
The Peak Light features removable hip belt padding, if you're looking to strip the pack down for a summit bid. The hip belt does have a gear loop on one side and a stretchy, velcro-secured pocket on the other side, both of which we found useful and well designed. The webbing that is left behind is also wide enough that it is relatively comfortable without the padding. And while you're at it, stripping things down for a summit push, you can also remove the brain (or lid) of the pack to save weight and simplify the pack.
When using the lid of the pack, we found the main zipper to be difficult to access (a potential Durability issue, mentioned above). But we liked that it has a second zippered compartment underneath the main one, with a key clip—always handy.
Finally, there is a zipper on the outside front panel of the backpack. This is great for thin or flat items, especially maps. The compartment is actually as big as the whole front panel—which is hard to imagine—and hard to fully use—given the short length of the zipper.
The Peak Light is an excellent ski mountaineering backpack. It will also perform well on alpine routes, though it is a bit heavier than some similar packs. If you want a super durable pack, this is a good option. This pack is not as well suited to fast-and-light alpinism—rather it is fully featured for more complex routes in varied conditions. It is less versatile as a result, but does very well in its niche.
For the price, he Peak Light is a good deal. It is not the most versatile pack, but it is made of durable materials and has a lot of useful features for ski mountaineering and classical alpinism. This is a great pack for the price if it is a match for your preferred brand of mountaineering.
The Peak Light 32 from Ortovox is a very well made pack, overall. It was not a strong competitor in this highly competitive review, but we still really liked it. It falls behind the competition for its slightly heavier weight, though scores above average in the rest of our metrics. It is best suited to ski mountaineering and classical alpinism that involves steep snow and rock, and better for colder conditions and seasons.
— Lyra Pierotti