Hands-on Gear Review

Patagonia Ascensionist 40 Review

Patagonia Ascensionist 40
Price:  $179 List | $179.00 at Backcountry
Compare prices at 3 resellers
Pros:  Simple, light, comfortable
Cons:  not durable, some features are problematic
Editors' Rating:   
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Manufacturer:   Patagonia

Our Verdict

Simple, light, and relatively inexpensive, the Patagonia Ascensionist is a solid alpine climbing pack. It's not our favorite, partially due to a few issues in its design; the "removable" hip belt can't be removed without cutting off some webbing and the sternum strap is unusually difficult to adjust. Our testers also wish the pack was made of a more durable fabric. However, the pack is fairly comfortable on the trail and on the route.

For a pack that costs a bit less, and that we feel is a better overall value, check out our Best Buy Award winning Black Diamond Speed 40. If simple, streamlined design is something you value in your mountaineering kit, click over to our review of the Arc'teryx Alpha FL 45.

New Version Update — April 2017
Patagonia replaced the 45-liter version with a new 40-liter model, pictured above. The latest iteration of the Ascensionist has more bells and whistles, including a hole for a hydration hose, a removable foam back panel, and new attachments for ice tools. It also has a new fabric, intended to increase durability. We changed our price-check links to the latest version of this product, so you can get your hands on the newest design. Read on below where we discuss these changes and more in detail.



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Our Analysis and Test Results

Review by:
Ian McEleney

Last Updated:
Thursday
April 27, 2017

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The Ascensionist 40 vs. the Ascensionist 45


Besides the obvious change in name and volume, Patagonia has updated this pack with many design changes in terms of features and specifications. The lower volume is accompanied, as expected, with lower weight and smaller dimensions. In hopes of improving this pack's durability, Patagonia switched the fabric to a nylon/polyester mix with a polyurethane coating. We're happy to see that the high-density foam back panel is now removable, which increases its durability and lowers its minimum pack weight. There are more ice tool attachments, as well as a hole for your hydration tube to poke through (although there is no bladder sleeve inside the pack). The price remains the same, and despite many design changes, the overall functionality of this newbie is quite similar to its predecessor.

Check out the side-by-side photos below to compare the new Ascensionist 40 (on the left) with the now discontinued Ascensionist 45 (on the right).

Patagonia Ascensionist 40
Patagonia Ascensionist 45

Here's a summary of the key differences found in the latest Ascensionist 40:
  • Volume and Dimensions — The new version has a smaller capacity, now 40 liters (hence the name change to "40"). The new dimensions for the S/M size pack is 22.5" x 12" x 7".
  • Lower Weight — The Ascensionist 40 dropped some weight, tipping Patagonia's scales at 878 grams (30.97 ounces) for a S/M size without removing any materials like the hip belt padding. The previous model weighed 1020 grams (35.53 ounces) in its complete form.
  • New fabric — In an attempt to increase this models durability (a point of weakness in the preceding version), Patagonia changed the fabric from 100% nylon to 86% nylon/14% polyester with a polyurethane coating.
  • Removable Back Panel — Unlike it predecessor, the Ascensionist 40 features a removable, high-density foam back panel. We assume this is not only comfortable but also increases the amount of weight that can be dropped from this pack for minimalist use.
  • Hydro-Compatible — The new pack has a portal for a hydration tube to snake through. There is not a hydration bladder sleeve inside the pack.
  • Ice Tool Attachment — Patagonia modified how you attach ice tools to this pack, with velcro straps at the top of the front daisy chains and new loops at the bottom of the chains.

Following our research and correspondence with Patagonia, we are enthused by the changes made to this solid pack. We expect performance to remain similar or slightly improve, especially in the durability department, with this new version. Since we haven't had the opportunity to test the new pack on our backs on top of a mountain yet, the text below continues to reflect the older model.

Hands-On Review of the Ascensionist 45


The Patagonia Ascensionist 45 is one of the more innovative packs in our test. There are a lot of new ideas at work in this backpack, some work well, some our testers could take or leave, and some fall flat. One of the unique design features of this pack is the main closure. Like the Hyperlite Mountain Gear 3400 Ice Pack and the Arc'teryx Alpha 45 FL this pack has no lid. While it has a standard draw cord closure (like the Alpha) in this case when it's closed it's angled away from the user. We found this makes rain, snow, and falling ice chunks less likely to get in there. It also has an interesting effect on the way the pack is packed.

Performance Comparison


Early season alpine climbing with the Patagonia Ascensionist 45.
Early season alpine climbing with the Patagonia Ascensionist 45.

Weight-To-Volume Ratio


The Ascensionist is one of the lighter packs in our test generally. It has a middling weight-to-volume ratio of about 22 grams per liter with or without its hip belt and framesheet. Stripping it down only shaves off about 8 ounces (226 grams). That's okay, because the max weight is already lighter than the stripped weight of several of the competition.

While we didn't use exactly the same volume measuring method as Patagonia, it's worth mentioning that, like the Alpha FL and the Gregory Alpinisto 50, this pack only reaches its stated capacity when it is very full.

The Ascensionist 45 packed with bivy gear and food for one night  Banner Peak  Sierra Nevada  CA.
The Ascensionist 45 packed with bivy gear and food for one night, Banner Peak, Sierra Nevada, CA.

Durability


Like many of the packs in our test, the Ascensionist is built on a foundation of 210 denier nylon. The front and sides are made of this not particularly durable material. The ice tool head pocket is made of 400d nylon. Patagonia uses the same bottom fabric suite that we liked on the bottom and sides of the Black Diamond Speed 40, that is, a thin foam sandwich with 400d nylon on the outside and 200d polyester on the inside. We feel that this pack is light enough (because of its simple design and feature set) that the front and sides could have been made of a more stout fabric with a small weight penalty and a big gain in abrasion resistance.

Other climbers we spoke to (as well as some online reviewers) had problems with the durability of the inside of the frame sheet pocket. The aluminum rod that makes up part of the frame sheet was wearing through the 200d fabric inside the pack on the 45L and 35L. Patagonia says they've solved this problem and we didn't notice it at all during our testing.

Versatility


The Ascensionist is about average for versatility compared to other packs we tested. Its good weight-to-volume ratio helps in this department. It carries loads on the trail with surprising comfort for its weight. When the pack is not full but compressed, the top closure strap gives it a short squat look, but our testers do not think this affects the climbing performance. The buckles on the ice tool head attachment are reversible, which lets them buckle across and function as the bottom part of a diagonal ski carry system.

Packs without lids generally do not do as well when overstuffed because the lid helps retain some of the gear erupting from the top. This is particularly true with the Ascensionist because the pack opens at an angle instead of up. When overstuffed, the top of the pack gets bulbous and weird. Like the Alpha FL, this pack rewards smart packing.

Scott crams it all in for a 5 day alpine rock trip.
Scott crams it all in for a 5 day alpine rock trip.

This pack has a thin foam pad sewn inside the back panel. As with every other pack in this test (except for the Wild Things Guide Pack and the CiloGear 45L Worksack) we wish this pad was removable. This would add versatility because it would let us substitute our own bivy pad. Patagonia talks a lot about involving its athletes in design; our testers were surprised they didn't want this feature

The 210d fabric most of the pack is made of does not shine in the abrasion resistance, so this isn't the best pack in the test for rock climbing. Interestingly, our testers also had some frustrations with the small buckles and zipper pull on the pack when wearing gloves, so it also isn't their favorite for use in very cold weather.

Features


The Ascentionist is a fairly simple pack. It has some features we like and others that are problematic. We like the ice tool attachment system, particularly the way the shafts of a mountaineering axe or ice tool tuck neatly into the compression strap, though this does require a change in the old habit of strapping the head in first (even Steve House makes this mistake - see 2:15 in the video below). Our testers like the reversible buckles of the ice tool head attachment and feel it makes the other buckle pair extraneous, we wish it was more like the Speed 40 in this regard. If crampons need to be strapped to the outside of the pack there is a pair of daisy chains on the front panel to facilitate this. We like that the daisy chains are skinnier, lighter webbing. This is also true on the compression straps which are 9/16" wide.

Though it's easy to remove the framesheet, getting the hip belt padding off of this pack is a pain. To remove the padding the buckle has to come off first. However, the buckle can't be removed because the bartacked finished end on the webbing is too bulky to fit through the buckle. In the end we had to cut off that end, which makes losing the buckle more likely. When the padding finally is removed, climbers are left with a low profile webbing hip belt. As climbers who obsess over gear, our testers are used to getting out scissors, needle, and thread to modify gear for their own specific end uses. However, we feel that the standard features on a pack should not require scissors to operate.

We found that to remove the hip belt padding for better use with a harness  first we had to cut off the bartacked finished end of the webbing.
We found that to remove the hip belt padding for better use with a harness, first we had to cut off the bartacked finished end of the webbing.

The Patagonia Ascensionist 45 comes with no port for the hose of a hydration system. Because the opening of the pack is angled away from the user when worn, routing the hose that way is a pain at best. Our testers cut a hole in the back of the pack to facilitate this standard summer hydration tactic. (Again with the scissors.) We like the small top pocket because it gave us a bit of organization for smaller items like a headlamp. When the pack is stuffed, it is a bit hard to get into and might require loosening the top closure strap.

Our DIY hydration hose port.
Our DIY hydration hose port.

The sternum strap on this pack is adjustable by fitting a metal toggle in a pocket on a daisy chain on the shoulder strap. The daisy chain pockets vary by several millimeters in size. Though this irregularity is small, it's enough to make adjusting the position of the sternum strap extremely difficult to adjust. This probably won't be a problem for most climbers, who will set the sternum strap once and leave it there.

The daisy chain pockets for the sternum strap on the shoulder of the Ascensionist. We found a variance of up to 4mm in the size of these pockets (top). This made some of them well-nigh impossible to get the sternum strap toggle into or out of and limited it's adjustability.
The daisy chain pockets for the sternum strap on the shoulder of the Ascensionist. We found a variance of up to 4mm in the size of these pockets (top). This made some of them well-nigh impossible to get the sternum strap toggle into or out of and limited it's adjustability.

Comfort


As mentioned in "Versatility" this pack is pretty comfy on the approach. Patagonia's framesheet is our favorite of all the packs in the test. It adds a lot of stiffness to the pack but still moves with us. This pack also climbs fairly well. We didn't notice it when climbing technical rock up to 5.9 with kit for an overnight.

The Black Diamond Speed 40 and Patagonia Ascensionist 45. Both packs climbed well loaded with gear on a two day climb with an open bivy at 14 000 feet in July.
The Black Diamond Speed 40 and Patagonia Ascensionist 45. Both packs climbed well loaded with gear on a two day climb with an open bivy at 14,000 feet in July.

Best Applications


We think the fabric is too light duty for serious rock use, but didn't find the buckles to be very glove-friendly. We think this pack is best used for spring and summer alpine climbing that isn't too rock intensive. It's well suited to weekend trips up Cascade Volcanoes or easier alpine climbs in the Canadian Rockies.

Value


The Ascensionist 45L is only ten bucks more than our Best Buy winner, the Black Diamond Speed 40. We think the Speed is a better value because of its features, versatility, and superior weight-to-volume number.

Conclusion


This is a light and comfortable pack that has some unique features. Our testers are excited about its simplicity. If you're willing to overlook some of its quirks, treat it gently, and pack it well, this could be a good rucksack for you.

The Ascensionist is easy to get in and out of  thanks to the single-pull cord lock on it's main opening.
The Ascensionist is easy to get in and out of, thanks to the single-pull cord lock on it's main opening.

Ian McEleney

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Most recent review: April 27, 2017
Summary of All Ratings

OutdoorGearLab Editors' Rating:  
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 (4.0)
Average Customer Rating:  
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 (3.0)
Rating Distribution
2 Total Ratings
5 star: 0%  (0)
4 star: 50%  (1)
3 star: 50%  (1)
2 star: 0%  (0)
1 star: 0%  (0)


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