Upcycled Ice Climbing Pack

2012, Just for fun

Unemployment and an upcoming ice climbing trip pushed Ryan to finally get all his stubborn opinions about the perfect climbing pack vetted in the form of a prototype made from upcycled windsurfing sails.

A rugged, featured and fresh looking pack rises from a trashed wind surfing sail and lives on to summit some gnarly peaks. This is how I imagine the sleeve of a bestselling biopic of this pack’s life would read.

The inspiration for this pack was threefold:

  • I was recently unemployed and desperate for something to do
  • My usual ice climbing pack was falling apart (don’t use welded seams on something that takes that kind of abuse)
  • I had an ice climbing and mountaineering trip planned to Katahdin, Maine in mid February


The pack design itself is nothing special, with the exception of the framesheet system, which addresses compression and loading issues common in climbing packs of this volume. From the beginning, I tried to address the following with my design:

  • carry varying load sizes, without affecting other features
  • interact with gloved hands
  • compliment being worn with a climbing harness

From these requirements, I outlined further the specific features, functions, problems and successes of other packs that I wanted to incorporate into the pre-design process. They included:

  • secure ice tool holders: protection from the points, and ability to secure to an empty pack, without sagging or “crunching” of the main compartment (a common problem with many technical packs). I decided on a dual framsheet system, with a large foam insert int he usual backpanel place, and a smaller one on the front of the pack. This sandwiches awkward loads, while also preventing poking into the pack from the crampon pocket
  • A crampon pocket that allowed easy in/out access and security. I’ve found minimalist strap designs tend to get caught up in the points of the crampon. The holder also has a pocket for a metal file for sharpening picks and points.
  • secure rope holder: I devised a Y shaped buckle strap for the rope that sits under the brain. The Y shape reduces slippage and slouching of the rope, while still functioning with a single buckle. The compression straps on the sides are long enough to secure the rope again.
  • Intermediate “staging” clips and holders: I’ve often struggled with where to put my insulated gloves when operating a camera or jackets when changing layers. The brain has an elastic cargo net that can accommodate many items in a secure way. There are also climbing gear loops attached to the pack, which rack gear forward, towards the wearer, and remain in the absence of the removable hipbelt
  • Single buckle on the brain: Quick and easy, out of the way of the shaft points of the ice tools.
  • Secure pockets for smaller items inside the brain: I decided upon a horizontal spandex sleeve system in the brain that takes sunglasses, lighters and keys. The spandex prevents scratching between items, and the horizontal alignment means when loaded, the pockets still “curl” over the load beneath the brain.


The pack is made entirely from an upcycled windsurfing sail. High wear areas, like the crampon pocket or pick sleeve were constructed from the gusset or foot of the sail where the high test Delrin material was layered for strength. The material is laminated and waterproof. All cut edges in the pack were sewn with a retaining stitch or closed with bias ribbon or flat sewn webbing for strength and durability. Nearly all stitches were triple sewn stretch stitches in a zig zag or straight pattern using high test nylon UV resistant thread on a Janome myStyle 100 home sewing machine). It took about 4 days to construct.

Because I was limited to a home sewing machine, the process also had to be designed in a way that reduced fabric and layer thicknesses and the need for a large free arm sewing machine. Much of this was planned out on paper with check lists and diagrams that allowed me to move through the construction of the pack in a logical and manageable way.

Field Test Results:

The trip consisted of a 16 mi up hill ski into the base camp, hauling ski pulks (sleds) of our gear. We spent 3 days climbing the East Coast’s most classic ice and mixed lines on a mountain known for its unrelenting weather and vicious terrain.

Pros: The pack easily handled all of my cold weather climbing gear (hats, puffy jackets, insulated mittens, thermos, SPOT, food and anchor gear. It withstood being blasted by ice, sometimes at gusts of 40 mph and kept all of its contents quite dry. The rope and tools were surprisingly secure (which was important when full body snow climbing) and the side gear loops were easy to clip. All buckles, ties and the zipper were easy to operate with gloves (liner and insulated glove).

Cons: The biggest problem was a puncture into the interior of the pack by the ice tool points, underneath the pick sleeve. This was caused by a slightly small sleeve and an oversight on where durable material should be used (the sleeve itself is 3 layer, the pack body 1 layer). I hope to remedy this problem in the future by cutting two slits in the pick sleeve, that allow the picks to stick out near the tip.

I also found the spandex item pockets to be a little awkward to put items in and out since they require wide clearances and hand movement is limited by the width and opening of the zipper. That said, they contour easily over rounded objects below the brain, like a stowed rope or full pack.

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