During my first winter in Jeffersonville, Vermont–where a gradual 30-minute walk leads to a frozen wonderland of single- to multipitch ice routes–I’d bring the 25-liter Patagonia Black Hole pack. Though the small pack is designed for carrying a 15-inch laptop, gym gear and a bag lunch, I’d stuff it with a rope, ice tools, crampons, harness and rappel device and head out for solo climbing. I liked how the laptop pouch inside the pack doubled as an ice-tool sleeve, securely fastening the tools. I much preferred this system for my tools instead of somehow securing them on the outside of the pack (the Black Hole does not have straps to hold ice tools), where I risked dropping them.
Though I knew the Black Hole was not designed as an ice-climbing specific pack, I liked the simplicity of it. For lightweight solo outings it was all I needed, but it wasn’t big enough for general use.
The rock climbing-specific Patagonia Cragsmith 45 ($199; 3 lbs., 7 oz.) pack is a beefier, larger version of the Black Hole, and like the Black Hole it has a clean design. And it has many of the same features found in the smaller pack, including a DWR (durable water repellent) finish and internal sleeve, though in the case of the Cragsmith the sleeve is designed to hold a large water bladder. This is Patagonia’s largest pack, what they call “the gear dumpster.”
In terms of materials, the Black Hole and Cragsmith are different, and where the Blue Sign certified Black Hole is made of lighter 450-denier ripstop polyester with a film laminate, the Cragsmith is built with a heavier 630 denier that has a polyurethane coating. It also has a 200-denier nylon lining. Patagonia does not list the Cragsmith as Blue Sign certified, but it does offer a link to its supply chain.
Like other comparable climbing packs such as the 41L Metolius Crag Station ($129; 2 lbs., 10 oz.) and Black Diamond Stone 45 ($169; 3 lbs., 1 oz.), the Cragsmith has a streamlined design made with ballistic material. And where the Crag Station has a duffel-style opening and the Stone is top-loading, the Cragsmith allows both top-loading via a U-shape design and–thanks to a full zipper–back-panel loading.
Because the Cragsmith 45 is a general-use pack, it worked equally well when I jammed it full of camping items (sleeping bag, clothes), as it did for road trips to faraway crags where I used it for sport climbing, crack climbing, and mixed/dry cragging objectives. I liked how I could fill it with gear, plus insulated jackets and thermoses, and still have space for whatever small goods I could shove in from either the top or side before zipping it up. However, if the pack were nearly full, it wouldn’t fit a helmet (and trying to fit it in stressed the pack’s zipper). When that was the case, I strapped the helmet to the two external metal clips located on both sides of the pack.
Packing it up for rock climbing was a standard affair–it fits a 70-meter 10mm lead rope and personal items, or it fits a whole rack with space for miscellaneous items.
For winter cragging, to take care not to put holes in it, I wrapped the crampons on the bottom of my boots with potato sacks, and other times I clipped these boots to the outside of the pack. As with the Black Hole, I used the internal sleeve for ice tools. This is not standard practice, but I liked how it removed the chance of accidently losing a tool during the hike in and out (I’ve seen this happen twice over the years).
Over nine months of testing, I carried the Cragsmith from the sandstone splitters in Utah’s San Rafael Swell and Indian Creek, to the faces and cracks of Eldorado and Boulder Canyons in Colorado, to the mixed/drytooling terrain in Vail and Rocky Mountain National Park. During all that time the zippers never froze up (though they did snag on other soft goods within the pack), and the outer material held up without getting holes or scratches. Today the pack is dusty but otherwise still looks new.
There were a few small things that I didn’t like. When I put on the pack, my shirtsleeve would get caught in the water-bladder nozzle holder on the right shoulder strap. I found this feature (the nozzle holder) a nuisance, so I wrapped the obtrusive piece of plastic with tape to keep it out of the way. I also didn’t find the waist-belt pocket (on only the right side of the belt) useful. It fit car keys and a compact energy bar but very often the pocket would hang up on my hip and fold the waist belt back between my spine and the pack. This hang-up caused me to stop and pull the waist belt out before putting the pack on all the way. (Maybe I should get better at putting packs on.)
Thanks to ample padding on the shoulder straps and waist belt, the pack comfortably carried loads even when weighed down with 40 to 50 pounds.
Additional features include two external handles at the top of the pack and one handle on the bottom to make it easy to grab and pull out of a truck bed. It also has two internal webbing straps (single-loop daisy chains) inside the pack, and two external stretch-woven side pockets, one on each side, great for carrying guidebooks and water bottles. The lid in the pack’s brain is big enough to hold belay specs, knife, phone and a guidebook.
Available in Dolomite Blue and Black, and in two sizes: small/medium, large/extra-large.
Chris Van Leuven is the former digital editor for Alpinist. He is currently living on the road and working on a book.
Access to inside by both top and back panel
Water-bladder nozzle holder easily gets caught up in shirtsleeve
Waist-belt pocket gets in the way