Backpacks can be like cars–they get you and your stuff where you need to go, and though they’re essential for meeting the day’s goals, their importance is easily overlooked. In my garage, I have two piles of packs on a shelf, one that is for 40-liter packs and larger, and the other for smaller packs. Each pack has its pros that make it the best choice for a specific outdoor objective whether it be rock climbing, ice climbing, mountaineering, overnights, skiing, multipitch climbing, expeditions, or long approaches.
On the Blue Ice website, the Warthog 40L is marketed as appropriate for rock climbing, ice climbing, backpacking, approaching/trekking and alpinism. I disagree with some of these suggestions, and I would limit my recommendations to technical rock, ice and alpine climbing, and cragging (ice or rock). The reason I make this distinction is for one simple reason–the 1.5-inch wide hip belt is not padded. Packs like this one with removable non-padded hip belts are made specifically to wear with a harness so that the padding does not get in the way of accessing the gear loops. Climbers will sometimes remove the hip belt to avoid any overlap between it and the harness gear loops. When a pack has a padded, sturdy hip belt, this allows the weight of the pack to ride more on the hips rather than resting mostly on the shoulders. This makes long approaches, heavy loads and overnight trips more comfortable. Most climbing packs come with padded hip belts and are for general use.
As expected, when I filled the Warthog 40L Pack with a full rack for rock climbing, rope, food, two liters of water, and other items for a day of climbing, I found that I was uncomfortably carrying much of the weight on my shoulders. I have used these types of packs before and have observed the same experience to be true. I give the Warthog five stars because for a climbing-specific pack, it is great, but there are better options on the market for trekking, backpacking, overnight climbing objectives, heavy loads, and long approaches.
Some of the features I really liked about the Warthog 40L Pack are 1) the durable material; 2) the simple back panel; 3) the non-expandable, fixed top lid; 4) the helmet carrier; 5) the innovative cinching skirt system; 6) the rope-carrying straps under the lid; 7) the pockets for storing small items above and under the lid; 8) modern ice-tool carrying sleeves; 9) releasable upper lateral compression strap; and 10) the pack design is attractive–it comes in Black with Blue Accents, and Blue and Black. The pack also comes with haul loops and a water-bladder carrying system.
There are some features that I feel neutral about or would have preferred a different system. I did not take any stars away for these issues because they are a matter of personal preference. For example, only one of the lateral compression straps on each side has a releasable buckle; the other is a slider. I prefer both to be releasable so I can get skis in and out on steep slopes easily without having to slide the skis all the way out of the bottom strap. Second, the front buckle that attaches the lid to the body is an aluminum hook that is difficult to maneuver when the pack is full and you have gloves on. For packs that are meant to be used for hauling, this metal hook system is a standard option that provides durability. With that said, hauling a pack is fairly rare, while opening and closing a pack happens many times per day. I’d rather have a quick-release buckle.
One more set of features that I am not a fan of are the bungee and toggle system for holding the ice tools to the pack. These were common in the 1990s and early 2000s. For a long time now, top pack manufacturers have been using plastic buckles at the pick sleeves and either another set of buckles, bungees, or Velcro for the handles. The bungee/toggle system is totally functional, but requires more effort to add or remove tools. My guess is that the intention behind this design choice is for durability, as plastic buckles can break. But the same is true for the sliding toggles on a bungee–I’ve had more of these fail over the years than buckles.
Two packs that most compare to the Blue Ice Warthog 40L (1,130 grams, $149.95) are the Arc’teryx Alpha FL 45 Backpack (670 grams, $259) and the Patagonia Ascensionist 40L (878 grams, $179). Most other packs at this size (40 liters) have padded hip belts. The Alpha does not have a lid, no lateral compression straps, and has a very simple ice tool strapping system without pick sleeves–Arc’teryx was going ultra-light with this pack. The Ascensionist uses a less-durable material, does not have pick sleeves, but has small, removable pads that go on the unpadded hip belts. Each of these three packs has their own additions or subtractions that make them quite different from each other and unique in the field.
For someone who is specifically looking for a pack with an unpadded, removable hip belt for technical climbing, this pack is a slam-dunk. It is well-made, comes at a competitive price, and has a variety of attractive features. I would use this pack a lot more if had come with a second padded hip belt that I could switch with the unpadded one.
Mike Lewis, M.A. is an IFMGA/AMGA Mountain Guide living in Estes Park, CO. Mike has been guiding and instructing since 1993 throughout the U.S. and internationally. Learn more about Mike at www.LunchboxJackson.com.
Modern ice tool carrying system
Specialized without options
Bungee and toggle ice axe loops
Non-releasable lateral compression strap