Like a pair of socks, a backpack can be easily overlooked in its essential importance to the success of a day out in the mountains. I have had packs that are uncomfortable because their suspension isn’t well-balanced, and other ones that are missing all the simple components that keep me from getting annoyed at cold breaks on a windy mountain ridge. The Blue Ice Yeti 50L pack is an outstanding pack in its class, and I am honestly glad to see another option of this quality out there on the market.
With over twenty backpacks of various sizes in my garage, I wonder what the heck I am doing with all of these packs. But when the day comes for a specific climbing or ski-mountaineering objective, it’s easy to see the difference between one pack and the next, each one having its pros and cons that will make the day go smoother and more safely. Of all the packs, the 50-liter, lightweight alpine climbing packs are my favorite. I can do just about everything with this size of pack, including overnight backpacking, expeditions, alpine climbing, rock and ice cragging, backcountry skiing, and long approaches to multi-pitch alpine and rock climbs where I might carry a smaller 20L pack for the actual climb, so I like that the lid and the hip belt of the Yeti 50L Pack can be removed and made into a hip pack.
These lightweight alpine climbing packs typically exclude certain features you’d find in a standard backpacking pack, for example: a vented back pad; extra pockets for organizing overnight items; beefy shoulder pads; thicker material; a large, zippered access hatch to get into the bottom of the pack without opening the top; and an overall heavier, more durable build. In contrast, alpine-specific packs, such as the Black Diamond Speed and Mission packs, the Osprey Variant and Mutant packs, and the Deuter Guide packs typically have two modernized ice axe loops with pick pouches, top-loading-only access, removable lids, streamlined yet comfortable carrying systems (including the hip belt, back pad, and shoulder straps), thin, water-resistant pack body material, durable Cordura-type material for the bottom of the back, rope- and ski-carry systems, removable hip belt, hydration water pocket, and buckled lateral compression straps on the sides for attaching ropes, skis, pickets and other items.
The Yeti 50L Pack meets the standards of its class of packs, yet stands out as a result of some added features that make difficult mountain life that much easier. There are three specific features that really caught my attention: 1) a quick-release system to open the skirt at the top end of the main compartment, 2) front pocket, and 3) hip-belt pocket. I’ve been pining for each of these three features for the past 10 years.
The quick-release skirt opening system (Blue Ice’s phrase for this feature) is…Wow…life changing. Almost always when alpine climbing, mountaineering, or doing overnight backcountry ski trips, I, and most everyone I climb and ski with, choose to take the pack lid off and either leave it at home or use it as an organization pouch inside the main body of the pack. With the lid removed, the top of the pack body is left vulnerable to snow and drizzle and looks much like the top of a climbing chalk bag or a kitchen trash bag with cinching strands being pulled tight. It works, but is not ideal. The Yeti 50L Pack has a 6-inch-by-4-inch panel with a brilliantly designed tab that pulls the panel into place to cover the opening of the top of the pack body, yet releases easily with little effort. This way, you don’t feel any resistance or laziness impeding you from digging into your pack when needed.
When using an alpine pack with the lid removed, the wearer can instantly lose the ability to organize and keep accessible the small items that are needed at breaks such as snacks, maps, sunscreen, headlamps, and other items. These items most likely end up in the various pockets of jackets and pants, or in the deep, dark well of the pack body itself. In this situation, I tend to forget where I have put these items and get annoyed searching around from pocket to pocket for that quick hit of energy or dab of sunscreen. The Yeti 50L Pack tackles this dilemma by adding a small 7-inch-by-5-inch pocket on the outside-front aspect of the pack, and another 5-inch-by-3-inch pocket on the hip belt. Thank you, Blue Ice.
The Yeti 50L Pack has only three small points that I didn’t like. I refrained from subtracting any stars, because the features are still just as functional–it’s just me being picky: 1) the ice axe holders use toggles and bungee cords, which are a little outdated in my opinion. I prefer to have beefy Fastex buckles for the ice axe heads and Velcro for the handles. These make access to my tools much faster and easier to deal with. 2) The lower lateral compression straps are non-releasable, while the upper one is releasable. I like both to be releasable so that I don’t have to stuff ropes and skis into the lower strap. 3) When the pack is not quite full, but I still want to keep the lid on it, the lid hangs fairly far forward, exposing the top of the pack body, and hanging over past the clips on the front of the pack where the lid clips in. At that point, I can either hike with the pack lid looking ridiculously unprofessional and flopping around, or take it off and stick it in the pack body. Either way, it’s not ideal. Of these three aspects, the one that might make me choose another pack over the Yeti 50L would be the toggled and bungeed ice-axe system. I really like the streamlined look and use of a pack that has buckles for the ice-axe heads and Velcro for the handles.
Of the comparable packs mentioned further above, I would most compare the Yeti 50L Pack to the Black Diamond (BD) Speed 50 and the BD Mission 55. Both BD packs lack the quality of the Yeti’s releasable skirt. Both BD packs have buckles and Velcro for the ice axes, making the pack look more streamlined and user-friendly. Neither of the BD packs have a zippered front pocket or a hip belt pocket. Both BD packs have two buckled, releasable lateral compression straps. The BD Mission 55 has a crampon pouch in the front as well as a side zipper that reaches three-quarters of the length of the pack body. I have found both of these features to be extremely useful. The BD Mission 50 is $219.95 and 1724 grams in weight. The Speed 50 is $189.95 and 1219 grams. The Blue Ice Yeti 50L is $149 and 1350 grams (when fully stripped it is 900 grams).
The Blue Ice Yeti 50L Pack is a new and formidable contender in the alpine pack market. With its low price point and added features, it meets the standards for base features in its class and is surely to gain some popularity. An important point to finish with is that the Yeti 50L pack currently only comes in one size. I am a standard medium at 5-foot-10 and 155 pounds. This pack fit perfectly and felt like a medium from other pack manufacturers. It’s a nice-looking pack, coming in grey with blue and dark grey accents. I look forward to the next opportunity to use it.
Mike Lewis, M.A. is an IFMGA/AMGA Mountain Guide living in Estes Park, Colorado. Mike has been guiding and instructing since 1993 throughout the U.S. and internationally. Learn more about Mike at www.LunchboxJackson.com.
Innovative cinch system
Zippered hip belt and front-of-pack pocket,
Bungee and toggle ice axe loops (if personal preference is Velcro)
Floppy lid when pack is not full
Non-releasable lateral compression strap