After my last post concerning the demise of the Inov-8 Terroc 330 trailshoes and in the midst of an uncharacteristic haze of nostalgia, I began to survey the other items in my gear store that have been called variously "game-changer", "iconic" or "go-to" depending on your penchant for the colloquial. As I’ve just booked my annual trip to the Alps my thoughts turned to the concept of a mountaineering rucksack. Mountaineers look for a rucksack able to cope with hauling in a heavy load of hardware in relative comfort, that’ll then cinch down and remain unobtrusive and rock-resistant during the climb. There’s no need for complicated back systems, crampon patches, a web of straps or side zips and reflective bits. Enter the Crux AK50.
The AK50 was the flagship rucksack in the Crux range when the British company launched in 2002. With a firm focus on climbing there were three other minimalist rucksacks in the range (A35, A50, AK50 and A70) and the current range isn’t much larger. It’s tough, comfortable and expertly designed to provide just what a mountaineer needs and nothing more. I reckon it’s the best all-round mountaineering rucksack out there and that’s why my battered, sun-faded pink AK50 has escaped the recycling box for so long.
Materials and Construction
This is where the magic happens – where the A50 model used 100% Cordura (a super tough PU coated fabric) the AK50 includes 28% Kevlar – yes, the material that bulletproof vests are made from. The result is a body fabric that posseses the perfect combination of ruggedness and weight – coping with being dragged up Skye gabbro, skewered by crampon points and thrown about by baggage handlers. But it’s not just the fabric that makes a pack rugged, and it’s immediately noticeable that the AK50 has a distinct lack of seams. Seams fail – they rub, they split – they’re a point of weakness. Any part of the pack that is exposed to particular stress and strain like the shoulder straps, haul loop and hipbelt is looped directly around the frame, meaning loads are transferred to the 8.5mm 7001-T6 aluminium tube rather than onto stitching. The frame is allegedly removable (there’s a Velcro-sealed flap offering access to it), but as it only weighs 70g I don’t think I’ll be removing it. This forms the mainstay of the back system, transferring load down to the small but effective hipbelt designed to avoid clashing with a harness. The thin foam back padding is one-piece – again, no seams – with varying thickness to provide maximum body contact for stability, the opposite of many walking rucksacks that seek to keep the rucksack held away from the body for ventilation. This is fine for a daywalk on even ground, but less-so when balancing along an airy arete. There are three back lengths – simply labelled 1 to 3. The shoulder straps are ergonomically curved and fitted with an adjustable chest strap. The whole package treads that familar fine line between comfort and weight – there’s no complex articulation or breathable mesh (snow sticks to mesh), just the bare minimum required to carry load efficiently with a degree of comfort.
Features aren’t really a key selling point here – but the AK50 does include those things considered important in a pack of this nature. There are simple ice axe loops at the base with thick shockcord and glove-friendly cordlocks to secure. Eyelets offer the ability to lash items such as crampons to the outside if required. A webbing strap zigzagging up each side acts as a compression system as well as stowage, coupled with the absolute minimum of a wand pocket lower down. The strap can be easily removed if not required. It’s possible to overfill the main pack body thanks to an expansion collar/snow valance, with two thick drawcords and chunky cordlocks. These drawcords appear unnecessarily thick for their purpose – but this is to allow them to be removed and used as emergency abseil tat. Brilliant. A top compression strap also works nicely as a rope retainer. The bright blue haul loop is prominent and sturdy. To allow for overfilling, the top lid is floating and adjusted by two simple webbing straps and ladderlock buckles. There’s a small zipped pocket under the lid and a larger pocket on top. The lid can be fully removed. When fully extended and the top pocket filled, the main body capacity of 45 litres is expanded to 55 litres – a perfect size for an all-round mountaineering pack, though in light of this I’m unsure where the AK50 model name comes from…
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