Mountain Equipment Company (MEC) has a long tradition of committed climbing design. Its designers have always brought a passion for climbing and combined first-hand experience of a climbers needs with their design construction and materials knowledge to produce feature focused affordable climbing packs for today’s climbers.
MEC’s Joel Forsyth, Equipment Designer, and Ian Chen, Technical Developer, continue this tradition with the release of the new MEC Cragalot 45. We were able to ask them a few questions about their design process for the new climbing pack and about future products for climbers.
Tell us a little about you as a climber: Joel Forsyth: It is hands down my favourite summer activity. I really love the combination of problem-solving and the physical challenge. Ian and I spent a fair amount of time climbing together and testing out products at the same time. We currently spend our weekends and evenings enjoying the trad climbing in Squamish and split our time between product testing and trying to work our way through the guidebook.
How has your climbing experience informed the way you design packs? Joel Chen: The Cragalot 45 redesign was definitely influenced by our experiences as well as from speaking with other climbers about their experiences and ideal use cases for a crag pack. The biggest consideration we focused on was the amount of time that the pack spends in the dirt and rocks. This obviously directly impacts durability requirements, but also helped shape the decisions on how the pack was intended to be used, features and construction.
For durability we spec’d MEC’s burliest fabric: a 1680d recycled polyester and avoided any exposed meshes that tend to snag and usually wear out the fastest. Instead of mesh, we used a stretch woven on the straps and back panel, which is better for abrasion. Ultimately, we wanted to deliver a bomber pack that would survive the regular abuse at the crag. For organization and access to your gear, we knew we wanted to have two methods to access the main compartment: top load access for speed packing when the rain rolls in, and an additional zippered access.
Why did you choose back panel access: Ian: The stretch weave is inherently less burly than the 1680d, so we wanted to keep it off the ground as much as possible. It is also a pet peeve that when the back panel and straps end up in the dirt they end up on your clothes. (Same thing for ski packs and snow). Front or back panel access gives you the largest opening and view of all your gear. It also lends itself well to symmetrically packing so that the weight is even (in comparison to a side access zipper).
A back panel entry means the front of the pack will regularly be on the ground. We tried to keep this front panel very simple (like the bottom of a duffle bag) so that there were less seams which would become wear points and allow dirt to sneak in. In the same thought process, we chose to wrap the 1680d onto the zippered bottle pockets that way they were more durable, eliminated seams, and gave folks the option of closing them up securely if you needed to.
How have climbing packs evolved over your career as a designer? What’s the future of climbing pack designs? Joel: The most obvious changes have been in material capabilities, from ripstops to waterproofing, materials are continuously evolving to improve how they can be used. With climbing being such a broad category and so many different disciplines, I’d say lightweight (but still durable) packs have seen the biggest innovation. Because the gear that goes into your pack has seen even greater size and weight reductions, users can also start using a smaller pack for the same quantity of gear.
How should climbers choose the right pack? Ian: Think about how you want to use their pack. The designs and features will vary greatly, depending on what the pack is designed for. Do you need to hike far in it to get to the climb? Will you need to haul it up a wall? Will you be wearing it while you’re climbing? Fabrics, suspension, comfort, and, of course, the features, are all important in choosing a pack, but each user will need to prioritize these based on their preferences and intended use. In the case of the Cragalot 45, we prioritised fabric and features that were centred around a shorter approach and the importance of organization.
What materials and designs really excite you these days? Ian: We particularly enjoy ‘fast and light’ products, combining features from different categories with highly technical lightweight fabrics that allow users to go further on their adventures. I would be really excited to work on a lightweight alpine climbing/mountaineering pack that would help unlock those ultra-remote and challenging adventures.
Do you have a favourite feature: Joel: One of my favourite hidden features is that all four side compression straps have a bartacked lash point which allows you to clip shoes and a chalk bag to them, but still use the buckles on the strap without losing your gear.
The Cragalot 45 is available from MEC and is highly recommended for rock climbers.