The Backcountry Access Alp 40 ski pack has been around for several years and has received high marks from us for its simple, skier-centric design. The traditional top-loading pack is well sized and simply organized for full-day backcountry touring. The shovel compartment, probe storage and general clean design make it an efficient and utilitarian ski pack. When BCA announced they were updating the Alp 40 for this season, I was curious and apprehensive to see what they would change. There was definitely room for improvemnt (we are opinionated when it comes to packs), but there were several key elements that we thought best left untouched.
Well, we got a new Alp 40 here in the office last month, and I have had it out skiing a few times. Many of the pack’s main elements that made it popular with us remain; over all volume, dedicated avalanche tool storage, Stash hydration system, general top-loader style, modest straps and waist belt (with pockets).
The new Alp 40 also has several siginificant changes that alter the packs personality. The first big change is the materials, the new pack’s material is significantly stouter than previous models. The previous model was arguably a bit light-duty on the pack material and, with time, the pack definitely suffered some abrasion wear. The upside was the old version was noticably light weight. The new pack material is bomber and a nice upgrade, though as a result, the new pack is a little heavier. The second big change is the top access. The pack is still a top-loader, but rather than a traditional drawstring closure, the pack uses a dry-bag style roll-top closure. It keeps a traditional lid to cover the roll-top, but the new lid is removable. The old lid was fixed to the pack. The last big change is the new zipered back panel access. The zipper runs around about half of the back panel (replacing the sidezip on the older version), and allows reasonable access to the depths of the pack, but it is not a full fold-out opening.
Initially, I was skeptical of the roll-top acccess. It creates a great, dry closure, but seems like overkill. In use, it works great. I miss the ability to stuff the top lid in the pack and draw the top closed around it, but the roll-top is definitely secure. The new material significantly improves the pack’s durability, even if it does add weght. Still, the part of the pack that really makes the pack for me is the excellent avalanche tool storage. Shovel blade and handle and probe all have dedicated storage areas that do not interfere with the main compartment, yet they are easy to access from outside the pack when needed. The new pack adds an extra velcro flap for the probe and shovel handle sleeve, adding to the security of the pocket. The new pack also carries well, maybe even better than the old one. The back panel access is ok, but not a highlight of the new pack. Someone hoping for a full panel entrance will be dissapointed, and for those happy with traditional top-loader access, the back access is nice, but not really a significant feature.
Overall, the new pack is nice upgrade from earlier versions. I am always suspect of redesigned gear that already had a lot going for it, but the new Alp 40 is a great backcountry ski specific pack, maintaining the overall simplicity and functionality of the original with a few nice upgrades.