As Montane are naturally keen to point out, the Fast Alpine 40 mountain pack was developed with input from Andy Kirkpatrick. You'd expect it to be seriously functional then, built to take hard knocks and good for both comfortably lugging heavy loads and discreetly minding its own business when you're climbing. Now I'm no Andy Kirkpatrick (there's only room for one) - but I know a great climbing pack when I see it, and (bar one or two minor niggles) the Fast Alpine 40 is really superb.
Whether it's Scottish winter, summer mountain rock or Alpine fun, 40 litres is a good benchmark size for a general purpose climbing sack. Any smaller and you might struggle to cram everything in - think frozen ropes and a soggy mass of gear at the top of a winter route, for instance; but much larger and it'll encourage you to over-pack, and be sure to get in your way when climbing. Measuring pack capacity does not seem to be an exact science however, and I find the Fast Alpine's '40 litres' ever so slightly tighter than some other packs', while the sack mouth seems just a touch small. There's really not much in it though. On the upside you get a nice slimline body, which is clearly appreciated when climbing.
Lid and opening
With rear webbing straps and a panel of stretch fabric around the sides and rear, the lid can either be raised to create extra storage space, or pulled down tight around the top of the pack like a close-fitting weatherproof hood. There's only one front fastener, of the fashionable metal hook variety, which is both robust and faff free in use. Call me sad, but I find the lid's neat fit strangely satisfying. It cannot be removed however, which is bad news for ultra minimalists but fine by me. Underneath is a top compression strap with plenty of length to accommodate a bulky rope. Entry to the pack is then via a conventional sleeved mouth with two drawcords. Their chunky plastic cord-lock toggles are easy to use with gloves.
The zipped over-lid pocket is a very decent size for the loose bits and bobs to which you need regular access - hat, gloves, shades, camera, snacks. However if the whole bag is packed to capacity the lid pocket can restrict a helmet-wearing head a little when you're looking upwards. Shifting the lid pocket a couple of inches towards the front of the pack might have solved that, but most of the time of course you're not going to be climbing with a completely stuffed pack in any case. Beneath the lid is a small zipped valuables pocket with a key clip. I usually stash headtorch and phone under the lid, and the Fast Alpine 40's pocket is big enough for those.
Structure, straps, padding and carrying comfort
Its straps, frame and padding are, for me, the best bit of the Fast Alpine 40.
Inside is a lightweight aluminium frame, the so-called 'VertErgo Climb' back system (crikey, does it need a name?). With two arms running down the back from a horizontal top bar, this gives plenty of structure for load bearing, but also a little flex so that the pack does not feel rigid on your back. The frame can be removed and bent to give a degree of tailored fit, and if you were determined to go light you could leave it out altogether. A thin folded foam pad is also slipped down inside the back sleeve, offering protection from pack contents and something to sit on if benighted.
External back padding is firm but minimal, placed only where most needed behind the shoulder blades and in the lumbar region, and grooved for ventilation. Padding on the shoulder straps is also thin-but-firm - you don't want too much spongy foam here - and the straps are contoured to give a good close fit without restricting a climber's arm movement at all. A sternum strap, fully elastic, helps hold the shoulder straps in place while allowing chest and arms to flex freely. Hip padding is similarly minimal - again a good thing in my book. On my six-foot frame the belt actually sits just above the hips; this may be sub-optimal for load carrying but it's pretty standard on climbing packs, where you don't want a hip belt interfering with your harness. It has a nice form-hugging fit anyway, and still helps transfer some of the weight off your shoulders. Indeed the Fast Alpine 40 is pretty comfy when fully laden. If you're watching your weight, hip padding can be removed while leaving the webbing belt in place. Even with padding fitted the belt doubles back very neatly around the sack - my preferred option when wearing a harness.
The combination of effective internal frame, minimal firm padding and well-shaped straps adds up to a close, comfortable fit. The Fast Alpine 40 feels stable when heavily loaded, and so unobtrusive when climbing that you can more or less forget it's there. Nice one Montane.
Fabric, build quality and weight
The main body of the pack is made from something called Raptor rip-stop fabric - tough yet lightweight, and with minimal seams and stitches that could introduce points of failure. With a DWR coating, it happily shrugs off a shower. On the underside meanwhile it's a tougher Raptor UTL fabric for abrasion protection where most needed. Inside Montane have added a lining layer with a 1m hydrostatic head. As a result I haven't worried about protecting the pack contents with additional dry bags. I might do if it was a properly rainy day, but in that case I'd probably stay at home anyway.
Though this has been only a short-term test, so far the build quality seems admirable. Stitching inspires confidence, fabrics are durable, and all the buckles and other components are hard wearing. After several days out the Fast Alpine 40 still looks brand new.
On the debit side, at roughly 1350g this is not a notably lightweight pack - particularly given its Alpine climbing credentials, where every gram is supposed to count. However for its feature set, robustness and load carrying comfort the pack's weight still seems reasonable, and it compares pretty well with rucksacks of similar spec.
Speaking of spec there's a fair bit going on with the Fast Alpine 40, but crucially it remains uncluttered, and all the features have a clear rationale.
First thing to strike you is the profusion of metalwork - hooks, buckles and axe attachment doodahs. Metal is all the rage in top-end packs right now. These components have an attractive brushed finish; but more importantly, unlike their plastic equivalents they seem practically unbreakable. But do they work? The main lid fastener is very effective and glove-friendly. I'm less sold on the hip belt closure though, which I find a little more fiddly to use when wearing gloves than a standard plastic buckle. In its favour it is very small and low profile, and looks as if it has no chance of ever failing. Instead of the usual plastic clip affair, the Fast Alpine 40s four side compression straps also secure with metal hooks. These may be easy to use with gloves, and they certainly look the part, but I've found that unless you attentively tighten the straps then the hooks have a tendency to bounce free, leaving you with dangly bits. Fashion aside, boring old clips would be better here. I think the compression straps are a little on the short side too. Because the axe attachment system requires you to use a portion of the top compression strap, there isn't an awful lot left should you also wish to secure something bulky to the side of the pack - a rope, say, or a foam mat. An extra 10cm or so might leave you with longer tails of strap, but it would also allow more options when carrying lots of stuff.
Tool attachment is a robust and practical arrangement, and easily done with gloves on. The axe is held head-down, secured with a metal toggle through the hole at the head end, and a webbing strap up top. Picks are kept safely out of the way under a tough fabric flap, which is actually the bottom of the lid strap.
The central carry handle and rear haul loop are both reinforced and slightly stiffened with a rubbery coating, as is the attachment point for the lid fastener. It's a small detail, but a good one. Here's another: a robust gear loop on each wing of the hip pad, and another on each shoulder strap. While I never set out with gear racked onto my pack (does anybody?) I may well end up festooned with random bits and bobs by the time I've reached the top of a pitch - especially, for example, if seconding something I've found hard. It's nice to have this many gear clipping options, particularly as the loops are inconspicuous when not in use.
Finally there's an internal sleeve for a hydration bladder. I rarely use one, but the pocket is also a good place to keep your sandwiches.
It may not be a budget option, but you're getting what you pay for. A superb design well executed, Montane's Fast Alpine 40 manages to be both a decent load carrier and a well-balanced and unobtrusive climbing pack. Its capacity is spot on, its features are sensible, and its build quality inspires confidence. Any niggles - such as the side compression straps - are really quite minor. Some of us like the functionality and slim lines of a climbing pack even when we're just out walking, so whatever I'm doing on the hills in the next few months I'll be spending a lot more time with this bag.
Capacity: 40 litres
Colours: antarctic blue or flag red
Serious mountain climbs demand well-designed, well-constructed kit. Developed in conjunction with Montane's lead athlete and big wall climber Andy Kirkpatrick, leading British mountain guides and outdoor activists, the Fast Alpine 40 exudes functionality. The Fast Alpine 40 is designed to carry heavy climbing equipment to the base of a route and can compress down tightly when relatively empty. It works perfectly in conjunction with a technical climbing harness and is robust enough to cope with contact against abrasive rock surfaces. Most importantly, it is comfortable on long routes when dynamic climbing manoeuvres are required.