Wednesday, 23 October 2013

Salewa Miage II Pack Review - A 'Slim Silhouette'

Really, reviews are all about comparisons. Back in February, I reviewed my Arc'teryx Axios 35 with a view to it being one of the best packs for carrying camera gear up a mountain. On my recent trip to Bosnia and Herzegovina, and on a couple of wild camps in Sussex recently, I took a pack Salewa sent me - the Miage II. In Bosnia, I also used the Axios and, over four days of hiking, I compared the two. Directly and without favour.

For years now, I've loved my Gossamer Gear Gorilla pack. Not the new version, the old one. At just short of 700g, it's about the lightest pack I've ever used and, up to around 7kg, carries extremely well. The problem with it has always been durability. 210 denier fabric is great but the webbing is not sufficient to carry technical equipment and it doesn't carry well enough at the 8-10kg mark which is roughly what you need during winter and or for alpinism when you take into account tools, crampons and rope.

Salewa have an alpine heritage and have been making some phenomenal climbing kit for years. Started in 1935 in Munich, Germany, they supported an Andes expedition in the Cordillera Blanca in 1955 and established themselves in mountain sport as a result. Ice equipment, ice picks and crampons were added to the product line of the SALEWA mountain sports division and in 1962 they developed a fully-adjustable lightweight crampon. And from then on, the Germans staked a claim to excellence in mountain kit. They have a wonderful store in Zermatt and it was there I first became acquainted with the Miage II back in 2011 after the Haute Route when my OMM Villain MSC had been uncomfortable at the 9-10kg mark. I liked the look of the Miage II then but did nothing about it. When I became involved with Salewa and they asked me to test a pack, I chose the Miage II. And right out of the box, I was stunned.

The reason I love Arc'teryx is their intuition and attention to detail. I also love simple packs which do exactly what I need them to do. The Gorilla doesn't need much because walking and trekking doesn't require a complex pack. So GG have kept it simple and that's why it's so light and why it is so good. A world-beater in its class. But alpinism and climbing requires a different type of pack entirely. It needs to hug the figure and stay tight because the last thing you need on a climb or scramble is a pack which shifts and pitches on your back. Not only are you carrying tools but you need ready access to them, often without taking your pack off or, certainly, without unpacking anything else. You need places to clips things; places to access small items quickly and so on. Salewa stand aside Arc'teryx when it comes to making kit which thinks of everything. Take a look at my Alp Train.Mid GTX-Pell review if you don't believe me.

Let's take a look at the pack. At 1.2kg, it sits with the Axios as a lightweight, but not ultralight, alpine pack. The fabric is very durable ripstop designed to withstand fights with violent rock. Volume is 35 litres which is perfect - although it feels like slightly more to me. Salewa describe it as an alpine and ski mountaineering pack which is also good for via ferrata. There is, therefore, a diagonal ski attachment as well as a compartment for a shovel and avalanche probe (both marked as such). There is a space to sling rope across the top, under the lid and a fastening loop. There is a bespoke Ice-axe or walking pole fastening pouch and loop and a loop on the hipbelt for tools, crabs, cams etc and an SOS Label. 

What about storage? There is an inner pocket for valuables as well as a very clever webbed pocket inside the top lid pocked which closes via velcro so you can leave wet stuff in there but leave the lip pocket open to vent without losing your stuff. Think hat and gloves or even base layer. It's clever. The side pockets are durable webbing with an elasticated rim and durable base so something sharp won't rip the base of the pocket. There are load control, or compression, straps which are well placed. There is space for a hydration system which works very well. On one side is a clipped strap, which operates like a hook, for tools which doubles, for me, as an extra clip to secure my tripod.

The shoulder straps and hipbelt and straps are extremely comfortable and very light. But they also have another neat trick. Roll the excess up and there is a velcro tie at the end which secures them effectively, easily and with no slippage. Again, nice. Adjustment of each is made for a hand wearing gloves. Same thing with the lid pulls. And thank you, we do actually LIKE hipbelt pockets! They ARE useful. Long ties on the zips, again for gloved hands.

How is the carry? The backsystem is a simple one but effective. It's padded and shaped and the pack carries well. It dries quickly too. It's a comfortable pack - I would say I preferred the Axios 35 to carry but it doesn't have the functionality as a ski-touring and mountaineering pack the Miage II does - the ability to carry tools durably and have access to them, for example. My trekking partner carried the Axios for two days and the Miage II for two days. He doesn't want to give the Miage II back and preferred it to the Axios. Both of us agreed, over a beer in the lovely city of Sarajevo, that in fact there was very little choose between the two. In conclusion, for alpinism and ski mountaineering and touring, there is little which beats the Miage II all round. It's clever, well-thought out and comfortable. It's durable and functional. And it has that rather lovely 'slim silhouette' - a jaunty turn of phrase that proves alpinism can be poetry too.


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