I tested the pack over the course of two weeks while ice climbing in the Canadian Rockies. The pack challenged my ingrained packing style, but ultimately it won me over with a thoughtful design that puts everything in its place.
The pack is designed from the inside out, neatly organizing all of your gear. Crampons go in a puncture-resistant zippered pocket at the top. A small pocket opposite is perfect for storing a headlamp, phone, and other small essentials.
The Ice Project uses a full-zip, luggage-style opening to give unrestricted access to all equipment at once. A stretch pocket on the inside of the cover holds a belay jacket and climbing gloves, while clips at the base of the pack secure ice tools with a puncture resistant sleeve to cover the tips.
A large, stretchy middle pouch is meant to house a water bottle and fruit boots (boots with attached crampons), but I used it to hold my thermos and ice climbing rack. A ten-slot ice screw organizer clips over the top of the pouch with a side slot for storing files.
At 45 liters, the Ice Project provides just enough space to add a harness, helmet, 70-meter half-rope and some snacks around the edges. Although normally shared with a partner, if you happen to be carrying a full load, another half rope can be squeezed in the main compartment by moving the helmet to the gear loops or daisy chain on the outside of the pack.
External compression straps can be used to stow trekking poles or even ice tools for quick access for steep and sketchy approaches. The hip belt actually comes with four ice clipper slots, offering another way to secure tools close at hand when wearing the pack.
By the end of the two weeks of testing in Canada I grew accustomed to the purpose-built design. My climbing partner remarked that the Ice Project turned me into an efficient machine, so much so that it made her look like a slowpoke, which she most definitely is not.
Removing a layer on long approaches or grabbing a snack takes only a matter of seconds without the need to unhook ropes in order to gain access to the main compartment. Arriving at the base of the climb, I immediately had everything at hand to gear up without having to first remove items from my pack.
At the end of the day, simply shove everything in its place, zip up, and head back to the car. The Ice Project is a type-A ice climber’s dream.
The North Face Ice Project ($199) will be available this fall 2014.
—Amy Jurries is Founder and Editor of The GearCaster.