In a world of lightweight packs that increasingly tend toward lifestyle and not technical pursuits, SLOT differentiates itself by being designed specifically for canyoneering and climbing.
The tough but not heavy packs are built to be scraped through narrow rock passages, and to be bounced against cliff faces when you use your pack as a haul bag. They’re also designed to carry heavy weight comfortably, with one of the least gimmicky, most comfortable suspension systems we’ve tested.
Co-founder Dave Schipper is a Moab-based alpinist, rock climber, and canyoneer. Schipper is also a 30-year veteran pack and apparel designer who has worked for the outdoor industry’s most revered brands: Black Diamond, The North Face, Solomon, Spyder, and First Lite.
According to Schipper, Canyoneering is the last “technical” sport without major brand ownership. It is in the sweet spot of being too small for bigger brands and growing enough to be relevant. That’s what inspired Schipper and his nephew Ben Conroy, formerly of Yeti Cycles, to come up with a pack line made for technical desert use.
In short: SLOT’s debut is one of the most compelling launches we’ve seen in a long time. In fact, rarely have we seen a brand launch with a product that’s so dialed. Schipper has been working on the packs for 7 years, and the packs currently being sold by SLOT are the 14th iteration of Schipper’s designs. We got a first look at the packs and hope to test one soon. For now, here’s all you need to know.
A Desert-Focused Brand Is Born
“Every serious outdoor brand I worked for or watched has difficulty telling a technical, cutting-edge, extreme weather story and translating it into a hot weather application,” said Dave Schipper, SLOT co-founder.
“SLOT is a technical desert brand born in the arid heartland of Moab, Utah. Every product we make we created to meet the unique demands of the desert. This is both our mantra and our differentiator.”
SLOT packs are made from a highly abrasion-resistant, nontoxic tarpaulin and 1,000-denier polyester coated on both sides to achieve 850gsm waterproofness. Where the pack isn’t tarp, it’s 1680 ballistic nylon with polyurethane waterproof coating.
All the webbing is nylon, and it’s sewn so it won’t rip out under load. The packs have the durability of a haul bag and the comfort of a backpack. In a tight canyon, hydration mouthpieces get ripped off — they’re not the right tool for the job.
So, instead of a hydration pass-through, SLOT packs have an optional removable water bottle holder, and space into the lid to hold at least a couple of water bottles.
Meet the SLOT Packs
Two packs, the Guide 50L and the Rapid 38L, use the brand’s patent-pending SRS system. It separates your rope from your gear and allows you to carry your rope in a divided compartment in your pack instead of in a separate rope bag.
Color-coded black and red tie points for each end of the rope — the same you’d find in a rope bag — are sewn into the inside of the two packs where the lid attaches to the body of the bag.
The system lets you feed out a flaked rope directly from your pack when you’re belaying, and it lets you flake the rope back into your pack when you’ve descended.
The third pack in the line, the Canyon 26L, is smaller and ideal for carrying personal gear or when other members in your group are doing the heavy gear lifting.
All three packs have haul loops strong enough to clip your pack to an anchor when you’re clipped in so that you can flake your rope or feed it back into your pack from your belay. The larger packs have haul loops inside and outside.
The packs make big approaches more comfortable, and they hold up to the beatings the desert dished out. While these packs are designed to perform in the canyon, they will be equally at home at your local sport crag, Indian Creek, or on big missions through the La Sals.
Innovation for Dedicated Desert Adventurers
“We’ve proven that even in an overcrowded market, major innovation is possible by core, dedicated professionals in the heart of the desert,” said Schipper. “In a sea of brands priding themselves with retro products, new prints, and hip looks, SLOT brings meaningful innovation for dedicated desert adventurers.”
While Schipper and Conroy do not want to be a lifestyle brand, I must confess I carried two of these canyoneering packs as carry-ons for general travel, because they were spacious, smartly designed, and comfortable even when my mission was sprinting through a fluorescently lit underground tunnel from one gate to the next.
“A lot of supposedly technical backpacks are too ‘backpack-y,’” said Schipper. “They have too many straps and awkward pockets. Canyoneering, you throw your pack. You pull it through narrows. It’s a sport that’s tough on gear.”
Schipper and Conroy say that while building gear to survive the rigors of canyoneering is the foundation of the brand, SLOT is a desert brand, not just a canyoneering brand. They say that their packs dramatically change the speed, efficiency, and safety with which you move through a canyon.
For this reason, SLOT made its packs tough with as many replaceable parts as possible. Seams on the bottom of the pack are covered with climbing harness webbing.
The bigger packs can be stripped down — both the waist belt and water bottle holder remove in seconds, and waist belts and sternum straps are replaceable.
Gear loops are stitched in a loop not straight so they’re less likely to rip out. Grab loops use full-strength, runner-quality webbing sewn into the shoulder straps. The small pack closes with a heavy-duty zipper. The two larger packs use a climbing carabiner, supplied by you, to clip down the lid.
The bottom of all the packs have grommets so water can pass through. And a special wetsuit carry bag (sold separately) clips onto the outside of the pack, and then stuffs inside once you’re in the wetsuit and in the water.
In addition to its pack line, SLOT offers a limited line of canyoneering-focused apparel. The company’s LaSal Fleece Hoody, SPF 30+ High Noon Hoody sun shirt and quick-draining Cataract Short are all multifunctional and made to streamline packing for desert adventures.
The apparel looks promising, but it’s the packs that we’re most excited about. We’ve seen a lot of backpacks, and these packs impressed us from the moment we loaded one and started hiking. SLOT’s SRS rope management system has already streamlined our packing for the local crag.
The packs range from an entry-level-friendly 26 L to a “Guide” size 50 L, and run $140-250. We’re looking forward to spending some time with these packs in the desert and on belay.