Review: GoLite Jam Pack: An Ultralight Backpacking Pack — For Alpine Climbing, Too

GoLite makes a lot of things — ultralight backpacking gear, trail running gear and apparel, outdoor performance clothing, even luggage. One of the things they probably don’t focus on is rock climbing. But I’m going to tell you that one of their packs is great, not for ultralight backpacking, as advertised, but for alpine rock climbing.

I first saw a Jam Pack in action a couple summers ago when my friend Chris used one on an overnight climb of Pagoda Mountain in Rocky Mountain National Park. We had to bivy the night before the climb, so we packed everything but a tent — sleeping bags and pads, stove, pan, dinner, breakfast, rope rack, harnesses, etc.  With a carefully coiled rope strapped to the outside of the pack, Chris was able to get everything inside his Jam Pack, with a little room to spare in its 50 liters.

I was impressed — I had packed a bullet pack for the next day, but Chris just cinched down his pack and wore it as we swung leads for 6 pitches of climbing and outran a thunderstorm to the trailhead.

A couple years later, I’m the owner of a Jam Pack. I have given it a pretty good beating while cragging, and through a few flights (small enough to carry on, but if I’m flying Southwest, I just check it). Last weekend, I took it on its first alpine rock climb, the easy and chossy Inwood Arete on Quandary Peak. Although the route is kind of a pile, it’s about 2,000 vertical feet of Class 3 and 4 scrambling with some long sections of up to 5.4 climbing to the summit ridge at about 14,000 feet.  I carried a light trad rack, harness, helmet, a couple water bottles, food, rain jacket, and a down sweater in the Jam Pack to the base of the climb. Then I racked up, cinched down the pack, and didn’t notice it the whole route.

GoLite calls the compression system ComPACKtor, which means that it has two anchor straps at the bottom of the pack that pull in all that extra material when the pack isn’t full, ensuring that you won’t have a pile of stuff sitting at the bottom of the pack and a big column of empty space above that. The side compression straps can clip to the opposite straps, cinching the pack down even further, or allowing you to carry a rolled-up sleeping pad on the outside of the pack. And it’s Dyneema except for the stretchy side pockets, so it can take a good beating.

The pack is bare bones — no lid, minimal support system — but it carries just fine for single-day climb approaches. And it’s 1 pound, 13 ounces, which makes it almost half the weight of my other, much beloved climbing pack that shall not be named. If you’ve got a climbing day planned and you won’t be returning to the base of the climb afterward — in the Front Range, that can mean some of the climbs in the Flatirons, and some of our alpine climbs (the Aprons on Mt. Evans, and the Inwood Arete) — it’s perfect. Which probably isn’t what the folks at GoLite had in mind when they designed it.

The Jam Pack retails for $150. More info here.

-Brendan

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