‘When are we going to start doing packs?’
It’s a running joke at AKHQ...Of course, we already do: the Gourdon roll-top dry bag rucksacks have been in the range for over a decade, and almost everyone in the company owns one... A couple of years ago we started making packs in our own UK factory, which has spawned tough but simple designs like the Oryx and El Burro, as well as specialists like the Ibex and Chamois. But we know our customers, and we also know how many different packs we own ourselves (imagine a set of Russian dolls ranging from 10 to 80 litres and you’ll get an idea of my pack collection). There were clearly some holes in our range which needed filling…
This summer sees the launch of 5 new packs (Artlu 10, Gnarl 15, Presta 20, Ledge 30 and Orion 40) aimed at our core activities: trail running, hiking, biking, scrambling and climbing. We’ve worked hard to strike a balance between features and weight, whilst keeping in mind the desire to offer really good quality products at accessible prices. They are lightweight but durable, with a focus on features that add functionality and comfort; allowing you to get on with the day’s activities without thinking about what’s on your back.
As with all our products, we started out with the end-use in mind. We brought in our favourite (and least favourite!) packs and analysed how we used them, what we liked and disliked about them and what we’d do differently. We picked the brains of the wider Alpkit team to get the runner’s perspective on the Artlu and the climbers’ input on the Gnarl and Orion. Then we honed in on the detail, like how tough a fabric we wanted on which packs, where comfort was more important than weight, and what we wanted in terms of features.
Back systems: Artlu hydration vest forms to your back for minimum 'bounce' as you run (top left), Presta and Ledge are designed for breathability (right), whilst the Orion has a smooth back support to shed snow (bottom left)
When the first prototypes arrived it was the usual mix of excitement and disappointment: even with the combined experience of the product team, sometimes the CAD drawing and the expectations you have built up in your head are so far from the reality of what you actually receive. The back system was too floppy on one style, but way too stiff on another; the shape wasn’t quite right, with too much dead space; the shoulder straps were too bulky or not long enough; the compressions system which looked really neat on the drawing flapped around and was really fiddly to use in reality.
With each round of prototypes we made further changes, experimenting and editing as we chipped away at the designs until we were left with everything we wanted and nothing we didn’t. Throughout the process it was clear that there are a thousand tiny decisions that come down to personal preference, such as do you prefer bungee or velcro attachments for your walking poles or ice axe? We tried to make each decision for the right reason, and avoided stripping features (e.g. stretch side pockets) where we thought their usefulness outweighed the cost or weight penalty.
Our own adventures have taught us a thing or two about zip pullers (of all things!). Artlu 10 hydration pack (left) is adorned with cord zip pullers that don't flap about noisily as you run, whereas the Gnarl 15 and Presta 20 have different zip pullers for different zips, helping you to distinguish between them so that you're not always opening the wrong pockets.