If you follow this blog you’ve most likely heard of Free Range Equipment. Owned and operated by Bend, OR local Tosch Roy and his sister Zoë, Free Range makes sport-specific backpacks for fast-and-light adventures. Their backpacks for multipitch rock climbing, alpine climbing and ski mountaineering all boast svelte designs that pair simplicity with functionality.
The “Raven” is Free Range’s ski mountaineering/ski touring pack. I have skinned nearly every day this winter with the Raven on my back and have done my best to scrutinize and test its every feature. Here, I hope to supply you with an unbiased review of its performance in order to better inform our collective pursuit of “gear enlightenment.”
With 25L capacity and weighing just 19oz, The Raven is built for “no excuse, fast and light touring.” It consists of a single main compartment accessed by a zippered-back panel, a small zipper pocket on top that can hold critical items like ski straps, headlamp, etc, as well as another small “security” pouch on the inside for things you really don’t want to lose. A removable foam back pad provides structure and support. It does not have designated probe/shovel pockets, but it’s big enough to fit these items plus all other essentials for a single day tour. This being said, I’ve found my 240cm probe fits better than my 300cm probe, which I have to put in at an angle. For ski mountaineering objectives, crampons would fit as well. Not much else, though.
Maybe you’re thinking, ‘Yeah this pack is super light, but is it durable?’ After 2.5 months of daily use, it shows little to no wear. So I’d say yes. Besides being rugged, it also sheds snow incredibly well. Great for pow days!
The Raven is hydration bladder compatible, but I prefer to use the the water bottle hostler (extra feature, not included) simply because the hose always freezes out here in the Rockies. Also, similar to a running vest, there are two pockets on the shoulder straps to hold food. I love these features because it means I don’t have to take my pack off unless I’m swapping layers. The only problem I have with the chest pockets is my Snickers bars always freeze, as the pockets are not insulated. So I either bring gels or end up putting my candy/energy bar in the chest pocket of my baselayer. Not a big deal, but it’s something to consider when it’s really cold and you are deciding what food to put in the pockets.
Of course, it has two ice axe loops and fasteners. I tested these with a Petzl Sum-Tec (hammer) and a Camp Corsa (adze). The loops hold an axe with an adze just fine but are a bit loose in holding one with a hammer. It probably wouldn’t slip out on its own, but a hammer is small enough that you can slide the loop over it. However, this is easily remedied by adding a couple twists to the loop before sliding your axe through.
The most significant feature of the pack is the diagonal ski carry. Currently, Free Range offers two options: the standard carry and a race carry. The former requires you to take the pack off in order to rack your skis but is bomber and well-suited for larger skis. The race carry is a lasso mechanism that lets you rack your skis in a matter of seconds with the pack still on your back. Tosch reports the race carry does not work so well with his heavier K2 Mt Baker “Superlites” (around 3kg per ski), but I found it to be secure and comfortable with both my race skis and my wider Dynafit Cho Oyus (clocking in at 1365g per ski w/ bindings). Even if you don’t intend to use the pack for racing, you may come to appreciate the versatility of the race carry if your set up is around 2000g per ski or less (excluding skins). Also, it’s worth mentioning that the tail loop is the same for both carries, and measures about 110mm. Given this, it’s probably not the right pack for carrying your ultra-mega twin tip fatties.
I’ve found both carries on the Raven to be more secure and comfortable compared to ski carries with a hook mechanism, i.e. the Dynafit Broad Peak backpack. With the hook-carry on the Broad Peak, my skis always ended up pointing up the middle of my back, causing me to bump them with my head whenever I looked up. Not a good thing when you are climbing a steep slope. With the Raven, however, my skis remain at a clean diagonal angle and do not limit my movement. Plus, I don’t have to worry about my skis coming out of the hook and flying down the mountain. With the Raven, they’re not going anywhere.
In short, if “light and fast” is your mantra, the Raven will not disappoint. It’s a simple, lightweight pack built for covering ground, harvesting powder, and tagging peaks. You’ll be happiest if you have a light set-up when it’s time to put your skis on your back, but the Raven can get the job done with heavier skis too. The Raven performs all the necessary tasks of a ski backpack while doing away with useless weight and features that interfere with your backcountry experience. Like any great piece of gear, you’ll probably forget you’re even wearing it.
So, if you’re in need of a new pack for skiing and/or climbing, check out FreeRangeEquipment.com. Also, here is a short video showcasing key features of the Raven. For all your other SkiMo needs, check out SkiMo.co.