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Develop - what's new from the Alpkit Design Team

Light, Strong, Simple: the Oryx Backpack

By Alpkit
15, Mar, 2018

A 500 g, 35 L alpine climbing pack for £75? Are we mad? Well, we like to call it innovative. Here's Nick with the designer's story behind the fast and light Oryx...

© Alpkit

You just never cease to surprise us!  

It's one of the wonderful things about chatting to our Alpkiteers and customers. No matter how much thought we put into a piece of kit – nor how niche that kit is – you tend to choose something that's in no way built-for-purpose for your exploits, for reasons we don't always expect! That's why keeping an open dialogue with you – the people using our products – is crucial to our design process.  

Incidentally, it was a conversation with one of the UK’s gnarliest climbers that inspired us to make this pack. The Oryx backpack was to be extremely lightweight, simple, and strong - with a decent capacity to boot. Perfect for fast, minimalist alpinism. 

You set us a challenge, so we set ourselves some targets:  

  • Price: £75 
  • Weight: 500 g 
  • Capacity: minimum 30 litres 

You may now be wondering: 'how can Alpkit make a 500g Alpine climbing pack for £75 when other brands are releasing packs that retail at nearly 3 times that? Are we missing something?' 

Turns out we missed out a lot, but by doing so have created a pack that does exactly what you need it to. 

Simplify, then add lightness – Colin Chapman (design guru at Lotus Racing) 

Making a product complicated is easy. Add a buckle here, a compartment there, adorn with all sorts of bells and whistles: the world of features is your oyster! As the Alpinists among you know, the challenge is keeping 'stuff' to a minimum. Now that's innovative.

 

Studio photo: profile of a man from mid torso up wearing the Oryx alpinism rucksack, which is overstuffed, demonstrating the full capacity of the rucksack.
Studio photo: zoomed in shot of the sternum strap on the Oryx rucksack
 
Studio photo: a man's torso, pulling the strap on the oryx hip belt

 

When you look at the Oryx, you'll notice that there's no structures back system. Unlike the Ibex and the Chamois which have sculpted back panels, the Oryx back system features fabric and foam (...removable foam at that!). We know that a well-fitting back support isn’t worth scrimping on, but we also know that sensible packing will give you all the support you need for a lighter, faster adventure.  

Uncluttered feature set 

Bells and whistles can be key to designing an excellent product, but knowing when not to include them is equally, if not even more, important to making something truly functional. Each features add a few grams of extra weight, weight that you don’t want to carry.  

To make the Oryx light and simple yet still really usable, we put our ears to the ground and asked all the right questions so that we could find out what you really need from this product. This involved some tough calls, but left us with the following features: 

  • A front pocket for your guidebook  
  • Ice axe/pole loops 
  • Handles that you can use for hauling  
  • Compression straps 
  • Roll top closure that you can over stuff 
  • A top compression strap for strapping on a rope 
  • Valuables pocket and key hooks (even mountain folk need somewhere to put their keys) 

That’s it. Nothing more and nothing less than you need.  

 

Studio photo: a hand reaching into a rucksack with clothes in it, we can see a key hook with keys on
 
Studio photo: a hand demonstrating how to clip the compression straps around the poles.
Studio photo: a man facing away from the camera is wearing the Oryx rucksack, he has a rope attached to the top strap and held in place with the compression straps

 

Ingenious construction 

By making the backpack less complicated, we could put more emphasis on the materials, on how we put it together. We make the Oryx pack in our UK factory, which means that: 

A) we get to produce a really specialist climbing pack here in Nottingham,  

B) you can ask us to customise your pack for you, and  

C) throughout the design process we could explore different constructions, tweaking and testing the pack until we got it exactly how we thought you'd want it. 

To make Oryx lightweight yet durable, we decided to use VX07 – a lightweight laminated fabric with excellent abrasion-resistance and durability that is slightly more expensive than the other options available. The puzzle: how could we use VX07 without the price of the pack skyrocketing?  

 

Studio photo: A man with his back to the camera is wearing the black Oryx rucksack. There are poles in the poleloops.

 

To keep the Oryx affordable without compromising on strength and capacity, we created an innovative pattern to reduce seams and sewing time for the bag. All seams are double-stitched and we’ve bar-tacked stress points. This has made the Oryx incredibly sturdy and lightweight, with a price-tag 3 times less than our competitors (and a 25 year Alpine Bond warranty).  

Mission accomplished?  

When it comes to the numbers, we’ve met our target price of £75 for a 35 L capacity bag.

Okay okay... so at 535 g we didn’t quite make our 500 g target. We came pretty close – but sometimes you have to make a call between reaching a number and compromising on other details, and for us the compromise just wasn’t worth it!  

 

Oryx rucksack product photo: front of the backpack
Oryx rucksack product photo: back system of the backpack
Oryx rucksack product photo: profile of the backpack

 

What we’ve ended up with is an incredibly hardwearing yet lightweight backpack. It fits in exactly what you need for fast and light alpine ascents and its features are tailored to a day out in the mountains. It’s simple, and therein lies its ingenuity. 

Testing 

You've got to be sure after all! Unfortunately we couldn't find any athletes prepared to chuck the pack with hundreds of pounds worth of their own climbing equipment off a cliff. Here's some in-house testing instead... 

In a carpark a man is hanging from a rucksack which is suspended by a rope and carabiner
In a carpark, the oryx lightweight alpinism rucksack is hanging from a carabiner and rope

 

Test 1
10kg in the pack
Lifted 4m and small shocked dropped. Repeated 3 times.
Test 2
25kg in the pack. Lifted 4m and small shocked dropped. Repeated 3 times.
Test 3
33kg in the pack
Lifted 4m and small shocked dropped. Repeated 3 times
Test 4
33kg in the pack 
65kg added for 5-10 seconds. Repeated 3 times
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