CAMP is known for making some very lightweight ski mountaineering and climbing gear. In fact, a number of their competitive ski mountaineering equipment is some of the lightest on the market, like a 195-gram harness (6.9-oz), 290-gram (10.2-oz) pair of crampons, and 260-gram (9.2-oz) Rapid ski pack.
The X3 600 does not fall into that category of super specialised ultralight equipment. Rather, this pack is a fairly simple, stripped-down ski touring pack. It is the lightest of the X3 line, which includes the X3 Light ($170, 17.3 oz/790 g) and X3 ($160, 35 oz/990 g). These other two packs have tougher fabric, more padding, an aluminum frame, and back-panel access. In an effort to go lighter, has CAMP found a good mix of weight and durability with the X3 600? Or, have they gone too far and made a pack that just doesn’t hold up to the inherent abuse of ski touring?
|Manufacturer||CAMP (www.camp-usa.com or www.camp.it)|
|Year and Model||2011 X3 600|
|Style||Ski day pack with frame|
|Volume||1830 cubic inches (30 liters)|
|Weight||Manufacturer 21.2 oz (600 g), BPL Measured 22.9 oz (649 g)|
|Stripped Weight||Manufacturer 17 oz (490 g), BPL Measured 19.5 oz (552 g) (removing stay 1.7 oz (49 g), hipbelt 0.8 oz (24 g), and 6 gear loops 0.14 oz (4 g) each)|
|Sizes Available||one size|
|Features||removable fiberglass stay, attached lid with external zippered pocket, two side mesh pockets, removable hipbelt pocket on right side, mesh back panel, sternum strap, four removable ice axe/gear cords, Xpress Evo Carrying System for skis, perforated foam shoulder straps with load lifters, mesh pocket on right shoulder strap, haul loop, internal straps for avalanche gear and hydration bladder|
|Volume to Weight Ratio||80 cu.in/oz (46 L/kg)|
|Maximum Comfortable Load Carrying Capacity||25 lbs (11.4 kg)|
|Carry Load to Pack Weight Ratio||17.5|
The X3 600 is a fairly straightforward pack with a few minor twists. The pack is made of HyperGrid SN44 fabric and has a tall mesh pocket on each side. There is a single straight fiberglass stay that is removable. The back panel, hipbelt, and shoulder straps are all well padded. The attached lid has one zippered pocket. There is also a hipbelt pocket and chest pocket, both on the right side. Finally, there is a quick attachment system for skis, with a nylon loop on the left hip and a nylon leash on the right side.
The pack’s mesh side pockets are big enough to swallow a 2-liter water bottle or a pair of thin climbing skins (left). The pack's only compression is the single front strap that tightens from the bottom of the pack to the lid. There are four stretchy orange gear loops, all removable (right).
The right shoulder strap has a stretchy mesh open pocket; the plastic ring above that is part of the Xpress Evo Carrying System (left). Both shoulder straps have thick perforated foam padding and a nylon band for holding a hydration tube (right).
The shoulder straps attach just behind where the hipbelt is sewn into the pack, and there is also a tiny buckle for removing the hipbelt (left). The hipbelt pocket is on the right side, the ski carrying strap tucks into the left side hip, and the front buckle is off-center, anchored to the left side (right).
The Xpress Evo Carrying System is composed of two parts: a two-foot (61-cm) leash with a brass hook on one end, which tucks into a sleeve on the back of the right shoulder (left), and a nylon loop that is stored in a sleeve on the left hipbelt (right).
The four removable gear loops are doubled over and adjustable to accommodate different equipment sizes (left). The lid’s side trim is stretchy, and underneath has one more loop on each side to help secure a rope being carried between the main compartment and the lid (right).
Kristin and I tested this pack over four months of backcountry skiing and day hikes in Europe, during the winter and spring of 2011.
Kristin and our Italian friends, Piero and Bepi, skinning uphill on a bluebird day in the Dolomites.
The fabric, HyperGrid SN44, is CAMP's name for a lightweight gridstop nylon. It is not as tough as Dyneema or other similar fabrics in the 200 denier range. After three months of use, the front face of the fabric was showing areas of abrasion with a few pin holes. The pack saw a lot of snow use, but no abuse: I never sat on it or glissaded with it, nor did I take any significant falls on hard snow pack. The visible signs of wear and tear are disconcerting considering the duration and type of use.
A 30-liter capacity is generally a good size for a ski day pack. I can fit a lot of gear in there - a down jacket, extra layers, food, water, shovel, probe, and so on. However, the X3 600 lacks sufficient compression capability to reduce volume. The single compression strap, from the lid to the bottom of the pack, does not compress enough, which equates to a less comfortable fit and more space for items to shift around internally. Additionally, the items tended to "sink" to the bottom of the pack as they are not really secured in place. Sometimes this could be avoided by repacking, but not always. It was very uncomfortable as hard items rubbed against my backside with each stride. The torso size is a bit too small for my 6' (183 cm) frame, but good for Kristin (5’7”/173 cm) and there are no torso adjustments.
Hard items, particularly my shovel blade, liked to fall to the bottom of the pack and poke me in the back (left). The frame is a fiberglass stay surrounded by a swath of thin white padding and mesh, which frayed quickly due to the poor design (center). Eventually, the stay poked through the fabric (right).
The frame is not meant to increase carrying weight so much as to keep the pack from collapsing under the weight of gear, especially skis. However, the fiberglass stay goes straight along the spine (no ergonomic curvature) and ends on the tail bone (no padding). Unsurprisingly, the bottom of the frame rubbed against my tailbone when I carried more than 15 pounds (6.8 kg). This tended to be most noticeable when skinning uphill, as I was wearing less clothing (padding) and carrying a heavier load, with lots of clothing and food. Where the fiberglass strut ends at the bottom of the pack is a focal point of pressure and sees a lot of wear, but this area is not reinforced. Naturally, the fabric wore out and the pole poked through. The pack continued to function fairly well despite this, because it was designed to add back panel stiffness and continued to do so. Besides the frame issue, this pack was comfortable to wear while skiing and hiking. The hipbelt, back, and shoulder strap padding was very good. In this regard, everything functioned as it should have.
CAMP’s Xpress Evo Carrying System: the loop on the hip carries the bulk of the weight, while a leash wraps around the skis and back to the shoulder strap to hold them steady (left). The biggest disadvantage of this system is that the weight is unevenly distributed to the left side, and so the straps are pulled tightly in that direction (right).
The Xpress Evo Carrying System worked well, but is not without faults. There are two general ski carrying set-ups: the A-frame, whereby a ski is held by straps on each side of the pack and then are strapped together at the top to form an A; and the diagonal strap, where the skis are held diagonally across the front of the pack, with a loop on the bottom left corner, to catch on the bindings, and a buckled strap on the top right, to hold the skis vertically. CAMP's system is similar to the latter. The difference is that CAMP's pack allows the skis to be strapped in and out without having to take off the pack. The skis are slotted into the loop on the left hip. Holding the skis vertically with my left hand, my right hand passed the strap around the skis and hooked it into the plastic loop on my right shoulder. The skis can be attached in a matter of seconds. As an added bonus, the weight of the skis is kept close to my back, helping with my center of gravity, and does not crush the contents of the pack.
In Norway, we often had to carry our skis for a short, steep pitch to the summit. In this photo Kristin’s skis are attached to her GoLite Jam2 using the A-frame method. As I always had the camera, Kristin never got a picture of me climbing and carrying my skis on the X3 600. In situations like this, I really appreciated the speed and safety of Xpress Evo Carrying System.
There are two times when this set-up is really handy. The first is obvious - approaches where I needed to hike to find snow. I was always the fastest to put my skis on my pack because of this. The second instance where the system is worth its weight in gold (well, maybe not with today's gold prices): when a slope becomes too steep to continue skinning up, then the only way to continue upward is by carrying the skis and walking. If the slope is that steep, then there is also a decent chance of a bad fall or dropping a piece of gear. CAMP's system allowed me to put my skis on my pack without having to take off my pack. With either of the other two systems, I would have to take my pack off and put it on the snow to attach my skis, and then hoist the combo onto my back. CAMP’s set-up is faster, which reduced my time exposed to any risk, and much safer, as my pack couldn't possibly slide down the mountain. I also felt it was easier to keep my balance, as I wasn’t trying to maneuver the pack and skis from the ground to my back. Note while CAMP calls this the Xpress Evo Carrying System, other manufacturers, like Dynafit, also have similar set-ups.
Because of the small pack size and small frame, the added weight of carrying skis was noticeable but bearable. I think it carries better on a person with a smaller torso, like Kristin. I carried the skis for up to an hour at a time during long approaches in late spring conditions and was comfortable. Every once in a while I banged my elbow against my Black Diamond Fritschi bindings. This would not be an issue if I had smaller, lighter tech-fit bindings (which nearly everyone in Italy does).
View of the inside of the pack: an elastic loop on each side secures a shovel handle and probe, two additional Velcro straps are meant to hang a hydration bladder, and the fiberglass frame is visible in the middle (left). The side pockets fit my Black Diamond Glidelight skins (right).
The side mesh pockets are good sized and can accommodate climbing skins, jacket, or 2-liter water bottle. It is nice to stash wet skins on the outside of the pack to dry out, or conversely, to keep things on the inside from getting wet. The pockets are not designed to be for on-ski convenience, as the tall mesh makes the pockets inaccessible while the pack is being worn. The pockets are tall enough so that things didn't fall out if I took a tumble. However, it is still possible to lose items from an open pocket, which is why most ski packs have zippered pockets. Plus, mesh pockets tend to collect snow and are generally weaker than fabric.
The hipbelt pocket is big enough to fit a few goodies, and without getting in the way of arm movement.
The hipbelt pocket is large but not unwieldy. I kept my camera in there, plus a snack or pair of liner gloves. The pocket is removable, but I would not remove it as I prefer the convenience over the 0.8-ounce (24-gram) weight saving. Being removable, however, meant that the pocket jostled around a lot and could bang into my hip given the right (or wrong?) conditions. This wasn't noticeable when I was skiing, nor when the pocket was filled with soft items. However, it was painful when I had my camera in there on a day hike and ran downhill. The pocket also banged around when carrying my skis and hiking downhill.
The gear loops are simple, light and removable. They are easy to use and can be tightened sufficiently to secure gear like trekking poles, helmet (via the helmet straps), and supposedly, ice axes. I was a little leery of carrying an ice axe on it. Most packs use a stronger gear loop for the bottom, which is where the axe's head would be secured. The CAMP pack's loops are stretchy here, which means the pick and adze could move around too much. While this probably wouldn't be an issue for a small axe or mellow tour, it is not a risk I would want to take. There is no place to attach crampons, but perhaps something could be rigged up with the gear loops. Compact crampons, like CAMP's Race 290, could fit in the side mesh pockets.
It’s all downhill from here...
The CAMP X3 600 has a few design flaws that make it unsuitable for light ski mountaineering, yet the pack is not light enough for competitive racing, nor is it access-friendly enough for general winter use like snowshoeing. The fabric started to wear through in one season. The frame broke, in the sense that the fiberglass stay poked through the bottom fabric. On BPL scales, the pack weighed 10% more than the manufacturer’s specs. The availability of one pack size and with no torso adjustment limits the fit range for consumers.
However, the pack wasn’t all bad. I really liked the Xpress Evo Carrying System. It was simple, lightweight, efficient, and safe. The big pockets were a blessing on spring days when I could dry out my skins. The MSRP of $100 is fairly low for a ski pack. CAMP could easily alter the frame design, which would be a big improvement. The hipbelt pocket should just be permanently attached, which would save weight while improving performance. More robust ice axe loops would only add a few grams. These few changes would definitely make the pack more attractive to a wider audience.Disclosure: The manufacturer provided this product to the author and/or Backpacking Light at no charge, and it is owned by the author/BPL. The author/Backpacking Light has no obligation to the manufacturer to review this product under the terms of this agreement.