Monday, 23 September 2013

Arc'teryx Axios 35 - Review

About a year ago I contacted Arc'teryx in hopes of finding a pack that would be rugged enough to survive the GoRuck Challenge. With the recommendations of the Axios 35 and the Nozone 35 I had some good alternatives to the GR1 that GoRuck sells. Why wouldn't I just use the GoRuck branded rucks? I didn't like the idea of not having a waist belt, load-lifter straps or sternum strap. Sure it would be tough as nails, but I figured I'd want to be as comfortable and as efficient as I could, so distributing the load to my waist was definitely appealing.



I stopped by a local shop, Higher Ground, and found the Axios 35. What caught my attention right off the bat was the spacer mesh on the inside of the shoulder straps and waist belt, how lightweight it was, and the narrow profile of the bag that allowed my arms a free range of movement without ever bumping into the bag behind me. Not bad for a 35L pack!

The Axios was put straight to work. I loaded my required 6 bricks into the pack and brought them everywhere, which included my (at the time) 30km bicycle commute. I was always aware that I had some very heavy and rough bricks in my new pack. I had wrapped them in packing paper and bubble wrap, then wrapped that entire package with some old t-shirts. I made sure to never drag the bag on the ground and to never set it down to carelessly. Unfortunately though, after only a few weeks I noticed a small hole in the bottom of the pack and immediately contacted Arc'teryx. They responded and mentioned that the Axios is "on the lighter weight side of their lineup. The material is quite durable for what it is, but a hard hit against something hard in the pack or a tight load will probably do this type of damage." A patch job would be on the house if I wanted to return it, or I could pay $40-50 to have the material replaced. Unfortunately the back and forth with Arc'teryx was pretty slow because the gear expert that I had been told to contact was on vacation when I had initially sent out my request. By the time I had enough information to decide if I wanted to send the pack back to them, it was too close to my challenge date. So I conceded it was more of a cosmetic problem than it was a functionality problem and just wrote it off as a battle scar.


These two holes are only about 5mm wide, and haven't gotten any bigger since I noticed them.
The waist belt is comfortable and has stretch pocks to hold small items.

The sternum strap is elasticized. I'm not really sure why. I always tend to pull it to the point where it might as well just be a single piece of static webbing.
Fool me once, bricks… shame on you. Fool me twice? Shame on me. I rolled up an old poncho liner blanket and put it at the bottom of my pack, then placed the bricks on top of the soft platform. This helped me in two ways. First, it solved the problem of a "tight load", and would prevent any rubbing from causing more holes on the bottom. Second, it brought the heavy weight of the bricks higher and closer to my shoulders making the 50lbs pack seem about 5lbs lighter; and helped balance the weight more efficiently than just having them all at the bottom. I found the waist strap did an amazing job of carrying the majority of the load. Having the option to switch from my hips to my shoulders to carry the weight when one muscle group got tired made a massive difference when I was out for two hours or more. It was like winning the lottery when I was out for 5 hours or more. The sternum strap and the load-lifter straps were a big help too. I'm no stranger to carrying heavy packs, but at the same time I'm glad they were there. What's the point in making it harder than it needs to be? I'll take all the help I can get.

During the GoRuck Challenge, the pack performed flawlessly except for two instances that I can't in good conscience fault the designers. I'll mention them just in case any of you decide to use the same pack for your challenge. We were instructed to crab walk with the pack on our fronts for about half a kilometre. I tried to loosen the shoulder straps because the top of the frame was strangling me, but the buckles were filled with wet sand and the webbing was locked and unable to move. With Cadre reminding us that we needed to be moving with a "sense of urgency", taking a minute was out of the question. During normal circumstances, I would have just taken the pack off to wash out the sand, so no points lost in my books for the buckles. As well, I know that the pack was not designed to be worn on the chest, so again, no complaints.

The two pockets at the top of the bag are spacious and have a bright lining to help find your things in low light conditions. There is also a clip for attaching items.

Another pocket is located once you flip the top of the pack open. Good for keeping more important items like money and passports.

There is a pocket on the inside of the main compartment that is supposed to hold a water bladder... I'd dispute that. While it does have a port that will allow you to run a hydration tube to the outside of the bag, I'd say it fits my MSR 1L water bottle perfectly. Anything bigger than that would literally be a stretch.
The pack was dunked in the Don River, ground into the sidewalk on multiple occasions for hundreds of flutter kicks, submerged in a creek in High Park, and went for a swim in the cold April waters of Lake Ontario. In retrospect, the holes in the bottom of the pack probably helped me by allowing water to drain, making my pack lighter. After 14 hours of non stop punishment there were no signs of wear which I find amazing. Sure it was filthy, and smelled like a sewer, but after it got washed, it was fine!

For examples of less extreme use, I have taken the Axios for over night trips and was pleased to be able to accommodate a thermarest, MSR 3-man Mutha Hubba tent, sleeping bag, change of clothes, and 10L water bladder. The side pockets and compression straps held the tent poles on one side, and the other side held my mattress. I'd consider this a much more realistic load coming in well under 30lbs. For a weight like this, the pack distributes the weight in a way that I don't even notice I'm carrying anything on my back.

On a day to day basis, I have found that this has become my go to pack. It's big enough that I can carry head to toe rain gear so that if it starts pouring when I'm at work, I can bike home comfortably. As well, if I want to stop for groceries, I have more than enough room to fit in a fair amount on top of my daily items. I like to carry a lot of stuff with me where ever I go. I probably carry too much in fact. The good news is that there is so much room in the main compartment, and so many ways to attach other items to the outside of the bag, I can't remember a time when I thought to myself, "Hmm, I don't have enough room."



The only other point of wear I've seen on this bag is that the spacer mesh is starting to pill.
Unfortunately, it seems Arc'teryx no longer carries the Axios line. And I really do mean unfortunately! Even considering the worries I had about the durability of the pack within the first few weeks, I think it speaks volumes to the quality of Arc'teryx packs that it survived the GoRuck Challenge and has served me well in my day to day adventuring without showing much in terms of wear. It's also nice to know that they will take things back to be mended for a reasonable price. Long story short, I've put this pack through hell. It has a few scars, but they are all cosmetic. Looking back, I still think I made the right decision going with the Axios rather than the GR1.

2 comments:

  1. Great detailed review, thank you. And yes, while the Axios is not in our current lineup, the smaller Altra packs are an excellent option: www.arcteryx.com/ProductFind.aspx?search=altra

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  2. Great review! There are so many excellent packs out there... I wish I had the money to take a different one through each Challenge that I do to see how they hold up.

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