One of the things I discovered as I started taking my ski racing more seriously is that I found myself carrying more and more gear on race day. What had started as one pair of skis plus a small backpack with lunch/ drink somehow morphed over a couple of seasons into 2 pairs of skis, on-hill wax kit, lunch, helmet, spare goggles, gloves et al. (As someone who travels a lot in my professional life you would think I would have learned to pack and travel light but unfortunately I have never lost my "just in case" mentality ) . Now, at a few mountains it is possible to park close to the lifts and boot up and reduce the amount of gear that needs to be carried but more often than not, if you don't want to walk in your boots, you end up having to lug the whole kit and caboodle up to the base lodge to gear up, then carrying the pack and gear up to the start
So, over the years I have bought and used a variety of different packs to try to cope with this challenge, none of which have really checked all the boxes for me.
My Hot Gear bag is great for drying out boots and keeping them nice and warm (and flexible enough to be able to put them on!) while travelling to the mountain. However, trying to use it as a back pack it falls down in a few areas
- Its capacity, even in the large size is less than optimal (for me)
- It's bulky shape makes it somewhat unwieldy to ski with and to ride chairlifts with
The Swix coach's pack has some strong points
- It is excellent in terms of accessibility - it opens up like a rollaboard and you can easily find stuff in it
- It has a front pocket that is the perfect size for my start-line wax kit.
However overall capacity is fairly limited. While it functions well on-hill, I found that when I was heading to the lodge I looked like an old style door to door salesman :( with gear - boots, helmet, shin guards etc. - all attached somewhat precariously to the outside via karabiners, velcro straps whatever. So by the time I got to the lodge ready to boot up, my boots that were nicely warmed up had gone cold and on several occasions I found I had dropped some stuff along the way.
Last season I tried another option with the Sierra Designs USST issue backpack. Now this seemed at first like it would fit the bill. Well built, good straps, easy to carry, decent capacity. Or so it seemed.......over the season I found a few downsides to it
- While the overall capacity was good, it was almost all in the main compartment. And of course, as sod's law would predict, every time I tried to find something it had invariably made its way to the bottom and I would end up having to pull a load of stuff out to access it.
- The side pockets were basically big enough for a bottle of Gatorade or a couple of pairs of goggles. My wax kit had to reside in the main compartment (and see previous point!!)
- The capacity soon became challenged if I put my boots inside so I was reverting to hanging boots and helmet on the outside again.
So, while good points about all of them, they all required compromises. Thus when @Philpug told me that Transpack were bringing to market a new "Competition” pack I was, as ever, somewhat skeptical. The last Transpack I owned was about 15 years ago and, while the design (for the time!) was decent, the construction and durability was more for occasional use than as an everyday Pack.
Like a good salesman though, Phil provided me with some more background on this pack. It has been designed in collaboration with POC with the key objectives of meeting the requirements of ski racers, providing enough capacity and storage; and also having the Transpack trademark of separate boot compartments on the side.
Well, sure Phil, that sounds great but does it square up to a real life user? OK, I should have known better Here you go says Phil, test this one to see what you think and write a review.......!
So, first inspection. Hmm, this is a pretty well made bag.
Heavy-duty construction, good webbing and carry harness, lots (and I mean lots!) of pockets. Large boot compartments on the side, additional large pockets on the exterior of the boot compartments, large (cavernous?) main compartment, strong zippers, various internal and external pockets well sized for keys, bill folds, cell phone, drinks bottles, snacks etc. And a separate compartment for a back protector where it will contour nicely around your back. The main compartment is finished in a gray color rather than black to make it easier to find stuff (a nice mod previously suggested by @Tog as I understand.) Taller and less boxy than previous Transpacks.
So far so good thinks I, but I bet I can find its weakness! Let's dig out the absolute maximum amount of gear I might carry on race day and see what doesn't fit. Sooo......here goes:
- Back protector
- Arm guards
- Start line wax/tune kit
- Warm-up pants
- Race Suit
- Training shorts
- Extra jacket to leave at the bottom of the course
- Goggles * 3
- Gloves *2
- Ski socks * 2
- Water bottle
Holy crap! Do I really tote all that stuff??? I really need to get a life!!! Or maybe rent a Sherpa? But yes, sadly, typically most of it gets used on race day.
Ok, now to pack it and let's see what doesn't fit.
- Boots first. Wow, these compartments are large! I could probably get both boots into one of them!
- Wax kit fits nicely on the outside pocket, gloves and goggles on the other side. Makes them all easily accessible without having to empty out other stuff.
- Back protector in the dedicated pocket - check.
- Main compartment: lets fill it with clothing and lunch.
What's this - there is still plenty of space!. OK, Helmet can go inside as well, no need for it hanging off the outside getting bumped.
Well - it looks like there really has been real world race input to this design!. I have found nothing to complain about yet. OK, lets weigh it first - 35# loaded I am sure by now that it will be too awkward/boxy to carry comfortably so lets put it on my back. Dang, wrong again! It sits nicely like a decent pack. Doesn't feel too boxy and badly balanced as so often happens with squarer shaped packs. Wow!
One final test remaining. On-snow performance (!) Just to really put it through its paces I keep it filled as shown (with a different pair of boots obviously!) and take it to the hill. Weight/load is well-distributed, easy to carry. On to the chair and the external carry handle simplifies loading, holding it square on and at a nice height rather than having to hoist it above seat level. OK, lets try skiing down with it, with an extra pair of skis on my shoulder (race conditions??!!) . Well, I obviously know I am carrying a pack (and remember it is much more loaded and heavier than it would normally be when I am on the hill on race day) but it is not pulling me backwards and sits well on my back. Nothing to complain about here, no issues skiing down. There really has been serious design input and testing here!
So, is this the ultimate race/boot/gear pack? I would say pretty darn close!!
But.... there is a lot more to it than that. This is not simply for racers. It could comfortably do duty as a skier's only required weekend pack (or even a week for those who can travel lighter than me!). The external grip lets you carry it like a conventional bag if you want and would certainly be preferable to those people (you know who you are!) who insist on wearing their backpack as they get on a plane and bumping it against every aisle seated passenger in the process.! With careful arrangement when packing it should fit in the overhead bin of a normal single aisle aircraft - such as an Airbus 320- without having the boots hanging off externally. This is I should stress a guesstimate, as I haven't tested it in this mode yet.
Could it be improved??? Well, I was just thinking about putting a small heating pad in each boot compartment....... But apart from that, I have not yet come up with anything I would want to change! I really don't want to return this!!!!