Review of Free Range Equipment Raven Pack

The Free Range Equipment Raven. A high quality climbing and ski mountaineering pack from Oregon!

Quick overview:

  • Usual full price: $169 USD
  • Weight: 540 g (one size)
  • Volume: 25 L
  • Pros: versatile, durable, spacious, lightweight, 2 ice axe loops
  • Cons: back panel structure, no quick ski carry, not ideally sized for avalanche gear
  • Suitability: ski mountaineering day trips, summer alpine climbing/scrambling, winter alpine climbing

Bottom Line:

Not designed for racing but well built for day trips of technical ski mountaineering and alpine climbing, the combination known as ski-alpinism.

Product description and How we tested it:

With spring behind us and high quality ski mountaineering objectives getting ticked off, we’ve got a new pack reviewed for you that has been a long time coming. I’ve held off publishing this review to test the Raven in as many situations as possible. It started the season carrying my skis and boots to training sessions high on glaciers, then came with me on an early season trip to Chamonix, I used it more climbing and skiing on the Coast through the winter. Now, I’m looking forward to using it for some climb/ski projects here in BC.

Free Range is an American company hand-producing packs for climbers and adventurers. With strong roots in ski mountaineering, their lightest and most technical ski pack is the Raven. Optimized for technical ski mountaineering and while lightweight, the Raven sports a host of features that will appeal to those travelling with a little bit of extra gear.

Spring ski mountaineering mission on Kulshan, WA.

Spring ski mountaineering mission on Kulshan, WA.

The pack features a very streamlined shape, reminiscent of a bigger version of the Black Diamond Bullet pack. This means it sits a little higher (on me at least) and the hip belt does not help much to carry the load as just stabilize things while skiing. This is offset by the design of the shoulder harness – more like a running vest than a traditional pack. The wide shoulder straps each have a pocket (zip on one side, no closure on the other) and are made of neoprene. Our review version also included a neoprene bottle holder (sold separately it appears) that clips onto either shoulder strap and functioned well for carrying a soft-flask or bottle while the neoprene provides some insulation from freezing.

The main compartment of the pack is accessible using the zip off back panel. The panel itself is rather flimsy I found and unless it was packed perfectly it could become a bit lumpy. A bit more structure here might serve future versions well. The main compartment is spacious and without any dividers, is easy to pack a variety of tools depending on the goal of the day. Unfortunately, the compact shape of the pack makes it somewhat difficult to fit standard sized avalanche gear. I had to have my shovel handle running across the back panel rather than flush with one side like I normally would. There is a small key (or energy gel) pocket inside the main compartment as well as at the top of the pack on the outside.

Scraping down the Argentiere Glacier with a load of climbing gear in the Raven. (Nick Elson Photo)

Scraping down the Argentiere Glacier with a load of climbing gear in the Raven. (Nick Elson Photo)

The outside of the Raven sports a daisy chain piece of webbing, two basic ice axe holders, and a diagonal ski carry system. This uses a flexible tail loop like most race packs but a beefier tip attachment. The pack must be removed to attach the skis but the attachment strap is very solid. While it wouldn’t serve for a race, it is perfect for alpine climbing where taking your pack off for a moment is well worth the security of not possibly losing a ski.

The ski carry system is so secure that this was my first choice of packs for early season ski missions this year when carrying both skis and boots to the snow line. Even running with my skis and boots attached to the Raven, they didn’t bounce around like they would on a race pack. Normal race-style hooks are not secure enough for difficult vertical climbing so the secure, lasso type of attachment is ideal on this pack.

Approaching the 'shrund on the Aiguille du Argentiere with skis secured on the Raven. (Nick Elson Photo)

Approaching the ‘shrund on the Aiguille du Argentiere with skis secured on the Raven. (Nick Elson Photo)

It’s not my go-to pack for mid-winter skiing when the technical features are unnecessary and I’m carrying full-size avy gear – that’s just not what it’s designed for. However, if you need to carry crampons, ice tools, a rope and a small rack, plus some basics like a few layers and fuel/hydration then the Raven is perfect for fast and light ski-alpinism.

I will also note that I used the Raven as my primary pack for five weeks of skiing in Europe this season, except during races. It was my daily/travel backpack as I could slip my laptop into the hydration sleeve and carry a jacket and some books in the main pocket and a few Euros in the zippered valuable pouch. It was also what I used for skiing and training anytime my race pack was too small.

Overall, the Free Range Raven is not a skimo race pack and may not be ideal for winter touring when avalanche gear (or larger pack sizes) are needed but has been my first choice for climbing adventures and spring ski-alpinism when stability is good.

Pros:

  • Compact shape
  • Secure ski carry
  • Well designed harness
  • Simple axe attachments
  • Durable

What can be improved about this product:

An additional (optional) quick ski carry attachment and a bit more length to fit avalanche gear would make this a top choice for all season skiing. Some of the fixtures are a bit industrial and could be replaced with lighter weight options but durability might suffer.

Online stores that carry Free Range Raven pack:

Climbing steep neve on the Coleman Headwall. (Nick Elson Photo)

Climbing steep neve on the Coleman Headwall. (Nick Elson Photo)

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