Here's a review of the Eddie Bauer/First Ascent Big…
Size: 70 L
Number of Pockets: 2
Max. Load Carried: 55 pounds
Height of Owner: 5'11"
Price Paid: $269
Here's a review of the Eddie Bauer/First Ascent Big Tahoma backpack. First, you can view my video review:
I got one of the first packs to be commercially available in spring of 2009. I purchased it for a series of alpine mountaineering trips I have planned for 2009 and 2010.
So far I have about 300 miles of travel on it, 5 summits of Mt. Washington in the White Mountains, a summit climb of Mount Victoria in Banff and a 5 day technical summit climb on Mt. Rainier, so I feel I've rung it out pretty well in situations where I really had to depend on the pack as a key piece of gear.
I generally pack pretty light, but like to carry enough gear for a reasonable safety margin on winter trips. Other packs I use regularly are the Osprey Atmos 50 for winter and summer overnights, and a North Face Primero.
The Big Tahoma pack is a 70 Liter packed designed by the guides of Whittaker Mountaineering for Eddie Bauer as part of their new First Ascent line. It's primarily an alpine pack with a very clean design meaning not a lot of exterior pockets or accessories that would be found on packs designed for more traditional trail backpacking.
It has one large main compartment accessible from the top and also from a large waterproof zipper running along one side. The zipper is great, but may be a little inconvenient if you have any gear tied into the side straps, which would block the zipper.
On the outside are tie-straps on each side, which are terrific because they are long enough to accommodate a winter sleeping pad, tent or other bulky roll-up gear. Lots of other packs have these straps, but they are too short for anything other than small gear. There are also ski loops on the sides which work very well.
The crampon straps on the back features a tougher nylon pad and the metal clips and straps are plenty strong. Good for crampons, or a shovel or other heavier outboard gear. Two tool loops and tie downs are also on the back. The tie down straps are a little low on the back of the pack and tend to not keep an ice axe tucked as tight to the pack as you (or your climbing partner) might like.
The top flap is very good and has three large zippered compartments. The zippers work very well and the two external zipper pockets have two different color zippers - - which turns out to be great for remembering where you packed things, especially when the flap is flipped open. There's another smaller pocket on the inside.
The straps on the flap are plenty long to allow for expansion packing in the top of the pack and provide a little compression as well. There's a snow skirt with two draw strings. The pockets on the flap and the main compartment are easy and fast to get into during a fast rest stop.
The suspension for the pack overall is pretty good, but there are a couple of things that First Ascent could improve on. It's a standard light pack design with a foam back pad with a removable rigid plastic backboard reinforced with two aluminum flat rods. The shoulder straps tie in with a large velcro pad that allows for up and down adjustment.
There are two sizes of pack - - a small (S) and medium/large (M/L) - - so adjusting through the medium to large size range (I let my 14 year old use the pack as well) seems to change the balance of the pack a little - - but it's fine for me in the Large size configuration. After 10 or 15 miles of use, the suspension system breaks in very nicely and is very comfortable, especially for lighter loads.
There are a couple of things to keep in mind if you plan to carry heavier loads in this pack. I found for loads over 40 pounds or so that the straps on the hip belt tend to slip and loosen slightly and have to be retightened. Same with the shoulder straps.
Second thing to keep in mind is the hip belt straps have a single buckle and hand down in front, and are long enough to potentially get tangled on any gear you are wearing. I checked around on this and others, including some guides I spoke with, were seeing the same thing with the straps at heavy loads.
The pack is speced at 3.8 pounds - - to get to this weight you have to remove the hip belt and floating lid - - which would be a good summit pack configuration. With the lid in place and the hip belt on the pack weighs in at about 4.4 pounds - - still much lighter than a lot of other packs in this class.
This pack has held up to a lot of field use and gear carrying. The materials are tough and nothing on the pack broke during my trips and despite all the sharp gear I put in it or strapped on to it, there are no rips and tears.
Overall, this is a good pack and I'm planning on using it for my winter trips this season. Stripped down it's a fine rucksack for day hikes and fully configured holds enough gear for a multi-day winter trip if you pack carefully.