The Ultra-Lightweight Jack Wolfskin Ascent Pack 26l
Two weeks ago, I spent 24 hours walking a mammoth 54 miles across the West Highland Way in Scotland, accompanied by the Jack Wolfskin Ascent Pack 26l. So, how did it fare? Read on to find out.
Knowing the challenge awaiting me, I carefully selected the Ascent Pack 26l as the rucksack to take. I wanted something light but at the same time, something not too small nor too big. It also needed to be comfortable but have pockets and Platypus compatibility; I was being picky.
I once again went for the grey colour way, this time trying to ignore the bland sounding ‘tarmac grey’ description. Electric blue was the other option but I simply preferred the look of green on grey and so by personal preference alone, I now owned another Jack Wolfskin product in the dull-sounding-colour I complained about before.
The ‘ultra-lightweight alpine pack’ weighs in at 635g and is made from 100% Polyamide on the main body, which incorporates tear-resistant fabric with strengthening fibres (think rip-stop). The base is off-set in a darker grey and is made from a finely woven polyamide fabric, with an extra-thick waterproof coating. In layman’s terms, this means that putting it down on wet ground won’t see everything at the bottom of the rucksack get wet.
There are two, elasticated side pockets which are fairly spacious and easily big enough to hold a large water bottle or a handful of Kendal Mint Cake. On the front is a pocket that runs the full length of the bag and is zipped neatly on the right hand-side. This pocket is frankly huge and it needs to be, because excluding the main compartment, this is just one of two zipped pockets. The other is a large hood pocket which is big enough to store a map, a load of food and probably Warwick Davis.
Joking aside, the rucksack does have very few storage compartments and while space itself isn’t a problem, separating bits and bobs how you usually would could be an issue for some. I’m usually the first person to purposely separate everything in fine detail but I found that having fewer areas also meant I was never able to forget which pocket something was stored in – it was always one of three.
The last thing on the front is an elasticated toggle for trekking poles or an ice tool. The hood is secured by a single, centralised buckle and strap that forms an upside-down-y by separating into two securing itself at two places at the base of the rucksack. This allows you to quickly strap a coat across the back – just as you would with a conventional two buckle system.
Inside the rucksack, you’re again greeted by a huge space, which appears almost as though it has an internal lighting system. In realty, the material is so thin that it lets a lot of light in. There is an elasticated back ‘pocket’ that’s designed to hold your drink system and a duct to the outside where you can feed the hose. There’s also a curiously open-ended, thin profiled, elasticated ‘tube’ which I have yet to find a use for and unless I’m missing something, Jack Wolfskin’s product description is too.
At the top, there’s a very rugged velcro tab that will hook through your Platypus and prevent it from compressing under its own weight at the bottom of the bag.
Fastening the main compartment is an unusual toggle/rope system that I initially found to be a bit awkward. Instead of the usual push-button toggle that allows the rope to feed through, this involved a sprung tab pull, which opens the gap wide enough for the drawstring to come through. After some inspection and playing around, this system actually allows for one-handed operation, because pulling the drawstring upwards also lifts the sprung closure and then smoothly tightens itself. The downside of this is un-doing it one-handed, which on occasion can be quite difficult. There’s no problem if there’s tension in the opposite direction to that which you’re pulling, so if the bag is swung around on one shoulder you’ll be fine. On the ground however, you’ll need to hold the sack itself on the opposite side to which you pull – otherwise you’ll just tip the rucksack over. So don’t expect to be holding a load of kit in one hand, ready to open the bag with the other and throw it all in. A small trade-off which in my opinion is the right way around. I’d rather have a system that’s harder to open on the ground where I’m already stationary, than on my back when I need things quickly.
Outside again, Jack Wolfskin have implemented their ‘ACS Tight’ system, which has a flexible full-contact suspension system with exceptional ventilation (their own words) that sits close to the back. I can vouch for this.
ACS stands for ‘Air Control System’ and with the model used on the Ascent Pack 26l, the focus is on a ‘full-contact carry teamed with excellent ventilation performance’. Padding is at a minimum here and yet I found it to be totally comfortable despite having only used the rucksack over roughly six or seven miles prior to a 54 mile trek. All of the padding is perforated and covered with a thin, very open mesh, which allows for great ventilation – just as they had hoped.
The back itself is made from a special toughened polyethylene that stops hard items from pressing through into your back, without restricting freedom of movement. This is ventilated too.
Each strap has two elastic bands – one that sits right at the top of your shoulder and the other just below your collar bone. These were utterly brilliant for feeding my Platypus hose through and I clipped the end onto the chest-strap rail. Speaking of the chest strap, there’s a really nice feature on the right-side buckle – a whistle. A small touch, but one that could prove incredibly useful under the right circumstance. It probably cost them an extra 10 pence to manufacture, but it has the potential to save a life which is why it’s probably my favourite detail of the bag and I’ve not used it apart from in testing.
The waist belt is completely un-padded and instead incorporates the same material used throughout the bag. There is a zipped, mesh pocket on either strap that’s handy for storing a compass or smaller food items that you might be snacking on. The strap itself will fit the smallest of waists and it also has what I call ‘strap tidies’ too – small plastic clips that allow you to fold-back long ends and keep them from dangling and becoming an annoyance.
I’ve found the quality of the rucksack to be excellent and so far, despite it being bashed around a few times in Scotland, it’s got zero signs of wear. I have yet to find a weak point in the materials used and so the only downside I can see with the Ascent Pack 26l is the lack of a security pocket which usually are placed in the hood. Instead, the hood has an SOS panel with diagrams and instructions of how to get help should you need it.
I would recommend this rucksack to those looking for something comfortable, lightweight, well ventilated, of high quality and nice aesthetics. Plus the people who like fine details, such as the chest-strap whistle.
For anyone looking for something with a multitude of pockets, openings and zipped areas, I suggest you look elsewhere. This rucksack was made with a stripped down, minimalist design that keeps it ultra-lightweight and therefore doesn’t cater towards those needs.