I am impressed by Andrew McLean’s designs. They’re practical; some break new ground. He’s not afraid to depart from convention to reach practical solutions.
I’d been considering the Chuter 15 ski pack as a functional step up in a small pack. Andrew’s post tipped the scale; I nabbed the last (?) retail Chuter available online. How better to explore a designer’s vision of the ultimate ski pack than to try it? After modifying the pack to correct a major flaw (hence ‘SuperChuter’), it’s the pack I hoped it would be.
It’s a simple pack, but it differs from most. The interior of the pack is accessible only through the back panel. The avalanche-tools portion of the pack is exterior to the body, protected by a stout flap that covers the entire rear of the pack. I really like the design; precipitation comes from above. This pack sheds it by default.
The design has one serious flaw. In two different ways, the avalanche probe and shovel handle can fall out easily. They can fall out the sides of the pack (you can pull tools out like arrows from a quiver, too) and they can exit through a velcroed mini flap (designed for wands) in the main flap.
In email correspondence with Andrew about the pack, I wrote, “I can’t help but think that if the flap were sealed at the top and zippered at the perimeter that it’d be an incredible pack…” You can’t say that without following through. So…
I hadn’t ever sewed in a zipper. Fortunately, YouTube is awesome (3 links). I ordered everything I needed from Seattle Fabrics; slow shipping (I live across town. It took a week.), comprehensive stock. I used: #10 coil zippers, sliders, and top stops; DB-92 orange thread; 1/4″ acrylic double-sided tape; and “All about zippers” instructions. If you’re doing this modification, it won’t be to save money on a pack.
I hand-sewed a burly #10 zipper down each side of the main flap. This took several meditative hours and gave an appreciation for the artistry we take for granted in clothing and outdoor gear. Were I to do it again, I might sew a single two-way zipper around the perimeter of the flap. Getting measurements and symmetry right would be a challenge. With zippers alone, it stays shut. Clipping the flap buckle keeps it bomber.
With the zippers in, but the top-flap not yet sealed, I took the pack on its first tour. Small, fast, light, fit well, skied well. I bent down to fiddle with a boot and my shovel handle flew overhead onto the ground. Without modification, the avalanche-tools pocket will not retain gear other than the shovel-blade. Happened twice in one dawn trip.
I sewed the top flap shut, and lift-skied all day on Christmas with the pack. Best skiing pack I’ve ever used. Snug, tight, easy-handling on the chair. Gets it done. Completely forgot it was there. Looking forward to more.
— Andrew’s neat trick of putting a ski-strap through the Hypalon daisy chain adds carrying capacity. I’ve installed a strap there by default.
— The corrugated back panel-reinforcement material is great. It’s flexible for opening but stiff enough to keep gear from digging into your back.
— Ski-carry straps (diagonal both ways) tuck away nicely. My Garmin temperature sensor clips nicely onto the daisy chain. Unmodified, it accommodate 105 mm skis just fine. The lower loop even holds Voile Drifters. The upper loop could be replaced with a longer ski strap for mega powder boards.
— Whistle sternum straps are such a good idea. Every pack needs one.
— The grab-loop is huge and stays out of the way.
— I love visible gear, especially orange.
— I’d use a burlier zipper on the back panel. It’s a small pack, and the nature of small packs is that you try to stuff them with things. If the zipper blows out, it’ll suck.
— The avy-tools pocket doesn’t have full-length sleeves. It’s not always a smooth draw to remove the probe. Shovel and saw don’t need it, but the probe does.
— The wet and dry rooms of the pack aren’t separated by a waterproof barrier. They should be.
— Over time, the worn edge of my shovel may tear up the mesh of the wet room. We’ll see.
Summary: Without modifications, the wet-room of the pack can’t hold avy gear other than a shovel. With modifications, it’s a great small ski pack that’s going to see a ton of use on shorter tours and in the resort backcountry. I’m stoked.