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Best 40L (to 60L) Sub Zero Mountain Pack

Blue Ice's Pre-2019 Warthog 40 Alpine Pack

Blue Ice's Warthog 40 (pre-2019)

Preface

As always, we're looking at the Blue Ice Warthog 40 from the point of view of long distance trekking over tough terrain.

We're (still) big fans of Karrimor SF's Predator 30, but in sub zero conditions with 7+ days of supplies, the Predator is a little beyond its reasonable limits. For this reason we wanted to offer an alternative for those who:

  • venture out into the mountains when it's freezing cold
  • who carry crampons, an ice axe and perhaps a helmet too, and
  • whose "treks" can capriciously morph into something that looks (and feels) a lot like mountaneering

The Blue Ice Warthog 40 is our pack of choice. However, in 2019 Blue Ice decided that their alpine Warthog packs were too tough and so made them substantially weaker (they would probably say "lighter" - the 2019 model is 5L larger, a lot less durable and £30 more expensive). So we recommend the old "tough as nails" (yet impressively light) Warthog packs made before 2019. They're still out there, so grab them while you can, as it seems quality gear may soon be on the endangered species list.

We raised this issue with Blue Ice in our letter "Dragonflies & Warthogs: Defenceless Creatures as of 2019?", we've yet to get a response. 
 

Test subject: Chest 42", Waist 33", Height: 5ft 8"
Test item: 2017 version (grey)
Kit Tests: Winter, Summer
Disclaimer: None required (item not provided by manufacturer)

Datasheet

Main Material: 420D nylon CORDURA® (2019 = 210D nylon) 100%
Base Material: 1680D ballistic CORDURA® (2019 = 210D nylon) 100%
Treatments: PU coating and DWR finish -
Capacity (native / extendable): 40L / ~60L
Weight (non-stripped weights): 1130g
Manufacturer RRP £130.00
Scramble's Price on SYSTEM £84.50

Available on SYSTEM


 

Scramble Review

Contents

 

Introduction: Warthogs Before the Transition

Blue Ice's Warthog 40 was the inspiration for us to make the Tower pack extender. It has everything a winter mountain pack requires (and nothing more): a single cavity, minimalist yet extensible alpine pack that sits high on the back (leaving room for a padded belt setup) and is ultra-durable yet relatively lightweight.

After initial testing the Warthog 40 showed it was capable of handling additional loads - so we made the Towers to extend its capacity, making it a very versatile (40 to 60L) pack.

In the recent 2019 "Summer" Kit Test (which was a mix of spring and autumnal weather) I took the Warthog on a 10 day slog from south to north Wales. With 20L of the pack stuffed with food, that left me 20L for everything else; not enough for the additional test items I had, so I took a single Hex Tower (11L) and ~50L was ample.

Blue Ice's Warthog 40 with Scramble's Hex Tower (50L setup)Blue Ice's Warthog 40 with Scramble's Hex Tower


A Comfortable Ride

Under the lid, the Warthog has a rope strap (see above, to the left of the lid closure strap). This is very handy for attaching a solo Tower when the pack is full. As the supplies diminished, I was able to shift the Tower to one side (see above, pictured right) without negatively impacting the pack's balance. 

The Warthog, being a climbing pack, sits reasonably high on the back, providing a high centre of gravity and this makes it a very stable (and comfortable) pack when ascending or scrambling down steep slopes.

In terms of comfort I've yet to experience any issues. The shoulder straps don't seem overly padded, but I've felt no discomfort either from compression or abrasion / chafing. It's really gone unnoticed in this regard.
 

Materials & Features

Let's keep things simple. A backpack is simply a bucket with a lid, a back panel and shoulder straps. Assuming the back panel and shoulder straps are comfortable and strong, what really matters is the strength and durability of the bucket.

What makes the pre-2019 Warthog so good is that the "bucket" is made from some extremely robust, abrasion resistant fabrics, yet its minimalist design keeps the overall weight competitively light.  The Warthogs occupied a niche between the pricey, but excellent AK Kevlar / Cordura packs from Crux and the regular "alpine" offerings of mountain brands like Black Diamond, Mammut et al. 
 

The Ultra Durable Reinforced Base

Ballistic nylon is expensive stuff (we know because we used it on the Dura 850 Towers). Blue Ice used a very heavy duty 1680D ballistic Cordura to reinforce the base of the Warthog. This offers outstanding protection from tools such as ice axes, skis, crampons etc.

At the bottom of the front face, the Warthog has a sleeve to house one or two ice axe picks (pictured below left), the ice axe can then be cinched in place via elastic loops at the base and further up the pack. 

The Warthog 40's High Grade Ballistic ReinforcementThe Warthog 40's use of Ballistic Nylon set it apart from the alpine crowd


The Back Panel

Blue Ice's "AlpineContact" back panel provides some air-flow, though as with all packs, you get sweaty when working hard, but it's a comfortable panel with enough flex to shape to the contours of your back. Inside the pack is a sleeve for a dense foam board insert (atop that is a sleeve for a hydration bladder). The back panel and insert provide a good degree of support and protection from your pack's contents.

Just above the shoulder straps is a strong webbing grap handle and above that a slit for the hydration tubing. All pretty standard stuff. 

Blue Ice Warthog 40 (Back & Side Views)The excellent, stiff yet conforming back panel

Side Compression Straps

The compression straps provide enough slack to hold a large foam sleeping mat and thus also a Tower. The top strap has a quick release buckle; the bottom strap does not.


Straps & Tensioners

The 38mm hip belt and sternum (chest) strap are both removable for those wishing to shave a few grams off their load.  The hip belt is completely unpadded and sits higher than one would on a "touring pack". This allows room for a padded belt setup and thus a genuine off-loading of weight from shoulders to hips.

I have to say, probably because I've always favoured lighter, climbing-style packs, I've never really seen the point in heavily padded hip-belts.

The shoulder strap tensioners allow the user to cinch in the pack tight to the back. Again, pretty standard stuff, but all the straps and adjustments work very well, are good quality and once set stay in place. Nothing to complain about here.

The Warthog 40's simple yet effective straps and bucklesBlue Ice's standard removable straps for gram counters


The Lid

All of the Warthog's pockets are situated in the lid. There are three in total. The two external pockets are pictured below. There is another one on the underside of the lid which I found very useful for important stuff like wallet, keys, tickets (i.e. the stuff that has no use on the top of a mountain).

The Warthogs pockets aren't waterproof and so even on the underside pocket, if you have tickets or anything you need to keep dry, you need to keep it in a ziplock or dry bag.

The large lid pocket opens out above the shoulder straps and is pretty spacious. It will easily hold a tarp, pegs and cordage plus a trowel or two (I always carry two in case one breaks - the Coghlan's don't tend to). Inside is a clip for securing your keys (pictured below, #2).

Blue Ice Warthog 40's lid pocketsThe Warthog 40 has three lid pockets

The front facing pocket (pictured above, #3), which I use for my first aid kit, houses a very convenient mesh helmet holder (you can see it poking out under the first aid kit) which can be pulled out and over your helmet. It then clips to small loops (see #1, above the zip pull) on either side of the lid's roof. A well-thought out design.

The lid is secured with a single strong aluminium hook fasterner.

The Warthog's aluminium hook lid closureThe Warthogs have a fail-safe aluminium hook lid closure

The Warthog is slightly tapered and so the opening is wider than the base. The wide opening features a quick closure system. Unfortunately the internal pictures I took weren't up to our usual high standards; we'll add more internal shots after the next Winter Kit Test.

Fortunately. Blue Ice made a useful video available at the bottom of SYSTEM's product page. What it doesn't give you is a close-up view of the Warthog, which we've hopefully provided here, but it should provide a useful supplement to this review.
 

Any Negatives?

There are only two negatives that we've managed to summon so far, and they're pretty minor.

  1. We feel the Warthogs lid pockets could have a stronger PU water-resistance. It's not a major negative, more something to be aware of, but we'll dock a half point because we're mean.
     
  2. The only area that's experienced wear is at the bottom edge of the back panel. This was caused by "interactions" with my padded belt. If you use a padded belt setup, it's something to be aware of. On mine, I've added a few strips of silver gaffa tape over the areas marked below in red to provide some added protection. We've docked another half point (as it's a specific use-case and a little harsh to expect Blue Ice to design for every unorthodoxy).

Padded belts can scuff the base of the back panelParticular to padded belt setups

 

Conclusion & Rating

When Blue Ice made the Warthog packs, we can't help but feel they were making them for themselves, as enthusiastic alpinists. "What would we want in a mountaineering pack?" they may have asked. Answer: a rock solid base made from insanely tough 1680D ballistic nylon; a body made from 420D Cordura; a comfortable, stiff boarded back panel and high quality straps without any fussy padding; an ultra-durable, yet impressively light 40L beast of a pack at an affordable price.

Blue Ice's Warthog 40 with a HIT (Left) & a HEX (Right) - Winter 2020 Kit Test Setup

I can't help but feel, the "corporate" has invaded and to some extent displaced the "passionate" and for 2019 Blue Ice might instead have asked: "What would our customers accept as a Blue Ice mountaineering pack?" That's a very different question and it's resulted in a very different outcome that quite frankly should not carry the "Warthog" label.

The Pre-2019 Warthog is exactly what we at Scramble look for in a winter trekking / sub-zero mountaineering pack. When paired with a couple of Towers (pictured right), it has enough room for a sub-zero sleeping bag and 8 days of food rations.

Blue Ice's pre-2019 Warthog 40 is Scramble's top pick in the Sub Zero Mountain Pack category. Now, we'll start looking for its replacement. As we said earlier, the race to the bottom is on, so get the good stuff before the cost-cutting gets worse.
 

Note:  Now, if you want to know why we set up Scramble, compare what's written above, with this "review" of the new Blue Ice Warthog 45. It's this kind of industry shilling and blatant public relations that we absolutely despise and hope to expose (as it shows a profound disrespect for people who have to actually use and rely on this gear, sometimes for their survival).

 

Product Images

 

Rating (out of 10)

Function
 
9.0
Durability
 
9.0
Weight
 
8.5
RRP Value *
 
7.0
OVERALL RATING
 
8.4


* The value score is derived from two factors:
1) Competitive Market Price (CMP). This represents our judgement of a competitive online price point if we were to stock the item. e.g. if we feel we would need to sell an item at 40% off (i.e. 60% of its full RRP) to be competitive, then our CMP score will be 6/10.
2) Customer Value Price (CVP). We then make an honest appraisal of the maximum price we would be willing to pay for the item (and we're mean). So if we'd pay 80% of its RRP our CVP score would be 8/10.
We then average the two scores to get our final value score, which in our example would be 7/10.

 

 

Last Updated: 08/11/19



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