First Ascent Alchemist 40 Pack
Published on 07/13/2012
By Billy Brown
We see a lot of packs here at Active Junky, so if a new pack is gonna raise our eyebrows, it better rock some sweet features. Features like the ability to expand from 40 liters to 55 liters or the ability to remove the internal frame to use as a splint or a sleeping pad. First Ascent’s Alchemist 40 pack claims to do all that and still have room for a bag of chips. Lofty claims, for sure.
The Alchemist is designed as a mountaineer’s go-to pack, with loops and straps covering the outside of the pack, there’s ample space to store trekking poles, an ice axe, skis, crampons, and just about anything else you’re going to want to drag up a mountain with you. It can expand to 55 liters or contract to 40 liters with a few pulls on the Velcro tabs, so you can haul your gear up to base camp in 55L mode, then shrink it down to 40L for your summit push.
We took it on a few test trips in the Trinity Alps and on the Pacific Crest trail to see if it could live up to the hype. The pack’s ripstop exterior held up to scraping down granite faces and getting dragged through acres of dry brush, while the TPU coating kept the weather out when the clouds started dumping rain and snow.
The pack’s claim to fame is its ability to change from 40 liters to 55 liters on the fly, and it’s quick and simple. We don’t read directions here at AJ, and our testers figured it our without a single tantrum.
Another unique feature is its removable frame – a foam pad that gives the pack its rigidity, but can also be taken out and used as a splint, a sleeping pad, or a work station. Called the BFF (Bivy, Frame, First aid), testers thought that that Best Friend Forever would have been appropriate as well.
“It came in handy when the weather went south,” said one tester who took the pack to Castle Crags National Park. “It started dumping snow on my way up, so I laid out the BFF for a dry place to sit and eat lunch.”
Luckily, we didn’t need to test how effective the BFF system was as a splint. Couldn’t find any interns to take one for the team.
Our testers loved its light weight (4 pounds), but some thought that the hipbelt straps could have used more padding.
Besides that one gripe, we’re fans of the Alchemist. Most pieces of gear that try to do too much end up failing at everything, but the Alchemist manages to fit the mold as a great day pack and as a solid multi-day pack, and at $200, you’re not going to go broke buying it. If you’re short of funds or short on space, or you just don’t want a bunch of packs cluttering up your garage, the Alchemist is a great option.