Review of the Montane Halogen 33L rucksack.

About 25 years ago, when Karrimor was still a top technical outdoor equipment brand, I purchased their 30 litre Hot Rock daysack. That sack has been everywhere and done everything with me in the intervening years, a real “Go To” bag. But now the top pocket zip has begun to fail and can’t be trusted, so it was time to look for my next “Go To” daysack.

There are a lot of good sacks on the market, but they are often very focused on one area of use and are less useful when out of their “comfort zone” and my needs were varied and specific: Lightweight (Obviously) hard wearing ideally, a good carry, streamlined enough for scrambling, voluminous and featured enough for winter mountaineering, but also able to be rolled up under the lid of a bigger expedition sack, fit inside travel luggage and be suitable for aircraft carry-on luggage. For these reasons sacks like the excellent Osprey Stratus were out as the frame which makes them a good carry and well ventilated limits their packability and makes them heavier. Working at Cotswold Outdoor Exeter I was well poised to keep an eye on new sacks as they came along, and when my eyes landed on the Montane Halogen 33 I thought I had found what I was looking for.

The Halogen 33 on a day hike on the South West Coast Path

The Halogen is a 33litre rucksack weighing in at 896g coming in size S/M, it has an outer and inner lid pocket, and internal storage pouch for a water bladder, a single main compartment and side “Baguette pockets”, It had front bungees that are great for holding a helmet, a folding snow shovel or perhaps crampons, and it has suitable tapes to allow further bungees to be attached to the lid. The sack has a system for mounting ice tools and the hip belt has two useful pockets, one of which holds my compact camera quite nicely. The lid is secured by two short straps and traditional Montane clip buckles, and beneath the lid is a snow valance with drawcord, and a further tension buckle that draws the load in toward the back. The harness utilises Montane’s Zephyr FX back system which has a mesh holding a foam sheet, heavily perforated to allow ventilation.

I have now been using the Halogen 33 for about two years, and it has travelled to Nepal with me, completed most of an LDWA 100 mile walking event (it was me that failed not the sack) and has spent a few weeks winter mountaineering in Scotland bagging munro’s. Additionally it has been out on almost all the day walking I have done in the last two years.

So what do I like about the bag? Well firstly it rolls up well under my expedition sack and is fine for carry-on luggage so that’s ok. I really like the internal tension strap that draws the load in, even though it’s one more thing to undo and do up, but I was disappointed to find the snow valance draw-cord toggle failed almost as soon as I started using it. Minor but niggling! I really like the hip-belt, in particular, because it is drawn tight by a pulley  system that increases the mechanical advantage to make it easy to draw it really snug. The hip-belt is comfortable and does take much of the sacks weight, and I find the fin pockets very useful. I like the “Baguette Pockets” too, these are two elasticated sleeves one above the other, only the bottom one is closed at the bottom to form a pocket. This means that you can use the bottom pocket on its own for shorter items like a Sigg bottle or OS map, but if you have something longer… a baguette….you can slide it down the top sleeve and into the lower pocket…ideal for shopping for lunch on the Tour de Mont blanc! The material of the sack seems tough and two years hard use have failed to damage it at all.

What don’t I like, well I’m not all that keen on the fittings for mounting Ice axes, I’d much prefer the old fashioned loop at the bottom as the Montane arrangement is more fiddly with gloves on. The sternum strap is a special Montane feature, I don’t use them anyway and soon took mine off, but I found it fiddly in use. But my biggest dislike is the strap of the harness. In order to save weight straps have been made quite slim: too slim in fact, because they are now so slim that the friction needed to stop them slipping in the buckles is at the critical point, and every time you take the sack off and put it on, you find yourself checking the adjustment of the shoulder straps and the lifters at the top. It’s not a big problem, but it is a step too far, and mars an otherwise excellent rucksack.

To conclude I would say that yes the Halogen 33 has become my new “Go To” sack, but I’d still prefer another Hot Rock. Sometimes simple is best!

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