This review comes after only having the Built To Send X2 pack for 24 days however it’s been put through it’s paces fairly intensively in that short time. Guiding work here in the Cuillin on the Isle of Skye has never been busier and out of 24 days of ownership the X2 has been used for 17 days of guiding and 3 days of photography.
I’m not normally one for statistics but recent clients have been studiously monitoring their progress and during the guiding have covered 134 miles and 18,323 metres of ascent. We’ve enjoyed (or not) a wide range of weather from glorious sunshine and amazing temperature inversions to days of high winds and torrential rain. The Cuillin rock, especially the gabbro has a well deserved reputation for abrasiveness and trashes gear and finger tips alike.
Less than a month but a bit of a torture test for gear so now that I’ve an unexpected day off seems a good time to put down a few thoughts. Most people won’t have heard of “Built To Send” so here’s a bit of background shamelessly copied from their website;
In 2014, having climbed together all over the world, including over seventy 4000 m peaks, we embarked on a mission to build the ultimate climbing pack. We know engineering and we know climbing. Built for alpine environments, climbing, and ultralight backpacking our philosophy is ultimate strength and stripped-down simplicity.
It’s a small company with a very specific mission and everything is hand built in their UK factory. BTS may only be a small company but it’s one with a big mission and it’s a company that’s definitely going places (literally and physically). Being small, everything about BTS is very personal from the detailed emails I’ve received from founder Tom to the obsessive level of detail focused on their mission to produce simple, light and bombproof gear.
Guiding in the Cuillin most days, I guess, I’m pretty heavy on my gear. To put it simply, gear gets used and abused. I’ve lost count of the packs I’ve used and discarded, some wearing out really quickly others a bit more slowly. I’ve used packs made by Lowe Alpine, Montane, Crux, Arcteryx and more and have a fine collection of discarded and broken packs. Stitching comes undone, seams burst, shoulder straps detach.
Most pack manufacturers seem to be jack of all trades and master of none. Packs are BTS’ raison d’etre and it shows. Nowadays too many packs are all singing, all dancing with superfluous adjustments, straps, bells and (literally) whistles. What I like about BTS is their focus on “less is more” and it’s something I’m more than happy to pay for. Give me a simple, single compartment pack with a simple non adjustable back system and I’m happy. If it’s very comfortable that’s a bonus as is weatherproofing. A bomb proof design is essential.
BTS’ philosophy sounds ideal for my needs, a prioritising of function over form, the exact opposite of many of the big pack making companies. Let’s look at the theory and see how it translates into practice.
2. Fabric. The packs are made from ultra tough fabric which is waterproof. Note the fabric is waterproof but the seams haven’t been sealed. I had a lengthy reply from Tom to my question about this and it turns out that sealing using tape could damage the waterproofing quality of the fabric.
“The unique BUILT TO SEND mono-shell design makes our packs almost indestructible. The main body is made from a single piece of expedition-grade composite VX42 X-Pac fabric leading to an almost seamless design. The only way of breaking a BUILT TO SEND pack is to tear though one of the toughest materials on the planet. The fabric is 100% waterproof, making our packs extremely weather resistant in rain and snow.”
“Our contoured shoulder straps and back panel are engineered from a proprietary foam (we developed our own 10 mm thick physically cross-linked polyethylene foam) based on a type used in fighter pilot seats. The properties of this foam give it excellent load spreading capability for shoulder straps and belt pads (X2 and X3 packs), and make the back panel forgiving of poor packing when fully loaded. Shoulder and hip pads are low-profile, for harness compatibility during rock and ice climbing.”
“Our hardware is custom-designed and engineered from aerospace-grade aluminium, with a hard-anodized coating for extreme durability. Our seam allowances are almost twice the industry standard, and we triple stitch structural seams using V92 bonded polyester thread, exceeding the military specification for safety-critical equipment. Load-rated webbing is bar-tacked for extreme strength.”
“We hand build our packs in limited numbers in Great Britain, to exacting engineering standards under an ISO 9001 quality system. Your BUILT TO SEND pack has been built without any compromise on quality. It’s the finest engineered and strongest pack on planet earth.”
That’s the theory…. How did the pack perform in practice?
1. Tough and Durable
Although the X2 has only been used for less than a month it’s had some serious abuse thrown at. Loads of long guiding days in hot weather and also in torrential rain and high winds. The bag looks tough as nails despite repeated brushes with the uber rough gabbro. No rips, tears or even signs of abrasion.
The pack is built like a super strong haul bag and can indeed be hauled via the loops at the rim of the pack. Whilst my test has only been very short term, I can’t see why this pack shouldn’t last for a lifetime. BTS users I’ve spoken to have no complaints and all sing the praise of how durable the packs are. In an email, Tom said, “The bag should last you a LONG time – no reports of anyone seriously damaging one yet, other than someone who drove a commercial vehicle over one and dragged it 100 m down the road in the wheel arch.”
2. Unprecedented Comfort Levels
This is going to sound stupid but the X2 has a Tardis like level of comfort. Stripped to the minimum with no fancy padding or frame, it looks like a simple tube with straps attached yet it carries superbly.
Even with heavy loads it feels really comfortable. With no frame or bulky padding you might expect things to dig in your back and thus need to be carefully packed but stuff can just be thrown in and the foam back just absorbs things pretty much no matter what the shape.
The foam used seems to have fantastic energy absorbing properties and is very comfortable no matter how heavy the load. It’s 10mm thick on the back panel and developed from foam used on fighter pilots’ ejector seats. The shoulder straps are contoured for climbing and just let you get on with the job to hand. I opted for the X2 model which has a padded hipbelt rather than the plain 50mm webbing on the X0 and X1 models.
Putting the pack on instantly feels like luxurious comfort even with a heavy/bulky load. The foam of the shoulder straps, hip belt and back provide such a comfortable carry that you are enveloped in a cocoon of comfort. In a perverse way the comfort is so good that it almost feel better carrying the pack than when walking without it. Now, obviously, that can’t really be true but it’s just how it feels to me!
3. Blindingly Simple Design
Some people will want pockets and pouches galore but, for me, one simple, large compartment does the job. It does require a bit of planning ahead and thought but it does make for a bombproof design with less to go wrong and less weight and a reduced faff factor as there aren’t endless zips and drawcords to undo, pockets to search.
The one gesture towards pack organisation is a nicely sized zipped pocket inside at the top of the back which has proved useful for safeguarding valuables like a phone and small items like food bars, sunscreen etc. The white fabric makes it light and easy to see stuff even at the base of the pack.
Whilst the interior is a model of simplicity, the exterior can be as simple or complex as you like. Multiple attachment points down each side allow the addition of multiple 20mm straps to attach as much gear as you’d ever want. Think sleeping mats, skis, ropes and anything else your imagination and/or route desires. Also attachments for multiple ice tools can be added.
I really like that these are all supplied as an “Alpine Customisation Pack” as part of the deal unlike my Arcteryx FL45 which comes with attachment points but no straps etc. Some packs come with a myriad of straps and buckles which work well but are stitched on so the only way to remove them is to wield a knife. The BTS pack is infinitely customisable and best of all it can be stripped down completely to save weight and keep the lines of the pack sleek and lean for those tough big routes.
Currently I’ve just installed the included shock cord on the rear of the pack. This is mainly to carry my Black Diamond Z poles (which I practically never leave home without) when scrambling/climbing. In winter it will be great to have the ability to fit axes, crampons, roll mat on the outside.
4. Ease Of Use
This is where the pack really rocks. I’m a huge fan of roll top packs and BTS have put their own stamp on this genre with it’s “X-Fold” system which not only works really well but reduces the stresses and strains that a more conventional roll top suffers from.
As mentioned, the one big compartment makes things simple but so does the way the pack stands up on it’s base and stays open. No frustrating balancing acts on small ledges as you fight to hold open the top to safely retrieve an item or put something away. It stays open like a mini haul bag (which it effectively is and can be used as such).
The haul loop/handle on the top rear of the pack is huge (even larger than the one on my Crux AK47 which I thought was pretty big) and a doddle to use when the weather’s inclement and gloves are worn. In fact all the buckles and straps are easy to use with gloves.
This is a brilliantly useful feature and works really well with the roll top system and G Hook closure system. When the pack is tightly rolled down it has a capacity of about 30 litres but with the top unrolled then capacity rises to 42 litres.
This would work well for big climbs where extra gear may be needed on the walk in then the pack can be cinched down for the actual climb. This type of adjustable load capacity works well for something like the Cuillin Ridge where you might be walking in from Glen Brittle or, better still, catching the boat from Elgol. For the boat trip/walk in the pack will be bulked out but by the time you get to the technical climbs at the TD Gap then a smaller pack will be an advantage; harness, helmet, rope and rack will no longer be taking up space in the pack.
BTS make a range of packs from the XO which is 25 litres (35 litres in overload mode) to the X3 which is 50 litres (65 litres in overload mode). I opted for the X2 as the optimum size for me. It may be on the large size for guiding but I wanted the extra space for photography missions. The X2 has a padded waistbelt which adds to the weight but makes for a much more comfortable carry. The X1 is the same size as the X2 but only has a webbing waist belt which shaves off a few grammes.
Thus far the X2 has been used in two different load carrying roles. By far the most days have been guiding when it’s usually held the following;
40 meter Beal Joker Rope
Harness & Small Rack
First Aid Kit
Waterproofs & Spare Clothing
2 Litres of Water & Hill Food
Sony A7 & 35mm Lens in padded case
It’s also worked well for photo trips when it’s held;
Padded ICU containing;
Benro FH100m3 filter holder and filters
Spare battery and memory cards etc
Benro Rhino tripod and ballhead
Waterproofs & Spare Clothes
Food & Water
It's also become my go to bag to go to the wall or the shops, it's just so easy to use and the weatherproofing is great wherever it's used.
Empty the X2 weighs 950g stripped or 1.085kg with full Alpine Customisation pack added. Not class leading light weight but a great compromise between weight and durability. The weight statistics show how obsessive BTS have been/are. The original packs were white but you can now get them in black as well but this adds about 25g so not one for the weight conscious.
Is the X2 the perfect pack?
Whilst perfection is a very subjective term, for me the X2 is the closest to ideal pack I’ve yet come across.
1. KISS. The BTS ethos is Keep It Simple, Stupid, personified. Less is very much more and something I’m happy to pay for. Class leading pack.
2. Comfort. Class leading (and a real surprise and bonus).
3. Durability. The jury’s out but given the material and handbuilt nature it’s almost certainly class leading.
4. Adaptability. Overload capacity and Alpine Customisation Pack.
5. Versatility. Great for mountaineering, rock climbing, cragging, a trip to the wall or the shops.
1. Cost. The obvious Elephant In The Room is cost….BTS packs aren’t cheap but, as the sayings go, “You get what you pay for” and “Buy cheap, buy twice.”
The X2 has a RRP of £299 but is currently on special offer at £224.25. This is a lot of money but if it last as well as initial use suggests then it’s really a bit of a bargain and should provide years of service. To be honest, if a bit of kit makes my life easier then to a certain extent cost is irrelevant. Being out on the hills most days means cost per day of an item will be minimal and being self employed means there are tax advantages to gear purchases.
2. Colours. From a photography perspective then bright colours really work well so it’d be nice to see future products maybe in orange or red! The white is light (no dye thus 25g saved) and eye catching but I’m not 100% convinced how it’s going to look down the line as it gets grubby.
BTS reckon, “Over the years the material will develop a softer appearance, and a unique patina. These battle scars improve the look of the packs, and remind us of the numerous adventures we have been on—that freshly unboxed look is hardly badass.”
3. Availability. As far as I know the packs can only be bought direct from BTS. It’d be great if they were in shops so people can try them on and see/feel the quality and design.
4. Seams not sealed. Having spoken to Tom, I know why this isn’t done but it’s still a bit of a shame that the pack is only weatherproof and not completely waterproof. It’s no big deal and I’ll seal the seams myself later.
I’m really scratching around for negatives, the pros hugely out weighing the cons. Perhaps suffice it to say that I’ve just ordered one of the smaller X0s to save a bit of weight. Although Tom kindly arranged a discount it still counts as my most expensive pack purchase ever but money well spent so I’m literally putting my money where my mouth is.
In conclusion, the X2 is expensive, it is very much a niche product but it is also the best (for my uses). If you are a mountaineer, climber, light weight backpacker or just love the best then take a look at their website;
The BTS X2 in An Dorus
Lots of perfect conditions with temperature inversions
Bad weather to round off the testing
Lots of atmospheric conditions. View to Loch Coruisk and Bla Bheinn from the Cuillin Ridge
The Inaccessible Pinnacle just after sunrise.
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