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  • Writer's pictureSteven Fortune

Macpac Huka Ski Backpack

Updated: Oct 10, 2023

Owen's View:


Owen, the Huka and some stylish jump turns.

I’ve always held skiing close to my heart. Growing up in the American Northwest gave me lots of time chasing corn snow on big volcanos, and since finding alpinism in New Zealand, I’ve carried a few skier habits with me. One of these is a tendency to always bring avalanche gear, another is a preference for a ski touring pack. When I joined the NZAT, I stood out with my Backcountry Access Stash 40 amongst the Macpac pursuit packs owned by seemingly every other member. I wasn’t quite ready to convert though. The BCA stash had served me very well, and its dedicated avy pocket, back-zip and traditional brain weren’t features I was keen to give up in exchange for a few grams. Furthermore, being a young climber on a young climbers budget, I wasn’t going to buy a new pack unless I knew it was exactly what I wanted.

When Macpac introduced the Huka, I greeted it with cautious interest. I knew Macpac made excellent climbing gear, but could they really compete with the likes of Arcter’yx, Ortovox and BCA on a ski pack? I knew that NZMGA guide Anna Keeling had been heavily consulted about the pack’s design, and my respect for her gave me added confidence that the pack would be worthwhile. After examining some examples at the Macpac store, I was well impressed. The Huka was indeed lighter and simpler than my Stash, with quite similar functionality. A back panel zip and dedicated snow safety pocket were features I very much appreciated. When alpine climbing, a dedicated avalanche gear pocket improves ones response time in an avalanche rescue scenario. In any situation, be it cragging, ski touring or alpine climbing, the existence of a back panel zip makes packing much easier.


Weight and Features

The Huka weighs in at 1270 grams, slightly lighter than the 1600 grams of the Stash 40. It comes in the 30 and 40 litre options, and as a compulsive overpacker, I naturally went for the 40. The grey cordoura feels durable and is at least water resistant, and the grey- orange color scheme looks alright as well. The Huka is overall a more simple design than I am used to in a ski touring pack, with a simple strap-hook closing system, no separated brain or top pocket, and no routing through the shoulder straps for radios or water bladders. It does have a waist strap pocket that could fit a museli bar or two, and the appropriate facilities to attach a gear loop, but no gear loop comes stock. I am a big fan of pack based gear loops, particularly with the lingerie-style ski touring harnesses in vouge these days. The lack of shoulder strap routing suits me fine. I don’t like carrying radios and find that water bladders freeze up, leak or both.


Putting stuff on the outside

The reinforced ski carry straps of the Huka work great to A-frame skis, but I would have liked a better diagonal ski carry system. With skis that have low profile tech bindings, a diagonal ski carry can be done with the stock straps, but it often requires an extra ski ratchet strap in order to make everything stable. There is a stretchy helmet carrying flap and good attachment for ice tools, so a good pack for ski-in ice-climbs.


The Huka with skis diagonal carried. Twin Falls, Montana

Steve's Thoughts:


Unlike Owen, I don't have a background in skiing, but have been doing more and more touring as the years have gone by. Generally in the light and fast day-trip style with a tiny skimo racing pack, or lugging a big pack of climbing gear into the mountains. I have used my Pursuit for this many times, so most of my thoughts are in relation to this. I generally try to get away with a minimum of stuff, so why get another pack, when the one I have works ok? I recently moved to Europe and saw the opportunity to do a lot more lift-accessed ski-mountaineering and also hut-hut tours, so I thought it was time to get a dedicated ski pack and bought the Huka 40l. Was it worth it? After a full year now, the answer is a firm yes. Although you can make one pack do everything, sometimes a dedicated design just works better and that is what I've found. Here's why:


Carrying skis

No one likes carrying skis but it's a pretty necessary part of ski-mountaineering. I've had a couple of trips up the Hooker Glacier to Empress with skis and there's 3 hours minimum with the skis on the back. I could strap them to the outside of the pursuit no problem, but they were damm uncomfortable. I found the Huka an immediate improvement in load carrying comfort. The pursuit is just not made for that sort of thing, while the Huka is. A lot of this comes down to the stiffness of the back panel. The pack is also taller and skinnier in profile which translates to a lot better load attachment and less swinging around.



Accessing stuff




The back panel of the Huka zips away, allowing access to anything from the inside of the pack, even with skis attached, without pulling everything out to get to the bottom. A real bonus if looking for a shell on an icy summit ridge, as well as fast access to avy gear or rope/pro for an abseil.


Durability

It is heavier than the pursuit, but is also made from more durable materials and straps. Showing very little wear after a season of moderate use (~30days).


The classic Midi Arete with a pack full of climbing gear.


Summary

I've always been a fan of 'less is more' so was initially skeptical that I would like a heavier, more featured pack, but have come to prefer if for most of my winter uses. It's light enough for day tours and even in the resort, can carry enough for hut-hut tours. I have used it for ice cragging, ski mountaineering. It's a little small for big multi-day missions with camping gear, and prefer the nimblesness of the pursuit if climbing involving harder moves, but anything else this is now my go to pack.


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