Review: Ortovox Haute Route 40
Ortovox has been making packs since 1985, beginning with the Ortovox powder rucksack. Since then their packs have evolved significantly. We’ve been lucky to spend over a season and a half with the Haute Route 40 and found it to be a durable and thoughtfully designed pack deserving of its ISPO award.
- Size: One Size Fits All
- Capacity: 40L
- Compartments: 8
- Frame: O-Flex 2
- Material: Polyamide 420D Oxford PFC Free
- Carries: Ski A-Frame, Ski Cross, Snowboard Vertical
- Weight: 1440 – 1510 grams
- Country of Origin: China
What is the Haute Route?
The Haute Route is arguably Europe’s, and therefore the world’s, most famous ski traverse. It was first completed as a glacier trek during the summer of 1861 by the British Alpine Club, then first skied in 1903 by a group of Frenchmen. Though there are several variations, they all start in Chamonix, France, and end in Zermatt, Switzerland. Inarguably, these are the two most famous mountain towns on the planet. That’s the pedigree this pack is aiming for.
What is the Haute Route Backpack?
The Haute Route backpack is first and foremost a ski touring pack. It is fairly large at 40L but owing to its relatively low weight, it can be worn on day tours where you are not intending to carry a lot of gear. The straps on the side of the pack double as a way to carry skis and compress the pack when it is less than full. It also handles large amounts of gear as well, therefore the Ortovox Haute Route 40 can work as a quiver of one for most ski touring objectives.
What’s it Made of?
The Ortovox Haute Route is made of Cordura, a high tensile strength fiber that is intended to withstand long-term wear. The Cordura used in the Haute Route is PFC-free double-layered 420D Oxford. D stands for Denier, and the higher the number, the thicker and stronger the fiber. 420 is not just a fun number but also a decent weight and should last quite long. So long that the Haute Route comes with a 5-year warranty. All fabrics used in the pack are PU (polyurethane) coated which makes the pack scuff and water-resistant.
I’ve used the pack while teaching AST courses, taking splitboard guiding courses, short roping, rappelling, and ski touring. It shows relatively little wear other than a scuff or two. The lettering on the blue version is, unfortunately, wearing off, but that’s minor nitpicking.
How does it Fit?
The Haute Route is available in two back lengths. The regular length Haute Route 40 is designed for people with a back length of 42 cm to 50 cm. I am 6’1″ tall and this pack fits just right. The smaller version has a back length from 36 cm to 44 cm. This pack is called the Haute Route 38s.
One of the reasons the Haute Route is able to carry heavy loads but remain lightweight is the O-Flex-2 back system. The O-Flex-2 back system’s main feature is the natural S-shape stabilizer that has a curvature that mimics the back and is designed to keep the pack as close to the shape of your back as possible. The O-Frame was developed by sports physicians at Munich, Germany’s Center for the Back. The padding is shaped like an „O“ or donut and surrounds the back panel. This design is intended to relieve pressure on the spine while wearing the pack with heavy loads. I’ve not noticed any undue pressure, so I suppose it works!
Where I often find I get pain from packs is the shoulder straps that have poor or lack load lifters and narrow yokes. Narrow yokes mean the straps have to splay as they pass your neck and meet your shoulders. This often results in the pack sitting on my neck. Thankfully the Ortovox Haute Route has densely padded shoulder straps attached to strong load lifters and a moderately wide yoke. The shoulder straps sit nicely to the side, giving me plenty of room to move my head around while touring looking for up-tracks in the trees, and the ability to move dynamically while snowboarding. The load lifter gives me about one finger gap between the top of my shoulders and the straps allowing the wait to sit on my hips better.
There is also a sternum strap with a whistle to keep things snug and safe. Over time the orange of the whistle has started to fade but it still makes the appropriate noise.
How about the Waist Belt?
The Ortovox Haute Route 40 features a well-thought-out waist belt. It is tall enough (4″ in the middle) and padded densely enough that it distributes the pack’s weight quite well. The waist belt closes in the middle and the length is adjusted with a slider on each side. Simply pull on the straps and the waist belt snugs up nicely. There have been a few times I’ve pulled the waist belt in one direction more than the other and it did not notice until I took off the bag.
On the left side of the waist belt is a gear loop meant for safety gear while ski mountaineering or traveling on a glacier. On the right side, there is a small zippered pocket. It closes with one hand nicely, which cannot be said for all packs with waist pouches. IT may seem like a small thing, but having to close a waist belt pocket with two hands gets annoying really fast. The waist belt pocket can accommodate a Ventolin and two Kind bars comfortably. I also keep a small bar of wax and a mini-scraper in there as well.
Lots of Compartments
The Ortovox Haute Route 40 has a total of 8 compartments! Let’s start with the first and most important two: the main compartment and the snow safety compartment.
The Ortovox Haute Route 40 is noticeably different from other similarly sized backpacks in that it lacks a brain aka top lid. Rather, it closes with a zipper that goes around 3/4 of the top of the bag. Once open there is the 40-liter chasm of the Haute Route to greet you. This is no ordinary chasm, but a lime green one on the grey pack, bright orange on the blue version. This really helps with contrast and finding smaller pieces of gear.
If that isn’t enough to help your eyesight to the bottom of the bag, the entire back piece zips open. When I say the entire back, I mean, the entire back. The zipper goes all the way from the bottom on one side to the next. The zipper here is not as burly as others used but I have not had a problem with it yet, and hopefully, will not in the future.
On the front of the bag is the snow safety compartment. It has two individual pockets, one for your probe and one for your shovel handle. They are both marked with small logos indicating what goes where. I have cross compartmentalized a few times and not noticed. Also, you can and should now get rid of your probe pouch. You do not need it anymore. I place my saw in between the probe and shovel handle and then the shovel blade on top of it all.
Six accessory compartments
Next come the accessory compartments. On the top of the bag, there is a goggle pocket. It’s large enough to hold a medium-sized pair of goggles, sunglasses, and some small tools. You’ll want to make sure your goggles are in a case at this pocket that is not fleece-lined like some goggle pockets. It is also much bigger than most other goggle pockets so that is why I tend to keep a lot of other things in there than just goggles. There is one caveat though, when you fill the pocket it expands downwards taking up some of the space of the main compartment.
On the front of the bag, there is a small horizontally zippered pocket. It has a small key loop that I use every day I go out. As a gambler (I only have one car key) it has served me well. Lower down on the front of the bag is a vertical zipper that hides the map pocket.
Flipping down the back pad reveals the suspended hydration bladder pocket.
On the right waist strap is the previously mentioned small zippered pocket. Easily closed with one hand, mine holds a Ventolin and two Kind bars easily.
How does it Carry Skis, Boards, Axes, and helmets?
There are three options for carrying skis and splitboards with the Ortovox Haute route; vertical, diagonal, and a-frame.
There are 6 straps to carry your skis in an A-Frame configuration. On each side of the bag, there is an upper adjustable strap and at the bottom, there is a non-adjustable sewn loop overlaid with an adjustable strap. While using a very wide splitboard (27.2 at the waist) the sewn loops are quite snug. It can be a bit of a tricky maneuver getting the splitboard clips past the loops. When I am patient enough to do so it brings the advantage that I do not need to adjust or unclip0 anything to put the bottom of the ski on the bag. Most people don’t have splitboards or skis this wide so the advantage is that the sewn loop does not need to be unclipped, clipped, or adjusted to be used.
The Haute Route comes with two strap extenders to carry a board vertically. Undo the two side compression straps and connect the extensions. You now have a vertical carry. It’s not the most elegant solution, but it is a solution. If you do need to access your snow safety equipment, this will block you from getting in. That said, I do not know of a pack that has a vertical carry that does not block the snow safety equipment.
By undoing a small zippered pocket at the top left shoulder of the bag you reveal an adjustable loop. This loop of chord is the top closure for the diagonal carry. For the bottom loop, you open the zipper on the bottom of the front of the pack. Inside this pocket is not only the loop for the bottom part of your diagonal carry but also the helmet net.
The Ortovox Haute Route has attachments for Ice Axes, Crampons, and helmets, all on the outside of the bag. To hold an ice axe on the Ortovox Haute Route there is a small velcro loop at the top near the “X” in Ortovox. At the bottom is a large garage and strap to cinch down and hold the axe from falling out. To keep a rope on the outside of the pack you would use the top strap from the diagonal carry as well as the top side compression straps. I typically carry a 30m Radline or Mammut Glacier Cord, both of which fit inside the bag with my other equipment. Hidden in a zippered pocket at the bottom of the bag is the helmet net. It wraps up from the bottom and attaches with a hook and loop fastener on the left and right sides of the front of the bag. I use the helmet net every day, often neglecting to put it away when I ride downhill. It’s stood up well to this unplanned abuse.
This has been a trusty pack. The load lifters, wide strap yolk, and sturdy waist belt have distributed heavy loads well. I’ve overstuffed it with multiple probe-target boards (30cm X 30cm pieces of plywood) and their accompanying transceivers in I have not had any back issues with this bag at all. I am a chronic over-packer and have overstuffed this pack on many occasions. Guiding gear for the day (non-glacier), three 30X30 wood targets, and transceivers in small pelican cases have tested its capacity. The zippers screamed at me but held solid. None have slipped, none have blown out.
Access is easy and the layout of the various pockets is well configured. I know where everything is, and it stays there.
It is a shame that the lettering has started to peel off the blu epack but that is purely cosmetic. The grey pack logos look as good as new. I’ve enjoyed using a pack without a brain and thanks to the well-thought-out nature of this pack, I have not missed it.
I would love to have a model with the Swisswool back pad of the Peak backpack. Not that I am unhappy with the Haute Route pack, just that I love wool products. It would be great if there was a way to access to snow safety compartment with a board in vertical carry or skis in diagonal, but this is not exclusively a problem of this pack.
Overall, I’ve been stoked on this pack and suspect it will last a few more seasons at least, leaving Ortovox no worries about warranty claims and users no worries in the backcountry.
Pros: Supportive, light frame. Durable materials. Well thought out pocket design and placement.
Cons: Not the best vertical board carry. Filling the goggle pocket fills the top pocket and the main part of the pack. Logos wearing out.
Ortovox Canada provided Black Sheep Adventure Sports a free sample of this pack to review. This in no way influenced our opinion on the pack.