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Hands-on Gear Review
Patagonia Linked Pack 16L Review
Cons: Expensive, no emergency whistle
Bottom line: This light and comfortable pack is an expensive but durable choice for mulit-pitch climbing.
The winner of our rock climbing daypack review is the Patagonia Linked 16L. It performed well across a range of areas and scored highly in all five of our evaluation criteria. The Linked is sewn from a combination of 630, and 940-denier polyurethane coated Cordura nylon, which makes it one of the more durable packs in the test. Our testers find that it climbs better than the other contenders in our fleet.
The exterior is sleek but includes a rope strap and well-placed anchor points for lashing on extra gear. We also appreciate the versatility of a removable hip belt and sternum strap. The sternum strap was surprisingly tricky to adjust, and some of our testers found it a little tougher to pack than the competition, given its slightly smaller size. Nonetheless, it earns our Editors' Choice award and deserves real consideration from anyone looking for an excellent multi-pitch climbing pack.
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Our Analysis and Hands-on Test Results
The collective experience of the testers who tried the Patagonia Linked totals hundreds of Grade IV or longer multi-pitch routes. Many of them possess enough confidence and speed that they no longer like to climb with a pack, even on 1,000+ ft objectives. Fortunately for you, they all seemed to be fighting over whose turn it was to use this award-winner, and it was worn on everything from long rock routes to alpine adventures. Below we explain all the reasons why it secured our Editors' Choice position.
The Linked weighs in at 16oz, which has it tied for third with the Patagonia Lightweight Black Hole Cinch 20L and the Trango Ration. Although this is a little heavier than the ultralight REI Co-op Flash 18, the Linked is the lightest pack built to handle abrasion. The six-ounce difference between these two won't make much difference on a moderate multi-pitch route, but it could be the difference between sending or flailing on an at-your-limit testpiece.
You can trim an extra 1.9 oz by removing the hip belt and sternum straps.
Another minor concern is the attachment of the hip belt. It connects via a pair of plastic buckles—similar to wire-gate carabiners—that clip through corresponding nylon loops. These make adding or removing the hip belt a cinch, but we've also seen them come off unexpectedly. If this happens at the wrong time halfway up a cliff, you'll likely to lose the fancy hip belt. The only packs that beat the Linked in durability are the haulbag-like BD Creek 20 and the Metolius Mescalito, which is a small haulbag.
This pack has a decent offering of climbing specific features. Its dual haul loops are our favorite of any climbing backpack. They're strong and, unlike the Mountain Hardwear Hueco 20, long enough to reach each other when the bag is fully loaded. Combined with the rope strap to compress the load, this set-up is the one of the best for actual hauling—as opposed to clipping the bag into the anchor (what the loops on other packs seem to be designed for). The fairly simple exterior of the Linked makes for few snagging points when thrashing through manzanita and scrub oak, or when hauling.
The removable hip belt helps with supporting a heavy load on the approach while also coming off quickly to free up your movements on route. We like that the length is adjustable at the buckle where the hip-belt attached to the pack body. This lets our testers minimize clutter on the front of their harness. The outside zippered pocket on the Linked pops out slightly from the main compartment and so was easier to use than most. Like many of the bags we tested, it is hydration system compatible and has a clip to secure your keys.
Some of our testers find the smaller size of the Linked demands more thoughtful packing (especially with approach shoes in there) than the more voluminous models. If you're a lazy packer, it might be wise to consider a larger pack (like the Petzl Bug), or you'll need to change your habits. We wish Patagonia had equipped the Linked with a whistle buckle on the sternum strap.
Speaking of the sternum strap, our testers find that adjusting the position is unduly tricky and annoying, almost to the point of being impossible. The adjustment system is a small daisy chain with a metal toggle, which is incredibly difficult to move. If you like using sternum straps and are very slightly barrel-chested, or you're a woman, this is worth paying attention to. It's also worth noting if you will be sharing this pack with a life partner of different proportions.
Beyond rock climbing, the Linked has a plethora of uses and ties the Arc'teryx Cierzo 18 for versatility. It's stylish enough for a stroll to the coffee shop or an outdoor first date. Though it doesn't quite disappear into a larger overnight pack like the REI Flash or Trango Ration, it doesn't take up a ton of space and is much more durable than the Flash or Ration. Our testers took this pack mountain biking, scrambling, caving, hiking, and skiing; during each activity, it exceeded our expectations.
The 12 lash points on the outside of the pack let us string up all sorts of attachment options for ice tools, crampons, big cams, etc. When the bag isn't overstuffed, the top strap does a good job of securing a rope draped over the top.
We're not entirely sure how the Linked does it, but this pack is comfortable. Perhaps it's the short length which keeps it high on your back and away from a harness. Or maybe it's the tapered shape. It could be the mesh composing the shoulder straps and the back panel that helps moisture evaporate. The shoulder strap foam is a good compromise of cushy and firm (to prevent uncomfortable rolling, like those on the Cierzo 18).
It is about average for comfort when loaded down for a long approach hike, and this moves its comfort score down a bit. The most comfortable pack in our review is the Petzl Bug.
At $79.00, the Linked is not cheap. However, its performance warrants the price. It scored highly in all five comparison metrics. We also think the polyurethane coating and its high denier nylon improves durability, so its longevity is longer than its light weight might suggest, further increasing the value. After five months of testing, we didn't have a single reviewer who wasn't willing to shell out the extra money to get this pack instead of the cheaper options. Nonetheless, budget shoppers or occasional climbers can check out the more affordable, Best Buy winning, REI Co-op Flash 18.
In the simple category of rock climbing daypacks, the Patagonia Linked 16L fulfills all the needs of today's multi-pitch climber without creating any glaring weaknesses. It's sturdy, lightweight, and compact while also comfortable, functional, and versatile. The only thing we would change is to incorporate a safety whistle into the buckle of the sternum strap. During this review, we had the privilege to try out ten of today's most popular climbing backpacks. We are pleased to report that the Linked 16L outperforms them all.
— Ian McEleney
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