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Hands-on Gear Review
Metolius Vortex Review
Cons: Rope doesn't always pay out as nicely as traditional models
The Metolius Vortex is Discontinued as of December 2016The Vortex is a slick and easy-to-use rope bag from Metolius with a unique and convenient rope loading feature. Unlike traditional burrito style tarp-folds and rolls-into-bag designs, the Vortex is really more of a giant rope funnel. Simply lift up on all four corners of its massive tarp and watch the rope fall into its bag. It's truly so easy that after our side-by-side testing it's the rope bag we most commonly grabbed while heading out to the crag and winner of our OutdoorGearLab Editors' Choice Award.
RELATED REVIEW: The Best Rope Bags for Climbing
Our Analysis and Hands-on Test Results
Why it's Cool
The Metolius Vortex is unique compared with most other rope bags available. Unlike most other bags that use a "burrito" style design where the tarp folds, and rolls into an open ended bag, the Vortex actually uses more of a "funnel" type system where the tarp lays flat with a hole in the center that leads down inside a bag. To pack the rope, simply grab all four corners of the tarp, lift and watch the rope funnel into the bag. We thought that this was the easiest and quickest bag to pack the tarp up into. The Petzl Bolsa $40 is the only other "funnel-style" rope bag in our review and was nearly as easy to pack.
The only downside of the Vortex and it's a small one is; after you have shaken the rope into the bag and cruised over to another route, occasionally the rope doesn't pay out out quite as nicely as with traditional designs. This wasn't a big problem and we felt it was worth it most of the time because of how much easier and quicker it is to put away. The Petzl Bolsa shares this same problem but is even harder and tangles a little more frequently on the way back out.
Keeping your rope out of the Dirt
The Vortex features the most tarp acreage of any bag we tested, its 57" x 57" (144 cm x 144 cm) also felt much bigger than tarps that were only supposed to be 2 inches dimensionally smaller because unlike a classic burrito design where the tarp gets slightly bunched and folded at one end the Vortex laid flatter thus maximizing the tarps surface area. The Vortex captured post climb rope pulls with ease and was luxurious to flake ropes onto.
Ease of packing the Rope
This is where the Vortex really excels, as we stated earlier it is mega fast and easy to pack, simply lift all four corners, give it a quick shake and the rope falls into the bag. The Petzl Bolsa uses a very similar funnel style design, but takes a little more shaking to get the rope into the bag. The Vortex uses a nice roomy bag and we could pack a 70m rope, 14 quick draws, shoes and a chalk bag inside it with no problem.
Ease of packing the Bag
The Vortex uses two metal buckles that cinches down the bag nicely. This helps the Vortex pack into a large bag for longer approaches nicely. We thought its less stiff and more supple fabric packed better than our other OutdoorGearLab Top pick award winner the Petzl Kab which was burlier but stiffer.
Ease of Transport
The Vortex features a surprisingly comfortable padded shoulder strap that we found comfortable for most approaches up to around 20-30 minutes with a 70m rope (10 pounds). Beyond 30 minutes most of our testers agreed it was nicer to carry it inside another pack. For shorter, more route-to-route style moves we really liked the two shorty grab loops that were extremely convenient and made quick moves a breeze.
Extra features and Usability
The Vortex features a single external pocket with a Velcro closure. It isn't big enough for an average sized guide book, but is big enough for keys, wallet, tape, smart phone etc. We wouldn't mind if Metolius made it a zippered closure, but the pocket is likely plenty secure and our testers had no problems with loosing items.
Metolius Vortex Versus Petzl Bolsa
The Petzl Bolsa and the Metolius Vortex are our two favorite rope bags on the market today and are most likely the two climbers will be considering if choosing a rope bag with a funnel style design. Both are great but each bag excels at slightly different things. The Bolsa is $10 cheaper and is much better if you want to occasionally, or exclusively use your rope bag as a cragging pack or day pack. The Vortex packs the rope away marginally easier and tends to pay the rope back slightly better. The Vortex was also slightly easier to pack into another larger cragging packs for longer approaches. Both of their tarps lay the most flat and in real world tests were the roomiest tarps we tested.
The Vortex costs $50 which along with our OutdoorGearLab's Top Pick: the Petzl Kab are the most expensive rope bags in our review. One thing when considering rope bags, while these are the most expensive they are only $5-$10 more than nearly all of the rope bags we tested. Not a big price difference considering your likely going to use this rope-bag for the next two decades.
The Bottom Line
The Vortex is a cool and fairly unique design that is ultra-quick and easy to use. We gave it our OutdoorGearLab Editors' Choice Award for a few reasons. The first is because it's the quickest and easiest rope back to pack up, and while occasionally the Vortex may not pay the rope back out quite as nicely, it was rarely bad. We appreciated the Vortex's biggest-in-review tarp design that performed the best overall job of catching falling ropes of any bag we tested. We also thought the Vortex had most of the features we liked in rope bags, like a padded shoulder strap, shorty grab loops, side pocket and compression straps. If always keeping your ropes tangle free is a big concern we would lean toward the Petzl Kab, which is by far the most tricked-out rope-bag period and features the most monstrous tarp among traditional burrito style rope bags. If you like the Vortex's funnel design but either don't want to spend $50 on a rope bag, or wish the Vortex had shoulder straps so you could wear it like a cragging pack then check out the $40 Petzl Bolsa.
— Ian Nicholson
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