The North Face Snowday

Review by planetFear
Monday 14th May 2007

I was quite keen to review this item of kit. I like technical gadgets but only ones that work and are useful. And, as the old rucksack I used for skiing had died this came at the right time.

So, onto the Snow Day. It is sold as a hydration pack/day bag for snow sports. There are several worthy contenders around that compete for this place in your bag collection, but this one is a bit different - the gadgety bit. It has a built in heater for keeping your hydration tube free flowing when the temperature dips below freezing. In the past I have had water bottles freeze in my pack whilst skiing so this sounded pretty handy. Unfortunately, this turned out to be fairly tricky to test fully. I tried to go out on my mountain bike when it was cold - but although it was a fairly cold winter it wasn’t really cold enough to need the heater. So I had then hoped for a cold trip to Tignes for a week’s skiing in the French Alps to really put it through its paces. It turned out to be a week of spring like conditions, although fortunately with some good fresh snow up high from a skiing point of view. In these conditions (around freezing and just below at the coldest) it seems that the neoprene sleeve over the tube and insulated pouch that the reservoir sits in are enough to keep the liquid from freezing. With the help of the protective garage for the bite valve on the right shoulder strap it turns out I didn’t need the heater all week.

As I can’t afford another ski trip to somewhere colder like Canada I’ve done a few comparative tests in the freezer at home - measuring time to blockage of the tube. I compared a standard uninsulated camelback with the Snow Day (both with the heater off and on). The results were as you would expect; with the camelback blocking faster than the insulated Snow Day. Now, when the heater was turned on the Snow Day lasted for around 45 minutes in a domestic freezer which should be at –18°C, which is pretty cold!

The North Face say this about the heater part:

“Simple and easy to use the Snowday uses four AA batteries to power an active heating system encased in the insulated drinking tube cover - maintaining vital fluids in a drinkable state for up to 20 hours at minus 10 Celsius! A sensor monitors the temperature of the hose and signals the system to heat when it approaches freezing – ensuring that precious liquids never freeze, and keeping the drinking tube and 100oz bladder from freezing, even when the temperatures are so low that your breath freezes in front of you!”

So the gadgety bit seems to work – but what about the rest?

For me this bag is definitely a success at what it sets out to be. It was ideal for ski resort activities from a day cruising the pistes to a day of lift accessed off-piste (with a little hiking too).

What it isn’t big enough for is ski mountaineering, and big backcountry days might be a bit of a struggle due to these space constraints. Having said that, it happily takes a spare layer, shovel, probe, bite to eat and all the other nick knacks involved in a day out where a restaurant is near enough should you get tired and cold. I imagine it would also take a set of skins and crampons at a push but survival kit (e.g. bivi bag) would be too much. There is also an ice axe attachment that uses the compression straps to hold the handle. There is a probe pocket on the outside, but I felt wary about using this as I wasn’t sure how secure it would be in a tumble. There was another pocket inside which just squeezed the sections of a 2 m probe in.

The compression straps carried skis well and I would imagine would take a snowboard very well too. The pack carried comfortably even when well loaded with two pairs of skis. It is nice and slim so doesn’t get in the way on lifts either.

Internally there are multiple pockets/pouches for keys, sun block, goggles etc. The battery compartment is insulated/padded and contains the battery case which is fully removable and attaches with a computer network cable type connector.

As for the hydration system, it is a Nalgene bladder and hose. I really liked this part having only used a camelback previously. The bite valve flows nicely and has a neat way of locking closed by rotating inline with the hose. A quick twist through 90° and you can drink. A really handy feature is the quick release connection between the hose and the bladder making refilling a doddle. A point to note here is that the washer can come off letting the contents leak out onto your bed whilst you’re merrily munching through your breakfast of croissants having just filled it ready to go for the day. As you can guess, this happened to me and was rather frustrating. It would be worth checking as you connect back up that the washer is in place and maybe carry a spare for longer trips away in case you lose the original.

The pack retails at just under £100. You can buy equivalent hydration ski packs with insulated hoses, but no heater system for around £60. Whether the extra price is worth it for the heater is debatable. If you are heading to North America in January then the answer is probably yes and the Alps can easily be cold enough to freeze things up - just not when I was there - typical.
It’s also very versatile, being a good size and shape for mountain biking. Possibly a bit heavier than similar sized bags, but nothing compared to the weight when a full 3L is in the bladder! The straps were also on the long side for use without bulky winter clothes – but these could be trimmed if desired.

Overall a top notch pack. It’s a shame to have to ‘worry’ about the washer but I think the benefits outweigh this issue which is manageable with a bit of vigilance. Oh, I also think it looks great too!


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