The North Face Casimir 32 Backpack Review

Jed testing gear and working hard on Esha Peak.  High Sierra, CA.  Andy Lewicky Photo
Overview
The North Face calls their Casimir 32 a lightweight alpine daypack for further and faster adventures.  And I couldn't agree more.  In short, I recommend this pack for anyone who has difficulty getting "off the shelf" packs to fit well and is looking for one pack for rock and ice climbing and backcountry skiing.

The Casimir 32 holds all one needs (and then some) for a day in the
Owens River Gorge.  Eastern Sierra, CA.  Scott Morgan photo.
Fit and Comfort
It is in this department that the North Face Casimir excels.  This pack is an ultralight, purpose-built alpine pack.  Also, it comes in two complementary sizes.  Generally packs in this category come with fixed "suspension" systems and often in only one size.  Extension or contraction of the hipbelt circumference and torso length adjustment is impossible on most alpine packs on the market.  However, The North Face equips this pack with a simple-to-operate comprehensive adjustment system.  Through a system of velcro flaps, torso length can be fully customized.  Similarly, the padded "wings" of the waistbelt can be adjusted.  In addition, of course, to the standard hipbelt front buckle and adjustment.  For me, apparently falling at the small end of what they designed the "M/L" size pack for, the waistbelt goes just small enough.  If I waste away any more through the spring ski and alpine season, the belt will not get tight enough.  Torso length adjustment on the Casimir pack serves to align the padding and chest strap for optimal placement.

In the end, all this adjustment moves well-padded and intelligently designed pack straps into optimal placement for comfortable carriage of even the heaviest ice climbing loads.  I've been able to lock the load in place for some of the steepest skiing around.

Features and Usage
The Casimir toes the line between simplicity and excessive features.  I have regularly used every pocket and strap on the pack.  However, some of these features may be unnecessary and additional straps for carrying skis would be occasionally appreciated.

The bulk of my testing mileage has been on skis.  In that context the pair of spacious waistbelt pockets are great.  Being able to retrieve sunscreen, wax, and snacks without removing the pack is invaluable.  In a climbing context these pockets can get in the way of harness usage.  In that case, one will want to clip the waistbelt around the back of the pack, out of the way.  If one finds themselves carrying enough weight to require the waistbelt and harness gear loops, this probably isn't the ideal pack.  Basically, that implies technical climbing on an overnight trip.  In this setting one should choose a simpler and at least slightly larger pack design.
Detail of waistbelt "OptiFit" solution. Jed Porter photo


Additional pockets are found on the sides and back, as well as under the zippered main-compartment flap.  The external pockets are stretchy lycra style and can quickly and conveniently stow and deploy water bottles, extra layers, and climbing skins.

The main compartment of the pack is accessed with a large u-shaped zipper.  This construction has it's pros and cons, as compared to the more traditional alpine pack drawstring and pocketed "brain" flap.  It is far faster to get in and out of the Casimir main compartment than it is a "typical" pack design.

Inside the main compartment is one zippered mesh pocket for small accessories and an open-topped "hydration" compartment.  In the mountains, on technical terrain, I use proper water bottles.  Water is just too important to trust to a bag, in my opinion.  However, I am pleasantly surprised to report that the Casimir hydration envelope is cut wide enough to hold a shovel blade and handle, probe, and snow saw. While skiing, guiding, and collecting information for the Eastern Sierra Avalanche Center, having this essential snow-study and rescue equipment secure yet readily deployed is a crucial feature in a backpack.
Interior view of avalanche safety equipment stowed securely and handy.  Jed Porter photo.

The most notable short-coming of the Casimir pack feature-set is the option for ski carry.  "Off the shelf" the Casimir has no way of securely attaching skis.  However, as detailed in the linked video, it is easy enough to improvise an excellent ski-carry program on any pack.

Whether skiing or climbing, carrying a helmet securely and efficiently is problematic.  We want to be able to put the brain bucket away for safe times and immediately don it in exposed positions.  We want to save valuable pack space for other gear yet keep the helmet from flopping around while walking.  The North Face addresses all this with a stretchy and elegant helmet flap just outside the main zipper.  One can stow their helmet there and still get at the main compartment.

Finally, the Casimir pack has a pair of simple "traditional" ice axe loops down low with bungee tethers to hold the shaft of the axe near the top.  For a classic-style mountaineering ice axe these are just the ticket.  Much ado has been made of attaching modern steep ice and mixed "tools" to one's pack.  Companies come up with elaborate combinations of fabric flaps and clicky buckles to hold them in.  You see, technical tools without a hammer or adze cannot be secured in the same fashion.  However, in my experience, the traditional attachment equipment can be easily adapted to carry any tool with a hole in the head (which includes every single ice and snow axe on the market).  The picture shows it best.

The North Face Casimir packed up for a day of ice climbing.  Attaching hammerless tools requires a
slightly different strategy, but no special pack configuration.  Simply run the ice axe loop
through the hole in the head and capture that loop with a carabiner.  Also shown is the excellent helmet attachment. Jed Porter photo
As far as capacity, the ultimate test of an alpine day pack is filling it with ice climbing equipment. For a day of ice guiding I fit in the Casimir pack an emergency kit, a rack of cams and slings, 10 ice screws, water, food, puffy jacket, crampons, harness and one small rope.  On the outside I strapped two ice tools and my helmet.  A bigger 70m rope would have to be slung over the top.

Weight and Durability 
The North Face Casimir pack weighs 2 pounds 5 oz.  Right around 2 pounds is where most alpine daypacks weigh in.  Heavier isn't necessary, while going lighter, in my opinion, results in undesirable compromise.  That doesn't mean that a 2 pound pack doesn't strike compromises.  Basically, pack designers can choose to optimize for 2 of 3 criteria:  Durability, comfort, and/or features.  As noted above, the Casimir pack scores well for comfort and features.  That comes at the expense of durability.  On rocky terrain, the thin fabric will generate holes fairly easily.  The small zipper enclosing the main compartment will wear out sooner than a heavier option.  The same can be said for the small (and somewhat fiddly) waist and chest buckles.  However, I feel it is all worthwhile.  The feature set is comprehensive and the harness adjustment range will be crucial for anyone for whom comfort is key.

Summary
Again, this offering from The North Face comes out near the top of the heap.  I have used a number of packs, mass-produced, custom-built, and experimental.  I have a number of packs at my disposal and have found, for the last month, that I grab the Casimir pack more than any of the others.

More "testing".  It's a dirty job, but someone's got to do it.  Alex Few photo.



If you don't feel like reading, then you can watch my video review of the TNF Casimir 32