DMM Zenith 18 Review
Backpacks intended for multipitch rock climbing need to strike a fine balance between carrying an acceptable quantity of gear and maintaining climbing ability. While no shortage of bullet packs exist, I've found many to be poorly designed, flimsy and often not up to the demands of technical climbing. The DMM Zenith may very well solve all of these problems.
Wales-based DMM is known primarily for their hot forging prowess of technical climbing hardgoods, so much so that they have become the go-to manufacturer for many well known products like the Petzl Reverso and much of the Wild Country lineup. While they also manufacture a respectable line of ropes, harnesses and slings, many people in North America (myself included) were unaware they've made a line of packs for some time.
Nearly The Perfect Size
At 18L the DMM Zenith comfortably fit everything I need for a day of fair weather multipitch rock climbing. On the approach it stowed my rock shoes, harness, chalkbag, first aid kit, sam splint, two water bottles, rain jacket, bail tat, food and an extra layer with ease. There was not enough space to carry a rack or personal kit so that was carried on a sling over the shoulder and under that pack. The external daisy chain attachments also worked well for hauling a rack but I wasn't fond of the clanking, although this is just a personal preference. Two loops at the top allowed for a helmet to be attached but I didn't like the way it flopped around and opted to carry or wear it.
I found that on hot days throwing in the extra water bottle really began to bulk out the contents quickly. It is hydration pack compadible although a bladder is not included.
The DMM Zenith excels while climbing. The unique, rounded profile is taped both top and bottom, allowing for full access to rear gear loops or chalkbag and unencumbered vision looking upwards. The bag sits wider across the back and utilizes a load spreading yoke to prevent interfering with shoulder mobility and remains seated even with arms overhead. The padded back uses a quick-drawing Flow Airmesh material which felt infininetly better in hot weather than a bare nylon backing, to which I've become accustomed with bullet packs. The design felt ergonomic and clearly designed with freedom of movement in mind. A low profile waist sits above the harness to prevent shifting and sternum strap helped this further.
The smooth profile resisted snagging in chimneys or tight constrictions while climbing or stepping down off ledges on descent. The fabric appears to be very durable and after fifteen pitches of sharp limestone chimneys the pack is showing only minimal wear. My main complain regarding chimney climbing is the positioning of the valuables pocket. Sitting just inside the bucket on the outside edge, the valuables pocket is really the only place to store a phone. This means that on chimney pitches I was literally sandwiching my phone between a rock and a hard place and found myself frequently alternating between the pocket and carrying it on my person.
Accessing The Contents
The inner contents are accessed by a single bucket-style, top loading pocket with a U-shaped zipper. This means when clipped to a belay station via the reinforced haul loop one doesn't have to worry about spilling the contents. Inside a single gear loop above the hydration sleeve gave another location to organize important but rarely used gear, I've started leaving my improvised rope rescue kit here so it doesn't migrate to the depths of the bag. I've also used this to clip a few items for further piece of mind when digging for an item. While probably not neccesary, I found it handy and no longer worried about my puffy jacket or belay gloves taking a tumble while I searched for a snack.
I did notice that the tapered profile of the bottom required additional forethought about where to place items. A pair of approach shoes shoved in meant you could potentially render your first aid kit inaccessible without a full unload. Strategic packing was even more important as I found that when overstuffed the curved zipper could become difficult to operate. I'm keeping a close eye on this as zippers with bends are notorious for premature failures.
Gear Loops And External Daisy Chains
One of the initial features that drew me to this pack were the two designated gear loops. These sit back and higher of my rear harness loops and the added height kept my rack more organized and lifted cumbersome, rarely used kit out of the way for tight squeezes. This became my go-to for hauling large cams. The loops sit quite flush and tight to the pack and arent' the easiest to rerack. If I pulled a piece of gear off these loops and didn't end up using it, it would find a new home on my harness. There is definitely a learning curve for where to reach.
Additional daisy chains found on the sides of the pack allowed for different attachment points. I used them occasionally to haul a rack on approaches but their main use became strapping a rope down. I believe the biggest oversight is the lack of a convenient way to carry a rope. I resorted to using three alpine draws (one on the haul loop and one on each side daisy chains) to secure. This sufficed, albeit barely. Ive since resorted to a few ski straps, which are useful for splinting as well. This alone somewhat limits the functionality of the DMM Zenith to a bullet pack, rather than a standalone alpine bag.
DMM Zenith Technical Specifications
|Hydration Sleeve Compadible||Yes|
|Ice Axe Attachment||No|
While intended as a climbing pack, the small size and comfortable design make it ideal as a day or school pack and the low profile makes it ideal for cycling. Being wider across the shoulders it fits a 17" laptop and a few books with ease.
For a multipitch or long alpine rock route the DMM Zenith is nearly perfect. Easy to climb with, well designed, organized and comfortable. That said, it is a specialist tool and not one designed for maximal versatility. The lack of attachment points limit its seasonal use and 18L is at the absolule smallest end for an alpine pack. A large puffy jacket would nearly bulk out the contents on its own. But for a streamlined kit of only the essentials, this design is hard to beat. For those larger, gear intensive climbs involving a rap I would consider rolling this pack and stuffing it inside a more traditional alpine pack. This ensures your essentials are always handy. It would pair nicely with the Deuter Gravity 50 (full review can be found here).
Pros: Very easy to climb with, easy to organize climbing-specific kit, durable material and streamlined shape excel in chimney climbing.
Cons: No rope attachment, zipper design can be difficult to operate when fully stuffed, position of valuables pocket.
I havent found the DMM Zenith for sale in a lot of places but you can find it online or in the Bow Valley at Vertical Addiction for $99. As you don't see many DMM Zenith packs out in the wild in North America I haven't had a chance to speak to many people who have tested it. If you have experience with it. drop a comment below and let me know what you thought!