High Gear: BCA Stash 40 review and field test | SummitDaily.com

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High Gear: BCA Stash 40 review and field test

I've been working with BCA for a while now and love what they do for the backcountry experience. I also love their dedication to backcountry safety — their avalanche gear and Float pack series are the gold standards for durability and performance.

BCA's Stash series of backpacks ($144.95-$194.95) have been in my gear quiver for many years, but this season the Stash packs received a complete redesign. Here's what to expect before shopping the mud season sales.

BCA Stash 20, 30 and 40

There are three models in the line and they differ by volume: 20 liters, 30 liters and 40 liters, similar to earlier variants. This variation in size is great for a variety of uses and skiers.

The 20-liter pack is a ski-area backcountry masterpiece that's small enough to take on the lift, but large enough to carry the essentials should things go wrong past the backcountry gates. It's obviously not big enough for overnights or carrying a lot of technical gear, plus rope, but that's the place of its bigger brothers. I also use this pack for riding bikes in the summer — it compresses well and sits perfectly while in and out of the saddle.

The 30-liter is my go-to for small and mid-sized days in the hills. Bigger days require more gear and this pack easily accommodates it all (or most). When you start going after bigger, longer trips, you need to prepare ahead for an unplanned night in the cold, and this pack can carry essentials like extra layers or a backpacking stove.

For the really big days, or days that require a rope and rack, I choose the Stash 40. With heavier loads comes the need for a beefier suspension system, and the 40 delivers. The shoulder and waist straps make for a comfortable ride, and it compresses well for the most important element of the day — the downhill.

Straps and back-panel access

Each pack has slightly different pocket variations, as well as accessory placements. They all feature two zippered shoulder straps for hydration tubes and the BCA Link radio system. The track-mounted sternum strap is an improvement over the previous design, and it stays in place on each model. All packs received a construction upgrade and now offer a waterproof, coated fabric that's stronger than before.

The suspension systems are easy to adjust to your torso size and the waist belts are comfortable if the pack isn't overloaded. The 30 and 40 offer waist-belt pockets for snacks. These pockets also have loops for gear if your harness loops are difficult to reach.

The main compartments feature a couple extra pockets for headlamp, extra batteries, tools and what have you. The Stash 40 has a holster for the BCA Link, as well as a clip for your hydration bladder.

The packs also feature a snow pocket. This packet is waterproof and keeps water away from the dry gear in your main compartment, making it a great place for shovel, probe, snow-study kit and other wet items like skins and crampons.

But the Stash series' best feature is back-panel access. This makes getting what you need fast and easy when your pack is loaded tight, A-frame style. To top it off, the packs have a soft pocket for optics and stuff you might need throughout the day, like sunscreen.

Ski-carry field test

I'm not a big fan of side-carrying my skis, but there are side-carry options on the packs. There is also space for two ice axes and the helmet carry pouch is an improvement on previous models. On the 20 and 30, the compression straps are secured by hooks. These failed on previous models, but with the newest Stash series they are much stronger and have stood the test. On the 40, the compression straps are buckles, and they too have withstood the test.

I have no major complaints about these packs. Perhaps if I load it too heavy (or my kids put rocks in it), I could get someone to carry it for me. The sizing is key to the Stash series' success: small days, small pack; medium days, medium pack; and large days, large pack. This is also good for small, medium and large people. With this series, you have no excuse to be unprepared for the worst.

Fritz Sperry is a skier, author, photographer and artist who has skied extensively in the Colorado backcountry. He's the author of: "Makingturns in the Tenmile-Mosquito Range," and "Makingturns in Colorado's Front Range, Vol. 1," both available from his company, Giterdun Publishing.