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Mountain Equipment Tupilak 20 Review

mountain equipment tupilak 20 vest
  • Breathability
  • Comfort
  • Features
  • Stability
  • Weight
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A hybrid backpack between trail-running and mountaineering that makes multi-sport versatility its strong point. Large pockets on the shoulder straps, stability and robust materials make it an indestructible companion for adventurous days of running, climbing or both.


  • Very resistant fabric
  • Front pocket that becomes safety compartment for ski touring
  • Versatility
  • Stable ice axe holder


  • Lack of helmet holder
  • Main compartment closure not waterproof

The Mountain Equipment Tupilak 20 is the technical vest pack proposal from Mountain Equipment. Available in both 14 and 20 litres, this pack is a hybrid of trail running and mountaineering. It is ideal for one-day mountain adventures on rock, ice or snow. Its technical vest cut and light weight make it ideal for very intense aerobic activities.

Tupilak: This is the ‘simply functional’ range of backpacks. The design is minimalist. All the packs have a very bright and visible Magma colour (red-orange).

mountain equipment magma

Mountain Equipment is a British mountaineering equipment company. You will not find any leisure products in their catalogue, only products designed for intensive outdoor use. Their website is a very interesting source of information on how to choose the most suitable equipment for your mountain adventures. It is reminiscent of mountain equipment manuals written by mountaineers who have used their equipment to the full and modified it for their own specific use.

Technical features of the Mountain Equipment Tupilak 20

  • Capacity: 20 litres
  • Weight: 510g
  • PACT™ 300 and 100 fabrics; durable, lightweight and water resistant
  • Integrated Cohaesive drawstring and durable aluminium grappler buckle
  • Soft vest-style shoulder straps with large mesh pockets and zip phone pocket
  • Side zip for quick access to main compartment
  • Side pocket for folding poles or water bottle
  • Recycled polyester air mesh back panel
  • Manufacturer link
testing the tupilak on a mutlipitch

Test mode

I tested the Mountain Equipment Tupilak 20 between February and April. I used it mainly for climbing long routes and trail running training. I also used it on a mountain bike tour.

mountain equipment tupilak trail running test

Mountain Equipment Tupilak 20 on-site test

The name: Tupilak

In Inuit culture, the tupilak is a mystical amulet made from animal parts and brought to life by blowing on it. Its destiny is to go and kill the enemy of its creator. The story of the Tupilak is fascinating, although in my opinion it is not really an appropriate name for a range of mountaineering packs.

First impressions

Let’s start with the volume: Mountain Equipment explains on its website that the volume of the packs is determined by filling them with rigid balls. The balls are then poured into a graduated cylinder and the volume is measured. The concept of optimal volume is to fill the backsack while respecting its shape. It is therefore a realistic volume, all usable.

Access to the main compartment

The main compartment is very accessible. The shape of the backsack is a little pear-shaped, so it also hugs the waist. The main compartment is closed with a drawstring that is pulled on a cord integrated into the fabric. The result is very neat and functional (in ME they call it the Cohaesive lanyard). However, closing the bag with the top flap does not provide a watertight seal. It is a pity that the roll-top waterproof closure of the Tupilak 30 has not been used. Perhaps simplicity was preferred in this case.

cohaesive closure
Detail of the Cohaesive – the fabric-integrated choke to close the main bag

The top flap is then closed with Mountain Equipment’s special Grappler buckle. To close it, you have to slide it over the rigid vertical webbing and then hook it into the eyelet. Effective, but not very intuitive.

The main compartment on the right-hand side can also be opened with a zip, giving direct access to the side. Frankly, for such a small backpack, it seems like an extra accessory that only risks being a weak point in the bag. Personally, I never used it.


The fabrics are PACT 300 and 110, where PACT stands for PolyAmide, Coated, Tenacious. Both fabrics use high tenacity 6.6 nylon yarns in an exceptionally strong and durable double ripstop weave. This is one of the benefits of this pack: it has the same strength as larger multi-day adventure packs made from the same fabric. This fabric is treated on the inside with a polyurethane-based coating. A fluorine-based DWR finish is applied to the outside.

detail of the pact fabric
Detail of internal polyurethane coating on Pact fabric

Mountain Equipment explains that they deliberately chose a fluorine-based DWR because it is more durable over time. For the same life cycle and performance, they believe that this more environmentally friendly choice will pay for itself over time by not having to re-treat the DWR.

Detail of DWR treatment
Detail of DWR treatment

Pact 300, the strongest fabric, is used for the bottom and front of the backpack, while Pact 100 is used for the sides to save weight. The overall result is an exceptionally tough backpack. No matter how much it was rubbed against rocks and pushed through vegetation, the backpack remained perfect.

Shoulder straps

If, like me, you are used to mountaineering backpacks, the first thing you will notice when putting the Tupilak 20 on is the lack of a hip belt. Instead, there are two shoulder straps that stabilise the load perfectly.

detail of the shoulder straps

The two wide shoulder straps are the main feature of this backpack. They are wide and soft, and when worn they create a very snug fit around the chest. Mountain Equipment has chosen not to zip the two shoulder straps together, as they do on trail running packs. This choice, which I think is appropriate, is in keeping with the design of this pack, which is intended to be a trait d’union between different mountain disciplines.

testing the mountain equipment tupilak on rock

The harness can be repositioned at 9 different attachment points to fit the user’s physique.


There are two vertical pockets on the shoulder straps for soft trail running bottles or sticks. There is also a large zipped pocket on the left shoulder strap to hold a mobile phone and/or other sticks.

mountain equipment tupilak pockets

I found the pockets really useful. In the summer, when you’re climbing in a T-shirt, you often end up with your phone at the bottom of your backpack because you don’t have pockets on your T-shirt. This way, it is immediately accessible. In the same way, bars and water bottles are within easy reach, so you can eat when you are resting or walking.

For those used to using a camel-back, there are loops on both shoulder straps through which the tube can be passed and held in place. The bag should be placed between the back of the pack and the main pack. The only drawback is that the space is perhaps a little too large and the bag tends to move around. I prefer to hydrate with water bottles that can be placed in the shoulder straps or in the large side pocket of the backpack.

Backrest of the Mountain Equipment Tupilak

The mesh back panel is very breathable. I really appreciated it on a hot day climbing in Arco.

climbing in arco with me tupilak

The back of the Tupilak 20 Vest Pack will appeal to runners as it is very close fitting and breathable. The downside is that it is not stiff enough to ‘shield’ the edges of friends’ backs. The backpack always tends to be a bit bulbous, somehow wrapping itself around its contents. However, once you have it on, it always feels very stable.

Because of this ‘soft’ back, the Tupilak 20 is not a backpack for heavy loads. In other words, it is not the right pack for carrying kilos of bolts and friends to the base of a wall to set up pitches.

Front pocket

On the front of the backpack there is a front pocket: it is actually a Pact 300 panel that copies the shape of the backpack; it is closed at the bottom and sides and open at the top. On the outside it holds the ice axe holders. At the top it closes with a small snap.

I have to admit that as soon as I had the backpack in my hands I asked myself, “How am I going to use this bag?

It won’t fit my shoes when the backpack is full, and it certainly won’t fit my helmet. Mountain Equipment recommends using this pocket to store wet clothes so you don’t have to put them in the main pocket where they might get other things wet. On days when the weather alternates between showers and clear skies – classic British weather – having a dedicated pocket for a wet shell is really useful. The pocket also has a small riveted hole at the bottom to allow water to drain out.

Among the features of this pocket is also the possibility of putting an avalanche shovel: and here I lit up!

The Mountain Equipment Tupilak as a ski mountaineering backpack

The front pocket has space for a shovel and probe. The Tupilak 20 vest pack becomes a backpack with a separate safety compartment, ideal for day ski mountaineering. The top flap can also be used to carry a rope. The pack is perfect for spring ski mountaineering, thanks to the breathability of the back, or when you want to do a lot of climbing and need to save every ounce of your equipment, without having to give up the separate safety compartment and the pockets on the shoulder straps for water bottles and poles.

The backpack in rope-carrying mode
The backpack in rope-carrying mode
The backpack loaded with ski mountaineering gear
The backpack loaded with ski mountaineering gear

Note that the axe holders are really strong and well made. They have not been added just to say ‘I have an extra accessory’, but really have been carefully designed.

There are even two small loops on either side of the backrest for attaching skis. They are a bit of an emergency, but better than nothing. They are certainly suitable for light skis, but much less so for wide and heavy skis.

loops for skis

Unfortunately, my ski season ended in February and I didn’t get to test it, but as you can see from the photos, there’s no reason why it shouldn’t fit.

To be sure of its stability at high speed, I tested this backpack on a mountain bike. It was always stable on the descent.

Accessories of the Mountain Equipment Tupilak

The Tupilak 20 vest pack never ceases to amaze with its wide range of accessories for storing your gear.

Between the main compartment and the back, there is a handy zip pocket at the top, which is very spacious and has a small hook for house or car keys.

key hook

On the left side of the backpack on the outside there is a large pocket for storing folding poles or a large water bottle.

the tupilak large pocket

Fit of the Mountain Equipment Tupilak 20

The Tupilak is a backpack designed to be ‘dressed up‘ with two very soft shoulder straps that wrap around the chest. I found this closure very tight. The size is therefore determined by the circumference of your chest and not by the length of your back, as is usually the case with classic backpacks.

size of the backpack

The available sizes are therefore S/M (70-90cm), M/L (85-105cm). I have a chest measurement of 95, so I chose the M/L size. The backpack fits perfectly and is stable even during very dynamic activities.

Recommended for

The Mountain Equipment Tupilak 20 Vest Pack succeeds in its aim to be a hybrid backpack between trail running and mountaineering. It retains the stability and availability of the pockets on the shoulder straps of a trail running pack, without sacrificing a minimum load volume for full days in the high mountains.

Highly recommended for lovers of scrambling (quick and easy mountaineering in the mountains). Perfect for those who want a backpack that can do everything, and even more so for flying holidays: with just one backpack, you can do a nice trail run and the next day a mountain route.

The backpack’s fabric, on the other hand, has a level of resistance to wear and tear that is typical of high mountain products: you will hardly ever need to change it in your lifetime!

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