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Cold Cold World Chaos Backpack

Cold Cold World Choas Backpack
Cold Cold World Choas Backpack

Winter backpacking and hiking can be really tough on a backpack. You need to carry much more gear and a lot of it has very sharp edges, like crampons and ice axes, that can tear through a 3 season backpack like paper.

What you need is a backpack that can stand a lot of abuse, is designed to carry 4000-6000 cubic inches of gear, and has a lot of external attachments for carrying sharp edged technical gear or rope. If you’re shopping for a pack like this, your probably already familiar with the expedition size packs made by Gregory, Lowe, and Arc’Teryx. These tend to be monstrously heavy backpacks weighing 7-8 lbs with 5000+ cubic inch volumes.

I was recently on a guided mountaineering trip where I borrowed a 7+ lb. pack and carried a 65 lb load for 3 days (about three times the weight of my 3 season kit.) It didn’t feel right. So when I got home, I resolved to apply lightweight backpacking principles to winter backpacking, with an initial target of 50 lbs for a 2 night trip, including gear, food, water, and fuel. Carrying a really heavy pack is not my aim in life.

Cold Cold World Choas Backpack - External Attachment System
External Attachment System

Cold Cold World Backpacks

If you’ve been following my blog this season, you know I’ve been assembling a winter backpacking kit, bit by bit. The last missing element I’ve needed has been a lightweight winter backpack and I finally ordered one from Cold Cold World Backpacks. Cold Cold World is a small manufacturer of ultralight mountaineering backpacks with a worldwide reputation in alpine climbing and mountaineering circles. They are located in Jackson NH, at the foot of Mt. Washington.

The Cold Cold World pack I ordered is called the Chaos and weighs 4 lbs. in a size medium (torso length 16″-19″). It has a capacity of 4000 cubic inches, includes a 16″ extension collar, and is made using heavy duty 420 denier Packcloth and 500 denier Cordura.

Cold Cold World’s backpacks are all completely handmade and it shows. The quality and robustness of the sewing job is just incredible, and it has to be, since these packs are designed to withstand being hauled up mountains and not just worn. Cold Cold World packs are normally only available in an attractive royal blue color, but Cold Cold World’s owner Randy offered to sew a red Chaos for me from some extra cloth he had in the shop at no extra cost.

Backpack Features

My Chaos arrived about two weeks later and since then I’ve been obsessed with it: packing it and unpacking it with gear and taking it out for hikes. For $245, this pack is an amazing deal and an extremely innovative piece of equipment. I’m thrilled with it.

The Chaos is tricked out for carrying a lot of technical gear. It has four daisy chain loops, one on each side and two in the back for lashing on extra gear like snowshoes. The pack also includes two ice axe holders which can be used to carry technical axes, hiking poles, or an avalanche shovel, and ski straps on the sides of the pack for securing backcountry skis.

Cold Cold World Crampon Pocket

Crampon Pocket

In addition, the Chaos has a feature I’ve never seen on any other backpack: a crampon pocket. This is a heavy pack cloth pocket that projects from the rear of the pack and makes it easy for you to store your crampons away from the rest of your delicate gear. In the photo above, my crampons are peaking out of the pocket, but completely disappear from view when they are pushed down. Holes at the bottom of the pocket let water drain out if ice or snow sticking to the crampons starts to melt.

Hip Belt

The hip belt on the Chaos sports another unique feature: plastic loops that you can use as holsters to hang climbing tools for easy access on the move. The padding on the hip belts is just right for a 40-50 lb load and is comfortable without being bulky. The light grey straps above, let you adjust the distance between the back of the pack the hip belt and are a good place to hang an insulated water bottle holder so it’s easily accessible, but not in the way.

Shoulder Harness

The shoulder harness on the Chaos is fixed to the back of the pack. The shoulder pads both have webbing on top of them for attaching extra gear or external pockets. Load lifters and a sternum strap are also provided, giving you a ton of adjustment flexibility.

Floating Backpack Lid

The Chaos is similar to a lot of heavier expedition packs in that it comes with a detachable, floating top collar, which can be completely removed or raised if you want to store more gear in the extension collar, or wedge climbing rope, a tent, or sleeping pad between the top of the pack and the collar. The collar has three zippered pockets built into it: a bottom inner pocket, and two external top pockets, a large one and a smaller one for storing stuff you need to get at during the day like ski goggles, sun tan lotion or extra food. The collar also has two daisy chain loops on top of it, so you can lash additional items to the top of the pack.

The collar is floating slightly above the main compartment in the photo below. For scale, the person wearing the pack is about 5’6″ and the pack contains 33 lbs. of gear.

Frameless Backpack

If you’ve been following this gear review closely, you’ll have noticed that I have not spent much time talking about the Chaos’s frame. That’s because there is none.  Instead, the Chaos borrows a page from other ultralight backs like the Gossamer Gear Mariposa and uses a removable foam pad as its frame sheet. This slips into a yellow pocket in the main compartment of the pack and can be removed at night for extra insulation under your sleeping pad or even replaced. This is the reason why this pack only weighs 4 lbs (3 pounds 8 ounces, without the pad).


The lack of a frame has no negative impact in my opinion. The comfort level all along the back and in the lumbar region is very good and load transfer to the hips is excellent. The shoulder harness is very adjustable and I’ve found it easy to get a really custom fit.

2015 Update: I’m still using this backpack after 6 winter hiking seasons and think it’s still one of the top three winter packs available.

Disclosure: The author owns this product and purchased it using their own funds.

Written 2009. Updated 2015.

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  1. Looks like a good pack.

    The external crampon-pocket is a great idea, used by Lowe Alpine – there's one on my Alpine Attack 40. In winter it holds my crampons, the rest of the time it holds my Jetboil PCS.

  2. BG! – That's looks like a nice pack too. Smaller, nice and narrow, with lots of great features and pretty inexpensive. Nice to have you visit.

  3. "Nice to have you visit."

    Cheers for that. I used to look in here personally quite a lot, but now I have so many blogrolled links that I've had to resort to Google Reader. I don't like having to use it, as I much prefer to look at each site in full rather than just scan the new bits, but it's a necessary evil these days. I really should make more of an effort, eh?

    FWIW, your post has reminded me that I need to do a long-term review of my packs, so thanks for that as well.

  4. A crampon pocket – great idea – CCW clearly put a lot of thought into that pack. Look forward to reading your reviews of how it handles in the wild.

  5. The crampon pocket is great. I've got a bunch of ascents coming up where I'll be using it as a day pack and then one more overnight in mid-March in the Whites. The pack handles very well. Now the challenge is to cut my gear weight and still be safe. How do you manage that? This winter/mountaineering stuff is h-e-a-v-y.

  6. I hear you on weight… I did a serious review of my kit this week and made some tough decisions. I'm going to be trying out my new, light setup at the weekend, I'll let you know how I go.

  7. I own both the Valdez daypack and a a Chernobyl (midsize). The chernobyl can turn into a great multi-day 3-season pack by insertion of a framesheet. I put it in between the two layers of foam. The Cilo 60L framesheet happens to be a perfect fit!

  8. Earlylite – Have you had a chance to take the pack out on any major hikes? What did you think? I'm considering picking this up as 4-season pack, advisable?

  9. I depends on what you call major. I did an overnight trip with it this winter. Trip report: http://sectionhiker.com/2009/03/15/walking-on-the… but only for 1 night. The pack itself is fantastic. I couldn't be happier, but you really need to pack carefully to get all of your gear in. Here's my winter gear list: http://sectionhiker.com/2009/03/12/winter-backpac…. However, the top lid floats so you can get more stuff in than I have. I wasn't sharing any gear on this trip.

    I wouldn't buy this as a four season pack, although it is lightweight. I view it as a specialist winter pack. For example, you don't need a crampon pocket on a 3 season pack, or all of the tool attachments.

  10. Mmmmmm, maybe you should buy a different pack made for winter use..My pack has a shovel pocket, and loops to tie on my Crampons and my Icepick so I don't run into those problems. I found that putting Crampons in a pocket is just waiting for a tear to happen. My ten year old Gregory still fills the bill…

  11. You read the post wrong – there is a crampon pocket on the back outside of the CCW pack that just stores crampons. It's impervious to penetration by the crampon points and it keeps your crampons completely segregated from the rest of your gear so they don't tear it up. Honestly, this pack is the envy of all of my mountaineering friends and it is the best I've found for my needs.

  12. I've always found Crampon pockets as an accident waiting to happen as most of my winter hiking friends agree as they look at the tears and holes in their new packs..I'll keep my 10 year old Z over anything new….

  13. I only know of two packs that have ever had that external crampon pockets, the CCW and Lowes Alpine. Are you saying that all of your friends have Lowe's packs or are you talking about some other kind of crampon pocket?

  14. There have been more than just two pack brands that have had Crampon pockets built in over the last 49 years that I have been hiking. And all were a marketing gimmick and for those who bought them a mistake…That is what I am saying…If I am worried, I put my crampons in a cheap throwaway, separate bag which I attach to the Outside Top Pocket via the two loops there, or using the tie on on the Back of my pack I tie them there. Anyway I would not buy a Bag with an Integral or Internal Crampon pocket system without expecting that pocket to fail..

  15. The Vortex 3500 had a special pocket with double-layer 1600 Cordura made especially for crampons. It also was strapped like the Osprey Vector system, so that pocket acted like part of the compression system and offered another place to store jackets and whatnot between it and the main bag torso.

  16. I have had a CCW Chernobyl (3000ci) for over 15 years now. It is the smaller brother of the Chaos with similar features. I still use it every weekend for either rock climbing, backcountry skiing, or bushwacking through the adirondacks in NY. I will be using this pack for a 6 day ski trip in CO next month (going very light…). The key is whether the CCW packs fit your torso, as it does not have an adjustable suspension system. The CCW packs get a ***** star rating!

  17. Hey all,

    Thanks for all the reviews. I'm thinking about going with a Chernobyl for year round use. Any negatives to using this for 3 season as well as winter mountaineering?

    I've read a ton of reviews where people have said the CCW packs have become their go-to for all uses…


  18. I haven't played with one firsthand, but I have a friend who is a guide with EMS and I think she's had hers for 17 years. She's a rock climber and ice climber. The pack is faded but she's still using it.

  19. I like this site and I hope you keep the gear reviews going. I recently purchased a CCW Chernobyl. To put it simply, great pack. It’s light, very tough and swallows up gear for winter hikes.

    • Thanks Rob – Yep, I plan to keep doing gear reviews. They help give me an excuse to go on lots of trips. I’m glad you like your Chernobyl and wish I could afford a second CCW pack. My Chaos is excellent, but it’d be nice to use something a bit smaller volume for day hikes.

      • I have a Valdez customized with a padded hip belt and a Chaos. I will acquire a Chernobyl at some point … some days I wish I had purchased that over the Chaos as I can get my winter gear in with room to spare but that tempts me to haul more crap! Great reviews …

  20. I’m so glad you did a review for CCW! I am currently saving up to buy a chernobyl pack as I am a bit smaller (5’2″), so Randy suggested /i buy the small chernobyl pack. Your review and some of the comments have solitified what i have been having pre-buyer’s remorse for…and I am eagerly anticipating the day that I get one. Thanks!

  21. Wanted to thank you for the review. I have just begun hiking as a serious hobby. I have been traveling to the whites from RI every weekend now for several months, and have found the challenges of winter to be more satisfying. With the winter truly developing in 2016, the small pack I’ve had for over a dozen years cant keep my big new bag and bivvy sack, as well as stove and food. This review clued me into a quality product produced in my new favorite part of the world, and I look forward to taking it into the woods on overnights in the Whites.

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