To know where we are now, we have to know where we’ve been and work forwards (apologies to Tom Baker). Karrimor Alpiniste to OMM Villain

I’ve often spoken with misty eyes gazing to the horizon about the old Alpiniste 45+10. It was my favourite pack for many years. But underneath I do know that it is comparatively heavy, lacking in usable features and probably belongs in my cupboard only to be taken out on photogenic winters days. But when you see one next to an OMM Villain you can see what genes have been passed on.

The family tree starts back in the Whillans and then the Haston days when Karrimor were at the cutting edge of design and the folk using them turned into mountaineering legends. Not like the logoed climbing merchandisers of today. Light weight and functionality was the order of day, just as it’s becoming again I’m glad to say. The only hinderance was the materials available at the time. For geeks, Invisible on Everest is the source for so many stories of the time, the gear, the Karrimor versus Berghaus days, it’s fascinating stuff.

This train of thought all came about when I read Mike Parson’s OMM blog, ex Karrimor main man, and now of course OMM. He was taking back some of the packs he loaned out to the Rheged Mountaineering Exhibition, which has now sadly closed. Historic items indeed, worth a look.

Anyway, here’s a history lesson in glorious purple. Wake up at the back.

The Haston Alpiniste. The metal buckles on the lid got replaced because they were a pain in the arse, but it’s a fine pack. The snow closure is ultra long and if all else fails in a crisis you can empty the pack, get inside and it’ll cover you up to your armpits. Two pockets on the lid accessed from front and back which is a great arrangement. It also zips open from the base under that central blue strip.

This is the first of the “teardrop” shaped Alpiniste 45+10s. It’s the essence of what a mountain pack should be. Give it mesh wand pockets and I’d be using it now, but I’m getting ahead here…  The only fault is that the shoulder straps are too wide and interfere with arm lift. The side buckle waist strap is great, but didn’t last. Folk must have whinged about it.

The update below sorted the shoulder straps and added the multicoloured cord seen on all the Elite and Alpiniste kit. This was a highpoint, the sacks and clothing from both ranges were outstanding. Those designs in modern fabrics would still be perfect today.

The end came, Karrimor went to new owners. The designs stayed for a while, albeit with some corner cutting. We got new colours which I loved and production shifted to China. This is still a great sack, the colours were maybe a bit much for UK traditionalists which is a shame and the brand never recovered from this transitional time. Subsequent owners ran Karrimor and the Alpiniste into the ground. The last Alpiniste before the Sports World takeover was a hideous mutant weighing 13kg.

Anyway, this orange marvel below is the last one made in the UK.

So where are we at these days? Mike Parsons and OMM brought us the Villain MSC.  The first orange version was okay, but the black MSC version below is a killer. I love this pack, it’s the prefect size, the fit is spot on, it clings to my back and never shifts. Come the apocalypse, I’ll be bringing this. With a chest pouch full of ammo.

It would be better in purple though.

 For a look at the harnesses, click on the comments.

27 thoughts on “To know where we are now, we have to know where we’ve been and work forwards (apologies to Tom Baker). Karrimor Alpiniste to OMM Villain”

  1. Those pics brought back fond memories of my introduction to Karrimor gear.Some of my first ‘real’ pieces of kit were Karrimor hand-me-downs from my uncle who was heavily into the venture scout movement in the 70’s and early 80’s,spending winters in Glencoe,filling my young over active imagination with tales of sleeping in snow holes and battling the elements always more than happy to answer all my youthfull questions on the virtues of quality kit…I blame him for everything.
    It still makes me misty eyed when I recall long weeks spent on outward bound courses in Pembrokeshire,kayaking,walking the clifftops…and spending many nights boiling in an expedition down sleeping bag!…aaaahhh.
    The book appeals to me,will order it from Amazon this evening,looking forward to reading it.Any mention of Rab Carrington in there?

  2. There’s a wee bit about Rab C in there. It’s everything from the origins of ice axes to the how they made the first KSB boot.
    A lot of info jammed in there.

  3. Ah, The “Orange Marvel”. I love mine to bits.
    And I could wax lyrical about The Villain forever and anon :o)

  4. My first three proper packs were Karrimor, first an early, budget internal frame job called the Lynx, then an original Jaguar 4 with side pockets…. then I went to Uni, decided climbing packs were cool and got a 70 litre Alpiniste, probably the one straight after the Haston model, simple and classic, with a fformat back. I did all my backpacking with it for a decade (lord knows what weight it carried!) until it was giving up the ghost…. and then I discovered POD!! :)))

    PS. I had an early incarnation of what became the ‘Hot’ series packs too, a 30 litre thing called the Tatra, in red.

  5. Those big Alpinistes come up on ebay now and again, they look pretty similar to the later 60+15 versions. I’ve had a couple of those as well :o)
    Jeez, I’ve even got a couple of Hots kicking around, Earth and Ice.

  6. This brings back powerful memories both of design development work but of the (now looking back) amazing privilege of working with the all time greats who gave so much input; starting with Don Whillans. Dougal Haston, Alex McIntyre and Pat Littlejohn.
    This will inspire me to write the full design history and people stories of this and other packs. I already did this for John Porter who asked for my input on a new book he is writing about Alex McIntyre.( Alex was killed on Annapurna with a chance rockfall in 1984) Alex was the king of lightweight Himalayan ascents and his 1983 pack is pictured and described in my blog.

  7. That would be some book Mike.

    It’s the sport growing along with the equipment, plus the personalities and taking many firsts along the way.

    It’s something that we’ll never have again.

  8. Checked out the Omm page yesterday,great stuff,particularly liked the pic of the Pete Boardman sack,the Boardman/Tasker omnibus has been a favourite book of mine over the years,read it from cover to cover many times.If that rucksack could talk can you imagine the epic tales it would have to tell.
    Ptc,loving that ‘Haston’ pack too,gonna start searching for one of them for myself,ideal for retro days in the mountains.Been harbouring an idea for some time now to get hold of a load of vintage gear and using it on a weekend in the hills,will make an interesting comparison with todays gear…will be fun too.

  9. Aye, vintage gear is great. The Haston is worth getting a hold of, it’s really well made and perfectly usable.

    A retro hill day, now I like the sound of that. I have purple leggings…

  10. Maybe even a retro overnighter if I can source the right gear,stove,tent,sleeping bag etc…Ebay and car boot sales here I come,nearly bought an old external framed pack last weekend,the only labelling on it was ‘colmaster’,the seller wouldnt budge from a fiver so I left it there!
    Are you serious about the purple leggings?!!…they definately would make some sort of statement…dont know what kind of statement though ;)
    Got an old pair of purple Trezeta boots here somewhere,along with some kind of lycra/spandex 3/4 length shorts,black with a purple stripe…very 80’s…the EPO banned me from wearing ’em.
    Btw,the Dirtygirl gaiters arrived today,skull pattern with bright orange eyes,very small and very light.Gonna use them at some point over the weekend,be interesting to see peoples reaction eh?
    Just out of interest,what year was that Haston pack produced?

  11. Blimey, my very first rucsack was a Cobmaster, a bright orange rectangular thing on an l-shaped external frame, 2 compartments, 4 side pockets and a lid that tied down to the frame! About £15 from Army and Navy in 1976!

    I used it for 2 or 3 youth hostelling trips and one camping venture…. until I disciverd the internal framed Karrimors.

    Hey, I still have my 1982 Quasar for a retro-overnighter :)
    And my Trangia must be that old too. Or a set of F&T Lightline aluminium pans…. hmm, I never was much good at clearing out the gear room!

  12. Taran, purple leggings with black knees and top to match. It’s in a forerunner of powerstertch. It’s great kit, really.
    A retro overnighter? Not necesarily a hardship if you can source the good stuff. I’ve got the beard, now what else do I need…

    I think the Haston is ’79 or later. Mike will know better than I!

    Matt, Cobmaster? That name alone sells it me :o)

  13. hi great article and again ditto the misty eyed thing about days/nights gone by.
    my mate and me walked around the north coast of wales with little knowledge but a totem senior to take our stuff. external frame basic sac.
    one could always tell on the hill where folk came from… if they had a berghaus sac or kit then generally from the north east. karrimor; always from the better side of the pennines. (being a bolton lad) i guess haveing walsh shoes and karrimor on my doorstep spoilt me!
    since then i have used karrimor sacs all my life. am now a professional outdoor instructor and still use my alpiniste as my workhorse. am slowly converting to a villian though. great to see the old sacs pity about the reghed display though. maybe somwhere in the future will have a space for them. i have some old kimm sacs a red one one that came with a camelbak possibly one of the first with a bladder compatability. i have a sample kimm sac that has progressed onto the omm classic with a UGR rail.
    great site petesy and hope to be able to help mike out with the book.

  14. Hey Stuart. It is a wrench moving away from the Alpiniste af first, I’m with you there!

    And that remonds me, I’ve got a mint KIMM sack from the early 90s, again in purple, I’ll need to dig it and get it on here as well.

  15. … you were discussing back lengths of the Villain being a problem … do you mean they have long backs or too short?



    PS. Where on earth do you buy/look at (/schmooz) these bags? If you don’t live north of THE border, that is! :)

  16. The Villain pretty much has an old Karrimor Alpiniste’s “regular” back length, it does most folks. I think there’s more folk looking for a longer back than a shorter one though.

    The Lakes has both old Karrimor (Edge of the World in Bowness had a fine collection of vintage packs) and new at Outdoor Warehouse and The Climbers Shop.

    The Villain is getting scarce though.

  17. P, Thanks. Does that mean OMM are not producing Villain any more?!

    I had (on permanent loan to a friend) a 45+10 which [back-size-wise] suited me fine when I was running up hills a few years ago. So it sounds like the size is fine…

    Many thanks again. S

  18. It’s just that this batch of Villains is running out Steve, what’s in the shops is all there is until the next production run comes in.

    Best of luck!

  19. Ooh, my main big pack is one of those purple 60+15’s. It is the 4th one, after the shoulder straps kept pulling out and seams bursting. Plain, simple, comfy bit of kit. :)

  20. Ah, the joy of vintage Karrimor!
    It’s been great using my 45+10 again, you realise that despite all the hype and proclamations of how great the new stuff is, some things were just right first time.

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