Gear review: Black Diamond Speed 40 climbers backpack

OH DEAR, I really don’t know where to start with the Back Diamond Speed 40 backpack so I’ll begin with an admission. I bought this purely for hiking, not for climbing; so I appreciate that it has clean lines to avoid getting snagged when squeezing through gullies.

It also has some great design features, but it also has a few flaws; its lines are just too clean, the removable top pocket doesn’t fit well and, according to several reviews I’ve seen online, the material doesn’t appear very durable for an Alpine pack.

I bought the Speed 40 specifically for a trip along part of the Rob Roy Way, in Scotland, as my Lowe Alpine AirZone 25 was way too small and my faithful old Karrimor 65-litre was way too big.

A few days before my trek I visited a certain national outdoors retailer to buy a new pack, but left empty handed because there was only a couple in that size and neither of them fitted very well.

However, I did come away knowing that not only are Black Diamond’s bags well made but that the fit (for me) was spot on; so I ordered the Speed 40 online without having really seen it.

It was only when I came to pack for the trip that I realised there were no external pockets, apart from the top one, and having borrowed a similar sized Lowe Alpine bag a few years ago I knew how useful side pockets would be. (The low Alpine also has a long slim zipped pocket on the rear, which is perfect for maps; so much so that Lowe Alpine probably referred to it as a “map pocket”.)

To secure the bag there’s a double draw cord system which means that if you remove the top pocket then you can extended the height (and volume) of the bag.

However, and it’s a big however, the top pocket doesn’t sit flush with the rim of the bag and all I could think of was that in a downpour water would work its way inside; even with the double draw cord.

The earlier version of the Speed 40 was secured by a roll top, just like a dry bag, and seemed to be a far better watertight system.

The pack has a reactive suspension system that means that weight always remains equal on the shoulders; although I have to say it’s not a feature I noticed just as I’ve never really appreciated Lowe Alpine’s AirZone system.

Another feature is that you can remove the padding from the waistband via a series of Velcro fastenings.

The normal wide band was fine for my mostly flat Rob Roy Way, but on a later trip setting out an eight-mile section of the Lakes Sky Ultra, which involved traversing Striding Edge, the band got in the way of the twisting, turning, crouching and stretching.

As an Alpine pack the Speed 40 is very well equipped with plenty of hoops and loops for ice axes and climbing paraphernalia as well as a clever tie for fixing a rope between the roof of the bag and the top pocket.

I wish I’d had more time to research and buy a 40-litre bag, but my loss is a climber’s gain; anyone looking for an Alpine pack, hardly used and with one careful owner?

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