Saturday, 7 May 2011

Black Diamond Speed 40 Review

After 3 years of faithful service as a teacher, upon my resignation I was awarded a 500 Norwegian Kroner gift certificate to a sports store. I really don't need anything because the way I see it, I have a pretty good selection and system for each season. I wandered from product shelf to clothing rack to see what caught my eye. I am a bargain hunter so I was trying to find something on sale that I could get even cheaper because of the certificate. No luck. I walked to the backpack section and started looking at the Black Diamond bags. With my new job I train at the gym from 0600 - 0700 and that means I need to store all my work clothes, towel and odds and ends in a bag. My current bag gets stuck in the turnstile at work and it drives me mad. I happened across the Black Diamond Speed 40 and took a shine to it.

The Black Diamond Speed 40 cost 1199 NOK, which equates to 219 USD. A complete rip off considering the RRP in the USA is 129.95 USD, and can be bought directly from the website for 89 USD at the moment. Anyway, I digress. With my voucher I got a mustard colored Speed 40 for 126 USD which is expensive still, but bearable. So lets get some initial impressions.

The Standard
I compare any bag I buy to my Haglöfs Climber 40. The reason I do this is because the Haglöfs is such a high quality bag with regards to fit / finish and materials and is also very well thought out. It is water proof, has excellent quality zips and is constructed of Cordura. This bag has served me very well but is a little too hardcore to use as a work bag. So here are the two, side by side.

As you can see, the two back packs are very similar in size. The specs for the Black Diamond Speed 40 are as follows:

Volume :

40 L, 2,441 cu in (M/L)
38 L, 2,319 cu in (S/M)

Average Stock Weight :
1.17 kg, 2 lb 9 oz (M/L)
1.14 kg, 2 lb 8 oz (S/M)
Average Stripped Weight :

690 g, 1 lb 8 oz (M/L)
680 g, 1 lb 8 oz (S/M)
Materials :

Tough 420d nylon and lightweight 210d nylon ripstop

They are both technical bags, used by rock and ice climbers. They have an array of compression straps and allow for a large degree of body movement. At this point in time it is also worth noting the relatively low weight of the Speed 40. It comes in at 1.17 kg for the M/L size. That is really light, however the weight saving does come at a cost. What you save in weight, you often lose in rigidity and durability when carrying heavier loads. I am an advocate of carrying a larger pack and having it half full than trying to pack too much into a small pack.This rule applies to the Speed 40. The bag is made of Nylon, not Cordura. This means that it is going to be more fragile. I would NOT recommend loading this thing with more than 10kg of equipment because:
  1. The bag is made of such thin material that you will start to tear it
  2. Weight is also saved on the padding. This bag will start to get uncomfortable if you exceed 10kg (IMO)
  3. You will start to get a loss of rigidity because of the design of the V-lite suspension sytem and lightweight frame
If you understand the Speed 40's limitations and intended use, then this weight limit won't be an issue. This is not a pack-mule bag. This is a lightweight, technical bag designed for good range of movement while still providing some comfort. Moving on...

Fit and Finish
The Speed 40 seems to be well made. I looked closely at the seams and aside from the very occasional protruding loose thread, there was nothing shonky about it's stitching. Good quality zippers and clasps are standard as is a chest clasp with whistle.

I make mention of this feature because I believe this should be made standard on all bags. The whistle is a proven life saver when people don't have the strength to call out. All the straps were well stitched and also of high quality.

Compared to my Haglöfs Climber 40 though, the shoulder strap seemed a little anaemic. This is to be expected on a light weight climbing bag though.

The Black Diamond Speed 40 is not really a feature rich bag. It's goal is to provide a basic bag for storing climbing related impliments at as low weight penalty as possible. That said, it does have some features worth mentioning.

Ladder Design Top Pocket
There are times when you fill up your bag and your top pouch ends up forcing your head forward because it rides so high. This is a serious annoyance, especially when skiing. The Speed 40 uses a ladder design with hooks to adjust where the pouch sits. At this point a picture or two is worth a thousand words:

This is becoming a standard feature on climbing bags because it shaves off weight and functions well. I isn't as strong as a dedicated buckle, but I wouldn't be swinging my bag around by the top pocket anyway.

3 Storage Pockets in Hood / Top Pocket
Most bags I have owned and used have 2 pockets in the top section. The speed 40 has 3.

This is nice to have as it allows better organisation of the smaller, easier to lose items like keys, wallet, headlamp etc...

Ice Tool Loops / Crampon Patch / 3-Point Haul System
For those interested in this bag for climbing, there are some features aimed at you. These can be adapted for the non climbers too. For example, the ice axe holders could be used to hold walking poles or even ski poles. These can be taken off where you will find 2 of the 3 points for hauling.

The crampon patch is just a tougher piece of fabric that saves your bag from the sharp crampons. There are no bungee straps or straps of any kind for that matter. I guess this was a weight saving feature from Black Diamond? Below you see the rudimentary patch and the loops that you can use after you buy some straps.

Although I didn't mention them in the sub title, the bag features zed-compression straps.

These are a faster and easier method of securing the load as you only need to pull one strap and it compresses a greater portion of the bag. These are a good addition.

Packing and Comfort
Whenever I read complaints about back pack, it's usually because they are over-loaded. 40L does not mean 40L of water and therefore 40kg. Low weight bags needs some assistance in maintaining their rigidity and this can be done in several ways.
  1. Carefully plan where you store your heavier items. Store them close to your back and as close to your center of gravity as possible.
  2. Help the bag out by packing clothes in a way that they support the back plate. If you have water proof bags and you have some extra space that the compression straps can't take care of, inflate the bag enough to sort out this problem.
  3. Adjust your straps correctly.
  4. Don't overload the bag.
I am not a climber. I won't be using this bag for it's intended purpose but I will be using it for over night or 2 day trips in late Spring, Summer and early Autumn. This is the typical gear I would take:
We have:
  1. A summer sleeping bag
  2. Bivvy bag
  3. Inflatable pillow
  4. First aid kit in ziplock bag
  5. Co-tima waterporrof bag with food
  6. Sleeping bag liner
  7. Cook set, utensils, Platy Bag
  8. Toiletries / Hygiene items
  9. Rain pants
  1. Headlamp (in jacket pocket)
  2. Lighter (jacket pocket)
  3. Beanie (pants pocket)
  4. Pocket knife (pants pocket or belt)
This is all the equipment packed:

And on my back:

I am 6'2" and the Speed 40 fits my back very well. It seems extremely comfortable although you need to be careful not to overload it. I had about 7kg in the pictures and it felt right when I moved and articulated my arms and legs.

Early Days Yet
The Black Diamont Speed 40 seems like a decent, well thought out bag. It's not feature ritch nor a trojan work bag but it has never been advertised as that. For a lightweight bag designed around the needs of climbers, I think it would function well. For the hiker and backpacker the Speed 40 could also be a decent little pack. I am heading off to Sweden this coming weekend to catch up with friends and I will be taking the Speed 40 with me to try it out. Everything I have written up until now is based on initial impressions and could change when it is put through some decent use. Stay posted for an update when I get back.

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