The Best Small Climbing Day Pack Review

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A look at the selection of climbing daypacks in the Mountain Shop, Yosemite Valley.
Credit: Dan Sandberg
We searched out seven of the best small climbing daypacks on the market and put them through extensive testing; these climbing backpacks went everywhere with us for over two months. From the high granite walls of Yosemite and Squamish to shorter trips up the Monkey's Face at Smith Rock or the Bastille Crack at Eldorado Canyon, anytime we left the ground for more than one pitch at least one pack came along. These packs also did double duty by functioning as our hiking, mountain biking, bouldering daypacks as well as our around town bags (for trips to the grocery store or coffee shop). Our goal was to find the best all-around climbing daypack, one that was lightweight, durable, and that functioned well both on and off the rock.

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Review by:

Top Ranked Climbing Backpacks

Displaying 1 - 5 of 6 << Previous | View All | Next >>
Our Ranking #1 #2 #3 #4 #5
Product Name
Black Diamond Bullet
Black Diamond Bullet
Read the Review
Read the Review
Cilo Gear 20L Worksack
Cilo Gear 20L Worksack
Read the Review
Black Diamond BBEE
Black Diamond BBEE
Read the Review
Petzl Bug
Petzl Bug
Read the Review
Editors' Awards  Editors' Choice Award    Top Pick Award    Top Pick Award 
Street Price Varies $35 - $50
Compare at 4 sellers
$$65Varies $40 - $50
Compare at 4 sellers
$68
Compare at 3 sellers
Overall Score 
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User Rating
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100% recommend it (3/3)
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0% recommend it (0/4)
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1 rating
Pros No-frills, durable, carries well, streamlined, versatileThree variations!!, lightweight, large volume, customizable, climbs wellSmall, light, comfortableDurable, loaded with features, comfortable, climbing oriented
Cons No updated featuresExpensiveNot durable, small size makes it less versatile, hydration system sleeveHeavy, not versatile
Best Uses Multi-pitch rock or ice climbing, day hikes, around townMulti-pitch rock or ice climbing, summit pack, day hikesMulti-pitch rock climbing, summit pack, day hikes, around townMulti-pitch rock or ice climbing
Date Reviewed Oct 25, 2010Dec 31, 1969Oct 30, 2010Oct 27, 2010Oct 29, 2010
Weighted Scores Black Diamond Bullet Cilo Gear 20L Worksack Black Diamond BBEE Petzl Bug
Weight - 15%
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7
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Durability - 15%
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Packed Size - 20%
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Climbing Utility - 15%
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Versatility - 20%
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Comfort - 15%
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Product Specs Black Diamond Bullet Cilo Gear 20L Worksack Black Diamond BBEE Petzl Bug
Capacity (Liters) 16 18 20 12 18
Weight (Ounces) 13 10 11.6 12.7 20.1
Padded back? No No No Partly Yes
Fabric Type 420d Nylon/1260d Ballistic Nylon 140d Ripstop Nylon 70d/210d Cordura with Dacron X-Pac 210d Mini-Diamond Ripstop Nylon (no denier listed)
Key Clip? Yes Yes Yes
Whistle? Yes Yes No No No
Pockets? [External] 1 front zip [Internal] 2 mesh [External] 2 stretch; [Internal] 1 security [Internal] 1 security [Internal] 1 security
Outside Carry Options? 2 small clip-in points Daisy chain, ice tool loop Customizable strap system Reinforced daisy chain

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OutdoorGearLab Editors' Hands-on Review



These seven climbing backpacks ranged in size from 12 liters (Black Diamond BBEE) to 20 liters (Cilo Gear Worksack). We believe that this size range is the best for single-day multi-pitch climbing. They ranged in price from $30 (REI Flash 18) to $75 (Cilo Gear Worksack).

We rated these packs in six different categories: weight, durability, packed size, climbing utility, versatility, and comfort. Below is a rundown of the results.

Click to enlarge
Reviewer Dan Sandberg taking in the view at Smith Rock State Park after a long day of testing the Shot
Credit: Max Neale

Weight


The most cut and dry of the categories. When you're fighting the good fight against gravity, it's important to shave ounces wherever possible. The REI Flash 18 got top marks for being the lightest pack reviewed (10 oz), followed by the Cilo Gear 20L Worksack (11.6 oz). On the other side of the spectrum the Mountain Hardwear Crimper weighed a whopping 24 oz.

Durability


An evaluation of general sturdiness. This includes the type and quality of materials used in the construction and our assessment of the pack's ability to withstand repeated abuse. Factors that influenced a pack's score were whether high-impact areas were reinforced and whether a certain aspect of the pack was less durable than the pack as a whole (mesh side pockets, for example, brought a pack's score down). A big blow to a pack's score came when a certain part of the pack was just inherently weak and prone to failure (the sternum strap on the Black Diamond BBEE and the Mountain Hardwear Crimper, for example).

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A side by side look at a new Bullet pack and a well-used Bullet (purchased 18 months ago). You can see that the older Bullet has held up very well to extended abuse.
Credit: Dan Sandberg

Packed Size


A scoring of each pack when rolled or stuffed as small as possible. On longer expedition-style trips it can be very useful to have a pack of this size for day trips and/or summit attempts. The REI Flash 18 is the most compressible and could easily be stored in the bottom of a larger pack, as could the Cilo Gear 20L Worksack (just slightly less compact). Packs with back padding don't compress as small as those without padding and the Mountain Hardwear Crimper, with its extra-stiff padding, can hardly be packed down at all.

Climbing Utility


How well the pack worked on the approach and during a climb. Scores were a balance of how specific features made your multi-pitch life easier and how well the pack stayed out of your way as you make that last hard move before the anchors. We rated the Petzl Bug the highest since it is loaded with features and still climbs well. The Cilo Gear 20L Worksack and the Black Diamond Bullet were close behind, and we rated them the same. Neither pack can compare to the Bug's multitude of handy features, but you also feel them less as you climb. The Mountain Hardwear Crimper again rated the lowest in this category, with neither the features nor the design to match up.

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The Bug's rope-carrying straps
Credit: Dan Sandberg

Versatility


How well the daypack performed off the rock. This was a combination of two factors: how much its climbing-specific features limited it during day-to-day use, and how well its size, volume, and looks fit into life away from the crag. The REI Flash 18 took top marks; urban life is where this pack really shines. The Petzl Bug got the lowest rating because its rock-ready features are cumbersome and unnecessary for anything else.

Comfort


Each pack was rated while loaded down with the minimum equipment you'd carry on a multi-pitch climb: a pair of sneakers, a liter of water, a bar, and a light layer. We wore each pack around town and put our body into every possible rock climbing position we could imagine. Comfort to us meant how flush the loaded pack sat against the back and how well it moved with us. How well the weight was distributed also mattered, and how protected we were against a nut tool or cam poking you us the back was important, too. The Bug scored highest with its sensible and modest back padding. The BBEE was a close second, with its padding just over the spine. The Shot scored the lowest since its padding seemed to restrict the pack from conforming to our back.

Editors' Choice Award: Black Diamond Bullet


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The best all-around small climbing daypack: the Black Diamond Bullet.
Credit: www.backcountry.com
Our Editors' Choice award goes to the Black Diamond Bullet, a trusty, no-frills, workhorse of a pack. While it is not the lightest, the toughest, or the most comfortable climbing backpack we tested, it is definitely the best all-around pack; it functions well both on and off the rock.

Best Buy Award: REI Flash 18


Our Best Buy award goes to the REI Flash 18, which impressed with its amazing versatility and its featherlight weight, not to mention its budget pricetag!

Top Pick Award for Leader's Pack: Cilo Gear 20L Worksack


We recommend the Cilo Gear 20L Worksack for alpine climbers or for climbers who are pushing their absolute limits on lead and want the lightest fully-featured pack possible.

Top Pick Award for Follower's Pack: Petzl Bug


Finally, we recommend the Petzl Bug as the ideal follower's pack. It's loaded with climbing-specific features that make the approach and your time at belays easier without ruining the climbing experience for the follower.

Dan Sandberg
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