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Hands-on Gear Review
Cons: Could be more durable, slightly heavier than competition
Manufacturer: Black Diamond
The Black Diamond Speed 40 is a popular alpine pack that offers solid features and versatility. Ultimately, we think its unique suspension system is more of a novelty than a plus, and we wish the pack body was more durable instead. However its overall performance coupled with an affordable price tag earn this pack our Best Buy award.
The current Editors' Choice is the Arc'teryx Alpha FL 45.
RELATED: Our complete review of mountaineering backpacks
OutdoorGearLab Editors' Hands-on Review
The Black Diamond Speed 40 is one of the most well-rounded packs in our test. It wasn't the best in any category, but performed reasonably well in all of them. The most basic pack design is a tube with shoulder straps. The reason this concept has survived through the years and is still in use today is that it works well for the needs of alpine climbers and mountaineers. The Speed 40 keeps that basic design and adds a few modern touches. Our testers like most of these additions, including the smaller buckles and webbing, one-handed cord lock on the main opening, and the removable straps for the lid. We are ambivalent about Black Diamond's reACTIV suspension and SwingArm shoulder straps – a design intended to allow more natural movement of the body. While all of our testers noticed it immediately when first putting the pack on, some liked it, most stopped noticing it, and one really didn't like it while backcountry skiing.
The Speed 40 is in the top tier of our test packs in this category. It's bested only by the Cuben fiber Hyperlite Mountain Gear 3400 Ice Pack and the much simpler Arc'teryx Alpha FL 45. Black Diamond shaves weight throughout the pack in small ways. The webbing and buckles used in the compression straps, lid attachment, rope strap, and ice tool attachment is 9/16" wide. This is skinnier than both the 1" webbing that used to be the standard and also smaller than the 3/4" webbing that many manufacturers are moving to for these applications. Ice tool heads are held in their pocket with one buckle and strap set-up instead of two. The removable lid, lid straps, framesheet and stay, and hip belt padding let climbers strip a whole pound off the pack when the approach is done and it's time to send.
Since most of our testers are not particularly enamored with the SwingArm suspension, we would have rather had traditional shoulder straps and traded the weight of the SwingArm for burlier fabric on the pack body.
The Speed 40 is made of 210 denier nylon reinforced on the front center panel with 420 denier nylon. The bottom and bottom sides of the pack are a sandwich of 420d on the outside, a thin foam, and 200d polyester on the inside. Our testers found that these reinforcements (particularly on the bottom) add quite a bit of durability. We think the plain 210d nylon on the sides of the pack is a little wimpy. One tester sliced a two inch hole in the fabric the first time she strapped her skis to the outside.
The simplicity of this pack's design lets it be fairly versatile. When features for a certain application aren't in use, they're either completely removable or they disappear. The ice tool and crampon attachments are secure and have optional components. The shaft of your ice tool/mountaineering axe is attached to the pack using the included velcro strap, but it can also be tucked into the compression straps. While our testers prefer to put their crampons inside the pack, if there was no space for this, two straps are included to thread onto the front of the pack and strap down crampons (or other gear). Skis are easily attached to the pack a-frame style using the existing compression straps. When the lid is removed, the straps that buckle it onto the front of the pack can come off also. All the user is left with is two small ladderlock buckles behind the shoulders, no straps flapping around and getting caught on things.
Our testers can cram an additional 18 liters of stuff into this pack's extension collar! That allows this pack, which climbs pretty well, to be ridiculously overstuffed when necessary on the approach.
The hip belt padding is one of the easiest to remove of any pack our test. Left behind is a fixed 1" webbing hip belt. We like these "mini hip belts" because they can be used to manage a well-loaded pack when climbing, but they don't interfere with the gear loops of a harness. While the framesheet and stay are easily removed from their pocket inside the pack, fixed foam padding remains in the back of the pack. Our testers' number one wish for this pack is the option to remove this padding also, like they could with the Cilogear 45L Worksack and the Wild Things Guide Pack. This would have let them substitute their own ground mat or bivy pad.
The features of the Speed 40 are well thought out. The hip belt system mentioned above is a good example. If you wish, you can have a padded belt, or you can remove it and instead use a simple low-bulk webbing belt which will stay out of the way of your harness yet keep the pack from moving too much while climbing. While the Speed 40 does not come with a crampon attachment set-up, it has 4 fabric loops integrated into the front panel, giving you the easy option of setting up your own attachment system with a length of shock cord and a cord lock. The framesheet is removable if you want to make the pack a bit lighter as well, and the 4mm aluminum frame that forms the support of the frame sheet can be bent to your liking.
The Speed 40 has fairly a simple hydration set up. Inside the pack is a dedicated pocket for the hydration reservoir. The hose passes through a port between the shoulder straps and can then be routed through a bit of webbing on the shoulder strap itself. These features add little weight and, in fact, our testers found the reservoir pocket to be useful to hold smaller items (like a headlamp, and some bars) when the lid as removed as there is no internal zippered pocket on this pack.
Our testers are glad to say goodbye to the ice axe attachment system and roll top from the previous iteration of this pack.
The Speed 40 was just okay when it came to comfort while carrying loads on the approach to a climb or a high camp. We would have liked the hip belt padding to be thicker, more like the Gregory Alpinisto 50 or Mountain Hardwear Direttissima 50 OutDry. As mentioned above, our testers do not have strong feelings about the benefits of Black Diamond's reACTIV suspension system and SwingArm shoulder straps. After using many different packs for many months, we feel that in the end this pack was no more comfortable than a well fitting pack with a much simpler, more versatile suspension system like a light removable framesheet, or a framesheet and removable foam bivy pad combo.
When stripped down for climbing we really like how well the Speed 40 performs. We suspect this is, in part, due to how well the compression straps compress the whole pack, without leaving behind any weird bulges sticking out in weird places.
The fit of a pack is an important component of its comfort. One of our testers, who owns a Speed 40 himself, has a long torso but a narrow waist and orders smaller hip belts to tune the size in. They're sold as accessories on the Black Diamond website.
Though this isn't the most durable pack in our review, we think the Speed 40 does do everything pretty well. Weekend alpine climbing rock trips, bagging a Cascade volcano, and ice cragging are all great uses for this pack.
We think the Black Diamond Speed 40 offers the most bang for your buck of any pack in our review. It's the least expensive pack we tested and it performed better than packs that cost $100 more! If you're willing to shell out a few more bucks for more durability and lighter weight, check out our Editors' Choice winner, the Arc'teryx Alpha FL 45.
The Speed 40 is a good overall mid-sized pack for alpine climbing. Considering the price (cheaper than every other pack in this review) many people may find it's the right choice.
Other Versions and Accessories
Black Diamond makes three other packs in the Speed series, the Speed 22, 30, and Speed 55. The 30 and 55 have the same feature set and value pricing as the Speed 40.
— Ian McEleney
OutdoorGearLab Member Reviews
Most recent review: November 29, 2015
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