Hands-on Gear Review
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Pros: Unique suspension system, versatile capacity, removable lid, good hip belt design
Cons: Suspension system more complicated than most, slightly heavier than competition
Best Uses: 1-3 night alpine climbs, winter alpine, ice climbing.
The Black Diamond Speed 40 is updated and much improved! Stay tuned for an update soon
The Black Diamond Speed 40 is a popular alpine pack that offers a unique suspension system meant to move with the user for more comfortable hiking and more freedom of movement while climbing. Ultimately, we found the suspension system to be more of a novelty than a plus. Overall the Speed 40 is a solid pack, scoring higher than many of the packs we tested. It's not particularly light for its capacity however, and while some of the features are good, they don't outshine the top packs in this review.
This is a significantly re-designed pack from the older version, and for $160, it is a good choice for those looking for an affordable, and versatile pack.
See the full Mountaineering and Alpine Climbing Backpack Review for reviews of all the alpine packs we've tested.
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OutdoorGearLab Editors' Hands-on Review
Generally speaking, alpine climbing packs tend to have simple suspension systems. A lightweight framesheet perhaps, or maybe just a foam bivy pad. The Speed 40 however features Black Diamond's reACTIV suspension, and SwingArm shoulder straps – a design intended to allow more natural movement of the body. This makes the Speed 40 rather unique among the packs in this review, and indeed a bit more complicated. Overall, we did not find that the suspension system provided much of an increase in carrying comfort or freedom of movement while climbing as compared to packs of a similar capacity. The Speed 40 has a removable lid, and a removable hip belt, allowing you to reduce a bit weight and bulk if you wish.
The Speed 40 is middle of the road in terms of weight, slightly on the heavier end. The Mountain Hardwear Summit Rocket 40, CiloGear 30:30 Guide Service WorkSack, and Hyperlite Mountain Gear Ice Pack, all similar in size to the Speed 40 are lighter overall. The First Ascent Alchemist 40 is heavier. A removable lid and a removable hip belt allow for the dropping of a few ounces. Finally, you can also remove the framesheet.
The Speed 40 is reinforced on the bottom and on the front center panel, your two high wear areas. Overall the durability is fairly good.
As mentioned in the Alpine Packs Best in Class Review, we find 40L capacity packs to be a good all-around choice. For this reason alone the Speed 40 is fairly versatile, giving you the extra room for a sleeping bag, shelter, and stove for overnight trips that a 30L bag can't, while remaining manageable to climb with. Additionally the Speed 40 can be used without the lid, and features a roll-top style closure underneath to slim the bulk down when the extra space of the lid is not needed. The padded hip belt can also be removed from the pack, leaving behind a low-profile webbing belt that fits more easily with a harness. This low-profile mini waist belt is a nice feature to have since it lets you remove the bulk of the padded belt for climbing ease, while still having something to clip across the waist to keep the pack from slipping around. Because of the suspension system, we find the Speed 40 to be less versatile than the CiloGear 30:30 Guide Service WorkSack, which uses only a foam bivy pad for suspension allowing for a lighter weight, and more customizable pack overall.
Some features of the Speed 40 are well thought out. The waist belt system, mentioned above is a good example. If you wish you can have a padded belt, or on the other hand, you can remove it and instead use a simple low-bulk webbing belt instead which will stay out of the way of your harness yet keep the pack from moving too much while climbing. We also like the versatility of a removable lid, which the Speed 40 has. While the Speed 40 does not come with a crampon attachment set-up, it has 4 metal 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 frame sheet 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.
Certain other features of the Speed 40 we found to be a bit off. The ice tool / mountain axe attachment for example, is the sort in which you tread a small length of metal through the hole in the head of your tool. This piece of metal is then cinched down by pulling tight the shock cord that also secures the shaft of your axe. While this system works fine most of time, and has been around for a long time, it is less than secure for certain axes. We found for example that the C.A.M.P Corsa (our Editors Choice mountain axe) is vulnerable to falling off packs with this attachment system. Of course this is more the fault of the axe design than the pack design, but worth noting since the C.A.M.P. Corsa is a popular, and excellent axe. Finally, the closure system of this pack left us a bit puzzled. While the pack closes with a roll top, there is a standard cinch cord closure as well internal to the roll top. Presumably, Black Diamond did this so that if you needed to you can extend to volume of the pack by only using the cinch closure, letting your load stick up beyond the roll top. This would be an overloaded pack however, and you're unlikely to do this much. In practice, this double closure system means that getting in and out of your pack just that much more difficult, which is not the end of the world, but annoying at times. One solution here is to not use the internal cinch and simply let it hang down inside of the pack.
Some users really like the reACTIV suspention system and find it to be an increase in comfort while on the trail. After using many different packs for many months however, our main testers felt that in the end, the Speed 40 was no more comfortable, than a well fitting pack with a much simpler, more versatile suspension system like a light removable framesheet, or removable foam bivy pad. Our main tester in fact found the Speed 40 to be particularly uncomfortable on the lower back after a weekend of use. Other testers however found the system to be just fine.
Weekend alpine climbing trips, winter alpine climbing, and ice climbing are all great uses for the Speed 40. Value
the Black Diamond Speed 40 is on the cheaper end of packs in this review. If you're looking for a cheap option the Speed 40 is a great size pack with some good features. If you're looking for the perfect pack at this capacity however, we recommend checking out the CiloGear 30:30 Guide Service WorkSack, which has more versatile features, and is lighter weight.
The Speed 40 is a good overall mid sized pack for alpine climbing. Considering the price (cheaper than many other packs in this review) many people may find it's the right choice.
Other Versions and Accessories
The Speed 22, $100, makes a great day pack or a great pack to travel fast and light with. This pack is available in small/medium or medium/large.
The Black Diamond Speed 30, $140, is a well-featured small alpine pack at a more affordable price. There are certainly lighter 30L packs, but the Speed 30 might just be the most bang for your buck. This pack wins our Best Buy Award and is available in small, medium, or large.
The Speed 55, $190, is a great pack for longer alpine or rock climbing adventures. This pack is available in small, medium, or large.
— Chris Simrell
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Most recent review: August 19, 2013
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