Black Diamond Blitz 20 Review
Cons: Fragile, not super versatile
Manufacturer: Black Diamond Equipment
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Our Analysis and Test Results
As climbing becomes more popular, companies can afford to bring more specialized gear to market. The Black Diamond Blitz 20 is a great example of this. It's a small climbing pack designed for alpine missions. It's simple, lightweight design and ice tool attachments are ideal for multi-pitch routes that involve snow, ice, and low temperatures. Being optimized for that type of climbing means that it has an Achilles heel when it comes to "normal" multi-pitch rock climbing: durability.
We were pleasantly surprised by how well the Blitz 20 climbed. It remained fairly comfortable even when fully packed. The removable foam back pad protected us from pointy gear. The shoulder straps are lightly padded, and most of the time this wasn't an issue. We did experience some discomfort when the pack was overloaded and had a 60-meter rope and mountain boots hanging off the outside.
The pack is slightly tapered, and the shape generally doesn't interfere with movement. The back length is not short. Our tall testers didn't notice. Our average sized male testers had to cinch down the shoulder straps to preserve chalk bag access. Shorter folks should try this one on at their local gear shop before committing.
The Blitz 20 does a great job in this metric. All of the usual convenience features are present. There isn't a dedicated pocket for a hydration bladder, but there is a spot to hang the bladder, a pass-through for the hose, and bits of webbing on the shoulder strap to guide the hose. A key clip lives in the internal zippered pocket. This pocket does not have a spacious pocket bag, so accessing your snacks when the bag is full can be difficult. The same goes for the external zippered pocket, expect to have to open the top strap for access.
This pack is pretty streamlined and slips easily through aggressive vegetation. The only features to possibly get hung up are the ice axe attachments, which are a standard design and partially removable. Despite the streamlined shape, this bag is not suitable for hauling. It doesn't have any hauling specific features, which is fine because the fabric could not survive much hauling. The sternum strap buckle is not an emergency whistle. It does, however, have a hip belt. This (and the sternum strap) attaches with a simple girth hitch and is easily removable.
We really liked the simple one-handed open and closure system. This, coupled with the easy-to-find red grab loop, make getting into this pack - and closing it back up - at belays a breeze. The top strap works well to hold a rope, though we missed attachment points on the side to keep the "wings" of the rope from flopping around. On long approaches wrap a double-length sling around the pack and rope to secure it. A few additional attachment points on the outside of the pack would help for those times when the bag is overloaded, without adding much weight.
Our testers didn't expect a pack built for fast-and-light alpine missions to be very durable, and the Blitz isn't. That being said, the fabric (a 200 denier blend of Dynex and nylon) will last for your alpine rock missions as long as you're not hauling or climbing too many rowdy chimneys with the pack on. The fabric doesn't have the abrasion resistance to stand up to that treatment. If you use this pack outside of the context it was designed for, expect to make the occasional repair.
The ice axe attachment points seem to able to survive some abuse. Some online reviewers had trouble with the cord lock or drawstring breaking. We did not experience that.
Our testers did not find the Blitz to be particularly versatile. As a simple backpack, it can certainly be loaded with books, groceries, or whatever. Laptops fit inside, though the lack of pockets might deter some from using this for school. The fragile fabric gave us second thoughts on using it as our daily backpack.
The lack of attachment points makes strapping things like skis or bivy gear to the outside a difficult proposition. If we got clever we could make do with some carabiners and long slings, but this pack encourages leaving anything but the most necessary items at home. Many of our testers thought it looked a little too technical for urban use.
The Blitz 20 is light enough and packs down small enough that it works well carried in a bigger pack to a backcountry base camp. Our testers liked this pack for that job and found ourselves using it as a stuff sack for organization inside a bigger pack for the hikes in and out.
Ounces count in all climbing disciplines, and especially in alpine climbing. The Blitz 20 checks in at a svelte 0.88 lbs (or just under 400 grams). This isn't surprising, given its 200 denier fabric, but it's still impressive for a pack that holds 20 liters of your stuff.
We think the simple top-loading design and lack of any extra features allow for this low number. As is often the case, the cost of this low weight is durability.
We think this pack's value depends on how you intend to use it. If its mostly for cragging, front-country climbs, or multi-pitch routes in Red Rocks or The Gunks, the Blitz 20 isn't the best value. It won't last long enough to yield a good pitches-to-dollar ratio on a strict rock diet. However, if routes like the Cosley Houston on Colfax Peak or Mount Washington's Pinnacle Gully are on your list, this bag is actually a pretty good value.
Like a greyhound on a racetrack, the Black Diamond Blitz 20 is a small climbing pack purpose-built for alpine pursuits. As such it's light and has great climbing-specific features. Occasionally our testers wished for a few more external attachment points, though the lack of them discourages overpacking. Low weight comes at the cost of durability, so be conscious of what this pack is for and it will serve you well.
Other Versions and Accessories
If you need something bigger for alpine climbing, consider the almost identical Blitz 28. If you like the simplicty and features of the Blitz 20 but are more interested in rock climbing than alpine climbing, check out the rock-focused Rock Blitz 15, it's more durable.
— Ian McEleney