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Black Diamond Speed 40 Review

This is a pack-of-all-trades well suited to a variety of mountaineering pursuits
Black Diamond Speed 40
Photo: REI Co-op
Top Pick Award
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Price:  $190 List | Check Price at REI
Compare prices at 3 resellers
Pros:  Versatile, simple, durable, well-priced
Cons:  Less features, some wonky strap designs
Manufacturer:   Black Diamond Equipment
By Lyra Pierotti ⋅ Review Editor  ⋅  May 13, 2021
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65
OVERALL
SCORE


RANKED
#3 of 10
  • Versatility - 30% 7
  • Weight to Volume Ratio - 20% 6
  • Comfort - 20% 7
  • Durability - 15% 7
  • Features - 15% 5

Our Verdict

The Black Diamond Speed series is an excellent range of reliable backpacks optimized for climbing, mountaineering, and even ski mountaineering. The 40-liter version hits the sweet spot for a truly versatile pack. And for the price point, it is hard to beat. This is a pack that can carry ice climbing gear, is comfortable for a long day's walk on a glacier, can carry your skis, attach your crampons, and is even well suited to cragging with its extra-durable bottom. If you're looking for a true pack-of-all-trades, this is a great one at a very fair price.

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Awards Top Pick Award Editors' Choice Award Best Buy Award   
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$169.95 at Backcountry
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$99.95 at Amazon$199.95 at Backcountry
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$170.00 at Backcountry
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Pros Versatile, simple, durable, well-pricedComfortable, affordable, durable, fully featuredLightweight, simple, excellent pack for steep, technical terrainDurable, versatile, fully featured for all mountain pursuitsDurable, comfortable, optimized for ski mountaineering
Cons Less features, some wonky strap designsNot as lightweight as some packsLess durable, less versatile, no side strapsClosure system limits ability to overstuff, larger size less ideal for more technical routesHeavier, novel front access zipper can be difficult to use
Bottom Line This is a pack-of-all-trades well suited to a variety of mountaineering pursuitsThis is an excellent pack for most mountaineering uses, excelling in comfort and versatility in all alpine terrainThis is an excellent on-route climbing pack for challenging steep terrain in the mountainsThe Mutant series has been a favorite, and the 52 liter version fills an excellent niche for colder and longer climbsThe durability and feature set of this pack make it particularly well suited to ski mountaineering
Rating Categories Black Diamond Speed 40 Osprey Mutant 38 Black Diamond Blitz... Osprey Mutant 52L Ortovox Peak Light 32L
Versatility (30%)
7.0
9.0
5.0
6.0
6.0
Weight To Volume Ratio (20%)
6.0
4.0
10.0
3.0
3.0
Comfort (20%)
7.0
9.0
6.0
8.0
6.0
Durability (15%)
7.0
8.0
5.0
7.0
5.0
Features (15%)
5.0
9.0
5.0
7.0
8.0
Specs Black Diamond Speed 40 Osprey Mutant 38 Black Diamond Blitz... Osprey Mutant 52L Ortovox Peak Light 32L
Measured Volume (liters) 45 37 29 47 30
Measured Weight (pounds) 2.93 2.84 (without lid), 3.25 (with lid) 1.09 4.19 2.53
Measured Weight (grams) 1330 1288.2 496.1 1899.4 1148.2
Weight to Volume Ratio (grams per liter) 29.56 34.82 17.11 40.41 38.27
Frame Type Removable foam and plastic framesheet with 3 stays Inner framesheet with aluminum stays Foam pad Removable framesheet and dual stays Swiss Wooltec knit back construction
Fabric 210d ripstop main, 420d abrasion 210D nylon with 420HD nylon packcloth on bottom Dynex ripstop 210D High Tenacity Nylon Nylon 420D Oxford
Pockets 1 main, 2 zippered lid, 1 internal hydration 1 zippered lid 1 main compartment, 1 waterproof top lid, 1 internal zippered 2 zippered lid 1 lid with 2 compartments, 1 hip belt pocket
Hip Belt? Yes - padding removable, not belt Yes - reverse wrap hybrid EVA foam w/ gear loops and ice clipper holsters Yes - removable webbing belt Yes- removable Yes - removable hip belt
Removable Suspension Padding? Yes Removable framesheet and/or dual stays Yes Yes Yes
Lid? Yes - removable Yes - removable with stowable FlapJacket for lidless use Yes - removable Yes Yes
Hydration System Compatible? Yes Yes - internal pouch with buckled hanging loop Yes Yes Yes

Our Analysis and Test Results

The Black Diamond Speed series of packs has been a popular and dependable design for many years. The 40 liter hits the sweet spot for versatility and carrying comfort, making it a great option for multiple kinds of endeavors.

Performance Comparison


Enjoying powder and sunshine on the lower flanks of Mount Rainier.
Enjoying powder and sunshine on the lower flanks of Mount Rainier.
Photo: Ian McConnell

Versatility


The Speed 40 is a highly versatile mountaineering backpack. We found it to be useful for all the mountain adventures we could dream up, except for longer expeditions — though you still might want to bring it as your separate on-route pack to carry while at a basecamp in Alaska for a few weeks. For example.


The Speed 40 has a narrower overall profile than the 50, which seems obvious, but in our experience, this seemingly minor difference in how the 40 is scaled down made a whole world of difference. It carries well enough to be the go-to of certain conspicuous IFMGA guides that our reviewers work with, even for 4-day long ski mountaineering trips. Obviously, your packing skills must be impeccable, and your personal kit must be very lightweight (as well as that of your partners, so they don't offload anything on you!), but this pack rides nicely enough to allow you to enjoy your turns in the often variable snow conditions in the mountains.

We found this pack to be useful for alpine climbing first and foremost. It is a great size for mountaineering trips of 1-4 days and can be stripped down for a fast-and-light summit attempt as well. The durability ensures its utility for regular rock cragging sessions, and the size and features allow for ease of use when ice climbing and even ski mountaineering.

The Speed 40 is a true pack-of-all-trades. We loved that we could...
The Speed 40 is a true pack-of-all-trades. We loved that we could walk on a glacier with all of our rescue kit at the ready then launch up a technical rock climb with ease in this pack.
Photo: Lyra Pierotti

Weight to Volume Ratio


The Speed 40 doesn't steal the show in this category, but it is certainly above average. This pack is reasonably simple and made of light but durable fabrics. Some added padding at the bottom of the pack and three layers of material in the back panel could be the main sources of added weight compared to other packs in the same size category.


Despite the slightly lower score here, this 40-liter version of the Speed series is by far our favorite for versatility, as well as the carrying comfort, discussed next.

The Speed 40 from Black Diamond gobbled up the gear from our...
The Speed 40 from Black Diamond gobbled up the gear from our official Test Load and carried it like a dream.
Photo: Lyra Pierotti

Comfort


The Speed 40 has excellent suspension and a sturdy back panel.


As mentioned above, there are essentially three layers in the back panel lending to a firm and supportive, yet reasonably flexible, frame: there's the foam in the backpack itself, another layer of removable foam, and a firm plastic support panel with three stays. Most packs we like have two stays, one is usually too weak, but three is unusual! This modular design allows you to choose the amount of support you want. And while it is very supportive and strong enough to haul heavier loads to basecamp, it remains flexible enough to mold to your back and allow for more technical climbing movements as well.

The secret to the comfortable carry of the BD Speed 40: foam back...
The secret to the comfortable carry of the BD Speed 40: foam back panel, removable foam, plastic framesheet with THREE stays.
Photo: Lyra Pierotti

The other thing we think contributes to the overall carrying comfort of this pack is its size. This seems like a bit of a cop-out because arguably any pack which is smaller than another "should" be more comfortable than the bigger one, right? Not so. The 40-liter size certainly seems to be the sweet spot — larger, and it seems increasingly difficult to make a comfortable and versatile pack. However, there's another detail — the girth of the pack. This version is a narrower cylinder which helps to keep your center of gravity closer to normal.

The simplicity of design really excels here. The supportive yet...
The simplicity of design really excels here. The supportive yet supple backpanel and robust but removable hip belt padding ensure you're comfortable and carrying well in any terrain, under any load.
Photo: Lyra Pierotti

Durability


Durable and lightweight, the Speed 40 is made of both 210 and 420 denier fabric. This is a simple pack that is well made and reliable. The reinforced bottom is great for when you're cragging, your rack is in the bottom of your pack, and you have a habit of dropping your pack on the ground… why so specific, you ask? Some lessons are hard-learned…


This is also a great pack to be used as a "workhorse" due to its lower cost. This is further discussed in the Value section below, but the low cost plus the durability means that we felt less stress around working this pack hard in the mountains, at the crag, and even for backpacking — also elevating its versatility. Overall, this is a durable pack that will last for years and is useful for a broad range of mountain activities, from ski mountaineering and ice climbing to cragging.

Security is key with sharps! The design of the Speed 40 helps ensure...
Security is key with sharps! The design of the Speed 40 helps ensure minimal damage from sharps. Notice here the padded and extra durable bottom of the pack as well.
Photo: Lyra Pierotti

Features


The Speed 40 is a simple cylinder with a relatively low (narrow) profile which makes it perform well on technical climbs. It extends upward to accommodate extra gear for the haul to basecamp, has side straps for gear, and will accommodate skis in an A-frame carry. It has ice axe and tool attachments. And the hip belt and part of the frame can be removed to strip it down for fast-and-light summit bids, but if you keep the padded hip belt on, you'll have an ice clipper sleeve and a gear loop to keep gear handy — this is a favorite for glacier mountaineering where you're walking for a long time on a rope and want to be ready for crevasse rescue at any time. Excellent!


The simplicity and streamlined features really set this pack apart. It is a no-frills cylinder with a couple of extra straps for your sharp items (crampons, axe or tools, skis) or bulky and light gear (sleeping pad). And that's it.

The only feature we really didn't like on the Speed 40 was how the...
The only feature we really didn't like on the Speed 40 was how the top side strap actually threads all the way through to the opposite side. Sometimes we had to fiddle with it to prevent the whole strap from ending up on one side.
Photo: Lyra Pierotti

Value


This pack is an excellent value. It is durable, versatile, comfortable, lightweight… all the things you want in a solid backpack. And the price tag is impressively low for the amount of use you're likely to get out of it. As we discussed in the Durability section above, this low price combined with durability makes this pack a notably low-stress workhorse for a variety of mountain adventures. Suffice it say, we find this a high-value product.

Conclusion


The Speed 40 is an impressive mountaineering backpack — no wonder it has been around for so long and includes a series of packs from 22 to 50 liters — and there's even a zippered top access variation as well. It may not excel in any one of our metrics as much as some other packs in our review, but the strong performance across the board makes this a great investment and likely a quiver-of-one pack for many mountaineers. If you're on the hunt for the best all-rounder, this is the one we recommend.

Ready for action with the Black Diamond Speed 40!
Ready for action with the Black Diamond Speed 40!
Photo: Lyra Pierotti

Lyra Pierotti