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Hands-on Gear Review
Black Diamond Speed 50 Review
Cons: Could be more durable, slightly heavier than competition, reduced comfort due to shape
Bottom line: This is an exquisitely versatile mountaineering pack which can handle everything from light expeditions to cragging.
The Black Diamond Speed 50 is a popular alpine pack that offers solid features and versatility. It is not the best in any of our metrics, but it performed above average in all of our tests. It is a logical choice for almost any alpine climb, and can even carry skis in an A frame, and pack down small to carry on long ice climbs. It is durable enough we didn't feel bad taking it cragging. We love the simple design and thoughtful, streamlined features. It has everything you need, and nothing you don't. And it won't even break the bank. As such, it gets our Best Buy Award—because it packs some serious bang for the buck.
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Our Analysis and Hands-on Test Results
The Speed 50 came in third place for weight to volume ratio in this measurement, earning a very respectable score of 8 out of 10. The pack advertises a volume of 50 liters, but we measured 52 liters of functional volume in the main compartment—a great volume for a pack that weighs three pounds.
Black Diamond achieves this light weight by keeping the pack very simple and streamlined, as well as using relatively lightweight materials. This competitor is a dependable workhorse: dependable, functional, and light enough to edge out the competition. Its excellent performance in this metric made it an easy and obvious choice for a wide range of mountain activities. We used this pack for summer mountaineering, cragging, as well as backcountry skiing. We even took this contender to Alaska and hauled a sled around for a few weeks with this pack—and it was up to each and every task, shifting gears with us from long endurance hauls to steep technical rock and ice climbs.
This pack is not an uncomfortable pack, though it scored only 5 out of 10 in this review. The comfort bar was set exceptionally high in this review with the Mutant, Alpha FL, and the Hyperlite Ice packs.
With those packs scoring above this one in our side-by-side comfort tests with our physical therapist and in our field tests, the Speed 50 was quickly bumped down in the ratings—earning a more average score in this category. But average is a fitting classification for this pack. It is not mind-blowing in any category, but it is rock solid in every category, scoring at least 5 in all the metrics, and often well above that.
We like the firm and wide hip belt on this pack, and its thin profile. The back panel is relatively flat, similar to the designs we love in the Arc'teryx Alpha FL 45 and the Hyperlite Mountain Gear 3400 Ice pack. The main detraction from comfort comes from the larger volume of this pack. When we compare it to our top contenders for comfort, the Mutant, Alpha, and Hyperlite, we quickly see one significant difference: the diameter of the pack.
The Mutant is only a 38-liter pack, so it is narrower overall. The Alpha, also primarily a 30-something liter pack, is also forcibly narrower. At 50 liters of volume, the Hyperlite 3400 would seem to be the best pack to compare with the Speed 50, but that is still not quite the case because Hyperlite designed its extra volume to go upward. This makes the Ice Pack look like a skyscraper on your back when it is overstuffed, meaning it is still similarly narrow in shape.
So it would seem we are finding a theme in the comfort department: narrower or more slender packs are most comfortable because they keep the load closer to your back. This makes a lot of intuitive sense. The Speed 50 is more of a short-and-squat design, and we could feel the larger diameter of the pack pull out from our center of gravity more noticeably than the other, slender packs. Even the load lifter straps on this pack couldn't bring the wider load in close enough to rival the comfort of our winners, the Mutant, Alpha, and Hyperlite.
Another middle of the road performance from the Speed 50 in the durability department. We encountered no issues with the pack, just the normal scuffing of fabric. We liked the reinforced bottom as we have a bad habit of dropping our pack on rough ground.
Again the Speed achieved a 5 out of 10 in this category not out of poor performance, but because it is average, and did not have any noticeable features which gave it a higher score. For example, the flexible fabric in the Mutant improved its durability, especially when overstuffed. And the Alpha has perhaps the most confidence inspiring fabric in this review. The Speed 50 is again average, but still incredible.
It is made of both 210 and 420 denier nylon, similar to the expedition packs in the review; however, the expedition packs had much more reinforcement and wider straps, so they scored well above average for durability. The metrics shake out the pros and cons of this extra focus on strength in expedition packs, however, and while the Speed 50 might fall behind in overall durability, it picks up favor in the versatility and weight-to-volume metrics.
The Speed 50 is second only to our Editor's Choice winner, the Osprey Packs Mutant 38, in the versatility metric. We carried skis A-frame for steep skiing; we scratched up alpine rock climbs; we dragged sleds in Alaska; we carried a rack of triple cams in the desert. This pack is up for just about anything.
The size is ideal for most trips 3-5 days long, but it is also simple and light enough to be stripped down for a fast-and-light summit push. We would often remove the lid of the pack, or stuff it inside the main compartment, to make the competitor even more compact.
Simple is a great theme for a backpack—and the Speed 50 blends simplicity and functionality well. As noted above, this pack is up for a multitude of climbing tasks, due to its simple, straightforward, and well-thought-out features.
It scored higher than many comparable packs, earning a 7 out of 10 in this metric, more for its simplicity and utility rather than because it had more features. If you like your pack to have a lot of features, check out the Osprey Mutant. But if you want something clean and straightforward, the Speed is a wonderful choice.
The Speed 50 is at home in a variety of mountain environments. We loved using this pack on multi-day spring ski tours—it packs down small and carries securely for skiing through variable conditions. It holds up to the dry and dusty desert—and its cactus and sharp rocks. It is ideal for 3+ day trips in the mountains where you drop gear at a high camp and race to the summit with light packs. The only place we wouldn't want to take this pack is on steep multi-pitch rock climbs, but if you had to, you could haul the pack up a pitch or two, and it would get scuffed up on the rock, but it would arrive intact at the anchor.
If you want an affordable pack that really can go anywhere you want it to go, the Speed 50 is up for the challenge. Many Speed enthusiasts even have two or three models, including the Speed 22, 30, or 40.
At $189, the Speed 50 was an obvious choice for our Best Buy Award. The price has been beaten by the Osprey Mutant 38, however, at a shocking $160. We couldn't give the Mutant both awards, but we did think about it. The Speed, however, is a simple pack that will fit a bit more gear than the Mutant, so this is a great pack for the mountain generalist. To pull of 3-5 day trips using the Mutant, you'll need an efficient and lightweight kit. The Speed 50, with a bit more volume, is more forgiving. As such, this pack is likely to carry you through a broader range of activities without forcing you to think twice about every item you pack into it.
This pack is the most likely candidate in this review to be a "quiver-of-one" backpack, so it gets our Best Buy Award—and highest ranks for value.
The Black Diamond Speed 50 is a very common and popular pack. We would pull this one out for a broad range of activities, from cragging to ice climbing to mini expeditions dragging sleds and spring ski mountaineering. If we were to have one pack to do literally everything we like to do, this is likely the one.
— Lyra Pierotti
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