Can the Black Diamond Speed 22 make the grade as the ultimate fast and light alpine pack?
When I saw the adverts for the BD Speed 22 I was very keen to get a sample for review, it looked like just the sort of lightweight pack I like for Alpine and Scottish winter climbing. First up this is a small sac at 22 litres, this is about the size of the mountain marathon packs I started racing with in the 80s and smaller than the original KIMM sac. As someone who frequently gets given grief for climbing with small ‘shopping bag’ rucksacks I’ve grown quite familiar with the benefits and drawbacks of a small sac and learned to adapt my kit and packing accordingly. For me the benefits far outweigh the drawbacks, being small of stature anything that reduces extra weight on a climb is a big bonus. If you think of most winter/alpine climbs you have to schlep into the route/bivi/hut and then climb carrying your kit and a lot of that kit you carry in is going to be worn or used once you start climbing (crampons, axes, rope, harness, rack, helmet, shell jacket etc). Will it all fit? Well the photo below shows kit for a typical glacier approach and snow plod, dangerous walk;-), including bivi. Everything fitted comfortably (apart from the boots obviously) there was even room to stuff in a fleece when the approach warmed up.
Once on route the sac only needs to hold spare cloths (typically belay jacket), spare gloves, water, food, first aid kit, headtorch and perhaps bivi kit (pad, stove, food, sleeping and bivi bag). With modern kit it is amazing how small everything packs down.
So how does the BD Speed 22 cope with this scenario? Well design-wise it has several excellent features. Modern ice tool slots allow you to securely carry any type of tool easily from a classic piolet to my more normal Nomics, although I am less taken with the included velcro straps for the tool shafts, as they can freeze up, it is easy to replace them with bungee or just use the upper load compression strap as in the photo above. A simple but very effective double crampon strap with a reinforced panel behind it on the front allows crampons to be carried externally freeing up space inside and facilitating quick stowing/unpacking of crampons en route or at the beginning or end of the day. A well designed floating lid that uses two straps and a velcro strip on the lid ‘neck’ allows you to overpack for the approach (stuff a bit more food in for the hut/bivi etc) and still stash a rope securely under the lid (rope strap included). Once you reach your route the sac can compressed down so you barely notice it.
The construction of the BD Speed 22 is top notch and given the lightweight nature of the materials has proven durable so far, helped by its ‘underwelded’ seamless construction that is reinforced only in critical zones to keep it is light as possible and minimise seams that might blow out or get abraded. I’ll have a better idea of long term durability after a season of Scottish winter but things look good so far. There are a number of neat design touches; I’ve mentioned the extending lid, crampon carry straps and ‘pick pocket’ tool holders already but almost all the straps can be removed with a very simple webbing ‘larksfoot’ style attachment which also makes them easily repairable or replaceable. I’m not a big fan of waist straps so I removed just that but you could if you wished strip the lid, lid strap, waist belt, compression straps, crampon straps and remove the foam back panel for an ultralight leaders pack. Even in standard form the sac weighs in at a mere 536g, stripped it dips even lower.
In use the BD Speed 22 proved to be perfectly comfortable both on multi pitch rock routes and on more traditional alpine days. A suitably large enough haul loop made clipping it to belays a cinch and the sensibly sized lid held spare gloves, headtorch, sun glasses, a bit of food and a compact camera easily. There is also a zippered under-lid pocket with a key clip for those rarely used items such as car key and wallet. A simple port in the snow skirt allows hydration tube as well as the rope cinch strap to pass through however you decide to configure the lid and there is a velcro tab to support most hydration bladders.
Overall the BD Speed 22 is a well thought out minimalist Alpine/winter climbing sac for fast and light enthusiasts. If you tend to pack with a ‘just in case’ mentality or prefer more bulky kit then it may not suit. For myself I love it and apart from the velcro shaft straps (which is easily remedied) can think of little that needs changing. An additional lower compression strap would facilitate easier carrying of a pad on the side (I slipped a minimalist pad inside) but that’s a debatable point. In that un-ending search for the perfect alpine sac the BD Speed 22 has leapt to the top of my list.