Gear Review: Black Diamond Sphynx 42L pack

Score: 4.5
(1=give it away, 5=pry it from my cold, dead fingers)

Originally, I planned on using this pack for one five-day backcountry ski tour, and a second, larger pack for the second five-day ski tour, and then write a comparison review. (Both of these tours are described in the Backcountry Skiing section. - Chris) But I couldn’t. I just couldn’t. The pack fit me so well, carried my gear so perfectly, that I couldn’t give it up on the chance that the other pack would only make me suffer.

First, this pack is designed well. It is top-down loaded, meaning that the things you need least get packed first. It also means that the space available can be completely utilized without trying to negotiate around dividers or worry about zippers busting open. It has a hydration pocket following the back, and the sewn on lid features a single pocket on the bottom and a large pocket on the top. On the outside it has two compression straps, a pair of ski-tail straps, and a sleeve/Velcro system for securing ice tools, axes, or mixed tools. Attachments were available add straps for crampons. The fabric seems to be a great compromise between abrasion resistant and light-weight.

Second, it fits well. The pack is offered in two volumes with matching sizes. The 32L is meant for backs 17-20 inches long, and the 42L is for backs 20-23 inches. Interesting, since Wayne Gregory measured my back last September I knew I had an 18.5-inch back. But the 42L pack seems to fit me perfectly, and I had no complaints about the comfort of the larger pack.

I was able to fit in a 20-degree down sleeping bag, a 2-man tent body and fly, a liter of fuel, food for five days, ½ liter of water, first-aid and repair kits, shovel, probe, emergency rescue sled, and spare clothes into the body of this thing. A couple of days I also carried the rope, secured by the rope strap under the lid. My foam pad was strapped to the left side. In the bottom lid I kept my wallet, keys, compass, toothbrush and toothpaste. In the top of the lid were my sunscreen, another ½ liter of water, a spare hat and gloves, and various bits and bobs.

The picture is from the first day of the second tour. Everything fit inside – another criteria of mine – and it really fit me.

And it skis great – I never had problems with it throwing me around, loosing balance, or dragging me toward the tails. Something that I can’t say for the packs a few of my clients were using.

To save weight on summit pushes (which never happened on these trips), the back panel can be pulled out and the padded hip belt can be replaced with a two-inch, unpadded strap and buckle that comes with the pack. I used this pack with the padded strap and a ice-screw quick clip slid into one of the convenient sleeves (like a BD Blizzard harness), as a utility holster for my camera, water bottle, ski crampons, etcetera. I’m probably going to take that two-inch strap and put it on my BD Speed 28L pack instead.

I keep looking for simpler and simpler designs – and this one is pretty simple. The only thing I wanted was for the compression straps to be two inches longer so that I didn’t need to fight so much to strap my foam pad in. I think it will work perfect for overnight alpine climbs this summer. I was going to buy a 55L pack for the Sierra High Tour (a seven-day trip) that I’m going to ski twice in May, but now I think I’m going to wait until this summer, when I’ll really need the extra space to pack a full rope and rack and supplies for a five-day trip.

Statistics: Black Diamond Sphynx 42L (2563 cu. in.). Stock weight 1.41kg (3lbs 2oz), stripped weight 950g (2lb 2oz). SRP $149.95 USD.