I’ve been using Black Diamond outdoor equipment since the early 1990s when I started exploring caves and rock climbing in Kentucky and West Virginia. In fact, most of my rock climbing rack is composed of cams, carabiners, stoppers, hexentrics, and belay devices — all made by Black Diamond. They make superb products and have never let me down. When my partner, Kate, and I climbed the Grand Teton in 2015, I noticed that our guide had a really nice, bright yellow, minimalist mid-sized pack and that it was made by Black Diamond. When I asked him about it, he told me he absolutely loved it. The pack I used on that trip was my old Gregory Massif (since discontinued) which was great for backpacking, but suboptimal for climbing in that the suspension system and aluminum backstays interfered with my helmet when looking straight up the rock face.
After we summited and descended, I contacted the company and ordered a Black Diamond Speed 40 pack. At $189 on Amazon, the Speed 40 falls in the middle of the pack in terms of price as 40L mountaineering packs generally cost between $169 (reasonable) and $240 (premium), with some, like the ultra-premium Hyperlite 2400 Southwest costing $320. I’ve used this pack regularly over the past six years for both climbing and backpacking and found it delivers excellent performance at an affordable price point. Here’s why it might be your next hiking backpack of choice.
I ordered the Black Diamond Speed 40 Pack directly from the manufacturer and it came in a plain cardboard box via UPS with minimal packaging. Black Diamond was originally started by famed alpinist Yvon Chouinard as Chouinard Equipment in the 1950s when he started making his own pitons on a small forge. As Chouinard turned his focus to running Patagonia, Chouinard Equipment was purchased by employees, renamed Black Diamond Equipment, and relocated from California to Utah. I bring this up because Chouinard’s environmentalism is still in the company’s DNA, and Black Diamond — a founding member of the Outdoor Industry Association’s Climate Action Corps — has a robust recycling and sustainability program. All of this to say I appreciated the minimalist packaging.
The Speed 40 comes in two colors: bright-ass yellow (they call it Sulfur) and dark grey (Graphite). I chose bright-ass yellow because, if I ever got swept in an avalanche (heaven forbid), I wanted to be more easily seen and tracked so my climbing partners would better know where to start digging. (Obviously, avalanche beacons help in this effort and you should always carry one per person if moving through snowy terrain where avalanches are possible).
How we tested the Black Diamond Speed 40 pack
As I mentioned above, I’ve owned and hauled the Speed 40 around over the past six years on rock climbing trips to the crags and on multi-day backpacking treks along the Appalachian Trail. Most recently, I took it along on a trip to do some hiking in the Northern Cascades National Park. I’ve owned the Speed 40 so long that I’ve had to make several minor repairs to it, and it’s still going strong.
I have a nine-point criterion for evaluating backpacks:
- Water resistance
- Ease of use
Capacity: The Speed 40 is so named because it holds 40 liters of equipment — 2,440 cubic inches to be exact. I’ve used it to carry backpacking loads, sustaining up to six or seven days (I pack light, so keep that in mind), and alpine climbing for three to four days. Black Diamond also makes the Speed Pack in 22-, 30-, and 50-liter variants — so you have a lot of options to meet your needs.
Weight: While not the lightest 40-liter pack on the market, the Speed 40 offers better-than-average lightness for its volume. The small/medium pack weighs 2 pounds 8 ounces (1190 grams) and the medium/large pack weighs 2 pounds 9 ounces (1210 grams).
Durability: Durability and weight are typically proportional — the heavier and more abrasion-resistant the materials, the heavier the pack. The trick is to make a durable pack out of lightweight materials, and this is an area where the Speed 40 shines. The pack’s body is made from 210 denier ripstop nylon and the bottom is made from 420 denier abrasion resistant nylon — right where you need it. I’ve carried this pack for hundreds of miles over the past six years and have noticed no unusual durability issues except that: 1) I had to re-sew one of the non-structural attachment loops near the top of the shoulder strap after hanging one-liter water bottles from it while hiking, and 2) I had to re-glue the nylon webbing to the Velcro on both ice axe retention straps after several years of use. Both of these were easily solved minor issues and did not impact the functioning of the pack.
Comfort: The Speed 40 isn’t the most comfortable pack I’ve ever owned, but it is pretty damn comfortable. Keep in mind that more padding and cushioning means more weight, and more weight means more load, and more load means more fatigue over many miles. I prefer to carry as light a load as possible, so the Speed 40 provided me with sufficient comfort for its size. I find it to be more comfortable in the fall, winter, and spring when I’m wearing more clothing layers on my torso. During the super gross sweaty summer months when I’m wearing only a Capeline t-shirt, I notice some chafing from the shoulder straps. The hipbelt and shoulder straps are ergonomically designed and well-considered. They’re not cushy, but they’re sufficient. If you’re looking for a plush ride, you might look for another option — knowing you’ll also be carrying more weight.
Design: The Speed 40 has been around since its debut as an alpine climbing pack in 2013. It’s a minimalist design (which I prefer) that offers one main central compartment and a top pocket with two storage areas. That’s it. The Speed 40 eschews all the other unnecessary add-on pockets and superfluous compartments so many pack makers include. Every additional zipper and pocket adds more weight, and the Speed 40 keeps that nonsense to a bare minimum. One of the cool features of this pack is the ReactiV suspension system where the shoulder straps are connected through the bottom of the pack with a bike cable to allow for increased range of arm motion. This is super helpful when climbing as the pack keeps the load evenly distributed on your shoulders and allows for more freedom of movement. The shoulder straps also feature a chest strap. The hipbelt is lightweight and strippable should you want to remove it. It features a nice buckle and two gear loops — one on each side — for racking climbing gear and ice screws. The sturdy back panel is padded with foam and has a flexible plastic internal frame support with three aluminum stays. The top pocket or ‘brain’ is both floating and strippable as well. The brain has a main compartment accessible from the outside and another zippered pocket in the inside — to include a snap tether for car keys. The top of the main body of the pack sports a drawstring storm skirt, and the interior has a water reservoir retention pocket that has a bottom cutout to allow you to also stow your tent poles vertically in the same pocket. The pack is designed with a low cylindrical profile to keep the load close to your body to increase your balance when climbing. The top also features a rope retention strap, allowing you to carry a climbing rope securely between the top of the main compartment and brain. The exterior features side compression straps, ice axe retention loops, and 20mm crampon straps.
Water resistance: The Speed 40 is weather-resistant to light precipitation but not waterproof. I strongly recommend you line the main compartment with a plastic garbage bag or lightweight waterproof compressible stow bags — especially for that down sleeping bag!
Versatility: The Speed 40 is specifically designed for alpine mountaineering, and I’ve also used it for multi-day backpacking trips and day-long rock climbing trips. Heck, you could even use it for domestic or international travel.
Ease of use: As a minimalist alpine pack, the Speed 40 has everything you need and nothing more. It’s super easy to use and doesn’t have any weird connections or adjustments.
Value: The Speed 40 offers a tremendous amount of utility at a mid-range price point. While the MSRP is $189.95, I found it on Amazon recently for $131.76 which is an absolute steal! You will be very hard-pressed to find a better alpine pack at that price.
What we like about the Black Diamond Speed 40 pack
I love this pack — especially for climbing. It’s a versatile, lightweight, low-profile pack that has great capacity, durability, and comfort. The 40-liter pack seems to be the sweet spot for me in terms of cube for one- to four-day climbs and up to six days of backpacking. The design is simple, and I really like the top-loading configuration. I also dig the ReactiV shoulder strap suspension system and the lightweight yet rugged internal plastic framesheet with metal stays. I also like the solid gear loops on the hip belt, the side compression straps, and the retention straps for ice axes and crampons. Oh, and I forgot to mention, it also has a haul loop at the top of the shoulder suspension which is super handy. I also like the price. At a sub-$200 price point, this is a hell of a pack. At $137, it’s a steal.
What we don’t like about the Black Diamond Speed 40 pack
The only thing I don’t like about the Black Diamond Speed 40 is the occasional chafing I get from the shoulder straps on day-long hikes on really hot, sweaty days in the summer. My experience is that this is inevitable with most packs under such conditions. On drier summer days and in the fall, winter, and spring — when I’m wearing additional layers — I notice no chafing whatsoever.
The Black Diamond Speed 40 is an outstanding alpine mountaineering pack that will also interest backcountry skiers, ice and rock climbers, and backpackers. It delivers exceptional performance at an affordable price.
The Speed 40 has had several design changes since I purchased it in 2015. I heard both the shoulder straps and thermoformed back panel have been redesigned since, but can see no appreciable difference in the current website photos.
FAQs about the Black Diamond Speed 40 pack
More questions? Here’s Task & Purpose’s additional brief.
Q. How much does the Black Diamond Speed 40 cost?
A. MSRP is $189.95, but it’s currently available for cheaper on Amazon.
Q. Does the Black Diamond Speed 40 come with a raincover?
A. No, but one is available separately.
Q. Is the Black Diamond Speed 40 hydration system compatible?
A. Yes, it has a water reservoir retention pocket on the inside of the main compartment and a cutout to allow the tube to pass through just above the neck of the pack.
Q. Does Black Diamond guarantee their products? (H3)
A. Yes, their packs are warranted for one year from the date of purchase.
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Joe Plenzler is a Marine Corps veteran who served from 1995 to 2015. He is a backcountry expert, long-distance backpacker, rock climber, kayaker, cyclist, wannabe mountaineer, and the world’s OK-est guitar player. He is currently section-hiking the Appalachian Trail with his partner, Kate Germano. He supports his outdoor addiction by working as a human communication consultant, teaching at the College of Southern Maryland, and helping start-up companies with their public relations and marketing efforts.
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