I have had a Black Diamond Avalung for a few years now, the type that is not integrated into a backpack. I hardly ever use it because it just adds another thing to unbuckle and take off when I stop to change layers. That is over with, as this year I finally got my hands on an Alias Avalung pack, which eliminates the hassle since the Avalung is integrated into the shoulder strap.
I chose the Alias pack, which we reviewed last year; however they have made quite a few changes from last year’s model, which make it much better. It has a more tapered bottom section than the previous model, which helps when the pack is mostly empty so it doesn’t sag over your butt. Black Diamond also added an aluminum stay in the back panel (you can remove this to reduce weight, but it does help the pack keep its shape and carry better). The straps that hold the top flap down have been moved to a lower part of the pack. We made this modification to last year’s pack, because the top flap could not be cinched down far enough when the pack was almost empty. Nice to see our mods become stock!
I like top loader packs because they’re more reliable than packs that use zippers as the closure method, and Alias seems to be sturdily constructed. Also, top loader packs are usually lighter weight, which is important, especially when you add the weight of an Avalung. Thus, Alias is the lightest pack for its volume in the BD Avalung pack lineup.
Alias has small zippered pockets on the waist belt. I love having these, they’re the perfect place to keep things that you want to have easy access to, like an inclinometer or sunscreen. I also like the avalanche tools pocket on the outside of the pack. It is super big, and can fit any avy shovel along with a bunch of other stuff. The strap can go over or under the top flap, so it can carry something like a large rope or an extra layer that won’t fit in the main pack body.
The compression straps on the side of the pack work extremely well, which combined with the new, more tapered bottom, make the pack ride nicely when mostly empty. This is great because I would like to have an Avalung on the ski area on high danger days or days when I might be going out of bounds — but my dorm room is too small for yet another piece of gear.
One feature that I have found super useful is the strap that holds the shovel pocket closed. The strap is similar to those on many climbing packs that are designed to hold a rope. It can be routed either under the top flap, if you don’t need it to hold something big, or it can be put over the top flap. On a recent trip I was able to hold my sleeping bag and pad on the outside of the pack easily with the strap, allowing me to bring the somewhat small Alias pack on an overnight hut trip instead of carrying two backpacks.
Like most backcountry packs, the diagonal ski carry system on the Alias Avalung is not as good as it could be. Instead of the included loop to strap the skis to, I put a ski strap anchor through the place where the shoulder strap attaches, which makes the skis flop around a lot less. Nonetheless, after a few hikes up Highland Bowl my ski edges were wearing through the pack fabric, so I decided to sew a patch of tougher fabric for wear protection. After several hours with our cranky sewing machine, I was able to add the patch that is pictured below, It only ads about half an ounce (not including the mess of thread that I tried to attach it to the pack with), and I hope it will provide enough toughness to keep my Alias in one piece.
While not immune to the need of modification (like every other piece of gear I own), the Alias Avalung pack does pretty well. Black Diamond did a good job at making the pack as minimal as possible while still providing excellent features. This is my new go-to pack for deep winter days, and some spring adventures as well.
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