WildSnow Avalung Take – 2009 – Alias Pack Version

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This post by WildSnow.com blogger  

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.

Alias Avalung backpack.

Louie in this season's Colorado pow, with his Black Diamond Avalung at the ready.

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.

Black Diamond Avalung backpack

Patch we added to protect pack during diagonal ski carry.

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.

Shop for Black Diamond Alias Avalung backpack

Comments

15 Responses to “WildSnow Avalung Take – 2009 – Alias Pack Version”

  1. The Adventure January 21st, 2009 12:53 pm

    Great review!
    I’m considering to buy one myself.

  2. George January 21st, 2009 12:55 pm

    Louie,

    I like the pack but like the skis even more. A young fit guy like you on Goode skis… I guess you don’t want to ski with your Dad anymore. Which Goode are your riding?

    tks
    GP

  3. dave January 21st, 2009 1:30 pm

    how is that “at the ready” in the picture?
    thanks
    d

  4. Mark January 21st, 2009 3:29 pm

    Louie,
    Do you like your leashes (pictured)? I don’t use ‘em, but have three different types which might be used in the future in crevassed terrain.

    Mark

  5. Tony January 21st, 2009 3:34 pm

    On my Alias, I extended the top compression strap to go all the way around the pack. That helps keep the ski from sifting during diagnol carry. I also added a second ice axe loop so I can carry both skis and axe.

  6. Bryce January 21st, 2009 8:13 pm

    Talked to a Black Diamond sales rep today at the OR show’s on-snow demo and he told a pretty wild Avalung story: Said a couple of days ago, an entire party (of 3) was buried with Avalungs and beacons … one self-rescued then found and dug out both of the others, who both survived.

    I’m sure we can count on BD to give us all of the Avalung-relevant details on this asap, but in the meantime, anybody else heard about this and know more?

  7. Lou January 21st, 2009 9:14 pm

    Bryce, that news item is in my Twitters to right…. I was told by insider that it would be best not to try and publish the story till the official CAIC report was published, as it had some pretty wild components. We all want things like Avalungs to work, so I think that when the device does play a role in a survival we may start hearing some pretty hysterical accolades (if this is that or not, we don’t know yet). What we’ll probably not hear as much of is how many people are wearing one and die anyway. Helmets are similar in that way.

  8. Louie January 21st, 2009 9:36 pm

    Actually those skiis are my moms, mine were out in the garage when the picture was taken after we finished the patch, and I didn’t feel like going out and geting them

    I only wish I had some goodes, they are sweet skiis, if you can afford them.

  9. Mom January 22nd, 2009 3:29 am

    Hey, you boys keep your hands off my Goodes!

    Mark, I don’t recommend the leashes. I’ve been looking for a light clip that works with gloves and Lou says the clips shown aren’t strong enough. I now use just the small metal piece on the end of the looped cord. It’s light but I always have to take off my gloves to put them on.

  10. Mark January 22nd, 2009 5:25 am

    The clips look like some we sell from Nite Ize of Boulder? Oh, and the B and D crampon locks (I think I see those on the Goodes pictured) are on my list. Had a day on super wind crust recently that involved sliding with crampons deployed. Need those crampon locks!

  11. Lisa January 22nd, 2009 5:39 am

    Mark, yes, those are Nite Ize clips. The crampon locks work super well. I’m lucky to have such a nice set up.

  12. Matt Kinney January 22nd, 2009 5:49 pm

    Some comments on the BD Avalung system, of which I have the Anarchist and about 60 days pounding on it.

    The buckles are too small requiring me to remove gloves to release and connect. …bummer. What’s wiith all the tiny, dinky straps and snaps? Looks like the same ones on the Alias. My last BC pack had big buckles and I could transition without removing thick gloves or mittens. (maybe they could fix this and call the next pack the Arthritist!!!)

    I strap my skiis on the sides – A-frame style. Goes quick,no hassles, and no loose swing weight. and …reduces snagging if booting in brush. The Anarchist and the Alias allow this option.

    Be careful with the mouth piece that it does not get packed with snow if you have it out and ready, but not in your mouth while skiing. This is an issue in deep powder skiing, after falling (which I never do!!), or just taking your pack off during a break and resting it on the snow. Just keep an eye on it if you like it out all the times and clean it. Snow does pack into it and solidify. Moisture can get down in it where you can’t see or tell, then freeze up when you least suspect it and impair full use. So when you dry it at home after hard use, give it a good inspection and hang it upside down so any water can drain out. Happens.

  13. Taku January 22nd, 2009 8:12 pm

    Instead of messing around with sewing a patch on (and I have messed around with quite a few over the years) using Shoe Goo or Aqua Seal, with or without a piece of Cordura has worked well to prevent holes worn in fabric. Might be a little stiff, but it has lasted quite a few years on pack fabric. Thanks for the Alias review, might just have to pop for one next year.

  14. Kim November 7th, 2010 8:10 pm

    Here’s a problem that bugs me eveytime I go out touring.

    I have a map (usually a colour photocopy of a larger map) so I know where I am going. I have a tour plan, so I know how I am going and what options I have. I have my field book so I can remind myself of the avalanche forcast and make obs – and a pencil! My compass to go with the map and to measure slope angle. If they go in the pack I need to stop, unpack, repack, load up and go – can’t be bothered. If they go in my shell, I take it off and pack it to skin. They don’t fit in the fleece pockets. The hip pockets on the pack have food and camera. Pants pockets are too small and things rub in annoying places. Aaaaarghh!

    I am going to try a Rite in the Rain belt pouch (http://www.riteintherain.com/ItemForm.aspx?item=C540F&Category=f24655d9-8888-44f2-a4b5-8866e468a1e8) on the straps of my pack’s waist belt.

    What other solutions do people use to overcome this problem? Or am I just overly pedantic :?

  15. Lou November 8th, 2010 7:14 am

    Kim, I’ve found that a combination of the hip belt pockets on the pack and pockets on my soft shell do the trick. What makes it all work is the camera cases I always mount on my shoulder strap up high, to hold a point-and-shoot. Using soft shell with big “napoleon” pockets is also key, instead of pockets that get covered by the hip belt. Also, I’d say that some of the stuff you’re talking about just might have to live in the backpack…

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Welcome to Louis (Lou) Dawson's backcountry skiing information opinion website and e magazine. Lou's passion for the past 45 years has been alpinism, climbing, mountaineering and skiing -- along with all manner of outdoor recreation. He has authored numerous books and articles about backcountry skiing and is well known as the first person to ski down all 54 of Colorado's 14,000-foot peaks, otherwise known as the Fourteeners! Books and free back country news and information here, and tons of Randonnee rando telemark info.

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