First Look — Black Diamond Covert Avalung Pack

Post by blogger | September 26, 2006      

Shop for Black Diamond Avalung backpacks.

Black Diamond Covert - click image to enlarge

I’ve been working on my winter ensemble. Avalung packs by Black Diamond are beautifully made and intriguing, so I thought I’d give one a try in long-term test. A Covert model arrived yesterday — here is a firstlook. (Click image above to enlarge.)

Avalung packs come in two models. They’re from BD’s overall pack line, but include an Avalung integrated with a clean and effective tube and vent arrangement. Anarchist is a top loader with a bit more volume than the panel loading Covert, which is reviewed here. Avalung is built the same way in both. I’ve got a love/hate relationship with panel loaders. They’re easy to load and look cool in photos, but weigh more than top loaders for a given volume and do a poor job of keeping your gear dry in rain or wet snow. We’ll see what I’ve got to say after a few months of use. Promise, I’ll try to love it.

Backcountry skiing backpack detail.
Black Diamond’s attention to detail is evident everywhere. The obligatory key clip hides in a possibles pouch that’s commodious and easily accessed under the inside panel zipper. Tool loops retract inside with an easy finger pull, and strapomania is kept to pre Prozak levels with just four compression (and snowboard) straps and a pair of ski mounting straps on the back. Overall fabric and consequent weight are a bit on the hefty side for this guy, but I’ll live with it — and might even find a bit of razor blading that’ll make the Covert’s mass more acceptable.
Backcountry skiing backpack detail.
One shoulder strap has a zipper compartment for the Avalung bite tube, while the other strap holds your drinking sip tube. Other packs with built in hydration can be a challenge when it’s 2:00 AM and you’re trying to weave your tube through multiple holes and fabric layers as your buddy waits in his car outside your house. Covert has one clean hole that leads your tube from main compartment to the shoulder strap. In seconds you’ll have your tube installed and be zooming off with your bud for that big adventure. A built-in pouch holds the bladder, with a tie-tab above if you like suspending your drinking bladder so it stays flat against your back instead of folding up in a back stabbing wad.
Backcountry skiing Avalung backpack detail.
Most interesting for last: Black Diamond’s ingenious and somewhat controversial Avalung breathing device is built in. You deploy the breathing tube from a zippered pouch in the left shoulder strap. Idea is to keep it out and handy whenever in avalanche terrain, and even keep it in your mouth if you’re in an extremely dangerous situation (e.g., skiing a touchy slope.) Excellent instructions are included, as is a nose clip to satisfy government requirements for a safety breathing device, though most users will be leaving this at home. (Tests indicate the Avalung works without a nose clip, so fine. )

I’d be remiss to not offer my opinion about the Avalung as a life saver. I’ve said it before: the device is a good idea and I’ll frequently use one when climbing or skiing possible avalanche slopes. On the other hand, from personal experience I know it will not only be tough to get the mouthpiece inserted in some situations, but the mouthpiece could easily be ripped from your mouth in larger more violent avalanches. Which brings me to an idea I’ve had for some time. How about a passive Avalung? One that turns on automatically and blows fresh air in your face after you’re buried? Such wouldn’t be that hard to build…

Another avalanche safety related feature of the Covert is a nicely constructed organizer for rescue shovel, probe etcetera. This is in the rear compartment, which can thus be dedicated to carrying your rescue gear and making it quick to access. Speaking of safety and gear access, I prefer my pack’s backboard and padding to be removable for splinting and such. Covert’s is sewed in, but could easily be removed through a few quickly cut slits.

Overall impression: It wasn’t long ago that ski packs were a rare breed. That sure changed. Now an ocean of ski/snowboard packs can keep a shopper treading water for hours. But look first at the Covert and Anarchist and perhaps you’ll save some swimming time. They’re as true to being real ski packs as I can imagine…

Weight size L/XL: 55.9 oz, 1584 g

Shop for Black Diamond Avalung backpacks.


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22 Responses to “First Look — Black Diamond Covert Avalung Pack”

  1. D Weiss September 26th, 2006 6:50 pm

    Looks like a nice pack. I currently ski with the Avalung II, but I am considering the ABS pack. Sure, the ABS packs are a bit heavy, but the statistics are hard to argue with.

    Hopefully the ABS packs will eventually come down in weight and price. Only the future will tell.

  2. Pete September 27th, 2006 7:29 am

    Aren’t you suposed to try to get the pack off of you in an avalanche?

  3. Mike Marolt September 27th, 2006 1:39 pm

    Hi Lou: Have you seen BD’s latest catalogue with the Avalung section? It shows these incredible photos of people caught in major avalanches. I am just glad they had that little disclaimer in the credits that activities in this catalogue are dangerous. Because next to the other incredible photos of guys actually skiing (as opposed to possibly getting killed), those photos actually made getting caught look very survivable, especially with the Avalung. I wonder what kind of warranty the avalung comes with? But then again, I guess if you need it, the warranty doesn’t really matter anyway.


  4. Lou September 27th, 2006 3:14 pm

    Pete, nope, any normal size pack should be left on to protect your spine. Moot point anyhow, as in most avalanches you’re fighting for your life before you could think about getting a pack off. (Most victims trigger the avalanche they get caught in.)

  5. David September 30th, 2006 10:11 pm

    Hi Lou- Your idea of the passive “blower” for the Avalung is unfortunately not workable. The key feature of the Avalung in allowing you to survive a burial is not as much the air intake as it is the diversion of your exhaled breath (which contains the CO2) to your back via a unidirectional valve in the breathing circuit. This prevents the formation of an “ice mask” and rebreathing of your own CO2 (which leads to asphyxiation). Even if you had an air source blowing at your face it wouldn’t help, unless there was a way to diffuse your exhaled CO2 away from your face. For the Avalung to work, you must keep the mouthpiece in your mouth and breath out through it (not through your nose).

  6. Lou October 1st, 2006 6:10 am

    David, sure, I’m aware of how the Avalung works… indeed it might be better that the passive blower could suck the air away from your face by having a couple of tubes that were perhaps located under your chin or something, but yeah, the ice mask is problematic and keeping the Avalung tube in your mouth prevents that from being a problem.

    Anything can be improved. I’ll bet within 2 years the Avalung will be quite a bit different than it is now, and I’ll bet someone else will be selling an avy breather that’s based on a different concept, possibly passive so little or no user intervention is required.

  7. David October 1st, 2006 10:13 am

    Lou, I bet you are right. One of the MD’s who does the physiologic testing on the Avalung told me that the packs are even more effective than the original design probably just because of the placement of the exhalation vent, so I am sure that continual tweaking of the design will result in more improvements.

  8. Dave Johnson October 30th, 2006 12:58 pm

    I’m curious to get your real-world take on the Covert. I played with both the Covert & Anarchist yesterday at Marmot in Berkeley. Odd; the Anarchist (whicj I prefer) comes in a 32L in a sm./med. torso and a 42L, lg./xl torso only – no way to get a 32L in either torso size like the Covert. I guess their reasoning is that the Anarchist is designed to be a long day or overnight pack so a larger person would want the 42L. Seems kind of big for a backcountry day pack – do you agree?
    Happy trails,
    Dave Johnson

  9. Lou October 30th, 2006 1:40 pm

    Hi Dave, I used the Covert last weekend. It rides well and so forth. I guess it’s lightweight for what you get (zippers and Avalung), but the pack is quite heavy in comparison with the stripped down toploaders I tend to favor. Size is just right for a day trip without climbing gear and with helmet. Would be a bit small if you had a rope, rack, etc.

    I don’t feel like I always need to carry an Avalalung, but when I do, having it built into the pack is far superior to having it as a separate fiddly piece of gear. If you want an Avalalung I’d say there is no choice but to carry either the Covert or Anarchist.

  10. Dave November 2nd, 2006 6:18 pm

    I bought one so I’ll let you know what I think, too. I envy your early snow! The Sierra’s have been dry but it’s raining now and the weather is a changin’. By the way, what hydration bladder did you install? I was planning to oder one from BCA.

  11. AC November 28th, 2006 6:37 pm

    Hi, I was wondering if you would recommend the 22L or the 32L model for resort accessible backcountry terrain (i.e. short half day trips).

    Looking to do some BC snowboarding this season (took an Avalanche class last season) although really mellow, safe stuff for now (been talking with the locals on stuff that is good for novice BC riders). Safety is key and I hope to never use my Avalung!

  12. Lou November 28th, 2006 7:39 pm

    They’re fairly large packs, so I’d go with the smaller for resort access missions.

  13. AC December 13th, 2006 8:17 pm

    Ok, well I was playing with a 32L model at REI and I definitely think it’s a little big for resort access stuff. Secondly, this might sound weird, but I couldn’t figure out how to secure my snowboard to the pack. I followed the picture in the instructions and clip it vertically to my pack with the two compression straps, but it still swings around a bit. I tried doing it horizontally with the same result. I did pack the bag with a fleece or two. Is it just to be expected that the snowboard will swing around quite a bit?

  14. Greg January 6th, 2007 2:06 pm

    I skied with the Anarchist 42L last Saturday. I really like the pack design, but found the oxygen box in the shoulder strap uncomfortable. I’m going to give it another try, but if I can’t adjust it to avoid having the hard plastic box digging into my flesh I will have to return the pack.

    Has anyone else had this experience?

  15. Cameron February 11th, 2008 11:41 am

    I’ve also had an issue with the box in the shoulder strap digging into my back. I tried re-positioning it all day yesterday while out ski touring, with no relief. What a bummer. It seems like a design flaw in an othewise great pack. Mine is also a 42L and I’m about 5’10”, I wonder if the pack is too big and that creates a problem.

  16. Martin March 28th, 2008 6:11 pm

    I’ve never used the avalung before, but am looking at equipment for AIARE. It seems like incorporating a breathing device into a helmet would be a more elegant and secure design.

  17. Lou March 28th, 2008 11:03 pm

    Martin, yeah, many things could be done in this area. Passive systems are an idea, perhaps something that starts an oxygenc feed when the air around the face reaches a certain concentration of CO2…

  18. Andy December 16th, 2008 11:57 am

    Lou, How has your opinion changed after extended use? How has it been for helmet carrying?
    I have been on the fence about an Avalung, but am due for a new pack, and after our inbounds death this weekend here in Utah, decided that an Avalung is a good investment for the backcountry. I guess the 32L is needed for touring, but will not be comfy for resort skiing. However, since resort days are often ultra high hazard “live to ski another day” days, I am going to be more consistent about beacons and probe poles at the Bird and Alta. If more of us had probes out before the patrol arrived, who knows is she might have made it.

  19. Lou December 16th, 2008 12:30 pm

    Andy, I actually use the Alias pack model, the top loader. I just can’t get used to those panel loaders. Alias carries a helmet very nicely.

    Hear you about the probes. But best is if everyone in that kind of terrain simply had a beacon on and transmitting. That just seems like a no-brainer to me. But what do I know about ski area management? Providing diesel fuel for grooming is one thing, organizing a required beacon policy that saves lives is quite another… of course, then we can start arguing about helmets…

  20. Ken February 21st, 2009 9:43 pm

    I agree with you about the required beacon policy for that type of terrain! It would not only make it safer but would make it more enjoyable for those of us who actually should be skiing that type of terrain as it would be less skied by people who’s just don’t have the ability level to be on it. I live at Aspen Highlands and observe every day the way that people hike Highlands Bowl only to traverse back and forth down the bowl across every line so that they can say they have skied it. I have been in an inbounds slide large enough to bury a person in Highlands Bowl, fortunately I was able to ski out of it. So despite the massive carpet bombing effort that Highlands patrol puts on there is still avalanche danger inbounds. As for helmets… survival of the fittest.

  21. Anders Jonsson March 25th, 2009 10:35 am

    Hello, I just bought a Outlaw Avalung pack, and wondering about the breathing in the avalungsystem. When I breath normally, the pack sounds both on inhale and exhale very high. Should it do that? If i breath very hard it doesnt sound, but i get dizzy of breathing so much.

    thanx for all help!

  22. Lou March 25th, 2009 12:36 pm

    Anders, it’s the music of the Avalung! If it’s a concern, contact BD customer service.

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