What’s Your Alias? Mine is the New Black Diamond “Alias” Avalung Backpack


Post by WildSnow.com blogger | January 3, 2008      

Hi all, got here (Austria) with almost no glitches. Stopped by Dynafit in Munich on the way. The new gear did not disappoint; beefy freeride boot, widebody ski, other excitement.

More later. Meanwhile, I’ve got this new Avalung backpack for the trip, and it is definitely a good thing to have in avy terrain. Been evaluating the pack for about ten days and got the review done while traveling. Can publish now that I’ve got a web connection:

We can only hope, but it’s now obvious that in the near future we’re probably not going to see Avalungs built into any packs but Black Diamond’s. Yet come to think of it, that might actually be a good thing.

Word on the street is that BD makes pennies on the sale of stand alone Avalungs, so they need to sell packs to make up. Avalungs are cool, so if you’ve got the only packs in town with the innovative breathing device built in, you sell more backpacks, and can afford to keep producing Avalungs. As an entrepreneur myself I can live with that. Bummer would be if the Avalung went away because of financial issues.

Yet from a personal standpoint, I’ve been looking for more variety and what to me are improvements in the Avalung packs. Last year’s were well made and looked nice, but their resemblance to airplane luggage (zippers, foam in weird places, and ever more weight) had me pretty bummed. So yes I lived with it, all the while praying that BD could do something simple, in more the trad alpine rucksack style. You know, “need less,” “simplify,” and all that other stuff you might expect to find in a Patagonia catalog sermon.

Thus, I was excited when BD handed me their new Alias Avalung pack, had me sign a non-disclosure agreement using synovial fluid from my left knee as ink, and told me to go skiing. Ouch…. but… okay. Here be the report.

Black Diamond Alias Avalung Backpack

Alias is a fairly basic rucksack. Outside is heavy duty nylon that is still weighty, yet lighter than the 1060 ballistics nylon of the “luggage packs.” Idea here is to still eliminate worry about sharp rocks and ski edges, but be more weight conscious. I’d say the compromise works.

Backboard of our media sample is flexible foam, with no vertical stiffener or plastic frame-sheet, and no option for foam removal. If you carry lightweight loads you don’t need a vertical stay in a backpack. But, strap on a pair of Black Diamond Verdict skis with Fritschi bindings, add a rope along with a few liters of water, and you’ll be crying for vertical stability that allows you to take some weight off your shoulders.

Ideal is to have a vertical alu stay that’s removable, along with foam that’s removable so you can use it as a neck collar for first aid, or a camp seat.

After we ran this gripe by BD they said they were indeed thinking of adding a vertical stay, but as of this writing the decision to do so is still up in the air. We’ll update this review when we know. As it is, I wouldn’t call this a deal breaker, but it has to be mentioned if we’re to be true to you readers.

Black Diamond Alias Avalung Backpack

Only fancy feature (thank-you boys) is a “tool pouch” on the back of the pack that allows segregated storage of your shovel, probe, and wet skins (pouch shown in photo above). I have zero use for this since I seem to always have room for our shovel etc. in the main pack compartment. Yet this type of tool storage is probably the most requested skiing-specific pack feature, so I’ll live with it and I’m certain it will be well liked.

Black Diamond Alias Avalung Backpack

You close the pouch with a simple strap and buckle. Yep, no zipper, and that is good.

Black Diamond Alias Avalung Backpack

And your traditional style rucksack lid buckles down over everything, thus preventing your shovel handle from escaping and becoming an unguided missile in the event of a yardsale.

Black Diamond Alias Avalung Backpack

So, you arrive at the trailhead and it looks like the photo above. Epic pow, and you’re glad you have an Avalung. In the case of Alias, the ‘Lung breather tube stows in a tight zippered compartment on the left shoulder strap. It’s actually a bit too tight, which prevents easy zipping in and out — but at least makes you tend to keep the breather tube out where you can use it. As in other Avalung packs, the non-rebreathing valve is located in the shoulder strap, above your shoulder. Exhaust breath exits on the side of the pack, near the bottom, thus providing necessary separation of inhalations from poisonous carbon dioxide.

As always, we question how well we’d be able to hold the small Avalung mouthpiece in our teeth while taking a washing machine ride. Personally, I’d rather be biting on something more like a snorkel mouthpiece. Sources tell me the problem with that is that some people can’t handle having a large object in their mouths, hence the ‘Lung has to abide the smallest common denominator. Hmmm, something tells me a mod is coming.

Black Diamond Alias Avalung Backpack

Above and below, me same day as parking photo. Alias pack gets a ride.

Black Diamond Alias Avalung Backpack

Black Diamond Alias Avalung Backpack

Okay, back to more features and such. As pictured above, Alias has two small pouches on the waist belt. We love these things on any backpack. they’re sort of like having pant pockets that are easy to get to instead of buried under your layers. We’d like the Alias pockets to be slightly larger, but they’re still much appreciated and do fit any smaller digicam.

Black Diamond Alias Avalung Backpack

A puzzling feature of the Alias is that the shoulder strap stabilizers attach at nearly the same point as the shoulder straps themselves. In my view, this renders them redundant. (In photo above, the small section of shoulder strap below the lower arrow is faux, and actually sewn to the sack.) To prove my point about this, I cut off the stabilizers and noticed absolutely zero difference in how the pack rides. This would of course change if the pack had a framesheet and stay for the stabilizers to pull on. Thus, if the final production version has those we’ll revise the above opinion.

Black Diamond Alias Avalung Backpack

One of the best features of the pack is pictured above. Just a simple three-mode buckle on the side compression straps. It easily pulls tight, comes undone with a press of the fingers, and has a lock so it can’t slip.

What else? For diagonal ski carry or ice axe packing you’ll find the requisite loop, but nothing built in for strapping the upper part of the skis. Such is easily cobbled, however, so no big deal.

Inside the top compartment you’ll find a small mesh pouch with a key clip. Always nice, but we’d rather this was slightly larger and located under the top, as having it buried inside the top flap compartment can make it quite hard to access. Weight of our large torso Alias is 52 ounces. Considering this includes an Avalung, not bad. But that’s only 4 ounces less than the much heavier looking Covert panel loader model. Thus, we could see easily trimming 6 ounces off this design by eliminating the tool pouch and using lighter weight fabric or mesh for things like the interior hydration bladder partition.

By the way, the right shoulder strap does indeed have a zippered hydration tube compartment, with requisite passage hole to the pack interior. One other thing about the shoulder straps: The webbing/buckle end is sometimes difficult to grab and adjust because they’re quite short. Our solution was to melt/bore a hole in the webbing and install a thumb loop, as shown below. Final production pack might have longer straps.

Black Diamond Alias Avalung Backpack

In summary, Alias provides much more of what we like in a backpack, and less of what we like in airplane luggage. It’s my backpack of choice for Europe, because following those Euro crazies around is just the situation for having an Avalung three inches from your mouth. More, for traveling you need a pack with some volume and optional compression, which the old rucksack form factor continues to represent. In all, great!

Black Diamond Alias Avalung Backpack

And no son, you’re not stealing this one from me — at least till I get back from my Dynafit visit.


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Comments

16 Responses to “What’s Your Alias? Mine is the New Black Diamond “Alias” Avalung Backpack”

  1. Jeremy January 3rd, 2008 4:10 pm

    Great review Lou. Love that you point out negatives in your reviews from time to time. Not sure that it would ever be feasible but I for one would love to see a avalung pack that has the option to remove the avalung. Oh well gives me another excuse to have more packs.

  2. David Aldous January 3rd, 2008 4:47 pm

    Did I miss it or was there no information about pack volume in the review? Maybe that information is something you aren’t supposed to disclose yet.
    It is cool to see more options in the avalung packs.

  3. Brad Samuelson January 3rd, 2008 5:34 pm

    Once again it looks like Black Diamond ignored the ability to carry a snowboard. Bummed.

  4. Lou January 4th, 2008 12:51 am

    Brad, perhaps they’ll make a snowboard version. Reality is if they made a pack that would do everything it would weigh more and be more complex. I guess it’s a ski pack…

    David, sorry I missed the volume mention! I’ll get it and add to review. Working without an editor, please forgive me (grin). For now, it’s what I’d call a medium volume rucksack.

  5. Gareth January 4th, 2008 2:27 am

    Probably a bit OT this one, though it is europe and does concern an avalanche pack, although an ABS one.
    http://pistehors.com/news/ski/comments/0791-beware-of-tracks-avalanche-survival-story/?gid=791000

  6. Brad Samuelson January 4th, 2008 10:36 am

    I just want one Avalung integrated pack that can carry a snowboard. Is that too much to ask? My disappointment also stems from the fact that BD doesn’t make a three pole Whippet either. They just don’t love us knuckledraggers. As much as I want to dislike BD for ignoring splitboarders, I can’t–their projucts are just so damn good.

    PS I use BD’s expedition poles, raven pro ice axe, ect.

  7. Shane January 4th, 2008 11:27 am

    I hear ya’ Brad. I’ve looked at a number of otherwise sweet packs, including BD and others, and had to go with something else because of the lack of board carrying options.

    I don’t believe the weight/complexity issue is a valid excuse either. They could easily make vertical board carry straps that are removable so they wouldn’t get in the way of people who don’t need them. And weight? What are we talking, about 100-200g?

    I have a friend that took his backpacking pack to a boot cobbler who added board carry straps for him. It came out really nice. I suppose one could do the same with a Avalung pack but for what packs cost I want mine to be adequate right off the shelf.

    I love my BD Mercury mitts though. Wait a minute… I did have to re-sew the palm at the base of the thumb after the stiches wore out from carrying my board. Maybe they really don’t like us.

  8. Lou January 4th, 2008 1:38 pm

    You guys, the Alias doesn’t even have a complete diagonal ski attachment system, let alone the snowboard attachment system.

    So, as I’m not a snowboarder I’m curious as to what you guys would suggest?

    Something like the webbing on the back of a BCA pack, which allows optional straps to be easily attached?

  9. Ben January 4th, 2008 1:40 pm

    For all the boarders out there, BD has a proto snowboard avalung pack. It looks like it’ll be a good pack. Hopefully available next year.

  10. David January 4th, 2008 2:18 pm

    A nearly weightless way to allow snowboard carry (or just any bulky thing carry (mini bbq?)) would be to oppose the compression strap buckles on the sides that allow for A-frame carry. The straps would need to be long enough to reach across the pack, but nearly all packs have these side compression straps that can be used for A-frame carry and it is simple to just reverse one side of the buckles. Then the straps could be dual purpose. This can be done DIY, but it would be nice if some pack makers shipped packs this way.

  11. Shane January 4th, 2008 2:20 pm

    I’ll look forward to seeing that, Ben. Although I doubt my Dakine will need replacing by then.

    Lou, IME all that’s needed to carry a board (vertically) is a pair of horizontal webbing straps on the back of the pack, spaced apart at least 10 inches, and covered with some sort of leather or synthetic material in the areas where board edges will contact the straps. It’s such a simple addition that it really gets frustrating when manufacturers don’t add them. Bonus for skiers etc is that they act as compression straps when you’re not carrying a board.

    In some cases it’s nice to carry the board horizontally between your back and the pack (ie riding a snowmobile or during some technical scrambles when you don’t want to worry about your heels kicking the board, or if you want your center of gravity to be lower). Some Dakines are/were made so the back padding on the pack unclipped temporarily to allow it to be positioned between your body and board. That’s nice for long distances but overkill for short ones where you can just slide the board through the shoulder straps and then throw it on your back. However, if you do that often enough your edges will eventually cut through the pack straps near your hips – hence a small peice of leather etc is nice there too.

  12. Tony January 6th, 2008 11:30 am

    Lou,
    Please provide feedback to BD to put a diagnol carry system on this thing. Two additions would provide this:

    1) A daisy chain or at least some webbing loops near the top/back of the pack to which we could secure our own straps to hold the top of the skis in a diagnol carry.

    2) Have either an expandable ice axe loop or at least one big enough to put the tails of fat skis through.

    3) Have compression straps that go all the way around the back of the pack, not just on the sides of the pack, to keep skis from swinging in diagnol carry mode.

  13. Lou January 6th, 2008 11:57 am

    Tony, BD reads this so your points are well taken. The existing axe loop does expand, sorry I didn’t mention that.

    As for securing diagonal carry, just tie a small loop of 5 mil cord through the tab of webbing where the shoulder strap stabilizer attaches, then strap your skis to that. I do that on almost all my packs and it works great. Will pub a photo if I have time.

    Having the straps long enough to compress over whole pack is nice, but conflicts with modern backpack fashion. This is somewhat ironic, as remember the days when packs had so much webbing flying off them they looked like a medusa head? I hated that and called it “strapomania.” Now we have the opposite.

    Ah, the swinging of the fashion pendulum.

  14. tony August 25th, 2008 5:03 pm

    Lou, have you published a picture of the system using the cord through the webbing tab for the diagnol carry?

  15. Thalwegseeker November 27th, 2009 4:11 pm

    I can’t find a satisfactory rigging for the ice axe. Upsidedown loop and twist is still awkward and the fasteners don’t seem to be placed for good stable ride. Any hints?

  16. Lou November 27th, 2009 6:29 pm

    Sorry to say, I just jury rig it each time, usually with the upsidedown loop and twist, then under one of the lid straps.

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