Springtime is just barely beginning to poke its head around the corner up here in Spokane. The mountains and resorts got nearly a foot of powder last week, which was all the more reason to continue enjoying the Black Diamond Cirque 35L Pack that I’ve been testing this winter.
Black Diamond Cirque 35L Features:
- SwingArm™ shoulder straps, stretch-woven hipbelt pocket and single gear loop
- Unique CINCH closure opens or closes with a single pull
- Integrated avy tools pocket with drain holes
- Tuck-away diagonal ski carry and A-frame carry, stowable helmet flap
- Ice-tool PickPockets™, tuck-away rope strap and quick-deploy piolet system is compatible with piolets, technical tools and mixed tools
- AvaLung-Ready design accommodates AvaLung Element
- Weight: 2lb 4oz (S/M – tested)
- MSRP: $199
High-tech pack for high-altitude fun:
The foundation of most pieces of gear is the textile that it’s made out of. BD chose a 210D Dynex base fabric, which is just a different brand name of Dyneema. The 210D weight is a good combination of light weight and strengthen, and while it won’t be quite as burly as some climbing packs that features higher-denier Cordura, I think this weight is perfectly fine for a ski pack that’s not going to be abraded by a bunch of rocks. Some ultralight ski packs sit closer to a pound, so you do pay somewhat for this added durability. It’s a good balance. The only real abrasion risk with a ski pack is the ski carry system.
BD gives you two really good options to carry your skis. They’re ‘really good’ because they’re both dedicated, and aren’t trying to perform to tasks (like being a compression strap and a ski carry strap). I think this tends to increase the durability of the design. Well, I should clarify – the A-frame carry straps at the bottom are dedicated, but the ones at the top (which bear less weight) do double duty. There’s also a pull-out diagonal carry system with a nice, wide bottom loop. The top of the skis is secured with the same strap that closes the pack; I actually really like this system. I didn’t spend much time carrying skis (I will spend more this summer on volcanos) but I like how the system draws the skis in towards the top of the pack, which feels stable and secure. The flip side is that you can’t access through the top of the pack while diagonal carrying. You have to release the system.
The access to this pack is controlled by a brilliant single-pull closure which works really well most of the time. It’s easy to open the pack wide to dig around for your gear, and it closes quickly to keep spindrift out. If you’re overpacked it can be difficult to close the pack in a way that totally seals things off. One major design flaw, as I see it, is that the one external pocket is positioned directly over the closure. So the part of the closure that gets the most pressure placed on it is also the only pocket. The problem is that this can put a lot of pressure on your gear (maybe problematic if, say, you’ve got sunglasses stashed there) and also makes it difficult to access the pocket when the pack lid is cinched down. The pocket does have a sealed zip, so that’s good. Better than no pocket, but not my favorite pocket. There is a side zip, thanks BD for the added access. Purists will whine about the weight but I like it.
In use, I really like how the pack carries and how its features interface with the user. The hip belt is a particular favorite of mine; it’s made out of a very stretch material that almost feels like neoprene. It’s not, but it’s just as stretchy, so it can fit my phone AND snacks AND whatever else. The other side has a gear loop if you’re clibing around in this thing. So that’s great. I also like how the pack carries, although I can’t figure out why they’ve hyped the SwingArm suspension design. It seems like a normal pre-curved harness design to me, and I thought it carried well. Loads around 30 pounds gave me no issue with back or shoulder pain, although your mileage will vary. Pack fit is a personal thing.
There are a few other features that I loved that I need to mention. One is integration with the BD Avalung Element, which I really like having on my pack. I’m one of those users who can’t afford an airbag pack (or rather, hasn’t made the investment) so the lack of airbag compatibility on the Cirque does not bother me. The Avalung compatibility is a nice, if mostly psychological, perk. But if you’re skiing big-consequence terrain with avalanche conditions, you should be wearing an airbag and not relying on an Avalung for your insurance (that said, many skiers have survived thanks to the Avalung). That’s my two cents because it’s always better to stay atop a slide.
Other features that I love include BD’s tool attachment system. It is super easy to install your ice tools on the pack. They’re held securely top and bottom, and the picks are safely ensconced in fabric. There’s also a cleverly hidden helmet holder that pops out of the bag just above the Black Diamond logo on the back.
- Good strong but light fabric foundation
- Spacious pack that carries well and seals out the weather
- Almost all of the features are very well executed
- I like the quick access system for the avy tools
- Carrying skis in A-frame or diagonal both work well, and it’s easy to put your tools on
- Avalung compatibility is a plus for me
- Frustrating that it’s hard to access the top of the pack when in diagonal carry
- Inconvenient placement of the zippered outer pocket
The Bottom Line: Black Diamond Cirque 35L
I really like this ski pack, and I think it’ll be with me for many seasons in the future. There’s enough room for all the gear you need, and it’s easy to get out the rescue gear when you need it. It carries comfortably both with skis and without, and this, coupled with the thoughtful features, makes for a pack that’ll come with me again and again.
Buy now: Available from Backcountry.com