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Reviews > Packs > Internal and External Framed Backpacks > Black Diamond Axiom 40 backpack > Test Report by Kurt Papke
Black Diamond Axiom 40 Backpack
|Height:||6' 4" (193 cm)|
|Weight:||235 lbs (107 kg)|
|Email address:||kwpapke at gmail dot com|
|City, State, Country:||Tucson, Arizona USA|
Photo courtesy Black Diamond Equipment
|Year of manufacture:||2012|
||US $ 149.95
steel, also available in Coal black
||210d Nylon Ripstop & Twill, 70 X 210d Dobby|
also available in medium
42 L, 2,563 in^3 (Large)
40 L, 2,440 in^3 (Medium)
kg (2 lb 10 oz) - Large
1.15 kg (2 lb 8 oz) - Medium
Measured: 1.31 kg (2 lb 14 oz)
The pack arrived in excellent condition
with no apparent shipping damage. A brief visual
inspection turned up no noticeable workmanship defects.
After unbuckling all the
straps and unrolling the top closure my first impression was "wow,
this is a good-sized pack". I was concerned when I
signed up for this test that I was going to have to severely
constraint my gear, but I was relieved when I saw the cavernous
main compartment as shown in the picture at left.
The callouts in the picture show the
buckles for the roll-top closure. This setup works similar
to a roll-top dry bag.
There is only one hydration port, in the
center of the pack. Most of my prior packs have had two
ports, but this looks like it will work fine.
Below the port is a hook-and-loop closure
strap to suspend a hydration bladder. I like the idea of
something more certain than just a hook, but its use will be
constrained to bladders that have a wide enough slot for the
Below that is a thin elastic hold-down
strap for a hydration bladder, as opposed to a pouch like my
other packs have. The strap is more flexible in the size
of bladders it will accommodate, but has the disadvantage that
it will not protect a bladder from abrasion resulting from
rubbing against the contents of the pack, nor will it prevent
any condensation from a cold bladder wetting the pack contents.
The photo at right shows the inside of the pack lid. It has few features, only a keychain clip to secure car keys. Frankly, this is all I ever need. I have other pack lids that have zippered compartments, map pockets, etc. that I rarely used.
There is only one lid zipper, and it worked smoothly.
I normally carry my Jetboil stove and lunch/snacks in the
lid. My Jetboil fit just fine with plenty of space for food.
The photo at left shows the sternum strap with a built-in emergency whistle.
Below the sternum strap is a hipbelt pocket with my GPS
inside. The size of the pockets were a bit disappointing for
me, I hoped they would be a bit larger. In addition to my
GPS, I could probably fit some lip balm and maybe a very small
My pocket camera barely fits into the other pocket. It'll
be interesting to see how easy it is to get the camera back in the
pocket when the hipbelt is under tension and curved from my
The various webbing straps that are visible in the picture at
left show the "sheen" that they have, which seems to coincide with
how smooth they feel to the touch. I don't feel that they
will abrade my skin, they are very slippery.
The photo to the right shows my trusty Nalgene water bottle in the right side pocket. Though lightweight hikers dismiss this type of bottle as unnecessary weight, I like them for preparing hot beverages, use as hot water bottles at night, and rehydrating food while hiking during the day. They are the standard by which I measure the utility of side pockets.
As can be seen from the photo the bottle fits, and there is a
nice strap to hold it securely in place if I feel the need.
The right side of the picture is the back of the pack, i.e. the
side that is towards my body where I will be reaching from.
Quite a bit of the bottle is exposed, which causes me some concern
about how secure it will be without the strap in place. It
may be that I will have to trade off ease of access with the pack
on for peace of mind about not having the bottle fall out on the
trail. Time will tell.
In the following table the base weight does not include the
containers for water and food. I weighed the pack before and
after loading it with consumables and their bags, bottles and
||Base Weight||Total departure
|March 30-April 1,
||Santa Catalina Mountains in the Coronado
National Forest near Tucson, Arizona
|Sonoran Desert to Ponderosa pines
||Sunny, nighttime lows about 45F (7 C),
daytime highs 90 F (32 C)
||Rincon Mountains in Saguaro National Park
near Tucson, Arizona
Heartbreak/ Turkey Loop
|Sky Island ridgelines: from rocky desert
canyons to Ponderosa Pine woodlands
||Sunny, 40-95 F
||Santa Catalina Mountains in the Coronado National Forest near Tucson, Arizona||Samaniego Ridge
|Sky Island ridgeline||Sunny, 60-85 F
|June 21-23, 2012||San Francisco Peaks in the Coconino National Forest near Flagstaff, Arizona||Mt Humphreys
|Forests to mountain peak tundra||Sunny, 50-80 F
(10-27 F), very windy especially near the peak
|July 27-28, 2012
||Santa Rita Mountains in the Coronado National
Forest near Tucson, Arizona
|Sky Island canyon
||Partly cloundy, 60-85 F (16-29 C), rain at
This is the first trail I ever hiked in
Tucson, but all my trips so far have been day hikes which limits
how much I can see. I wanted to get out for a weekend and
didn't want to drive too far, so I drove to the trailhead just 10
minutes from where I work on a Friday afternoon. I also
thought this would be a good test for the pack given the large
elevation gain/loss involved, as this trail starts in the Tucson
basin and goes all the way to the summit of Mount Lemmon, though I
didn't go quite that far.
I had loaded up the Axiom with as light a base weight I have ever
backpacked with, but with the water I added it was still on the
high side for Black Diamond's recommendation for this pack.
I didn't think I would be dry camping at least the first night,
but I wanted to see how well the pack carried my 3 L (3 qt)
Platypus reservoir (see my review of the Platypus Insulator system
on this website) and a full Nalgene.
I carry a Canon Powershot SX120 IS camera which is reasonably
compact, but with the substantial zoom lens it contains it doesn't
fit very well in the Axiom hipbelt pockets.
Also visible in the photo is the drink tube from my Platypus,
secured to the sternum strap buckle with an S-biner. This
worked extremely well. One of the pack features not listed
in the manufacturer's literature are two elastic bands on the top
of the shoulder straps that hold the drink tube away from the
neck. Overall I was extremely pleased with use of the
reservoir with the pack with one exception: on Friday afternoon I
believe the reservoir was "sweating" some from the cold water, and
the condensate dripped down wetting some of the pack
contents. Fortunately all my key gear is packed in dry bags,
a custom I have not been able to break from my long years of
Visible in the photo at right is the front pack configuration. No, the camera was not tilted, I was. In the left side pocket is my Exped Multimat (see my review of this pad on this website). Since it is quite long even after being folded in half and rolled up, I always carry it on the outside of my pack. This worked very well.
In the right pocket is my Nalgene, strapped in so it would not
fall out. I accessed it only on breaks when I removed my
pack, which was perfectly adequate given I could take a sip of
water any time from the reservoir.
The front pocket holds a lot more than I initially thought.
The fabric is very stretchy, and the black band on the top
edge is slightly less elastic which keeps the contents from
falling out. Every time I thought about stuffing something
more in there I thought "No, it won't fit", but it
did! It doesn't look too attractive all bulgy and all, but I
The hipbelt pockets were a real disappointment. About all I
could use them for was my cell phone and a candy bar. My GPS
fit in there initially, but it was just too hard to get in and
out. Part of the problem is the pockets are positioned right
over my hip bones where the belt has a high curvature, so anything
that is not flexible doesn't want to go in or out of the pockets.
The pack lid was very roomy. I was able to carry my
Jetboil, snacks for a day, my headlamp, car keys, and a few other
This pack carries wonderfully. Even though I was slightly
overloaded from the manufacturer's recommendation I still felt
very comfortable carrying the pack all day long. It fits
very tightly against my spine, almost like it is an extension of
my skeletal structure. The hipbelts held the weight of the
pack up off my shoulders perfectly -- my shoulders never got sore
The pack was plenty big for a three-day hike, and I carry a lot
of food. I am a big guy, and when I am backpacking I consume
vast quantities of food, hence the substantial delta between my
base weight and fully loaded weight (well a lot of that is water
too). I never felt like I had to cram my gear into the pack,
which is surprising since I am accustomed to much larger packs.
The roll top closure worked very well for me. I've never
had a pack with one of these before, and I really like it.
No straps to tie down, just roll and snap. Clean and simple.
I did not use the pole/ice ax loops and tie-downs on this
trip. When I first started backpacking I would often have to
stow my trekking poles by mid-afternoon as my arms would get
tired, but now that my body is conditioned to using them I propel
myself with the poles all day long. I can only see myself
using them if I needed to do a scramble that required use of my
hands, but time will tell.
hike is a popular traverse of the Eastern slopes of the Rincon
Mountains of Saguaro National Park that had been on my radar for
some time. I decided I would try and trim my baseweight and
bulk a bit for this trip, but I still needed to be prepared to
carry a fair amount of water as I didn't know if I would be dry
camping the first night.
I substituted much of my water-carrying gear from the prior hike;
the Nalgene was replaced with a Platypus 1 L soft bottle, and the
reservoir was replaced by a Pack Tap (see my review of the Pack
Tap on this site). The Axiom actually accommodated the Pack
Tap much better than my other backpack, because it was not
constrained to a reservoir pocket and the hook-and-loop strap fit
the slot in the top of the Pack Tap perfectly as can be seen in
the photo at left. The only Axiom feature that did not work
well for this was the elastic reservoir hold-down strap -- it was
just not wide enough to allow for the tilted rectangle shape of
this reservoir. This was of no consequence, as the reservoir
was packed so tight it was not about to go anywhere. The
linkage of the reservoir strap is firmly anchored to the metal
pack frame, which does a great job of transferring the weight to
my hips and off my shoulders. Though I was carrying close to
6 L (6.3 qt) of water, my shoulders did not get sore.
On the negative side the hook-and-loop
strap was just not capable of holding the weight of the filled 4 L
(4.2 qt) Pack Tap. Every time I went to retrieve the filled
reservoir or to retrieve something else from the pack the strap
had given way and the reservoir was sitting at the bottom of the
Another adjustment I made on this trip was to pack my sleeping
bag vertically instead of my normal horizontal spot at the bottom
of the pack. As can be seen in the rear
photo from the Romero Canyon trip the bottom of the Axiom is
very narrow and my bag could not be crammed in straight and it
looked very askew. By putting two stuff sacs of gear
vertically the bottom space of the pack was fully utilized and
didn't look distorted.
Another major adjustment was to substitute my Hennessy hammock
and SuperShelter for my Warbonnet Blackbird, Siltarp and Multimat
combo. This allowed me to use both Axiom side pockets for
Platy soft bottles because all components of the sleep system fit
inside the backpack instead of using up a side pocket for the mat
as depicted in the rear photo in Romero
Canyon. The Platy soft bottles worked much better in
the side pockets than the Nalgene, especially when they were not
totally full. The practice I fell into was strapping them
into the side pockets when they were completely full, then leaving
the strap unbuckled after taking one big drink when they no longer
stuck up so high. It was very hard for me to rebuckle the
straps without taking off the pack, and once the bottles were not
completely full they seemed quite secure without the straps.
This was my highest total pack
weight so far with the Axiom, due to the 8 L (8.5 qts) of water I
was carrying. I was expecting to be out for two nights, but
that was not to be. On the other hand this was my lowest
base weight with the Axiom. I had only lightweight
baselayers to sleep in, no fleece or any other cool-weather or
The Samaniego Ridge trail is one of the less-used paths in the
Catalinas, as it is poorly maintained and has a reputation for
difficulty which is well-earned. The northern trailhead is
also notoriously hard to get to as a high-clearance 4WD vehicle is
required. Fortunately my Jeep Wrangler is up to the
challenge, and I arrived at the trail head late Friday afternoon.
I hiked up the ridgeline far enough to get up to the tree
line. The Sky Islands of southern Arizona are backwards from
what I thought about mountain terrain before I moved here: the
lower areas of the mountains are treeless due to the low rainfall
and high temperatures. The trees start to appear at about
6000 ft (1800 m). I need trees to pitch my hammock sleeping
shelter. The pack lid was large enough to hold my Jetboil
plus a Subway footlong sandwich, which is my traditional "first
night on the trail" meal. The sandwich fit OK, but
arrived at camp a bit compressed.
After a comfortable night under the stars I set out early the
next morning to hike up the remainder of the ridgeline. At
about 10 AM I encountered an extremely dangerous section of trail
that required holding onto a rope attached to a sheer rock face,
then scrambling up a very steep hillside. I figured I could
get up there OK, but I was not sure I could get down safely, and
since I was hiking solo on a very isolated trail I decided to play
it safe and turn around. Thus this ended up as just a
one-night instead of the planned two-night trip.
Through it all the Axiom performed admirably. Despite the
heavy total weight, the pack never felt uncomfortable. In
addition to the Pack Tap carried on the prior hike I also had my
Platypus reservoir and my two 1 L platy bottles filled with
electrolyte drink. I was also carrying a new strap-mounted
pocket for my GPS clipped on to the hipbelt straps as can be seen
right at my waist in the photo. I had to go through some
really brushy areas where the trail is poorly maintained, and I
appreciated the Axiom's tight profile which prevented snags.
Though not visible in the photo, I continue to adjust my packing
to accommodate the narrow base of the Axiom. I normally put
my sleeping bag horizontally in the bottom of a pack, but it does
not fit that way in this pack as can be seen in the photo above
from Romero Canyon - note the big lump in the lower-left
bottom. On this trip I coiled my hammock in the bottom of
the pack which fits nicely, then put my bag just above that where
the pack is wider.
Finally, a word or two about the suspension system. The
Axiom 40 has Black Diamond's reACTIV system that features
adjustable hipbelt pivot:
I have only three words to describe this pack: tight, tight and
I am very happy with the pack so far. It carries like a
dream, and I look forward to another two months of testing
it. I have been able to exceed the recommended weight
capacity of the pack by a wide margin without any discomfort.
This was a 3-day 2-night backpacking loop hike consisting of the
Kachina, Mt Humphreys and Weatherford trails in the San Francisco
Peaks, including a summit of Mt Humphreys. We expected to be
able to replenish our water at the ski resort just before
beginning our climb up Humphreys, so my departure
weight actually underestimates my maximum weight by about
This was the first trip I used the trekking pole loops and
attachments on the pack front. I had a short walk from my
Jeep to the campsite the first night, and needed my hands
free. They worked very well, I had no difficulty in
attaching and removing the poles, and they were held snugly by the
The following photo shows a typical scene of the Axiom in use
clambering over a down tree in an aspen grove along the Kachina
Photo courtesy Derek Hansen
This was an easy overnight up to a saddle point where I
really enjoy the view, but had never camped. This was
my lightest total weight to-date with the pack, as I was not
carrying very much food and "only" 5 L (5.3 qts) of
water. This was also the first time the Axiom had to
withstand rain. It poured after I went to bed, and
though the pack was underneath my hammock and tarp, it was
very windy and the rain was coming down almost sideways, so
the pack got pretty well soaked.
In the morning I hung the pack from a tree branch and
allowed it to dry while I had breakfast. I was pleased
to observe that by the time I broke camp and put the pack
on, the back pad was quite dry, so it didn't feel clammy
against my back.
This whole hike was done with the "FREE/LOCKOUT" straps in
the FREE position. The ascent and descent were quite
steep, an average of about a 20% grade, and the pack handled
nicely in this setting. The terrain is depicted in the
following photo which shows one of the rare spots where the
trail follows a contour making the gradient visible
At the end of my four months with the pack I examined the Axiom for any signs of wear and tear. I turned up two:
The above picture is the back of the roll-top
extension. For scale purposes, the tear in the
upper-right, the largest, is about one inch (2.5 cm) in
length. I'm not sure how this happened. From the
well-defined non-ragged edges I infer that some sharp object
at the top of the pack abraded through or cut the
material. The other damage was on the lid seam:
This seemed to be ordinary wear-and-tear abrasion from
rubbing against the buckles or other hardware. Both
issues were just cosmetic, though the seam wear on the lid,
if it continues, could eventually result in an opening where
small objects could fall out, but could be easily repaired
in a few minutes with a sewing machine.
I should note that I do not treat my gear, especially items
under test, with any special consideration. Packs in
particular get thrown around a lot, into the back of my
Jeep, etc. I examined the bottom of the pack where I
have tears on my other packs from throwing them to the
ground, but the Axiom was intact.
I have grown to appreciate the suspension of this pack over
the last few months. It is a great design. I
would add to my "tight" list in the summary of my field
report that this pack is very durable - the only issue I had
was the few small tears in the roll-top fabric and abrasion
on the pack lid, and I'm not really sure how they
happened. The Axiom 40 is rugged, comfortable, light,
and holds a ton of gear. What else could I ask for
from a backpack?
My bottom line is that the Axiom will be my pack of choice
on 2-3 day outings for the foreseeable future. I
really like the comfort, and it has encouraged me to lighten
my load. On week-long trips I will revert to my larger
packs, but I intend to use the Axiom whenever feasible.
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