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Reviews > Packs > Internal and External Framed Backpacks > Black Diamond Elixir 60 pack > Test Report by Theresa Lawrence

BLACK DIAMOND ELIXIR 60 PACK
Test Series by Theresa Lawrence
Initial Report - April 8, 2015

Field Report - June 22, 2015
Long Term
Report - August 31, 2015


TESTER INFORMATION

Name: Theresa Lawrence
Email: theresa_newell AT yahoo DOT com
Age: 37
Location: Sparwood, British Columbia, Canada
Gender: Female
Height: 5 ft 8 in (1.73 m)
Weight: 130 lb (59 kg)
Torso Length:19.5 in (50 cm)
Waist Measurement:29 in (74 cm)

I have more than 15 years of backpacking experience. Day hikes and 2-3 day backpacking trips take place on most weekends throughout the year while longer trips are only occasional. I backpack predominantly in mountain terrain (Coast Range, Cascades and Canadian Rockies) with the goal of summiting peaks. Activities I use my gear with include mountaineering, ski touring, rock climbing, kayaking, biking, trail running, Search and Rescue and overseas travel. I like my gear to be reasonably light, convenient and simple to use though I would not claim to be a lightweight hiker.

Initial Report - April 8, 2015

PRODUCT INFORMATION


Manufacturer:Black Diamond Equipment, Ltd.
Manufacturer's URL:www.blackdiamondequipment.com
Year of Manufacture: 2015
Made in:
The Philippines
MSRP: $219.95 USD
Sizes Available:S, M
Size Tested: S received but will be exchanging for M
Listed Weight: 3 lbs 3 oz/ 1.47 kg (S), 3 lbs 4 oz/ 1.49 kg (M)
Measured Weight: 3 lbs 3 oz/ 1.47 kg (S)
Total Capacity:
3,539 cu in/ 58 L (S), 3,661 cu in/ 60 L (M)
Colors Available:
Titanium Berry/ Vapor Azur 
Color Tested: Vapor Azur 
Images from manufacturer's website:

DESCRIPTION & FIRST IMPRESSIONS                                                                                   

The Black Diamond Elixir 60 pack is a multi-day pack designed for women. According to the manufacturer's website, the women's small fits a torso size of 15.5-18.5 in (39.4-47 cm) and a waist of 30-35 in (76-89 cm), while the medium fits a 17.5-20.5 in (44.5-52 cm) torso and 34-39 in (86-99 cm) waist. I had a bit of trouble with this sizing chart because my waist was too small for either category, but I completely missed the mark on my torso. It was pretty clear that my torso was too long for the small pack. As such, it was not surprising that the padding on the shoulder straps barely covered my shoulders and the neck strap was positioned for decapitation. I am looking forward to trying the medium size because the pack has many impressive features, which I will explain here. 

First off, this pack is quite light in comparison to other packs I've used of this size. Contributing to the lack of weight are the 120d ripstop nylon and 240d nylon materials used. The craftsmanship appears professional and of a quality that gives me no concerns at this time. There is a water-resistant coating, which leads me to believe this pack can take some ill weather. The question I will try to answer is just how much?!

Secondly, this pack presents with some of Black Diamond's ingenuous backpack engineering. Namely, the reACTIV suspension and SwingArm. Specifically, the hip belt is not sewn to the pack itself and the shoulder straps are connected by a single strap that links them through the bottom of the pack. In a nutshell, this design is supposed to make my backpacking experience more comfortable and allow me to move through uneven terrain without the load on my back being redistributed. This is very intriguing to me as I think about some past moments when I've been put off balance by my pack gravitating to a direction other than my own and the repetitive friction and abrasion caused by fighting against a moving load with each step. If my understanding is correct, this pack will stay in place, while the shoulder straps and hip belt are free to move with my movements. Much will be revealed in the field report as to how this theory transfers to the stage.

Thirdly, pockets. I love places to put things and I love when they are accessible on the trail. So far, I've noticed two hip pockets and some rather large pockets on either side of the pack. The photos above do not really do them justice. These side pockets are really quite large. I was sorry I didn't take a photo of the pack before I shipped it back. One will just have to wait until the field report for a better specimen for observation. There is also a sizable zippered compartment/pocket on the outside (front) of the pack and this houses a mesh organizer pocket on the inside. The pack is top loading, but there is a zippered access to the sleeping bag compartment and the top lid has 2 zippered pockets as well. A hydration compartment is also provided, along with a retractable ice axe loop and various compression straps.  

SUMMARY

Overall, my initial impressions of the Elixir 60 backpack are quite positive and I am very much intrigued by the 'active suspension' claims offered with this pack. How it feels and acts in the field will be revealed in time. I have some reservations with regards to size and if the medium that is forthcoming will be a good fit for me. In all honesty, I felt the sizing chart did not make it an obvious choice for sizing and I am worried that the hip belt will be too big. Off the get go, this pack appears to have a number of features I find pleasing, from all sizes of pockets to a weather-resistant finish. I intend to find and present all the perks and quirks of this pack over the course of my adventures backpacking in the mountains over the next few months. 
 

Field Report - June 22, 2015


FIELD CONDITIONS                                                                                   

So far I've only been able to take this pack on one 3 day 2 night trip into the Ten Lakes Scenic Area in Montana. About 30 km (18.6 mi) was covered in alpine terrain. The maximum elevation was 2256 m (7400 ft). There was a lot more snow than anticipated. Over half of the mileage clocked on this trip was post-holing through deep wet snow. I was also engulfed in a couple of thunder storms with torrential rain. The storms seemed to appear out of nowhere and moved on just as quickly as they came. The rest of the time it was either cloudy or dry, hot and sunny. Temperatures reached a balmy 28 C (82 F) and a low of 7 C (45 F) overnight. 

FIT AND COMFORT                                                                       

It took a while to receive the medium size and so I was only able to get one trip up to this point with this pack. The medium size was definitely the correct size and fits my torso well. So far, I have found the shoulder straps and waist belt to be quite comfortable with adequate padding. Adjusting for size was easy and could be done on the trail. The left and right shoulder straps are essentially connected to each other by one strap. So, when I bend sideways slightly to the right, the left shoulder strap pulls the right one shorter. This felt really strange and took a bit of getting used to. I'm undecided whether this was helpful or not. I found myself constantly adjusting the shoulder straps as I kept feeling like they had slipped and moved, but they hadn't. I also felt with the shift, all the weight transferred to one shoulder or the other, which made one shoulder feel more labor, not less. I'm wondering if this feeling will become less the more I use the pack. 

PERFORMANCE IN THE FIELD                                                                          

As I mentioned above the constant movement of the straps transferring weight from one shoulder to the other has thus far made the experience seem more labor intensive. I believe the idea behind this design is that it keeps the pack on the back preventing the pack from swinging and having to make compensatory movements making a more efficient experience, not to mention less abrasion potential. Because I wasn't pounding along on a nice flat trail and instead was post-holing through deep wet snow, I was constantly off balance as one foot would manage to stay on top of the snow while one foot would punch through deep into the snow, which could not be predicted or prepared for. So, I did spend hours hiking in conditions that really tested this theory. And at this time, I cannot say this design has added to the experience. I believe the pack still moved as gravity cannot be surmounted. If it wants to pull the pack to the side, it will. I actually found it gave the sensation that the pack was always moving, even though a lot of the time it was just the shoulder straps. It is different and it may just need some getting used to.
 


I mentioned we had endured a couple of thunder storms with torrential rain. During that time the pack was rained on and the fabric beaded up nicely and all the contents remained dry. This made my day. Also nice, were the hip pockets, which were actually big enough to carry my Olympus Rough TG3 camera. The side pockets also proved to be very useful carrying my bear spray and my map. These side pockets were very useful as they could accommodate many sizes of objects regardless of how full the pack was. The tightening mechanism with a cord-lock was really handy and much preferred to the stretchy fabric that always snags and tears on some of my other packs. The pocket zippers have nice big grips making them easy to open, which was appreciated. The top lid pocket was a nice size and adjustable, accommodating my usual storage of easy access items such as my beanie, sunglasses, headlamp and gloves. The hydration pocket fits like a glove preventing any movement from my hydration bladder. There were hangers to secure it in place as well. The hydration hose fits under a loop on the shoulder strap, which kept it out of the way when hiking. The only problem I found was that I couldn't use one of my bladders because of the permanently attached hose that had a bite-lock nozzle that was too big for the designated hole. So, I had to use my bladder that had a removable hose that I could feed the other end through the small opening instead of the nozzle which didn't manage to fit. The large front pocket with the organizer pockets was an enjoyable feature with its vertical zipper making items very accessible (see photo above). The pack also compressed down quite well when all the camp items were out of it and I was using it as a summit pack. The compression straps, though, were very narrow and had really tiny clasps that kept pinching my fingers and were difficult to open. Since I didn't need to open them very often,  it was only a minor nuisance and the lighter weight they offered was much appreciated. I have not used the top lid pocket as a waist pouch yet, but will try in my upcoming trips. I did secure my poles briefly to the outside of my pack, which seemed to work well enough with the designated attachment points. 

SUMMARY                                                                                  

At this point I would say I need more time with this pack to really evaluate the reACTIV Suspension and SwingArm. I may even need to go back to one of my other packs to understand the advantages being offered. I will have a lot more experience to add after my upcoming 5 day backpacking trip in Mount Assiniboine Provincial Park, another 4 day trip into Kootenay National Park and some other weekenders. Desirable features that have not gone unnoticed were the water resistant finish, comfortable padding and functional pockets that were well positioned and useful. Check this site again in another 2 months and I should have some more exciting details to add. 

Likes
- Water resistant finish
- Comfortable shoulder and hip padding
- Functional side and hip pockets
- Front organizer pocket with vertical zipper
- Adequate compression straps allowed the pack to accommodate small loads

Dislikes
- Hydration hose opening was too small
- Unsure about the reACTIV Suspension and Swing Arm (more movement perceived)


Long Term Report - August 31, 2015

LONG TERM FIELD CONDITIONS                                                                     

Over the past couple months I have trekked over 200 km (124 mi) and climbed more than 13000 m (42651 ft) of elevation with this pack. If that doesn't make up my mind about this pack, nothing will. 

Vimy Peak, Waterton National Park, Alberta
(2 days, 1 night) 
Distance: 30 km (18.6 mi). Elevation Gain: ~1100 m (3600 ft). Maximum Elevation: 2385 m (7825 ft).
Temperatures: 15 C (59 F) to 34 C (93 F). Weather: dry and sunny, light breeze.
Trail Conditions: overgrown forest trail and alpine scrambling, scree.
Mt. Assiniboine Provincial Park, British Columbia
(5 days, 4 nights)
Distance: 110 km (68 mi). Elevation Gain: ~ 7000 m (22960 ft). Maximum Elevation: 2822 m (9259 ft).
Temperatures: 9 C (48 F) to 27 C (81 F). Weather: periodic thunder storms, strong winds, cloudy and sunny.
Trail Conditions: forest, sub-alpine, alpine trails, alpine scrambling, scree.
Rockwall Trail, Kootenay National Park, British Columbia
(4 days, 3 nights)
Distance: 65 km (44.4 mi). Elevation Gain: ~ 4000 m (13123 ft). Maximum Elevation: 2336 m (7664 ft).
Temperatures: - 3 C (26 F) to 26 C (79 F). Weather: one full day of rain, some strong winds, and sleet/ snow at higher elevations, the rest of the trip was cloudy and sunny with one morning waking up to frost. Trail Conditions: forest, sub-alpine and alpine trails.


Left photo: note the waist belt (not much more room to tighten). Right 3 photos: note the lid doesn't cover an extended load.

FIT AND COMFORT                                                                       

I would say over the past couple months I have grown to appreciate the design of this pack. With an average load of ~ 18 kg (40 lbs), this pack sat comfortably on my back and didn't abrade or give any trouble throughout any of the trips described above. I felt the padding on the straps and hip belt were well balanced and offered good support. I noticed there was adequate space between my back and the pack to offer a cooling effect, which was much appreciated on the hotter days. The pack straps were easy to adjust on trail to accommodate more or less clothing layers during weather changes. I did observe that I had a lot of extra waist strap and I may well be at the end of the range for the hip padding to be in the appropriate and comfortable place on my hips.

PERFORMANCE IN THE FIELD

I have made up my mind on the reACTIV suspension and SwingArm and I think there is definitely something to it. Over the significant elevation and distance covered on the trips described above, I really did notice that the pack always stayed in one place, while the hip belt and shoulder straps moved to accommodate the load. I believe it was an overall benefit as I had no hot spots and I was never thinking about when I could next put this pack down. I previously said in the field report that one shoulder felt like it took more of the brunt, but what I've discovered now is that it was more of a sensation than a fact. The mechanism is noticeably different than other packs and the more I used it the more I felt like it was working for me rather than against me. Difficult to explain, but I am convinced it had a positive effect, but it did take some time to recognize this.

While the pack repelled the water from the short thunder storms that I experienced during the field test, I had no such luck during some longer thunder storms in Assiniboine Provincial Park. And most definitely was not so lucky hiking a 19 km (11.8 mi) stretch almost entirely in the rain (with some snow at the top of a pass) on the Rockwall trail. If it wasn't for the garbage bag liner that I put in my pack in anticipation of the rain, everything in that pack would have been soaked through. However, with the sun and wind the next day, the pack did dry out quite quickly. To the manufacturer, I would have really appreciated a rain cover to have been included with this pack. Something so small, but so useful.

While I found the top lid pocket to be of sufficient size to hold all the items I desired, I found this lid didn't completely cover the top access of the body of the pack or the front pocket when it was slightly extended. It fit nicely if I kept the volume so that the main body access draw cord was tightened to the max. But if this wasn't the case and I needed a bit more volume, the top access would be exposed to rain and this part of the pack has no water repellant finish. The lid also did not cover the top of the outer pocket, in which case the rain water funnelled directly into this pocket offering no protection from any amount of rain. This only happened when the pack was full, if the pack wasn't full the lid could be cinched down to cover all said openings. Again, this could easily be fixed with a rain cover. With no rain cover, a slightly larger lid would be enough to cover the exposed areas and be protection from light or short rain stints.

While my camera (Olympus Tough TG3) does fit in the hip belt pocket, it was a bit tight and a struggle quite often to get it in and out. I would prefer slightly larger pockets. It was also evident that these hip pockets were not water proof as everything in them on the day of rain was wet and I'm thankful that both my camera and GPS were waterproof. My sunglasses bag, which I couldn't find earlier to place my sunglasses in, I found in this pocket completely soaked through. It was so wet that I was able wring it out. No rain cover would have fixed this problem as they are on my hips, so it may be worth considering for the manufacturer to come up with some kind of water proofing for these pockets. An easy fix now would be for me not to put anything that I don't want to get wet in these pockets during rainy days; lesson learned. I continued to enjoy the large and very accessible side pockets, though of course they took on rain. Again, a rain cover would have solved this problem. 

I did try out the top lid on its own and was unable to find a comfortable way to wear it around my waist, so I wore it as sort of an over the shoulder bag as can be seen in the photos above. So long as there were no weighty items and no water required, it worked well enough for some very short excursions from camp. However, any extended excursion or summit trip, I preferred to just use the pack itself and tighten up all the compression straps to accommodate the smaller load that I required. This was quite comfortable as it hugged my hips and shoulders really well and it felt weightless compared to the load I had trekked to camp.

As far as durability goes, the pack having gone through 'the washer', came out the other side still looking new and no less for wear. Rather impressive as I know what this pack went through. All seams, cords and zippers remain intact and the overall quality and craftsmanship lead me to believe this pack will endure many more exciting trips.

SUMMARY                                                                                  

Overall I give this backpack a thumbs up for design, comfort, performance and durability. I think the reACTIV suspension and SwingArm offer some great innovation to backpacking weight distribution. I have only a few minor suggestions to improve the whole package and including a rain cover would solve many of the issues I had. The only other suggestion would be to have slightly bigger hip pockets and a bigger hydration hose access to accommodate a variety of hydration bladders. I would definitely recommend this pack to a friend and I do intend to continue using this pack for similar trips planned. I will also be investing in a rain cover. 

Likes
- Comfortable shoulder and hip padding
- reACTIV suspension and SwingArm distribute load efficiently
- Functional side and hip pockets
- Front organizer pocket with vertical zipper adds easy access storage on the trail
- Adequate compression straps allowed the pack to accommodate small loads
- Highly durable

Dislikes
- Water-resistance is not enough for ill weather and no rain cover included
- Hydration hose opening was too small for any of my different bladder hose nozzles to fit
- Hip belt pockets could be slightly larger to accommodate camera
- Top lid doesn't cover main body opening when it is full and leaves the front pocket exposed
- Hip belt pockets are not waterproof

I would like to thank to Black Diamond Equipment, Ltd. and BackpackGearTest.org for allowing me to take part in this test series. 




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