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Reviews > Packs > Internal and External Framed Backpacks > Black Diamond Mercury 75 pack > Test Report by Richard Lyon
BLACK DIAMOND MERCURY 75 PACK
Test Report by Richard Lyon
Initial Report July 18, 2012
Field Report September 28, 2012
Long Term Report December 5, 2012
Personal Details and Backpacking Background
Male, 66 years old
Bozeman, Montana USA
6'4" [1.91 m], 200 lb [89 kg]
Montana DOT angler AT gmail DOT com
22.5 in (57 cm) torso, 46 in (117 cm) chest, 37 in (94 cm) waist
I've been backpacking regularly in the Rockies since 1986. I do at least one weeklong trip every summer, and often take three-day trips. I'm usually camping in alpine terrain, at altitudes 5000 to 10000 ft (1500-3000 m). I prefer base camp backpacking, a long hike in with day trips from camp. Recently I've been actively reducing my pack weight, but still sleep in a floored tent and often include my favorite camp conveniences. Summer and autumn backcountry trips are often organized around fly-fishing opportunities.
INITIAL REPORT – July 18, 2012
The Black Diamond Mercury 75 pack is a feature-rich 75-liter (4577 cubic inches) internal-frame backpack designed for "rough trails, big-mileage days and maximum comfort over the long haul." An immediately noteworthy design feature is that the pack may be loaded or accessed from the top or a large panel on its front.
Manufacturer: Black Diamond Equipment, Ltd. Known to its friends and customers as BD.
Weight, listed (size large): 2200 g (4 lb 13 oz)
Weight, measured: pack 4 lb 2 oz (1871 g), hipbelt 1 lb 0 oz (454 g), total 5 lb 2 oz (2325 g)
Dimensions, measured : 29.5 in high x 13.0 in wide (packbag width) x 12.7 inches deep (74.9 x 33.0 x 32.3 cm)
Volume, listed: 77 L (4699 cu in)
Size tested: Large [Per BD's size chart, for men with a torso 19.5-23.5 in (50-57 cm) and waist 34-39 in (86-99 cm). Also available in size Medium (75 liter/4577 cu in capacity), for men with a torso 17.5-20.5 in (42-52 cm) and waist 29-34 in (73-86 cm)]
Related products: BD offers the Mercury in 55- and 65-liter versions (3356 and 3967 cu in respectively). The Mercury is for men, but each size is available in a women's-specific version named the Onyx.
Materials: 400d polyester twill, 420d nylon twill
Color: Stone (dark brown, close to the color of the title of this Test Report). Also available in Coal.
MSRP: $279.95 US
Warranty: One year against defects in materials and workmanship to the original owner.
A Problem with Assembly
The Mercury 75 arrived in two pieces, hipbelt and packpag. How to attach the two is not intuitive and BD's "directions" (more accurately described as a features list with diagrams of a few of the features), provided in hard copy with the pack and online, give no hint. It took a telephone call to BD's worthy Warranty department to find the answer: The connecting piece at the bottom of the packbag has a small bolt and flange. These I removed with a small Allen wrench. (BD furnishes the wrench with the pack; it lives in a tiny sleeve inside the right hipbelt pocket, as shown in the photograph below.) Then these are inserted through a volcano-shaped plastic piece on the hipbelt, threaded end of the bolt out, and screwed with the wrench back on to what is now a female connector on the packbag piece. Even after having the process explained to me it wasn't easy to implement, as I had to force the fabric back from the rear of the "volcano" to be able to screw the bolt into the corresponding packbag piece. Several times the bolt slipped loose as a result of the fabric's knocking the wrench aside.
A Spate of Features
The Mercury 75 boasts many features, many not listed on BD's website. Here is a list of those I found.
Torso adjustment. After connecting the hipbelt to the pack the user can adjust the torso length by moving a sliding plate in the hipbelt up or down. This requires loosening (not removing, thank goodness) the connecting bolt and then sliding the packbag up or down. As I had to re-tighen the bolt before trying the pack on after each adjustment, fitting became a rather tedious trial and error process to find my sweet spot. Neither the plate nor the bar on which it slides is marked; even if you know your torso length this adjustment can't be done before attaching the hipbelt to the pack.
OpenAir backpanel. This is BD's name for the ribbed pads on the backpanel that allow airflow between the pack's back and my back.
Ice axe/trekking pole loops. On the left side of the front pocket, holding trekking poles in the photograph. These may be cinched by using the toggle at the top.
Hydration system. An elasticized pocket for a hydration bladder sits at the bottom of the back of the inside of the main compartment. There's a port, large enough for a hydration tube but not a bite valve to fit through, just above the top compression strap on either side of the main packbag. Each is marked with a printed "H2O" on the outside of the bag.
Compression straps. Two standard compression straps on either side of the pack.
Shoulder straps. Trade-named SwingArm, these sit at the bottom of the main section of the shoulder straps and are sewn to the back of the packbag. These are adjusted by pulling or loosening the straps through the grooved clip.
Additional straps. Eleven more: (a) a standard adjustable strap to cinch the hipbelt; (b) a sternum strap, with a whistle on the male end of the quick-release buckle; (c) a standard adjustable strap at the top of each shoulder pad, sewn to the pad above the sternum strap and threaded through a clip on the top piece; it adjusts by pulling the strap from the top; (d) two, with quick-release buckles, that are sewn to the main bag at the same spot as the lower compression straps that may be used to cinch down the top pocket; (e) two that connect the top pocket to the main pack bag, making the top pocket removeable (or "floating"); (f) two, with quick-release buckles, at the bottom of the front pocket, for attaching a sleeping pad. As shown in the photograph of the front of the pack above, when these are not in use the loose fabric may be stored in a small garage just above the male end of the buckle (In the top photo the left one is loose, the right one inside its garage); and, last but not least, (g) a strap with a quick-release buckle, housed in a garage the top pocket, that is used as a hipbelt when the top pocket is detached and used as a fanny pack.
Pockets. I counted ten, and I think I found them all. From top to bottom: (a) Two in the detachable top pocket. One accessible from the outside through a waterproof zipper, the other zippered on the inside. (b) On the inside front of the main compartment, a zippered mesh pocket for a wallet or mobile phone. (c) The front pocket itself, accessed through a C-shaped waterproof double zipper. That's the smaller zipper shown in the photo of the front of the pack, with the grey rain jacket inside; the larger (with the red down sweater) is used to access the main compartment. (d) Inside the front pocket, another zippered mesh pocket. (e) The hydration pocket described above. (g) A large expandable elasticized pocket at the bottom of each side panel for a water bottle or carrying skis. (h) A small zippered pocket on each side of the hipbelt.
Other features. (a) Slider buckles at either side, sewn to the bottom of the main packbag. Just in case the seventeen straps listed above aren't enough. (b) A hook-and-loop connected key loop on the top of the inside back of the pack. (c) A carrying handle (not just a small loop) sewn at the top back of the outside of the pack. (d) Really nifty zipper pulls on the front pocket and main compartment front access zippers - see photograph. There are similar but smaller finger loops for the hipbelt pockets. (e) Waterproof taping at the top and bottom. (f) A toggled drawcord at the top of the packbag to cinch it closed.
I don't know about you, but I think that's quite a feature list!
Trying It On
Once I found the proper torso adjustment I loaded up the pack and shouldered it. After adjusting the shoulder straps, first from the top and then with the SwingArm straps, the pack sat well up on my shoulders and back - a very good fit. In a brief walk around the yard I was comfortable, and I did notice the hipbelt moving separately from the bag. This may take some getting used to, but I didn't find it confining or uncomfortable.
As noted, the larger zipper on the front of the packbag allows access to the contents without reaching in from the top. I'll likely use this for items I want to be able to grab quickly that might be too bulky for the front pocket (a rain jacket, say, or fishing kit). The elasticized side pockets are deep enough to insert my fly rod tube securely; with the compression straps I think this will be a safe and easy way for transporting this valuable tool. It's easy to attach my trekking poles, and the elasticized loop does cinch down to keep them firmly in place.
Capacity appears to be adequate for my standard three-day backpacking load.
What I Like
The features, and not just that there are there so many. I can easily imagine making use of each one of them, the pockets especially. A fully-featured but not over-featured pack.
Comfortable to wear. Nice fit, a little higher on my back than occurs with several other packs I own, which I consider a good thing. The torso adjustment really helps.
What I Don't
No clue as to how to attach the pack and hipbelt. An inexcusable failure from what I rate, based on thirty years' experience with a variety of products, as one of the most customer-friendly manufacturers I've ever dealt with. (Note: This incident did nothing to lower my high opinion of BD's customer service. When I called BD's toll-free number, the phone was answered by a friendly and knowledgeable person who provided clear and accurate advice, then referred me to the Warranty department for questions he couldn't answer. In this age of automated "service" departments, voice prompts, and frequently asked questions, BD's approach remains exemplary. This was a failure to provide directions with the product, not poor customer service.)
I'd prefer to have the hydration pocket at the top, for easier access to refill. And larger ports for the tube so I don't have to remove the bite valve every time it's necessary to remove or re-thread the tube.
The straps, zippers, and buckles come at a price in weight. I consider this pack on the heavy side for its volume.
FIELD REPORT - September 28, 2012
My first backcountry use of the Mercury 75 was a four-day, three-night base camp backpack along Slough Creek in Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming, in mid-August. Elevation at our campsite was about 6300 feet (1900 m), about 600 feet (180 m) higher than the trailhead. No rain or snow, with hiking temperatures about 90 F (32 C) in bright sunlight. The Slough Creek trail mostly runs along the edge of the forest. Though there are occasional patches of welcome shade, most of the trail is in the open, so I bore the full brunt of the summer sun. Hike to camp was about four miles (6.5 km). On this trip I packed my standard backcountry kit plus full fly-fishing rig, but no food or cooking gear, which an outfitter brought in on llamas. I estimate my total pack weight, including three liters of water, at forty pounds (18 kg). The photograph at left shows me just before leaving camp at the end of the trip.
My next backpack was a four-day, three-night service trip, this time on a brand new stretch of the Continental Divide Trail (CDT) in the Gallatin National Forest in Montana, just east of the Montana-Idaho border between the towns of West Yellowstone, Montana and Island Park, Idaho. This section will soon be opened to the public and named the Lion's Head Ridge Trail, after one of the summit face's prominent features. Our group completed the trail's crossing of Watkins Creek near our campsite at about 8000 feet (2450 m), after a hike in of 7.8 miles (about 12.5 km) that included a net elevation gain of 1700 feet (500 m), a very misleading figure as we descended about 1200 feet (350 m) on steep switchbacks to reach our camp. A tough hike with a 45-pound (20 kg) pack, including food and water. Fortunately we had great hiking weather - about 70 F (21 C), with mostly clear skies and occasionally brisk winds. That weather pattern was true of our hike out, about six miles (9.5 km), mostly downhill, along the Watkins Creek Trail.
All of this hiking was on established trail. In fact my backpacking trails were in extraordinarily good condition. The Slough Creek trail in Yellowstone is still used to bring supplies by horse-drawn wagon to a ranch at the Park's northern boundary and is kept in good hiking shape by the daily wagon runs and many day hikers in search of the fat, wily trout that live in Slough Creek. The new CDT section hasn't yet been opened to the public, and a good bit of it was recently built by bulldozer - a wide and flat swath of dirt and scree that hasn't yet been subject to many stock trains.
I also carried the Mercury 75 on three day hikes, two strictly for testing purposes and the third to allow me to serve as a pack horse for a family picnic. These hikes lasted from one to six hours, one to fourteen miles (1.3-22 km), on terrain without a dramatic elevation change. More clear weather - which is just about all we've had in Montana this past month - with temperatures between 80-90 F (27-32 C), and all on established trails. On the picnic trip my pack weight approached that of a backpack, perhaps 35 pounds (16 kg); on the others all I carried was two liters of water, lunch, rain jacket, spare pair of socks, and wind shirt, less than ten pounds (4.5 kg) total.
Features. I'll start with the pack's signature feature, its suspension system. It works extremely well in keeping the weight across my hips and shoulders. As noted in my Initial Report, the Mercury sits a bit higher on my hips than my other similarly sized packs, and so far it has stayed there, with only minimal slippage down across my gluteus maximus. The shoulder strap adjustments allow me to cinch the pack close to my shoulders. The combined effect is a feeling that I'm wearing, not carrying, the pack. Very strong evidence of how well this pack rides is that I had no lower back pain or soreness after any of my prolonged carries; usually there's a bit, sometimes more than a bit.
The separate movement of the pack bag from the hip belt takes some getting used to. At times I thought the pack was slipping from side to side, but that was only the bag; the hip belt remained firmly in place. Once I became accustomed to this I paid it no further attention, as at no time did the separated movements affect my balance or pace. And on the Lion's Head hike, with several hours' stiff uphill hiking with a full pack, I became a firm believer in this new system as an extremely effective means of weight distribution.
I made good use of the side compression straps on the Slough Creek trip. This was as much a fishing trip as a backpack; Slough Creek is a world-renowned cutthroat trout fishery. The straps were used on the hikes to and from our camp to hold one or more fishing rod tubes in place on one side, as shown in the first photograph, and to secure water shoes to the other. On the Lion's Head trip there was more traditional use, for a rain jacket on one side and my Kifaru field chair on the other. On my day hikes I cinched these straps up completely, and they served to keep the pack's minimal contents from flopping about. The straps were easy to adjust and held their cargo firmly in place at all times.
My first fishing day on Slough Creek I wore the Mercury as a day pack, to carry a rain jacket, lunch, water, fishing paraphernalia, and some group gear. Nowhere near a full load, so I cinched the compression straps down tighter to keep things from flopping around. After Day 1 a friend who didn't fish let me borrow his daypack, which was just large enough for everything but my fishing kit - rod, reel, fly box, necklace with nippers and forceps, a small bottle of floatant, and a wallet with tippet and leaders. No problem - all fit into the Mercury 75's now-detached top pocket, with room left over for a couple of energy bars. Using the hipbelt strap (strap (g) in my Initial Report) I carried this on my left hip, keeping fishing items ready to hand when on the stream. Without any prior design or training, it became my backcountry fishing "vest." So well did I like it in this role that on several subsequent fishing trips not involving backpacking I made a similar use of it. It's just the right size and I like being able to adjust it about my waist depending on whether I'm hiking or fishing. It pairs perfectly with my RIBZ front pack (Test Report at this site) for a day hike to a backcountry stream.
I detached the top pocket for a different purpose on the service trip. The Gallatin Range is grizzly country, and anything odiferous must be properly secured. (With good reason - a bear did visit our camp one night but couldn't crack the bear box.) After detaching the top pocket I stuffed its two zippered compartments with my snacks, toilet kit (toothpaste has an odor), sunblock, lip balm, and hip flask (which I'm sure was what the bear was after), and tossed the zipped-up top into a bearproof canister. There was room left over for my items unnecessary during working hours or in the middle of the night, including my spotting scope and camera. (I foolishly forgot to recharge my camera battery prior to the trip, thus losing some spectacular photo opportunities.) On my day hikes I left the top pocket off the pack.
On my backpack trips the front pocket held my windshirt and beanie, both of which I'd don at our breaks and once during a particularly windy walk along the Lion's Head ridgeline at 9700 feet (3000 m). The side pockets' contents were the foot of my field chair and my sunscreen, with knife, headlamp, and an energy bar in the hipbelt pockets.
One feature that I thought I'd use very little turned out to be very handy. The front zipper that is the alternate access to the main pack bag is quite useful for stuffing in a clothing layer or piece of gear that's not likely to be needed for a spell. If there was room in the front pocket I'd use that for an item I might re-use (extra tee shirt on our service trip hike out, for example), but when that was full or if I didn't think I'd need the item until reaching our destination, into the main bag it would go, through the front zipper.
Features that don't work are worse than desired features that aren't included - extra weight and frustration with no added functionality. Everything on the Mercury 75 that I've used has functioned just as I expected. My use has included all zippers, all pockets, all straps except the ones intended for strapping a pad on the outside of the bag (item (f) under Additional straps in my Initial Report), all drawcords, and most of the buckles. As hoped for in my Initial Report, this is a richly featured but not over-engineered backpack. Among the other features that I especially like are the shoulder strap adjustments, which permit easy adjustment while wearing the pack, and the torso adjustment, which has stayed in place and meant a great fit and comfortable carry.
At this point my only suggestions for feature improvement are:
-- The two aspects of the hydration system noted in my Initial Report, though neither has bothered me much. The first - placement of the pocket - has been offset by carrying a larger water bladder; I haven't had to refill it along the trail. The second, size of the port, is often an issue for this hiker, who must switch bladder and spout from backpack to day pack for trail maintenance work. I've solved that problem with a bladder from Source that has an easily detachable spout. The end that snaps into the bottom of the water bladder passes through the port easily for removal or re-threading.
-- I wish the hip belt pockets were larger. Double the current size would be nice - larger ones on other packs have spoiled me.
Capacity. This is a giant pack. There was ample room left over even on my service trip, when I had to pack work clothes, gloves, and a day pack in addition to my none-too-light standard kit for a week-long trip. (The Gallatin trip was scheduled for six days, but we worked so efficiently that we were able to leave early.) The Mercury's hydration system helped here. Lion's Head Ridge Trail is aptly named. After the first quarter mile (375 m) there was no water source until we reached camp five hours later. The pack's large hydration pocket, into which a three-liter bladder fits comfortably, allowed me to avoid carrying an extra water bottle on the outside of the pack, something I really dislike having to do.
Durability. So far so good; my Mercury 75 looks like new. I haven't had to clean it and as noted nothing has malfunctioned. Perhaps the oncoming autumn will provide an opportunity to test the pack's weather-worthiness in something other than the ideal hiking conditions I've so far experienced. I truly hope so for more than scientific reasons; the Northern Rockies are desperately dry and the fire risk extreme.
LONG TERM REPORT - December 5, 2012
At the beginning of October I carried the Mercury 75 on a two-night, two-day backpack in the northeast corner of Yellowstone National Park, a backpack-fishing combination. More of the same boring, marvelous backpacking weather - daytime highs about 75 F (24 C), nights down to 25 F (-4 C), no appreciable wind and utterly no precipitation. The morning temperatures in the Park were however well below the dew point and there was frost everywhere and lovely mist on the water. I hiked about five miles (8 km) to camp, gaining about 600 feet (180 m) in elevation along the way. My pack weight was about thirty pounds (14 kg) including food, water, and fishing kit.
Next use was an overnight car-camping trip along the West Boulder River near McLeod, Montana, following an eight-mile (14 km) day hike to the meadows up the trail, following a very gentle uphill route on the way in, for a picnic and some fishing. Temperatures during the hike were 70 F (21 C) on yet another cloudless, windless day. I did packhorse duty on this trip, carrying the picnic lunch for the four of us plus two liters of extra water and children's rain gear and related items. Lunch included a bottle of wine so my overall load was about thirty pounds (14 kg). All items fit easily inside the main pack bag, except sunscreen and fly box in the top pocket, energy bars and multitool in the hipbelt pockets, and fly rod tube on the right side (as in the photo in my Field Report).
In mid-October I carried the Mercury 75 on a ten-mile (16 km) day hike on the South Cottonwood Canyon trail in the Hyalite Range, just south of Bozeman. The hike was generally flat, though we did follow South Cottonwood Creek upstream most of the way. Without children or picnic paraphernalia my load was much lighter, perhaps fifteen pounds (7 kg) thanks to a vacuum bottle of hot Acli-Mate Mountain Sport drink (see separate Test Report). Temperatures varied from 30-40 F (-1 to 4 C), with occasional very gusty winds, creating a misery index well below the actual temperature. Noteworthy on this hike was my use of the side compression straps to cinch the pack down, very effectively keeping the limited contents from bouncing about.
My Mercury 75 made its debut on skis in early November on an overnight trip along the Blacktail Divide trail in Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming. Winter kit included a group stove, most of the group food, a second sleeping bag, and an expedition weight down jacket, bringing total pack weight to about forty-five pounds (20 kg). We skinned in about three miles (5 km) to our campsite, gaining 800 feet (240 m) to about 7000 feet (2000 m), skiing out back down the same trail. There was insufficient snow cover for any downhill ski runs (a gross understatement). Though clear and with little wind it was very cold, -3 F (-15 C) at the trailhead dropping to -12 F (-24 C) early the following morning. (Now you may understand why I packed that extra sleeping bag, which was used as an overbag.) This trip was the first time I used the straps below the front pocket, item (f) under Additional Straps in my Initial Report. They secured a rolled-up foam sleeping pad.
I don't have much to add to the test results, likes, and dislikes reported in my Field Report. A few random notes -
On my recent Yellowstone fishing trip I again detached the top pocket for storage of my fly box, floatant, tippet, and split shot, and was just as pleased as before with the results. A pleasant bonus for a backcountry fly fisherman.
Again the front zipper to the main pack bag came in handy, on two separate occasions for two different reasons. It made access to kids' jackets and our lunch easy on the picnic, and it permitted similarly easy access to my down vest and wool cap at frequent breaks on the ski trek occasioned by photo ops, wildlife near the trail, and trail conditions changes among snow, ice, and frozen mud. If I remember to place an item I expect to use near the zipper, something easily done by packing that item last using the front zipper, I have an easy way to keep something not waterproof or too bulky to hang on the outside of the pack ready to hand. When I first examined the pack I didn't expect to use this zipper much, but now I consider it an extremely useful feature, certainly worth the extra weight.
My final commendation for a feature goes to the zippered mesh pocket inside the top of the pack. This is a very handy spot for spare energy bars, bug spray, sunblock, or other gear that I don't expect to need but just might.
After five months' use of this fine pack, among its many attributes I rank BD's suspension system at the top of my list of likes. The suspension alone makes this pack a big-time winner in my book. The pack rides as well on my hips as any large pack I've ever worn. Separating the movement of the pack from the hipbelt makes for a truly comfortable carry. (Well, as comfortable as one can be with a forty-pound [18 kg] load.) If anything this system is even more suited to use when on skis, as the kick-and-glide of skinning and the short turns while descending on a trail cause greater pack movement than hiking on dirt or scree. As with straight hiking the pack bag's movement while on skis took some getting used to, and the separated motion is more pronounced on skis because of the greater range of body motion. Just as with hiking though, once I became used to it I didn't give it another thought.
My high opinion of the suspension system is not intended to denigrate the Mercury 75's many other good points, however. I'm happy to report that experience has borne out my first impression, noted in my Initial Report: The Mercury 75 is a fully-featured but not over-featured pack. My ordinary use of the pack has involved all the features listed there, without just contriving to do so for reporting purposes. All work as advertised, and all have been useful. Equally importantly, I wouldn't add much if anything to what is there even if I could design this pack from scratch. The only feature on any other pack that I've owned that I'd like to have is a zippered side pocket for winter storage of a hot drink-bearing vacuum bottle. I've only seen such a pocket, however, on a pack that I did design from scratch; see my Test Report on my Rē Telemaster Pack. Hence its absence on the Mercury 75 is excused.
Not even on my winter conditions ski trip did I use all 77 liters (4700 cubic inches) of the pack's listed capacity, though I probably would have come close if I had scrunched the foam pad inside the main pack bag. If I were reading instead of writing this Test Report I'd probably opt to purchase the Mercury 65. Of course that is not criticism of the product, merely a reflection of my own backpacking preferences and style, as is the comment in my Field Report about desiring larger pockets on the hipbelt. In fact it's intended as a backhanded compliment, as the pack's design delivers extremely efficient use of all available space, inside and outside the pack bag.
Once set the suspension system hasn't needed adjusting, so I haven't had to fiddle with the Allen wrench and the Mercury's tricky system for connecting bag to belt. Given my praise for the suspension system it should be obvious that I consider the initial manipulation well worth the trouble. I do hope however that BD clarifies its instructions on how to do it.
My Test Report ends here, with sincere thanks to Black Diamond Equipment Ltd. and BackpackGearTest.org for the chance to test the Mercury 75, a pack that has quickly become my favorite for larger loads.
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