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Reviews > Packs > Internal and External Framed Backpacks > Black Diamond Octane Backpack > Test Report by Brett Haydin

BLACK DIAMOND OCTANE BACKPACK
TEST SERIES BY BRETT HAYDIN
LONG-TERM REPORT

INITIAL REPORT - April 17, 2010
FIELD REPORT - June 29, 2010
LONG TERM REPORT - August 31, 2010

TESTER INFORMATION

NAME: Brett Haydin
EMAIL: bhaydin AT hotmail DOT com
AGE: 37
LOCATION: Salida, Colorado, USA
GENDER: M
HEIGHT: 5' 11" (1.80 m)
WEIGHT: 195 lb (88.50 kg)
CHEST: 42 in (107 cm)
WAIST: 35 in (89 cm)
SLEEVE: 33 in (84 cm)

I started backpacking in Wisconsin as a youth, being involved in the Boy Scouts programs. As a young adult, I worked at a summer camp leading backpacking, canoeing and mountain biking trips. I now generally take short weekend or day trips in rough, mountainous terrain, although I have extensive experience in the upper Midwest as well. I take one or two longer trips each year, where I typically carry about 40 lb (18 kg). I prefer to be prepared and comfortable, but I have taken lightweight trips as well.


INITIAL REPORT

PRODUCT INFORMATION & SPECIFICATIONS

Octane
Photo Courtesy of Black Diamond

Manufacturer: Black Diamond Equipment Ltd.
Year of Manufacture: 2010
Manufacturer's Website: www.blackdiamondequipment.com
MSRP: US$ 139.95
Listed Weight: 2 lb 14 oz (1.3 kg)
Measured Weight: 3 lb 1.8 oz (1.4 kg)
Volume: 30 L (1,831 cu in) for size Large
Size Tested: Large (also available in Medium)
Color Tested: Gecko (also available in coal and blue steel)
Warranty: One year warranty for original buyer

Other details provided by manufacturer:


  • Patent-pending ergoACTIV suspension with OpenAir backpanel
  • Zippered top panel access
  • Breathable, soft 3D mesh on hipbelt and shoulder straps
  • Hipbelt stash pocket, side stretch pockets and front compression stretch pocket
  • Trekking pole/ice axe loops
  • Hydration compatible
  • Also available as women's-specific Spark
  • SwingArm Shoulder Straps
  • V-Motion Frame

    INITIAL IMPRESSIONS

    The Black Diamond Octane, hereafter referred to as "Octane" or "pack", is a framed day-pack suitable for long hikes where extra space is required. With a volume of 30 L (1,831 cu in) I should have plenty of room to carry all the gear I will need on a day hike. The Octane comes with one hang tag that held both a promotional piece on Black Diamond's ergoACTIV pack suspension system as well as an instructional booklet for their Launch line of technical packs. As shipped from the manufacturer, the hipbelt was detached which required some minor assembly, noted later in this report.

    I was immediately impressed with how streamlined and sharp this pack looks. The pack is top loaded, having one large zippered opening that opens to nearly one half of the pack. There is also a generously sized accessory pouch with zippered access at the top of the front panel. Inside is a clip tethered to a small piece of webbing that I will likely use for my car keys. I could find no information on how weather or waterproof these zippers are.

    Inside the pack is neatly stitched and the seams are reinforced with additional fabric. While there are just a few loose threads, the entire construction seems to be expertly produced. The interior of the pack reveals hydration compatible sleeve that fits my 3 L reservoir. It can remain suspended by an adjustable hook and loop tab near the top of the pack. The opening for the hydration tube is cleverly hidden just above the tab through a patch of stretch fabric stitched into the pack. I say cleverly hidden because the stitching and opening were very close and it was not immediately apparent to me. I spent half a minute looking for the opening before I realized it!

    The pack is constructed of 210d Nylon Ripstop and appears to be reinforced with 400d Nylon Twill. There are several places that incorporate a stretchy fabric. On both sides of the pack, there are pockets that can accommodate standard 1 L bottles or other items. The pockets are angled back toward me as I wear the pack that I can reach back and access without removing the pack. There are also buckled compression straps sewn into these two pockets. Finally, I noticed elastic bands sewn into pockets to also keep items in place.

    The other area with the stretch fabric is a front compression pocket. With the pack loaded, I am able to stuff small items such as my rain jacket without having to access the whole pack. On the bottom of the pack are two loops of webbing to attach items such as an ice axe or trekking poles. I quick tried these out with both of these items and I am able to keep both of these items in place by using the compression straps with quick release clip that are available on the front pocket. With the exception of the hipbelt, all the adjustable straps are 3/4 in (1.9 cm) wide.

    Ball Joint
    Ball Joint
    Looking at the rear of the pack, it is apparent that there are a number of features that I am excited to test! The back panel is constricted of 6 mm (1/4 in) 6061 aluminum outlining a polyethylene foam panel with cutout channels to enhance airflow. There is a plastic sliding panel behind this that provides torso adjustment as well as the attachment point for the ergoACTIV hipbelt (more on that in a bit). The back panel is covered in mesh that is pleasant to touch. Just above the back panel there is a sturdy handle to help lift the pack.

    The shoulder straps look pretty standard at the first glance, but closer inspection reveals a whole new world of design, in my opinion. The straps themselves are adequately padded and have load lifter straps at the top that I can reach while wearing the pack. There is a sternum strap with plenty of tongue-and-groove piping for adjustment. The buckle on the sternum strap includes an integrated whistle. The strap itself also has elastic sewn into it to provide some flexibility. What makes the shoulder straps so unique is that both straps are linked together by a cable, according to the manufacturer. This allows the pack to "maintain an even, balanced load across both shoulders."

    The hipbelt also has some advanced features worth noting. First and foremost, the hipbelt is attached via a ball joint to the pack frame. This allows the belt a lot of movement independent of the pack. The photo to the right shows the attachment point, however the manufacturer's website contains detailed descriptions and video animation of this technology. Because the belt is fluid and moves, the straps connecting the belt to the pack also incorporate a piece of elastic similar in construction to the sternum strap. The hipbelt is attached with 1 in (2.5 cm) webbing and a quick release buckle. This is a little smaller than other buckles I am used to wearing, but I don't have any immediate concerns.

    The hipbelt is well padded and comfortable. It uses "soft 3D mesh" that is breathable and comfortable. There is a pocket on the hipbelt that appears to be large enough for a small camera or other items I want quickly. Inside the pocket is an Allen (or hex key) wrench appropriately sized for the bolt that holds the hipbelt ball joint in place that is held in place by a loop of webbing. Loosening the ball joint also allows me to fine tune the torso adjustment.

    I was slightly surprised at the variance in the weight. I found that the pack had roughly an 8% discrepancy from the listed weight, unfortunately for the heavier. Concerned that I may be off in my calculations, I took my pack to another scale and found the same weight I came up with. It is hard for me to say what exactly could be the cause. As I mentioned the pack seems expertly manufactured and I did not see an abundance of extra material stashed away.

    READING THE INSTRUCTIONS

    The pack came with an instruction manual that is also available on their website. It has many diagrams of the features, but very little verbiage on how they work. The diagrams are easy to interpret and I found them moderately helpful.

    The booklet also includes care instructions for cleaning the pack as well as the warranty information. I was a little surprised that the warranty is only for one year from the date of purchase. This is more restrictive than other packs I have owned but that will not be much of a concern over the four month test period.

    I was a little surprised that I had to assemble the pack when it arrived. While it was intuitive to me, I consider myself mechanically inclined. I appreciated that it came that way after the fact since it gave me reason to immediately adjust the torso length prior to playing around with the features.

    TRYING IT OUT

    Hike
    A quick day hike
    I had a chance to take a day hike with my wife and dog already and I am pretty pleased. While I wasn't actually summitting any mountains (this time), I packed it with what I would normally need under these conditions, including an ice axe, crampons and first aid kit. I found it carried well and even when post-holing through a field of snow I was able to keep my balance, well mostly...

    I have also used the Octane around town and to work to carry a few items here and there. I generally like the feel of the pack. It carries loads quite a bit differently but not in a bad way.

    In researching this product I found a ton of information on Black Diamond's website. In fact they have set up an entirely new website (linked from the product page) to fully describe the features and new technology; www.activeformdesign.com.. I found this website especially helpful in correctly sizing the pack for my frame.

    SUMMARY

    I am salivating with anticipation to get out on the trail with this pack. I am impressed with the innovative design features and sleek look of the pack. While there was a discrepancy on the weight, it would have made no difference in my preference for this product as a day-pack. I am looking forward to hiking a number of summits over the next four month (and beyond) and I think this pack will be suitable for the conditions and my needs.

    I would like to thank Black Diamond Equipment as well as all the folks at BackpackGearTest.org for allowing me to be a part of this test series. This concludes my Initial Report. Please check back in approximately two months for an update and Field Report!


    FIELD REPORT

    FIELD LOCATIONS AND CONDITIONS

    IMAGE 1
    Preparing to climb the Homestretch on Longs Peak
    Over the past two months, I have used the Octane on three backpacking trips as well as three day hikes. My first trip was in the San Isabel National Forest in Colorado in the vicinity of Brown's Creek. The temperatures were mild from between 30 and 50 F (-1 and 10 C) with sunny skies and breezy conditions. My campsite was at approximately 10,500 ft (3,200 m) in subalpine forest conditions. There was a small amount of snow about the area, but the trails were mostly clear.

    My second trip was into Missouri Gulch in the Collegiate Peaks Wilderness in Colorado. Temperatures were unseasonably warm; between 50 and 80 F (10 and 27 C) with mostly sunny skies. I camped at 11,750 ft (3,600 m) in an alpine meadow. For this trip as well as in Brown's Creek, I strapped the Octane on my pack to take along for day trips.

    The final trip I took an annual trip up Longs Peak in the Rocky Mountain National Park. The elevation was 9,400 - 14,255 ft (2,865 - 4,345 m) on rocky alpine terrain. With the temperatures ranging from 80 to 40 F (26 to 4 C) and conditions from sunshine to snow pellets we needed to be prepared for anything. While it was quite windy at time the overall conditions were fine. I managed to pack my supplies for the trip into the Octane for this trip.

    As I mentioned above, I have also taken three other day trips where I encountered variable conditions. One trip was a successful summit of Mt Antero which I earlier had noted above where I conditions ranged from dry conditions at the trailhead to snow summit conditions requiring crampons and an ice axe. I also used the pack on a short mountain bike ride in 80 F (27 C) conditions.

    PERFORMANCE IN THE FIELD

    IMAGE 2
    Packed up for an overnighter
    “Squeak… Squeak… Squeak…”

    Me: Tom, did you hear that?

    Tom: yeah, it sounded like a squirrel. Did you see one?

    Me: nope… I think it is my backpack.

    At the end of hiking Longs Peak in the Rocky Mountain National Park, I was a bit annoyed by the amount of noise the Octane makes while hiking. The squeak seems to be coming from the ball joint in the rear of the pack. I first noticed this problem on my hike in the Missouri Gulch where I had taken the pack along for my summit bids of two Fourteeners the next morning. Most of the trip was squeak free but I did notice the noise for about 45 minutes before it went away. To be honest, since the noise went away, I forgot about it until the next trip I took; Longs Peak. I felt awful for my climbing partner, and we joked about it all through the trip.

    I called Black Diamond’s customer support and they recommended a dry lubricant, such as graphite. I have yet to try it out for trail use but I plan to report back on this during the Long Term Report.

    The pack is exceptionally comfortable to wear. While I have primarily used the pack during day hikes and to make scrambling ascents of mountains, I did have the opportunity to use the pack on an overnight. It was a bit of a stretch for me and my equipment, but I was able to use the pack. With a more compact tent, I feel confident that I would be able to use this reliably for overnights.

    The pads are quite comfortable; both on the hips and the shoulders. They are easily adjustable on the fly and I find that I can access the load lifters equally well. My chief complaint with the shoulder straps is that the elastic band is a little too high for my preference. I like to use that band to hold the tube from my hydration bladder in place close by. I can make it work and is a minor issue for me.

    The best part of this pack is the suspension system. I am a true believer in the freedom and comfort the ergoACTIV suspension system provides. It was very clear on my hike up Longs Peak, which is a class 3 scramble, or hand and foot climbing, that the pack is extremely comfortable and useful under these circumstances.

    Quite honestly, I have not locked down the suspension since first playing around with the straps once I received the pack. The pack is well balanced, even when I packed for the overnighter. I had all sorts of gear strapped to the outside, but the load was quite manageable. The lack of a daisy chain on the front made it a little difficult to lash items on, but I was able to make it work.

    The outside pockets work reasonably well for me. I have had water bottles fall out of the side pouches from time to time, even though I have taken the extra precaution of using the compression strap as well. This has really only happened with a bottle that is shaped like a uniform “tube” as opposed to one with a tapered shape. I have used the front pocket primarily for my rain gear, but other knick knacks have made it in as well.

    I have encountered a few short rain showers to date and the pack does a fine job of shedding the weather. None of the storms have been of the “drenching” variety, so I had no need to use a rain cover. All of my gear remained dry in the pack.

    SUMMARY

    I am very impressed with this pack so far. While a little heavier than other day packs I have used, the suspension system makes it worth it to me. While the side pockets work well for most water bottles, the straight tubular insulated vacuum bottle I am using at the moment has a tendency to fall out. I have several more difficult scrambles ahead in my hiking season so I am anxious to see if the Octane performs just as well as it has in the past. Now if I can just remember where I keep the tube of graphite…

    I would like to thank Black Diamond Equipment as well as the folks at BackpackGearTest.org for allowing me to be a part of this test series!

    TESTING STRATEGY

    Your continued testing strategy for the Long-Term Report period.


    LONG-TERM REPORT

    LONG-TERM TEST LOCATIONS AND CONDITIONS

    Over the past two months I have continued to use the Octane on an additional four summit attempts in Colorado as part of day trips. These have included trips in the San Isabel National forest as well as the Maroon Bells Wilderness Area near Aspen, CO.

    Three of my trips had fantastic weather; sunshine and warm temperatures in the 70's F (20 C). On my trip to the Maroon Bells the temperature was much cooler at about 50 F (10 C) and a mix of rain and fog. For at least an hour the rain was pretty steady. Trails were quite variable as some followed old jeep roads and some were off trail scrambles over (and under) boulders. Trip lengths were between 4 and 12 mi (6 and 19 km) and at high elevations between 10,000 -14,000 ft (3,000 - 4300 m).

    PERFORMANCE IN THE FIELD

    Summit
    Another successful summit
    Thanks to Black Diamond's suggestion, I have been squeak free for the past two months! The distracting noise from the ball joint has gone away and I have had absolutely no issue with the hipbelt.

    I am glad that I had the chance to test the Octane out in wet, rainy conditions. While climbing Castle and Conundrum Peaks near Aspen, CO, the weather was quite foul. After an hour of soaking weather followed by dropping temperatures, we decided to see if the weather would clear up for our hike. We sat around for another hour hoping for a break in the weather but eventually abandoned our summit attempt to avoid lightning. I was convinced as I got back to the car some 5 hours after first starting out that the contents would be soaked. However to my surprise almost everything remained dry!

    Many of my other impressions remain unchanged from my field report. This pack is exceptionally comfortable to wear and distributes the load well. I had a rather frantic encounter with a sudden storm in July in which I had to scramble down the mountainside to escape lightning. We hopped from boulder to boulder and the pack felt stable the entire time.

    Now that the Long Term Test Period has come to a close, I took time to inspect the pack thoroughly for signs of abuse, or abrasions, from my various scrambles and hikes. While I know I scraped up against a number of rock faces the Octane appears no worse for wear. In fact I really can find no problems with the integrity of the pack. There are a few stains from pine sap on the stretchy fabric but otherwise the pack remains almost like new.

    SUMMARY

    The Octane gets high marks from me for the innovative hip belt design. It truly makes climbing through the bush and over boulders much more natural. Even under heavier loads the pack remains stable and easy to carry. The padding is quite comfortable and the pack is easy to adjust.

    The shape of the side pockets works better for some water bottles than others, but I have a number of styles that work. As I mentioned earlier straight and thin bottles tended to slip out for me. While slightly heavier than my other day packs, the versatility and comfort of this pack more than makes up for this.

    CONTINUED USE

    I am convinced that this will be my daypack of choice for years to come. Not only is there ample room for an overnighter, but this pack works for moderate technical ascents as well.

    I would like to extend my sincere thanks to Black Diamond Equipment as well as the folks at BackpackGearTest.org for allowing me to be a part of this test series.

    This report was created with the BackpackGearTest.org Report Writer Version 1.5 Copyright 2010. All rights reserved.

    Read more reviews of Black Diamond gear
    Read more gear reviews by Brett Haydin

    Reviews > Packs > Internal and External Framed Backpacks > Black Diamond Octane Backpack > Test Report by Brett Haydin



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