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Reviews > Packs > Internal and External Framed Backpacks > Black Diamond Octane Backpack > Test Report by Chad E. Fike

BLACK DIAMOND EQUIPMENT OCTANE BACKPACK
TEST SERIES BY CHAD EMERSON FIKE
LONG-TERM REPORT

INITIAL REPORT - April 17, 2010
FIELD REPORT - June 21, 2010
LONG TERM REPORT - August 25, 2010

TESTER INFORMATION

NAME: Chad Emerson Fike
EMAIL: chadfike"at"hotmail"dot"com
AGE: 37
LOCATION: Oakland, Maryland USA
GENDER: M
HEIGHT: 5' 10" (1.78 m)
WEIGHT: 150 lb (68.00 kg)

I have gone camping, usually very close to home, since my teens but only started seriously backpacking around age 30. I do mostly weekend trips and often take dayhikes. My backpacking experience has been mostly in West Virginia, Maryland, and Virginia, including parts of the Appalachian Trail. Each trip has been a learning experience about techniques and equipment. I try to balance weight, durability, and cost with my gear choices.


INITIAL REPORT

PRODUCT INFORMATION & SPECIFICATIONS

IMAGE 3
THE OCTANE AS IT ARRIVED
Manufacturer: Black Diamond Equipment
Year of Manufacture: 2010
Manufacturer's Website: www.blackdiamondequipment.com
MSRP: US $139.95
Listed Weight (size L): 2 lb 14 oz (1.32 kg)
Measured Weight (size L): 3 lb 1.6 oz (1.41 kg)
Listed Volume (size L): 30 L (1,831 cu in)
Listed Dimensions (D x W x H): 10 x 11 x 26 in (25 x 28 x 66 cm)
Color: Coal
Made in the Philippines
Limited one year warranty

The Octane is part of Black Diamond's Launch Series of technical packs and is advertised as "the pack for multi-hour missions, be it a long loop hike on trail, a big traverse connecting trails or a secluded off-track ramble." A hangtag included with the pack offers the following: "Our ergoACTIV suspension provides an optimal blend of full-range motion and stable support for trips that require normal to heavy loads. Our ergoACTIV suspension is the synthesis of three unique design elements: the ergoACTIV Hipbelt, the SwingArm Shoulder Straps and the V-Motion Frame."

INITIAL IMPRESSIONS

The Black Diamond Octane arrived in two pieces: the main pack body and the detached ergoACTIV Hipbelt. According to the hangtag "A simple, durable three-dimensional ball joint allows the hipbelt, and by extension the backpacker, to move unrestricted in any direction". Detailed instructions about attaching the hipbelt were not included. As I began examining the pack I found an Allen wrench (also known as a hex key) secured by a small loop inside the zippered right-hand hipbelt pocket. There is no hipbelt pocket on the left side. Using the wrench, I unscrewed the hex bolt and removed the plastic ball joint
IMAGE 2
HIPBELT ATTACHMENT DETAIL
from the plastic pack socket. Next I attached the hipbelt to the pack by aligning the plastic hipbelt socket inside the pack socket and then replacing the ball joint. Once attached, the hipbelt moves about on the ball joint. While the joint is called "three-dimensional", the hipbelt mostly rotates and does not seem to move as freely in other directions. There are two small tabs on the hipbelt socket and corresponding notches in the pack socket to limit rotation of the hipbelt and keep it from spinning around like a propeller. Imagining a clock face, from a horizontal three and nine o'clock position the hipbelt will rotate roughly to a two and eight o'clock or to a four and ten o'clock position. The interior of the hipbelt is "breathable, soft 3-D mesh".

A strap marked with arrows pointing in opposite directions marked "Free" and "Lock Out" dangles from each side of the hipbelt. After a moment of head-scratching about the purpose of these straps I concluded that they must attach to the two plastic buckles on the bottom of the pack. Once the straps were routed through the buckles the meaning of the wording on the straps became clear. Loosening the straps in the "Free" direction allows the hipbelt to rotate freely while pulling the straps in the opposite "Lockout" direction tightens the hipbelt to the pack and reduces movement. Securing these straps completed the installation of the ergoACTIV Hipbelt.

IMAGE 4
LOWER PACK DETAIL
The Swing Arm Shoulder Straps are another element of the ergoACTIV suspension. The lower attachment points of the straps are unique. Unlike conventional shoulder straps that are often sewn to a fixed location on the pack body, the Swing Arm Shoulder Straps "connect at the bottom of the pack with cable and housing for smooth, low-friction movement". These connections are not visible since they are located within the pack but diagrams in the hangtag indicate that the cable passes through the lower portion of the pack and connects the shoulder straps to each other. Giving one of the straps a rather forceful tug will move the other strap. The rest of the shoulder strap design is more conventional. The sternum strap slides up and down the shoulder straps on a "rail" system and has a quick release buckle with a built in whistle. Each shoulder strap has a small elastic keeper to hold a drink tube in place. The underside of the shoulder straps consists of the same "breathable, soft 3D mesh" fabric as the hipbelt.

The final component of the ergoACTIV suspension system is the frame, described as: "V-Motion Frame-6mm 6061 aluminum frame efficiently transfers weight to the hipbelt for heavier loads". Opening a small hook and loop flap located at the top of the interior of the pack reveals the top portion of the tubular, roughly pencil-sized, aluminum frame and a hard plastic backpanel. I assume this access flap is for installation or replacement of the frame system. The "OpenAir backpanel" consists of mesh fabric covering a padded backpanel. There are very shallow channels in the padding. A diagram of the backpanel in the hangtag with arrows in these channels seems to indicate air movement across the backpanel should be expected.

The Octane has a simple and clean design without lots of extra pockets or straps. The Black Diamond website indicates the pack materials are "210d Nylon Ripstop, 400d Nylon Twill". The main fabric of the pack appears to be a heavy duty material. Two trekking pole/ice axe loops hang from the bottom of the Octane but there are no other straps to lash gear to the outside of the pack. There is one exterior zippered pocket on the top of the pack measuring about 10 inches wide and 8 inches deep (25 x 20 cm). A small clip is located inside for attaching keys or other items. A water bottle pocket made of a stretchy material is located on each side of the pack (lighter grey material in the Black Diamond website photo above). There is an adjustable webbing strap located above each water bottle pocket that can be used to compress the pack. The same stretchy material that comprises the water bottle pockets is also used for a large exterior pocket on the lower half of the pack (also shown as lighter grey material in the website photo). The pocket is roughly 12 inches (30.5 cm) deep. The top two corners of this pocket attach to the pack by adjustable webbing straps with quick-release buckles. The placement of these straps allows bulkier items to fit in, and be secured in, the pocket and also helps compress the pack itself.

Access to the interior of the Octane is through a zippered panel. Dual zippers (the zipper track is light grey on the website photo) allow the panel to open about halfway down the front of the pack. Inside is a pocket for a hydration bladder and a strap with hook and loop closure that can be used to hang a bladder. There is a small opening located directly below the pack's top carrying handle that allows a drink tube to exit the interior.

After looking the pack over thoroughly, the initial quality looks good. I did find a few loose threads but no other apparent problems. The zippers all run smoothly and all buckles and straps seem to work fine.

READING THE INSTRUCTIONS

As stated before, there were not many instructions included with the pack. A picture inside the hangtag shows that the ball joint attachment is also used for torso adjustment. The picture shows the wrench placed in the socket system and arrows pointing towards the top and bottom of the pack. Two corresponding arrows are stamped in the plastic socket itself. Loosening the ball joint allows the socket, and hipbelt if it is attached, to slide up and down a total of about 3 inches (7.6 cm) to allow for different torso lengths. The hipbelt adjustment detail photo above shows the cutout area that allows the socket to slide back and forth on two pieces of webbing. It is not visible in the picture, but peering just beyond the edges of the cutout reveals the sides of the socket are also attached to the bottom of the aluminum frame rails.

The only other instructions are the following provided for care and cleaning: "Hang wash in cold water with a mild detergent. Do not use bleach. Hang to dry".

TRYING IT OUT

I have not hiked with the Octane yet but I made the following initial observations after briefly trying it out around the house. With some minor fine tuning of the straps and torso adjustment it seemed easy to dial in a comfortable fit. The sizing chart included with the pack indicates that a large fits a 19.5-23.5 inch (50-57 cm) torso and a 34-39 inch (86-99 cm) waist. I had to move the torso adjustment most of the way up towards the top of the pack to fit my 21- inch (54 cm) torso. Once I had tightened the waist belt down to fit my 32 inch (81 cm) waist, I had a lot of dangling, leftover waist belt strapping. While wearing the pack and moving my upper body to the left and right in front of a mirror, it was easy to see the suspension system working. The hipbelt remained stationary while the pack itself moved back and forth with my torso. Adjusting the "Free/Lockout" straps on the hipbelt made a big difference in how much the pack moved in relation to the hipbelt. A 1 liter water bottle fits snugly inside the side water bottle holder and a full 2 liter hydration bladder fit easily inside the interior hydration sleeve.

SUMMARY

The Black Diamond Octane seems like a well made pack. A close inspection revealed a few loose threads, but otherwise the quality of construction appears high. All buckles, zippers and adjustments seem to work fine and the pack has a solid and sturdy feel. The pack has a streamlined design without a lot of extras. The ergoACTIV suspension system is different from any suspension system I have previously used.

Thanks to Black Diamond Equipment and BackpackGearTest.org for the opportunity to test this item.


FIELD REPORT

FIELD LOCATIONS AND CONDITIONS

The majority of testing of the Black Diamond Octane pack took place during a vacation in the American southwest that included around 35 miles (56 km) of dayhikes in such places as Ute Mountain Tribal Park in Colorado and Comb Ridge, Cedar Mesa, Natural Bridges National Monument, Capitol Reef National Park and Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument in Utah. Elevations reached as high as 6400 ft (1951 m) on this trip. The pack was also tested during an 11 mile (17 km) dayhike in the forested terrain of the Dolly Sods Wilderness in West Virginia where elevations ranged from around 3500 to 3950 ft (1067 to 1204 m). Overall, testing occurred in dry conditions at temperatures ranging from 65 to 85 F (18 to 29 C).

PERFORMANCE IN THE FIELD

IMAGE 1
COMB RIDGE, UTAH
During this first phase of testing I have been very impressed with the comfort and suspension system of the Octane. As soon as I began the first hike I was aware that the ergoACTIV suspension made a difference. I could feel that the hipbelt rotated slightly with my hips and allowed the pack itself to move with my upper body. While on vacation in the southwest I made several hikes that required scrambling up and down steep trails and slickrock. The suspension system worked very well and the pack remained very stable in these conditions. I packed heavily on these hikes and carried camera gear as well as extra water, food and clothing for both my wife and myself. During three different Utah hikes the total pack weight was between 17 and 18 lbs (7.5 and 8 kg). The pack was still comfortable when I carried these heavier loads. On other hikes the pack weighed between 10 and 13 lbs (4.5 and 6 kg). Even though I did not compile a large amount of mileage during the southwest hikes, I still spent several hours using the pack since my wife and I tended to keep a slow pace as we roamed around looking at Native American rock art and ruins.

The pack fits me very well and once I had dialed in a good fit I rarely had to make any adjustments while hiking. I did experiment with the "Lock Out" straps that tighten the hipbelt to the pack and reduce movement. When in the "Lock Out" position, the Octane feels much like any other conventional pack. I much preferred the "Free" position that allowed the hipbelt to move freely and I never felt a need to minimize the movement of the suspension system while hiking. I have worn packs that were hard to forget since they often needed adjustment or caused discomfort. The Octane was quite the opposite. In a positive sense, it was easy to forget I was wearing the pack and several times I had to remind myself to pay more attention to the performance of the pack for this test.

The only discomfort I felt from the pack occurred when I bent over and could feel the plastic ball joint slightly poking me in my back. I am thin and my spine seems to stick out a bit more than usual so this may have contributed to this issue. This was not a problem while hiking and only occurred once or twice when I was sitting down and bent over, such as when tying my shoe. Since I had to move the torso adjustment most of the way up towards the top of the pack to fit my torso, a little more than 1 inch (2.5 cm) of the pack protrudes below the hipbelt. A couple of times when descending slickrock in a sitting position the bottom of the pack would drag behind me and catch momentarily.

Even when carrying extra gear for my wife, I always had some leftover space inside the Octane. Testing occurred during warm dry weather so I did not carry bulkier cold weather clothing or rain gear. Since the pack is rather tall, small items were sometimes hard to find in the bottom of the pack. The fact that the zippered panel opens almost halfway down the pack helps to access the bottom. Although the compression straps work well to compress the pack, there is not a way to compress the very top section of the pack. When the pack is not completely filled the top section of the pack can tend to sag somewhat. The side water bottle pockets held .5 liter water bottles securely. During one hike my hydration bladder had a slight leak. The hydration sleeve contained the small spill and kept it from leaking throughout the rest of the interior. The single hipbelt pocket was large enough to carry a small pair of binoculars. I think an improvement would be to add a clip inside the pocket for attaching small items like keys. I like hipbelt pockets and would prefer to have one on both sides rather than just the single pocket on the Octane.

I was not very impressed with the "OpenAir backpanel". During every hike my back became soaked with sweat. There are very shallow channels in the padding of the backpanel but these do not seem deep enough to allow any air movement across the backpanel. Instead, the backpanel seemed to fit very snug against my back and did not breathe very well.

I have had no durability problems with the Octane. I do not see any abrasions or tears in the fabric. All closures and zippers continue to operate flawlessly. My southwest vacation was a road trip from Maryland. The Octane was often jammed into whatever space I had left in my truck but came out unscathed. I got mud on several places on the pack during the West Virginia dayhike, but these cleaned up very easily with a wet cloth. The backpanel has some sweat stains but I have not tried to remove them. There is a slight discoloration on one side pocket from a leaky drink bottle.


SUMMARY

I have been very pleased with the Black Diamond Octane during the first part of this test. The pack is one of the most comfortable I have worn and it has stood up to several trail miles. I can tell a positive difference in how the ergoACTIV suspension allows the pack to remain stable in varied conditions. My only real complaint was that the backpanel was not very breathable and caused my back to become extremely sweaty.


This concludes my Field Report on the Black Diamond Octane pack. Thanks to Black Diamond and BackpackGearTest.Org for the opportunity to test this product.


LONG-TERM REPORT

LONG-TERM TEST LOCATIONS AND CONDITIONS

IMAGE 1During Long Term testing, the Black Diamond Octane was used during approximately 26 miles (42 km) of dayhikes in the Dolly Sods Wilderness and Otter Creek Wilderness in West Virginia and the Potomac State Forest in Maryland. I also used the pack during some shorter hikes in the Garrett State Forest in Maryland. Overall elevations ranged from 2500 to 4800 ft (762 to 1463 m). For the most part testing occurred in warm, dry conditions at temperatures ranging from 65 to 90 F (18 to 50C).

PERFORMANCE IN THE FIELD

Long term testing has strengthened my initial impressions about the suspension system and comfort of the Octane. The pack rarely needed any adjustment and I never had any problems with discomfort. The Octane seems to distribute weight more evenly from my shoulders to my hips than any other day pack I have used. My hikes during this phase of testing tended to be at a more casual pace and length and my average pack weight was between 10 and 13 lbs (4.5 and 6 kg). Most hikes during this phase of testing were in dry, warm weather so I did not need to carry much extra clothing or rain gear. The Octane always had plenty of extra space inside. My wife has been having some back problems and her back began to get sore on one of our hikes. I offered to carry her gear and we found there was enough extra room inside the Octane to easily slip her entire fanny pack inside. I did not want to tell her, but the Octane was so comfortable that it was not much of a sacrifice to carry the extra weight. Since I was not completely filling the pack, I continued to notice the top section of the pack tended to sag somewhat. This was most noticeable when I carried heavier items like binoculars inside.

The pack is not advertised for overnight use but because of all the extra room I considered using the pack on a short overnight trip. However, I could not find an easy way to get all my gear, including bulkier items like a sleeping bag, tent and sleeping pad, inside. My gear is not exactly ultralight and I often seem to carry a little more than I need. Other than the main compression straps there are no other attachment straps on the exterior of the pack to attach bulkier items like a sleeping pad.

As I discovered during the earlier phases of testing, the "OpenAir backpanel" does not breathe very well. Even when hiking at a very casual pace on a cool day my back became soaked with sweat. The rail system of the sternum strap is easy to adjust, but unlike conventional systems that use webbing, it does not allow easy attachment of items like a knife case or a clip to attach a hydration tube. Since the elastic hydration tube keeper is located so high on the shoulder strap, my hydration tube tended to flop around unless I tucked it under the sternum strap. There is a loop on the sternum strap that the tube could be threaded through but I found doing so to be rather awkward. I think an additional elastic keeper located lower on each of the shoulder straps would be helpful.

The Octane has remained durable during this last phase of testing. There are some slight snags/abrasions on the interior of the hipbelt but they were only noticeable during a close inspection. There are also some slight abrasions on the very bottom of the pack. Neither of these areas are distinct enough to show up very well in photographs. I had no problem with the function of straps, buckles or zippers at any time during testing. I had wondered if I would have to retighten the hex bolt on the hipbelt socket, but the hipbelt stayed in place and needed no adjustment.

SUMMARY

I am very impressed with the Black Diamond Octane. The ergoACTIV suspension system results in a pack that remains stable under various trail conditions. There is plenty of room inside for big loads and the pack remains comfortable after hours of hiking. The Octane remained durable other than a few abrasions on the hipbelt and the bottom of the pack. Some possible areas of improvement would be a more breathable backpanel and a way to reduce the sag of the top pocket when the pack is not fully loaded. I would also prefer a clip inside the hipbelt pocket for attaching keys and other small items.

CONTINUED USE

I really like the Octane and look forward to using it in the future. I expect to find it most functional when I need a large capacity day pack that will remain comfortable on longer hikes with heavy loads. I predict it will be especially useful when the weather gets colder and I want to carry extra layers of bulkier clothing.

This concludes my Long Term Report on the Black Diamond Octane pack. Thanks to Black Diamond and BackpackGearTest.Org for the opportunity to test this product.

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

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