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Reviews > Packs > Internal and External Framed Backpacks > Black Diamond Octane Backpack > Test Report by Ray Estrella

Black Diamond Octane Pack
Test Series by Raymond Estrella

INITIAL REPORT - April 19, 2010
FIELD REPORT - June 17, 2010
LONG TERM REPORT - August 23, 2010


NAME: Raymond Estrella
EMAIL: rayestrellaAThotmailDOTcom
AGE: 49
LOCATION: Orange County, California, USA
HEIGHT: 6' 3" (1.91 m)
WEIGHT: 210 lb (95.30 kg)

I have been backpacking for over 30 years, all over California, plus many western states and Minnesota. I hike year-round in all weather, and average 500+ miles (800+ km) per year. I make a point of using lightweight gear, and smaller volume packs. Doubting I can ever be truly UL, I try to be as near to it as I can yet still be comfortable. I start early and hike hard so as to enjoy the afternoons exploring/chilling. I usually take a freestanding tent and enjoy hot meals at night. If not hiking solo I am usually with brother-in-law Dave.


The Product

Manufacturer: Black Diamond Equipment
Web site:
Product: Octane Pack
Size: Large
Year manufactured/received: 2010
MSRP: US $139.95
Weight listed: 2 lb 14 oz (1.32 kg)
Actual weight 3 lb 1.8 oz (1.41 kg)
Volume: 1831 cu in (30 L)
Torso size: 19.5 - 23.5 in (50 - 57 cm)
Waist size: 34 - 39 in (86 - 99 cm)
Color: Coal

Front face, now show me that back side.

Product Description

The Black Diamond Octane pack (hereafter referred to as the Octane or the pack) is a panel-loading pack positioned by the manufacturer for use on big day-hikes. They claim that with its "revolutionary ergoACTIV suspension, the Octane is designed for athletic movement through varied, broken terrain". Cool, I certainly visit varied terrain, now will it live up to the hype?

The Black Diamond website showed the pack and was fairly informative. The pack was what I expected as far as looks after reviewing the site.

What I did not expect was to have to put the hip belt on. OK, no biggie. Inside the hip belt pocket is an Allen wrench fitted into a small loop holder. (Hmm, something tells me they expect this to go along on my hikes.) The wrench is used to remove a bolt at the ergoACTIV ball joint in the middle lower section of the pack. Got it. Now how to adjust for torso length?

Nowhere in the included owner's manual or hang tags does it address fitting the pack. Nowhere on the web site does it discuss fitting the pack. Instead I have to go to another web site and watch a video to find anything out about torso adjustment. This really needs to be addressed. To help our readers out I shall describe it. First I measure my torso size. Then I loosen the bolt I just put in when attaching the hipbelt. I measure from the top of the shoulder straps to the center of that bolt. I want to be four inches (10 cm) shorter than my actual measurement. The ball joint slides up and down. (An arrow molded into the backpanel just above the ball joint gives this away to the inquisitive, but the pack should still come with instructions.) Once set to my torso minus four I tighten the bolt again and am ready to go.

Nitpick number two here. Why an Allen wrench? I now have to make sure I carry the wrench with me in case further adjustments are needed in the field due to the setting slipping or having to let another person use it. Why not a flat screwdriver slot? I always have something that will work there.

profile next, hey, foam pads.

Now let's look at the pack. The Octane is a panel loading pack meaning that it opens along the upper face of the pack, by means of a horseshoe-track zipper. The zipper is not waterproof. At the top of the pack is another horizontal zipper that accesses a small pocket. I will use this for sunglasses, snacks, 1st aid and bug juice. Also my keys will go on the provided strap and key-clip found inside.

The pack is primarily made from 210d nylon ripstop, although the bottom and some areas on the hipbelt are made of heavier duty 400d nylon twill. On the front of the pack is a large stretch nylon stuff pouch. This pouch is attached to the side compression straps to allow it to be cinched closed as the sides are drawn in.

Two tool loops may be found on the front of the pack below the stuff pouch. They do not have corresponding ties or bungees above for the other end of an ice axe or trekking poles. The side compression straps are used instead for this duty. The quick-disconnect buckles on the straps help out a lot here for fast access. Stretchy side pockets sit to either side of the pack for water bottles and such.

Inside the pack is a sleeve for a hydration bladder. A hook and loop strap above it will hold bladders in place should they be equipped with an anchoring spot. The sleeve will fit my 2 and 3 L bladders with no problem. The tube routes out through a stretch nylon port just above the hang strap coming out under the grab loop between the shoulder straps of the Octane.

details, details

A hook and loop closure inside can be opened to expose the major components of the suspension, the V-Motion Frame. One of the heftiest frames I have ever seen on a pack (let alone a day pack) made of 6 mm 6061 aluminum wraps around the outside of a hard plastic back-sheet. The actual foam and mesh back-panel sit in front of this against my back. This foam and mesh is the part that can be seen when viewing the pack from the back.

The shoulder straps are called SwingArm. They connect to a cable that runs through the bottom of the pack that allows some movement, about an inch or so (2.5 cm) which translates into 2 in (5 cm) of total travel. I am still trying to figure out if that is a good thing or not when under a load. I am not sure that having weight transfer down to my low side is something I want happening. Just one more thing to watch closely in the field.

The shoulder straps have no loops across them to allow the hydration tube to be threaded through. This is another missing piece in my opinion. But there is a sternum strap with a whistle buckle. As I always carry a LOUD whistle I would swap it for some shoulder strap loops in a minute.

Now to the showcase item, the ergoACTIV hipbelt. It claims to use a "three dimensional" ball joint to allow the backpack to "move unrestricted in any direction". Well it does allow it to turn and rotate freely. But as it cannot go in-and-out it is not three dimensions. But from what I can tell here in the office writing the initial report it does have a lot of movement. I have done a lot of climbing and scrambling with packs on and Black Diamond may just have something here. (I looked quite funny with a loaded pack twisting and contorting my body trying to simulate some boulder hopping…)

The hip-belt has breathable mesh over dense foam that feels like Ensolite. A stiffer lumbar pad is in the center. The belt closes with a V-ed type strap system made famous by another company. I will certainly have no problem getting used to tightening the Octane. The side hip-belt straps are used to "lock out" the free-wheeling motion of the ball joint. When pulled tight the straps keep the belt from being able to move as much. Again, field testing needed!

Well as Roseanne Barr used to say when she was funny, "stick me with a fork, I think I'm done". At least for now. Please come back in a couple months to see how the Octane works as a "big day pack", and even as an over-nighter as I will try it with some compact multi-day backpacking loads too.


Quick & Dirty, Nitty Gritty

The Octane pack's ergoACTIV suspension actually lives up to the hype and has proven to be quite comfortable under loads that Black Diamond does not even position the pack for. It has proven worthy of even multi-day loads. One thing I do not care for is how hot the backpanel is and how wet it gets. What I really do like are the side pockets. Please read on for the details.

Field Data

Packing on the PCT

My first hiking use with the Octane was for a 21 mi (34 km) section of the Pacific Crest Trail (PCT) starting at Scissors Crossing. It was cold with winds to 55 mph (89 km/h). The pack weighed 14 lb (6.3 kg) starting out. This is where the above shot was taken.

Next I carried the Octane was for an 18 mi (29 km) section of the PCT near Warner Springs, California (CA). Very cold, with winds to 50 mph (81 km/h). I carried 11 lb (5 kg) starting out

Then we made a day hike of a 24 mi (39 km) section of the PCT south of Tehachapi, CA. Winds blowing at 50 mph (81 km/h) and gusting to 70 mph (113 km/h) blew me off the trail many times. Again the pack weighed 14 lb (6.3 kg) to start.

Next was an overnighter in Minnesota at Itasca State Park. I did a total of 27 mi (43 km), most of it on the North Country Trail. This trip saw a lot of rain. Octane was at 17 lb (7.7 kg) starting out. Here is a pic walking through the forest just before the downpour started.

Trekking in Itasca


While I have used the Octane for a few small day-hikes with my kids and solo I have focused the test reporting on what Black Diamond says the Octane is made for. Well I had a few big day hikes and more with the Octane.

I came into this test quite skeptical of the Octane pack and its ergoACTIV suspension. I have to say that the first trip saw me giving a nod and silent apology to Black Diamond. It is remarkably comfortable and stable under load while still allowing a lot of movement as the pack stays on plane with my spine while the hip belt stays on plane with my hips.

I locked down the motion control straps a couple times but released them right away. The pack works fine free-wheeling. Locking them down just seems to make it a heavy daypack… ;-) No, I think the value of the Octane and it's ergoACTIV suspension is when I am hiking on uneven or challenging terrain. Like when crossing streams maybe.

Crossing the creek

It is easy to adjust the suspension to tweak the balance of weight between hip and shoulder.

The hip belt itself is pretty comfortable even when tightened, due to the thick foam used. The same can be said of the shoulder straps and backpanel. Another thing that may be said about the thick cushy foam is that it is hot! On my first trip it was 38 F (3 C) when starting out and within 15 minutes of starting our climb north I was getting wet with sweat where the pack sat against my back. The air channel ventilation scheme employed does not work that well, a common occurrence with this style across the brands in my experience.

Something that does work well is the side pockets. They are big enough for any bottle style I have and accessing and replacing the bottles is not a problem. The stretchy material keeps smaller items placed in the pockets, well, in place. I have not had anything fall or wiggle out of the pocket. This means a lot to me as I just had an expensive camera fall out of the side pocket of a different pack a month ago, in the middle of a big creek most likely. Grrr…

The large stretch nylon stuff pouch has been great too. I have been mainly keeping rain gear in it to this point, but as summer kicks in hats and windshirts will go inside.

The hipbelt pocket is nice. I wish there was one on the other side though. I like to keep snacks in one and things like sunblock, lip balm, hand sanitizer and such in the other.

While marketed as a day-pack I decided to use the Octane for an overnight trip in Minnesota. The picture below is the gear I took. The only thing missing is my glasses and some Five Fingers Treks that I am using as camp and water crossing shoes. Plus the tiny Platy-looking bottle in the upper left hand corner ended up with 5 oz (148 ml) of single malt Scotch in it.

Two day load

Not only did it all fit, but I had room to spare. I could have added another day's food & fuel and my down sweater with no problem. I shall do another multiday trip or two with the Octane before the test is over.

But what is over is this Field Report. Come back in another two months to see how the Octane does for the remainder of the test period. I will leave with a shot of the Octane going under the road on the PCT near Warner Springs.

Bending for bridge


Field Data

I Used the Octane for an overnighter to a campground called Upper Shake in the Angeles National Forest. As the road to it was closed and it is a dry campground I made two trips down the 2.5 mi (4 km) closed road, one to carry my gear and a second trip to bring water. Total of 10 mi (16 km) for the trip. Heaviest point with the pack was 25 lb (11.3 kg) with 11 L of water on board.

Took it on an overnighter in Cleveland National Forest to Fisherman's camp starting from the Ortega Candy Store. I started with it weighing 19.4 lb (8.8 kg) in temps to 85 F (29 C). Total of 26 miles (42 km).

Went to the same location as a dayhike taking a shorter brutal route in temps to 90 F (32 C). Took 3 L water along and had a starting weight of 13 lb (5.9 kg). 20 mi (32 km) and 3740 ft (1140 m) of gain.

I went to the Upper Kern River area for three days trying to get down to the Durwood Creek/Kern River cable crossing, and to find and take pictures of waterfalls on feeder creeks. Temps ran from a low of 48 to over 90 F (9 to 32 C). I went between 22 and 24 miles (35 - 39 km). No idea of gain. I started out with 23.6 lb (10.7 kg) including 2 L of water and climbing gear. The picture below was from the first day of this hike taken on the bank of the whitewater Kern.

Next was a dayhike to Mt San Jacinto from the Deer Springs trailhead. I had a starting weight of 13 lb (5.9 kg) and went 19 mi (31 km) with 5200 ft (1585 m) of gain.

Lastly I took it on a two-peak-bagging trip in the Mt Baldy area. I had about 10 lb (5.4 kg) in the pack starting out and carried it 14 mi (23 km) with 5600 ft (1707 m) of gain in temperatures to 84 F (29 C).

On the Kern River


Over the past two months I have used the Octane for a total of ten days, three of which were day hikes. I find the Octane to be too large for summer day hikes. I have a lot of empty space in the pack. Instead I have been using it again as a multi-day pack. On the trip to the Kern River area I not only took my normal gear but also carried a climbing harness, four large locking carabiners, slings and gloves for an anticipated Tyrolean Traverse across the Kern. Here is a picture of the gear waiting to be loaded into the Octane the night before I left.

3 days worth of stuff

About half this trip was spent bushwhacking through heavy scrub. I appreciated the Octane's maneuverability when trying to go under and through Manzanita and scrub oak. The ergoACTIV suspension has continued to impress me with how well it works.

The brush tore the heck out of my ThinLight pad the first day so I wrapped it in my tent's Tyvek ground sheet for the next two days. It tore the Tyvek up pretty good too. But the Octane came through the trip with no tears or snags to the body and just a few little snags on the stretch material of the side pockets.

The biggest "wear marks" the pack has is not from wearing out, but just from me wearing it period. I get so hot from the foam that there are a lot of salt marks on the shoulder straps and backpanel. I am going to soak it in the tub to get the salt out now that the summer is winding down. I would say that the lack of ventilation is my least favorite thing about the pack.

Looking back at the 4 months of use with the Octane I think the feature I like best is the side pockets. I wish every pack I had used pockets like these. They are great! The pockets are big enough to hold a 1L bottle with an insulated cover as seen in the picture above. (It is the green thing.) I was always able to get bottles or gear out of, and back into, the pockets with no problem. The stretch material held small items securely, and it has not gotten loose or lost its shape.

The ergoACTIV suspension is pretty robust and has shown me that it is capable of handling weight quite well. My loads are pretty light these days but I had as much as 25 lb (11.3 kg) in it with no problem. And remember, Black Diamond positions this as a pack for "big day-hikes". I think it can do more than that. For myself I think that the Octane would make a great winter day pack. In winter I want more room to carry extra layers and gear. The lack of ventilation is not as much of an issue then to me, in fact it could be a good thing.

But as can be seen, when multi-day loads get to the size of mine the Octane makes a fine overnight (or more) pack too.

My thanks to Black Diamond and for letting me push the limits of this nice pack. I will leave with a shot of it heading to Mt San Jacinto.

On the way to the peak, don't peek...

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

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