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Weekly Gear Review: BD Speed 40 Pack

As I have said in gear reviews past: I am old and set in my ways. I like my old stand-by gear. I know it well, it works. Gear companies, however, don’t understand my dependency on unchanging gear. No – gear companies love to take this old guide who is set in his ways and take me out of my comfort zone…they love to tweak the gear I know and love.

Such was my plight when Black Diamond asked me to review a new technical pack: the Speed 40. I took it out of the package, saw features on it that were not like my old pack and I resolved not to like it. I would like to say after 2 months of using it as my only guiding pack that my resolve has lasted…but it hasn’t. The BD Speed 40 is quickly becoming my new, old stand-by guiding pack!
I will admit that there was one feature on the Speed 40 that I liked right off the bat – the removable hip belt.  It’s a super functional hip belt, mind you, with a gear loop and Ice Clipper attachment on both sides. However, people might call me a bit weird for many reasons, but at the top of the list would be the fact that I do not use my hip belt like the vast majority of folks. Having the option to remove it is a change this old guide got used to quickly!
With the exception of the hip belt, most of the other features on the Speed 40 were an acquired taste for me. For example, I was put off by the new suspension system when I first put the pack on. It felt like the pack was slipping around on my back because the shoulder straps are connected through the hip belt on a cable that equalizes the weight on your shoulders regardless of your body position. I will have to say however, that I have grown blissfully accustomed to the security the Speed 40 offers me when I’m making those off-balanced climbing moves…the moves my old pack used to threaten to pitch me off of when the pack would shift unexpectedly.
Another thing: this pack has a pad built into the bottom of it. Who does that? I mean, what a waste of space and weight, right?…wrong again, old guide! Before I started using the Speed 40, I had to replace anything remotely breakable in my first aid kit (which lives in the very bottom of my pack) at an alarming rate. In the past two months I haven’t had to clean my first aid kit even once – no broken vials, exploded ointments, or crushed aspirin bottles. Who knew that a little pad could accomplish so much!
And what about those ice axe attachments? Why stress out an old guide by changing my beloved ice axe loops or sleeve and buckle systems? Maybe because it works?! BD’s new system is fast and light weight. The single cord for each axe attachment is also great because it has no buckles associated with it. You know the buckles I’m talking about –the ones that are forever getting clogged with snow…the ones that are infuriatingly difficult to open or close when you have gloves on.
And then there is the closure at the top of the body of the pack. The Speed 40 has a dry bag-like closure that rolls down and then clips together with a buckle. What self-respecting old guide needs to deal with that? Why not just stick with the tried and true draw cord closure system. I mean, I’m a climbing guide not a raft guide after all! Such was my thinking beforeall my days out this winter in spindrift and wind-driven snow. Those days used to bring me home to discover in the pack emptying process that snow had gotten into every nook and cranny in my pack…even my first aid kit at the bottom of my pack! Not anymore – BD’s new closure system leaves me with a spin ‘driftless’ pack at day’s end. Who’d of thought?!
I could go on, but I’ll let this review rest. Like I said earlier, my original goal was to send the BD Speed 40 back to its maker with its tail between its legs…evidently; I failed miserably in my task. It looks like the Speed 40 is the pack I’ll be comparing BD’s next new pack to. I’ve said it before and I’m forced to say it again: I guess you can teach an old guide new tricks!
Bob Chase
Colorado Mountain School Guide
800-836-4008 x3

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