exped—black-ice-45l-backpack-review-dirtbagdreams.com

ProView – EXPED Black Ice 45L Backpack

A good alpine climbing pack is a beautifully simple piece of equipment. It should be lightweight, reasonably durable, carry high and tight on the back, and have a minimalist design to stay nimble in the mountains. The EXPED Black Ice 45L pack does all these things reasonably well, in addition to a couple of nice minor luxuries, to give a modicum of creature comfort when shivering through a cold winter climbing day or while skinning deep into the backcountry.

EXPED Serac 35

Product Description: The Black Ice packs are minimalist lightweight roll-top load carriers that meet the needs of modern alpinists and high altitude climbers. Extensively field tested features, combined with clean design and clever manufacturing solutions deliver a pack for fast and light alpine and expedition use. The lean and compact form ensure direct load transfer. 100% waterproof construction.

Price: $180 MSRP

  • Quality
    (4)
  • Fit
    (4)
  • Versatility
    (4.5)
  • Style
    (4)

Summary

Overall, the Black Ice is a good, if not exemplary, specialized alpine pack. Especially when compared to other highly water resistant packs, the Black Ice is an inexpensive option at $180 MSRP. If you climb in a place with a lot of precipitation, the Black Ice is likely an appealing option. Despite the advantages of a water-resistant pack for winter climbing though, the details like the ice axe attachment reduced my outlook on the pack. I think the Black Ice is a good option for some users and is very close to being an excellent alpine pack across the board.

Overall
4.1

Pros

  • Waterproof
  • Slim design
  • Fits true to size

Cons

  • Components could be better designed with alpine climbing in mind. 

exped—black-ice-45l-backpack-review-dirtbagdreams.com

Features

The Black Ice utilizes TPU-laminated 420D nylon for the pack body with fully taped seams, resulting in a completely waterproof pack body. And while the pack isn’t technically waterproof because it will leak when fully submerged, for all intents and purposes it is waterproof in the alpine climbing context. In pack parlance, the Black Ice is technically water-resistant not waterproof.

The water-resistance is greatly increased by the use of a roll-top closure on the Black Ice. Much like a full dry-bag, the Black Ice top will roll shut and clip with a plastic buckle. The Black Ice also comes with a pair of mini-carabiners fitted next to the plastic buckles to allow for quick closure without fully sealing the pack, such as when “using the pack in an urban environment” (EXPED’s words, not mine). I honestly have no idea why the carabiners are even on the pack. They broke the first time I took the pack out for a day of ice climbing without even being used. Plus I don’t use a nice alpine pack for “urban adventures”. I have a ‘beater’ messenger bag for walking around town. I eventually just used a Dremel to take the mini carabiners off as they got in the way of clipping the plastic buckle easily and tended to get snagged on ropes, slings, and clothes. 

You can see more from EXPED in the video below:

 

Beyond the fabric and closure system, the Black Ice is essentially a highly refined sack with padded shoulder straps. The main pocket doesn’t have any extraneous features, just a svelte nylon tube. Like many climbing packs, the Black Ice tapers slightly at the bottom to allow for better clearance and mobility when climbing, but I was still able to pack the pack so it stood up by itself. I found the 45L capacity pretty accurate when compared to a 30L and a 50L pack.

exped—black-ice-45l-backpack-review-dirtbagdreams.com

 

exped—black-ice-45l-backpack-review-dirtbagdreams.com

In addition to the main pocket, a pair of thin zippered pockets add a touch of organizational capacity and make for easier access to critical alpine snacks as well as less essential items like a headlamp. The front pocket, in particular, is the perfect size to fit a bag of Sour Patch Watermelons for easy access through the day. The internal pocket sits where many packs feature a hydration sleeve; right between the shoulder blades. I liked using the inner pocket for things like keys, a cell phone, or other emergency items that I wanted relatively accessible. One downside of the welded outer pocket is that it gets difficult to access when the main pocket of the pack is completely full. When the body of the pack was full, I wasn’t able to fit snacks or other semi-bulky items in the outside pocket and had to reserve it for things like a notebook or slim snacks, like strips of bacon.

exped—black-ice-45l-backpack-review-dirtbagdreams.com

Durability

Over the past three months of using the Black Ice while ice climbing and backcountry skiing in Montana, I’ve yet to notice any significant wear or damage (besides those silly little carabiners). The 420D nylon is plenty tough enough to stand up to repeated abrasion. I would like to see how the fabric stands up to ski edges over the course of the winter, but as of yet, I haven’t seen any noteworthy damage outside of normal scuffs and scrapes.

Room for Improvement

The one major frustration I had with the Black Ice was the ice tool attachments. The ice axe “loops” are similar to attachment points for a traditional ice axe, and are not ideal for holding a modern ice tool. While EXPED suggests using a carabiner clipped to the loop when threaded through the head, in practice, I found this strategy much more annoying than a proper tool holder. Although the system is secure and an ice tool isn’t going to fall off, the play in the system resulted in my axes bouncing around and clanking off each other when approaching a climb. Maybe I’m just picky, but I really hate hearing my axes bouncing around, even if I know they’re not going to fall off. And while EXPED suggests tying an overhand knot in the ice axe loop to shorten it up, in practice I found that suggestion resulted in a loop that was too bulky to fit through the head of an axe and a hole that was only barely big enough to clip a carabiner through. I really wish EXPED had put a better tool attachment system on the pack. I’m still confused as to why someone would design a modern alpine pack without a proper attachment system for modern leash-less tools.

The upper axe handle holders are also sub-par. The Black Ice is similar to many packs in the use of a threaded piece of shock cord and adjustable toggle to girth hitch around the handle of an ice tool, but the shock cord isn’t actually threaded around anything, just free hanging in the daisy chain. Once unsecured around the handle of an ice tool, the shock cord can just slip out and fall off the pack entirely. While it’s not a hard modification to re-tie the cord to stay in place, it’s a finishing touch that I’d like to see a bit more refined coming out of production.

exped—black-ice-45l-backpack-review-dirtbagdreams.com

 

exped—black-ice-45l-backpack-review-dirtbagdreams.com

When fully loaded I estimate I had up to about 30 pounds in the Black Ice. Because the pack doesn’t have a frame, just a light foam pad for structure, packing takes more intentionality than a normal internal frame pack. But when properly packed, the pack does a good job of effectively holding weight close to the back and balancing the load distribution between shoulders and the hip belt. That said, this is not a pack for extended carrying comfort. The shoulder straps have minimal padding, the back panel is a piece of thin foam, and the hip belt is just a piece of removable webbing. The only thing I found myself wishing for was a pair of removable padded “wings” on the hipbelt, akin to what is found on the Patagonia Ascensionist and Mountain Equipment Tupilak packs. When I fully loaded the Black Ice 45 with about 30 pounds in the pack, the hip belt cut uncomfortably into my hips when I cinched it down to take the load off my shoulders.

The Final Word

Overall, the Black Ice is a good, if not exemplary, specialized alpine pack. Especially when compared to other highly water resistant packs, the Black Ice is an inexpensive option at $180 MSRP. If you climb in a place with a lot of precipitation, the Black Ice is likely an appealing option. Despite the advantages of a water-resistant pack for winter climbing though, the details like the ice axe attachment reduced my outlook on the pack. I think the Black Ice is a good option for some users and is very close to being an excellent alpine pack across the board.

exped—black-ice-45l-backpack-review-dirtbagdreams.com

 

Shop the Black Ice 45 on Outdoor Prolink. Not a member? Apply today!

Matt Zia currently works as a field instructor and Expedition Wrangler (aka course supervisor) for the Montana Wilderness School, a small non-profit expeditionary school for teenagers based in Bozeman, Montana. He has worn many hats over the years, including high school math teacher, ski instructor, and Outward Bound instructor. When not in the field with students, Matt can most often be found bushwhacking through the Montana mountains with skis and bear spray, wandering the Utah desert looking for splitter cracks, or improvising gourmet meals on his trusty Whisperlite camp stove.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *