As I mentioned in my review of the MHM Salute 34, I generally like simpler packs more than complicated and featured packs, even in packs that aren’t specifically meant for climbing. The Speed 30 definitely falls on the simple side of the pack spectrum; it is, essentially, a sack with straps. The features it does have, though, are generally well thought out and useful.
Spindrift Collar / Closure System
The previous Speed series featured a combination of a spindrift, or extension, collar and a roll-top closure to seal the main pocket. I could write an essay on why I didn’t like this system, so I was ecstatic to find that Black Diamond reverted to the basic two draw-cord system on the new Speed 30. A large spindrift collar sits inside a second draw-cord closure, a design that I think allows for simplified and accelerated pack closure, as well as increased ability to expand the volume of the main pocket.
The brain has two pockets, one on the top and one on the underside. I liked using the top pocket for things like sunglasses and a small snack, and though I could fit a 1 liter water bottle in, when I did so I couldn’t fit much else. The underside pocket is much smaller and designed for little things like car keys or a cellphone.
I liked having two pockets on the brain because it made organization easier, especially when I removed the brain and used it as a stuff sack inside the pack. The straps that hold the brain to the pack are also removable.
Tool and Crampon Attachments
Both the ice tool and crampon straps on the Speed 30 are a vast improvement over the old system. Instead of the clumsy “crampon bikini” Black Diamond used to use, crampons now attach via two simple straps with ladder-lock buckles that thread through two pairs of webbing loops on the front of the pack. The straps cinch down nicely over crampons, and since they are independent from each other, can adjust to fit different sizes of crampons. A welded patch of 420 denier nylon sits under the straps to provide a more durable surface on the body of the pack.
The ice tool attachments are also much better. Where the old Speed 30 used a small metal plate on the bottom to thread through the clip-in point on axes and a cord running up to a difficult-to-use cinch tab, the new Speed 30 uses a pair of buckles on the bottom for the axe head and a pair of velcro loops for the handle. The system works well for both technical tools as well as a traditional piolet.
The Speed 30 has two pairs of compression straps on each side of the pack. Each compression strap attaches with a glove-friendly buckle, which eliminates fumbling with small buckles in winter conditions. Additionally, because the straps can be completely unbuckled, it’s quick and easy to strap things like skis or sleeping pads to the outside of the pack, rather than having to wiggle them through a fixed strap.
As with most alpine packs, the Speed 30 is totally strippable to further reduce its weight. The brain, padded waistbelt, back frame sheet, tool attachments, crampon straps, and even straps for attaching the brain come off to cut weight and bulk. All of this creates a very clean pack with very few extraneous features. Even though the pack is pretty simple as is, I really liked how streamlined it got when fully stripped down.
The ability to take off the padded waist belt especially enhances the pack’s usability. The padded waist belt is nice for long approaches or heavy loads, but completely blocks access to harness gear loops if you wear the pack while climbing. However, the padding can be easily removed by unsticking velcro patches, leaving a simple webbing belt which did not impede access to gear loops.
The new Speed 30 also kept a few small features from the old version that I really like.
The bottom of the pack is not just made of higher denier fabric than the body. A small layer of padding is sewn between two layers of thicker fabric. If you’re like me and routinely bash the bottom of your pack on rocks to settle loads and fit more in, the padding will probably come in handy to add a bit of protection for your cams or whatever else is in the bottom.
A tuck-away rope strap runs from between the shoulder straps to a buckle on the front of the pack. Because it tucks into the main pocket, it does have a tendency to get caught under other gear in the pack unless you make sure to stuff it back into the water bladder pocket.
I was initially concerned about the durability of the Speed 30. Since the body is only constructed of 21 denier nylon (the bottom and crampon patch are made from 420 denier), I was doubtful it would hold up to repeated abuse. I also noticed that the first time I used the pack one of the seams on the side compression straps was already pulling out.
However, the past three months of continuous, heavy use has largely dispelled my fears about durability. I’ve dragged the Speed 30 up granite chimneys, dropped it repeatedly in mud and grit, shoved cams in it, and strapped ice tools, crampons, and skis to the outside. The pulling seam has not torn any more (though could become more of an issue in the future), and I have only managed to put small holes in the body. One the whole the Speed 30 shows the amount of wear and tear I usually see on a much heavier pack.
The redesigned Black Diamond Speed 30 is great improvement on the older version. The new ice tool holders and pack closure system alone make it a very worthy climbing pack. The Speed 30 is versatile enough to serve as a ski mountaineering pack, though it doesn’t have ski-specific features like a separate compartment for avy gear or diagonal ski carry.
The Speed 30 strikes an excellent balance for climbers looking for a pack that will perform well but not break the bank.