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FR-Black Diamond Astral 40 Backpack - Gail

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  • woodswoman
    Kara, Here is my FR for the Astral 40. It s been performing well so far. Thanks in advance for the edits. Gail HTML:
    Message 1 of 1 , Jun 3, 2012
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      Kara,
      Here is my FR for the Astral 40. It's been performing well so far. Thanks in advance for the edits. Gail

      HTML:

      http://www.backpackgeartest.org/reviews/test/TESTS/FR%20-%20Black%20Diamond%20Astral%2040%20Backpack%20-%20Gail/

      Field Report:
      June 3, 2012

      USA Locations and Conditions

      During the field test period I have used the Black Diamond Astral 40 Backpack during three different backpacking trips for a total of seven days in the field. Location of the backcountry trips were in Michigan and ranged from hilly deciduous forest to open non-deciduous communities. Elevation ranged from 600 ft (183 m) to almost 2000 ft (610 m).

      April Backpacking Trip

      Location: Hiawatha National Forest, Upper Peninsula of Michigan
      Type of Trip: Trail
      Distance: 15.5 mi (25 km)
      Length of Trip: 2 days/1 night
      Pack Weight: 20 lb (9 kg) without water
      Sky and Air Conditions: Cloudy and very windy
      Precipitation: None
      Temperature Range: 28 F (-2 C) to 44 F (7 C)

      Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore
      Late April Backpacking Trip

      Location: Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore, Upper Peninsula of Michigan
      Type of Trip: Trail
      Distance: 11 mi (17.7 km)
      Length of Trip: 2 days/1 night
      Pack Weight: 20 lb (9 kg) without water
      Sky and Air Conditions: Mostly sunny and windy
      Precipitation: None
      Temperature Range:19 F (-7 C) to 49 F (9 C)


      Late May Backpacking Trip

      Location: Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore, Upper Peninsula of Michigan
      Type of Trip: Trail
      Distance: 31.2 mi (50 km)
      Length of Trip: 3 days/2 nights
      Pack Weight: 22 lb (10 kg) without water
      Sky and Air Conditions: Sunny, windy and cloudy
      Precipitation: 0.27 in (0.69 cm) rain
      Temperature Range: 42 F to 78 F (6 C to 18 C)

      Performance in the Field
      Wearing the Astral 40 on a three-day backpacking trip
      I first carried the Black Diamond Astral 40 Backpack during an overnighter. The first day I hiked nearly 10.5 mi (17 km) and I was thrilled that I didn't have to make many adjustments nor did I have any sore spots. On the second day of that  trip I noticed that the pack was just as comfortable as the first day. During my second trip I loaded my equipment much in the same way with equal results. My pack weight for the first two trips was identical at around 20 lb (9 kg) plus 4 lb (1.8 kg) of water at the start.

      My third trip was a bit longer (3 days) so my pack weight increased by another 2 lb (0.9 kg). This was due to more food and a different tarptent that weighed an additional 8 oz (227 g). Again the pack was quite comfortable during over 31 miles (50 kilometers) of backpacking.


      Packing the Astral 40

      Since I normally use a hood-less minimalistic backpack, I had to re-adjust where I loaded each item. In the top lid, I placed my rain jacket, rain pants, hat, gloves, pack cover and other incidentals. Even though the hood looked small to me it swallowed all of that gear without over stuffing.

      I next loaded the bottom of the pack with my down sleeping bag (30 F/.-1 C), sleeping pad and tarptent, first aid and extra warm clothes (down pants, down jacket and synthetic booties). Things that I might have needed quicker were next placed in the pack such as my stove kit, food bag, etc. All of my gear fit easily and the roll top closure with buckle secures it nicely. The large stretch pocket contained my sit pad and maps as well as some smaller items. The The side stretch pockets were each loaded with a filled 1 L (1.06 qt) hydration bag and the waistbelt pockets were loaded with sunscreen, lip balm, small trowel, snacks and more.
      The Astral 40 showing where I attached a removable pocket
      During packing everything was going great until I tried to find a place for my personal locater beacon (PLB). Granted one of the zippered-waistbelt pockets might have held it but I like to have it even more accessible by pulling it out of a simple pocket that I attach to all my backpacks. Not only does the de-tachable pocket open with a hook-and-loop tab but two hook-and-loop tabs also secure the pocket to a shoulder strap.

      Most backpacks have load lifters on the shoulder straps that continue down the length of each strap to the lower end of the harness. I normally use that extra webbing to attach the pocket so that the pocket doesn't slide downwards. The adjustable webbing (load lifters) ends on the Astral 40 just at the top of the shoulders so placing the removable pocket is abnormally high to use that area of the strap for attachment.

      However, I secured the upper set of hook and loop fasteners over and under the loose webbing and the other on the harness itself. Being able to secure the top of the pocket on the webbing itself keeps the pocket from sliding downwards. Although it sits awkwardly on the top of one shoulder, I can still access the PLB which is high priority with me.


      More Thoughts

      The reACTIV suspension system has been working amazingly well The SwingArm Shoulder straps move with me and as noted above, I have had no sore spots or pressure points. Some of the time I haven't bothered to use the chest strap as the shoulder harness is comfortable without having to secure the chest strap too . I absolutely love the reverse-pull belt adjustment. I  have never figured out why more manufacturer's don't use this technique. It is so easy to adjust and it normally needs very little further adjustment during many hours of hiking. The mesh backpanel has been working well so far. Granted my first two trips were on the cold side but the last trip had warm temperatures and my back felt cool enough.

      The lower side compression straps have worked exceedingly well in holding my water hydration bags in place. I do have to take the pack off to access the water however as I simply find it awkward to un-do the strap, and pull the hydration bag out. I simply can not get it back in! I know that a good amount of people use hydration tubes/with corresponding internal hydration bags for water but there are a lot of us out there that still prefer smaller quart (or liter) water bottles. I would like to see a built-in or a removable water-bottle holder on the waistbelt. I would gladly sacrifice one of the waistbelt pockets for such a feature. As it gets hotter I will likely add a removable one to the front of the backpack.

      Even though the expandable outside stretch pocket is handy, I feel like I have less security in the items placed in that pocket. I have noticed that if the smaller items in the pocket are kind of odd shape or slick that they work their way to the open sides. When I have taken the backpack off at breaks or at the end of the day, the items were almost falling out. I have never had issues with such pockets when they were fully seamed at the sides. I will likely use the pocket for large items only in the future.
      Tester wearing the Astral 40 during an overnighter

      Summary

      So far, I have been really surprised at how well the Astral 40 swallows gear. I thought I wouldn't be able to take it out on more than a three-day backpack but I still have some room to likely add another day or two of food in the main part of the pack plus the compression straps could also be used to secure more gear on the outside of the pack. I hope to test that out in the long term period. Despite a few tiny nitpicks, this is one of most comfortable backpacks I have ever worn right from the start.

      Pros

          * Women's-specific comfort features
          * Removable top pocket
          * Roll top design is very accommodating to larger loads


      Cons

          * Wish there was an easier place to add a removable pocket securely on the harness (as described above)


      Tester Remarks

      Thanks to Black Diamond, Ltd. and BackpackGearTest.org for this opportunity to test the Astral 40 Backpack. This concludes my Field Report. The Long Term Report will be appended to this report in approximately two months from the date of this report. Please check back then for more information.

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